Spring Break in Surf City

Huntington Beach view from hotel
“Yes, yes I think that will do.” Those were my first thoughts on seeing this very nice view from our hotel balcony in Huntington Beach, aka ‘Surf City’, on our trip there during Spring Break. Palm trees, orange rooftops, a deep blue ocean, blue sky with a bit of fog, very sandy sand, big waves and even the view of Highway 1, which (along with Highway 101) runs along the whole Pacific coast of America (as the ‘Pacific Coast Highway’). Yeah, I can’t really go wrong with a view like that. My wife certainly knows how to pick the hotels with the good views. We had expected rain – in northern California, huge whopping storms were beating down while I splashed about in the pool, getting out to read my travel stories book and sip a refreshing mango beer. Yes, mango beer, that’s right, it was from a local brewer, the poolside barstaff told me. I like mango flavoured things. Oh is it raining in Davis? Well never mind. We had glorious sunshine, and we used it wisely, at the beach and at the pool. It’s at times like this when I think, yeah, actually it was a good idea to leave London and live in California.
Huntington Beach Naugles
I did a little bit of sketching. The building above is Naugles, some sort of eatery by the beach. It wasn’t open, though the building next door was renting those surreys and bikes to people. I think I imagined Spring Break to be a bit more Spring Break-like, if you know what I mean, Florida style, but warm as it was, it’s still too cold in California for that sort of thing. For which I was very grateful, I do love places without big crowds. I even went into the ocean myself (which was fairly freezing), my son and his friend out there splashing about in the waves. I can’t surf, but we had one of those boogy-boards and so I floated about on that, on my belly, riding the waves like a dead whale. I’m not sure if dead whales ride the waves, but ‘dead whale’ was the only thing that came to my mind when the tides flopped me back onto the shore. I was a dead whale enjoying myself though. We even built sandcastles and dug tunnels. These sketches though were done while they were back at the hotel pool, which was heated and had water slides. Below is one of the many lifeguard lookouts that stand along the beach like the watchers on the wall. At this point it’s obligatory to mention ‘Baywatch’, but I never watched that show, so I wont. The beach was clean, and well trimmed like a suburban lawn. There are firepits for people to use when barbecuing in the warm summer evenings (like in pretty much every teen LA-based movie or TV show), but there’s a curfew on this beach, nobody is allowed after 10pm. In the distance, Huntington Beach pier, and further behind still are off-shore oil rigs, which maybe adjust the perfection of the view a bit (but offer something a bit different to look at). The waves get pretty big; you can see a surfer making their way in. Huntington Beach is nicknamed Surf City: there is a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, legendary Hawaiian surfer and olympic sportsman, standing outside one of the big surf shops downtown. I popped in, and discovered that surfboards cost a lot more than I though they did. There goes that dream!
Huntington Beach Lifeguard Hut
Speaking of ‘The Duke’, we had a very filling and quite delicious dinner at Duke’s restaurant, on the beach next to the pier. We went to the Duke’s restaurant in Waikiki a couple of years ago, and had our very first Lava Flow drinks. They were delicious. The ones we had here were just as nice, but served in those great tiki glasses. I only had the one – they are pretty filling! So are the enormous Hula Pies. We got one to share between the four of us, and I’m glad – we barely finished it. I bought a Hula Pie plate as a souvenir. I did get to tell a great pun when the waiter was giving us the list of specials. My wife wondered if she should have the fish special, and I said, “why not, just for the halibut!” The waiter didn’t get it though. I thought it was good. One of the fish specials was halibut. Now I have to engineer some other situation where I can use the “just for the halibut” line.
Lava Flow at Duke's
It was a long walk back to the hotel, but since I had eaten so much I was rolled along the seafront like one of those massive snowballs. I was still basking in the glory of my “just for the halibut” line. It was not yet ten o’clock, so the beach was dotted with the glow of numerous firepits. In the parking lots, travelers were sat outside immense RVs enjoying the spring evening’s cool ocean breeze.
Ruby's Choc Mint Shake

