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Trip Report Another Californian Odyssey (June/July 2014)

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Another Californian Odyssey – June/July 2014

In the spirit of shanek’s 2010 posting I have decided to post another detailed description of an Australian family’s tour of California. Our contingent is bigger and older than shanek’s and our itinerary not quite as ambitious (nor my narration skills quite as eloquent) but I thought it still might be of interest. Travelling with six semi-adults presents its own problems in terms of rental cars and accommodation.

I am halfway through our 2-3 week trip sitting in my cabin/tent in Yosemite as I start the journal.

First by way of background, we are a family of six, myself (Peter), my wife (Jayne) and our four “children”, Liam (18), Bailey (16), Caitlin (15) and Niamh (12). The trip has been a little splintered needing to fit in with school and university holidays and work commitments as well as a desire to do an iconic and memorable individual trip with each of our children after they finish school (Liam this year). So this trip started with Jayne, Bailey, Caitlin and Niamh flying from Sydney to LA on Thursday 19 June and spending a few days with our good friend Stacy and her family before Liam and I flying out on Sunday 22 June and meeting them in San Diego. The plan is to travel around California for two and a bit weeks before Jayne heads back to Sydney via Hawaii with three younger children and Liam and I go to Mexico and Cuba for two weeks. Jayne and I travelled the US for a few months in a Chevy van after we were married in 1995 and although I have been back occasionally for short work visits it is interesting for us both to see how things have changed and to share them with our children.

Sunday 22 June – LAX/San Diego

Liam and I had an early start having to fly to LA from Sydney via Melbourne due to Frequent Flyer point routing. Our flight from Sydney was at 6am but luckily I could get us into the Qantas lounge for a good breakfast and we had a pretty good flight to LA arriving around 6.30am after 14 hours from Melbourne (but closer to 19 since we left home). LA immigration was a circus and it took us ages to get through (~1 hour) with a lot of variability in how quickly different immigration officers were processing visitors. We finally got through, picked up our bags and headed for the shuttle to Alamo car rental. I had planned on (and booked) a Dodge Grand Caravan for the six of us and our luggage but Alamo only had a Kia Sedona which looked much smaller in the luggage space although they assured me was the same size. Anyway I decided to upgrade to a Toyota Sienna which seemed much more spacious. Liam and I made the trip to San Diego quite comfortably with the help of Google Maps on my iPhone (with a 1.5GB pre-purchased data pack) being able to ease into LA traffic and right-side driving with it being a Sunday. After a brief stop at Carlsbad for a late breakfast at McDonalds (the same everywhere) we met the rest of the family who had been staying the last three nights at the Dana on Mission Bay (and where we spent one more night).

It was great to be together again. Our good friend Stacy had been looking after Jayne and the kids and showing them around San Diego and having Caitlin and Niamh for a sleepover that night which enabled us to get away with one hotel room for the night of our arrival. Shortly after we arrived Stacy and her partner Mike offered to escort us to a baseball game (Dodgers vs Padres) which was great fun. Although I had adjusted quickly to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, following Stacy to find parking in San Diego “ballpark peak-hour” with her erratic unsignalled direction changes was something of a challenge. It was great fun at the baseball (although the Padres lost) taking in this iconic American cultural experience and enjoying hot dogs for lunch. Niamh and Caitlin went home with Stacy for a sleepover with her daughter Lily so Jayne, Liam, Bailey and I had a simple burger dinner at a restaurant in The Dana before turning in - with Liam and I both pretty exhausted.

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    Thanks Guys. I'm a little behind so I'll try to post a few days now we have wifi again.

    Monday 23 June – San Diego / Hollywood

    We all slept in a bit before packing up, checking out and meeting Stacy and the girls at Carlsbad for brunch. Getting all our gear into the Sienna was pretty easy as we had packed reasonably light - Jayne having a standard (but not huge) suitcase, Bailey, Catlin and Niamh having the small cabin size wheelie bags and Liam and I with backpacks. Then of course we all had our various handbags, day packs, etc but nearly all of it fitted in the rear luggage area.

