Much Love For Melbourne

by Johnny

San Francisco is my favorite city on the planet, so having heard from multiple people that “Melbourne is the San Francisco of Australia,” I was super excited for our visit to Australia’s culture capital. With its classic Victorian houses, distinct neighborhoods, live music around every corner, stylish locals, boutique shops, historical buildings juxtaposed with modern street art, and emphasis on sustainable eating and living…there were tons of similarities between Melbourne and my favorite city by the bay. Although it doesn’t have any “must-see” tourist attractions like its big brother Sydney, Melbourne just oozes character and soul everywhere you look, and if I had to live and work in any major city we’ve visited this entire trip, Melbourne could very well  top my list.

Based on the advice of a couple friends, we rented an apartment in the St. Kilda neighborhood. After over two months moving from bungalow to guesthouse to bungalow in Southeast Asia, we were thrilled to finally have our own apartment where we could spread out, buy some groceries and cook our own meals. I think I spent the first couple hours in Melbourne just drinking tap water. The owner of the apartment we rented, Jane, takes great pride in being a Melburnian, and she decorated the entire apartment…from the bedding to the coat rack to the bathroom soap…with products from local artists and designers. Just like the city it’s in, our apartment had tons of character, and it immediately felt like our home for the week. And if we didn’t desperately need our $500 deposit back, I think Anna would have taken some blankets and towels. Anyway, we really enjoyed the St. Kilda area, and its proximity to the water immediately reminded me of the Marina neighborhood in San Francisco, with cafe-lined Acland St. doubling as Union St. or Chestnut St. A typical day for us would be to wake up and have some breakfast in our apartment, walk along the Esplanade past Luna Park and back up Acland St., hop on a tram (super easy and convenient) to explore the city, and come back to St. Kilda in time for another walk along the Esplanade at sunset.

Our living room at the apartment Whipping up some dinner in our apartment
Parrots of St. Kilda One of Acland St.’s many cake shops
Luna Park Moon over Palais Theater
Outside our apartment St. Kilda cafe culture
St. Kilda beach on one of our walks down the Esplanade St. Kilda pier
Just another beautiful St. Kilda sunset

Besides not having paid for a pair of boardshorts in five years, my favorite perk of Anna working at Quiksilver is getting to meet so many interesting and creative people. Especially coming from the finance world, where I basically talk numbers all day, I find it fascinating to meet somebody who designs t-shirts or creates marketing campaigns. Case in point, Mark and Ed, aka the Urchins. Mark and Ed work at Urchin Associates, a creative and visual design studio in Melbourne who do a ton of work for Quiksilver.  We met Mark and Ed at their studio in the funky Fitzroy neighborhood and headed to lunch at the Standard Hotel with their entire team.  After lunch, a couple of the Urchins gave us a walking tour of Fitzroy down Brunswick St., across Gertrude St. and back up Smith St. Brunswick St., with its numerous cafes, music venues and vintage shops, reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s Fillmore St., while Smith St., which was a little rougher around the edges…or as Ed puts it, “full of lentils and junkies”…could pass for Haight St. We thought Fitzroy was so cool that we basically did the same walk a couple days later, this time stopping for lunch at the tasty Vegie Bar and some yummy brews at Little Creatures.

Brunswick St. Smith St.
Melbourne’s Standard Hotel is a little different than LA’s
Lunch at the Standard Hotel Ed, Anna and Mark
The Urchins’ studio
Street art in Fitzroy Street art and Victorian houses
No shortage of things to do in Melbourne
Pizza from Vegie Bar Little Creatures Dining Hall

On Saturday we headed to Footscray for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, a small touring festival featuring local bands as well as several international acts, some of which are playing at Coachella in a few months (who’s got an extra ticket?).  The tunes were fantastic and the views of the Melbourne skyline incredible, but I couldn’t help but feeling like we were smack dab in the middle of an Australian hipster fashion show.  Has the retro, high-waisted denim shorts look made it to the States yet?  I hope not.  Some looks went out of style for a reason.  Anyway, despite being surround by Mom Jeans shorts all day, we had a blast.

Laneway Festival lineup
Hip Aussies hanging on the grass Girls at the Eat Your Own Ears stage
Toro Y Moi at the Windish Agency stage Washed Out DJ set
Melbourne skyline from Footscray
M83 at the Dean Turner stage (seriously, who’s got an extra Coachella ticket?)

One of the reasons I was most excited to visit Melbourne was to see my old college roommate and good buddy Chad Bystedt. Chad moved to Melbourne on a one-year contract with Deloitte, came back home to Orange County for a brief stint when his contract was up, but ultimately decided that Melbourne was the place he wanted to be (I think an Aussie girl named Lisa may have had something to do with that).  Chad moved back to Australia to get his MBA at the University of Melbourne, got married to Lisa, and they now have a beautiful three-month old baby boy named Julian.

Despite having to move into a new place all day Saturday, Chad and Lisa (and Julian) picked us up early Sunday morning for a day out in the Yarra Valley, a wine region located about an hour northeast of the city which reminded us a lot of Sonoma County.  Our first stop was the Healesville Sanctuary.  I mean, Anna and I couldn’t come all the way to Australia and not see some kangaroo and koala, right?  They were super cool, as were the echidna, platypus and gigantic pelican.  Next we headed for an amazing lunch at Innocent Bystander before tasting some wines at Balgownie Estates.  Anna’s brother Pete had told us to be on the lookout for some sparkling Shiraz wine in Australia, and we found some at Balgownie.  Unfortunately it was a little pricey for us, but Chad and Lisa treated us to a bottle.  Thanks guys!  Alright, next time you are in Newport Beach, the Balboa Bars are on us.  After wine tasting we headed back to the city for a couple beers and walked all along the Yarra River until Julian’s bedtime…which was well past Anna and Johnny’s normal bedtime.  Such a fun day.

Kangaroo! Koala!
Koala! Eagle!
Proud papa Some wookie creeping out Julian
Yarra Valley
Some delicious wine tasting at Balgownie (and one cheesy backdrop)
Two pints and a pot Cheers, mate!

After a whirlwind first few days in Melbourne, we spent our final couple of days leisurely exploring the some of the city’s other areas.  A couple of highlights were Federation Square, the Prahran Market and all the seemingly hidden laneways full of street art.  Next stop…Sydney!

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Flinders Street Station from Federation Square Federation Square playing the Super Bowl
Parliament House Yarra River
Walking in Southbank along the Yarra River
Prahran Market Queen Victoria Market
More laneway street art
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