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TRAVEL// "Orange County, Southern California." // by Kelly Mason

"Palms & Sunset in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California."

I did not believe it to be true, for me to spend what would be the next year travelling between California and Manchester.

I did not believe the time would come for this new chapter and I did not know it was to turn out to be one of my most memorable and beautiful chapters in my life thus far.

I said my goodbyes and I embarked on a beautiful love story, that for personal reasons that I hold silent and close to my heart but also that of the love story between me and exploration, new experience and opportunity.

The first time I visited was a complete California Daze, a California dream. I would spend my time reading and writing, reflecting and wondering. Exploring all that there was to be explored when it came to the likes of vegan cuisine, Yoga and surrounding sights and landmarks.

I experienced views from the top of the Laguna hills on weekly hikes, I walked and would bike to the surrounding beaches of Dana point, Newport, Laguna and San Clemete.

I spent time caring and being there for loved ones, meeting new friends and experiencing old friends in new exciting locations across Southern California's Orange County.

I would train daily in the gym with my good friend, Colombian born, personal trainer Alexander. I would attend Yoga classes at Ekam Yoga down on the Newport coast front biking a total of 18 miles each time for each class.

The first visit to California was beautiful and I enjoyed every second, I was grateful for every second but after three months I was to return to the UK for the Christmas period, to be with my family.

By the second time I arrived back in California everything felt a little more secure. The space was just as beautiful as when I had left her and after spending Christmas at home I found myself landing in her again, living her again.

This time around I rediscovered my bearings and I quickly rediscovered my routine of Yoga, Vegan cuisine, daily reading and writing, providing and supporting.

One day I was riding back from a yoga session along Newport's Back bay and I was asked to ride in a private plane and oversee the city of Irvine and surrounding areas.

Of course, I excitably agreed as my afternoon had no plans, and nothing sounded like it would top this offer and company.

Here we flew across the coast of Orange Country where I was lucky enough not only for the experience itself but to also see the outline of LA city and a rogue great white shark just off the shores of Huntington Beach.

We flew across to Catalina Island, flew around the Catalina bay and landed in the Catalina Sky Airport where we spent some time on the Island.

On the way back over to land the pilot, and dear friend of mine, performed a 360 loop and then another, and then another while we were in the plane. Completely surreal experience to say the least.

The whole experience took my breath away. I had no plans for the remainder of the day and before I knew it I was watching my apartment block from a mile above and circling around my condo.

We had plans for me to stay in California for three months and then to return for a further three months soon and during this time we decided that as I was unable to work I would progress myself and utilise my time in other ways.

I did this through attending Culinary school and creating a new art pieces.

The following months were spent with hours upon hours of learning and creating with Matthew Kenney’s Culinary school and creating my art vision during the evening and weekends.

It was here that I obtained 'Fundamentals in Plant based cuisine', 'Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine' and a certification in 'Plant based Culinary Nutrition'.

Each day during the training's I would wake and prepare the space, follow the syllabus and implement all the dishes required to pass the schooling.

This took a total of four and a half months of dedicated, disciplined and creative work and with only a few days left before departure to India I had completed all three courses and created seven new finished Art pieces.

During my time in California I was exposed to many places and here it is where I would like to share with you my recommendations if you ever find yourself in the area or surrounding areas.

A few places that I hold near to my heart, not only for what they have to offer but what memories I share at these spaces and the breakthroughs I encountered at these spaces.

A few cafes and restaurants that I discovered on the way, Yoga studios holding beautiful spaces and good quality teachings and markets to ethically source your plant-based produce.

Restaurants, Cafes, Markets

"Gratitude Cafe"

Newport, Orange County, California.

Gratitude Cafe in Newport was a regular space that you would find me during my time in Orange County though usually this space was saved for a more celebratory or special occasion.

The atmosphere is stunning, walls decorated with handmade knitted dream catchers and subway tiling.

The menu consisting of, to die for, Indulgence smoothies made with super foods and creamy dairy free commentaries. There are starters to get the taste buds teased, main meals and desserts to further indulge the senses.

If you are looking for something a little lighter, just around the back of Gratitude they have created a 'Gratitude to go' where they serve up organic coffee, sweet treats and super juices.

This goes at the top of this list for a reason, each time I have dined here I have not been disappointed and I hope if you were to visit you would feel the same.

I didn't manage to visit the Gratitude Cafe located in LA City however I have heard some wonderful things from many trusted sources.

Whether you find yourself In Orange County or LA scope out this joint and let me know what you think of its offerings.

"Mothers Market"

Irvine, Costa Mesa, Anahaim, Orange County, California, USA.

Goodness gracious me, when I first entered this store it was like I had died and gone to organic supermarket heaven.

Originally started by a small Yoga community, Mothers market has now branched out throughout Orange county.

Local seasonal produce, to die for vegan ice cream and goodies. Organic herbs, spices, grains and more. This is where I would be found doing my weekly stock up.

