First Trip Down to SoCal!

July 09, 2017 • Travel Stories

I don’t have a hashtag yet like my to-be-continued #TakingOverAsia series, but last weekend I finally made my way down to Southern California for my first of many trips! I realized I needed some time away from the cold winds here and stress of studying and jobs, so I invited myself to hang out with some friends from NYU who are home in SoCal for the summer!

Last minute flights are super expensive, but my friend offered to take me on her drive down with her husband! We began the 6-hour drive at 8PM because the holiday weekend traffic in San Francisco was very bad. We arrived in the famous Orange County (the OC) about 3:45AM! They dropped me off at another friend’s house and I quietly tiptoed my way in to not wake up her family. 

Houses in Orange County are very different from San Franciscan houses. They give off a very relaxing and summery feel! There are palm trees planted everywhere, so every yard looks like a tropical garden.

Me with some short palms!

My purple hair from the last time I posted photos has faded long, long ago. I haven’t dyed it again because the color is so difficult to maintain and I had a lot of job interviews in June. To be honest, I’m very self conscious about being blonde, but I’ve received so many compliments about it that I’m starting to really love having blonde hair. 

The obligatory SoCal vacation palm trees shot, c’mon.

Our first destination in the morning was Laguna Beach! Famous for being one of SoCal’s many scenic beaches, I had it on my list as a photography spot. It was super crowded though! Everybody, tourists and locals, was there for the holiday weekend. One thing about California I’ve noticed is that it’s so sunny in the summer, even in San Francisco whenever it’s not foggy, that capturing it is a challenge. The sun washes out photos and it’s too sunny to not wear sunglasses, so often times my finger is caught on camera before I notice.

Laguna diptych

The water in SoCal is a little more turquoise than San Francisco’s, but pretty icy cold. I just recently learned that the Pacific Ocean current brings water from Alaska and keeps the water temperatures a lot colder than the East Coast’s! Meanwhile, inland California is very hot, because it is either a desert or a flat valley depending on location. Coastal California being squeezed in the middle gets an interesting climate of mild rainy winters and warm dry summers. Temperatures fluctuate a lot between very short distances. This doesn’t usually happen in New York, where temperatures like to fluctuate day to day instead.

Pretty macaron window display.

Other than the beach, Laguna Beach is a resort town with lots of cute little shops. My friend and I walked around for a bit admiring window displays, but unfortunately neither of us have a driver’s license so our mobility was limited. Taking a Lyft is pretty expensive in Orange County where the cheaper ride-sharing service hasn’t rolled out yet. However, soon after we were ready to have a low-key night, we decided to tag along with her cousin to a night market near Pasadena, famous for The Big Bang Theory.

Palm tree silhouettes at dusk.

Pasadena is just south of the mountains, so the scenery changed. I wasn’t actually trying to take photos because there were hundreds of food vendors grabbing my attention, but sometimes my favorite shots are casual / candid ones! This is probably my favorite photo from my entire trip.

It was way too crowded at the night market and we spent most of it waiting in line for food and ice cream, which were not cheap, though very yummy. I ate ice cream for the first time since I got sick, but then I got really cold.  It’s surprisingly chilly in California at night! I think ube is overtaking French vanilla as my favorite ice cream flavor. If you haven’t tried it, it’s a Filipino flavor made from purple yam and yes it dyes your tongue purple. More #VioletPride for me I guess.

The market where we had lunch.

The next day, my friend’s cousin drove us so we had a ride to get around the actual city of Los Angeles, which is small and slightly sketchy to be honest. I’m surprised by how fancy and nice the suburbs of LA are in contrast to the city. I’ve lived in New York too long where the city is fancy while suburbs are sketchy until you get out into Long Island.

Greenhouse display in The Last Bookstore

There are so many museums and murals in LA that we couldn’t possibly cover in one day, so we started near our lunch spot with The Last Bookstore, a slightly hipster secondhand bookstore that also sells vinyl records. It has a homey feeling with a lot of comfy couches and plants, as well as book setups that defy physics.

Check out these book displays!

I’m not even sure how all these books stay together at that angle. There was even a tunnel made of books! I do really appreciate this bookstore’s effort to conserve rare and out-of-publish books so that we can be reminded of the nostalgic times when we actually read.

Small bucket cup of boba

It wouldn’t be LA without boba, so we drove half an hour just to get it at Half and Half Tea, where they come in bucket shaped cups. I usually get my bubble tea with 25% sugar because the boba has a lot of sugar. I ordered the rose milk tea, and finally found a drink in the USA that tastes almost exactly like bandung, the pink rose syrup drink popular in Singapore! Unfortunately it was not pink.

