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Happy Birthday to Me! A California Coastal Road Trip

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Happy Birthday to Me! A California Coastal Road Trip

Old Feb 8th, 2010, 10:04 AM
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Happy Birthday to Me! A California Coastal Road Trip

I’d always seemed to head east when I took trips. I live in Kansas City and had taken numerous trips to New York, Florida, and Europe. So I decided one day that it was time to head west. My brother lives in Phoenix and in 2008 my mom and I visited him there and he drove us to San Diego and I fell in love and wanted to see more of the California. I’m a big fan of major cities so San Francisco seemed like the natural choice to visit. I also love the ocean so I wanted to spend a few days exploring San Francisco and then rent a car to drive down coastal Highway One. My mom and brother were on board to come, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My mom and I flew into San Francisco on Southwest Airlines. My brother would fly in on Friday and we’d meet him at the airport, rent a car and hit the coastal highway.

I found Hotel Frank (386 Geary Street, http://www.hotelfranksf.com/) online and really loved the look of it and the price seemed very reasonable for a double room. The hotel had recently been renovated and re-named (formerly the Maxwell Hotel). The décor is very modern and clean with bright bursts of color. Our double room for three nights was $260. We were both very happy with the hotel overall. If you’re interested, I wrote a review of it on Trip Advisor. My user name is “deeinkc”: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserR...ECK_RATES_CONT

We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon, checked in, and dumped our bags before heading out to explore the neighborhood, get a feel for the city, and find a restaurant to eat dinner. After our walk we landed at The Daily Grill (347 Geary Street) for burgers and icey cold Cokes -- both really hit the spot. The food was good and our waiter was very friendly and helpful with questions about the city. After dinner we did a bit more walking around and made the mistake (more on that later) of buying tickets for a hop-on, hop-off bus tour from Deluxe Tours. The young man selling the tickets said that he'd throw in a night tour for that evening in addition to the two or three days included (not sure exactly how many days). We did the night tour (totally forgetable because I can't really remember it) and then headed back to our room for the night.

The next day is my 31st birthday!
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 11:43 AM
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April 8th

My 31st birthday!! We got up and had breakfast at the restaurant next door to our hotel -- Max's. You can actually access the restaurant from the hotel's lobby. This was mistake number two. The breakfast was VERY expensive for the quality and selection of food and our waiter seemed really frazzled. We planned to take the tour bus down to Pier 39, explore the area a bit and then catch the Golden Gate Bridge tour bus. We browsed around the shops at Pier 39 and, of course, went over to visit the sea lions. We took a boat tour which went by the Golden Gate and Alcatraz through the Blue & Gold Fleet Company (http://www.blueandgoldfleet.com/). Then we took caught the Deluxe bus to ride over the bridge (fantastic!!). I don't remember a thing about most of my birthdays (except my 21st!), but I'll always remember that I went across the Golden Gate Bridge on my 31st! Ha! Ten years of birthdays are a total blur! I take that back, I do remember the big 3-0.

When we got back to Pier 39 we did some souvenir shopping, ate ice cream from Ben & Jerry's, grabbed a meal at Lori's Diner (149 Powell Street), and then decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up. We walked back to the Deluxe bus stop to catch a lift back (especially since we'd alreay paid for the stupid bus), but after a while realized that no bus was coming -- it was too late. So we figured our way back on a cable car.

I'll interject here and say that I wish we'd just taken the time to learn public transportation. The tour busses in major cities are designed to make getting around easy and accessing the major sites easy (and not so intimidating), but I think you loose a lot by getting around on them. I've made a decision that I won't use them on future trips. In addition, the tour company that we chose, Deluxe, ended up being the worst value. A lot of the busses were in very poor repair and we couldn't even sit under the covered section on one of them when it rained because the exhaust fumes were so bad! We became resentful when when saw much nicer, newer tour busses wiz by and we had paid for the rickety old bus! Live and learn!

