Though my birthday was August 23, I waited until the weekend of September 23 do my celebration trip. As a Chargers fan since 5th grade, I’ve long wanted to go to a home game, and especially of late with the multi-billion dollar new SoFi Stadium. Other ideas were bandied about including whitewater rafting, southeastern Canada, and others, but ultimately I figured this was the easiest one to coordinate with a group and would offer the most diverse number of things to do. Besides, it’s not like I can’t just go on a vacation any time.

I picked this specific weekend for many reasons. I wanted to see a Chargers home game early in the season against a beatable opponent while baseball was still in season and either the Dodgers or Angels were in town at the time. That literally left only this or the Week 1 game with the Raiders, and I didn’t want to pick that week because it was the first week of John’s baseball and I felt the Raiders game would be too stressful. So, this was the only remaining option!

Day 1: Arrival

I got to the Austin airport extra early as usual and spent almost two hours in the Delta Sky Club, accessible for the low rate of $39 as a Delta American Express platinum cardholder. I got my $39 worth, consuming five beers and lots of pot roast in the posh lounge before boarding the plane. Thankfully there were no power outages, water main breaks, extreme wind delays, pilot strikes or any other such stupid things that have derailed so many flights in the past couple years. I arrived in LA around 4 and met up with Nick, who was patiently sitting at the baggage claim area reading a book. We figured out the complicated off-site car rental process which involved taking a shuttle to the Westin hotel, and got the car just before they closed at 5. We picked up Walsh and headed to the house.

The group had booked an Airbnb in East Los Angeles. Why there? Well, we were looking for something moderately central, but to be honest I don’t think we realized the Airbnb was where it was until the location was disclosed after booking. Several LA-based coworkers and friends sounded alarmed that we’d be staying in that area, known largely for its proximity to Skid Row. But, it turned out to be perfectly safe. The house, however, stood out as the only two-story modern home in the whole neighborhood. It would be perfectly adequate as a place to sleep in our very busy trip.

The rental in East Los Angeles. Perfectly sufficient.

Walsh, Nick and I grabbed a quick burrito at King Taco, which proclaimed itself as “the best food in town”. A bold claim, but we all agreed it was good! The mobs of locals waiting in line outside must have been onto something. We proceeded to a night of barhopping in Hollywood off Sunset Blvd. No celebrities were spotted, but we did hop from The Drawing Room to Ye Rustic Inn to Tiki Ti to Jay’s Bar before calling it a night.

Visiting the famous Tiki Ti bar in Hollywood.

Day 2: Beach & Baseball

Luke and Kristin arrived, and Nick graciously drove to go pick them up. In the meantime, Walsh and I took an Uber down to Venice Beach for brunch at the bar and exploring the boardwalk. I was pretty amazed that on a beautiful 80º day, the vast beach was largely barren. We splashed around in the waves and baked in the sand for hours before the rest of the gang arrived. Needless to say, I was quite sunburned. WHEN WILL I LEARN? Clearly, never. This has happened at every beach I’ve ever been to. Sadly, while riding some waves, my Apple Watch blasted off my wrist and was lost forever at sea.

Skin sizzling in the sun.

We drove straight from the beach to Dodger Stadium. We nearly timed it out to witness history, with the visiting Cardinals in town and Albert Pujols entering the series with 698 career homers. Unfortunately, Pujols went and hit both 699 and 700 the previous night. Dodger Stadium was stadium #22, I think, counting old ones no longer in use. Besides the craziness of leaving the stadium, the experience was great.

My Dodger Stadium debut

Day 3: Football

We found a classic little hole-in-the-wall diner for breakfast in Inglewood, then headed out to SoFi Stadium for the Chargers game. There had been some talks of VIP hookups and suites and such, but we wound up just watching from the stands. We spent a good amount of time wandering the concourse and admiring the expensive new facility. Amazing to me that the whole thing was temporary, because as soon as the game is over the Chargers branding and stores and everything all go away and is replaced with Rams stuff.

The game, as you may know, was a real clunker for the Chargers. The Chargers lost Joey Bosa, Kenneth Murray and Rashawn Slater among other key players in this game, and were already without several star players like JC Jackson and Keenan Allen—and Justin Herbert was a game-time decision with his rib injury. A 38-10 loss to the Jaguars added to my list of unfortunate Chargers games attended, including last season’s disemboweling by the Texans and the 2007 Vikings game where AP set the single-game rushing record.

Nevertheless, we all had a good time and were dazzled by the sights of the stadium and the energy of the crowd. I had never before been amongst other Chargers fans aside from the lowly Austin fan club. It was almost weird to not be alone cheering for the team.

Safe to say the XXL Seau jersey I bought is big enough.

After the game we found a casual downtown cocktail bar, and even met up with a coworker I’d never met in-person before. She recommended a great Indian place nearby called Baadmash that had some very unique Canadian twists… great spot!

Day 4: The Journey Home

Walsh had long left, but the rest of us basically packed up and headed home. I did a repeat of before, and spent a lot of time at the LAX Delta Sky Club. To my absolute astonishment, the flight home also had no hiccups and I was back before the kids went to sleep.

Thanks to Walsh, Luke, Kristin and Nick for coming along and for paying for so many things. I owe you all an insurmountable debt. Kristin aside, this was the same group from Luke’s surprise Louisville bachelor party trip a few years ago. If you did not get formally invited and now hate me, don’t fret—I will be happy to go on a trip with you, too.

This also marked my first ever visit to southern California, having only previously been to San Francisco (several times). I did once cross into far eastern California on Brandon Hanson and my 2003 spring break trip, visiting the city of Needles, CA just to cross another state off the list. I was pleasantly surprised overall. I had been warned of rude residents and pollution and all, but everything was great.

Farewell, Los Angeles.