A Lot of Bright and Shiny

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July 11th 2011
Published: July 21st 2011
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Through the gumsThrough the gumsThrough the gums

jetty and bay at Hearst State Beach
So much here is familiar. We know a lot of the TV programs (a lot of them from South American TV). Many of the shops and retail chains are very normal. Fashions. Cars. Freeways. Language – after a fashion. Even prices are similar to Australia, although a lot higher than we have been used to more recently. And just that little easier with such a strong Aus$. At the same time it is all just a little strange. But, while we have some 8 lane freeways in Australia, around LA they seem to be the norm. And they don't stop at 8. Sure, we have fast food chains but 10 or even 20 outlets within easy walking distance of each other? So many shops, so many cars, so many people. Such big SUVs. Such massive servings in the restaurants. So much of everything.

We had a very smooth entry to the US this time. No being carted off to the little room with all of the other suspect individuals. Plenty of staff on at the Immigration and Customs desks. All very easy. No problem on our part with LAX.

Our stay in this city was to be about getting organised for the road trip around the US. We wanted good internet and some easy time so that we could sort out what we would try to see and do for the next 5 months. It was also the weekend of the 4th of July and we have experience in a few countries of trying to move about at big holiday times. Sitting still is usually the best way to handle them. We found a nice suite at a price that was OK – for LA on a major holiday weekend that is – out in Garden Grove relatively close to Disneyland, and settled in for a few days.

Mostly because we had other priorities for this few days we didn't get into the full LA tourist experience. So, no movie star tours, Disneyland and no Venice Beach. We may do some of it on our next visit – we plan to leave the US from here – but another reason for sitting down was that we didn't have our own transport. In this city you need a something with wheels. We did walk to shops and such. There were plenty in the vicinity. There was plenty of room on the footpaths. The occasional elderly Vietnamese ladies walking small dogs and a few young Hispanic people on their way to the same shops we were. There were a lot of other people about, of course, but they were all in cars, many in large 4WD SUVs. Lucky they aren't paying European or even Australian prices for fuel.

Two Mormons were a highlight on one of our walks. The standard enthusiastic, welcoming smiles that we studiously ignored until one suddenly yelled 'Boca Juniors!' Turned out he was from Argentina and had recognised my cap. Most impressed that we had been to a Super Classico. It was nice to have a chat but we didn't relish continuing into the conversion stuff and moved on.

Independence Day deserves a mention, although we didn't see a lot of the celebrations, other than on the TV. Fireworks are the go in the part of the megapolis we were camped. Apparently, some counties have regulations that are a little less rigorous than others. This allows people to shop around and pick up fireworks that they can then let off in their own backyards. We we were treated to a number of backyard displays
Just one more, promiseJust one more, promiseJust one more, promise

Tour guide at work, Santa Barbara Mission
from the safety of our place in the Candlewood Suites. It reminded me of 1st of July celebrations every year in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The place is very dry. There are green lawns about but a lot of the trees are dry and there is pleny of dry grass around. A nervous time for the firies and, next morning, the inevitable story of eyes knocked out.

The smoke and/or smog covering LA while we were there wasn't a result of fires on Independence Day. They have been in the midst of a heat wave for some days and there are fires burning inland. Some distance away, but the smoke combining, I suppose, with smog, didn't make things comfortable or particularly pleasant. The temperatures are in the high 90s (low 30s C) with 100 (37C) in some places further inland. It actually felt fine walking around. Humidity is apparently high but doesn't rate alongside Darwin. We found it fairly comfortable.

Also had the best sandwich I have had for a while at a place called Lee's Sandwich. Not sure if this place is a chain or not but I hope so. Great Vietnamese themed sandwich. Very nice and will now spend some time trying to replicate when we have a kitchen again, one day.

I have a suspicion that LA will look different after we have been in the US for a while and we may just want to get into what it has to offer when we come back to the West Coast. But, if there is no other reason, I might just be convinced to come back for one of Lee's Sandwiches.

The coast road from LA to San Francisco is rated as one of the good ones. We hired a car in LA for drop off in San Francisco and headed off towards the coast. Oxnard and Ventura didn't impress as stop off places but that could have been the effect of the heavy smog/smoke coverage. Perhaps the place wasn't at its best. The smog/smoke had dissipated to an extent by the time we reached Santa Barbara but still not much better than Darwin in the middle of the Dry Season.

Santa Barbara had been recommended to us as one of the nice places to stay. The California Hotel was closed – possibly for refurbishment – and the town
Ready for plantingReady for plantingReady for planting

near Carpinteria
was very busy but we were able to find accommodation. It broke the budget, but not quite as badly as the first couple of places we tried. The waterfront was busy and with plenty of tourist type establishments mixed in with boat servicing businesses. The streets along the waterfront are lined with palms, queens mostly, that have clearly been there a long time. There is not much shade though with the palms being widely spaced and with no other trees to give any cover.

