Tag Archives: California

USA ’17 – Day 19 – LA, Full Circle

And so we reach the end of the road leaving San Diego this morning to head back to Los Angeles where we started almost three weeks ago.

We had intended to spend today out on a boat in the San Diego bay whale and dolphin watching but we didn’t seem to be able to find a boat to take us out so we elected to go shopping instead 😉

We know from previous visits to the States that there are a number of shopping villages dotted around called Premium Outlets that have a variety of shops and so we headed to one of these half way to LA. As they are outlets they are selling brands (such Gap, Polo RL, Tommy Hilfiger etc) at good discounts. So I was able to purchase yet another pair of Converse at 50% off bringing them under the £20 mark. Not as cheap as it would have been pre-Brexit vote but still good.

We also lunched at the outlet having a slice of pizza which would have easily fed a family of four for a week. This was accompanied by what can only be described as a bucket full of Sierra Mist (a poor excuse for a Sprite). Everything in the States is supersized and nowhere is that more obvious than in the food portions. It will be good to get back to the UK where we can control our intake a bit better.

Finally we made our way back to LA. One thing that we have relied on while we have been here is Google Maps navigation to get us from one place to another. It has been scarily accurate in showing where holdups and congestion are likely to be, although to be fair we have encountered very little of that.

Google Maps showing it’s impressive skills

In LA we took one final walk along Hollywood Boulevard as far as the Chinese Theatre and enjoyed once again the delights of Ghirardelli. As you enter the shop you are always offered a free chocolate square and Helen has calculated that over the course of the three weeks we have consumed 14 of these things. I am now thoroughly sick of spiced pumpkin though which is everywhere thanks to it being Halloween soon.

They may be free but they are also deadly

Tomorrow there is only time to pack up and fly home.

USA ’17 – Day 16 – On the Road to Joshua Tree

Today was probably the longest drive of the whole holiday travelling from Williams, Arizona to Joshua Tree, California. Helen and I both realised that even though we still have five-ish days of the holiday left with the Grand Canyon out the way all the “big ticket” destinations are now done (with apologies to the Joshua Tree National Park and San Diego!) which is sad.

The route took as through the Mojave Desert which had long, long straight roads with flat sandy desert either side. Pretty much like the above really. Not the most exciting scenery we have been through on our travels.

The views from our overnight stop though were fantastic, even if it did require some off-roading to reach. The Desert Lily is just at the edge of the Joshua Tree national park and is reached via an unmade road to a beautiful B&B in the quietest location I think we have ever been. I’m currently sat outside in the shade typing this and it really is idyllic (and hot – 30 degrees).

Tipping

As I have some free time let’s talk about tipping. Whenever you read anything about eating out in the US tipping always comes up and it does seem to be a big deal. That is because tipped workers are paid less than the minimum wage in the expectation that the difference will be made up through tips. I personally think that is outrageous. Basically it is an excuse to pay workers less.

So you are expected to tip heavily. If you tip 10% (which would be usual in the UK) this is considered that you haven’t enjoyed your meal or service in some way. 15-20% is considered the norm.

I don’t mind tipping but my reason for giving a tip is for good or exceptional service not just for doing the job but that seems to be the case here. I remember the service being great in Florida but here on the West Coast it hovers somewhere between ordinary and mediocre. That is apart from the woman at breakfast this morning who I wanted to tell “look you are getting a tip can you please turn off the smile? It’s 8am for goodness sake!”

Where tipping gets really silly is places like Applebees (a mistake going in there I know) where we ordered through a machine on the table and also paid this way. We only ever saw our server once when they brought our food to the table but I was still expected to tip even though I had done all the work!

And while we’re at it the process is incredibly insecure too. First you get the bill which you check over and find that, of course, there are two flavours of tax added. In San Francisco along local taxes (7.25%) there was also an additional 4.9% “in part to help offset the cost of Government mandated expenses”.

You leave your credit card and THEN THEY COME AND TAKE IT AWAY!!! Have they never seen The Real Hustle?

Having no doubt cloned my card and taken the money off it is returned to me (no chip & pin required here, nor a signature check for that matter). I am now also given multiple bits of paper and a pen onto which I can add a tip. This is then returned and at some unspecified later date the additional amount is also taken from your card.

What a complete and utter pain in the arse. It’s a wonder anyone leaves anything.

USA ’17 – Day 12 – Death Valley, Badwater Basin & Red Rock Canyon

We had a relatively short drive today from Stovepipe Wells in the Death Valley National Park through to Las Vegas but we had plenty of interesting stops on the way.