On the second evening in Huntington Beach, after an incredibly fresh tasting dinner at a place called Lemonade (which as you might expect made delicious multi-flavoured hand-made lemonades – I had ‘Cucumber Mint’. So refreshing. Everyone was tired, and so the rest of the family went back to the hotel, but I still wanted to walk to the end of that long pier, so I talked my sore feet into making the trek up over the boardwalk into the Pacific Ocean. There are lots of people fishing from that pier. It’s not full of amusements like Santa Monica or Walton-on-the-Naze, but right at the very end in the red-roofed building is one of my favourite places in California, Ruby’s Diner. I have a lot of favourite places in California, I can’t really choose; ok this is in the top 100. It’s a classic American diner at the end of a pier, there’s a great classic American atmosphere, and when I say classic American I mean ‘like in the movies’, probably. It doesn’t feel themed or kitschy though. There is a tiki bar upstairs, which I passed through to use the bathrooms, that was a distinctive change of look. All I wanted was a milkshake. A bit of history here, the very first time I came to the United States was in 2002, to visit my still-new Californian girlfriend whom I had met while living in France, and she took me on a road trip down California and to the Grand Canyon. Oh by the way my then-new Californian girlfriend is now my Californian wife of course! Back then though America was completely new to me, I was a fresh-faced twenty-something, and on this road trip we visited our friend Erin (whom we had met in France; actually it was Erin who introduced us to each other) and she lived in Huntington Beach. She took us to Ruby’s Diner at the end of the pier, and I had what up to that point in my life was perhaps the best milkshake I had ever tasted. It was a butterfinger milkshake, it was huge, it made every milkshake I grew up with seem like Nesquik. By the way every milkshake I ever grew up with was Nesquik. I’ll never forget the taste of Nesquik gone BAD. Never leave banana Nesquik in a flask out of the fridge for a couple of days in summer and then try to drink it. I was six. Anyway, all I had on my mind was coming back to Ruby’s and having a milkshake, and I was not disappointed. They had the same menu of shakes, but they were also doing a special Mint Chocolate shake made with Girl Scout Cookies. It was delicious. The long walk down the pier and the long walk back to the hotel were good exercise, and I’m now still dieting to get over all the big foods I had on that trip, but it was worth it. Huntington Beach is cool. And below, for those who really need a gumball, they have them in a gas pump. Classic American.
Ruby's Candy Pump

Ok after Huntington Beach we went to Great Wolf Lodge for one night, which had some fun water slides but overall was a bit of a disappointment after Huntington Beach, and so we ended up going to see Captain Marvel instead (loved it!). We got back to Davis to hear that there had been even more heavy rain (this is the rainiest I’ve ever known Davis, except maybe that first winter here).

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Aulani

Aulani sm

We left the incredible views of Waikiki behind and drove to our main destination, the Disney vacation resort of Aulani. We’ve wanted to go here for a while, and it was just as fun as expected. We spent most of the time in the pools, or specifically, the lazy river. Above, the main lobby building as seen from the ponds near the pool area.

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Above, the ‘Ōlelo Room, which is an interesting bar at the resort. It is dedicated to the Hawaiian language. “‘Ōlelo” is the Hawaiian word for “word”. All of those little wooden boxes contains an object and several blocks that make up a word in Hawaiian, so you can learn your vocab. I did buy a book so I could learn a little, but I haven’t gotten very far I’m afraid. I did know already that Hawaiian has no consonants that touch each other, but I never learned how to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua‘a. Drinks were nice there (but no lava flow!) and the music came in from the terrace outside. We also had a nice meal overlooking the ocean at a restaurant called ‘Ama-Ama’, and there had a delicious Blue Hawaiian. But the best drink I had in Hawaii (even better than the Lava Flow, which was amazing) was at a restaurant across the street from Aulani called MonkeyPod, the drink was the MonkeyPod Mai Tai, it was freshly made and just delicious, maybe the tastiest drink I’ve ever had. I didn’t sketch that, but here’s a photo:

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Just delicious. I did do some food sketching though, at a place near the North Shore called Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. I think it’s a local chain; the chicken burger was awesome. There were loads of surfers out at the North Shore that day. They even had a TV screen in the burger joint showing live footage of surfers out riding the waves.

