CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP ’19

culture. wine. nature.

19/09-03/10

California had held a special place in my heart since I first visited its northern part, back in 2011, where a mix of good friends and great times meant I left a piece of myself in that stunning part of the world. I knew back then as soon as I left that it would only be a question of time until I’d come back.

So, eight years after our first encounter, did the Sunny State live up to my old expectations?

the itinerary

how we got there:

Virgin Atlantic flight LHR to SFO (£360) + Lyft from SFO Airport to Union Square ($36.82). Car hire for 11 days £375 from 21/09 to 01/10.

19/09-21/09 SAN FRANCISCO

where we stayed:

HI San Francisco Union Square, £225 for 2 nights in a private double bedroom with private bathroom (breakfast included).

what we did:

DAY ONE

  • Walked along the piers (Ferry Building -> Pier 39) and wondered in awe at Bay Bridge whilst avoiding a hundred scooters
  • Watched incoming boats like an old couple, then giggled like kids observing the sea lions at Pier 39
  • Had sourdough chowders, surrounded by hundreds of annoying tourists (Pier 39, love it or hate it)
  • Walked up the hill back to our hostel like total champs, despite the jet lag

DAY TWO

  • Wandered around the city (China Town, Yerba Buena Gardens)
  • Got super emotional following the Climate Strike march
  • Spent some down time at a Japanese Onsen (where I tasted some smoked soy sauce – OHMYGOODNESS)
  • Walked to Fort Mason, where we shared some beers & food with locals at Off The Grid

what we would do differently:

In all honesty, we were too jet lagged to be able to process anything, and whilst we did walk a HELL OF A LOT that evening, I think it helped us stay awake!

In terms of accommodation, whilst the place we stayed at was a total bargain compared to what you pay in central SF, it’s important to note that area is NOISY AS FUCK. So if you’re a light sleeper, I would recommend paying a little extra for a hotel with double-glazing, or something in a quieter area. Your call.

HIGHLIGHT:

Walking at night through a busy road tunnel to the sound of an opera singer practising her vocals at the other end of it. Surreal.

21/09-23/09 TO SONOMA (+ Sausalito)

what we did:

Sausalito Harbour

DAY ONE

  • Drove through the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Stopped on our drive North, to enjoy a few hours of Sausalito’s great vibe & unbeatable views of the bay – a MUST!
  • Ate some crackin’ Mexican grub at Copita (still Sausalito)
  • Wandered around Sonoma Plaza

DAY TWO

  • Rode our bikes to Cline, Gundlach Bundschu, and Bartholomew Estate for some wine tasting fun (21 wines in 21.2 miles / 34.11km)
  • Passed out as soon as we got back.

where we stayed:

At this total gem of a place – loved the decor, the garden, and the bargain of a price for the area! Add to that the use of bikes and boom, you’ve got it all.

what we would do differently:

Cycling to Cline was probably a bit ambitious, in hindsight. This got us to ride on fairly busy roads (I almost got knocked over by a massive truck) and took quite a chunk of our time, which meant we only managed to squeeze in 3 vineyards. The grounds and wine are worth it though, so just get an Über there!

HIGHLIGHT:

Geeking out on winemaking choices with the hostess at Gundlach, and being treated to a taste of some special batches.


23/09-25/09 YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

what we did:

  • Drove for ages
  • Tried our best to take in the scale & magnificence of the landscape – simply incredible!
  • Got up at dawn to undertake the Half Dome Hike (without climbing permit)
  • Smashed it in 9 hours (minus the steep climb), so threw in the Mist Trail on our way down – dreaming about a nice cold beer all along
  • Had the beer – tasted like heaven. Upgraded to pizza.
  • Totally passed out

where we stayed:

Crane Flat campsite, $22 a night. The closest site to the Valley that you can prebook (30mn drive). No showers, but spacious pitches and not overcrowded like Camp 4 – you definitely need to book well in advance though.

what we would do differently:

  • Apply in advance for the Half Dome climb permit.
  • Plan an extra day in the Valley.
  • Remember to buy t-shirts & magnets
  • Stay at Housekeeping Camp (where I stayed last time) for those unbeatable starry night sky views!

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Managing to complete one of the park’s toughest hikes, and in a great time too!
  • Spotting a bobcat in the wilderness!
  • Meeting fellow hikers on the trail & bumping into them again in the Valley, beer in hand
  • Oh, and drinking that beer, obviously!


