As the unforgiving Glasgow winter begins to settle in, it’s hard not to find solace in summer memories. After spending the month of July travelling the west coast of California I had hoped my wanderlust would be satisfied for a while. Yet predictably, by October my mind is consumed once again with travelling and discovery. But alas with being a student, and a broke one at that, any future travels are currently still a wish away, so instead, I am compiling a photo log of my road trip of California. This may be long winded, but here are some top tips and things to do for any one planning to visit the Golden State this summer!
Our first stop was San Francisco. Now before I talk about how much I loved this quirky city, I have one ESSENTIAL top tip: pack warm. Being from Ireland and living in Glasgow I am more than used to cold and damp summers, but I clearly hadn’t researched San Fran effectively when I forgot to pack my jumpers and jeans for this stop. It is a beautiful city, but it is cold. So remember to pack a few warmer items and don’t be shocked to wake up to a light summer shower. If you have done this you can begin to explore and enjoy everything the city has to offer, without running around Old Navy sourcing their cheapest pullover and leggings. We took a boat tour to see the Golden Gate Bridge and I was not disappointed with how beautifully built this orange creation is. Again, pack warm though, as there is a strong chance of wind and rain while you’re out on the water. We were lucky enough to spot a whale on our adventure to the bridge, so keep a look out!
Top tip: We were gutted when we found out that Alcatraz tours were fully booked up, so if you’re planning to check out this notorious island where prisoners such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly stayed, book more than two weeks in advance as we weren’t so lucky but heard from other travellers that it was a highlight.
Fisherman’s wharf is a must: make your way up to Pier 39 (which reminded me of being in an episode of Hannah Montana) and try a San Fran special- fish chowder, in nearly every food stop. We visited Wipeout, a surf themed restaurant at the pier where I had a delicious steak, avocado and toasted coconut noodle salad- I was literally craving this meal again for the rest of our holiday.
Top tip: San Francisco is not cheap! Infact, it was probably the most expensive place on our journey with a diner breakfast for 3 costing us $80. So if you’re looking to travel California on a budget this should only be a short stop.
San Francisco has so much to offer and eluded to what I imagine New York was like prior to the tourism and commercialness (which has consumed much of it unfortunately), completed by the retro streetcars and small music festivals littered across the city. It is also notable that the city has a serious stoner vibe, with one of the first things we saw being “Doobie Fest”, but this just adds to the general chilled out, liberated atmosphere that envelopes the city.
On our way to Monterray (rhyme not intended) we had a pit stop in Santa Cruz. This was one stop I definitely wish I had longer in. This is the ideal stop for students as the streets are flooded with them due to the university and beach houses. Stop for lunch and check out the amusement park right on the beach boardwalk, or go to Sea bright beach as pictured below.
I have heard from family how amazing highway one is, with my sisters top tip being “put your phone away and just take it all in”. But her advice could not have prepared me for just how breathtaking this journey really is. Of course, being the social media junkie that I am, I struggled to keep my phone away, so you can check out some of my pictures below.
The highlight of the highway: stopping at River Inn, Big Sur. As we began to breach off from the cliffside and get deeper into the mountains and forest, we slowed down as we approached what appeared to be a log cabin resort right in the middle of the cliff forests. The journey was so captivating we didn’t realise we were even hungry, but we had to stop here and explore, and thank god we did.
We ended up having lunch on a decking overlooking the forest, with a small spring just in front of us. If you’re eating in the River Inn try the Ahi tuna salad. I was at first sceptical about raw tuna, but my taste palette always becomes adventurous on holiday. This was literally the best meal of the holiday, although I could say this about a few. After eating we made our way down to the spring, where wooden arm chairs were perched in the water- yes, right in the water, so that you can chill out and take in the surroundings and listen to the birds. If I was to travel highway one again, I would definitely stay for a night in River Inn, but even as a pit stop it was one of my favourite moments.
Big Sur in general is beautiful, so make sure and pull in at the lookouts (which are easily spotted due to the other cars and abundance of tourists taking pictures).
