California 2014, Part 1 (With Pictures!)

What’s not to love about California? The last time I was here was in May 2011 and I didn’t think I’d get here so soon again. But, ta-daaa!

Eric started to work for the w3c in December, and as part of his assignment he’s attending CSUN – a huge accessibility conference in San Diego – next week. Essentially this means that he’s working while I get to hang out in San Diego. No fair! 😉

After CSUN we’re going to add a few vacation days in San Diego, Palm Springs and L.A. As it’s my first time in California as a vegan, I thought this would be a great opportunity to revive this blog.

So, let me recap the first days:

Our trip began at Düsseldorf airport (DUS) with the slowest check-in ever. It wasn’t American Airline’s fault, they had trouble with their computers. Honestly, I don’t mind computer issues on Earth – as long as the ones up in the air do their job. Which they did. (Author typing this serves as living proof.)

Security reminded me of how much geekery I’m lugging around when they asked me to list all my electronic devices. Laptop, DSLR camera (New!), mobile phone, portable charger, noise-cancelling headphones, Kindle, Jawbone UP … did I forget anything? Made me feel like Borg. 😀

The vegan special meals on the plane were a mixed experience. The meals tasted ok, we had pasta with tomato sauce, salad and fruit for lunch and a bowl of beans and rice for dinner.

pasta and salad
Lunch

The dessert cookies that came with dinner contained honey though, and none of the snacks served in between were vegan.  So, while we did get vegan food, we also had to check the ingredients of everything to decide what to eat and what not. There’s room for improvement, but at least they don’t let you starve.

The flight was really smooth and quiet. The group of partying students behind us fell asleep collectively after the plane had run out of complimentary beer.

Two hour layover in Chicago sounded like plenty of time, but again everything went so slow that this was barely enough. Oh, by the way: for a layover in Chicago make sure you have a window seat on the left. I thought the view was spectacular! The great lakes were still partly frozen, and then the skyline – wow!

Chicago skyline seen from plane
Landing in Chicago

If you’re hungry at Chicago O’Hare, check out CIBO Express at Terminal 3 (I believe there’s another one at Terminal 2.) They have vegan Soul Gourmet sandwiches which are good, albeit a bit on the pricey side. They also have salads, kale chips and other vegan snacks.

We arrived 30 minutes early in L.A., only to wait 30 minutes at the baggage claim. The baggage crew was obviously not ready for our flight yet. :-)

We stayed for one night in Manhattan Beach and had dinner at Rice, where we had what has to be the best vegan sushi in the world! Step aside, plain old avocado roll and take a look at this:

vegan sushi rolls
Vegan sushi rolls at Rice, Manhattan Beach, CA

These rolls were works of art, with tempeh, hot chili sauce and and brown rice. All in all we tried three different rolls – the one in the picture, one with eggplant and one with tofu – and all of them were awesome. I was surprised at how good the brown rice worked for sushi. At $12 per 8 pieces and with a quality like this, and all organic and GMO free, there was nothing to complain about. Their Miso soup was good, too.

The restaurant is a bit hard to find, it doesn’t really look like a restaurant from the outside, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The place was packed, better make a reservation.

The next day began with  a chili for brunch at Le Pain Quotidien. They had a lot of other vegan choices. The tofu scramble sounded great, too.

bowl of chili with guac
Bowl of chili with guac

After that we took a walk on the beach before we picked up our rental car.

Manhattan Beach with pier and cyclist
Manhattan Beach

We took the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego. In Long Beach we stopped by at Veggie Grill for dinner. Veggie Grill is a 100% vegan fast food chain. I had a very refreshing kale salad with blackened fake chicken and Eric a fake chicken burger. Both were really good.

kale salad
Kale salad with blackened chickin’

Following the coastline further South we looked for a good spot to watch the sunset and were so lucky to find Ruby’s Shake Shack above Crystal Cove Beach. Don’t plan to eat there if you’re vegan, but it’s a really good spot to watch the sunset. It’s not a secret, so better arrive early to find a seat. 😉

Sunset
Crystal Cove sunset

A little further South we discovered Laguna Beach, a beautiful village with interesting architecture that we’ll surely visit some other time. It was dark and we were tired, so we just took the 5 to San Diego, shopped for some groceries at Whole Foods (awesome choice of vegan cheese, mock meat etc.) and proceeded to our destination, a beautiful small house we rented via airbnb.

We have the entire house to ourselves, including the yard with orange, lemon and avocado trees. At 60 € per night it’s a real bargain and much cheaper than any (roachless!) hotel. :-)

kitchen
The kitchen

A couple of Coronas with lime and a movie concluded our first day in San Diego.

Today, Eric’s out to meet his new colleagues face to face for the first time, while I’m hanging out around the house, unpacking our stuff and blogging. I haven’t adapted to the hot weather yet, and today it’s extra hot. Even the locals are sweating.

Oh, and for breakfast we had Kite Hill cheese for the first time! It’s a nut milk based vegan cheese that comes in three varieties. I really enjoyed both that we bought. The White Alder reminded me of a cheese I had years ago in France, before I went vegan. Kinda pricey, so maybe only for special occasions, but yummy! Available at Whole Foods. :-)

Kite Hill cheeses
Breakfast with Kite Hill cheese and Earth Balance butter

OK, time to walk down to the harbor to see the sunset. More in a few days!