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Road trip in California
Hello explorers! And Happy New Year! I hope it brings a lot of new travels for you.
I haven’t written on my blog for a while, I have been pretty busy actually. Started uni again, yep, I am a part time student on top of working full time and travelling as much as I can, and I have changed jobs. I miss my Rabbie’s pals and all the stories about Scottish Tours, the Highlands and my beloved Kyle of Lochalsh…
Let’s go back to travels though. My lovely boyfriend decided to give me the best birthday gift ever: A FULLY-ORGANISED ROAD TRIP from San Fran to San Diego! What a treat!
We flew to San Francisco from London, a nice and straightforward 10 hours flight with British Airways. We spent 3 full of days in San Fran before starting our road trip.
I will be very honest with you, when I first arrived in San Fran and walked around Chinatown and then the Pier I was not impressed. While I did love the feel of Chinatown, which is also the biggest one in the US, I found the Pier a bit tacky. Also, it was windy, cold and cloudy, and travelling from Scotland, this was not the welcome I was expecting from California! But this is not San Fran’s fault, it was just my desperate need for sunshine 🙂 and anyway, this bunch of seals really made up for the bad weather!
On the second day we walked around a bit more, from Downtown to the Golden Gate, stopping by the Palace of Fine Arts on the way. The sun was shining and we did see lovely houses, the beach and a diversity of landscapes withing the city, including Little Italy and Nob Hill.
What I loved the most in San Francisco though, was the Mission neighborhood. It felt less touristy, more real, it was full of colourful street art and an amazing food scene, from proper ‘tacos’ to fine Italian dining (some places even had truffle on their menus, which really surprised me).
We had lunch at La Taqueria in the Mission, which was recommended on the Lonely Planet guide we bought (what an amazing move!) and it was absolutely delicious. The set up of the restaurant was really simple and cozy; just some wooden tables and there were also ‘mariachis’ playing! I know, a bit touristy, but why not?!
Downtown San Francisco is nothing exceptional, just lots of skyscrapers, but we did had a wonderful night by dining at the ‘Cheesecake Factory’ (where Penny from The Big Bang Theory worked – yes, I’m a fan!). In fact, we got a table outside and the view was quite cool. The portions were huge and the prices very reasonable so we really enjoyed.
Where to stay
San Francisco is expensive but we managed to find a private room at the YHA Downtown hostel for around 140 $ per night. The free breakfast was amazing (sourdough bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter, bananas, apples, etc) and the location unbeatable. Just book in advance if you can.
What to eat
Crab and sourdough bread are the iconic foods of San Francisco. By the pier, you can get some delicious shrimps, crab or prawns to take away.
Where to drink?
It was so good that we went back! A laid back pub in Downtown, this place is unpretentious, it’s good an amazing atmosphere, lovely staff and excellent food and beer quality.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and picked up our prebooked rented car a few hundred meters away from our hostel. The first stop after we set our GPS to Monterrey was by the beach, just 45 minutes south from San Francisco and it gave a good intro to what to expect for the next week, on our road trip in California.
Monterey is a typical fishing town with a pier with many restaurants and cruise travel shops. We arrived in the afternoon and had a stroll around and were mostly entertained by a live seal rescue from a group of volunteers. There was this seal by the stony beach and it didn’t move so they had to bring it away in a box, it was emotional to watch. After that, we sat at the terrace of an Italian restaurant where we tried clam chowder and had a couple of glasses of wine.
One of the best things to do in California is sipping local wine as it is of excellent quality everywhere in the country. However, as always, the highlight was the friend we made, a Mexican lovely man working at the fish stall of the same restaurant. We won’t forget him, as we had such interesting chats and learnt a lot about how Monterey was a fish canning town and became a touristic one, as happened with many similar places, in the last twenty years or so. Although you will find this info in some book I think that the experience of a local is an invaluable piece of memory to one’s trip.
We were also lucky enough to learn about the Alaskan King Crab, which was caught shortly before we visited from the owner of the same restaurant, at Domenico’s Wharf, and included in the ‘Deadliest catches’ TV program.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Stevenson Monterey, a nice and unpretentious motel with underground parking and just ten minutes walking to the pier. Our room was lovely, spacious, the bed was comfortable and I would definitely stay there again.
What to eat
Clam chowder, cioppino. Seafood, seafood, seafood.
As someone who loves food I have to say nothing is a better travel memory for me than a dining experience; it doesn’t need to be fancy, it can also just be an incredible sandwich, and this will be my biggest treasure of a place.
As an Italian and a clams lover (spaghetti with clams is one of my favourite dishes), I was pretty excited to learn Pismo is the World Clam’s Capital. It looks like you can just go to the beach with your bucket and collect up to 10 clams if you have a fishing license. To celebrate this, we looked on TripAdvisor and looked for a restaurant for seafood with good reviews next to our hotel, and we found Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana.
The restaurant was busy and there was an hour and half waiting but we decided waiting and were sat at the bar. The bar itself was a whole amazing experience. It was shaped as a long and wide corridor and it had a long counter on one side and a long leather bench with small tables on the other one. There were proper barman with the classic outfit making cocktails and so we indulged in an aperitif while waiting for our table to be ready.
The meal did not disappoint us. I had the ‘clam spaghetti’ and it was delicious. The clams were big and the dish was served more as a soup than the Italian version I am used to, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend you try it as well if you like seafood.
