The First Stop on my Year of Travels: Laguna Beach, CA

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Although California isn’t exactly leagues away from Tempe, AZ, it was still my first official road trip alone. To be more specific, a road trip where I wasn’t going to see family or friends. I went just because I had wanted to go to the beach for two years. The fact that no one could go with me wasn’t going to stop me. This is my year of traveling, not my year of staying home because no one else has the same schedule as me.

So, on August 11th, 2014, I set out on my first solo trip.

This 5-hour drive wasn’t the painful 18-hour road trip to Houston that I’ve done four times before, but still a solo drive nonetheless. The first night, I did have some family in Riverside let me stay over so I wouldn’t have to leave at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to enjoy some time at the beach before check-in at the hotel.

That is one amazing thing about my very large Mexican family: it doesn’t matter if you only see each other once a year, or sometimes even less than that, you’re always considered family, and the door is always open. This was a lovely pit-stop, but more important epiphanies happened throughout the rest of the trip.

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I’ll speak to the driving/navigating aspect first. Have I mentioned that I’m directionally challenged? I have no problem with North/South/East/West, it’s when I can’t figure out which way is north because the freeways and streets don’t follow any type of logical direction that I get lost. This trip should have been no exception to my perpetual detours and driving “adventures,” but it was!

Thank you, navigation!

With my handy GPS as a guide, I maneuvered Riverside to Laguna Beach, to my hotel, back to another beach (Newport), then finally Crystal Cove (and everything in between,) back to Riverside, and straight home. Without major guidance from anyone or a navigator in the passenger’s seat, I successfully drove all over California with no problems. If you’ve ever driven in California, you’ll know what a huge feat this is. Cali roads are crazy and their drivers are even more so.

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Some other victories included finding my first beach hat amongst all the adorable Laguna Beach shops, discovering a few amazing gluten-free vegan restaurants, and randomly designing my first business card. It was a productive and personally inspiring trip, to say the least.

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But, of course, you’re curious about the great restaurants I found!

Veggie Grill

3972 Barranca Pkwy. Irvine, CA 92606

★★★(3/5)

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Here I had the Spicy Thai Quinoa Salad with mandarin oranges, sesame seeds, lettuce, quinoa, tempeh, cabbage, cilantro, (removed the wonton strips), and the spicy Thai dressing. ($10+) I would rate the restaurant as a whole at a 3/5. The portion was pretty small for the cost of the dish, and they put the wonton strips on the salad the first time after explaining my gluten allergy.

However, the worker I spoke with was extremely patient with me as I navigated the menu for acceptable choices. There are probably half a dozen gluten-free choices, and the entire menu is vegan.


Sol Cocina Mexican Restaurant

251 East Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA 92663

★★★★ (4/5)

The second place I went to was for tacos (A day late for Taco Tuesday, but let’s be honest…tacos are acceptable 24/7.) I came to find out there is a Sol Cocina in Scottsdale, so that almost made the entire trip right there!

Before the tacos came out, they give whole, fried and seasoned corn tortillas that you break apart and dip in fresh salsa and black bean dip. It was super unique and packed with flavor. As for tacos, I had the black bean and sweet potato tacos with caramelized onion, poblano peppers, black beans (w/o Mexican cheese and chipotle sauce because it’s mayo based.) Holy shizz-balls, I forgot how much I loved tacos!! If they weren’t $4.50 each, I would have gotten more than two.

Overall, I’d give this fabulous ocean-side restaurant two thumbs up. As far as catering to food allergies, they even had a complete vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu. Plus, my server Eric was…well, let’s just say really easy on the eyes. Meeyoww!


It only took the 5-hour drive home to process the implications of this trip. I had just made 100% of the decisions for an incredible trip and nothing bad happened. No consequences, huge financial mistakes, or terrible life decisions. This was a huge change from what seems like three years of making one wrong decision after another. Could that just be what comes with the territory in college? Maybe. But nonetheless, it was a huge sigh of relief to do something that wasn’t “wrong” or arguably a cause for a bad domino effect. Hooray! Victory is mine!

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