When my flight was on time, my seat on the plane included extra leg room, and there were great food and movie selections, I should have known something was bound to go wrong. Even when my luggage was first out on the conveyor belt, it still didn't hit me that my good luck was bound to run out. It was probably when there was no line up as I picked up my rental car that I should have really been nervous. Unfortunately, it happened the moment I hit the road, excited to begin my 6 day San Francisco to LA road trip: the rental car clicked, clacked, smoked...and then broke down. My road trip was not off to a good start.
The car breaking down isn't really what went wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the car literally broke down the moment I left the Hertz parking lot. What actually slowed me down was my (unsuccessful) attempt at negotiating a car upgrade due to this "major inconvenience." I guess Hertz is still in business for a reason.
Anyway, after getting on the road (again), I was headed to Mountain View. This little city is home to quaint streets, cute shops, restaurants, cafes and beautiful homes. What stood out to me more than anything though, was all of the technology I was seeing people around me using: little gizmos and gadgets, self-driving cars, Google glasses, drones in the parks and skateboarders were even controlling the board's direction through the movements of their heads. People were playing futuristic games everywhere I looked. What type of games, you ask? I have no idea. It was as if the locals of this city were all members of a secret club. I wanted in.
For dinner, we went to CasCal and shared some delicious pan-Latin tapas on a beautiful outdoor patio. Afterwards, we went to the Beirhaus for some tasty patio beers. There was a great selection of beer and they were served in giant mugs. Food and drinks were enjoyed by patrons on picnic tables in what felt like a neighbour's backyard patio....well, until I tried to talk to some people, that is. My attempt at conversation made me feel like I was actually a desperately unwanted and despised neighbour crashing another neighbour's backyard patio party.
The table to the left of us were playing cards, but the deck they were using was the size of an 8 1/2 by 11' sheet of paper. It appeared to be another one of those futuristic games! Desperate to learn about all of the fun I was missing out on, I asked them about this game they were playing. Unfortunately, there was no response; they all just looked around nervously at one another and then back at their cards. The continued playing the game in silence, as if I had never spoken. It made me wonder if they were forced to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement.
I decided that instead of staring at or asking about the activities strangers were engaged in, I would head over to the land of self-driving cars, Google Glass and probably giant cards too. At Mountain View's Googleplex campus, I was able to get an answers about technologies like a holodeck, and also learn why things like miniature swimming pools, volleyball courts, slides, a giant dinosaur eating flamingos, and a restaurant without bills were at a workplace. The experience may also have been the highlight of my life.
Upon the conclusion of my Google tour, I was a little embarrassed to get back into my car and actually drive it myself to Carmel. Feeling bummed out to be leaving the Silicon Valley suburb and The Future, I decided to pay $17 to access the 17-mile Drive to get there. The $17 includes a map of the drive and it outlines 21 points of interests with descriptions of each (My favourites listed were The Lone Cypress, The Ghost Tree and The Lodge at Pebble Beach).
The conclusion of the 17-Mile Drive ends right in Carmel by the Sea which is a stunning beach town. At sunset and sunrise, dolphins jump and play along the beach's shoreline. Aside from great beach walks and views, this town is full of great restaurants, pubs, shops and beautiful beach homes. My new plan in life is to invent something in Mountain View and buy a beach house in Carmel.
The locals were very friendly and keen to share the best places for food, drinks, music, apparel and even crazy hats (The latter reco came from the owner of The Carmel Hat Company). I was sad to leave this little town, but time was of the essence and the Bixby Bridge and Big Sur were waiting. Part 2 of this road trip covers the windy roads of Route 101, and Big Sur's hiking trails, terrifying mountain lions and friendly deer. In the meantime, feel free to leave your favourite things to do in Mountain View and Carmel in the comment section for others to see!
The owner The White Rabbit (A store entirely based around Alice in Wonderland) basically kicked me out of Carmel. I was browsing his beautiful shop and he struck up a conversation with me. He asked about my trip and where I was headed next. When I answered "Big Sur", he took the Cheshre Cat t-shirt I intended to purchase out of my hand and told me to get into my car and go. It was as if I was late, for a very important date. He said Big Sur was the most beautiful place in the world. I couldn't imagine a place being any nicer than Carmel, so I took this local's advice and got moving. The only thing that might have made the drive there better would be if I was wearing that Cheshire cat shirt.