Yes, it’s a little expensive but for me worth every single penny and it is a pleasurable shopping experience. Anytime I found myself looking for an ingredient or super food I would be sure to find it here. Some things I had never heard of in the Plant based culinary world I discovered here in this store

And as well as trading as a shop, each store has its own cafe offering up all day vegan / vegetarian breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, smoothies and juices.

Serving sizeable portions and satisfying tastes.

On Saturday mornings - we would dine here. Sunday evening - we would dine here. When I would first arrive back to Irvine - we would be found dining here. On the mornings of my last days - we would be here dining.

If you find yourself at any of the Mother's locations be sure to order Mothers Market's "Dream Date Smoothie with Rice Milk & Rice Ice cream" - it is so good!

"Veggie Grill"

Irvine, Orange County, California, USA.

"The Stand"

Laguna Beach, Orange County, California, USA.

I was recommended this place by a friend and what a super cute location it is, just off the main street in Laguna. It’s a space surrounded by Sunflowers awaiting to pleasure the passers-by.

"The Stand" specialising in burritos and rice bowl dishes.

Usually I would find myself here after a bike ride from Irvine to Laguna or on days that we would spend near the beach or in the hills.

Peak times I must warn you are as you would have guessed it get super busy. Avoid between the hours of 12:30 and 14:00 so get there early or you will find yourself waiting in line. But don't worry as it is fast service and the healthy, simple, Mexican influenced food is worth a little waiting.

"Seabirds Kitchen"

Various, Orange County, California, USA.


Various, Orange County, California, USA.

Of course, everyone has heard of Wholefoods. I have been lucky enough to have this space as my go to, no matter the city I find myself in; New York; London; Irvine, check.

Wholefoods is a huge chain of health stores throughout the world. Offering a place to go for your weekly shop, a bakery, self-serving health food bar and restaurant. It is, although sometimes a little excessive in price, one of my go to places for lunch or if I am looking for a particularly unusual culinary product - they have it all and in every store, they have trained, delightful and helpful staff.

If I can’t find what I am looking for anywhere else then I can always rely on Wholefoods.

Yoga Spaces

"Ekam Yoga"

Newport, Orange County, California, USA.

This was one of my regular studios throughout my time in California. I would attend classes each day with various skilled, talented and oh so unique teachers. Some focusing on strength and fluidity, others focusing on stillness, calmness and reflection.

A special mention to Sarah Reeves & Simon Ballard as these two teachers impacted my practice and inspired me.

The owner Dani is a wonderful, multitasking lady who maintains an environment where students can feel safe to expose and explore safely and openly within their practice.

The space itself is stunning. The reception a light, clean and open space and inside the studio itself a wooden rustic mood lit space and with plenty of space for practice.

Sarah's Tuesday morning class (although time table may have changed) is a must attend and books up fast!

Simon's sessions are usually in the afternoons, Yin style sessions and delivered from an angle I had never been exposed to before - his classes are truly beautiful and create an impact to your Yin side.

"RA Yoga"

Various, Orange County, California, USA.

"Yoga Works"

Various, Orange County, California, USA.

I was invited to attend only a select few of the classes at the Yoga Works studio space in Costa Mesa. There are several studios around orange county and from what I experienced they hold and offer some of the most qualified, experience and knowledgeable teachers around.

Their sessions are intense, deep and completely ooze the Philosophy, subtleties and essence of Yoga which can be lost within many of the Yoga studios around.

"Core Power"

Various, Orange County, California, USA.

You can't turn a corner in Orange County and not see a Core Power Yoga!

The spaces are open and beautiful and the teachers teaching there are the same.

Core Power do 200hr Teacher training courses, workshops and a selection of daily yoga classes.

I attended two or three of these studios and found that if you are looking for an intense power or hot yoga session Core Power is the way to go.

Each class pushes your physical limits and the sequences are very creative and never boring.

A special Mention to Australian born MJ Travers who delivers some of the most intense and creative flows I have ever experienced within a Hot Yoga class.

Each of the studios do super introduction deals for new comers and you are for sure to get your money worth when first attending. The offers give you a glimpse into the style of practices offered, the teachers teaching them and a chance to see if the space and practitioner company is right for you, so you can make an informed decision as to how and who you want to move forward with your practice.

I will always hold my time in California close to me. It was a space where I was allowed and enabled to forfill my intentions of learning, exploration, progression and growth.

During my time there I counted my blessings every single day and at times I had to pinch myself to make sure that it was all real and happening.

I gained so much life experience and a profound amount of opportunity both personally and professionally.

This is a place at the top of my list for my self-expression being at its finest and most available for me to access that expression.

Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to visit a place I called home for a while and each time I take a moment to be grateful, I don't get emotional or sentimental, I just smile gently and take it all in and remember fondly the time I spent here, what I saw, what I learnt, how I grew and what I became from these visits.


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