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Published: October 27th 2011
Over the last few years I've been to many great historical places and had plenty of exhausting ski trips, so I thought this year that a more relaxing holiday was in order. So where better to go than a land of limited history (we have pubs older than your country Americans!) but full of fun opportunities and sunshine, why the Good Ol' US of A.
Being a huge fan of America and it being a huge country, it was hard to choose where to go. Which coast is best? East coast or west coast? Ah well, it was decided that a visit to both would save arguments and a plan was formulated to fly to San Francisco, make our way down the west coast, pop in to see brother dearest, drive to Vegas and if we survived that, fly to Miami for some post-Vegas R+R.
So armed with 17 days, one map and one red Mustang the itinerary was decided as: San Francisco - Yosemite - Monterey - Santa Barbara - San Diego - Las Vegas - Miami.
Road trip! Yay!
I met fellow 'Californian Gurl', Vicky, at Heathrow and we boarded our flight over to San Fran
The best state and state of mind in the US.
in a rather excited state and on landing made our way in to town in the warm Californian sunshine. By chance another friend, Graeme, was also over in SF for work, so we met up and took a walk around the city in the early evening and stumbled across John’s Grill for our first taste of America. Turns out the bar is famous for being mentioned in ‘The Maltese Falcon’, it looked exactly like the sort of place a gumshoe like Sam Spade should frequent.
Sunday morning and plans had already been set for the day, sadly the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was a bit wet and cloudy (it will turn out to be a theme of the holiday unfortunately). First up was a three hour Segway tour of SF. I was a little apprehensive as firstly I thought I’m bound to fall off and secondly, don’t you look a bit of a geek? The others had the advantage over me and had already experienced riding a Segway before and knew what to expect. We had to sit through a training video which was enough to put you off for life; we then
San Fran has a good selection of public transport
had a quick practice before we were let out on to the streets of SF.
I must have looked the most scared in the practice as the tour guide put me at the front of the line, but within 5 minutes I was a Supreme Segway Master. These things may look geeky but they are SO MUCH FUN! I loved it and it was an excellent way to see the city, the tour took us along the water front and through some lovely residential areas, past the Palace of Fine Arts and towards the Golden Gate Bridge, which was shrouded in fog as per usual by the sounds of it. I am now a Segway convert and will be looking out for tours wherever I go in the future, Segways rock!
Once the tour was over, we were a little damp due to the rain and so did what all good tourists must do and headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf for some Clam Chowder. I guess the wharf was a bit nicer in previous decades but now is a little bit of a tourist trap, however the chowder in a sour dough roll was fantastic and the perfect
San Fran Fisherman's Wharf
A bit touristy now, but there is a good example of an American who has eaten too many burgers in the photo.
post-Segway warmer, yummy.
Post lunch it was time to catch the boat to Alcatraz, we strolled down to Pier 39 past some smelly seals (they really do smell, urgh) and then boarded the boat for the short trip over to the island. Luckily the weather was improving and we got some good views over SF and the Bay Bridge (personally I was more impressed with it than the Golden Gate, but then we could actually see that one!).
The island itself was a bit smaller than I expected, but I think the location and currents in the bay make it hard to swim from. Only a few had ever escaped (they clearly couldn’t stretch to a ferry ticket) and those who did make it off the island were never seen again, no one knows if they survived. On a warm afternoon it doesn’t seem too bad a place to be locked up but I suspect once the weather gets colder and the winds blow it feels very isolated and depressing, strangely the most dangerous criminals got the best cell wing, who says crime doesn’t pay..
Again it was a really interesting tour and fun to sit in
the prison cells, but of course being innocent, I was paroled for my good behaviour and released back in to the community.
After just two nights in SF it was time to head back to the airport to pick up the car. We had a wild goose chase to find a diner breakfast (seems all diners shut on a Monday morning) we hoped on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). If you have never seen the BART, just think 1970/80s sci fi transport system, it looked straight out of Logan’s Run and had very comfy seats, I liked the BART.
Since we were in California, it seemed only right and proper to hire a cabriolet, and so like a good tourist our request was put in for a Mustang and we were not disappointed, we had a lovely big red car to take us all the way to Vegas in some style.