    After getting the girls, brunching and stocking up on a few supplies we headed to Hollywood. We’ve started this game to pass the time where we aim to find a licence plate from every US State – off to a good start (lots of interstate trucks between SD and LA) but I’m sure we’ll slow down later.

    We have settled into a pretty good means of travelling with Liam navigating from Google maps on the iPhone. We looked at hiring a TomTom or bringing ours from home but with a prepaid datapack the iPhone worked out cheaper than renting ($10/day) or downloading the US maps. It only get a little complicated when Liam sits in the very back as we rotate all the children’s seating.

    Arriving in Hollywood Bailey’s first point of reference was from Grand Theft Auto – “I’m sure I’ve driven down that footpath”, “I think I’ve held up that gas station”. One interesting thing is how you need to enter your zip code when pre-paying for gas with credit card – obviously I didn’t have a 5-digit US zip code but my childhood TV viewing paid off and I just typed in “90210” which worked fine.

    We have decided to use airbnb for some of our accommodation, as an apartment is often a good value option for six of us compared to two hotel rooms. This was the case in Hollywood here we got a great 2BR apartment in west Hollywood just off Sunset Boulevard with a pool, gym and parking for around AUD$350 per night for two nights (might sound expensive but compare that to two hotel rooms plus taxes, plus tips and converted into AUD at around $0.90). Airbnb actually works even better if you’re staying longer as there is a fixed booking fee and cleaning fee.

    We had arranged to check in at 5pm so we spent some time walking along the walk of fame, checking out the stores and characters on Hollywood Boulevard finding Jayne's namesakes "star" and having lunch at a great Mexican Restaurant – Loteria Grill. One thing we have really noticed is the marijuana culture which seems to be everywhere now (especially Hollywood and Venice Beach) since its legalization her in California. The other thing is how much the US is getting into the football World Cup - especially the Hispanic community but even more broadly with the US team being well supported.

    I collected the keys and instructions from our host Dennis before getting everyone settled, exploring the apartment complex including a swim and picking up some supplies from Ralph’s across the road. That night (on Dennis’ recommendation) we dined at Bossa Nova on Sunset for a reasonably priced meal which was an inspired choice as Caitlin and Niamh got to meet Nick Jonas there and have there photo taken with him. They were chuffed and the envy of all their friends on social media.

    Tuesday 24 June – Hollywood

    Today was a bit of a lazy day. We all slept in and had a leisurely breakfast (from our store bought cereal, bread, etc) before deciding to venture out to The Grove and Farmers Market for some retail therapy. The guys and girls split and us guys spent part of our time driving to a Walmart store on Bailey’s insistence – this was a bit of an adventure as it was virtually in downtown LA and we took a couple of wrong turns through some of the seedier parts of town. We got some lunch at Burger King before rejoining the girls. We are all amazed at the size of the soda cups at fast food restaurants – and then they offer free refills!

    We then took a drive up into the Hollywood Hills following some sage advice and heading up Miller Drive (a twisting road starting at the kink in Sunset Boulevarde) and heading uphill at every turn – we same some truly amazing houses in terms of style and engineering feats, one of which seemed to have the original Predator model in its front yard. We then headed to Rodeo drive window shopping with the rich and famous, seeing one of the worlds most expensive cars on the street (Bugatti owned by the late Bijan} and stopping in at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a toilet break. We then headed back into the Hills touring up Benedict Canyon Drive and across Mulholland Drive taking in some great views of LA including the iconic Hollywood sign (we saw this from a lookout on Mulholland just near where it joins Cahuenga. That night I cooked hotdogs for us all in the apartment.

