I have lived in Las Vegas for basically five years.

Sure, I had that year in Atlanta I like to refer to as the Catalyst for the Rest of my Life. And my career-break/adventure through Europe and Africa. But, basically, the place I have called home since 2005 is Las Vegas.

You’d think living in Las Vegas would mean I have explored beyond the world of resorts and desert.

You’d think.

Yes, I have hopped quickie flights to Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterrey, but never really took time to vacation next door in California. I never truly went anywhere simply to take in the beauty of the Pacific Coast, the lush wine region, the hills (and fog) of San Francisco.

Well, things have finally changed. This go-round in Vegas, I have learned how to drive in Southern California, which is really more like sitting in a parking lot and the creeping along as life passes you by, and fine-tune the art of cruise control on the I-15 to and from Las Vegas and LA.

And, finally, finally, I have ventured outside of Nevada sans passport and had some little adventures in Cali.

For two weekends in a row — yes, two weekends in a row — I left the heat of Las Vegas (spare me the “it’s not that bad, it’s a dry heat” comment … it’s like turning your hair dryer on high and blowing it in your face) and headed to the cooler climates housed in one of my new favorite states, California.

The first weekend jaunt came courtesy of my mom being in Newport Beach for a wedding. She was so close to me, I couldn’t not get in my car and drive out to see her. I wrapped my work week up early and headed southwest on a Friday to make a weekend out of it.

She didn’t arrive until Saturday, so the night before I met Shane in Orange County.

“Don’t worry, I have a hotel room. You can stay with me,” he assured me before I even got in my car.

Of course, the hotel room fell through so at 9 p.m. that night, he and I sat in my car while we tried to book a room. We settled on sharing a bed at a 2 1/2 star motel near where he was working for the weekend.

He tried to talk me into spending a few more dollars and staying in a nicer place.

“Nah,” I said. “Do you have any idea the crap I have stayed in when I was backpacking? This can’t be that bad.”

Ha.

We arrived and walked into the check-in room.

Bullet proof glass. Classy.

I couldn’t remember a place in Europe which featured that, uh, safety measure.

The room was OK, nothing great, but it was a place to sleep. Plus, there were no bed bugs, so I was pretty happy.

Then, the next day, I went and checked into the Newport Beach Fairmont, the complete opposite of our highway motel the night before. It was grand, with a marble-floored and airy lobby, plush seating, crisp white linens on the bed … beautiful.

I spent the afternoon with an old friend of mine wandering the streets of the beach town and parking ourselves on a bench overlooking the Pacific for awhile, catching up on life. Even the thick marine layer which had yet to burn off didn’t dampen my sheer joy of being in front of the ocean again. The cacti, the flowers spilling over walls, the bite in the air … it all soaked in, leaving me feeling content and happy. Happy to be with my friends. Happy to see my Mom. And happy to be somewhere other than what I was used to … somewhere free of the bells of the video poker machines, the smoke swirling in the air … the landlocked valley. It had been way too long since I had been outside of Nevada for pleasure. (And it has been way too long since I have been outside of America, but that’s another story coming soon.)

Then, it was time to pick-up Mom from the airport. Seeing my mom always makes everything all better. She has that calming effect on me. Sometimes, all I need from her is a hug and then all is right in the world.

After a stressful few weeks, Mom Time was exactly what I needed.

For exactly 24-hours, I was at her side. We caught up on life, ate, drank at the Fairmont bar, explored Laguna Beach, and then hugged good-bye.

I made it back to Sin City in record time for me. I was refreshed. Rejuvenated. Ready for the week … and the next weekend when I would head to San Francisco and Napa Valley with two of my favorite travel bloggers for a girlie weekend of awesome.


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