After writing yesterday’s mammoth California post, I figured it may be handy to write a shorter post with only my highlights from California- just in case you don’t want to wade through 4,200 words of places I went shopping and where I ate lunch.
In all honesty, the real reason I had a fantastic trip was due to the people I was able to stay with. My travel buddy had family up and down the state and they took us in, treated us and showed us the sites. I know not everyone will be as lucky and be able to get down with the locals so in this post I hope to pass on what my hosts showed me.
1. Place: San Francisco
San Francisco was my favourite Californian city. You can take one of the city’s famous cable cars, up and down one of the many giant hills, and go and explore sites including Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Chinatown, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. If you fancy some shopping, there were shops aplenty around Union Square, where I was staying, or you could go over to the area of Haight-Ashbury if you wanted something more alternative.
2. Food: The Cheesecake Factory
During my stay in San Francisco, I went for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, across from my hotel on Union Square. If you think you’ve heard of it before- it is where Penny waitresses in The Big Bang Theory. The menu seemed to have the same amount of pages as a short story but sadly my main meal wasn’t anything special. What raised this place to the highlights list was the cheesecake. With over 35 different flavours, my friends and I selected Godiva Chocolate, Oreo and banana and took the slices home eat on the floor of our hotel room, in front of a movie. Having not been a particular cheesecake fan before, I have been a convert ever since.
3. Activity: Monterey Aquarium
I loved the town of Monterey Bay as a whole. It was just a chilled place to hang out in. However, the highlight was the world famous aquarium, which lived up to its representation. Its collection of marine wildlife extended from seahorses to big, orange jellyfish and otters. It’s a must for any animal fan.
4. Activity: Santa Cruz Boardwalk
As a whole, Santa Cruz did not live up to my expectations, having been told it was a bit of a party town. Admittedly, that may well have been because I was skint and underage and it was windy and raining. Where I did have fun, however, was the Boardwalk along the beach, which played host to a funfair. I imagine it would have been more fun in the summer but it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.
5. Food: Ruffles Chips
No road trip is complete without road trip snacks and since America is the Land of Food, it’s a great opportunity to sample the local junk food delicacies. Baked Ruffles Chips (aka crisps) in cheddar and sour cream flavour became a regular on my dashboard. I almost cried with joy when I found them towards the end of my travels, in a supermarket in Hong Kong. I also found them a few weeks ago in my local shop in Kent, although not in my favourite flavour. When I next return to the States, these will be one of my first purchases.
6. Food: Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies
Also among my initial USA purchases will be Mother’s Circus Animal Cookies. Having told one of my hosts in San Jose about Cadbury’s chocolate animal biscuits, he told us we must try this American equivalent. The biscuits were plain but covered in icing and they became another dashboard regular. Sadly, that meant that they melted in the sun but they re-hardened into an edible block which I just broke chunks off so it was all fine in the end.
7. Place: Big Sur
If you’re going on a road trip, you probably should pick the most scenic route. A stretch of Highway 1 on the USA’s west coast is called the Big Sur. It is a coastal road, where you drive along between the green hills on the one side and the blue ocean and rocky coastline on the other. You can also find dozens of seals sunbathing in Californian sun. If you choose any other route through California, you’ve probably pretty much missed the point of a road trip.
8. Activity: Hearst Castle
Towards the southern end of the Big Sur is another sight worth seeing- this time manmade. Hearst Castle turned out to be the exact opposite of what I expect a castle to be. Instead of thick, grey stone walls and a moat, this house has a real Mediterranean influence (amongst others) and comes complete with two rather snazzy swimming pools. If I could design a house, it would probably come out looking like this. In fact, I’ve probably actually made it before on The Sims.