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    Wednesday 25 June – Hollywood / Anaheim

    Today Jayne had a rest and I took the four kids to Universal Studios. Dennis had agreed we could check out late so the plan was to drive that evening down to our next stop in Anaheim. Universal Studios was fantastic. We got there early and hit the popular rides before the crowds built up. We declined to pay for the Fast Pass which to me (as an egalitarian Aussie) seemed just wrong – being able to pay to jump the queue (or line-up as the Americans call it). I much prefer the system in Disneyland where anyone can pickup a fast pass for specific rides and come back at a designated time. Anyway the queues weren’t too bad. Highlights were the Transformers (an amazing ride and 3d experience), the Simspon’s Krustyland ride (a 3d “ride” where you never actually leave the starting point) and the studio tour which was great for the kids to see behind the movie “façade”.

    After a full-on day we got back to our apartment around 5pm and went for a stroll for Caitlin to check out an amazing music store (Amoeba) on Sunset Bvd and buy some retro vinyl and for the boys to pick up some things they saw on shops on Hollywood Bvd on our first day. Our first airbnb experience was a great success

    We then packed up and headed off to Anaheim, checking in to our to rooms an the Anaheim Quality Inn on Manchester St (not to be confused with the one on Katella) which is walking distance to the main gate. We got a pretty good deal on the rooms (~US$130 for each of our two rooms] plus tax plus US$5/day for parking) – they were pretty basic and there was some construction going on next door but we weren’t going to spend much time there and they were close to Disneyland. That night dinner was late at the Golden Arches with the kids nipping out to see the fireworks display across the road.

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    Thursday 26 June – Anaheim

    Disneyland Day 1. We got an early start loading up on the free breakfast at the hotel in combination with supplies we had brought and getting to the park shortly after opening. We went for the two-day ticket which for six of us was pretty expensive (~$1,000) but there weren’t a lot of alternatives. We hit the popular rides early – Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain and the Matterhorn Bobsled. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Splash Mountain photos Disney take as Bailey insisted on lifting his top and the key moment resulting in our photos being “moderated”. Disappointingly Space Mountain and Finding Nemo were not open but I guess there has to be some time when maintenance is done. We eventually split up with Liam and Bailey going there own way and Jayne and I staying with Caitlin and Niamh. We went back to the hotel in the afternoon for a rest and refueling (Maccas again – terrible I know but its close, fast and easy) before heading back for the evening and not getting to bed until around 11.30pm. We never really got organized enough for the fast pass thing although we did manage to get a late one for Star Tours the 3d Star Wars experience. The fireworks and show were great although we didn’t really stop in one place to see them properly. Overall impressions of Disneyland were that it was a great experience, the rides were very good but not fantastic and the crowds were bigger than I had expected but things generally moved well and we didn’t have to wait in queues for too long.

    One of the Dad jokes the kids are really starting to get sick of is whenever we go to somewhere-land (which there have been lots of) I say “Oh no – I didn’t bring my passport”. I need to get some new material I think.

    I managed to get a couple of loads of washing done in our afternoon return to the hotel. An observation - this country seriously needs to introduce a dollar coin. For two loads of washing (including buying detergent and using the dryer) I needed 48 quarters!!

    Friday 27 June – Anaheim / Santa Monica

    For our third day of theme parks in a row we decided to hit California Adventureland – again we got an early start arriving around 8.30am after breakfasting and packing up. Based on some good advice we headed straight to Cars Land for a fast pass for the Radiator Springs Racers ride which already had a 1.55pm return time. Again we hit the popular rides early - California Screamin’, the Ferris Wheel , the Tower of Terror and Grizzly River Run were highlights. I headed back around 10.30am to pack the car and check us out, leaving Jayne and the kids to explore more rides, returning with some soft drinks from the supermarket and a 40-pack of nuggets ($10 – what value) for our lunch. After a few more rides we snuck in early to the Radiator Springs Racers fast pass (by then the standby wait was 75 minutes) and after a 15 minute wait took our last theme park ride – reactions were mixed – I loved it but most of the kids thought it wasn’t that thrilling and not worth the wait. One of the things I really enjoyed about both Disney parks was that the rides were more experiences with a story rather than just rides (eg Pirates of the Caribbean and Radiator Springs Racers). A couple of Disneyland tips – (i) use the fast passes and be aware they don’t seem to police the return times that diligently so you may be able to sneak back earlier; and (ii) use the single rider lines (usually going back through the exit with a single rider ticket) – we used these a lot especially going on rides we had already been on together and they save a lot of queuing time (around 45 minutes for Grizzly River Run) but I guess work better with older kids.

