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Chelsea is an avid instagrammer and travel writer for her blog, Cleo Collective. She’s lived in Paris, visited Africa and Asia and has now returned California, eager to rediscover her home.

“While California has such varied landscapes – mountains, beaches, deserts – Southern California is primarily coastline and desert. Driving on Pacific Coast Highway is a must, preferably with the windows down and music blasting.” Having learned photography from her mother, Chelsea’s photos are filled with color and vibrancy. See more of Chelsea’s road trip of Southern California’s hidden gems below.

Exploring your own backyard

“While I was living in Paris and venturing around Europe, I frequently found myself in conversations where I’d inquire about what places others had visited – which were their favorites and why. So many Europeans would list off their grand US tour and mention the places they had been, and I would pause for a moment and think, ‘Woah, That’s in the US?’ Or, “That’s in California?”

I began to realize that my idea of adventure had previously required a foreign context, but that mindset shifted and I realized that there is so much to see and explore in my own backyard. Once I returned to the States, I started researching and compiling lists of the most eccentric places to see, the best hikes and lookout points, historical buildings, forgotten ghost towns, etc.”


More than just Disneyland

“There’s this one really cool place that I don’t think ANYONE has ever heard about…. Very few people go there, but it’s a staple to Southern California – Disneyland. …Just kidding.

In Orange County there are quite a few spots that do not frequent one’s radar:

Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, which is an old style boardwalk and arcadearea, complete with a Ferris wheel and a ferry that transports people to Balboa Island (known for its chocolate-covered frozen bananas and salt water taffy)

The Wedge, also in Newport, where the wave heights are usually triple what they are in other places (especially when storm swells come in). It’s extremely dangerous and I don’t dare venture into the waters, but it does make for a spectacular sight.

Victoria Tower in Laguna Beach. This is one of my all time favorite spots, though it’s awfully difficult to photograph and sometimes to access, due to high tide. There’s a small neighborhood on the cliffs in Laguna with ONE staircase that accesses a private beach. If you’re able to climb the rocks and get around the cliffs, you’ll see an old lighthouse dating back to the 20s or 30sleans up against the bluffs.

Orbitz-Chelsapphire-Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

That [photo above] was my second time visiting Salvation Mountain, and both times were such a thrill. Back in January of 2012, Leonard (the artist and creator) was still living and diligently working on his grand masterpiece. Sadly, he passed away in February of last year – but his work still remains. However, since his passing there are many unanswered questions about ownership, stability and ultimately conservation. Members of neighboring Slab City formed a nonprofit organization, seeking to preserve hismasterpiece, so I’m hopeful that it will be well-looked-after.

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Mosaic Man

This is Gonzalo, the husband of the artistic duo that created the mosaic kingdom. This whole wall is a painted mural, depicting the events that led up to him meeting his wife and scenes from their life. Hearing him talk about his work, how it evolved once he met her and how passionate he is about it was such a treat! He’s so excited to share his journey and inspire others to live passionately creative lives.

Roadtrip essentials

“Snacks are essential. Snacks, water and good tunes. And maybe a pair of hiking shoes, just in case. I find that having destinations in mind and a general idea of where you are going is good, but being open to plans changing or getting lost keeps things interesting. It’s all part of the adventure, and being able to go with the flow makes for a much better time than fretting about things.

I like to bring both my camera and my iPhone to shoot with – but I don’t like to look at the pictures or post anything until the end of the adventure/trip, as I don’t want to distract from the present moment or be checking updates. Keep an open mind, look for inspiration all around you and soak up the environment!”

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All photos courtesy of @chelsapphire


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Tagged: California, Photo essay, Uncategorized

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Monica Pedraja

Monica Pedraja

Monica is a Chicago-based photo editor and photographer. She studied photojournalism in London and has worked with Piece & Co., the Art Institute of Chicago, and many adorably in-love couples. She’s a big fan of Bananagrams, Leon Bridges, and macarons.

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