9. Activity: Hollywood & Sunset Boulevard
I have to admit that I found LA itself rather disappointing- although perhaps I wouldn’t if I hadn’t been under the legal drinking age when I went there. I mean, I did enjoy my time there but not for the reason I expected. Having said that, you cannot go to the city and not going and see the main attraction: Hollywood. I thought it was a place but it’s actually a boulevard. Parking is expensive- $20 for two hours on my visit in 2010- but I didn’t need any more time than that. In that time, I was able to take a picture of the Hollywood Sign in the distance, the people dressed up as my favourite personalities and the stars on the Walk of Fame. I also frequented an American Diner- Johnny Rockets- which came complete with booths with their own mini-jukeboxes. The highlight, however, was the Guitar Centre on Sunset Boulevard, which houses memorabilia from the legends of the music industry, complete with their handprints and signatures.
10. Activity: Venice Beach
The area of Santa Monica- close to the city of Los Angeles- has many lovely beaches but my favourite was Venice Beach. There are lots of cafes and quirky shops and stalls and the promenade is filled with artists, musicians and other street performers. You can also go and watch people playing sports or bodybuilders working out at Muscle Beach or just lie on the sand, in the sun. It’s an interesting and relaxing place to spend an afternoon.
11. Food: Cold Stone Creamery
Cold Stone Creamery is my idea of genius. Basically, the idea is that you go in, pick your flavour of ice cream and then select some other goodies to be mashed in with it. I went with chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips, brownie bits and cookie dough. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
12. Food: Huckleberry Bakery
Towards the end of my stay in LA, my hosts took me for breakfast at the Huckleberry Bakery in Santa Monica. They recommended an early start so that we could ensure that we got a table and they were right to. It started filling up at about 8.30am and I could see why. Needless to say, my breakfast of ginger cake, cinnamon rolls, strawberry pie and scrambled egg with fresh orange juice was delicious.
13. Activity: San Diego Zoo
You will probably have heard about San Diego’s famous zoo- perhaps just because its where Marvin the Giraffe thinks he and his buddies have ended up in the first Madagascar film. It is also where Ross’ monkey, Marcel, went in Friends (I think). Much like Monterey Aquarium, it lived up to the hype. My favourite bit was getting to see my favourite animal- a koala- for the first time. Although I was going to Australia in the next few weeks pretty much just so that I could see- and cuddle- one. San Diego Zoo. The zoo is just one of 13 attractions in the huge Balboa Park. I didn’t have time to explore more but I hope you will.
14. Activity: Ocean Beach
There are several seaside towns near the city of San Diego but my favourite was Ocean Beach, due to its relaxed, hippy/surfer vibe and interesting shops. I treated myself to a Deep Purple vinyl I found for $2. I was pretty happy with my find until I realised I would have to carry it around for the next 3 months of my trip. I caved about a month later and posted it back to the UK from Australia- it came back in one piece but then I realised that I don’t actually have a record player.
15. Food: In-N-Out Burger
I do love my food and I did love America for its bountiful supply of the stuff but, at the same time, I did struggle with the sheer volume of choice. When I mentioned this to one of my hosts in San Diego, they took me to the fast food chain In-N-Out Burger. There was a very limited menu so there were infinitely less questions and options standing between me and my tasty, and reasonably priced, burger. I will always be thankful to the place for that.
16. Place: Lake Tahoe
One of the amazing things about America is its varying landscapes. From beaches to desert to snow-capped mountains. I visited Lake Tahoe in April, when the ski-season was just coming to an end and when there was still snow on the hills. When I wasn’t wandering amongst the redwood trees, I was wandering along the sand at Emerald Bay, next to the turquoise water of the lake. Had it been warmer, I could have attempted watersports or sunbathed. As it was, I just took in the beautiful scenery.
17. Place: San Jose
San Jose was the place where I spent the most time with my travel buddy’s family. I loved it for that reason- it very quickly started to feel like home. I didn’t go and do a whole load of tourist activities here, although it was a good base for driving to Berkeley, Monterey Bay, Los Gatos and San Francisco. What I did do was sleep, shop, eat and go to the cinema, particularly in, on and around Santana Row and the nearby Westfields, and it was lovely.