California dreamin’

I have to say, I was a little nervous about the prospect of driving on the right (wrong) side of the road in the US. We collected our hire car at the crack of dawn in San Francisco, set to drive to LA. This particular drive is famed as one of the most beautiful, scenic drives in the world. It didn’t take us long to see why.

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A sample of what the road was like

Sabrina started off in the driver’s seat, and did a very good job getting us out of the city. When it was my turn, it was surprisingly less frightening than I had anticipated. Because we were driving mainly on highways, there was no danger of going onto the other side of the road. Similarly, there were very few intersections, turns and so forth along the way. And if it looked like I was about to do something silly, I had a good co-pilot there to stop me.

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Sabrina with our Nissan Versa (we called her Sally)

Winding around the coast was absolutely beautiful. We stopped in Santa Cruz, a little beach town, which was sunny and a gorgeous place to stretch our legs. We also stopped at various vista points along the way,  taking pictures and marvelling at the coast line. Altogether the drive was about 11 hours. Many people take a couple of days to do it, and stop in various places along the way. I can see the merit in that, but unfortunately our itinerary didn’t permit it.

But for us, the experience was ultimately the driving. We agreed it was one of our favourite days of the whole trip. We prepared a California-themed mix CD, took turns driving and simply couldn’t get enough of it.

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In Santa Cruz

As opposed to Los Angeles, we were staying in Santa Monica, which is a little beach holiday spot almost an hour out of LA. After a month of serious travelling, we wanted a bit of a holiday. And that’s what we got.

We decided to keep the car for a few days, to allow us to do a little bit more driving along the coast. On the first day, we drove south to Huntington beach, which is well known for surfing. We spent a few hours there and then went on to Newport beach, Orange County. As in the OC! It was so nice to just relax after being on the go all day, every day during the rest of our trip.

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Huntington beach

The next day we drove into Hollywood. Another Australian girl we met in our hostel came along, and we took one of those tours which shows you the stars’ houses. That was all well and good, but they’ve all got these enormous hedges for privacy reasons, so you can imagine that the houses are beautiful but you can hardly see them. Plus, half the people the tour guide mentioned I didn’t know. Nonetheless, it was cool to be in Beverley Hills, go down Rodeo Drive, all of that. We also walked the Walk of Fame and saw the Hollywood sign.

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Before heading back to Santa Monica we decided to stop by the Farmers Market at the Grove, which is a cool little area. Apparently it’s prime star-spotting territory, although I can’t say we saw anyone famous. Being in Hollywood was cool because we were in Hollywood, but it didn’t excite me all that much.

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Rodeo Drive

The following day we decided to drive to San Diego. No, we did not go to the zoo. That’s everyone’s first question when I say we went to San Diego. Next time I guess. We did, however, go to the Old Town, which is all Mexican inspired and very cute. We were only about 18 miles from the Mexican border. It was quite interesting, there were border patrol cars all over the place making sure no one was slipping in illegally.

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The old town market

I’ve got this far through the post without mentioning food, but it stops here. In San Diego we went to the Cheesecake Factory. I can’t even begin to describe the deliciousness of these cheesecakes. And choosing which one to get was about the hardest decision I had to make the whole trip (first world problems, I know). I settled on an Oreo cookie flavoured cheesecake, and let me tell you, it was all kinds of epic.

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This was Sabrina’s – Reese’s peanut butter cup flavour. Don’t worry, we couldn’t finish them.

We also went to a beach in San Diego called Ocean Beach (original name, no?) which was really beautiful. Given that the drive was about three hours each way, we didn’t have a whole lot of time for sightseeing in San Diego. But we had a great day and I’m always pleased to be able to tick another city off my list.

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Ocean beach

Friday was the last day we had our car, so we drove down to Venice beach. There’s a cool, very quirky boardwalk there. Let’s just say it smells a lot like Amsterdam. From a man playing a piano with his cat perched on top of it, to tarot card readings to tacky souvenirs to cool art, we enjoyed taking it all in before spending a couple of hours on the beach.

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One of many cool murals in Venice Beach

We returned our car that afternoon, so we spent the weekend in Santa Monica. There was really good shopping on the main promenade there, which we both made the most of. To the extent that I came home with an extra suitcase.. The rest of the time we spent on the beach. I even got a little bit of a tan! And there’s nothing quite like watching a sunset on the west coast of California.

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Sunset on Santa Monica beach

We were both a little in denial that the trip was coming to an end. For me it was an incredible six weeks and for the two of us together it was an amazing month. With the variety of places we visited in the US it was hard to believe we were in one single country. My favourite city was San Francisco, but there were SO many other highlights. Partying in Las Vegas, being a kid in Disneyland, driving the Big Sur – that’s just to name a few. And it seems so long ago now, but the Rockies in Canada were definitely a highlight.

I’m home, and in a small way happy to be, but I miss the trip already. I know as I return to work and get back into everyday life, I will ache for it. To be back on a sunny beach in California, to be amidst the mayhem of New York again, to be on the Moose tour bus looking out the window at snow-capped mountains and brilliant blue lakes for just a few more moments.

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the best travel partner ever, Sabs. I can hardly think of another person in the world who I could spend 24/7 with for a whole month and not get annoyed with; not get bored of at all. I miss her already, HEAPS. Now we start the countdown to January 2014 when she comes to Australia.

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Friendship. Can you guess who’s who? 😉

When I finished my Europe blogs I said those were the best six months of my life, and they were. But perhaps these were the best six weeks.

Thanks for reading!

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