But before we hit the casinos we were first off for some pure air and healthy living in the stunning park of Yosemite. The drive was about 4 hours and took us across some very flat and hot farmland and then we finally started the
Yay! Yay! We love Segway!
I cannot stress HOW MUCH FUN a Segway can be. Although it does look geeky, but who cares!
climb up to the park. We arrived in Housekeeping camp in the middle of the valley in time to have a beer as the sun went down.
The camp consists of fixed tents which separate you from the Great Outdoors with something akin to a shower curtain. This would be all very well if it wasn’t for the very obvious presence of rather dangerous wild animals in the valley. Bear lockers were everywhere and of course if you left out any food you got a stern telling off from the Ranger (Ranger danger!). Still, only being there for a couple of nights the sum total of food was a pack of Bud Lights with Lime (forever to be known as a ‘blimey’) and a few donuts for breakfast. Naturally all the other campers were professional and put us to shame, still, we were just passing through. As night fell we headed to the neighbouring camp for dinner, enjoying the amazing night sky on the way and then retired ready for a full day’s exploring.
After a good night’s sleep I woke at dawn and enjoyed a breakfast by the river along with the squirrels, chipmunks and birds. The
Like a true tourist, clam chowder was consumed when in Fisherman's wharf, yum yum.
weather was glorious so we hired bikes for the day, the kind with back peddle brakes which can be a bit tricky, but once used to them we started to circle the valley. First stop was Mirror Lake underneath the shadow of the famous Half Dome. As it was the end of the dry season the lake wasn’t very full be there was still enough water to give some mirror effect. Then we stopped at the mule stables but thoughts of Peruvian mule terrors put me off taking one of their mules out for a spin.
Post lunch it was time for a small hike, we looked at the waterfall and then found the route up to Canyon Rock, only one mile away, easy. Of course it was a little bit steep and very similar to those Peruvian routes, lots of switchbacks and very steep. Still it was worth the effort as it gave great views down the valley, as long as you don’t look the 1000ft straight down…
Finally it was time to head back down and return the bikes, all was well until Vicky took a tumble on the way down. Luckily it was more of
The streets of San Francisco
They go up, they go down, they go up, they go down etc
a shock than real injury as it would have been dangerous to leave her while I fetched help as they have mountain lions that feast on the weak and vulnerable…
After completing the circuit around the valley floor and enjoying the spectacular views of the amazing granite domes which surround the valley, it was time to drop of the bikes and head back. On dropping the bikes off we passed a group of people standing round looking at a bear that had wandered close to the camp, so sensible we headed off in the other direction.
Tired and exhausted I soon fell sound asleep only to be rudely awoken in the small hours of the morning by someone shouting at a bear very loudly, was I scared? Err, yes.
It seems you are meant to shout at the bears to scare them away, hence the loud screaming. Luckily it seemed to have worked as the shouting stopped and I managed to get back to sleep. Then about half an hour later, someone else in another park of the camp was shouting at a bear again. At this point that shower curtain set up wasn’t filling me with much
The (foggy) Golden Gate Bridge
This is about as clear as it got, I think the Bay Bridge was better anyway.
confidence. Just as I thought it was all safe again, someone else started and everyone was up putting any left out food in the lockers (naughty people), at this point I knew I was about to be mauled to death, it was going to hurt.
However the best call of the night came when some woman shouted at the top of her voice ‘Bear! Bear! Bear! Correction! No Bear!’, at least she had the good grace to correct her mistake. Still, with not much sleep I survived the night and lived to see another day and when I asked one of the staff in the morning about it, turns out it was raccoons all along! Pah! Although one bear around the camp, was spotted at 5am, so I was reasonably justified in my panic.
Enough with the wildlife, we packed up Red Fury and got the hell out of town, back towards the coast and to Monterey, south of SF, for some civilisation and seafood. We hadn’t booked a hotel so after a long drive turned up and found a small motel near the centre of town.
Monterey also had a wharf and a fantastic lobster dinner was
A Cable car
I must confess I actually thought they were going to be the sort of cable cars you get when you go skiing, duh...
had, complete with bibs, delicious. The next morning we checked out Cannery Row, which the town is famous for. In a past life there was a huge fish canning industry here and many of the old canneries have been restored, it is very pretty and well worth a visit.
