California Dreamin’

Way back in October, I joined my brother, Sam, who is based out of Knoxville, on a three-day business trip to California. While he worked, I played.

After a two-hour flight delay in Indianapolis because the plane “smelled weird,” I finally landed in LA, greeted by my brother, his friend Christian, and an awesome In-N-Out Burger. Being 1:00 am EST at that point, Sam and I both fell fast asleep.

Day 1: Los Angeles

Sam and I began our day at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena because my brother had a contact—Tracy Drain, Flight Systems Engineer—who offered to give us a private tour. (My brother knows everyone.) It. Was. Awesome.

We got to see the Mars 2020 rover be put together, models of various older rovers, the machine shop, and the control room, where you can see which satellites are receiving data!

The clean room where they are putting together the Mars 2020 sky crane.
NASA wouldn’t let JPL put their name on the Curiosity Rover, so they put it in Morse Code on the wheels.
Lucky peanuts! These are present in the Control Room for every big NASA event. The superstition came about when these were passed around for an event after a series of failures and there was smooth sailing ever since. In fact, this jar was passed around during the Cassini Finale.

After an educational morning, Sam had to go give a presentation. I headed to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which was arguably way more fun.

The Getty architecture is a work of art in itself. Set high above LA, it’s home to lush gardens and amazing exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the illuminated manuscript collection. It costs nothing to get in, though parking is $10–$15. I took a Lyft and didn’t have to worry about parking.

The Getty Museum
Every view is perfectly framed.

After a sad lunch of a granola bar and some water because I had things to do, I headed to the Santa Monica Pier for the afternoon. Aside from housing a theme park, the pier is the end of Route 66.

The end of Route 66
Pacific Park Ferris Wheel

Pacific Park is the only amusement park on a West Coast pier. The solar-powered Pacific Wheel tops out at 130 feet above the pier. It costs $8 per person to ride the wheel, and they have a rule about not allowing single riders, so I had to wait for someone else to show up and beg to ride with them. A family of four arrived soon after me and didn’t mind me crashing their party. The best part about my Pacific Wheel ride was that I saw a swimmer throw a fish. He got startled by it and literally threw it. Amazing entertainment from 130 feet up!

After an hour or so on the pier, I took a long Lyft ride to visit Christian at work on the set of Will & Grace. He showed me around the studio lot where I geeked out over his set and the set of The Good Place. Then I helped him brad scripts for the upcoming episode. He was a good sport to babysit me while we waited on Sam to finish up. Then, he did the tour all over again with Sam along for the ride.

The Good Place
Will & Grace Offices

After a lovely dinner of all-you-can eat sushi with Christian and his girlfriend, Sam and I headed south to Anaheim for the night, the location of Sam’s next presentation.

Day 2: Disneyland

On my day in Anaheim, I turned 34. The natural thing to do when celebrating your birthday alone in California is to go to Disneyland. Best decision ever. I chose to just do the Disneyland Park rather than the California Adventure Park, since I had only about eight hours. It was $97 and I got there literally as the gates were opening. Upon entering, I received a free birthday button and spent all day receiving birthday wishes from park employees and fellow vacationers. Being by myself meant that I could go on any ride I wanted whenever I wanted. An extra perk was that I qualified as a single rider, so I often got bumped to the front of the line on roller coasters. It was seriously one of my best birthdays ever, and I spent a previous birthday touring Mayan ruins in Mexico and snorkeling over coral reefs.

I got one of these balloons when I was about 5, and it was my prized possession until it finally deflated.

Sam picked me up in the evening, and we drove toward San Diego. On the way, we stopped for dinner at a fabulous restaurant I can’t remember the name of that had amazing seafood and cocktails. Downside: it was quite fancy, and I was in a t-shirt and shorts with a Disney birthday button. They only judged me a little.

Day 3: San Diego

The time I got to spend with Sam on this trip was mainly while eating. We had a lovely breakfast at Maggie’s Cafe, which was a great start to a good day. Mexican food + breakfast is always a win in my book. After the meal, Sam dropped me off at the San Diego Zoo. It was expensive at $54, but it’s such a world-renowned zoo that I felt like I couldn’t miss it. I spent the rest of my morning wandering the exhibits, riding the cross-zoo gondola, and hanging out in a humming bird aviary.

The Skyfari takes you from one side of the park to the other, which was quite handy.

After the zoo, I walked through Balboa Park toward Little Italy. Balboa Park was named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean. It is full of interesting things, from a botanic garden to cool architecture to a pipe organ (which I somehow missed! sad!). Once I got to Little Italy, I was hungry and ate some of the best pasta in my life at Civico 1845. I got the raviolo classico, and wow. I still dream about that dish.

Stunning architecture in Balboa Park

After lunch, I headed toward the waterfront to see the giant Embracing Peace statue, modeled on the famous kiss.

Embracing Peace statue

There is also a cool Bob Hope statue with sound next to it. After wandering Harbor Drive for a while, I took a Lyft out to La Jolla Cove to see the sea lions and seals.

Sunbathing sea lion

They were cute/stinky/noisy and definitely worth seeing. In fact that whole coastal area is amazing, and I wish I’d been able to spend more than an hour or two there. By that point, I was dehydrated and tired, so I mainly people watched.

La Jolla Cove

I even took one of my favorite photos there! These folks lined up perfectly in a triangle, and I knew I had to capture it.


All in all, it was a fantastic, very full day. By dinner time, I was so sick with dehydration, though, that I slept in the car while poor Sam ate Mediterranean alone. He was a great sport about it. Clearly I needed to drink more water than I did.

The next morning, Sam and I headed to the airport and went our separate ways. It was a fantastic three days of adventure, and I’m so glad Sam invited me. I was so grateful to have one-on-one time with him (even if it was only while eating)!

We are the best at photos.

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