C A L I F O R N I A // Coming Home

November 03, 2017

Zach and I were never able to go on a "real" honeymoon after our wedding - we both had to be back at work the Monday after our wedding - so we always planned on doing a real trip during our first anniversary.

Welllll, then our first anniversary rolled around and I was slammed at work over the summer, so we just went to Park City for a weekend getaway. The weekend was incredible, but still not our "real" trip. We'd been on little weekend trips all over Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, St. George, Red Cliffs...), but we wanted to go somewhere farther away.

At first, we looked into our dream destinations. For Zach, this meant Italy. For me, I wanted tropical (Caribbean, South Pacific, etc). We looked at flight prices and YIKES! Major sticker shock! So that dream died (for a while....we still want to go someday!).

One day I was lamenting to Zach about how much I missed Southern California (where I was born) and how disconnected I felt from my childhood. I was jealous of Zach because he spent most of his life in the same town and near all of his family. I felt like I had read a book about a girl named Elyse who lived in California, but didn't feel like any part of it was my history. 

Long story short, while I was feeling sad, Zach suggested we make Southern California our first big trip. He said it would be more meaningful for him, as my husband, to see where I'm from and meet more of my family. What a guy!

I've posted and talked a TON about going to Disneyland, but that was only 2 days of our 8-day trip, so I wanted to write a post sharing a little more about the whole shebang!

We flew into LAX - flights are actually super cheap to LA from SLC ($100 RT direct) - and met up with my mom at the airport. She flew in from Oregon to come with us, which was great since she knew the area so well and knew everyone we were visiting. So instead of a delayed honeymoon, the trip morphed into a fun "homecoming"!

Childhood home: Let the crying begin...

The first few days of our trip were probably the most emotionally exhausting of the trip. This is where the nostalgia really hit hard. I felt a little bad for Zach because every 2-3 minutes, my mom or I would yell out "Oh my gosh, that's the place that x, y, z...." and proceed to tell a story. And crying, lots of crying.

Outside my elementary school - I went there for 5 years and my mom taught there for 17 years, so it was special to be back there! The only bummer was not being able to go inside and see her old classroom.

At my dad's shop. He and my grandparents owned/ran an auto shop and sold it a few years after my dad died. The building is still the same color from 25 years ago - apparently brown/beige are good colors?? We got up the nerve to go inside and ended up meeting a man who worked with my dad all those years ago and is still at the shop!

It's weird to think that I was here as a little little kid and to be back in the same place all grown up! If only my dad & grandparents could be standing here too!

One of the most emotional stops: my childhood home. I lived here until I was 12. Before our trip, I'd found some old pictures to bring so I could see a before & after of the house. Not much has changed - they took out all the trees around the house (and from some Google Map stalking, they put a pool in the backyard...). Of course, the majority of my childhood memories/photos/videos are in this house. I can still remember having yard sales on that lawn, that the Christmas tree was in that front window, playing with ribbon dancers with my sister in the backyard, exactly how every room was set up...

I'm really grateful I brought the pictures, because it helped me visualize the moments of my early life that took place in the front yard and on the sidewalk there, like a quick moment from history frozen in time. I felt just a little more connected to the girl in these pictures.

And if you look clooooooosely, you can spot my dad under the arch in the picture. I love that his car is in it too! This picture was taken back in the 70s, wayyyyy before I showed up...

And as lame as it sounds, when my mom wanted In-N-Out on the trip, I made us drive to the one we went to all the time as kids. I have very distinct memories here and can even remember conversations I had with my mom in the drive-through. It still looks exactly the same!

We also had to introduce Zach to some of our favorite food down there, like the legendary onion rings from The Hat...

Whenever we go to Southern California, we always make sure to stop for at least one meal at La Paloma. It's just a few blocks away from my dad's shop and he would eat there 4-5 times a week. My parents & grandparents ate there a ton as well. My mom jokes that with all the money we've spent there, we own a few of the booths at this point! When my dad died, they closed the restaurant to the public for the first time in its history and hosted his wake for us. It's a really special place for us.

It's also the BEST Mexican food I've ever had. It's been around for decades and the food still tastes EXACTLY the same as when I was a kid. We had dinner here with a bunch of my parents' friends and it was really meaningful to hear stories about my mom and dad and their early life.

It was amazing experience - as we drove all over these cities, I felt like my memory was waking up and suddenly details of my life started to fill in. Before this trip, I couldn't remember much about what streets or neighborhoods looked like. I'd thought about these places so much that it didn't feel real that I was finally back.

We also made sure to get a visit with our favorite girl Kim! Kim was one of my mom's students and her mother would babysit my sister & I, so Kim quickly became one of our best friends. She was a bridesmaid in both of our weddings and is just a really special part of our life. She's been in our lives since she was 6 and now she's in her 30s!

On our way to the next leg of our trip, we stopped by my dad's grave. My grandparents & great-grandparents are also buried in the same cemetery, so we made sure to visit all seven gravesites. I have really vivid memories of my dad's funeral, so it was very surreal to be back in the same place again. I have complicated & confusing feelings about my dad, so it was all kinds of emotional to be back at his grave.


We also visited my grandparents' homes, the hospital where I was born and about a million other special places. Just as important as the places, we were able to visit with so many of my mom & dad's friends. We spent a lot of time reminiscing and I was grateful for the extra info I was able to learn about my family. 


After we finished visiting where I grew up, we drove west for a few days at the beach! The ocean is really rejuvinating for me, so living in Utah right now is depriving me juuuuust a bit. I could not wait to get to the ocean! We stopped by Balboa Island, where we spent quite a bit of time as kids. They have a cute little FunZone and boardwalk area that looks almost exactly the same as it did 20 years ago...