Time to head south and hit the pacific highway 101, we passed through a very posh Carmel and then drove down the windy coast road towards Big Sur. Cypress trees line the route as the pacific pounds the shoreline producing some amazing surf. Clearly every other tourist had had the same idea and hired a mustang convertible, there were so many along the road, still it was fun to have the roof down. Finally we arrived in San Luis Opisbo for an early dinner (good) and parking ticket (bad – we paid, just put it in the wrong meter!) before setting off again to find somewhere to stay in Santa Barbara.
Friday morning and another wharf, before we hit the road we took in the sites of Santa Barbara, yet another lovely coastal town with a pier and palm trees. Luckily no parking ticket this time and after a
quick burger we piled back in to the car, hit the highway and made our way south to LA. When we left Santa Barbara the sun was shining and we put the roof down, as we hit LA a storm was a brewing and lightning flashed overhead. Of course you might think it wise to pull over and put the roof up, but by this point we were stuck in the left lane of a 5 lane highway and there wasn’t a lot we could do about it. Still, it provided much amusement for the rest of the cars as they got to laugh at the tourists getting wet.
Once LA was successfully navigated the sun came out again and the cruise down to San Diego was trouble free, we arrived at my Awesome Brothers (yes I have to call him that) in time for a trip to the old town of SD for some Mexican and a margarita. Post dinner we tried to pop in to a bar but sadly we got refused service as Vicky and I LOOKED UNDERAGED! What a good holiday this was. Still, after a trip back to the hotel for some ID we
More pointy perfection
It's a rather pretty building
took a tour around the Gas Lamp district and was a bit surprised how it was a little bit like a Greek holiday resort, a bit like I found in Iowa City last year.
The next morning Awesome Brother picked us up (we loaned him Red Fury) and we took a tour around SD and it’s environs then later on in the afternoon we drove up to Carlsbad (I got ID in the supermarket here too!!) north of SD for dinner at Carolyn’s, one of my brother’s friends. As always Carolyn was incredibly kind and put on an amazing meal for us and a few others in the evening and she also had the biggest bottle of gin I’ve ever seen, what a great night it was, thanks again Carolyn!
Sunday was nice and easy, some great crab eggs Benedict for breakfast and a wander around the park in SD in the beautiful sunshine. Having blogged on SD before I won’t go on too much, but as always it is a great place to visit, still the trip wasn’t yet over and we still had two places to go. Monday morning we packed up, put the roof down
You would need a good handbrake here.
and headed off for our final leg of the road trip, Las Vegas here we come. As always there was a stop in Barstow to look at the World’s largest thermometer (thrilling) and then we finally made it to the MGM Grand, we’d come a long way in 8 days.
Reluctant to give up Red Fury, we took him for a farewell drive down the strip and then had to surrender him over to the hire company, I can only hope his next drivers enjoyed him as much as we did, sniff, sniff..
Still, we were in Vegas! Yay! And you know what they say ‘What happens in Vegas..’ so in a nutshell: I won some money on the slots, drank some gin, went dancing, ate some food, did some shopping, got very tired, left. My biggest fear about Vegas was about 10 people from my work I know were there on a conference, luckily I managed not to bump in to anyone, phew. Although it did rain a lot, it always rains when I’m in Vegas, no fair!
Then, once we were well and truly Vegased we hopped on the plane to Miami for some relaxation and
Palace of Fine Arts
Pah! Palace of Fine fakes more like, it was only meant to be a temporary structure, and that was in 1915. It's made of wood and plaster!
time on the beach, we were staying in a nice hotel called The Eden Roc just north of South Beach. It was quite popular in the 1950s I think, it had a certain elegance about it. Again, having been to Miami before, I didn’t do much apart from eat, sleep, beach, shop and drink a few small gins (who knew a double gin in the US = a quadruple here??). Naturally it rained, we had a tropical storm one day but by that time I was quite happy to have a day lying around doing nothing watching bad TV shows on the TLC channel (Storage Wars was a particular favourite).
All too soon the trip was over and we had to head home, it was a fantastic time and so much fun, thanks to everyone on the trip and over there, it was great, God bless America!
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