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Yep, Hawaii was pretty stunning. I have a feeling we will be back.

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Aloha!

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Still playing catch-up with the older sketches, here are some I did while I was in Hawaii in November. What an incredible place. It was the first time I’d ever been to Hawaii, or to anywhere like that; it was, in the words of Samwise Gamgee, the furthest I’d ever been from home (home being Burnt Oak). For some reason it had never appealed, but for the life of me I cannot say what those reasons might have been because Hawaii is just so amazing.  I think living in California it’s easy to feel a bit blase about Hawaii because it’s like, just over there a bit, and I’m not one of those people who likes sitting on the beach, but no, Hawaii really does feel like somewhere very far away and different. And so beautiful. And it turns out I love the beach! Well, I always love being by the ocean. The call of the sea. I’m not going to go on about it. Hawaii is just great. So, we stayed on O’ahu, at the Outrigger resort in Waikiki. The most incredible view, ever. In fact after this, what is there, really? It’s only downhill from here. Nothing is really going to live up to that view. And earlier in 2017 we stayed in Rome and had the most incredible view over the city (see my earlier post, ‘A Rome With A View‘). I am never going to match those views in 2018, wherever we end up visiting this year.

Luke at Waikiki hotel sm

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Now it wasn’t all getting up at 7am and swimming in the ocean and then spending the day at the pool and drinking cocktails overlooking the sunset. Actually, no I’m kidding, that is what it all was, and that was the BEST. I did pop out and sketch a Waikiki fire hydrant once though.

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Waikiki view morning sm

Oh I could not wait to Facetime family in England from that hotel room, with that ridiculously amazing view. The sketch above I never got around to colouring in.

Below is a sketch I did on the beach at Kailua, on the other side of the island. We had just spent much of the day at Koaloa Ranch, checking out where they filmed Lost and Jurassic World and stuff. We stopped in Kailua on the way back for some Shave Ice at Island Snow, which is where President Obama goes for Shave Ice when he is back in Hawaii. What is Shave Ice, you ask, and why is it not Shaved Ice? Aha, you will have to go to Hawaii to learn this secret!

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Ok, this (below) is Shave Ice. It was really good! Better than expected. Like a tropical slush puppy. Mahalo!

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I’ll post more sketches soon, but here is one last photo of the view from my hotel bedroom window. I must point out this was NOVEMBER. Aloha from Hawaii!

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cooling off at baker beach

Baker Beach San Francisco
Summers in Davis, California are ridiculously hot. I know that to you back in Blighty that means little comfort while you have the usual soggy British summertime, but it’s honestly too hot in Davis. Oh it’s a ‘dry heat’ which means you don’t sweat constantly, as we do when it gets hot in London, but still it’s too hot to do anything. You don’t want to leave the cool air-conditioned house, which can then make you go stir-crazy. Davis is too hot. The first summer I had in Davis back in 2006 was so hot that air-conditioning units crashed the local power grids several times; though ours was fine, many people in Davis would escape the hot evenings and go to the bookshop I was working in, just to cool off. Even my nice office was not immune during the day – the power would go down, and the building would gradually heat up, until everyone was just sent home. Davis summers don’t see as many power outages these days (usually they happen during storms now) but the summers are still ridiculous, and our PG&E bills certainly reflect that. However there is one way to beat the heat – get out of town and drive west to the San Francisco Bay Area. That first summer, it was on a Davis day of 115 degrees Fahrenheit that I first realized how different our climates were, the Central Valley and the Bay Area – on that day it was around 65 – 70 degrees in Berkeley. Quite a difference. And so, a few weeks ago, we decided to leave the boredom and heat and drove one Sunday down to Baker Beach in San Francisco, where the air was cool and the sky was blanketed with fog. Yes in California we leave the sunshine and heat and head to the coast to cool off beneath overcast skies and this is normal – I truly have moved across the world, and found my people. There we all were enjoying the foggy skies, in full view of the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge – full view, except for the top, obscured by rolling waves of fog. It was heaven. Of course, those harmful rays can easily get through that fog (I only ever get sunburnt in San Francisco, it’s deceptive) so we were still lathered in sun-screen. We hung out at the beach for a few hours until we got hungry for cheesecake, and then attempted to drive home. That took a very, very long time. First of all, we left the beach at 3:30pm, but did not reach the Golden Gate Bridge until 5pm, and you can see how near it is. Traffic was completely stuck. Over the bridge we stopped for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, hoping the traffic would ease off, but it didn’t – after another long wait in unmoving traffic we abandoned all hope of crossing the Richmond – San Rafael bridge, and headed north to sit in more traffic along Highway 37. We weren’t home until 9pm, five and a half long hours later. And of course, Davis was still hot. So it is worth it to get out of town and cool down, but you might end up in a car for a very long time.