April 9

The plan today is to take a ferry over to Sausalito --just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. So we wake up, get dressed and head out in search of some breakfast. We found Epplers Bakery (758 Market Street) the perfect spot for coffee, breakfast sandwiches/croissants, milk, fruit, and people watching. We sat at bar stools in front of the window and watched as business people made their way to work. We took the bus down to Pier 39, walked around for a bit, visited the sea lions again, and then bought tickets for Sausalito (again through Blue & Gold Fleet). The boat ride was very nice (I love this sort of thing) and we arrived in lovely and charming Sausalito just before lunch time. My co-worker at the time had highly recommended going to Sausalito -- so it was high on my list of things to do. We spent the afternoon walking around and window shopping. We found a lovely little shop tucked away (can't remember the name or address) and had a nice chat with a local merchant. She moved to Sausalito and opened her shop a few years prior. We tried on necklaces, but didn't buy anything. After more window shopping and taking in the views from the bay, we stopped to eat at Sausalito Bakery & Cafe (571 Bridgeway) and had a very nice lunch.

After arriving back at Pier 39 we did more looking around and people watching. I got a kick out of watching people at the bike rental stand get ready for what must be an exhilerating ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. People watching is always my favorite "activity" on a trip!

We end the day on the other side of the city at Golden Gate park. By now we have ditched the tour bus and we're taking public busses and cable cars. I must see the famous Victorian houses that I've seen countless times on TV and in magazines. We take a bus to the park's vacinity, walk up some steep hills and get into the park. I'm turned around and can't figure out which way to go to find the houses. I spot a young woman in jogging pants and a t-shirt. Figuring she's a local I ask her to point the way. She's kind enough to give us directions and we find the houses a few minutes later. I'm surprised that there are only a few of them. I imagined there to be more! We take pictures of the houses and city view behind them. A young couple and their small children ask me to snap their photo and they take ours in return. We head back down the hill, checking out the houses and wondering how on earth anyone affords to live in San Franciso! Like NYC, it is beyond me, but fascinating nonetheless. I wish I knew the secret!

Memories are fuzzy after that, but we've got another reciept from late in the day from Epplers Bakery. My mom was eyeing the pastries from breakfast and so we stopped back by for a snack!

Also, I can't remember which day we went, but we went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (http://www.sfmoma.org/). There was a very good photography exhibit going on at the time. I'd recommend the museum.

April 10

Today my brother is flying in and we're meeting him at the airport late-morning/early-afternoon, picking up the rental car, and hitting the coastal highway. We find breakfast in a bakery and stop into a Rite Aid for water and snacks for the road. We go back to our hotel room, pack up, and check out.

The Powell St Bart station is a brisk 10-minute walk from Hotel Frank. We arrive and buy tickets to get us to the airport. The ticket machine is a little tricky. I remember getting frustrated with the set-up. If I'm remembering correctly, you have to figure out how much it costs to get to your destination and then add or subtract to the amount on the screen and then it prints your tickets. After some fiddling, I figure it out and we're on our way. It was nice to see the outskirts of the city and how all of the houses are stacked on top of each other. Again, I'm wondering what it's like to live and work here.

We thought that the train we were on would take us all the way through to the airport. Luckily, another passenger (observing our luggage) alerted us that we needed to switch trains in order to get to the airport. Thank goodness for the kindess of strangers! We made the switch, got to the airport, and found my brother with no problems.

Now the road trip leg of our trip is in my brother's hands. He arranged for the rental car and would be doing all of the driving. We loaded our bags into a PT Cruiser, plugged in Highway One into the GPS, hit the highway by about 1pm, and I waited in anticpation for my first glimpse at the Pacifc coast from the road! It took a little while to find our way to Highway One, and then there it was...a beautiful mass of water!

After a couple of hours we stopped at a view point where sea lions were lying on the cold beach. The weather was quite chilly and very windy, but it was worth it to see sea lions somewhere other than the zoo! We continue driving until dark. We stopped for the night at Ragged Point Inn in Big Sur (19019 Hwy 1, http://www.raggedpointinn.com/). This inn's grounds reminded me of the resort in the movie "Dirty Dancing." The rooms were standard rooms with TV, bathroom, double beds. Not nearly as modern and chic as Hotel Frank in San Francisco, but the view from our back patio door made up for what the room lacked!

We went for dinner at Ragged Point's restaurant. We ordered vegitarian raviolis, rosemary pasta, and stuffed chicken for dinner. The food was so-so -- not great, but good enough considering there were no other options since we were in the middle of no where.