Some very nice restaurants out on the pier but they were all pretty flash and we were still coming to grips with US prices. We found a pub a few blocks away from the beach that was a lot more comfortable and basic with the added advantage of locally brewed porter on tap.

The hills of Santa Barbara were more to our liking than the waterfront. Yet again those old priests demonstrated their capacity to pick good real estate. The old Mission is beautifully located on a hill looking down across what would have been farmlands and bush to a calming coastline. Top location. Just us and 15 large tour buses there at 10.00 in the morning. Too early for the crowds.

A tourist route recommended by one of the sites we found suggested going inland to the Santa Ynes Valley, through Solvang and into the mountains. We dropped in on Santa Maria, then wandered down to Pismo Beach and, from there, up to San Luis Obispo. An interesting trip. The smoke haze of the last few days had cleared a little, although it was still hazy. We debated whether the hills had been cleared or if trees had never grown much on the hills. It seems unlikely that they had never grown trees though. The valleys and flats look fertile, with most of the farms very large and with a corporate look. Everything is irrigated. There must be a wonderful water table given the number of bores we spotted and the quantities that seemed to be being pumped.

Typically, our motel in San Luis Obispo was not in the centre of town but, in this case, not so far out. A short walk across the freeway and we found a lovely place. A little touristy but with streets around the centre very easy to get along with. Bars, restaurants, shady streets
Add water to get greenAdd water to get greenAdd water to get green

Just north of Los Angeles
and that old Spanish feel poking through. This was a nice place to pull up and was worth more time than we had.

The drive up the coast road, inland through Paso Roble and then back to the coast and on through Big Sur took us first through some typical wine country and then out to an interesting coast. The wine country this time of the year is very dry with only the vines showing any green. We could have been driving through the Clare Valley (including eucalypts), although it is a lot more wide open here. There was a real temptation to pull up up at one of the wineries and involve ourselves in a little tasting. Unfortunately, with a break in our car rentals coming up, we couldn't carry too much more than we had so needed to resist on this occasion.

Once we made it over on to Highway 1 along the coast the amount of traffic picked up a little. We had decided to look in on the Hearst Castle. This is the home built by Randolph Hearst of newspaper publishing fame. It is now managed by the Parks Administration and is set up
A mess of mastsA mess of mastsA mess of masts

Marina at Santa Barbara
as a museum. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions on this part of the coast. The house sits in a commanding position on top of a range of hills overlooking the coast. It isn't just old priests who have great taste in locations. There is a large and well organised visitors centre a fair distance from the house. There are a number of tours available for a range of prices. The basic, beginners tour would take us to the place where Mr Hearst used to greet guests to the mansion. This would cost us $24 each and at least 2 hours. We had to make a decision, spend the time poking around the home of a bloke who was, perhaps, slightly less ruthless and powerful in his day than Rupert Murdoch or use the time to have a more leisurely look at the coast up through Big Sur and Carmel.

We made the right decision. The drive along the coastline, hopefully, set us up for the future drive along the coast north. Plenty of traffic but all very well behaved, spectacular scenery around every turn. Even the fog that floated in off the sea lent to
All sorts of water craftAll sorts of water craftAll sorts of water craft

at Santa Barbara
the spectacle providing the opportunity for some attempts at the great photo.

So, we are now officially on our way around the USA. Week 2 will be in and around San Francisco. We have a place booked reasonably close to Union Square for a week. We will be without a car for that week but that shouldn't be a major problem in this city. After that, we pick up the car which we have booked for the remainder of our time in the continent.

This post is going up late. No excuse for that but we will try to get back to real time quickly.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


Birds' turn in the poolBirds' turn in the pool
Birds' turn in the pool

After the public pool closed for the day at Santa Barbara marina
Busy team buildingBusy team building
Busy team building

Santa Barbara
Five fish at onceFive fish at once
Five fish at once

The fifth one jumped off and was out of shot. Santa Barbara Wharf

near Carpinteria
Paddling in the seaweedPaddling in the seaweed
Paddling in the seaweed

Hears State Beach
Leaving LALeaving LA
Leaving LA

still plenty of smog
Wharf at Santa BarbaraWharf at Santa Barbara
Wharf at Santa Barbara

Rebuilt after a big fire destroyed a lot of it in the early 1990s

21st July 2011

You'll like the drive north of SF
If you liked the drive through Big Sur then you'll really enjoy the stretch of coast north of San Francisco. Road is a bit narrower though - at least that's what Virginia would remind me to say.

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