Southern California, in my mind, is notable for its food, its beaches, and its car culture. I’d never been, somehow, despite loving all three of those things. Looking to escape the cold gray February that settles over Washington, D.C. every year, my boyfriend and I cashed in some Southwest points and flew west. We had four days of plans, a weather forecast in the high sixties, and a ‘C8’ 2022 Chevy Corvette waiting for us at LAX.
Darkness adds an extra element of ‘thrill’ to navigating a new city, and we touched down just as the sun was setting. By the time we caught a shuttle to pick up the car and figured out exactly how to Tetris our bags into the Corvette’s two trunks, there was little natural light left. I’ve driven a few C8 Corvettes before, but the low, wide car with minimal rear visibility feels lower, wider, and more cave-like in a new environment at night.
Our first night took us to Venice Beach, where I first got to contend with learning the street signs and parking rules of a new area before we could eat. Venice Beach on a Thursday night was poppin’ and I used the only self-park lot of the whole trip to tuck the Corvette away as we wandered through a shop, walked on the beach (albeit briefly) and ate at Great White.
Given the three hour time difference between coasts, our bodies were eager for an early bedtime and sleeping in was not an easy option. We used that to our advantage and were (relatively) happy getting up early to start each day.
We Didn’t Eat a Bad Meal
Los Angeles is a city where you can eat your way through the trip… and we ate. We truly didn’t have a bad meal anywhere. Following that first dinner in Venice Beach, our food tour continued throughout Santa Monica, San Clemente, Malibu, Altadena, and everywhere in between.
We had morning donuts at Sidecar, sandwiches at Fanny’s, açai bowls at Aloha, tacos and molé on the curb at El Campeon, pub food at Local Peasant, cinnamon rolls at The Old Place, dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and pasta at The Factory Kitchen. Everything – truly – was phenomenal, made better by the company who joined us for a few of those meals.
The Petersen Museum is So Damn Cool
Our first full day was “museum day,” encompassing both the car-focused Petersen Museum and the entertainment-centric Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Both were a great use of our time, but the über-special tour of the Petersen really stood out. Michael, the museum’s COO, showed us around the main three floors, then introduced us to his colleague Lincoln, who showed us the museum’s off-limits workshop as part of our basement Vault tour.
Whatever you can see at the Petersen is worth it. One of my childhood “hero cars,” the Jaguar XJ220, was on display in a gorgeous navy blue. We saw Batmobiles, actual from-the-movies 007 Aston Martins, and a Bugatti Veyron like the one that captured my imagination on that one episode of Top Gear. There were overlanders of all ages and EVs from the dawn of time to present-day. And that was just the main three stories.
Our stop in the workshop allowed a sneak peek at cars being repaired or prepared for exhibition or sale. Turning the corner, we saw a Hennessey Venom in the same room as Buddy Baker’s NASCAR-winning 1970 Dodge Daytona, a ’40s (ish) Delahaye awaiting some new front suspension, and a never-federalized Smart Crossblade. Just a few steps ahead was a Saleen S7 and numerous race cars, including one of the Chip Ganassi IndyCars that I delicately slid myself into (with permission). It was wild.
The Vault may have been the most interesting section of the museum, with an incredibly diverse collection of cars. Suki’s Honda S2000 sat near Chrysler and Honda concept cars, a never-used Popemobile, and a 1952 Imperial Parade Phaeton used by Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. We saw the Porsche 901 that became the Porsche 911 after a legal snafu with Peugeot. I poked my head inside the sole 1959 Scimilar hardtop convertible concept ever built. We passed by an early Jaguar E-Type and a FD Mazda RX-7 concept to end at the museum’s prized 1925 “round door” Rolls-Royce, designed by Jonckheere Carrossiers.
Articles could be written about every single car we saw in the Petersen. If I find myself with an excess of time, I’ll see what I can do. The entire experience was exciting and stunning. These sorts of historically-significant machines are what you read about and see online, and bringing that online “some day” experience into reality was almost too much to process in the moment.
Petersen Museum tickets are available for $17, add Vault access starting at $25.