April 11

We got up and walked around the grounds, taking in all of the wonderful ocean views before getting back on the road. Our plan today is to stop at Hearst Castle (750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, CA, http://www.hearstcastle.org/). We arrive at the castle around 10am and buy tickets for a tour. The only way to see the castle is to go on a guided tour. You buy your ticket, board a bus and then travel up to the top to the castle on a hill. Our tour group had about 25 people and our tour guide (can't recall his name) was FANTASTIC! He was so passionate and a wonderful storyteller. He brought the story of William Randolph Hearst and his life in the castle to life. You could really imagine all of the famous visitors and the fabulous parties held on the property. Our guide mentioned that he and his co-worker alternate leading tours throughout the day. I felt really thankful and lucky that our group got him! He was that good! I highly, highly recommend taking this tour if you find yourself near there. Definitely a big highlight of the trip!

Even though we were flying back out of San Francisco, we decided to make the drive down to Long Beach because my mom and I really wanted to go to Catalina Island. The trip was a bit ill-planned because orginally my mom and I weren't sure if my brother would commit to coming and we didn't want to go as far as Los Angeles because neither one of us wanted to drive in the traffic. Now that my brother was doing the driving, we made the decision to push on. In retrospect, we should have called to try to get a flight out of L.A., but we didn't. We took a different route back up, so it gave us the chance to see much more of California in the end.

The rest of the day is spent on the highway with a few pit stops for antique stores, gas, food, and bathroom breaks. We arrived in Long Beach a little before dark and checked in to Holiday Inn Express (1133 Atlantic Ave). Our plan is to take a boat over to Catalina Island on Easter Sunday.

April 12: Easter Sunday

Like my birthday, this particular Easter will also be memorable because it's the Easter I went to Catalina Island! Our hotel offered free shuttle service to and from nearby attractions, so we arranged for a ride to the port so we wouldn't have to worry about parking the rental car. The hotel's shuttle van wouldn't start and so our driver took us in his personal car! The hotel staff was wonderful. We arrive at the dock early and it's crowded. I called ahead to book tickets on the Catalina Express (320 Golden Shore, Long Beach, CA, http://www.catalinaexpress.com/) and we join a line for pre-paid ticket holders and get our paper tickets. There's a lot of people going to Catalina and the weather is picture perfect -- much warmer and not as windy as San Francisco.

The trip takes about an hour. We arrive and all of the people from our boat scatter around the island. We decide to take the 50-minute City Passport bus tour of the island through Catalina Adventure Tours (http://www.catalinaadventuretours.com/homepage.php). This turns out to be an excellent way to see Avalon. We end up being the only three people on this tour. The bus heads to the top of the island (400 feet) via the island's only coastline road. Our driver makes sure to stop at especially scenic points along the way so that we can take pictures of the the breathtaking views. Our guide entertains us with stories about some of the island's famous houses, including William Wrigley, Jr's house (which I actually think is kind of ugly). Wrigley (of the Chicago Cubs) owned 99% of the island in the early 1900s and the team used to have their spring training here (nice perk!!). Our guide also shares how crowded the island gets on July 4th. Apparantly there's a HUGE celebration on the island and it's very difficult to book a hotel room (keep that in mind if you ever think about going to Catalina around that time of year).

The tour ends and we decide to split up for a bit and do some exploration on foot. I go in search of postcards and an edible souvenir to take back for my co-workers. I find some Calalina Salt Water Fudge and a few postcards in a little shop and then got an ice cream cone from a parlor next door. I find a shaded spot near a little beach area where young girls are sun-bathing and kids are building sand castles to eat my ice cream (my favorite, cookie dough) and write out my postcards. I write a few postcards to friends and family and one to myself that says "Note to Self: Cherish the Beauty!" I had some stamps in my bag and found a mailbox nearby to post them. I meet up again with my mom and we sit and people watch and have a few laughs. It's relaxing to just sit there, watching the world go by in such a gorgeous place. But alas, the afternoon drifts away and it's time to catch the boat back to Long Beach.

Another hour-long journey and we get back, walk around a very lovely area near the docks (not sure what it's called, but a lot of locals were out fishing, having family picnics and kids were playing everywhere). We must have been near the aqarium because we stopped for pizza at Boston's (90 Aquarium Way). I had a pepperoni pizza, caesar salad, and a strawberry Margarita for dinner (all very enjoyable). Mom had the veggie pizza and my brother ordered the "porky" pizza.