The first stop, at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, was only a short distance from our overnight hotel but was so unexpectedly different from all the surrounding landscape. It was a proper desert with shifting sand dunes in amongst the more arid and rough landscape of the rest of Death Valley.

Visiting the sand dunes had been an unexpected surprise but our next stop, Badwater Basin, was planned. At 282 feet below sea level Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the western hemisphere. It was interesting in a flat, salty, kind of place.

Once again the drive brought changing landscapes as we moved closer to Las Vegas. There was one final stop today that we made to the Red Rock Canyon, somewhere I had been about 12 years ago and was keen to revisit.

The canyon is about half an hour outside of Vegas but I’m not sure that many make it there but it is a fascinating place. As you can see from the pictures it is not just that the rods are red but there are layers of coloured rock making it seem like large dollops of sweets.

Today’s post is a but rushed as we are now in the adult Disneyland that is Vegas and we are out to see a show. More tomorrow.

Death Valley Pictures

Red Rock Canyon Pictures

USA ’17 – Day 11 – Death Valley

Today was mostly taken up with travelling from Yosemite National Park to Stovepipe Wells Village in Death Valley National Park. A journey which took us from an elevation of 10,000 feet and zero degrees to zero feet and 30 degrees.

Before we left Yosemite we had one more landmark that we wanted to visit before leaving – Tunnel View. This is an elevated viewpoint looking across towards El Capitan on the left, Bridal veil falls on the right and Half Dome in the distance. Unfortunately for us the sun was in the wrong position for the best shot but it did look pretty atmospheric.

We left Yosemite via the Tioga Pass and it was amazing how quickly the landscape changed.  We passed through the Inyo National Forest which was green and hemmed in with snow capped peaks to the side. Then via Mammoth Lakes where the ground started to flatten out and become more sandy.

Finally, over another set of hills and into Death Valley the hottest place on Earth, although fortunately today the temperature isn’t anywhere near the 56.7 degrees recorded to gain that record.

The place that we are staying really is in the middle of nowhere. This means that it is incredibly dark as there is no light pollution. Because of this I was looking forward to some star gazing but, as luck would have it, tonight is also a full moon so that might put a dampener on proceedings.

USA ’17 – Day 10 – Yosemite

Full day in Yosemite today and the first time I have been forced to wear long trousers and a jumper since we arrived! It was a chilly six degrees when we left the room and only got to 17 at the height of the day.

Despite a couple of people suggesting we walk to the top of the Upper Falls (thanks, but no thanks Liz and Tony) we elected to stay closer to the ground and do the Yosemite Valley Trail. This is a loop around some of the better know sights of the park.

We initially set off in the wrong direction and by the time we had realised I had already completed my 30 minutes of exercise as monitored by my watch.

As usual we didn’t have to get very far from the hotel for the people to disappear – most only seemed to make it as far as the falls a short walk from the hotel. As yesterday the views were simply breathtaking and a camera really doesn’t do it justice.

The walk took us along side the Merced river to the base of El Capitan (other operating systems are available) where we then headed back on the other bank to the hotel. All in all this was a total of nine miles and by the end of it I was ready for a sit down and a cup of tea.

My ability to get a good cuppa here in the States has been pretty mixed I have to say. They don’t seem to understand the concept of wanting to put milk in it and the tea itself seems pretty weak so takes days to brew. Then there is the milk which seems to be most often “half & half”. I’ve decided that this must be half milk and half toilet cleaner. And, I don’t seem to be able to find a Costa at all. In the UK you only need to randomly throw a stone and you are bound to hit one.

We are on the move again tomorrow, this time to Death Valley.

 

USA ’17 – Day 9 – Yosemite

So after two thoroughly enjoyable and action packed days in San Francisco we headed off this morning on the next leg of our journey to Yosemite National Park. The drive took us out over the Bay Bridge which was five lanes of fast moving traffic. It was only when half way across that I realised that there wasn’t any traffic coming the other way and that it must be a double decker bridge with the other five lanes above us.

The landscape slowly changed over the four hour drive from the dry hills of San Francisco to something much grander and greener as we approached Yosemite. The problem with a driving holiday is that someone has to be behind the wheel, supposedly concentrating on the road rather than the scenery but that is very difficult to do when the vista is so amazing.