pacifica

Pacifica hydrant
Hey folks! Another slight pause in posting; I’ve been away on vacation, no spoilers about where I went but it rhymes with “bitterly”, specifically “dome” and “menace”, as I say you will have to wait to find out where from my many many sketches. But in the unforgettable words of Jar-Jar Binks, “meesa back!” I can’t remember where I was with my sketches, oh yes, Pacifica. So a week after my son’s soccer team’s tournament in Nevada we had another one down in the beach town of Pacifica. The waves were high and the air was salty, and our team did excellently, only missing out on qualifying for the final on goal difference. I did of course get a good bit of sketching in, and here it is. Above, a hydrant near the Ocean. Below, two views either side of the same rocky outcrop, from two different beaches. The top one was Rockaway Beach, right outside our hotel, and sketched on a super windy morning. Those waves were incredible, and the beach was covered in fluffy sea-foam blown in from the Pacific.
PAcifica beachPAcifica beach
PAcifica beachgoers
And don’t forget the beachgoers. With the waves so big there were a lot of extra surfers out. I used to want to be a surfer, when I was young. It was mostly because it was as far away as something people in Burnt Oak would do that I could think of, so therefore it was what I wanted to do. I always imagined I would live in Australia, surfing every week, walking about town in my wetsuit, but that never happened. Instead I live in California (not near the beach) and seriously, I ain’t getting in no wetsuit now. That’s ok, I’m fine with that. I just sketch the surfers now.
Pacifica milkshake at Rock'n'Robbies
Possibly one reason why is my love for delicious milkshakes, and this one was partaken at the local Rockaway Beach diner “Rock’n’Robs”. Cookies and cream flavour. Yeah, no surfing for me now. Another reason may be the found in the image below. “Nick’s” is a 90-year-old bar and lounge in splashing distance of the Pacific waves, and a few steps from our hotel, so I popped by to sketch their bar and try a few beers. That slanted mirror let me sketch the patrons to my right, and on the other side of the bar a band played and local couples danced. It was a fun place to spend the evening.

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And here is a sketch of the small town itself, the Rockaway Beach part of Pacifica. Pretty nice down here. It’s really close to San Francisco by the way, surprisingly near, yet it feels a million miles away. I liked it; I think we’ll be back.

Pacifica Rockaway Beach

coronado, old town and the zoo

San Diego Coronado Beach
More from San Diego. So one of the nicest places there is Coronado, an island city with an absolutely stunning beach. It might be the best beach in the United States. We had a lovely time playing on the beach in the sunshine, and I did a sketch of the historic Hotel del Coronado, “the Del” as my wife kept calling it (nothing to do with Southampton’s old ground, the Dell). It was built in 1888! Back then Jack the Ripper was doing his ripping, the Football League just started leaguing football, the lawn tennis association was founded on a lawn, and Katz’s deli opened in New York, not serving cats. Yes, it’s been around a long time. I sketched it with my feet in the actual Pacific Ocean. I would love to some day sketch the bar area, spend a bit of time doing that, but we had places to go. I did however see a bird flying around inside which flew directly into a window with a thud, cartoon like. I didn’t see it recovering, but I imagined it was on the floor all dazed with little tiny people running around its head. Poor little bird.
San Diego, Angela at Coronado Brewing

We visited the Coronado Brewing Company, who had lovely beer and food. I drank a Belgian Impaler (while Belgium lost to Italy on the TV nearby) and sketched my wife (above). I ate a lovely mac and cheese dish.

