these are the photos and stories from my trip that weren't posted on instagram or facebook or shared in text messages. i'm still trying to find my balance between living it, capturing it in a photo, and immediately sharing it on the internet. vacation or not. plus, california feels more like a piece of my story and less like any other vacation. i needed a few days and a lot of words to digest it.

i think the beginning of this story starts years ago, when my mom and i were shopping, and we ran into leah and her mom at the gap. i didn't even know this was a memory i'd kept until i sat down to write about my trip, but now it feels alarmingly relevant.

we grew up in church together, leah and i, but we haven't always been close. when we ran into each other that day, i knew almost nothing about who she was as a person. maybe that's why dreams of moving across the country were thrown around during a casual run-in at a clothing store – it was the only time we had the opportunity. or maybe it's because leah and i have this tendency to go from "are you caught up on parenthood?" to sharing our real and honest thoughts about love and marriage and divorce, in a matter of minutes.

that day, we stood next to a rack of shirts as i asked about her future plans while i pretended to browse. as you do, when you run into someone you barely know while you're out shopping.

that's the first time i remember her telling me about california, and looking back, i think her boldness about having big dreams was contagious. only i didn't know it then.

we used to sit in starbucks for hours – leah, with her grande coffee drink; me, with my tall hot chocolate (because i didn't like coffee then) – and dream out loud. we have become great friends, although i couldn't pinpoint when exactly that happened. somehow, we got in the habit of having starbucks dates, where we would talk about everything and always end up talking about the future. she wanted to live in california, and i wanted to live in nashville.

"years from now, we'll know how things turned out, because we'll have lived it," we used to say. "and we'll meet up for coffee and talk about back when we used to sit in starbucks, dying to know when we'd finally be able to move and how it all worked out."

we had big dreams, and we were desperate to see how they would unfold.

on her move across the country last year, she passed through nashville for a quick visit. and at the beginning of this year, i decided to stop saying "i need to come visit" and start planning. the idea was that if i just started, i would either run into a closed door or find out that the door was never closed to begin with.

i guess what i mean to say is that this trip meant something. it wasn't just a vacation, or a reunion between friends. it was like a celebration of sorts. she made it, and i made it. and i don't know that i could ever really find the words to explain how incredibly it happened.

it was great to see her and hug her and drink coffee with her (because, i drink coffee now). but not only that, i felt overjoyed to be able to experience her life now. the place where she lives and sleeps and eats, the freeways she drives, the coffeeshops she frequents, the people she's friends with.

i loved visiting a new city, but i loved that i was visiting her city.

 / this was my first view of the city, from the airplane.

people kept telling me california was different. not in a better or worse way, just different. this was the moment i first realized what they meant. i mean, just LOOK at it.

 / the pacific coast highway! or, "the PCH." i could drive along this road all day.

 / there are spots where you can pull over, climb down a semi-steep hill, and have a small portion of beach and, THAT PACIFIC OCEAN.

i totally meant to type "the" pacific ocean right then, but that's what came out and i'm not fixing it.

also i don't know how anyone ever does anything except spend all their time staring at, listening to, driving past, that pacific ocean.

 / "let's take a photo!"

 / "let's make an excited YOU FINALLY MADE IT, YOU'RE HERE face."

 / the water wasn't that cold, but it was colder than the air and that's the face i made. it's also the face i made in reaction to probably 90% of the things i saw and experienced in california.

 / i didn't realize it then, but that is smoggy. not foggy. it was still warm, normal california weather on this day. it rained friday night & saturday morning (rain! in LA! for the first time since april!), and on saturday afternoon, i got to see what LA looks like with a clear (and even more beautiful) view. the silver lining to my trip falling on the first rainfall in six months.

 / we took a celebrity home tour, which was an experience. mostly hilarious, and only slightly awkward, considering our tour guide was basically a borderline celebrity stalker disguised as a tour guide. but, i learned a few new and fascinating things (non celebrity related) and saw a lot of bushes, gates, and security cameras belonging to the celebrity homes.

also: hollywood boulevard, the hollywood sign, beverly hills, rodeo drive, sunset strip.