We stayed in a cabin in Big Sur Lodge in Preiffer Big Sur State Park, "which is situated among redwood and oak trees." After we checked in, we hiked "Pfeiffer Falls trail that winds over rustic bridges across Pfieffer Redwod Creek a ends at a 60-foot high waterfall." As we reached the trail's entrance, I almost turned back. A sign warns hikers about Mountain Lions and mentions that they are particularly drawn to children. Being a petite build at 5'1 and aware that Mountain Lions may not be able determine a human's age, this particularly scared me.
I don't remember much of the hike as I walked it in a constant state of fear and panic. Luckily, I have photos:
After our hike, I took a short drive to relax at Pfieffer Beach. When you get out of your car, you won't notice anything extra special about the place- there is a parking lot, some picnic tables and a change room. Take the short trail and as it ends, you will feel like you fell down a rabbit hole.
As if the beach didn't fill my daily quota of max'n and relax'n, I decided to do some more of it back at my cabin once the sun set. As I was sitting on my cabin's porch, I suddenly noticed 2 deer. I quietly ran into the cabin to grab my camera for a picture. I was back outside in seconds and silently followed the deer around to take pictures. In the midst of my photography sesh, a fellow cabin neighbour and porch-sitter who had been watching me for 10 minutes shouted over, "You don't have to worry about scaring them. Deer ain't afraid of people here."
Big Sur allows you to become fully immersed in nature and majestic scenery. It also makes you question if you are actually in Alice's mad Wonderland with wild flora and fauna, terrifying mountain lions, sneaky scenery changes and friendly deer. I definitely wouldn't be suprised to find a caterpillar smoking a pipe here.
I would move here if I could; wouldn't it be great to live in harmony with deer? Unfortuantely, I only had a few days left to get myself to L.A. and had to hit the road. The adventure continues with Part 3 in San Simeon, Hearst Castle and San Luis Obsipo.
The tail end of my road trip covers 3 places that were recommended to me: Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo and the Santa Monica Pier. As I made my way to these 3 final stops, I was lucky enough to also cross paths with elephant seals, wine at Hearst's ranch and some great sights (Hot harbor surfer cops as well as the scenic views pictured below):
As I ventured toward San Luis Obispo, a beautiful 3 hour drive south of Big Sur, I planned a stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon along the way. 2 simple signs on Highway One persuaded me to add a couple more destinations to my trip. The first sign that grabbed my attention was just north of Hearst Castle and mentioned elephant seals. To be honest, I had never heard of such a thing. Did these seals have trunks and tusks? Or were they simply elephants with flippers? I needed to find out.
As I searched high and low for this attraction, I heard some loud noises and noticed a packed parking area. I pulled over and walked down a short path to a beach filled with these giant creatures. As it turns out, they look more like seals...and I'm just not sure where or why the elephant part comes in. If I were asked to name them, I'd call them "Drunk Seals" as sleeping and wrestling is all they seemed capable of doing. These fighter drunks entertained me for a good half hour as they wrestled and rolled on one another in and out of the water.
As I attempted to get myself back on track and over to Hearst Castle, a second sign jumped out at me. This sign informed me that Hearst also had a ranch. I realized I was absolutely starving and quickly pulled into a parking lot on the west side of highway 1 (The other side of Hearst Castle). I enjoyed a delicious and affordable lunch (grass-fed beef), and a glass of "Lone Tree" Cab Franc, right on the ranch.
When I arrived to Hearst Castle, I stood in line to purchase tickets. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 5-12. There was a list of tours to choose from (The Grand Rooms, The Upstairs Suites, kitchen and Cottages and an Evening Tour). I chose the Grand Rooms Tour as it is advertised as the best choice for 1st time visitors. The tour begins with a viewing of "Hearst Castle- Building a Dream" on a 5 story screen, which provides a biography on William Randolph Hearst and the history of the castle.
It may be a good idea to order tickets ahead of time off of their website. Because I neglected do this, had to wait 2 hours before I could take the tour. The castle itself is located 5 miles up a hill, so to get there, you have to take a shuttle. It is your ticket time that gets you on the appropriate bus.