We ended up at Ruby's for lunch, which I KNOW I KNOW is a chain and lot of people hate it, BUT we were already there and hungry and thought eating at the end of the pier in the ocean would be cool. PLUS, it was the original Ruby's location, so we thought that would be fun too. Except, it was SO overcast & chilly out there! I was so disappointed - where was my sunshine at the beach?! 


We drove farther south on Pacific Coast Highway and it was GORGEOUS. The sun was finally out, no clouds, tons of palm trees and water, and everything was golden. We stayed down in Cardiff/Oceanside/Carlsbad and visited with old friends of my parents, who were so kind to host us for dinner. It was extra meaningful to introduce Zach to people who knew my dad so well and knew me as a kid - Zach said he felt nervous like he was going to meet my dad and ask permission to marry me!

This was also Zach's first time at a California beach and the farthest south he's ever been, so we had to get some quality SUNSHINE beach time the next day in Cardiff. 


I was especially glad there was almost no one at the beach that day!

Also can we take a minute and appreciate my mom who is finally retired and living her best life...


We thought it would be too cold to swim, so we didn't wear our swimsuits that day. SO MUCH REGRET. Although wearing regular clothes didn't stop Zach from starting a water fight....

Our time at the beach was much too short and I'm just counting down the days until we go again...



Ok, our 2 days at Disneyland was the MOST physically exhausting & action packed part of our trip. I've blogged about the whole Disney experience already, but I will say here briefly that it was INCREDIBLE. We were in the parks for both my mom's & Zach's birthdays (they are just a day apart!), went on a zillion rides, ate delcioius food, and finally experienced the Halloween magic. 

If you want to read all the details, plus some of our tips/mistakes to avoid, check out my post here.


When we almost died...

I'm sadly not joking. After Disneyland, we hit the road for the last leg of our trip - driving up to Visalia/Sequoia National Forest to visit my aunt & uncle. They weren't able to make it to our wedding and Zach hadn't met them yet, and my mom really wanted to see her older brother, so it was really important to us to drive the 4ish hours north to see them.

After 4 hours of driving, we are literally 1/4 mile from the freeway exit to our hotel and out of nowhere, the tire explodes! Not just a little flat or leak - within a second, the back of our car hits the pavement HARD and smoke starts trailing behind us. We are in rush hour traffic on a multi-lane freeway in California....as the driver I was TERRIFIED. We're in the left lane and I have to somehow maneuver this car on 3 functioning tires through high-speed traffic to the side, all without fishtailing and keeping the car in control. NO PROBLEM, right?? 

Anyway, thankfully some unseen angel took the wheel and we got to the side of the freeway without any harm or accident. I was doing some research about it later and tire blow-outs are one of the main causes of auto accidents because cars often spin out of control on the freeway. I am so grateful that we weren't one of those accidents...


We had to wait for AAA to tow us and a tire shop to replace the tire on the rental car - definitely put a wrench in our plans that evening. But we met a few good samaritans, plus the tow truck driver and tire salesperson were SO nice, that they made the whole experience a lot easier to handle. And honestly, I'm just so grateful we didn't get hurt or die when the tire blew out.

(Also, the rental company said they would reimburse and I had to jump through a bunch of hoops and then they changed their mind, so I was stuck with the cost in the end. Super lame. If you have a choice, DON'T rent a car from Thrifty.)

We were so tired from driving and then the adrenaline of the blow-out, that we just crashed at the hotel and ordered pizza for dinner. Is it just me or does pizza taste 294345435x better when you're eating in bed in a hotel?

The bright spot of our last leg was visiting with my uncle for breakfast. I'm really glad Zach was able to meet him and I know it meant a lot to my mom to see him. After breakfast, we zoomed the 4 hrs back to LAX to go home.

This was easily my favorite trip to California. Even though we had some bummers with the tire blow-out and getting our credit card stolen (oh yeah, that happened too...such a crazy trip!), the rest of the trip was phenomenal. 

It was really meaningful to bring Zach along to all of these places and to meet so many people that are special to my family. I also really loved having my mom there and spending quality time together - living far away, we don't get to see each other very often. 

The only thing that could've made it better was if our entire family was with us - I would've loved to have my sister, brother-in-law, and all of Zach's family there and spend a few weeks on vacation together! I'm glad we don't have to wait too long until we can see everyone again for Christmas!

If I haven't bored you to tears yet and you want more details about our trip (where we stayed, what airline we flew, how we saved $$$, etc), let me know!

Also, am I so weird for getting emotional on this trip? Am I too sentimental for my own good, or do you have strong feelings about where you grew up? Let me know in the comments below 👇👇👇

You Might Also Like

9 thoughts

  1. Nice job and well said, Elyse! Oh, how I do love retirement and it was the perfect kickoff. I did have the time of my life, so far!

  2. Such a great post! Love seeing your childhood pictures! And your husband is really sweet to want to see where you grew up!

    Belle | www.OneAwesomeMomma.com

  3. Omg what an eventful post. First on all, your mom and her purple hair...I love it! Second, I love southern California. You sure did a lot. My favorite part of this post is that you took pictures from when you were younger and then snapped a photo in front of the same spots years later. What’s the Halloween ride at Disney land like?
    Omg. Your tire story is scary. I’m glad everyone is safe. Did your husband love California?

    1. Thanks! The Halloween ride - Haunted Mansion Holiday? It's one of my new favorites! We're going back this week and I can't wait to ride it again! And yes, he loved California....unfortunately not enough to want to live there!

  4. what a fantastic post! I grew up in northern CA and dated my now husband when I was living there so he knows a bit about the town and locations that are special to me and certain friends. I'm so glad you got to come to CA and have such a mostly amazing trip. Loved all the deets and glad you weren't seriously hurt with the tire blowout.

  5. What an amazing experience you had! It's so fun to go back and revisit childhood memories.