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A few days later we visited Old Town San Diego. I didn’t do much sketching, other than at lunch. We went to a very colourful cantina restaurant and were serenaded by a couple of Mexican guitarists while we ate. I drew the scene opposite. Mexico is really close by to San Diego, in fact it backs right up to it, conurbating into Tijuana across the border.
San Diego Old Town
Here are some other sketches I did. We of course went to the Zoo, and it really is a lovely zoo. My favourite animals were the pandas, and the elephants. My son loved the Komodo Dragon. I did a few quick sketches in pencil with a little bit of colour.
San Diego ZooSan Diego Zoo

I have a few more sketches from our trip, from Legoland, but on the whole I mostly relaxed, swam in the pool, had the odd cocktail and didn’t check my email all week. Wicked.

selfies in san francisco

SF Boat and Selfie Stick
A couple of weeks ago or so we took advantage of a special offer on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains where if you buy a ticket, your family or friends can come too for only $5 each way. Since it costs $60 to get to San Francisco these days, which is a lot of money actually, a day out in the city would usually cost me $180 in train tickets alone, but as it was it cost only $80. “Only” $80; I could buy a lot of Lego with that. Well, maybe not a lot, but some. One or two decent sets anyway. The Avengers Tower plus the Ant Man set perhaps. I don’t know, let me think about this actually, I am making my list. Anyway, my wife, my son and I all jumped on the train at 8:25 in the morning and travelled down to San Francisco for a day of just wandering in the city, seeing stuff. It’s such a nice train journey across the Delta and along the Bay, and my son had never been on that journey before. He liked it I think, but he did his best to put on his I’m Bored face everywhere we went in San Francisco. I thought the change of scenery (and cooler weather) would us all some good, but he really wanted to get back to his Lego (tsk, we’re so different). I took him to the Musee Mecanique however, and that was a hit, It’s on Fisherman’s Wharf and is full of old arcade games from the past century, and we had a great time; he particularly liked the skee ball game, while I battled it out as Magneto and Cyclops on “X-Men vs Street Fighter”. Stupid Dhalsim and his long arms, no match for the might of the Master of Magnetism! (Actually I lost). Anyway afterwards we walked down to the water’s edge, to the little sandy beach area at Aquatic Park. While my son paddled his feet in the water with my wife, I sketched the scene, with the boat SS Balclutha moored on the jetty. I have sketched that ship before. As I sketched, a young woman on the beach was taking selfies, and lots of them. hundreds perhaps. Selfies from above, below, standing, crouched, lying down, facing the boat, facing the bridge, facing the sand, facing the sky, facing the city, every possible iteration of selfie there is (ok not every possible iteration). With the dreaded “Selfie-Stick” of course, bane of everyone’s lives, and if you believe the press, on the verge of being universally banned from existing anywhere ever. She was very happy, and why not, in the sunshine, next to an amazing city backdrop, Golden Gate Bridge free of fog, why not. Passers-by called her the “Selfie Queen”, probably fair, but it made me think of the actual Queen, whose face as we know is on all the money in England, I had visions of Elizabeth II holding up a twenty pound note and looking at it pulling a duck face (can I just point out I don’t know what that is but I hear the term a lot, I don’t care what it is either), and saying “One is taking a Selfie of One’s self,” while Prince Philip is looking at a Selfie-Stick and saying “What the bloody ‘ell is this?” while making some racist comment about tourists. Oh, the Royals. So, I added Selfie Queen (not my term) to the sketch. My wife joked that I should have drawn a selfie of myself with everything in the background, but it would have been hard holding the pen with the book stretched out in front of me, and then the painting, I couldn’t do it.

I only did one sketch that day, but I did come back down by myself a week later for the worldwide sketchcrawl (more train money spent). We got ice cream (not Ghirardelli, the lines were too long), and decided against queuing up for more than an hour for the cable car (Saturday afternoon isn’t the best time for that), so headed home.