Holiday surprises – West Coast edition

In July I found out that Cirque du Soleil was opening their newest show, Kurios (which has a Steampunk theme), in LA around the holidays. The scheming began. I convinced Alex that we should have an “experience” in place of gifts this holiday season, and he – loving surprises as he does – wanted to know absolutely nothing about where we were going or what we were doing until the time came. I managed to keep the secret from July 27th until about 7:30am on the day of travel, when he made a comment about something before I was fully awake, and I replied with “yeah, we’ll do that in LA.” Best-case scenario, it would have been a secret for another 6-7 hours until we arrived at the airport…so I think I did pretty well considering how hard it is to keep secrets, especially when you’re excited about them.

We stayed at a precious little converted garage in a neighborhood only about 1 mile from LAX, which I’d never been through before. The garden was especially lovely.


They also had great taste in decor – look at this nerdy graphic design poster about fonts!


Inside the garage apartment were not one, not two, but THREE clues as to our weekend’s surprises. It was hard not to spill when Alex was asking me questions about Ojai (our second destination for the weekend), upon spotting the wall hanging and bookmark in the bathroom. Total coincidence. Also old postcards of the PCH right above the bed, and that trip north was on the docket.


Saturday we got up and headed out to brunch. You know who is in LA the weekend before Christmas? NO ONE. We had zero wait and almost zero fellow diners for a Marina del Rey patio restaurant at 11am on a Saturday morning. And they had flights of beer in tiny mugs, so Alex kicked the day off with a round of IPAs, and nothing could have made him happier.


We headed to the Getty so I could share one of my favorite places with him. The collection is great, and they had a cool show about daguerrotypes, but overall what I love about the Getty is the setting and the architecture and the gardens. And we had a perfect day for it.


P.S. I want to go to college HERE, on the hill opposite the Getty. Such a view.


No sooner did we head down the hill (on foot) and exit the parking garage, an unexpected rain started to fall. We would have been drenched if we’d been any slower. As it was we headed back “home” for a rest and enjoyed being lazy as the rain drummed on the roof of the garage. Next up, Cirque! We went off to the stadium. On the way we drove through a random neighborhood and saw one of the best lit holiday installations EVER. Why, yes, that is Santa flying off the rooftop, next to a ferris wheel and hot air balloon.


We arrived and waited for the Grand Chapiteau to open.


I had bought the tickets with my United Visa originally, so they gave us two certificates for free popcorn and drinks as a bonus. I had cancelled my card in the meantime, but Alex still had his, so we wound up scoring a picnic blanket (random giveaway) and being directed to a VIP lounge where they had free drinks (IPAs! Happy Alex!), appetizers, popcorn, salads…even some cheesecake at intermission. And it was empty – we found it by accident and I don’t think many Visa people knew about it! I found two families in line to buy concessions and gifted them our certificates.

The show was AMAZING. I actually splurged on great seats, since we were flying across the country to see it, so we had a wonderful view of all the amazingness. This is the one shot I took, before it started. So many gramophones on stage, adapted in bizarre ways!


Sadly, it ended, and we had to leave. They honored everyone’s readjustment to the world at the exit.


On Sunday morning we awoke to pale sunshine. I was delighted, because the previous afternoon’s rain would have ruined my midday plan to drive north on the PCH as far as we could on our way to Ojai. We hit the road, stopping at the Malibu Pier for brunch. The Yelp reviews said we’d wait about 45 minutes or more for Sunday brunch – we waited zero. There were a few people there, but it was pretty quiet.


This happened. A hybrid of french toast and bread pudding with blackberries and a sprig of arugala. Mmmmmmm.


Coincidentally, Alex’s company has an office in Malibu and it was about two blocks south of where we parked, so we strolled down for a peek. I’m sure there’s footage on their security cameras of him lurking around trying to peer in the windows. We continued north on the PCH, and decided to pull over at an especially scenic spot.


Right around the bend from this rock is the Marine base, and it gets un-scenic pretty much instantly! We drove on to Ojai and headed straight for the winery/tasting room that our LA hosts had recommended.


Then we had a late lunch (early dinner) at the Italian place that the bartender at the tasting room recommended. I’ve been watching what I eat pretty closely the last several weeks, and indulging in the homemade ravioli filled with squash and covered in browned butter/sage and parmesan was so delicious.


We headed to our hotel, the Ojai Retreat. It was lovely. I felt a bit disappointed because it seems to me they overemphasized the quantity/quality of their outdoor installations (walking trail and gardens), but Alex had no prior expectations and loved it. And we did get a pretty sunset, though with the clouds it didn’t come near the legendary “pink moment” that all Ojai-aficionados rave about.


We wrapped up our trip Monday with breakfast at the hotel, with a view over the mountains.


We went to Bart’s Books (yes, the one featured on the bookmark in our LA AirBNB), and marvelled at the fact that 90% of the bookstore is basically outdoors! The few inside rooms are super creative – witness the book Christmas tree and the cookbooks in the historical kitchen.


Then followed a quick visit to Ojai Olive Oil Co for a tasting and a stop at Ojai Beverage Co for lunch. More flights of IPAs were enjoyed. They’re so bitter, but they bring Alex so much joy… Then home to Austin late late, but totally worth it. All in all, I think the weekend was a total success!




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