I am writing this from the largest hotel room balcony I’ve ever had. We are at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in downtown Beverly Hills. It’s an incredible hotel, and the room is spectacular, but I’ll get to that later.

We started off this morning in a misty, wet San Jose just before 8am. We said ‘goodbye’ to the San Jose Fairmont, and headed on our coastal drive down HWY 1. If you’re not familiar with this road, it’s one of the greatest scenic drives on the planet. It runs down the coast of California, and has many twists and turns along the way. It’s no way near as fast as taking 101 or 5, but it’s 1000% more interesting.

Our first stop was Pebble Beach. We decided it was worth the time to drive through Monterey and 17 mile drive. We stopped at The Lodge for a quick pitstop, and then refueled.

It was a bit overcast for most of the trip. As we hit the windy parts near Big Sur, I really started to enjoy the drive. We were going briskly, but safely, spending most of our time in 3rd gear, with an occasional drop to 2nd. When we encountered the occasional car in front of us, something incredible kept happening…They would just pull over to the side. It was as if they had received instructions at a breakfast briefing, informing them that Mark McArdle was on his fantasy roadtrip, and that they should yield the road to him to prevent any loss of joy through the windy road. Helen and I discussed what could actually be motivating them to do this. I wasn’t tailgating, so that wasn’t it. I think it’s the “where’d he come from” effect. Helen thinks it’s the sound of my engine as I downshift while reducing speed behind them. That’s throttle blip/road does have quite an aggressive edge to it.

In any event, this kind, thoughtful people allowed me to enjoy the road, and it definitely lived up to expectations. We had only gone this far south on HWY 1 once before when we lived in California. We reached Big Sur and then headed east to catch 101 for the return home. But now we were breaking new territory.

Soon enough, the roads straightened out, which was probably for the best. The active seat bolsters had been given a good hour+ workout, but I’m sure the M5 enjoyed that stretch of road as much as I did. Helen video recorded some sections of it. I can’t wait to see those!

Helen spotted lots of seals on the beach, so we stopped at a convenient spot and went to take a look. There were hundreds of them lounging on the sand dunes. It was pretty funny watching the big ones slink there away along the sand.

A little ways down the road, we reached San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle. We had been advised that it’s worth the time to stop and see it, so we pulled off. When we got the the parking lot, we realized that it was a pretty big hike up to the castle, so we stopped and took a few pictures with the long lens. I’m sure it’s very nice, but we really wanted to get to LA.

After stopping for a delicious lunch at a place called Burger King, it was back on the road. We passed by Vandenberg Air Force Base (aka Air Force Space Command)…I love the sound of that title, it sounds like something from Buzz Lightyear. Next it was Oxnard, and then down to Malibu!

I’d only driven around Malibu once, and thought it was really beautiful. A couple of minutes into town, we pulled over at an vista point. There was a couple staring out at the ocean, and we joined them. We quickly learned that they had spotted whales! Helen was so excited, and couldn’t believe that I’d arranged for whales in Malibu. Well, I am a resourceful guy, and I know how much she loves to see whales in the Pacific. It wasn’t long before we saw the plume of misty exhaust from one of those beautiful creatures. They were only about 150 yards off shore, so you could see a bit of detail. After snapping a few pictures, we took off on our way.

The next stop I had planned was a little tour of a neighbourhood in Malibu where David Letterman has a house. It’s also the area where Johnny Carson lived. Helen video recorded this little section of town as we drove through it. We came upon a group of young men all wearing white shirts and black pants in front of a house surrounded by cars. They were valet parking attendants for someone’s party. I joked that if we kept a straight face and tossed him the keys, we might be able to crash a cool Malibu party. But we thought the video camera in Helen’s hand and our Ontario license plates screamed “tourist”, so we kept going.