After dinner mom and I called for the hotel shuttle to pick us up and my brother decided to walk back to the hotel. We waited for a few minutes on a main street so that the driver could find us. A young woman in her early 20s pulled up and we hopped in the van. She was very chatty and nice. Mom and I took the opportunity to inquire about life in Long Beach. She told us she still lives at home with her parents and that's it's very expensive and hard to get out on your own in Southern California. Her parents bought their house before housing costs went up so high. A lot of her friends leave California in search of more economical living in other states. She wouldn't be able to survive the costs without the help of her parents. It's an interesting glimpse into life there. She is a total delight and I'm glad we didn't walk back with my brother! We would've missed out on talking to her. We tip her when we arrive at the hotel and head in for the night.

April 13

Drive back to San Francisco and check into another Holiday Inn Express near the airport. It was a nice hotel with free Internet access so I spend some time catching up on email before dinner.

April 14

The next morning we decide to squeeze in some more time in the city before we leave California so we turn in the rental car and take the train into San Francisco. Mom and I jump on a cable car and my brother wanders off on his own. I realize that we didn't see Lombard St. our first few days there, so that's where we decide to go. We get there and there are many other tourists all snapping pictures so we get in on the action. The flowers and view are gorgeous and I'm glad we found our way up there. Afterwards, we jump on another cable car and ride around the city for the last time. By the time we get back to Powell St., and do a bit of shopping, it's time to find my brother and get back to the airport.

My brother's flight goes out first and after leaving him, mom and I settle at our terminal and wait to board our own flight. We get one last view of the California coast from the air and I snap a few pictures with my cell phone.

Overall it was a great trip and I got a chance to see lots of water (my favorite!). We made some mistakes along the way, but what I love about traveling is that each time you take a trip, you can put to use the knowledge you gained from your past trips.

Photos from my San Francisco/Highway One are on a Kodak gallery slideshow: http://www.kodakgallery.com/gallery/...d=532772216115

Thanks for reading my trip report! I'm off to Paris and Rome this Spring...so I look forward to writing a report then!
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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That was an enjoyable report. Thanks for posting!

Lee Ann
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 01:32 PM
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>>at Golden Gate park. By now we have ditched the tour bus and we're taking public busses and cable cars. I must see the famous Victorian houses that I've seen countless times on TV and in magazines. We take a bus to the park's vacinity, walk up some steep hills and get into the park................... I'm surprised that there are only a few of them. I imagined there to be more!
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 02:25 PM
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ElindilPickle, thank you for reading!

Stu, whoops, my mistake. You're correct...we were at Alamo Square Park, not Golden Gate Park. Thanks for making that correction. I got the names mixed up!
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 03:50 PM
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The link to my Kodak gallery doesn't seem to be working. Here's some of my trip photos on my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denene7...7623383609592/
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Old Feb 11th, 2010, 03:52 PM
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Hi enjoyed your trip report, it was the same trip I was going to do until I saw pictures of the road around Big Sur, I don't like drop offs so cancelled the trip. I feel as if I have been on the trip now.
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Old Feb 11th, 2010, 03:57 PM
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>>I don't like drop offs so cancelled the trip
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Old Feb 11th, 2010, 06:10 PM
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coldplay, thanks for your comment! I have to admit we lucked out with the driving because of my brother's willingness to drive. Take StuDudley's advice and go S to N. It's totally worth it! I'm glad for the experience.
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Old Feb 11th, 2010, 06:12 PM
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@StuDudley, I wish I had known about your wife's tour before I went to SF!!
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Old Feb 12th, 2010, 02:53 PM
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Thanks for that, its good to know that the S to N trip is less frightening, how come I didn't think of that! Will definitely take the trip in the near future.
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Old Feb 12th, 2010, 03:54 PM
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I always enjoy Fodorite's trip reports of their time in SF and in the rest of CA, deeinkc, and with saying that I sure enjoyed reading your memories of your time in CA and how you spent your 31st birthday. A beautiful trip with your family..priceless!
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Old Feb 12th, 2010, 04:10 PM
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Glad to hear it, coldplay!

Thanks so much, LoveItaly!
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