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Published: October 2nd 2010
Our journey from San Francisco down to Santa Barbara proved a real eye opener as to just how big this country is. San Francisco lies approximately five hours south of the Oregon/California border but is nevertheless considered to be in northern California. Our journey south along the rugged and spectacular Californian coastline to the charming Santa Barbara accounted for a further nine hours. It would later take us three hours to reach LA, another three hours to get to San Diego and yet still we would be in California, otherwise known as the Golden State or the Bear Flag Republic. To put this into context, in the twenty hours it took us to make our way down the west coast of California, which it should be remembered is just one of fifty US states, you could probably travel from Land's End to John O'Groats and back again in the UK, or a couple of junctions on the M25 in rush hour if you were having a bad day!
Santa Barbara itself was a charming little seaside town with stunning beaches, an endless strip of quaint shops (Alexa's little sister Rebecca would have been most impressed), not to mention the seemingly
endless parade of interesting restaurants and bars. The place had a great vibe to it but was nevertheless everything I expected Southern California to be like. The girls were generally blonde and without exception rather slow, whilst the vast majority of guys sported wetsuits as a permanent second skin and were never far away from their surf boards. Intoxicated by the surroundings and inspired by Beach Boys songs, it wasn't long before I ventured down to the water's edge for a quick dip in the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The ice cold water soon however brought me to my senses as I belatedly noticed that I was the only person foolish enough to be in the sea without a wetsuit! Sensibly Alexa was more than content to remain on the beach looking glamorous and soaking up the rays. We enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant couple of days in Santa Barbara, where we discovered an excellent Mexican restaurant and a frozen yogurt establishment which never tired of giving away free samples, before once again climbing aboard an Amtrak train, this time bound for San Diego.
The highlight of San Diego was undoubtedly the zoo which reportedly has in excess of 4000 animals.
Indeed after almost seven hours of walking around the vast surroundings I was certainly convinced that there were at least that many! I certainly do not recall Whipsnade being so expansive! The exhibits that were of most interest included the giant pandas which seem to spend all of their time sitting around eating bamboo (not a displeasant experience I would have thought) and the hippos which were absolutely enormous and nowhere near as endearing as those featured in children's television programmes and board games. One thing that we've noticed about the Americans is that they never miss out on an opportunity to sell you something. The San Diego Zoo was no exception. Sure enough, throughout the course of a most enjoyable day we stopped off at the Monkey Shop, had our photo taken with the Pandas and had lunch at the Flamingo Cafe. There were also ample opportunities to purchase just about any sort of snacks that you could possibly imagine and it would be fair to say that many of our American friends certainly did their fair share of sampling! Other highlights of San Diego included the naval harbour and military ship museum, the beautiful Balboa Park and the
wonderful beaches that we heard all about and saw on postcards but unfortunately ran out of time to visit for ourselves.
Our final stop in California was Los Angeles. We'd heard from pretty much everyone that we had asked that LA was inaccessible and soulless and that its most famous district, Hollywood, was tacky and extremely overrated...we were not disappointed! We were only spending one full day in LA and therefore decided to book ourselves on an all day tour that would at least give us an idea of what LA was all about. The tour took us through the extravagant Beverly Hills, stopped off at the iconic Hollywood sign, ferried us around downtown LA and also incorporated a number of absolutely stunning beaches, one of LA's few redeeming features. The highlight of our brief stop in LA was sharing an appropriately flamboyant and very tasty cocktail at the end of the Santa Monica Pier overlooking miles upon miles of beautiful Californian coastline. On the way home, Alexa dragged me to the Audrey Heburn cafe and insisted that we find the Audrey Hepburn star on the Walk of Fame. All of the above said, we were not disappointed to
leave LA, our next stop would be the sophisticated and understated Las Vegas!
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