California, Here We Come…
San Francisco > Yosemite > Monterey > Big Sur > Santa Monica > Pomona > Las Vegas
To begin our California tales, we arrived in San Francisco safe and sound after a hideously early start from Vancouver. A short, somewhat disastrous Uber ride to the hostel later, we settled in, (probably had a nap) and then set out to explore the city! When I was younger I read an article explaining how San Fran sits precariously on tectonic plates and my imagination went wild! To this day I’m still a little convinced it will crumble into the ocean. Although this probably isn’t the case; I have been determined to see San Francisco before disaster strikes.
Wow San Fran is hilly! That I knew from photos, but wow, it’s really hilly in person! For the longest time we queued up to get on a tram to take us over the main hill, but the line just didn’t move and we sadly decided to cut our losses and walk it. Urgh, well at least this city kept us fit as we walked about 30km a day!
We took a day trip out to chilly, windy Alcatraz and did the tour. Alcatraz is so cool, for such a small island it has so much history and stories. I found it fascinating listening to the tales of prison life and the different ways the prisoners had tried to escape. It was captivating listening to the theories and new evidence of the men who supposedly did escape and where they’ve ended up! I won’t spoil the story in case anyone is visiting in the near future!
Fisherman’s Wharf was another cool area. The waterfront was really nice with the arcade area, different eateries and token sea lions! We spent ages walking around, trying to find a certain spot that Michael had taken a photo with his family 20 odd years ago… spoiler, we didn’t find it.
Little old naive me was really drawn to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, you know, from Forest Gump! (I didn’t realise at the time how much a chain this was!!) But anyway, we HAD to eat here, act like right goons and get all the token pics, it was fun, great view over the bay and the food was alright!
We wanted to hire bikes and cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge… I thought it would be a good idea for this to be our first time together on a tandem! It was just a bridge, how hard could it be?! HA! We hired the tandem and for the most part I have to say, we got on very well, no fighting! Our bike was utter naff though, the gears kept slipping, it was heavy and the brakes non-existent! A few hours in and we were both pretty miserable! While the fun lasted, we managed the fort, a tasty lunch, the bridge and the hill on the far side to get a better view back over San Fran. On the way back we ventured along the coast and then inland to watch a wee RC boat race. The hills though, oh those hills… they almost won!
From San Fran we’d planned to head over to Yosemite National Park for a few days. WOW what an ordeal to get to via public transport! Taxi to a bus, to a train, to a bus into the park, to another bus to get to our accommodation. Urgh, these weren’t short direct rides either… We got there eventually, the hostel surprise, surprise wasn’t the nicest but we were just there to sleep so it wasn’t a big deal. Yosemite on the other hand, WAS A BIG DEAL. Oh Yosemite, nature on steroids. Holy cow it was cool. I loved looking up El Capitan trying to spot the climbers camping out on the rock face. Those guys and gals have way more balls than us! When I climb, I like my top rope and knowing the bottom isn’t too far down!
At our hostel we met a couple of awesome girls, Roxana and Aviva, who we went hiking with on one of the days. Glacier Point was definitely the highlight of that day, the views from the summit were just incredible. It’s so hard to describe, but you see these huge mountains with just these colossal rock faces that have been chiselled away over millions of years. Everywhere you look, it’s so dramatic and you feel so small in comparison. Very cool and humbling. Michael and I said goodbye to our new friends and hiked the 4 mile trail back down to Yosemite Valley. I remember we both said how cool it would be to have a mountain bike at this point as the trail was so suited to it! Would have been awesome fun to bomb down there!!
The following day, on our own, we hiked up The Mist Trail which was a combination of Vernal and Nevada Falls. I’m pretty proud to say we were one of the fittest people walking up the trail that day! It always amazes me that some people buy all this gear, and lug it up a huge hill, when really all you need a good pair of shoes, comfy shorts and maybe a walking pole or 2! Not surprisingly, from the top there were more seriously epic views over the valley and Half Dome. Not to mention some stunning waterfalls to top it all off! It was so nice to cool off in the river at the top after that big hike up, the water was welcomely cold but weren’t brave enough to swim!
As we began to walk down, we noticed a group of silly boys, (men), at the top of the waterfall throwing stones down into the unknown. We’d just walked from there and they could so easily hit someone – they had no idea where their stones were landing! Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise this. Grr. Michael stepped up and gave them a good talking to! What muppets!
We then headed back to San Francisco to start our California Road Trip! Sadly this time we didn’t get the jammy upgrade and had to settle for a Chevy something or other. The drive down Pacific Highway was simply stunning, you can totally understand why it features in so many songs. I can’t count how many times we stopped to take a photo, then drove slightly down the road to take a better one! Of course we had a Pacific Highway playlist courtesy of Spotify that we listened to all the way down, it would have been rude not to!
Anyone who knows Michael knows he loves an aquarium! So enroute we had to stop at Monterey Bay Aquarium! From someone who’s not too fussed about them, this place was incredible! A proper educational experience, but it was FUN! The tanks were big and I didn’t feel like any of the fish were cramped or swimming around in tiny circles. They have The Open Sea Feeding which features a sardine bait ball, you know, when all the thousands of little sardines get together and swirl around really fast to avoid being eaten, this was epic! So captivating too.