    We had arranged our second airbnb place for that night in Santa Monica and I had arranged to meet our host Dylan at around 4pm so we left Anaheim around 2.30pm having had an exhausting but exhilarating experience of the three theme parks over three days.

    The drive to Santa Monica was uneventful and we found the apartment easily and on time. It was at the far northern end of Santa Monica (really Pacific Pallisades) and was an older and slightly run down and under-equipped two bedroom apartment but in a great location right across the road from the beach. It was reasonably expensive for what it was at equivalent to around AUD$400/night for two nights but I struggled to find anything else near the beach that could accommodate us all for a better price. Parking was available in a secured area (two spaces) but the spaces were very tight.

    One interesting challenge with 4 kids is managing the sleeping arrangements. Invariably where we get two rooms of two double (or queen) beds Niamh and Caitlin end up sharing and where we need to use a sofa one of the boys usually gets the short straw but there are often fights and we try to be a bit more creative and to share things around a little. Here Liam got the second double bed, Caitlin was on a blow up mattress and Niamh and Bailey were both on separate sofa beds (Niamh’s unfortunately a little small).

    That night (after Niamh and I went for a quick swim) we ate at Patrick’s Roadhouse – a bright green “Irish” establishment which is apparently frequented by Arnold Schwarzenegger and they have a reserved “throne” for him which Caitlin sat on (I get the feeling he may not have been there for quite a while). The food was OK – plenty of it but pretty greasy and not all that cheap – and no signs of anything Irish about the place.

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    Dollar coins have been tried here (twice I believe) and were a huge flop.
    Hint, next time look for a laundromat that has "fluff n fold" service, you drop off your laundry and they wash, dry and fold it for you so you don't have to waste valuable vacation time.
    Enjoying your reports, thanks.

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    Saturday June 28 – Santa Monica

    This morning we slept in a little after our previous few full-on days. We did our usual self-bought breakfast and then drove down to Santa Monica Pier taking a little detour through Pacific Pallisades to pick up some supplies. The houses there are amazing – although it is a little grimy down by the beach next to the highway, up the hill the houses are all perfectly manicured - straight out of Wisteria Lane but many much grander and apparently many worth more than US$30m.

    We parked by the beach at Santa Monica ($12 for all day) and explored the beach and Pier area before splitting up (girls and boys) and exploring the Third St Promenade area. The girls explored the shopping areas while us boys all went and got haircuts from a great Mexican barber on Lincoln Bvde - $15 each (plus a couple of dollars tip) and we got to watch a World Cup Football game while we were trimmed (Columbia v Uruguay). We then went for a swim and sunbake on the beach before meeting the girls around 4pm at the Pier. That night we arranged to meet Stacey, Mike and Lily for dinner - they had come up for the day from San Diego to attend to some other things and have a final farewell. We ate at Pizza Antica - a pizza restaurant in the Santa Monica Place mall.

    Impressions of Santa Monica – the Third St Promenade areas and the parks along Ocean Ave are beautiful and the Pier and beach are full of character. The beach is nice and with a bike path all the way from Pallisade to Venice but it is somewhat spoiled by the Pacific Coast Highway which runs right along the beach north of the Pier and around where we were staying there are some dingier areas there with quite a few homeless people. Overall however a very enjoyable part of LA.

