I’ve always romanticised the idea of a road trip. There’s something about the open road, the fact that you can just pack up your things and go, you can stop wherever and whenever you want to, and you also have plenty of time to get to know the person you’re travelling with. Just look at Thelma and Louise and the deep bonds they formed as they… well, okay, they were in quite an extreme situation. Luckily for us my aunt and I didn’t get into that level of trouble when we took the roads of California for our ten-day trip.
For me, the planning of a trip is part of the fun and I’d done all sorts of calculations to see what we could manage in the time we had. As is often the case, I probably overstretched it a little – we drove over 2,000 miles in the end – but the result was a trip that can only be described as completely epic. We had plenty of time to explore the places we visited, to tick off a few items on the bucket list, and even to memorise all the US states and their capitals. What more could you want in a holiday?
On a road trip, you don’t really want to spend a lot of time stuck in traffic in the city, so we planned to leave Los Angeles as soon as we could. Arriving on Thursday evening, we had booked into The Standard in Downtown LA, mostly (okay, only) because it’s a hotel that’s known for its rooftop bar. We figured we wouldn’t have time to explore the city but a couple of drinks at the rooftop bar would be the perfect remedy for jet lag after a long journey, in my case halfway round the globe.
The next morning we headed out of town. Our first stop was in Santa Monica, a gorgeous seaside town with a fairground pier that reminded me of Brighton – except, perhaps, for the weather. Here, we had lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp, a tribute to Forrest Gump’s prawn-obsessed buddy, and bought hats to protect our little heads from the burning sun as we took the top down on our lovely yellow Beetle cabriolet.
For our next overnight stop, I had selected a point that looked like it was more or less halfway between LA and San Francisco, at the “international landmark destination” Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Named after its founder not the Madonna, this is a crazily kitsch hotel, each room different and with a restaurant decorated with huge flowers and fairy lights galore.
The famous route between LA and San Francisco is Highway 1 while the most scenic stretch is arguably the 17-mile drive that goes around the Monterey peninsula between Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove. It cost 10 dollars to enter this drive as it’s a national park, but it’s a small price to pay for stunning views out into the ocean (and plenty of golf clubs if that’s what you’re into).
Having been playing Scott MacKenzie’s San Francisco (be sure to weeeeeear flowers in your haaaaaair) on repeat most of the day, we finally arrived into sunny San Francisco to be welcomed by free wine in the hotel reception, very nice. After having the most delicious ceviche and several pisco sours at La Mar, taking me back to my time in Lima (thank you, Marco!), I even ventured out into the SF nightlife with “the locals” (actually not-so-local friends from school) that took me to a bar in SOMA, to a Senegalese club, and to the city’s best burger and pizza joint, Sam’s, located just off Chinatown and open until 3am.
My aunt and I had hoped to do the touristy thing of visiting Alcatraz the following morning, but when checking the ferries a few weeks before we had found that the tours were already full. Instead we headed out to Sausalito, a picturesque little town across the Golden Gate Bridge with beautiful views of the ocean with sailing boats and stand-up paddle boarders passing peacefully by. I think I’d like to live there one day!
The practical bit:
The Standard, Downtown LA – It’s all about the rooftop bar!
Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo – This looked like it was about halfway between LA and San Francisco but in fact Highway 1 is a much windier road up north so it might be better to travel a bit further north before stopping for the night if you, like us, are doing the whole distance in two days.
17-mile drive – The standard direction seems to be from Pacific Grove on the north side of the peninsula to Pebble Beach on the south side. On entering, you get a map with various sights marked out along the route.
Best Western Tuscan Plus, San Francisco – We chose this hotel for its location on Fisherman’s Wharf, which houses a number of tourist attractions as well as many seafood restaurants. The Alcatraz ferry leaves from around here, while La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is in The Embarcadero in the east.
The Spinnaker, Sausalito – My second taste of oysters, darling, plus some very nice sole, with views of the little harbour and even a glimpse of the top of the Golden Gate bridge beyond the trees.