I recently hit the big 3-0 (bleurgh) so to celebrate, the Hubbie and I flew back to England with a six-day stop in America on the way. We originally thought we might just go to San Francisco, but flying from Melbourne would mean going via Sydney or LA anyway so it evolved into a full-on road trip. We devised a rough plan before we went: one day in LA, one day at the Disneyland Resort California (the Hubbie absolutely begged me, what can I say) and two days to travel north along the coast before finishing with two days in San Francisco.
Upon arrival in LA we collected our rental car (a Mustang… how could we not) and as it was a glorious, sunny day we decided to make the most of our time by going for a cruise around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It felt quite surreal to see the Hollywood sign – it was smaller than I had imagined (although everybody says that about famous landmarks)! We drove up to a lookout point in the hills to see it at a closer range and had an awesome view across Hollywood and LA.
Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t really what I was expecting or what you’d imagine from the movies. There are stars everywhere down many streets and it’s a bit grungy with adult shops and colourful characters hanging around. The main thoroughfare certainly wasn’t the glitzy, glamorous place I had envisaged, though when you venture further up into the hills there are some seriously impressive mansions. This sums up LA in general for me: a curious combination of glamour and grit.
I didn’t really get many food pics on this trip as – I’m ashamed to say – a lot of meals consisted of junk food en route in the car or dirty burgers and ribs! However this is one of the more blog-worthy ones: pork tacos in Hollywood, which were nice and light and fresh on a swelteringly hot day.
A bit like Melbourne, there was lots of cool street art around LA.
We spent the evening in Venice Beach, home to the famous Muscle Beach, where we had a hotel for the night. Can’t say I’d go again, but this evening was basically Christmas Eve for me as DISNEYLAND awaited us the next day!
You’re never too old for a trip to Disneyland, right?!
When I realised the Disneyland Resort California was close to our route in Anaheim I couldn’t contain my excitement. I went to Disneyland as a child and had such special memories that I’ve always wanted to go back and experience it as an adult (I can’t say the same for my Hubbie, but what can I say… I played the birthday card).
I have to say, it’s lost none of its magic and it was pretty much the BEST DAY EVER! This the Main Street lined with cute little boutiques and cafes, where the parade takes place every day.
Whatd’ya know, it’s Mary Poppins!
After a fun-packed day and night at Disneyland with miles and miles of walking, it was time to hit the road to start our trip up the coast towards San Francisco – and to be honest, we were both pretty happy to spend some time sat on our bums at this point!
After a drive through Malibu we hit Santa Barbara, one of my favourite places on the route (and in fact, probably one of my favourite places I’ve ever been). It’s a really pretty spot with Mediterranean-style architecture and a scenic harbour framed by mountains.
This is a view of the harbour – seriously beautiful. If I were to go back to California again I’d certainly allow more time to enjoy this special spot.
All too soon the sun was setting on the surfers out on the waves so we set off on our final journey of the day to our overnight location, Pismo Beach. In true road trip style, we stayed in a typical motel and ate sticky ribs and burgers before a good sleep in preparation for the day ahead.
The next day we were treated to another dose of gorgeous warm sunshine. We’d heard about a sea lion lookout point in San Simeon and stopped in a couple of locations to no avail, but finally hit on the right spot and were rewarded with the sight of hundreds of sea lions basking and playing in the sunshine – one of the most special moments of the trip.
Having left San Simone, we were pretty pushed for time at this point as our rental car was due in San Francisco for 6pm. Unfortunately this meant we had to forgo Hearst’s Castle, Big Sur and Carmel which is such a shame, but one place I particularly wanted to see on the route was Monterey, a seaside town made famous by the HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’, so we made a quick final pit stop for lunch.
Purely by chance we stopped at the restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf which was used for the filming of the series, where Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley would gather for coffee overlooking the bay. I went for lobster ravioli which was delicious.
The drive into San Francisco was pretty long and sticky as expected, but that first glimpse of the bay and the old trams passing over the hills made the traffic all worth it!
Before we surrendered the Mustang we took it for a spin down the famous Lombard Street in Russian Hill, deemed ‘the crookedest street in the world’ for its eight hairpin bends. Needless to say this is a real tourist trap with huge queues of cars waiting to snake down the hill, where crowds of people are gathered trying to get an Insta-worthy snap.
After a good nights’ sleep, we had an early start the next morning to catch the first boat of the day to Azkaban… I mean, Alcatraz – the notorious high-security prison which once housed the likes of Al Capone. We booked tickets in advance on the advice of others who had been to San Fran and found themselves disappointed when it was all sold out.
This is the view of Alcatraz island as you approach on the boat. There’s a prison building, a workhouse and various other buildings to look around.
It was really interesting to learn the history of Alcatraz, which was unveiled via an audio tour that you could take at your own pace with a headset. Apparently only three men ever managed to escape, but it’s assumed they wouldn’t have survived the cold and choppy waters in their bid for freedom.
After our Alcatraz visit we took a stroll around the nearby Pier 39, which has lots of little waterfront restaurants, boutiques, a carousel and special docks where the sea lions can rock up and chill out.
You could hear the sea lions before you saw them, just relaxing in the sunshine beside the pier, oblivious to all of the tourists gawping and photographing them from the balcony.
To make the most of our limited time in San Francisco we decided to buy tickets for the open-top bus which goes around all of the most popular tourist spots in the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is another of San Francisco’s most iconic sights, the ‘Painted Ladies’ – a row of colourful Victorian houses which today shift for millions of dollars. This is a view of Steiner Street taken from Alamo Square Park.
I had the most incredible time in California and would definitely go back again, but would allow more time to do it in as unfortunately we had to miss a few things. The rolling countryside, the sunshine and the beaches were more beautiful than I had ever imagined and it’s certainly a trip I won’t forget in a hurry! Maybe being 30 isn’t so bad after all…