I had not been home in eight months when I boarded the gruelling eleven-and-a-half-hour flight from Heathrow to LAX. Just like how everyone who grew up in the UK isn’t nearly as excited as I am about travelling around Europe, I’m pretty apathetic towards Los Angeles and San Francisco. Been there, done that. Many, many times. But California still has its perks, including plenty of good food and drink and some nice places to sit and work without distraction.

I met up with my family and practically demanded that we visit the Academy of Motion Pictures & Sciences Museum, since I have not been back to LA since it opened. This establishment has several floors of exhibitions narrating cinematic history and innovation, and hosts events such as the “May the 4th” celebration with many interactive Star Wars-inspired activities. When I visited, an extensive exhibition on the making of the Godfather films was on display, as well as dozens of costumes and iconic outfits from the red carpet, including the dress Halle Berry wore to the Oscars for her landmark Best Actress win in 2002, David Bowie’s Goblin King costume from The Labyrinth, and Okoye’s armour from Black Panther.

Commence the long journey back to my hometown in NorCal, complete a stop in San Luis Obispo—a detour which confirmed that I can’t live in the UK forever. I must someday live near the beautiful SLO downtown area with its local shops like Moondoggies Beach Club and its special magic that somehow makes chain stores and restaurants feel like a unique experience. Within driving distance are several beaches and other unique towns, warranting a misty early-morning drive to my beloved Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach. Despite its many attractions and prestigious university, SLO is still a small town (less than 50,000 people) with a sunny, grassroots atmosphere.

After making it back home and dropping off a couple family members, my mom and I turned right back around the next day to go see SIX at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco [link]. We had lunch at Brenda’s French Soul Food of fried chicken, mac and cheese, and beignets in three flavours (plain, chocolate, and apple). Newsflash: apple pie would be way better if you diced the apples instead of slicing them. At the Orpheum, the e many cosplayers among the audience made us wish we had the foresight to wear tiaras and fishnets. The show itself had plenty of girl power, punk-rock bling, and I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat ever since. I would definitely recommend it (it’s in West End right now!).

After that adventure I could finally settle into a routine of returning to my hometown favourites and writing my dissertation. I grew up in Chico, California, home to Chico State University and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Here, I descended into long days at home or in local cafés, with breaks to visit my preferred lunch stops from high school. The place I frequented the most during my stay was a coffee shop called the Grateful Bean, located a short drive away from my parents’ house. And every morning before my coffee run, I would ask my family if they wanted me to bring them anything from the Missing Bean. I made that mistake several times, to their amusement.

But after all, I was on vacation and had to enjoy myself every now and again. I embarked on a challenge to use up all the leftover alcohol in the pantry to put together various cocktails, resulting in a surprisingly good limoncello cranberry and my old favourite lavender-vodka-lime. I enjoyed a lunch at the Pour House, which serves deep fried green beans (which I have eaten elsewhere—but I promise, they taste better here), as well as an excellent selection of cocktails: we sampled the strawberry lemon drop martini, pomegranate margarita, and lavender breeze. I also visited a college bar and tried Chico bartenders’ famous “rocket fuel”, which I believe is some concoction of vodka, Red Bull, and grenadine? It was nasty—but if that’s what the college students drink!

And no, I’d never been to a college bar in my hometown before—I didn’t go to college there. When I do visit, I much prefer to go to Strong Water, a tiny speakeasy-themed bar. But it goes to show, there are always new things to be discovered, even in places you have visited many times before. As I gradually transition from homemade cocktails back to MCR wine-and-cheese nights and occasionally come across travel articles on SLO County and Napa Valley, I reflect on how there are still many adventures waiting for everyone in the Golden State—even for me.

Cocktail recipes (use rocks glasses or a similar size for both).

Limoncello cranberry: Start with a handful of ice cubes and add 1-2 oz of limoncello. Pour cranberry juice until the glass is almost full, then add a small pour of orange juice and dash of lime juice and stir.

Lavendervodkalime: Start with a handful of ice cubes and add 1-2 oz of lavender-infused vodka. Fill up the rest of the glass with limeade, or lime squash prepared according to instructions and stir. To make lavender vodka, leave organic culinary lavender buds (available on Amazon) to soak in vodka in a jar in the fridge for 48 hours (1 tablespoon of lavender to 1 cup of vodka). Strain the vodka twice, first with a mesh strainer and then a coffee filter, and store in the fridge.