I know diddly-squat about California, other than it’s chock full of Hollywood crazies. So much so that one was even elected to run the joint. Besides that, a six hour layover at LAX doesn’t count as seeing the Golden State. Remedy? A Route 1 road trip.

We have no Lonely Planet to guide the way, so in theory we’re destined for…loneliness? Really though, have you ever used one of those things before? It’s dangerous with its knowledge. It makes you believe that you’re “in the know.” If you’re not careful, you’ll be funneled into the same travel path already beaten down by millions and millions of tourists. Instead of creating your own experience, you will become just another consumer of the pre-packaged Lonely Planet soup de jour: all taste and no substance.

There is one thing that’s better than guidebooks. People. We have friends, relatives and friends of friends offering (or rather, conceding when we’ve begged) couches to sleep on, cars to tool around in, hot showers to get squeaky clean in, and a whole wealth of local knowledge steering us clear of the tourist trench. All sharing their slice of California with us to savor, local-style.

Brandon, a friend of Kirk’s from high school, picked us up from the airport. With suitcases pilled on our laps, we rode in his ’89 Cadillac Eldorado down to Huntington Beach, making a stop at In-N-Out Burger, a Cali institution. After dumping our bags in Brandon’s apartment, we grabbed longboards – Brandon loaned Kelly a bike – and headed to the beach.

The sun hung low over the Pacific, but still radiated warmth on the beachfront. It was late afternoon on the weekend and the boardwalk was still buzzing with people. Bikers zig-zagged, strollers rolled, and skateboards carved. We walked out onto the pier and looked over the edge. A cluster of surfers bobbed in the water, waiting for the next good wave. Clad in their black wet suits – a necessity in the chilly January ocean – they looked like seals having a grand old time in the surf.

After Kirk finished salivating over surfing (he was just itching to jump in the waves), we skated inland up a main drag lined with shops, restaurants and bars. Brandon and his roommate, Brendan – I know, confusing – took us to their regular locale: Kilarney’s irish pub. Five dollars bought us a giant pile of nachos with all the fixings. I drank a Black Velvet – a combination of Guinness and pear cider. Smooth, crisp, sweet and substantial. We toasted our welcome to California. ☼