G-Wagens Are Everywhere, and the C8 is a Lamborghini
We spent one morning in San Clemente at their weekly South Coast Cars & Coffee. Hundreds of cars showed up to the extremely well-run event, and the diversity of cars was pretty great to see. Old ‘woody’ wagons were parked among vintage metal, supercars of all ages, and more attainable makes and models from all over the world. The C8 was right at home – the Corvette was well-represented, especially from the C5 generation onward. Despite so many Corvettes on display, “my” Hypersonic Gray 2LT generated a good amount of questions from passers-by – when I was nearby.
After enjoying a few hours of cars and dogs, Joe and I got back in the Corvette and meandered over to Mission San Juan Capistrano. We took in the historic mission – founded in November 1776 – and all its property had to offer, and walked down the street for tacos. The two of us refueled, the top once again came off the Corvette and was clicked away in the trunk for our drive up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Leaving Orange County via the PCH meant we had periods of higher-speed driving punctuated by slower-speed beach town cruising. “Count the G-Wagens” became a fun game to play, at one point spotting five at once through our low windshield. Priced around $150,000, the wildly-capable trucks on rubber-band street tires appeared to be the Chevy Tahoe of Huntington Beach.
Throughout the drive, automotive scenery was quite a sight – and we had picked a perfect day to cruise. Ferraris, Porsches, Alfas, and yes, Corvettes – including a man frantically waving at us from a C1 convertible in a turn lane – all made appearances as owners exercised them on our seventy-degree February weekend.
Once again, our gray C8 Corvette made friends, this time on the road. Many people stared, several gave honks and waves and thumbs-up, and one man leaned out the window of his GMT400 Suburban at a red light asking what the car was. “I thought it was a Lamborghini!” he exclaimed, having missed the “Corvette” lettering between the tail lights.
I did, of course, manage to get a sunburn as part of this Pacific Coast cruise. The Corvette’s roof panel had been stowed in the trunk all day, the sun was aimed directly at the left side of my head, and I was not prepared in the slightest. Putting the panel back in was simply not an option, as salt air and turnt-up Kelly Clarkson don’t hit the same in a closed cabin.
Canyon Rooooooads, Take Me Hoooooome
I didn’t get to hit Angeles Crest. We didn’t have enough time to plan another scenic drive on top of seeing friends and exploring everything else on our list. I did get to spend one morning in the canyons of Malibu, though, and they delivered.
Drive mode dial clicked to Sport and transmission set to Manual, the Corvette and I got into a rhythm. It was here that the C8 felt most at home, with sweeping curves and grades steep enough to work the big 6.2 liter V8 behind our heads. Gone were the tight roads and potholes of city streets, the width and stiffness of the chassis both don’t matter when you get out of such a confining environment.
Partway through our morning, we stopped at The Old Place, an old general store and post office turned restaurant. Given its location nestled among Malibu canyon roads, the car spotting was at its peak, with plenty of interesting metal in the parking lot and even more braaaaping past.
Our final canyon road was more of a slow-speed neighborhood road, of sorts, that felt a bit too tight and slow for the C8. I took it “easy” – Joe may say otherwise – and admired the homes and views as best I could while pointing us south again toward Route 1, trying to stay on my side of the double yellows and also not fall off the side of the road.
Everything Just Keeps Going
“Walkability” is a concept somewhat lost on the greater Los Angeles area, which, fine, there was plenty of land when the whole area was built out. It’s a car city with sprawl aplenty. The traffic is as real as the television and internet make it out to be, although I found everyone to be pretty competent on the roads.
But once you get to your destination in this car-centric hotspot, finding a place to put your car can be tough. Valet lots are everywhere, street parking is scarce, and park-it-yourself lots not super prevalent. Handing the keys to a total stranger is a concept that makes me hesitant in the most boring of crossovers… doubly so in Chevrolet’s Isthatalambo.
Our trip was a quick one, perfect for soaking in some Vitamin-D and escaping to warmer weather. It wasn’t my first time in California, but it was my first time south of San Francisco. We put nearly four hundred miles on the Corvette’s odometer in a touch over three days, and I returned it to LAX knowing we’d only scratched the surface of the metro area. I’m not sure how it took me so long to plan my first visit, but I’ll certainly be back.
And of course, the people are what make any trip that much better. Thanks to Ben, Nate, Eero, Shad, Shelby, Steven, Noah, and Brett for each of your contributions to a too-short-very-fun time on the “other coast.”