Continuing our Californian road trip it was time to visit Santa Barbara, with a distinct Mediterranean vibe throughout the city. Like a lot of the coastal places we'd been through previously, it has a pier with a few attractions and a lovely golden beach. The city's courthouse is worth paying a visit with lush gardens and detailed mosaic tiles, plus it's free to walk around the building and its grounds. We're told there are also great views from the courthouse tower, but unfortunately it was closed on the day we visited.
Our hotel in Santa Monica, Embassy Hotel Apartments, was an experience in itself: the late 1920's building felt like we were transported into The Shining, with a cranky old lift and dimly lit communal areas. However, once we were inside our apartment it turned out to be the most spacious accommodation of the trip, with a walk-in wardrobe, balcony and our own kitchen. It was also only a five minute walk to Third Street Promenade, a shopper's paradise with street entertainers lining the sidewalk, and also a great place for dinner (the Mexican food at La Sandia is highly recommended, as is a booth table at the back of the restaurant with an open roof terrace).
Although Santa Monica was our LA base, there was plety of sightseeing to be done which started with a trip to The Getty Center. The famous art museum is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the city, and really did have the most spectacular views. The architecture and landscaping was far more interesting than the art (mostly 18th Century), and a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon before taking in the Hollywood sign from the top of Mullholland Drive. Next we visited the quintessential LA sights that we all know and love: Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, La Brea Tar Pits, Hollywood, The Sunset Strip- I could go on...
Hollywood didn't let us down and we even saw a live film crew in action off the main drag, but to get a bit closer to the action there was only one place to go: Universal Studios. Although I'd been before I enjoyed it just as much again, with new rides (The Simpsons, King Kong 3D) adding to the classics like Jurassic Park (also giving me an excuse to sing the Jurassic Park theme tune for the fifth time of the trip.) We also spent a day at the Disney California Adventure Park, where the Toy Story ride and Aladdin Musical were my personal highlights (not to mention the green army men from Toy Story who kept popping up around the park). We stopped over in Laguna Beach just south of LA before driving down to our last destination of the trip, San Diego.
Much like LA, San Diego is made up of several different neighbourhoods with their own distinct vibe. We were staying on Shelter Island, a manmade island opposite a Naval base on Coronado Island, with great views of the city (we even saw fighter jets take off a couple of times). A highlight of the city has to be the world famous San Diego Zoo, which houses nearly every animal imaginable including Pandas and Polar Bears- the cable car over the animals' enclosures was great fun (even for me with a fear of heights). Our final days were spent hanging around Balboa Park, shopping in the city's malls, and driving over the terrifyingly high 4th Street Bridge to Coronado Island to visit our last Californian beach.
W Hotel before heading up to the hotel's roof terrace bar, complete with palm trees, warm sand underfoot, and open fire pits- a fitting way to end a first class trip.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Sunday, 23 October 2011
The California road trip really began when we actually got on the road. After a few carless days in San Francisco, we were ready to head down to our next destination on the coast: Santa Cruz. But before that, it was time for a slightly terrifying drive down Highway 9 to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. If you plan to do the same don't let the seemingly straight drive deceive you; for most of the way it was a single track road through the forest with precarious drops to one side, but we arrived unscathed and didn't encounter another vehicle for miles.
Big Basin has some easily walkable trails through the forest (I was wearing flip flops), as well as some longer hiking trails and campsites if you're looking for a longer stay. The redwood trees are really a sight to behold, and well worth a detour away from the coast if you can spare the time.
I'd been told that Santa Cruz was a chilled out college surf city, and after driving along West Cliff Drive and spotting surfers bobbing in the waves I wasn't disappointed. This road was also the address of our homey accommodation in Santa Cruz, Sea and Sand Inn, which has views of the wharf and beach boardwalk from the comfort of your bed. They also offered us delicious homemade lemonade, cookies and popcorn when we arrived. Approved. After relaxing in the landscaped grounds we walked into town to find some dinner. If you're in Santa Cruz when the boardwalk is open (during peak season) do try and drag yourself away and on to Pacific Avenue. This tree lined street was lit up with pretty lights in the evening and restaurants spilled out onto the wide sidewalks; it was all starting to feel very Californian.
It was a relatively short drive down to Monterey the following day. Here the coast is at its most scenic, with autumnal heathers covering the coast and waves crashing against the rocks. The main drag along Cannery Row is very touristy and built around Monterey's famous Aquarium, but a 15 minute walk along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail takes you across to the other side of town which seemed older and more interesting. I got a bit too excited at the prospect of following the town's historic trail: a series of yellow markers on the sidewalk leading you to various historic buildings and points of interest around town. It certainly kept us occupied for a couple of hours, and the gigantic burgers from Old Monterey Cafe felt well deserved.
|Monterey: California's prettiest restrooms?|
In the evening we took a trip to the local cinema to see Contagion, a mildly diverting tale about a global pandemic, but the authentic American cinema experience was more more intriguing. Butter popcorn is drizzled with several layers of hot butter sauce, and the seats were much more comfortable than the premium cinema seats you get in the U.K., not to mention half the price. It was time to pack in some more time along the Big Sur coastline, so we headed along highway 1 down towards Pismo Beach. Along the way we took a diversion off to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which probably had the most scenic view of the whole trip. You'll be hard pressed to find a more picturesque place than the park's viewpoint of a waterfall cascading onto the beach, well worth the $10 parking charge.
|Picture Perfect: Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park|