It is funny how when Ba revealed to me my birthday gift and itinerary, we both were not sure if spending more than 1 night in L.A. Although we both love big urban cities, we thought L.A. would have been massively urban and were not sure this is what we wanted for our road trip in California.
But I am so happy we decided to stay for 2 nights as I really liked what we saw. First of all, we stayed in Santa Monica, which in my opinion is the most chilled place ever, and second of all we just visited a part of the city, maybe the best one, the one that sparkles, hence our amazing experience.
In fact, as we arrived just before dinner, we parked the car, checked in our fancy hotel and went for a stroll on the pier, after admiring the multitude of artists and athletes on the beach. We enjoyed seeing so much outdoors life. People were performing for free on the pier and others were cycling, swimming, playing volleyball, exercising….you name it!
Plus the palms and the wide white-sanded beaches really get me <3
We ended our day by having a burger and craft beer at the counter of this lovely pub, Stout Burgers and Beers, where we also enjoyed a nice chat with the barman.
The morning after we woke up and hopped on the City Sightseeing Bus. This is not something I normally do because I like to walk everywhere but in a city like L.A., I have to say this is quite a must, if you want to cover some ground.
We could have used our car, but we would have missed on the fun facts, tips and history learnt through the audio provided on the bus, which contributed to make this a memorable experience. There are many routes you can choose from, with the yellow and the red ones being the most popular and the ones we chose, as they cover Beverley Hills and Hollywood.
We enjoyed being on the top deck and taking in the sunshine and ocean breeze as we were drove around these luxurious parts of the city. It was a very relaxing way to travel around and we contained the stops we made in order to make the trip as enjoyable and chilled as possible.
So a stop I would recommend is the one at the Grand Central Market, a food and craft market and also a historic landmark, as it has been opened since 1917. It is very hard to choose from all the delicious food there is on offer and I eventually opted for a fresh big bowl of shrimps, boiled eggs and cheese; that’s the kind of food that I crave when it’s 25+ degrees 🙂
After that we hopped on to the bus again and enjoyed seeing all the places related to celebrities, like the chicken shop where Brad Pitt worked when he was not famous yet, the house where Marilyn Monroe lived, or the Four Season Hotel, where Quentin Tarantino signed up John Travolta for the ‘Pulp Fiction’ movie. It was truly exciting!
So we hopped off in the heart of Hollywood, strolled around, went in the music shops, took pictures with the celebrities’ stars on the pavement and basically enjoyed the moment. Many say Hollywood is very tacky; well, it is definitely not glamorous as Beverley Hills, but I thought it was quite nice and original somehow, so don’t listen to what others say and make your own experience out of it!
After that, we returned to Santa Monica with the goal to check Venice Beach out and seeing the sun setting there; and it was beautiful. We sat by the concrete playground watching skateboarders and took in the last sun rays of the day. It was magic. I really enjoyed Venice Beach and I felt very safe walking around.
We also loved our cycle back to Santa Monica, we had walked enough during the day!;) You could just pick a bicycle up for a couple of dollars and return it to the next station! Very handy! I think all the electric scooters were taken!
This was a very full and tiring day and we were so happy to be back in Santa Monica to enjoy our dinner. This time we went for the ‘Cheesecake Factory’ where we were sat on the terrace in a lovely sofa for two, it was very cozy and romantic. I do love pasta and really enjoyed the massive portions from this restaurant; craft beers on the menu were a very nice add too 🙂
San Diego stole my heart. It may have been the fact that we stayed in the best hostel ever, in the most chilled area ever and that we met some of the most interesting people ever, which for sure made this a memorable and enriching experience, one I will never forget and definitely a place I want to go back to.
We stayed at the HI San Diego – Point Loma hostel, within walking distance from the famous Ocean Beach; I say famous but I didn’t know it. However I felt home from the second we arrived. The OB neighbourhood has a very coast village feeling, it’s a hippy, green and fair area, where you can admire the easygoing life of its lucky residents.
We did not venture in Downtown San Diego but enjoyed its beaches instead. On the recommendation of a hostel fellow, we drove to La Jolla, hired some snorkeling gear and ventured in the Pacific Ocean water. For long it had been my dream to snorkel but it did not prove to be an easy task! LOL I was actually terrified although I am a good swimmer and never feared the water. But with a lot of patience I slowly got in and further and after twenty minutes or so I started to enjoy the calmness you get from looking at fishes while floating in the silent water.
After this emotionally-intense experience ( I don’t need much you see) we celebrated our first snorkelling experience with some delicious tacos! These were blue corn made, which is the typical taco in Baja California/Mexico. We could choose three flavours and so we went for the pulled pork, shrimps and beef, I think. We found this place, Puesto, by chance, in one of the nice streets a bit further away from the beach. The restaurant had a nice terrace outside and served every kind of tequilas as well although we decided it was better to stick to water at 2 pm 😉
There are no words to describe how perfect this trip was: I loved the open spaces, the wildlife, the food. We didn’t connect with many people except for at the hostel in San Diego, but everyone was polite throughout our road trip in California.
I wish I could live in California one day, especially San Diego, which I loved so much for its sunshine, ocean, beauty and space <3
We will be back for sure.
Have you ever been? Which was your favourite place?
For more road trips ideas have a look at my posts here:
Thanks for reading.