“The Portal to Big Sur”
Top tip: If travelling along Highway One to LA, make sure and stop as many times as you can and enjoy the scenery. Maybe even stay a night in one of the highway hotels (they all look beautiful, especially river inn as discussed above), because once the highway ends and you are on the freeway to LA, you have a long and much less scenic few hours ahead! However, we timed the drive perfectly and descended into LA just in time to watch the sun set over the city.
CARMEL BY THE SEA
Carmel is the small and picturesque little town, almost perched atop its own beach, that has inspired artists and celebrities for years. We did not stay over night in Carmel, simply visited it along our journey, and it had me in awe. The streets are lined with quaint restaurants with an abundance of seafood, boutique shops and cosy coffee shops. It is a city that hints at its wealth and good living without screaming it, by maintaining a humble feel yet offering the finest cuisine and shops to its guests. What makes Carmel so great is that you can literally see it all in a day and end the night just in time to watch sunset at the beach.
We dined in a charming and authentic Italian restaurant called Il Tegamino, which we stumbled across by accident when trying to find a toilet. We got seated outside in the courtyard which was absolutely beautiful, completed with gas heaters and blankets on every seat. It had a very romantic atmosphere so if you are travelling with your partner this should definitely be on your list.
Top tip: Carmel is also a VERY dog friendly town with most cafes and restaurants providing drinking bowls and treats if you’re bringing along your pet.
Our road trip came to a halt when we settled in San Diego for two weeks to visit family but we still took days out to visit more of California and one of my personal MUSTS every time we visit is Balboa Island and Newport Beach. Newport Beach boasts beautiful beach shacks owned by the wealthy which makes this a very beautiful place to visit. The promenade is lined with amusements and food stops so it is easy to spend a whole day here and take the ferry just across the water (for a few dollars) and check out more beach huts on Balboa Island. This year we decided to Jet Ski at the beach which was so much fun. Once you are out of the bay the sea is yours and we were able to get up close to sea lions who were basking in the sun on a buoy.
Venice Beach is yet another beautiful beach that California offers and I highly recommend hiring paddle boards and spending a couple of hours in the sun exploring the bay for just $20.
Top tip: If the drive in movie is on your list and you aren’t travelling in a large group, rent a pick up truck! This is ideal for the imperial beach drive in movie. Park in reverse and sit in the back with blankets and snacks. There are about 3 screens, each showing two movies back to back and your ticket allows you to see both. These films are also the latest releases in the cinemas, so don’t go sit in a movie theatre, check if it’s on at the drive-in first.
Another day trip was to La Jolla Cove and we accidentally stumbled upon a beautiful wedding happening right on the beach front . This was a beautiful town and a great stop if you are planning to surf. Check out Cody’s for lunch and if you want to get down with the locals try out their lobster roll (I stuck to a more standard salad). La Jolla is also the perfect place to sit with the sea lions down at the kids cove.
Top tip: There is a large grassy park so if you are on a budget pack a picnic (but remember sunscreen).
Picture walking through a movie set of an old western movie, and you are essentially in Julian. This town has been untouched by commercialism yet is a must for tourists because of its authenticity. In a way the town is almost ghostly, with very few people it almost feels like it has been abandoned and untouched by humanity. But, make your way into one of the diners or bakery’s and you’ll never feel more at home. For those with a sweet tooth, there are several coffee shops that offer you Julian’s famous apple pies and they do not disappoint. This is a town that has to be seen with your own eyes in order to fully appreciate what it has to offer and on the drive in you will be fascinated by the acres upon acres of burnt trees from forest fires- captivating yet eerie.
Top tip: After visiting Julian, if you can handle the heat, make your way to the Borrego-springs dessert. It is almost surreal parking your car up and taking in the vast, bare land and definitely worth taking half an hour to stop and check out. However, the heat is blistering, so I recommend parking up but keeping your car on to jump in the AC every couple of minutes.
There is also no shortage of impressive stadiums to be visited in California which make an excellent (but pricy) night out for any sports fanatics.
The best thing about California is its diversity. No two places feel the same. You can travel for two hours up the free-way and reach a town that has no similarity to the one before, and that’s what makes it such an enriching experience. Although this only touches the surface of the amount of beautiful places and things I encountered on my road trip, these are the things that stand out and I recommend to anyone planning a similar journey. And if you aren’t, why not?!