Summer Diaries: Rachel Neathery

Adventuring in California, from LA to San Diego


Photo Courtesy of Michael Neathery

My mom, brother and I admire the eye-catching view on Griffith Observatory as the sun sets behind the Santa Monica Mountains.

Rachel Neathery, Staff Writer

It’s been two years already; two years and too long since the world shut down from Covid. The pandemic canceled travel plans and left everyone huddled together in their homes going virtually nowhere, except for the occasional breath of fresh air to run errands. Now flash forward- I finally got my own breath of fresh air, but plot twist; I was up 30,000 feet in the stratosphere. Feeling like the first time in forever, it was a surreal experience finding myself sitting on a 6 hour flight all the way from Virginia to the west coast of California.

Hollywood stars, popular movies and the “city life” of Hollywood Boulevard is probably the thought that comes most to mind often when hearing Los Angeles. I’ve seen most parts of the city the last time I visited California, but it was still a pleasant surprise when my mother’s itinerary had our first pit stop in a town called Little Saigon, home to many Vietnamese culture and small businesses.

Back at home, my mom would cook staple Vietnamese dishes, such as pho noodles for the family as the delicious taste filled us up, or sing karaoke in Vietnamese with me as we goofed off at my American accent whilst helping me learn the lyrics. Though it was a personal and important aspect of identity that I proudly appreciated, as a second generation Vietnamese American, I wouldn’t see much of my culture outside of my immediate and extended family. When finding out that Los Angeles was one of the top cities for Vietnamese who immigrated during the Vietnam War, I was enthusiastic to learn more about what my culture had to offer.

At Phước Lộc Thọ’s night market, my mother, brother and I view keepsakes such as Vietnamese zodiac figurines. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Neathery)

While being immersed in a town filled with a huge Vietnamese community, what was an especially exciting part of my trip in Little Saigon was shopping at Phước Lộc Thọ, known as the largest Vietnamese mall in America. I had the opportunity to buy my very first Áo dài, a traditional Vietnamese dress, which was embroidered with a crane and flower designs. These items aren’t usually seen typically when shopping away from a larger asian community back at home.

Outside the mall at night, strolling around the night market booths was a lively experience; the bustling chatter and music was something I definitely needed after not going out on a vacation in so long. The familiar scent of oriental food from the stands and food trucks definitely made me salivate. Despite being 2,654 miles from home, I still felt comforted by the ambiance of Little Saigon; a part of me that will always stay close to me no matter how far.

From a birds eye view of LA, Griffith Observatory was the next attraction I visited. The overlook had a beautiful view of the entire city, and in the evening I could see the orange sunset setting behind the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance. Along with the observatory being a pleasant place to relax for me, it reminded me of the sunsets I used to watch in my backyard deck; after being sedentary for so long, I was reminded about the little things I used to do.

At the zoo there were emulations of other biomes such as the tropical environments, where I visited flamingos. Accidentally, I was fully dressed in pink; this made a very suiting photo. (Rachel Neathery)

After a couple of days in Los Angeles, about an hour and a half drive away was the next city I was visiting: San Diego. My family and I visited San Diego Zoo Safari Park and first went onto the African tram after arriving. From the abundance of wildlife on the Safari trams usually seen in the African plains, this was probably my favorite activity in the zoo; some giraffes, gazelles, rhinos and cape buffalo were seen roaming around there. 

Before getting on my return to have a breath of that “fresh” recirculated airplane air, I got to take a real breath of fresh air by La Jolla Beach as a wrap to my trip. Beaches were the same for me every time. It always felt redundant going there to simply play and call it a day, but this time I admired the scenery and nature that came with this beach. I saw an abundance of sea lions flap around on the shores during low tide as the gush of breeze went through my hair. I was completely calm while admiring the scenic view, and as the day then drew to a close, so did the sun.

Whether it be going on a vacation after a long overdue quarantine, or reflecting from writing this diary about my exciting travel experiance, I felt like I gained a newfound appreciation for having the opportunity to live through these shared experiences with family. There’s so much to not take for granted, so live life to the fullest.