 / sprinkles cupcakes has a cupcake atm, so you can still get a cupcake even if the store isn't open and now i feel a void in my life that only a cupcake atm can fill.

 / this is 'the witches house.' a house from a movie set (or something?) that someone transplanted into this neighborhood in beverly hills. no one lives there, but i guess you can rent it out for parties or something? it's only open on halloween, when the witch is there, but more on that later.

 / IN-N-OUT. this might be a little over dramatic, but that might be the best fast food burger i've ever had in my entire life and every time i look at that photo, my mouth waters and my heart breaks a little, because it's so far away.

 / we drove to the spot where you can hike up to the hollywood sign, but they're doing construction or something lame like that, so we couldn't actually get up there. we tried this other random side street and climbed a hill in someone's yard, but no luck there.

 / the thing about LA is that everywhere you go, there's a view.

 / we are practically experts at taking selfies with a view in the background, without a selfie stick.

 / afternoon tea. like, at a tea house and everything. leah's friend is super into tea, and he heard about this guest appreciation deal, so we went. how quaint, right?

 / it turns out, leah has a forest in the front of her apartment. when you park in the one parking spot for the apartment, you go in the side door off the kitchen. but this one day, we parked on the street and i was beyond thrilled to see what her front door looks like. she laughed at my excitement, but these are the little things about her life that she wouldn't ever think to tell me about.

oh, by the way, i walk through a forest of palm trees every time i enter my apartment through my front door.

 / leah's boyfriend works with an organization called red eye every saturday, which is basically a mentoring program that provides kids with opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have. on halloween, everyone meets at the beverly hills hotel and they take the kids trick or treating in a neighborhood in beverly hills.

leah and i checked the bathroom before we left to make sure we weren't leaving any kids behind, and also to take some quick selfies because it's not every day you are in the bathroom of the beverly hills hotel.

 / i've never gone trick or treating before, so this experience was absolutely thrilling. overwhelming at first, because there were so many kids and apparently shaving cream fights between beverly hills kids is a thing? but it was fun, and we got to see the witches house we'd heard so much about on that celebrity home tour. it was a little underwhelming, like i don't even think you could go inside and you could only see the witch in the window, but they handed out full-size crunch bars so that made it all worth it in the end.

while we were waiting for our group to gather, and as it was raining for the first time in six months, leah and i decided we needed some candy to get us through. and that's when i had my first trick or treating experience: i went to the witches house, not even wearing a costume, said the words "trick or treat," and was handed a candy bar. monumental, i tell you.

 / what is my face doing? i look like one of those kids who's too hyped up on candy after a life-changing experience while trick or treating, and i guess that's a pretty accurate description of what's happening here.

 / for three days, leah made pancakes and we watched gilmore girls while we ate breakfast. not at all california-related, but it was the perfect way to start each day.

 / we've probably taken this photo before. leah's taller cup on the right, my shorter one on the left. the difference here is that we're at peet's in california and there's coffee in my cup. (a cinnamon hazelnut latte that i got for free with my purchase of a pastry that was half the price of what the latte cost, to be exact. it was delicious. and free.) also, holiday cups.


 / this is what the back side of the new girl building looks like. "that building? with the graffiti – i mean, art – on it?" was my exact reaction.

 / i can't look at this sign and not think of lorelai gilmore.

 / we wandered into this place, the pie hole, and waited like twenty minutes for this mac & cheese. and it was, hands down, the most delicious thing i've ever tasted.

 / the santa monica pier, though. where there is a mini theme park with rides and a FERRIS WHEEL. (of course we went on the ferris wheel.) nobody told me this type of thing existed in real life. i'm torn between wanting to live on the santa monica pier and driving the PCH every day for the rest of my life.

 / for fun, here's an airplane photo i took on the way home. we took off heading west, so we were over the ocean for a little bit. i'm fascinated by the views you see from the sky in general, but having never flown over the ocean before, it was like flying for the first time all over again. so much blue.