When I finally got onto a shuttle, I was thrilled to learn that information about "the enchanted hill" and the castle would be narrated throughout the drive by Canada's own, Alex Trebek! As you ride up to the castle, Alex points out some beautiful coast line sights and old animal enclosures that used to be a part of Hearst's zoo on the hill.
Alex: These animals can still be seen roaming the property from the time of the zoo.
Me: What are zebras?
I didn't see any.
When we arrived at the top, we were greeted by a guide who could probably beat Alex in a round of Final Jeopardy. She showed us around the grounds that once hosted Charlie Chaplin and Franklin Roosevelt. To sum it up, I learned that Hearst was quite particular and cared a great deal about formal dinners, art, design, landscape and Heinz ketchup.
The tour of the castle made me think that money really just might buy happiness. Because of my shuttle difficulties, the castle was my third and final stop before reaching San Luis Obispo. If you have time, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are 2 other places I would have loved to check out.
When I got to San Luis Obispo, I stayed at the San Luis Creek Lodge. This hotel was so charming and located very close to downtown restuarants and shopping. The hotel staff were very knowledgeable about the city and nearby wineries, hiking trails and markets. They were also incredibly helpful with directions. A stay here includes a delicious breakfast and they even had free movie rentals and popcorn ready for their guests.
I spent the afternoon walking along the creekside and stopping into shops in the downtown core. My favourite stop was The Just Looking Gallery as the work of a Canadian artist, Steve Thomas, caught my attention. His work concentrates on the Central Coast of California and I'd buy it all if I could.
I ordered a delicious pizza for dinner at Novo Resturant and was able to sit on a light-strung patio overlooking the creek. I also checked out Creekside Brewing (delicious) and Powell's Sweet Shop -- Each employee seriously knew their stuff about candy (delicious). I also went to Luis Wine Bar (delicious), and Bubblegum Alley, which is "estimated that nearly two million pieces of gum adorn the 70-foot-long alleyway off Higuera Street " (gross... but great, but gross).
I spent my free breakfast the next morning thinking about how I should have left myself more time in the trip for San Luis Obispo. Sad to be on my last day's drive back to L.A., I stopped at a beach in Malibu and the Santa Monica Pier (Sights of the hot surfer cops did cheer me up).
This was one of the best trips of my life and it definitely wasn't long enough. If you've ever done this road trip, please feel free to add some ideas, stops, tips or tricks in the comment section for others to see.
After landing in Los Angeles, I picked up the Mustang Convertible I obviously rented and was excited to talk about traffic routes for the next 5 days. My husband and I drove straight to the city from LAX (We took Route 1 to the 1-405 North) and checked into the W West Beverley Hills.
As we checked in, we told the W's concierge it was our first time in LA. Free of charge, she upgraded our room to a suite complete with huge windows overlooking the hills, a separate lounge and office area, walk in closets and a gigantic bathroom. We were instructed to call down to the front desk 2 minutes before we needed our car; that would give them enough time to have it out front and ready for us. I realized that I loved LA and could really get used to this glamorous lifestyle.
As promised, our car was out front waiting for us shortly after we called. We headed to the famous Chateau Marmont for dinner. I was already excited to visit this enchanted castle on the hill, but even more so after all of the special treatment I was receiving in this prestigious city. I began imagining myself being escorted by the hostess into a private nook of the restaurant (You know, safe from the paparazzi). I couldn't wait to sink into a large leather chair by a candle-lit table and gaze out at the garden terrace. I would listen to the sweet, soft sounds of live jazz music while I waited for my friends, Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson to show up. The waitress would be sure to bring me a martini while I waited and the chef would greet me to introduce the custom menu that was created for our visit....
It's a very good thing I wasn't too accustomed to being treated like royalty. When we showed up, we learned that our reservations were not for the main restaurant, just for the bar. So we ate kobe burgers and french fries while tucked up to a bar top, but they still offered us valet parking.