How many types of palm trees can you spot?

Since it was already late afternoon we decided to go to Santa Monica instead of other museums. I observed something very interesting about California’s tropical flora. In one photo, I counted 3 different types of palm trees. The names I gave them are – the sea urchin, the pineapple, and the balding fan. None of them are like coconut palms – the face of all palm trees – I’ve seen in those Florida, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I’m wondering if those only grow in hot and humid climates.

Santa Monica beach

The beach was expectedly crowded, but not nearly as crowded as the Santa Monica Pier. It’s the largest pier I’ve ever seen! It is filled with shops and even an amusement park, and somehow supports the thousands of people on it. There’s so much to see even if you don’t shop or go on the rides.

Hello Gru!

The Santa Monica ferris wheel

The beach viewed from the far end of the pier

We had to meet some guy friends in Koreatown for KBBQ, so we couldn’t stay for the beach sunset. I really wanted to do that in SoCal, but there’s always next time! Anyways, we tried getting a spot in a super popular KBBQ restaurants, but the wait was two hours long. We spent the first hour shopping but then gave up waiting because we were too hungry, and just went somewhere else.  It was also pretty delicious and all-you-can-eat for only $21 per person.

Urban Light – a sculpture from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Before heading back to Orange County, we checked out the Urban Light installation for some awkward group swag photos. It’s filled with people. Just a heads up if you want to go. Be prepared for photobombing. Los Angeles is very crowded. Hehe.

These lamps are restorations of iron lamps that used to light up LA in the 1920s and 1930s, placed in a tree-like grid. Apparently they are solar powered to light up all night long!

Caption this – I got “Just became a millionaire.”

My friends wanted to take glam shots for me, but I have no idea how to model with props – I’m better at taking outdoorsy photos. One of my friends had met us after work so he gave me his blazer which isn’t too big on me, and it’s not crazy to wear sunglasses at night for the photo. 

My last day in SoCal was 4th of July, and I could see fireworks right from the local park near my friend’s house. I heard it was very foggy in San Francisco, so I’m glad to have seen my annual summer fireworks! It wouldn’t be 4th of July without them. I’m really happy to have spent it with my friends from New York! Just in my last post I was all sentimental about missing them, but I’m reassured that we will see each other again and again. 

I had several options for getting home – the cheapest option was the 7 hour bus, but I was worried about my motion sickness. The most expensive option was the Pacific Surliner train, and also the longest at 12 hours. Definitely not. I flew back instead. It wasn’t cheap either and it meant I would not be able buy much since I packed light with just a backpack and purse, but the flight was only 50 minutes. It felt like we landed right after we taking off.

My parents may be visiting me in December, so I’m already planning my next getaway to SoCal if it’s not sooner! I know the weather will stay warm, one of the many perks of the mild climate. I already put down my list to hit up Disneyland and San Diego!

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9 Comments to "First Trip Down to SoCal!"

Tara wrote on 16th July 2017 at 12:26 AM

Yay for exploring a new part of California 🙂 It’s nice of your friend to offer you to tag along! Six-hour is a long car ride, but it’s good you safely made it. I can definitely see the difference in architecture with SoCal and San Fran 🙂 It does feel more beach-like.

That beach looks crowded! I’m not a beach person, so I would have never considered coming to Laguna Beach XD Never even heard of it until I read this post! That macaron shop looks amazing!

It’s interesting how Pasadena’s scenery differs from Laguna Beach. I would have never thought about it getting chilly at night. Ube is an interesting flavour!

The Last Bookstore sounds like a neat store! I’d totally hit that up if I’m in LA 😀 I, too, question how the books stay like that! A tunnel of books? That’s awesome. Boba is always good . . . I need some right now. Those lights are so neat. That’s a neat shot of you with the lights. Love the angle.

Thanks for sharing about your trip! Hope you will get o visit SoCal again in December!


