As New Orleans was the surprise of the trip, Los Angeles was the most disappointing to me. The chaotic traffic that we found, shortly after started the trip, left us already guessing the noisy city that we would find.
Even before entering the city, we decides to go up to Hollywood Hill to take a photo of the mythical Hollywood sign. Traffic was closed and the reason could not be more movie-like: they were filming a scene for Major Crimes series.
At lunch, we listed the places to visit and drew a plan: Hall of Fame, Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Venice Beach. The Walk of Fame was full of people trying to sell tours, but we could see some stars on the floor.
We drove through Beverly Hills to peek at the mansions and through Bel Air because Will Smith was the fresh prince of Bel Air, when I started watching TV. In both districts, the mansions were obscenely large and luxurious.
Finally, we went to Venice Beach to take a dip in the Pacific. Undoubtedly the most beautiful area of Los Angeles. At dusk, we found a campsite on the beach in Santa Monica, and that’s where we spent the night before driving up US1. By morning I tried to take a swim in the ocean, but as soon as I set foot in the water, I saw two sea lions and thought it was better to save it for later.
SANTA BARBARA & MORRO BAY
We drove north and stopped in Santa Barbara to have lunch at a restaurant covered in pennies called “The Lucky Penny”. After taking a stroll along the beach, we continued to Morro Bay.
Morro Bay is a bay crowned by a hill with a lot of animal life. Hundreds of seagulls and many Sea Lions, in the harbour waiting for the remains that fishermen discard. On land, many squirrels can be found asking for food at our feet.
I must admit it was ambitious to move forward with the drive to get to a well located campsite. We reached it by night and the park was full. A sign, indicating a road 6 miles away as an alternative. We did not know, but it was a place known to be for wild camping. We went on the road and at every turn we saw a tent. It took us a while to realize that there was no campsite, it was right there: wild camping. We found a space for us and met two French and one Russian couple.
By morning we got on the road for the last part of the trip to San Francisco.
MONTEREY & SANTA CRUZ
The plan was to have lunch in Santa Cruz, so we made a quick drive by through Carmel, to see the beautiful street with houses inspired in Normandy, and we stopped in Monterey to see a harbour full of sea lions and many fishermen.
Restocked in water and snacks, we headed to Santa Cruz by road US1 – undoubtedly one of the most beautiful roads I have ever driven on.
Santa Cruz is a land of surfers, but the waves can’t be compared to the Atlantic ones. It is no coincidence that this is called the Pacific Ocean. But still, it was inspiring to see young and old with a surfboard under their arm and a smile on their face.
We had lunch overlooking the waves at Pleasure Point, and stopped on Sea Bright beach to freshen up. After a big disappointment with the famous Avila Beach on the way to Santa Cruz, this one was acceptable.
Starting the drive from Santa Cruz already in the afternoon, we stopped only in Sunnyvale, where Oscar’s uncles live.
We visited this city in two days, separated by a visit to Yosemite National Park.
On the first day, Sunday, we left the rental car at the airport and from then we were riding with Oscar’s uncles. We stopped at Pier 39 to see Alcatraz in the distance and meet the seals, which are a major tourist attraction. We went up to Lombard Street, the most famous and most travelled street in this city. It was naturally full of tourists and had a police reinforcement around it.
We considered getting on the tram, but the queues, both to buy ticket and to enter the tram, were discouraging. We took our photos and moved on to the next point of interest.
Crisy Fields is a beach on the edge of Golden Gate. It’s full of people enjoying the good weather, dogs running happily and picnics. To get a different view of the mythical bridge, our hosts drove us to the other side, by the mountains with a privileged view. The sunset and the fog kept us company, but the view did not disappoint.
On Monday, we took the day to visit Yosemite, but on Tuesday, our flight was at 7 pm, so we had time to return to the city.
We met a guy, that crossed paths with Oscar in Lisbon, on the most beautiful stairs of San Francisco. Mosaic Steps shows a view to the sea and gives colour to a residential area of the city. That visit was followed by a quick drive to the Golden Gate Park, a beautiful nature area that gives a lung to San Francisco.
We had lunch near the Cliff House with a panoramic view of the ruins of Sutro Baths. This part of town, leaning against the sea, served as a resting retreat for the inhabitants of the metropolis.
As a last stop, we visited the Painted Ladies: a row of colourful houses that has the silhouette of the city as a frame. That’s when we said goodbye to our guide and headed to the airport. A beautiful image for the end to such a rich trip.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
One day before returning to Europe, we visited Yosemite. One of the symbols of California. The views are absolutely stunning. We went up to Glacier Point and Tunnel View to delight ourselves with the magnitude of that place.
There are crows everywhere and a lot of squirrels asking for food (although it is illegal to feed them). We saw a deer or two and we were expecting to spot some bears, but we had no luck.
Tips for those who are dreaming of a trip like this:
- Rent the car in advance;
- Buy flight tickets in advance;
- Reserve the stays in advance;
- Expect the unexpected;
- Be flexible during the trip – there are sites that ask for one more night and others that require less than we had planned;
- Have an overall budget, but have also a reserve;
- Opt for a lightweight bag – versatile, comfortable clothing;
- Assume that there are expenses that are more worthwhile on the site, instead of transporting it with you, eg tent;
- Choose well the company and assume – still – that there will be arguments and less joyful moments. (Have food, water and get well rested to avoid some of them!);
- Collect the guides and pamphlets and read them;
- Ask and talk to the receptionists and guides;
- Expect to drive for many, many hours.