Speaking of the valet parking; it was absolutely everywhere and I had serious withdrawal from it when I came home. I do wish I had read this article before I arrived: How to Use Valet Parking (Without looking like an idiot). Besides having someone else park and bring me my car at any and every opportunity presented to me (This includes a quick stop at In N' Out Burger), here is a list of the other things I enjoyed and recommend:
1. Hike the Hollywood Sign Trail Luckily, Francisco researched this trail before we arrived as it was actually a little difficult to find. He brought this very detailed map with instructions on it (It might be a good idea to print the map out as reception on the trail was hit and miss, so we couldn't always rely on our phones). Don't forget to bring at least 1.5L of water per person; you will need it.
We didn't see any rattlesnakes, but we did see a baby coyote, dogs dressed better than us and a great view from the top.
2. Walk along Hollywood Blvd to see the TCL Chinese Theatre, The Dolby Theatre, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
3. Hollywood Bus Tour Like many celebrities before me, I did something embarrassing and am hoping the paparazzi didn't catch me: I took a TMZ bus tour. We basically drove around LA and were bribed with XL TMZ t-shirts to find and point out celebrities. I was so embarrassed to be on the bus, that I half-hoped someone would egg us. By the end of the ride, my bus mates had found Cameron Diaz, George Clooney and Malin Akerman lookalikes and I had less faith in humanity.
4. Embrace 90210 I felt like less of a loser back in my own car (And remember, it was Ford Mustang). Although Dylan's Porsche would have been a better ride, my inner 90's child was as content as could be driving through the streets of Beverley Hills, home of Ned's Peach Pit.
We stopped to look at the platinum fire hydrants, beautiful homes and the shops of Rodeo Drive. For dinner, we went to SUGARFISH for sushi and it was the best sushi I have ever had. The fish was so fresh and plated beautifully. As the waitress delivered our meals at staggered times, she would explain how they were made and how to eat the pieces. We were instructed to eat immediately; they do not wait until the entire table's food is ready before serving. They do not take reservations, but we only had a short wait for a table. We each chose 3 items from their "Trust Me" menu (I picked the snapper, salmon and albacore sushi) and quickly learned that we could indeed trust them.
We also did a self-guided tour of Bel Air ( I didn't realize that Will Smith's cab where "the license plate said FRESH with a dice in the mirror" made such a long and windy trip up a hill to get to Uncle Phil's house).
5. Venice Beach We had a great time relaxing on this vibrant beach. We walked passed Muscle Beach, the famous basketball courts, beautiful boardwalk homes, shops and the filming of a reality TV show. We also enjoyed watching artists musicians and athletes. Watching the surfers, bikers, skaters and hacky sackers, made me feel like I was in that old video game California Games. Apparently, I also felt like I had actually participated in these athletic activities the way I rewarded myself with some delicious beach snacks in a boardwalk pub.
6. Santa Monica Pier Another great beach stop with swimming, fishing, surfing, volley ball, rides, music, people watching and delicious food.
7. Go to a Television Taping One month before arriving in LA, I requested tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen Degeneres. The highlight of this trip was definitely getting to go to a taping of The Ellen Degeneres Show at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. I couldn't believe it when someone from the show called to offer me the tickets. I spent the majority of that long distance phone call making the person convince me she was real.
The day was magical: I got to sing karaoke before the show, I was seated in the aisle Ellen dances through, her guests were Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and we even got to watch them joust.
8. Universal Studios When buying our tickets, we upgraded to the 'Front of the Line' option. It was pricey, but worth every penny. We got to walk to the front of the line for each attraction and we were able to hit them all. My absolute favourite one was Jurassic Park- The Ride (it was very, very scary). I also really enjoyed the 1 hour Studio Tour, which is included in all admission tickets. We were able to learn about how movies were made, see a King Kong attraction, studios and sets (including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives).
I had a fantastic time in LA and am already looking forward to going back. I really enjoyed staying in Westwood as it was such a cute area with a lot of shops and restaurants. I particularly liked Barney's Beanery (A restaurant and pub). We met some locals there who befriended us for the night and invited us to join them in some great karaoke duos. The bartender also informed us that Jim Morrison was once in the establishment, but kicked out for urinating on the very bar I ordered my drink from....Nice!
I definitely wasn't here long enough so, what should I do next time? Please add your recommendations in the comments section for others to see as well.
My name is Sara and I love finding new things to do in a new city. This website is an attempt to share the things that excite me in a new place through stories, photos, lists, travel tips and tricks.