My first trip to the USA was a great success. We travelled from one side of the country to the other – from Philadelphia to Huntington Beach – and along the way, I found a place that felt like home.
If I am honest, the USA hadn’t ever been that high on my travel priority list. Not because I hadn’t wanted to visit, but because places like The Exumas, Tahiti, and Cuba took the spots in the upper regions of that list. My travel sights have always been set on countries that feel a mile away from my own.
I love getting lost in other cultures, with the more colourful cultures being my kryptonite. Since the American culture bears many similarities to the Australian culture, the USA never really stuck out as a place I had drop everything to explore immediately. I wanted to see it, but just not before I had the chance to see other countries.
Rewind back to December last year.
I had settled on the fact that the USA would happen at some stage in my life, but not in the near future. By a stroke of luck (and with the confidence of one of my amazing editors), the opportunity to travel to the USA on a press trip came up. Naturally, I jumped at it. America might not have ever been at the very top of my travel list, but it didn’t mean that I wasn’t dead keen to explore it should the opportunity arise.
After some quick organisation and a 30-something hour journey, I got that American stamp in my passport. We – being myself, a writer for Traveller, the managing director of Man of Many, and the art director of Men’s Health – landed in Philadelphia two weeks before Christmas. It was a short but sweet trip, with our return flight getting us back home just before Christmas.
Over the 6 days we were in the USA, we got to explore both Philadelphia and Huntington Beach. We flew from one side of the USA to the other, and had 3 glorious, jam-packed days, in 2 amazing cities.
Our first few days were spent in 1 degree weather in Philadelphia. While I loved the city (and their tax-free shopping), the sensation of wearing two pairs of pants will never become a familiar, or liked one. I couldn’t wait to get to the more temperate climate of California.
Landing at LAX felt so different to landing in Philadelphia. My eyes were wide with wonder in Philadelphia, soaking in all the unfamiliar sights. It felt like the Hollywood movies.
When we hit Huntington Beach (under an hour’s drive from LAX), I felt at home. There was an incredible sense of calm and ease at being in this city. I don’t know whether it was because I was by the water again, because I wasn’t wearing 2 pairs of pants, or because there was a lack of high rises, but it felt darn good.
In many ways, Huntington Beach reminded me of my childhood. We stayed at the Pasea Hotel, which was right on the Pacific Coast Highway, overlooking the beach. It was a familiar feeling, waking up and wandering across the road to the beach. This is how I grew up, and it is something that I will never take for granted. It brought back many fond memories of swimming before school, and watching dad catch us dinner.
Whenever I think about my hometown, I long for that laid back vibe. It was the same vibe I picked up in Huntington Beach. There were surf stores dotted all over the place, people carrying their boards back to cars, and even a surf museum. It isn’t showy like Venice beach, and not as fast paced as some of the non-coastal cities. You could spend the day in your bikini and have nobody bat an eye. It was generally relaxed. The people aren’t in a hurry, and have more of that coastal ease to them.
And the climate? Well, that was far more to my liking.
One of my favourite things about hitting California was the food. Normally, I love tucking into the cuisine in a new country, but American cuisine always scared me. I couldn’t think of anything worse than devouring a big plate of barbecue, or a deep fried steak. Diner food, barbecue and big, greasy burgers are just too much for me to stomach. I am definitely more of a seafood, salads, and rice dish kind of girl.
Thank goodness for California. The food we had in Philadelphia was great, but California was much friendlier to my digestive system. We went from eating Philly cheesesteaks and more hearty meals, to fresh tacos, lots of ceviche, and all the seafood you could eat. The best part? Most of the restaurants had a happy hour special on their tacos!
Some of the best Mexican food we had was at Ola Mexican Kitchen, and they have a view to boot. Duke’s is known for their happy hour, and their menu was surprisingly refined. But, one of my favourite eateries was Pacific Hideaway. Inside the Kimpton Shorebreak hotel, this bar and restaurant served up some of the most delicious modern Mexican. Me being me, it was the drinks list that had me sold. Mezcal is their specialty, and boy do the bar tenders appreciate a confident mezcal orderer!
My spiritual home in the USA
Between the beach, the people, the food, and those gorgeous sunsets, it was hard to tear me away from Huntington Beach. It wasn’t one thing in particular that made me fall in love with HB, but a combination of many familiar feelings. I love travelling and experiencing new things, but sometimes that little touch of familiarity can really draw you to a certain place. I never thought I would say I was in love with the USA, but Huntington Beach, I think you did it for me!