    Sunday June 29 – Santa Monica / Mammoth Lakes

    This morning Caitlin and I went for an early morning swim with dolphins frolicking less than 20m from us – a great way to start the day. After our usual breakfast we then headed out to Venice Beach. I left Jayne and the kids there to explore and headed back to pack the van. They all loved Venice – it is very freespirited and open-minded but in some areas pretty dingy and seedy – again lots of homeless people (and also lots of marijuana culture). Lots of characters – skaters, rollerbladers, hippie stalls, a bikini-clad dog, a Jack Sparrow lookalike to name a few. Liam picked up some sunglasses and the girls got some henna tattoos. I picked them up around 12.30pm and we headed off towards Yosemite.

    I had decided to take the inland I395 approach to Yosemite rather than what seemed like the more boring Highway 99 even thought it is a little longer - with the idea to stop overnight somewhere before Yosemite to break up the trip. The first part of the trip was all desert with the temperature above 100F (38C) the whole way – hitting 110F at one point. We took a slight detour to stop the “ghost” town of Randsburg a really funky old town left in a time warp when the minerals ran out. After that gradually the landscape changed and the temperature dropped as we climbed the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the pine-clad ridges raised their battlements on high. All up we travelled 320 miles in ~5 hours driving – the longest driving day we would have.

    I booked as somewhere to stay at Mammoth Lakes – a little more interesting than somewhere like Bishop and there were some great summer deals at the ski lodges there. I used bookings.com and although there some really nice looking lodges at great rates most didn’t have air-conditioning and given it was still quite warm I opted for the Travelodge (which did have AC). We needed to take two rooms but the rate I got on line was US$87 (plus the usual taxes, etc) which compared to US$129 if someone turned up off the street (which someone did while I was checking in). Amazing how much you can save through a little research and preparation – all made very easy with the internet. Here one of the rooms have a sofa bed so (as well as the two queen beds in each) so Liam took the sofa while the 3 other kids all got their own beds.

    We dined at the restaurant next to the hotel (Angels) on the recommendation of the hotel reception. A great meal and great service. An observation of the US is how friendly everyone generally is and usually what great service you get. I’m not a big fan of the tipping system where there is always more to be added to the bill and where staff are so lowly paid they rely on tips to get by but I guess it does lead to good service (or maybe that’s just the culture here).

    Another observation of the US is how hard it seems for me to be understood – I don’t know if it is my broad accent or their lack of an ear for foreign tongues but I have come across this on our previous travels being unable to have a gas station attendant understand what I meant by “ice” until I explained I meant frozen water and he said “Oh – ice”. This time I couldn’t make the receptionist understand what I meant when I said “bear” (enquiring about the local wildlife) until I eventually had to do a very embarrassing (for Bailey at least who was with me) impression of a bear to be understood.

    After a few games of fusball and pool at the hotel rec room we all retired for the night.

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    PeterJayne:

    Keep all the details coming. This is a different and fun trip report to follow. Well done.

    I am an expat who has lived in this country for quite a long time and still run into problems with being understood from time to time.

    Carry on please.

    Sandy

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    Thanks Jamie - I had heard you'd tried to introduce dollar coins without success. I don't know what you're going to do in 20 years time when washings is $4 a load. Its interesting how advanced the US is in some areas but how resistant to change you are in others - eg the currency, the imperial system, the right to bear arms. Don't get me wrong I think this is a fantastic country its just interesting observing the differences in cultures. In Australia we tend to make wholesale changes quite readily although I guess there are a lot more people and systems established in the US.

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    Monday June 30 – Mammoth Lakes / Yosemite

    We enjoyed the free continental breakfast at the hotel before loading up and heading out to Yosemite. Along the way we stopped at a few vista points for photographs and drove just past Lee Vining to visit Mono Lake briefly – an intriguing salt and mineral lake with lots of stalagmite-type things growing out of it. We then turned back and went down the Tioga Pass into Yosemite. Although the entrance to the park from the north doesn’t sound as spectacular as from the south it is still very beautiful and for us from Australia it is wonderful to see mountain scenery of pine forests and streams. The winter has been particularly mild so there is very little snow around (only on the distant mountain tops) and the rivers, creeks and waterfalls are flowing much less than usual. Still the scenery is spectacular especially the contrasting pine forests and huge rock edifices.

