Our time is California has been spent the way that we have learnt to love; road tripping and exploring different cities in between the odd beach stop and cocktail sampler. Although to be honest, as a lot of this portion of the trip we have been accompanied by various members of my family, the cocktail and beer consumption has really peaked. I’m not sure what that says about my family exactly..
We have been out and about to so many nearby towns, beaches and tourist landmarks from our base at Newport Beach. Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach are among our local favourites however we have also ventured further out of town exploring too.
Known by many (in our circles in particular) as the setting for the film Anchorman, San Diego had a lot more to offer than a day full of film references and Ron Burgundy quotes! The city was a perfect combination of a bustling centre, in the midst of green hills and hikes placed in between a collection many beautiful beaches.
We visited Balboa Park during the day for a walk in the green surroundings and some lunch in a quaint cafe. The park was workplace to several people performing and miming, and the performances only became more of an exciting show when a local began verbally assaulting a man painted as a statue and tried to get him to pack up and move on.
We enjoyed the gorgeous sunshine that accompanied us on our walking tour all day long, right into the evening on our walk along the beach with a coffee and a Cinnamon Bun. We had driven slightly out of the city over to Coronado Island; home of the famous hotel with room prices as much as a backpackers monthly budget!
Not at all purposely, we continued our Will Ferrell theme by taking the hour long ferry ride from the harbour in Newport Beach over to Catalina Island. Again, when a plan was made for us to go to Catalina, all I could think of was Will Ferrell screaming obscenities about the Catalina Wine Mixer (if you haven’t seen the classic Stepbrothers, firstly you need to question why, and secondly you need to do so as soon as possible).
I did find humour in the memorabilia available and the fact that there is in fact now an Annual Wine Mixer due to popular demand, however our trip was truly made by the beauty of the Island. As soon as we stepped from the ferry there were views of houses in the hills behind the picturesque harbour where a friendly seal was swimming. A walk along the cobbled front took us past coffee shops, boutiques, old fashioned sweet shops and ice cream parlours and a walk further into the neighbouring streets lead us to the most beautiful pastel fronted houses woven up and down hilly streets.
We only stayed in Catalina for a day and got a return ferry that evening, so we didn’t get the opportunity to explore the depth of the island’s greenery, hikes or zip wires! That said, we did get a feel for what an extended stay might be like, and aside from relaxing we concluded that it could easily cost a small fortune as things were a tad more expensive than on the mainland!
A destination high on my bucket list, San Francisco was an exciting stop to make. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge is one that most people can see in their imagination whether they have been lucky enough to see it first hand or not. We got our fair share of views of the famous structure from near and far as we took the 4 mile stroll along to water from Fishermans Wharf all the way to the bridge. Whilst walking, we noticed that the bridge was normally covered in a lot more fog than I remember seeing in the movies! That said, even the fog made for an amazing view. Within minutes you could watch almost two miles of red bridge be completely engulfed in the mist and if you waited a few minutes more it would often begin to re emerge again as if nothing had happened.
Aside from the bridge, the city has so many other things to see and do that the three days we spent there only allowed us to scrape the surface.
Fishermans Wharf is a tourist heavy area of the city, right on the waterfront. If you like seafood, the smell of this place was incredible – if not, I’d give it a miss! We tried the locally famous Clam Chowder in a bowl of Sourdough Bread and despite being stupidly full after finishing it I could have easily eaten another – it was fantastic.
We rode the old trams around the city, or as the locals call them “cable cars” which confused me greatly. One stop is Lombard Street; the zig zag road shown above. Very random! Pier 39 was a stop we made more than once – but the first time sticks in my mind as it was the only bit of real sunshine and warmth we got whilst in the city – definitely the only time I was out in shorts! Home to hundreds of wild sea lions that you can hear long before you see, the pier also had a collection of shops, eateries and bars to lose time in. We enjoyed a much anticipated meal at Bubba Gump’s with a cocktail on the side.
Alcatraz prison was definitely worth a visit, and won’t be forgotten not just because of how much we enjoyed it and learnt, but also because of the 4:30am wake up call we had in order to get here. TOP TIP for anyone headed to San Francisco and wanting to visit the island – plan and book in advance! Although it’s safe to say our backpacker budget was pretty non existent in our three days in the city, our backpacker mindset definitely remains and is probably something we need to work on for our return to the real world! Upon arrival at our hotel we went to get tickets for the 10 minute boat ride across the water, only to find that they were almost entirely sold out for nearly two months, and there were absolutely no tickets available during our stay. Panicked, we asked the tour salesperson at the hotel for some advice and she said we had two options:
- To pay for a multi pass that included a bus ticket we wouldn’t use, some walking tours we were unlikely to go on, and the golden ticket to Alcatraz for a mere $180 each
- Queue for 1 of 50 on the day release tickets – the catch being that the ticket office opened at 8am and were sold out within minutes.
She advised that we queue from around 5am as people get there early. In disbelief I scrolled through countless blogs and internet tips who confirmed that to be in with a shot you had to be prepared for the cold and early start, and that people arriving at 5:30am had previously been greeted with a queue down the street and subsequently not got a ticket! We both wanted to go, and neither of us wanted to pay an obscene amount of money, so we set our alarm for 4:30am and went to sit in the cold armed with Netflix and wrapped in layer upon layer of clothing.
As it happens, we were the first there! And although there was a very large line by the time the ticket booth opened, we could have easily stayed in bed another hour, if not two and still made it to the boat. Moral of the story: The States aren’t as laid back and easy to backpack as the majority of South East Asia.
Regardless, we made it! And we learnt plenty about the prison, prison life, but most interestingly the numerous escape attempts.
This action packed few weeks is only the start of our American adventuring but it’s already clear to both James and myself just why so many people, citizens and expats, love this country so much (not just because of the food)!