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