    We’re staying in the tented cabins at Curry Village (which I had booked largely off the back of shanek’s review). There was a fair bit of resistance from the family when I explained the accommodation and lack of wifi but they all eventually accepted and I think enjoyed the experience. We needed to get two cabins to fit us all in which ended up being pretty expensive but by the sounds of things we were very lucky to secure them in the middle of summer. The afternoon we arrived we were reasonably hungry having skipped lunch so we got a couple of large pizzas which were surprisingly reasonably priced given the monopoly the village has. I then took Bailey and Liam for a short walk to Yosemite Village and back while the girls explored the Curry Village facilities. It was very warm during the day here (in the 90s F) so we enjoyed a swim in the nice cool Merced River before returning to camp. Having had a late lunch we just bought a few snacks to enjoy by the tent (not strictly allowed I think) and I had a few beers enjoying chatting with our neighbours as the temperature got a little more bearable. Although there are extreme measures taken to protect against bears – including locking away all our food and toiletries in a bear-proof locker - we didn’t manage to see any bears during our stay although we did have a good chat to a ranger who was tracking one while we were on a walk and she assured us it was “just behind those bushes”. The kids were however happy to see the squirrels and deer which are pretty tame around the camp.

    We had a relatively early night reading and playing on our screens of choice until we all fell asleep – Liam spending a late night at the free-wifi lounge area catching up with his friends back home.

    Tuesday July 1 – Yosemite

    The tented accommodation was surprisingly comfortable and the best part was we all got our own bed. We decided to have a boys and a girls tent with three of us in each. It did get a little cool in the early hours of the morning with most of us reaching for the second blanket but we all slept very well.

    I had pre-paid for the breakfast package which was huge and quite good quality despite the mass production line involved. We all had our fill of bacon, eggs, French toast, hash browns, juice, coffee, etc to keep us going most of the day.

    This morning we took a fairly easy walk to Mirror Lake – I got outvoted on doing anything more strenuous. Although the lake was not very full it was nonetheless beautiful to get out into the forests a bit. When we got home we watched the final stages of the USA v Belgium game (USA lost valiantly with their keeper putting in a superhuman effort against a very strong Belgian attack) then piled in the car for a drive up to Glacier Point where there are some fantastic views of the valley. It’s about an hour each way but well worth the drive – spectacular views of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and the whole Yosemite Valley and some great photo opportunities where it looks like you are right on the precipice.

    It was another very warm day so after we got back to camp I took Niamh and Caitlin down to the river for a swim. They both were very appreciative of the cool water and we all played around there for a couple of hours. Dinner tonight was at the Grill restaurant with burgers for all (we skipped lunch after that mammoth breakfast). Again we had some snacks and I had a couple of beers before we turned in for the night (other than Liam who was again burning the midnight oil in the wifi zone – even after it closes you can sit on the verandah and get access).

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    I haven't stayed in the tent cabins for years (decades really) and now usually stay in Yosemite Lodge. But I used to really enjoy Curry Village. Sounds like it was perfect for your family.

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    Wednesday July 2 – Yosemite / San Francisco

    We were a bit late getting started today so after our big breakfast we decided to pack up and make the trip to San Francisco. I got outvoted on making the ~1 hour detour to see the giant sequoia at Mariposa Grove so we headed straight towards San Francisco on Highway 120.

    One great thing with our van is the digital radio with hundreds of stations. Unfortunately the kids want to listen to the latest hits stations – I am really getting sick of Rude by Magic!.