As we got closer to LA, the cars started improving too. A couple of Lambos, a few Bentleys and the occasional Ferrari were spotted. We stopped for a few minutes (unintentionally due to a wrong turn) at the Santa Monica Pier. Then it was back on I-10, and I-405 for a few minutes before we had arrived in Beverly Hills.

Because this was Helen’s first trip to Los Angeles, I really wanted to make it special for her. So I made reservations at the hotel made famous by the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie “Pretty Woman”. It seemed so appropriate for this trip, and made a great spot to celebrate the next stage in our lives. She is my “Pretty Woman” and I wanted her to feel that way too.

The GPS worked brilliantly, navigating us right to the entrance to the Beverly Wilshire. We were greeted by several hotel staff. The bags and the car were taken care of, and we were escorted to reception and received an overview of the hotel on the way.

We checked in, and headed to our room in the “new tower”. As we entered the elevator, I shouted “Well colour me happy, there really are sofas built for two!” We were in a Suite overlooking Rodeo Drive and the surrounding hills. It was a stunning suite. The huge balcony I mentioned earlier is accessed by either the door from the sitting room, or the one in the bedroom. There were 2 plasma TVs and very comfortable furniture. As Helen enjoyed the view from the balcony, a woman 9 stories below her shouted up “how’s the view?” She said it was just like the guy in “Pretty Woman” who shouted “Welcome to Hollywood!”.

We had a quick drink from the minibar, and then headed off to see the sites of Rodeo Drive.

Now this is the part of the story where you have to suspend your disbelief. When Helen arrived on Friday she said “you know how you always forget something when you go on a trip, well I forgot to bring jewelery.” Right, Helen, who never forgets anything, and is always completely organized conveniently “forgot” her jewelery, knowing that she’d be steps away from Rodeo Drive in a couple of days. So, because we were dining out at a very nice restaurant that night, she wanted to see if she could get a necklace and some earrings. And off we went. Fortunately, Helen was NOT heading in the direction of Cartier or Harry Winston. She found a nice set, which were not crusted with diamonds. They would work perfectly for tonight, and not have me calling my boss at McAfee asking to come back because I was broke.

We then returned to the hotel before any more damage could be done, and got ready for dinner. Helen loves sushi, so when I was planning this night, I decided to find a great sushi restaurant. I quickly discovered that there was a Koi Restaurant nearby. Perfect! We had reservations for 8pm and arrived right on time. This restaurant is so good that they don’t even have their name on the front. It’s covered with plants and Ivy, and a doorman won’t let you in unless you’re “on the list”. Well fortunately, we were on that list. We had a half Grey Goose, half Bombay Sapphire martini while we waited briefly for our table.

We were seated in a section that was candle lit, and open to the stars above with heaters to keep you warm. It was really beautiful. We had a spectacular dinner of crispy rice (oh, that was unbelievably good), and sushi consisting of salmon, shrimp and toro. Helen also tried Kobe beef for the first time, and loved it. As we were nearing the end of our main course, Helen, who was sitting facing the “people” side of the table was looking over my shoulder. She leaned over and said “there’s that guy from Saturday Night Live”. I looked over and said “is that Kato Kaelin”. After staring awkwardly for a few more seconds, I realized it was none other than David Spade. So Helen not only had an amazing hotel suite and a fantastic restaurant for her first trip to LA, she also had a celebrity sighting! But we weren’t finished with celebrities yet. She also spotted what she called a “very attractive black man” sitting with 4 beautiful women. When I returned from the restroom, Helen told me that the waiter said he was Jason Taylor from the Miami Dolphins, and he’s in LA doing “Dancing with the Stars”. Well, that’s celebrity number 2. I think based on where her eyes were focused that Helen thought Mr. Taylor was more “interesting” than Mr. Spade. Sorry, David.

It’s now Sunday morning, at around 6:30am, and all is quiet. Our plan for today is to see a few more sights, specifically Hollywood and the famed sign, and then head across the desert to Las Vegas. Next stop, Bellagio.