Field Research: Day 1 - Pacific Palisades & Malibu

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

I have traveled the U.S. regularly my whole life and in the last 5 years the amount of travel might even be described as obscene (in other words, just shy of the perfect amount). Whether for work or my own leisure, I turn each trip into an adventure and a chance to learn more and more about the places I am in. I always said that my dream job would be to travel that much... but 100% on MY terms - when I want, where I want... and here I am. Dream accomplished (this is the part where I tell you to never stop listening to the dreams in your heart. FOLLOW THOSE DREAMS! They are there for a reason).

So, this week, I find myself in the Los Angeles area. Mind you, I've been in LA almost as much as my hometown of Nashville and know the places and spots and neighborhoods pretty well. You could say I'm a regular. In all that time and all the trips, I've not done much of the touristy things in Los Angeles. I come for work, hang out with friends, go hiking, and go home (basically). I'm changing that this week and already knocked out Day 1. Let me tell you how it's gone so far:


1. Self-Realization Fellowship, Lake Shrine (Pacific Palisades)

First stop, thanks to Atlas Obscura (literally my favorite travel guide) is The Self-Realization Fellowship. On the website, they describe themselves as:

"Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is a Temple, a Shrine, and a Meditation Garden offering people from around the world a quiet oasis for meditation, prayer, and receiving the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. All are welcome."

I found it to be refreshingly true. I was really impressed with the way they acknowledged (equally) the major religions of the world.

In a world where we have so much focus on our disagreements, they have done a beautiful job of emphasizing our similarities - where we have things in common. I imagined the place to be MUCH bigger than it was; but it was as peaceful as I'd hoped. Something I love about southern California is the constant beauty of blooming plants - and there was no shortage. I did the walking loop around the lake, noticing the waterfalls, and cheery landscaping, and especially the way they paid homage to major figures in Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.

I stopped for about 15 minutes in the prayer & meditation chapel where silence is the only rule. The chapel is the windmill building you see in the slideshow above. No photographs are allowed inside; but, I've never seen anything like it. Images of major religious leaders are at the front of the space, so whatever your particular set of beliefs, in general, will be represented. The space was beautifully peaceful and I spent time in prayer and reading scripture on the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. Meanwhile, a man next to me was meditating with mala beads, another woman was sitting in half lotus with hands in a traditional meditation posture, while countless others spent time in reflection in the ways that suited them. It was a terrifically beautiful experience for all of us to be silently and respectfully in the same room, yet praying and meditating in our own way without judgement or anything but love and complete acceptance of our differing beliefs. It was magical.

Even though I would have happily spent another hour in this other-worldly serene place, I moved on after completing the loop and exploring a couple paths. I'm in LA to scope out as much as possible in as short a time as possible, so off I went.


2. Waterlily Cafe (Topanga)

Topanga is one of my most favorite places in all of southern California and I intentionally booked my AirBNB here. It's a bit out of the way; but, SO worth it. In fact, I'm writing this blog from my cozy bed, listening to the wildlife wake up outside, while the morning light comes in through the double skylight over the bed and a bunny gets breakfast (more about that later).

I headed to Topanga to catch up on work at a coffee shop for an hour before it would be time to check in. The plan was to settle in, go get groceries, and wing it from there.

BUT - I made a newbie mistake and didn't catch that my phone had not updated the timezone automatically when I landed. Instead of an hour and a half, I had just over two hours before it was check-in time.

I got over my frustration about this while enjoying the most incredibly flavorful serving of homemade raspberry ice cream with chocolate chips at the Waterlily Cafe. I always find local coffee shops to haunt during my travels - they give you a real sense of the vibe for where you're at.

It was delightful to hear the chatter between the baristas, owner, and the customers that came in. Not surface level chats; but solid conversation that help you get to know someone. One gentleman was displaced from his home by the recent fires that devastated the area- and by displaced, I mean - his house burned to the ground. It felt heavy; but, comforting to know that he had a small community rallying behind him.

I worked for about an hour, as planned, then headed out. Calabasas isn't too far from Topanga, so I initially thought I would go check out the Leonis Adobe Museum; but they aren't open on Thursdays. I chuckled to myself because I always plan client itineraries with heightened awareness of the open/close times for all recommendations. No one did it for me, and it was the perfect example of how off-the-cuff ideas can sometimes go awry. Am i against spur of the moment? Absolutely Not; but, you have to be willing to go with the flow and move through hiccups gracefully (to which I admit having a 90 second tantrum before moving on. I'm working on the "gracefully" part). Plan B? Explore a new hiking spot!


3. Malibu Creek State Park (Malibu / Calabasas)

Everything you've ever heard about Malibu is pretty much correct. It's gorgeous. The beaches, the homes, you name it. BUT - you cannot overlook the 37 miles of trails that make up Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Ana mountain range. I love hiking and trail running in SoCal and this may be one of my new favorite spots!

I didn't have a ton of time; but, I know I will be coming back. It was easy to find and access ample parking (you do have to pay for parking at the State Parks in California, but it's not excessively priced) and modern toilet facilities are available at the parking area trail head.

I can't imagine how long it would take to explore the entirety of the trails here; but the good news is, you'll always have plenty of options. I got only a very small snapshot of the beauty of this state park, often referred to as "The Yosemite of Southern California" and want more!

The park is full of history, has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows (M*A*S*H was filmed here), and has little surprises around every corner. So very glad I went, even for a short walk. It was a little heavy seeing all the trees that had been burned by the Woolsey Fires; but, then there were all these shoots of new life popping up too. A beautiful reminder of how fragile, yet resilient our planet is. Absolutely worthwhile to give an entire day to this park.


4. My cozy AirBNB Cabin (Topanga)

I love a unique AirBNB and have stayed in some doozies as well as some home runs. I'm much more adventurous with my lodging than some and I'm willing to take a chance on something unusual - they always make for great memories and sometimes hilarious stories.

I have to say that this particular Tiny House has captured my heart. The place itself is a lovely extension of the artsy, free-spirited vibe of Topanga, which I love. I also have a lifelong penchant for all things Tiny Houses, so it immediately had me. It sits on the side of the top of a mountain and the drive up is on a very winding road. The journey there is part of the experience and "ya girl" loves a good journey. The house/cabin has a rustic feel, which I adore, and is so very quiet. The sleeping area is actually built into the side of the mountain and has double skylights overhead. Be still my heart!!

A modest kitchenette that suits my needs just fine and well supplied with basics for preparing a small meal, plus coffee and tea (crucial). The host, Gordon has done an awesome job supplying toiletries and having the place presented and ready to go.

Back to Gordon, the host. I had the chance to talk with him for a decent while and he is probably my favorite thing about this place. Gordon has had incredible experiences around the world that only a handful of people can claim (hello, source to sea descent of the NILE- what?!). He is an award-winning cinematographer and if I'd read his well written host bio, I would have known all of this before having my brain exploded in conversation.

We talked about travels and I soaked up some of his tales and tried desperately to remember all of the incredible recommendations he made. My travel list is certainly MUCH longer now. Gordon, if you're reading this, can we be friends forever, please?