    The drive to San Francisco covers some ground which looks very Australian with the flat dry landscape although I guess that is particularly so with the current drought. Heading in to SF, the wind turbines I remember 20 years ago are still there – they much be reaching the end of their life. As we cross the Bay Bridge (which has a new section to it since we last crossed - I understand this opened in 2013) the ubiquitos fog starts to eventuate. And boy is it cold compared to the ~100F on the way in. I’m reminded of that famous Mark Twain misquote about the coldest winter he ever spent being summer in San Francisco. We checked into the Hilton (Union Square) which had a very good online rate (two rooms) and then parked the car at a dodgy car park with a much more reasonable rate (only $30 + tax per day). We then took a walk down to China Town for a Chinese mean nefore returning via Union Square and listening to a band there playing some Rolling Stones . Although it is very cool SF in the long summer evening SF has a vibe which reminds me why it is one of my favourite cities.

    Unfortunately on the way back to the hotel I stayed with Bailey and Niamh to listen to the band and gave Jayne vague instructions how to get to the Hilton which led her deep into Tendrloin. The Loin is not that pleasant a place to be as night falls! However she made it back with Liam and Cailtin unscathed

    Thursday July 3 – San Francisco

    San Francisco really can change dramatically with a block or two and the Hilton Hotel (Union Square) is a classic case – we are right on the edge of the Tender Loin – most sites I’ve seen saying you don’t really want o go (a block west or Taylor and south of Post) which is literally a stones throw from the Hilton (which is quite safe). As an example – I was looking at some reviews of nearby laundromats (http://www.yelp.com/biz/coin-op-laundromat-san-francisco) which included various descriptions of crack addicts, prostitutes and various lewd acts. I’m by no means a prude but went for a safer option of a very nice quite Laundromat (on Bush near Taylor I think) – especially at 7am when I went to do our tribe’s laundry.

    Back at the hotel with everyone awake we went to a local diner for breakfast. I wanted to try the Pinecrest Diner which has the self-proclaimed best breakfast in SF but given the queue was out the door we went across the street to Lori’s Diner for an especially huge breakfast.

    Afterwards we went for a long walk down Market St to the water, then followed the shoreline all the way around to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s wharf for a leisurely afternoon. We finished off with a cable car ride back to Union Square and the hotel. We then splintered again to take in our preferred shopping, gym, pool (in the sun the afternoon ended up been quite nice once the fog cleared) including me talking Bailey and Caitlin to check out Rasputin Music – a fantastic record store near Union Square. That evening Liam and I decided to go out to Oakland to see the Baseball (Athletics v Blue Jays- Athletics won easily) while the others had pasta at Café Mason on Mason St.

    Friday July 4 – San Francisco

    We had all hit the wall a bit by today and after a pretty tense breakfast decided to let everyone do whatever they wanted. Caitlin and I headed down to Haight-Ashbury to check out the famous Hippy area. Again the marijuana culture here with California’s recent legalization/decriminalization (?) was prevalent and the hippy vibe was still strong. We then took a leisurely stroll though Golden Gate Park including checking out the Academy of Sciences building and a band playing in the Bandstand for fourth of July. The others hung around the Hotel and checked out the local stores.

    That evening we again went to a local diner for dinner – getting a little sick of overpriced average food but we haven’t really ventured out of the tourist zone so I guess that is what you get.

    We had planned to head down to Pier 39 for the fourth of July fireworks but it is really turning very cold and the forecast is likely to mean the fireworks are a bit of a dud – so we stayed in and watch them on TV.

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    PeterJayne:

    Glad to see you are back posting.

    Oddly enough the year we visited San Francisco over the 4th July they had a heat wave. Go figure. We also ate at Lori's Diner - isn't that the one with a 50's vibe?

    We very much enjoyed Alcatraz.

    Nice of you to.go and take care of your tribe's laundry (not heard that phrase for some time)

    Please post as you are able. This is a good read.

    Sandy

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    Am really enjoying your trip! I live in San Francisco and I elected to watch the fireworks this year on TV too - cold, foggy fireworks just aren't right. BTW, when I was in Australia many years ago, I sometimes had to ask people to spell what they were saying - I just could not understand the way some words were pronounced, but if they spelled them I finally got it. I felt like an idiot.