Pauline wrote on 16th July 2017 at 1:17 AM

I always love reading your blog posts Liv – I always feel like I’m in the US experiencing it with you and no doubt, came to the end of this post like “yeah, totally know Southern Cali now!” xD

SoCal looks super cool – it’s definitley my ~type~ of place to be. Tropical feel all year long? Palm trees? Summery houses? Yep, yep, sign me up. 😆

I know what you mean about the sun making it difficult to capture things more – I had the same issue when I went on sunny beach holidays. I think your photos turned out great! I’ve been seeing some of these photos on Instagram and literally shouting “OMG GOALS THAT PHOTOGRAPHY THOOOO” when I see them (even in public! xD)

“Urban Light installation for some awkward group swag photos.” LOL It looks like such a beautiful place – I’m always on the look out for cute places to take photos for the ‘gram (I was like this a lot in NYC, Brooklyn seemed to have LOADS of places like this!) I like how your photo turned out – you look badass. Sunglasses at night? Not weird at all. #fashion #trendy 😉 In all seriousness, I think they really complete the photo!

It’s awesome that you celebrated the 4th of July there and got to see some fireworks – another thing to tick off the list for me is to be in the US during the 4th of July and really experience that American culture 😛

Thanks for sharing your trip – enjoyed seeing your photos and reading it! 😀


Claudine wrote on 16th July 2017 at 5:23 AM

OMG, I really miss the US so I really enjoyed reading this post! 🙂

I think my favorite place out of all the ones you listed is Santa Monica. It looks so cool, although it’s super crowded! Haha! Still though, I would love to experience hanging out in the beach and the pier and it’s cool that they even have rides there! Sounds like my kind of place! <3

I've only recently heard about Urban Light because a beauty queen from the Philippines posted a photo of her in that place! Haha the place looks really photogenic and I love how your photo turned out! The blazer and shades gave you a super kick-ass vibe 😛

Great photos, by the way! Thanks for sharing and I hope you get to go back soon! 😀


Jenny wrote on 16th July 2017 at 12:47 PM

Love that last photo of you with the lamps! I’ve only been to SoCal and my biggest complaint with LA is that everything is so spread out, and you really have to drive/uber everywhere. I do like the beaches in the area though, it was nice walking around (we went in end of March when it wasn’t too crowded with tourists) and checking out the shops!


Cat wrote on 17th July 2017 at 12:38 AM

It’s been a while since I was in SoCal! I used to visit my cousin in LA a lot when he used to live there. I totally agree that the look and feel of SoCal is very different from San Francisco! I definitely noticed all the palm trees everywhere, haha.

Oohh wow, the beaches look so crowded there. I also didn’t realize that the water is cold because it comes over from Alaska. I do remember the fluctuating temperatures, especially between time of day.

I’ve never heard of ube! That’s interesting that it’s a flavor from purple yam. I wonder what that tastes like as a dessert. The book displays at The Last Bookstore look so cool. That looks like a neat bookstore to visit!

The Santa Monica Pier looks like a fun place to see, even if it was crowded. I also love the look of the Urban Light installation. I didn’t know that was there in Orange County. I would love to take photos of that!

Looks like this was a great trip!


Amy wrote on 21st July 2017 at 7:47 AM

Glad to hear you had fun visiting Southern California. Six hours sounds like such a long drive! The UK is so small that I’ve rarely had to travel by car for that long to go somewhere. Glad the journey was okay though.

Laguna Beach looks really pretty. I’d love to go somewhere with such beautiful scenery. And the shops look gorgeous too. I bet it’s an amazing place for photos!

Oh wow. I’d love to visit The Last Bookstore. That looks so cool! I can’t believe they managed to get the books to stay like that. Are they glued together?

Glad you had fun with your friends. Hope you get to do it again soon!


Cristina wrote on 24th July 2017 at 1:32 PM

Those places look awesome. I loved the library and the Urban Light Installation. But let’s be honest, everything is amazing there. I love the photos <3


Katy wrote on 25th July 2017 at 5:42 PM

Gosh, I enjoyed this post so much! SoCal looks like a beautiful place, with so much exciting greenery! I love England, but our foliage seems so dull compared to America, or the Mediterranean. The sky is so clear too, I’m envious!
I’m not very clued up when it comes to places in America, though, so I’d never heard of Laguna Beach. It sounds like a lovely place, though it’s a shame its not too easy to get around.
The Last Bookstore looks amazing – I’d love to visit there one day. The tunnel of books is very clever – were they purely balanced or were they stuck together? It’s still very impressive!
I once did a play which opened with a speech by St Monica about the Santa Monica pier and it sounded so exciting – your pictures really added to that! I think if I ever did make it back to America, I would want to go to there.


stevevhan wrote on 30th July 2017 at 8:42 PM

Oh my Gosh! beautiful photos! those lights are famouse as i saw them in many movies! hahaha, i love your shits too, esp the palm trees and the ferries!

You obviously had a great time! UGH!


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