We booked a Round the World ticket through Trailfinders, shortly after two friends became very ill and one had a stroke. I had just retired and we decided to spend some of my retirement money on a trip “around the world” ….before it was too late…..
Our trip started here in San Francisco during the month of November. Trailfinders recommended the Rex Hotel on Sutter Street and it was a very good recommendation. It was an easy taxi ride from San Francisco airport to this art deco hotel that was warm, welcoming and full of interesting ar,t and our greeting was “when you have freshened up – please join us for a free glass of wine”. That’s just the sort of greeting that is very welcome to a stranger in town.
The Rex was a “gem” near to Union Square for the trolley car terminus which takes you all over the city. The Red bus is also a great means of getting around to places that we had all seen on the cinema screen. The Seven Sisters Houses; the Haight Ashbury area; where the Flower Power movement started in the sixties; Lombard Street (remember the scene from Bullit); Alcatraz is a must, but get there early or book the day before you wish to go, it is very busy, but well worth the money. We paid $26 to go over on the ferry and you can stay all day if you want to.
We hired a car to travel down the coastline of California, but first we went over the Golden Gate Bridge, a wonderful experience and on each side of the bridge is a rest area for travellers to stop and look at the bridge or walk on the bridge. We then dropped down to Sausalito to have lunch. Sausalito is a lovely place away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, a small tourist town with lots of boats to look at as you while away the day.
The next part of our trip took us down Highway One to Carmel, we hadn’t booked any accommodation so had to look around. It was a quiet time of the year just before thanksgiving and we had no trouble in finding another really good hotel. The Adobe on the Main Street of Carmel was excellent, the room was warm and comfortable and breakfast was either in the main area of the hotel or in your room, we choose to have it in our room which was quite a treat. Carmel is a lovely little town and made famous by Clint Eastwood for being the Mayor there a few years ago. He can still be seen around the town from time to time. Clint owns a ranch called the Mission, where you can stay for a few nights on your journey, but book early for this pleasure as it is very popular. We had an evening meal at the Mission – hoping to see Clint as he sometimes comes to play music there, but not the evening we went, although the food was excellent.
There is an abundance of restaurants and shop in Carmel, and as we were staying on the main street we could easily walk to the restaurants and shops. The beach is also a lovely place to sit, relax and is very clean. The old Carmel Mission is a must to see, it is like something out of the wild west. The Mexican architecture is very interesting and you can imagine yourself back in the days when the houses of the rich and famous didn’t exist but the wagons and horses rumbled up to the mission for shelter.
Whilst staying in Carmel we drove to Monterey home of John Steinbeck, who wrote a number of books of which the best known is Cannery Row. It is an interesting place that tourists go to for the pier for entertainment, shops and restaurants – but just take a 10 minute walk past the seals basking in the sun to Cannery Row which is an antiques paradise.
We came back to Carmel via the 17 mile drive, which is an exclusive residential area, but tourists are allowed to drive around the area looking at some amazing scenery, it was a lovely area and worth a visit.
South of Carmel we picked up the road, still Highway One but now we were on Big Sur. It has magnificent scenery, rolling waves, bridges and forest of course you have to be on the look-out for the Condors, we were lucky enough to see three circling above the cliffs: a tremendous sight. We made a day of it but should have stayed over-night in one of the many lodges that are accessible on the road. About half way down the Big Sur is a lodge called Ripplewood Lodges, which is set amongst the pine forest. A night under the stars listening to the forest sounds would have been wonderful, so a tip is to plan to make a stop before you get down to Santa Barbara.
A good stop along the way is Hearst Castle, once owned by the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, it is an amazing place but entry is very expensive to get in to the main part of the house. However you can see many exhibits without going to all that expense, so it’s your choice. Good car park and rest rooms.
We arrived in Santa Barbara at dusk so felt rather anxious to find a suitable hotel to stay in, and we drove to the Beach area and spotted a Best Western, which we felt was a good base to stay the night. We were rather disappointed, as it was rather tatty and tired and needed a good face lift. So the next day we moved to a lovely hotel called the Lavenders, good room and a happy hour 5 – 6pm every day. Our visit to Santa Barbara was marred because we arrived just before Thanksgiving and a lot of the restaurants and shops were closed for the day. We did find the city really enjoyable but the restriction as to where we ate was rather limiting. Another Mission to see as a must is the, Santa Barbara Mission which is larger than Carmel Mission and well worth a visit. The pier and beach are very good and a trolley car will take you around the town. Tip: try to avoid Thanksgiving Day.
The last lap was down Highway One to Santa Monica, passing Malibu Beach and the amazing celebrity houses that are perched right on the beach. We stayed at the Hotel Carmel, which was recommended by Trailfinders: a strange hotel, lovely reception, but the rooms were all based on a Spanish Colonial feel, all rough walls and painted terracotta, interesting but comfortable and very central. The position of this hotel is right in the middle of Santa Monica, within walking distance of all the shops and the beach. One minus point was the car parking, our car had to be valet parked and cost $10 per night. The end of the Route 66 is on the Santa Monica pier, a great opportunity for a photo shoot even though you haven’t done the route yourself!. Good restaurants and shops but be aware that it is warmer in Santa Monica and the homeless of America tend to go where the sun shines.
We caught the Red bus to Los Angles centre, a very interesting ride trying to star spot – no luck this time. We stopped on Rodeo Drive and looked in Cartier, Tiffanys etc drooling over the consumer goods that were way out of many people’s pockets, but it was a fabulous atmosphere and we went into the restaurant where the film Pretty Woman was shot.
On to the Chinese Lantern Theatre where the Star Walk is situated, it was very crowded and if you don’t like crowds, don’t go and if you do, mind you watch your wallet or purse. A bus will take you to the Beverley Hills area to look at the lovely homes of the rich and famous. Should be good for star spotting but the stars never seem to be outside!!.
The Hollywood sign is a must if you can get to it, we did, but had to use the car as it is rather out of the way and if you follow the signs it gets confusing, but we asked someone and managed to find the area. It is a steep and dusty climb to get a good photograph of the sign and is an amazing view of the city, rather smaller than expected but worth a look.
The Hollywood Bowl is another iconic sight to see and you can look in at no cost, or just sit and remember the greats that have performed on that stage: the Beatles, Beach Boys and many more.
Our California dream was almost over but we had really enjoyed it and would go back for more. Just remember that November is a cold month, by day we had sunshine but at night it was very cold, so take lots of layers to wear. Petrol is much cheaper than in Britain, but the car parking can be quite steep. Trailfinders are a good source of information for a trip like this and all the hotels recommended were of a good standard. If we went again we would stop on Big Sur to soak up the atmosphere in one of the lodges.