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    Peter-Jayne, Really enjoying your report! We're Midwesterners who are sort of Californians at heart. We usually visit some part of this state each year, having just returned from a week at Lake Tahoe. Last year we were on the coast, loving Big Sur and the stretch to San Francisco, one of our many visits to these areas. Unfortunately, we often do not routinely post TRs after our US trips, but we're following all of your travels with interest. We'll stay tuned for more.

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    Saturday July 5 - San Francisco / Santa Cruz

    We are leaving San Francisco today and deliberately having a more relaxed cruise down the coast to LA. This morning we had a leisurely breakfast at a local cafe, packed up and collected our van from its storage. We decided to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito which was a very enjoyable drive despite the traffic. Sausalito seems such a beautiful relaxed place and I don't know if it was just today but the fog seemed to magically lift as we crossed the bridge.

    After a coffee and the obligatory bridge photos we hit the road and travelled down Highway 1 to Santa Cruz. It is a beautiful stretch of coastline and despite the intermittent fog was a great drive. It was a little slow with lots of traffic and some road work so ended up being about 4 hours drive to Santa Cruz.

    We had a fantastic home in Santa Cruz we got through Airbnb - a couple of blocks back from the beach (the south end of Santa Cruz). Allyson was a really friendly landlord and has a beautiful and comfortable home. When we arrived we hit the beach which was beautiful and a few degrees warmer the SF although still quite cool in the water. We managed to see a few dolphins and seals cavorting in the bay.

    Back in the house we picked up some supplies and had a BBQ dinner. It was really nice to have a home cooked meal after so much eating out.

    The only slight mishap was that Jayne realised she had left her purse in SF! We rand the Hilton and the purse had been found. Although we could have it sent to us I was a bit worried it wouldn't catch us given we're on the move. So Caitlin and I took a drive back to SF - on the highway this time so it wasn't too bad - a couple of hours each way.

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    Sunday July 6 - Santa Cruz

    Very relaxing day today. Laid on the beach, read, watched some TV and wandered around Santa Cruz. Lefovers for dinner. I think you need one of these days on a long trip.

    Monday July 7 - Santa Cruz / Pismo Beach

    I cooked pancakes for breakfast this morning and after straightening up the house we departed for our next stop Pismo beach. We had intended to follow Highway 1 but the fog had closed in and it didn't look like we'd see much so we opted for the faster 101. We had a stop in San Luis Obispo to check out the town in particular the (in)famous Bubblegum Alley which is a small laneway that everyone has taken to sticking their used bubblegum on the walls of. We added our contribution and took some photos of this intriquing but pretty gross attraction.

    Before heading to our accommodation we stopped for lunch at In and Out Burgers which was somthing the kids had been wanting to try the whole trip. I thought it was very nice - basic but simple and heathyish. It was refreshing in a country where you are swamped by choices and decisions to go somewhere that had two types of burgers and one type of fries - and that's it (other than the drinks which had a few more choices).

    Our accommodation was booked through airbnb but was a standard resort - the Cliffs Resort, Pismo Beach. However we got a great room for a family of siz - one very large room with a Queen bed for Jayne and I, bunk beds with an additional trundle and a sofa bed. So all the kids got there own bed and we were all in one room which I think was a first. These was a nice walk along the cliffs to a couple of pretty beaches north and south of our resort and we took advantage of the pool and gym. That evening we started playing that word game where each of us has to recite all the previous items alphabetically and add our own ("Adam from Argentina has a Aardvark, etc). Halfway through we realised we weren't going to make anywhere for dinner so we ordered in pizza and had a great night together in the room.

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    I do hope you are going back up Hwy 1 so you don't have to miss the awesome scenery in Big Sur. Also, since you're in the area, don't miss Morro Bay. The rock is very impressive.

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