25/09-26/09 ROAD TO DEATH VALLEY

DISCLAIMER: Yosemite to Death Valley was honestly the most scenic drive I have ever experienced in my life!

what we did:

  • Drove through the Sierra Nevada to the sound of some epic tunes
  • Stopped in Lone Pine for the night – think Western movie town with a hidden and unexpected modern vibe, plus Mt Whitney as a backdrop.
  • Chatted & drank with locals over a delicious meal at Seasons
  • Came across some truly incredible vista points on the way
  • Hiked the Death Valley Red Cathedral trail in a 45*C heat, because we’re idiots
  • Stood 85.5 meters / 282 feet below sea levels at Badwater Basin

where we stayed:

Mt Whitney Motel – cheap & friendly motel perfect for a stopover, and a short walk away from shops, bars and restaurants.

what we would do differently:

  • Skip the Red Cathedral hike.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The breathtaking canyon view at the Inyokern vista point
  • The most incredible drive from Yosemite to Death Valley
  • The heart-warming encounters in Lone Pine
  • That first shower + bed feeling after 2 days’ worth of camping and hiking. Hell Yes.


27/09-29/09 SANTA BARBARA

what we did:

  • Admired the 360* views from the beach – Pacific ocean on one side, town and mountain backdrop on the other.
  • Made some friends whilst tasting incredible wines at Au Bon Climat and Frequency Wines
  • Marvelled like kids at the Sea Center’s various aquatic exhibits
  • Told each other we could totally see ourselves moving here
  • Had seriously the BEST. DONUT. EVER. at Hook & Press
  • Tasted some cracking local brews at Night Lizard Brewery and sipped great cocktails whilst soaking up the atmosphere at Sama Sama.

where we stayed:

Orange Tree Inn, £260 for 2 nights in a large double room. Clean & comfortable, with friendly welcoming staff, an outdoor pool, a 7/11 next door, and just a 20mn walk from SB’s main attractions.

what we would do differently:

We felt so at home we would have happily stayed for another couple of days!

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The friendly people, incredible wines & delicious food!


29/09-30/09 MONTEREY

Monterey had been a big question mark in our itinerary from the start. Whatever I had heard about it in the past had left an impression of a charming middle-class town with an air of nostalgia that was worth visiting, yet nothing about it was truly grabbing me prior to the trip.

So when Dan’s parents treated us to a night in one of the town’s fanciest hotels, I decided to binge-watch the first series of Big Little Lies to better connect with the town. Whilst that did the trick indeed, the town itself felt more like a Sunny State version of Blackpool than the quaint Le Touquet vibe I’d expected. The great thing about that? No guilt whatsoever in staying indoors in our fancy-ass suite at the Hotel Pacific – thanks L&R! 🙂

what we would do differently:

Spend more time in Santa Barbara!

HIGHLIGHTS:

Eating peanut butter M&M’s whilst watching Forensic Files in our super luxurious suite.


30/09-01/10 SANTA CRUZ

The memory I’d had of Santa Cruz had been one of carefree fun in the sun with the quirky backdrop of a vintage-looking funfair, and the relaxed atmosphere of a surfing town crowd.

By the time we got there, however, school had already started, meaning the daily attractions had shut until the weekend, giving the boardwalk more of a creepy ghost town atmosphere than the cool kids vibe I had sold to Dan.

what we did:

  • Walked along the pier to watch the sea lions (seriously entertaining)
  • Stopped at the fun concept that is Pour Taproom to taste as many brews as we could (whilst munching on their moreish Gnawchos)

where we stayed:

Santa Cruz Budget Inn, a pretty basic motel with friendly staff. £61 per night.

what we would do differently:

Go there when the boardwalk is actually open for business!

HIGHLIGHTS:

Satisfying our teenage ambition of owning some kickass original Santa Cruz skateboarding apparel.


01/10-03/10 BACK TO SAN FRAN

what we did:

  • Took in the city views & Painted Ladies at Alamos Square
  • Got our ribs & beer game on at 21st Amendment Brewery
  • Confused my non-scientific brain more than once at the Exploratorium
  • Wandering around the huge and beautiful Golden Gate Park – absolute MUST!
  • Made our last breakfast an epic one at It’s Tops (think bacon waffle with banana and maple syrup, in super retro, mini-jukebox-on-the-table kind of settings)

where we stayed:

Hotel 964, £252 for 2 nights. Pretty good location, and super friendly staff. Rooms are on the small size and the building is quite old, so can be quite noisy.

what we would do differently:

Nope. Can’t think of anything!

HIGHLIGHTS:

Taking a couple of hours to simply “be”, at the Golden Gate Park’s stunning Japanese Tea Garden, and realising that Japan’s next on the list!