F16s and earthquakes
A great road trip must have a rousing soundtrack and ours was packed with California related songs and also some invigorating tunes to eat up the miles. So it was ironic that, having just listened to a song from Top Gun, two F16s came blasting around the mountain to buzz us on a low fly pass. Quite a shock, very exhilarating and borderline need for a change of underwear. Our AVIS hire car incorporated CarPlay, which allowed us to plug our iPhones into the car system and play our playlists or switch to Google Maps on the car’s screen as we wanted.
The final leg of our trip took us to Los Angeles but we were taking a couple of days to do it, so we could take in sights along the way. Stop one was Monterey, a coastal town famous for its former cannery business. We walked along Cannery Row & Fisherman’s Wharf to see the 19th century brick and adobe buildings that have been restored and converted into smart shops, hotels and seaside restaurants.
17 Mile Drive hugs the rugged Californian coastline and a $10.50 toll gave us access to the route, multiple stopping points and restroom facilities. Along the pleasant and easy drive we got to see the churning Atlantic smashing into the various rock formations, sending up plumes of sea spray. Some of the rocks are home to seals, sea lions, pelicans, cormorants and gulls. We were entertained for a decent amount of time by a very noisy sea lion trying to clear a patch of rock for his exclusive use, only for it to be refilled by pelicans the instant his back was turned. Golfing fans were enthralled by Pebble Beach Links golf course (venue for the 2019 US Open), where you can have lunch in the clubhouse even if you can’t fit in 18 holes.
Close after the end of the drive is Carmel-by-the-Sea, said to have a ‘bohemian feel’ full of boutique shops and art galleries, along with white-sand beaches. Sadly by the time we arrived the 4th July celebrations were in full flow and there wasn’t a parking space to had anywhere, so time to move on.
Carmel is the decision point for drivers heading south. Should you desire more of the craggy coastline, crashing surf and slow windy roads, the Highway 1 coastline route allows you to take in Pfeiffer Beach and Bixby Bridge (one of the world’s highest span bridges). Otherwise (as we did) you can cut back in for a much faster route on the 101 to Atascadero (famed for its colourful lavender fields at the right time of the year) our overnight stop before heading towards LA.
Santa Barbara was our next venue. Nicknamed the Californian Riviera, we enjoyed the impressive mountain range as we drove to the Old Mission. This impressive twin towered building was established on the Feast of Santa Barbara 4th December 1786 and 200 years later is still home to Franciscan Friars. We enjoyed perusing the museum, some of the 12 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and the impressive floor art in front of the building with its imperious hilltop view. The County Courthouse was also worth a visit prior to strolling along the lovely beaches.
Before heading off on this trip many people say there is nothing worth bothering with in LA but we believe that almost everywhere has things of interest. Indeed, I’m with Henry David Thoreau who said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”. So, with a little prior research and a desire to pick out the jewels, here’s what we found of interest. Admittedly Downtown LA can seem a bit like a concrete jungle but Union Station (cathedral ceilings, 3,000lb chandeliers) was the first of many places of architectural interest. Across the street El Pueblo has a real multi-ethnic vibe to it and some of the oldest buildings in the city. We kept an eye out for wall art and there were some magnificent frescos on some ‘out of the way’ buildings.
The Getty Center provides an amazing cultural resource full of many works of art and some beautiful sculptured gardens. Set at the top of a large hill (a computerised tram takes you up from street level) it offered amazing views of the city. Perhaps best of all it’s completely free (except $20 parking), so we were able to admire Iris by Van Gough and Wheatstacks by Monet without breaking the bank. At the other end of the cultural scale there is Universal Studios and as Harry Potter fans we thought they’d made an absolutely brilliant job of recreating Hogwarts and Hogsmead. The Harry Potter ride (where you follow Harry on his broomstick in a swooping, soaring ride) and The Mummy (rollercoaster in the dark, some of it backwards) were the most thrilling of all. Silver or not we went on everything and it was a great thrill, plus we managed to retain our breakfast/lunch despite multiple attempts to part us from it. Nature proved to serve up the best ride of all with a 7.1 scale earthquake (the largest in California for 20 years) whilst we were in town, quite an experience but in true 007 tradition we were shaken but not stirred.
Another amazing and free resource was Griffith Park and Observatory. Again, set up on a hill (so great views of LA and the Hollywood sign) the observatory offers many interesting displays, plus we attended 2 performances in their planetarium ($5 each for seniors) both hugely interesting and beautifully narrated by Julia Silverman. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is worth a stroll if you want to catch your favourite personalities’ star, or their hand or footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (we found Harry, Hermione and Ron’s).
A short drive took us to Santa Monica and Venice’s huge and magnificent beaches. Here you can catch people expressing themselves, via art, volleyball, or in other ways that will help you exercise your ability to distinguish between what you look at and what you see!
Over 1,500 miles later our road trip was over, and we returned our trusty steed to AVIS, which had enabled us to experience many out of the way places (Calico Ghost Town being the last) as well as the normal top tourist spots. Great fun, can’t wait to plan the next one.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Avis.