The other things that captivated me was the lighting in the jelly fish tanks! There were these incredible deep blue backgrounds and then they did something that lit the jellies up perfectly. Check the pics! It was an expensive treat but felt it totally justified by what we saw and learnt! Also, we feel compelled to share their Sea Food Consumer Guide… let’s look after our oceans.
We had an AirBnB set up for Big Sur where we spent a couple of nights. Holy smokes this place was WAY off the grid! After driving down the coast for so long we turned east and went up and up, and up through these winding roads. The views were epic but we had no idea where we were going! Soon we turned off onto a soft sand road with these crazy steep hills. The fear was setting in with us as our little car was so not built to handle those roads. It was a good hour and half of clenching, as we took run ups to soft sandy hills, then hoped for the best going down the other side!
Finally we arrived at our AirBnB. Gone was the notion that we’d pop back down to the highway for some dinner! Nope, we were on our own here! Stranded until our time to drive further south. Really this place was awesome, the lady who owned the property had built herself a little empire on the hillside with epic views out over the ocean. It’s taken the best part of her life to build it, but she’s now entirely self-sufficient, relying on solar power, water pumped from the nearby river and home grown veg. We had a great time up in the hills exploring her hillside and swimming in the lake! It was also really nice to be forced to stop and relax for a time.
Onward to LA! Los Angeles was awesome. This portion of the trip was also a trip down memory lane for Michael as he’d exchanged there while at university. Our time was mainly spent visiting his favourite spots, catching up with old friends and going back to visit his old school, Cal Poly! We stayed just up from Venice Beach which was a pretty darn ideal location. Naturally we did Santa Monica Pier and rented bikes to ride the water front!
On one of our days we took a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood! So cool! We were literally like kids in a sweet shop jumping from one ride to the next. Jurassic Park was my favourite, I LOVE the bit where you’re just about to enter the gates, and all of a sudden, “Welcome to Jurassic Park” booms through the speakers. I love that bit! Another highlight was meeting Dora the Explorer, after years of people me calling that, it was a pleasure to finally meet her acquaintance! Ha!
Later on we spent an evening eating and drinking with his friend Nichole, it was lovely to see the two catching up.
The following evening, one of Michael’s old friends, Steve, had invited us for an evening of sailing, or yacht racing as we quickly found out! This was so much fun, I can’t remember the last time I was on a yacht (it’s been a long while!). But we felt very privileged to be invited to yacht race with his club. Everyone was so lovely and welcoming! I’m sure Michael had more responsibilities than me during that race. I was labelled the ‘squirrel’, and I was responsible for squirrelling away a sail when it came down! (I’m sure there is a more technical term for what I did, but I’m not that level of yachtsman yet!).
So everyone knows that sailors like a drink, I can now 100% verify this! Sadly for me I was designated driver that night, but Michael… Michael and Steve were ON IT! Trying all these rums and ginger cocktails at the club house (with no dinner, silly boys!) then we went to dinner and I got to pick them their drinks, more alcohol of course! Well, I wasn’t going to ruin their fun now! For a sober person it was an awesome evening, I’m assuming it was even better for the pair of them!!
I really enjoyed meeting all these new people, Michael has such good friends! Also, LA was the first stop on our tour where I felt I had reached the California you see on TV and hear about in songs. As awesome as LA was, I don’t think we could handle living there. The traffic in LA is not awesome. I can’t understand how people commute there!!
Last on the list was Vegas baby! Wow that was intense! We stayed at the Stratosphere which was really fun! It’s the tall one down the bottom of the strip, with the rides on the top of the building! We dropped off our bags and went up the tower. By this point it was quite late, but of course Vegas doesn’t know the difference between day and night! The rides were too inviting to ignore! I think we may have chosen the wild one… Well this was one way to wake us up after the long drive! There can’t be a more terrifying way to get you going again, than to feel like you’re being shot off the top of a very tall building! Yikes!
We spent our days wandering the different casinos, taking in all the eccentricities of each of them. We tried our hand at gambling, failing miserably! Caught a show and tried not to melt in the intense desert heat! It seemed totally bizarre to me how in depth each casino got with their themes! Totally impressive, just a very different, very fake place! Which is no bad thing. I just find it so weird creating Venice, for example, indoors! Blows my mind that that’s a thing! Vegas was intense fun! However, we really struggled to sleep at night because we were so wired from our days, just taking it all in!!!
To finish the west coast dream, we had a bit of splurge, a bucket list activity if you will! We did the Grand Canyon by helicopter!! If you’ve never been in a helicopter, it is the weirdest feeling ever. You start off by lifting slightly off the ground and facing forward a little to ‘taxi’ out of the parking lot! I remember thinking it felt so futuristic, like a little space pod from Star Trek or something. So so bizarre, it’s hard to describe.
The views from the air were incredible. You get such a different perspective flying over a ridge and then BOOM, the ground falls away to reveal the canyon. We landed down by the river to take in the sights and have a peaceful lunch. Such a cool setting for a lunch spot! Looking over the rock formations is amazing to see the different layers and try to understand how this magnificent natural wonder was formed.
We would highly recommend doing The Grand Canyon by helicopter! It’s such a beautiful and impressive perspective. Sometimes the world is more awesome from the air!
So long California, let’s see how you measure up East side!…