We are in early June, and it is unusually still raining in Texas! So we want to go somewhere where it is warm and where the sun always shines! What could be more obvious than…
Day 1 – Arrival with obstacles
Friday at 7:00 AM, our plane to Los Angeles should start. (Yes, we wanted to fly first class with Alaska Airline from Texas to California) So far, so good! Unfortunately, probably thousands of other Texans also had the idea to use the first day of the school holidays to travel, and after about 2h in line to the security check, we only could see the taillights of our plane … Wooo, great! What now? So we rebooked by phone at the last minute and waited 5 hours at the airport. The next plane is, of course, overbooked, and only thanks to the spontaneous rebooking of three other passengers we got the last seats. The pickup of the rental car is slow but pleasantly good, so we chug happily on the partly 9-lane (each direction, of course) freeway towards south…
Day 2 – San Diego
After a quick breakfast on the Pacific beach in the back of our cute bright red pickup truck, we set our sights on our first destination: Old Town San Diego – a piece of the historic Mexican origin of today’s big city. Colorful Mexican history is lived and presented here in the state park. (It’s only a 20-minute drive to Mexico).
We drive downtown for a walk along Harbour Drive. Here is the Marine Museum, and for a change once again, an aircraft carrier (Yeah, the third in the meantime), and because it is so beautiful here three others of them are parked on the opposite shore of San Diego Bay.
There are various food trucks, musicians play at all corners, the people are in a good mood, and the southern flair lifts the mood.
We continue with another side trip to the Gaslight District – also a historic district with bars and pubs, but that will be a chapter in a later article… sometime… because San Diego is definitely in need of a repeat!
Day 3 – Welcome to Hollywood
Today we are going to the city of movie heroes and legends, stars and starlets: Los Angeles!
We start at the Griffin Observatory. From here you should have “the best view of the Hollywood Sign”… Well, probably rather the most expensive one, because the 10$/h parking fee is already sporty. Thanks to the local, still existing Corona restrictions, the observatory is closed. We would have liked to see the Tesla coil, and from our next hotel, the view of the Hollywood Hills was much nicer.
But no matter! As a tourist, you are finally in the duty to see what the guide says, and so we go in joyful expectation to the Hollywood Boulevard with the famous Walk of Fame! To see we get… well… a disappointingly boring and dirty street, on whose footpath are the well-known pink stars on both sides. Most of the names we don’t know; only near the Chinese Theatre (the one with the hand and footprints), there are a few familiar names. Celebrities are not seen there, of course (but we had not expected).
Day 4 – Picture postcard from L.A.
Today we take it easy and book a bus tour with the hop-on/hop-off bus through Los Angeles.
The state of California guarantees 360 sunny days per year. Of course, we catch one of the approx. 5-6 rainy days.
The tour is quite nice and interesting: it goes along Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip past a few of the famous movie studios (e.g., FOX Productions or Paramount) to Beverly Hills (yes, the zip code is 90210, for all those who may remember the series in the 1990s…).
We make a stop at the Santa Monica Pier. This is where Route 66 (mentioned several times in other posts) ends on the pier on the Pacific Ocean. The beaches are actually super nice, wide, long, white sand… but for swimming, you need a wetsuit rather than a fancy red swimsuit from Baywatch! Wind and water are cold, and we prefer to look for our bus again.
Next Stop: Rodeo Drive! The alleged shopping paradise turns out to be a short street with maybe 20-30 designer stores, and that’s all. Nothing fancy, no movie stars, no supercars (well, except for a yellow Rolls Royce…) Via Melrose, we go back to the city and our conclusion to L.A.:
You can visit L.A., but it’s definitely no “must-see”.
Day 5 – Back on the road
The day starts great: The sun is shining again, we have a delicious breakfast, and off we go north, until… well, first about an hour to the fuel stop. Where is the credit card ??? That’s what’s missing now! After panic thinking, where one (no, the mum, of course!) has forgotten or even lost the good piece, it goes back to the breakfast restaurant in L.A., where the card could be picked up again, thank God.
Ok, now about 5 hours drive on the I-5 through the barren, dry Californian interior. The landscape reminds more of Tuscany in late summer or North Africa than what the TV presents of California. But well, somehow it has something…
Day 6 – If you’r going to San Francisco…
Flowers in the hair, ripped jeans on and off to hip, cool, exciting San Francisco.
Celina has already, after the first mile, no more desire. Ok, the mountain with 36% slope to Lombard Street up has it already something in itself, but for it, it goes over the beautiful flower street, yes again down. You can take a boat to Alcatraz from the Fishermans Warf, but we save that for the next visit. At Pier 39 are already in the morning many tourists to go, and the sea lions living here are happy about the lively interest.
