I’m a proud Northern California girl, which means I have done some SoCal bashing throughout my life. I still prefer “my” part of the state, but I have to confess – after spending a few days in Santa Monica and Malibu last week, I can see the appeal. It’s nice down there!

I am incredibly excited to move back to NYC and begin my Master’s at NYU next month. However, this trip highlighted how much I love California, not to mention how painful it will be to return to a more extreme climate.

Let’s do a quick comparison based on my recent travels. On the left, I am gazing at a snow and ice storm on October 29th in NYC from inside a cozy apartment (to be fair, the following week was sunny, but very cold). On the right, I am walking along the beach on a sunny, warm day on December 16th in Santa Monica. You can’t fault me for fantasizing about taking my books to the beach and basking in the sunshine, but I suppose I also enjoy being inside with blankets and a cup of tea. California will have to wait a few more years for my permanent return…

Anyway, let me back up for a minute to explain why I was in LA, because I don’t go down there very often (my last trip was in 2003).

My Aunt offered me a frequent flyer ticket so that I could visit my grandma in San Antonio, which I had been wanting to do for ages. I had also been meaning to visit a close friend from high school who now lives in Santa Monica and has an adorable one-year old girl who I was dying to meet. My flight had to go through LA on my way back from Texas, so I figured I may as squeeze both trips into my week!

San Antonio was fun, despite the muggy, rainy weather. My grandma and I did a bit of sightseeing downtown, but we mainly just hung out and relaxed, which is exactly what I needed after frantically working on a grant application the day before I arrived. She always makes me laugh and has such great stories!

Running-wise, there wasn’t anywhere to go, since we were surrounded by a gigantic military base (the largest in the country, apparently). I wanted to keep up my fitness, so I hit the treadmill – or as my grandma called it, “the walking machine.” I nearly died laughing!

Here are a couple photos from Texas, including the view from my grandma’s apartment and a shot of us two “New Yorkers” (my grandma grew up in the Bronx). I wish I could’ve spent more time with her – we only had two and a half days, but we had a lot of fun together, as we always do.

My time in Santa Monica was equally short, but I managed to cram in a fair amount, particularly on the running front. The main purpose of my visit was of course to spend time with my friend and her beautiful daughter – like in Texas, it was really laid back and focused on simply enjoying each other’s company.

I kicked off my first full day with a wonderful 6M run along the Santa Monica beach path, pictured above. I prefer the rugged beauty of Northern California beaches, but for running purposes, it was nice for once to not have to worry about the tides or finding a flat, packed section of sand.

I didn’t run with my phone, but I had an opportunity later in the morning to take Sophie for a walk and snap some photos of my running route along the way.

As a side note, just because I’m talking about babies and beaches and have been so delinquent in my blogging this month, I want to post some recent photos of my niece, who is nearly five months old. Right before leaving for my Texas/SoCal trip, my sister and niece came down to Santa Cruz for a couple days. We took Elisia to our local beach for the first time, which was awesome. Check me out, rocking the baby carrier – she is getting so big!

Anyway, back to LA…Molly took me to an outdoor mall in Santa Monica, where we got some lunch (the mall had a really nice outdoor seating area with ocean views) and did a little shopping. I had the most delicious marinated pork burrito. I hate to admit it, but it was better than my favorite taqueria up here. I went back there for lunch today and my usual burrito just didn’t taste the same! I can’t help but also include this photo of some mini Sauconys I found while we were shopping for Sophie. Too cute!

Shopping was followed by a short stop at the beach to watch the sunset, which was incredible. Almost made me wish I had saved my run for later in the day!

I was pretty groggy from our girl’s night out, but managed to get myself out of bed early the next morning for another run. An old friend from high school (a Japanese exchange student my senior year, who now lives in Southern California) saw that I was in town via Facebook and suggested we go for a run together in Malibu.

I didn’t know him very well in high school, although I certainly remember him (we both ran cross-country, I didn’t compete my senior year). We become friends through Facebook in the last couple of years, after commenting on each other’s various running-related posts. He also organizes teams for the Big Sur Marathon relay (his team won last year), which is what caught my attention as I am dying to participate in that race (although mainly, I would like to do the full marathon, but a leg of it would be fun too). Hopefully will get a chance to participate in the near future!

He took me to Pepperdine University, where he got his B.S. in sports medicine and ran quite competitively as part of their cross-country team. He is now done with medical school and finishing up his residency in Physical medicine & rehabilitation – fascinating stuff!

It was great to see him after so many years, catch up in person and finally run together. He is WAY faster than me but kept the pace fairly slow so I could keep up. We ran a 3.5M loop from campus down to the beach and back along various trails. The views were spectacular! I snapped a couple photos before and after the run, while he brought his sports camera along to take some action shots.

As we were stretching, we discovered we were both wearing the same exact shoes – Saucony Omni 10’s! I thought that was pretty cool. We drove back to Santa Monica and stopped at a cafe to get these massive, delicious and beautiful lattes. Post-run coffee always hits the spot.

We had a great chat about our professional goals (we both like the idea of working with a team of other young, enthusiastic healthcare professionals, i.e. a sports doctor, nutritionist, physical therapist etc., to treat athletes), as well as plotting a potential destination race with his wife and E. We have our sights set on Tokyo Marathon 2013! I’ve always wanted to go there, and what better way to see a city than take over its streets with thousands of other people?!

Molly, Sophie and I had a fun, chilled out afternoon together, after a nice brunch with her husband. Here we are playing with various ribbons in our hair.

The following morning, I ran with another friend (from college) who I hadn’t seen in years and who got in touch with me (once again through Facebook) after seeing I was in town. I didn’t realize she was living in LA or that we could run together so comfortably (pace was perfect), so it was a pleasant surprise! I love reconnecting with friends through running. Two days in a row, too!

We ran on the same path in Santa Monica as I did two days prior, but this time we went out further to run a total of 8.2M at around 8:55 average pace. So much fun, particularly knowing that my whole wheat blueberry banana pancakes awaited me upon my return! Wouldn’t have been a Sunday without a long run and pancakes…

I had made the batter the night before, since I knew I would be starving when I got back to the house. As a result, they came out fluffier than usual but equally delicious. Sophie in particular was a huge fan, which made me happy!

Afterwards, we went for a stroll around the Santa Monica farmer’s market before I had to head to the airport. I saw this bike valet sign near the market – very LA!

And that concludes my last trip of 2011! It’s been nice to be home this week – I’ve had a chance to catch up on various things I’ve been meaning to do (including blogging – this is my 125th post, by the way), go for some runs, shadow a local running coach and spend some time with my parents. My Mom and I even celebrated the winter solstice last night in the mountains with her Native American drumming circle – how very Santa Cruz of us! I went once before, as I was preparing to move to London, so it was only fitting that I go back as I am about to begin this next chapter in my life in NYC. It gave me an opportunity to unplug, pause and reflect on this past year and what I hope to accomplish in 2012.

So what’s on my travel agenda in the coming year? Not much as of now, other than moving to the East Coast. It’s going to be very quiet in travel for awhile, compared to my 2011 adventures. That’s okay though – between being busy with school and lacking funds to pay for anything other than tuition and living expenses (I count running-related things as living expenses…), it will be difficult to squeeze in any non-essential trips. I’m actually looking forward to staying put though, after so much running around this year! We’ll see how long that feeling lasts…

Happy Holidays, everyone!