Because San Francisco is a quite “small” city and due to Corona, the well-known and popular cable cars are not running yet (and our daughter so gladly likes to walk), we are the whole day on foot on the way: We “wander” first in the direction of the Transamerican Pyramid, further to Chinatown, to Downtown and back to the pier. Here we have a little ice cream and then walk back to the hotel. The after-work beer is well deserved today!
Of course, we also cross the Golden Gate Bridge, then continue towards Oakland and then to the next destination.
Day 7 – Sacramento, what a wonderful city….
Because we are now already so far “above,” we can make the short detour to Sacramento. Like Austin in Texas, Sacramento (the rather unknown “small town”) is the state’s capital. So again, we learned something! A part of the old city is reconstructed in the style of 1850-1900. Only the stagecoaches and cowboys are missing. We do not visit downtown … after all, we still want to drive down again to Santa Cruz to the sea as a starting point for the next day.
Day 8 – The Pacific Coast Highway
One of the supposedly most beautiful coastal roads in the world lies ahead of us today: Highway 1 – The Pacific Coast Highway! Yes, it actually starts much further north, but unfortunately, we don’t have that much time. So we start in Santa Cruz, via Monterey, and then along the really fantastic coast back to the south. Monterey itself we skip, although it is actually such a well-known surfing place, but we want just rather landscape.
At first, you feel more like in Ireland: green meadows on the left of the road and on the right the rugged black cliffs. Wildflowers everywhere, a few cows in between… yes, Irish beautiful.
We had expected more traffic, but the road is relatively empty, and there are countless opportunities for picture stops.
The mountains are gradually getting higher, the landscape more Mediterranean and partly more wooded. Ooooh look, then just now alpine feeling with the sea. The landscape is most impressive in the Big Sur area. However, you should definitely pack gas and drinks vs. food beforehand because the already very sparsely sown alleged towns turn out to be only lodges (kiosk with possibly mini-motel and corresponding prices), gas station missing! This does not concern us, thank God, we have enough!
After about 3-4 hours of driving, the landscape changes to flatter grassland and is most comparable to Tuscany or dried-up North Sea dikes.
There is now another special feature in a few shallow bays: colonies of sea elephants live here. The “teenagers” of these huge, somewhat clumsy, and strange-looking animals spend their time sleeping, shoveling sand, and are more active in autumn/winter.
In addition, there are seals, otters, and various other small land animals (of course: Sqirls are everywhere anyway).
A short detour to Santa Barbara – where, e.g., Mr. Gore from Depeche Mode, Prince Harry & Kate, and lots of other celebrities live – and then a last hour’s drive to the last highlight in Cali.
Day 9 – Whale Watching
Last day! We are in Long Beach, about 20 minutes south of Los Angeles. Today we are going to see “big fishes”…
Gladly we go to the harbor to participate in a boat trip to see dolphins and whales! We have seen dolphins several times, but there are others than Bottlenose, and it is Whale Season. In the big bays of the Pacific coast, there are gray whales, sperm whales, and also blue whales (known to be the largest mammals in the world).
Our boat chugs into the open sea, but far and wide nothing to see. Mother lies seasick on the table in the inside cabin, as we suddenly hear: Blue whale in front, on the left! All those who are still sitting inside in the shade rush outside, and yes, at least one of the 20 meter long sea giants dares to come to the surface. You can’t really see much, but the air fountain, tail fin, and the back can be seen without a doubt. Great experience (even if mom doesn’t notice much)
And finally, a couple of cool spinner dolphins (correct name: Eastern Pacific Dolphin) show up and swim around our boat.
Day 10 – Home, sweet Home
Our conclusion to the California Dreaming:
Nine days of road trip adventure are behind us. There was a bit more chaos than usual in our holidays, but in the end, great places and locations, fantastic coastal landscapes, dry boring inland, various interesting animals… outweighed it all.
However, we would not confirm the dream of California for us personally. Sure, San Diego and San Francisco are great cities, but Los Angeles was rather disappointing. Here opposites collide, and the “beautiful appearance” that is played on television is deceptive.
But finally, we have seen only a fraction of the third-largest state of the USA in the few days. We had not enough time fot the mountains and forests of the Sierra Nevada, the deserts of the Deth Valley or the Mojave Desert, and the great national parks in the east and north like Sequoia, Joshua Tree or Yosemite and, and, …
But we’ll take care of that in another chapter.