I have seen many images of Yosemite, particularly now that Apple have started to name their operating systems after features in the park. However, no picture can do justice to the sheer scale of the landscape here – everything is just huge. It is an incredibly beautiful place.

We had been advised to stay in the park which I am glad that we did for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the nearest accommodation outside the park is probably an hour away and while the drive in is stunning it is also slow. The second reason is that where we are staying, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, is just like Centreparcs only the view from our patio is a huge waterfall.

The lodge also provides useful advice on how to handle the local wildlife:

If a black bear attacks while you’re in Yosemite, fight back.

I’m hoping not to have to put that to the test.

We have a full day in the park tomorrow and so will be out and about.

USA ’17 – Day 7 – San Francisco & Alcatraz

It has been about twelve years since I last visited San Francisco and I’d forgotten just how steep the roads are here – it’s come as a bit of a shock to my calves! I know what you are thinking – “he’s exaggerating. I bet it’s not that steep.” It is. Unfortunately the pictures just don’t do it justice.

Fortunately our first appointment was all downhill as we made our way to pier 33 to get a boat to take us the one and a quarter miles to Alcatraz island, home to the infamous prison. Access to the site is free which is very laudable until you realise that the reason nobody escaped was because of dangerous waters so you have to take the boat which isn’t free! There’s no such thing as a free trip round a disused prison it seems.

We are not normally guided tour type people but in this instance we made use of the self guided audio tour provided and it really was excellent. Narrated by ex-guards and inmates you really did get a sense of what it was like to be there. I was surprised to learn that it was a prison for only a relatively short period (29 years) but in that time it forged itself a formidable reputation.

A year before it was closed three prisoners escaped their cells but nobody knows if they actually made it off the island and they remain officially absconders. We, however, made it safely off having thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

We spent the rest of the day ticking off the list of things that one must do when in San Francisco including riding the cable car, Coit Tower and the zig-zag road.

These sites and the eclectic mix of buildings make San Francisco one of my favourite cities. Tomorrow is our last day here and apparently there is a bridge that’s worth seeing…

USA ’17 – Day 6 – Carmel & San Francisco

Today we learnt two things about the US – it can be both as frustrating and as boring as the UK when it really puts its mind to it.

Today we had intended to travel up via Highway One to the Big Sur and take in the views over the Pacific. Unfortunately the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge is being rebuilt and mud slides have closed other parts of the road making it impassable. This meant travelling along bigger freeways which were, quite frankly, pretty dull.

We also had to fill the fuel tank in the car for the first time today  and what a faf that was. When buying “gas” you have to either pay by credit card or go in and pre-pay to the cashier. This is presumably to prevent you driving off without paying. No trust here.

The credit card route never seems to work for us, mainly as it seems to need to be US registered so we have to go the pre-pay route. Problem with this is that you need to know how much fuel you need (in dollars) in order to be able to pre-pay.

This in means that you need to know how big the fuel tank is in your hire car (in gallons) and roughly how much is left in the tank. To help I have created the following formula that you can use to help work it out:

$required = (1 - amount left in tank) * capacity of tank * price per gallon

To make matters more interesting the colours of the hoses for diesel and unleaded are the reverse of what they are in the UK.

On the way to San Fran we stopped at Carmel-by-the-sea, best known for having Clint Eastwood as its mayor at one point. Again it was a very pretty and neat and tidy town full of up-market boutiques. How anyone that lives there does any day to day shopping I don’t know.

We arrived at San Francisco late afternoon and did a small walk away from our hotel to orient ourselves before the big sightseeing day tomorrow.

USA ’17 – Day 5 – Morro Bay and Cambria

Short day today in terms of miles to drive with there just being 137 miles to travel from Solvang to our next stop of Cambria. The obvious place to stop on this route is Hearst Castle but neither of us fancied a guided tour and so we elected to just take the day as it came.

It just so happened that we spotted a sign at the side of the road for a place called Morro Bay with a happy couple taking a selfie in front of a large rock. We took one look at and and thought “that’s for us!” It really was a great little place. We parked right on the waterfront and were able to look out over the water to the rock that sits in the middle of the bay. We were also treated to a display below us from both a seal and a sea otter, which was great.

Watch the seal below try and attract the attention of the fishermen above in an effort to get some easy fish. Unsuccessfully on this occasion but one suspects that’s not always the case.

We drove on from Morro Bay to a place just north of where we were staying for the night that had Elephant Seals resting on the beach. They are great big things that by and large didn’t do much but lay on the beach resting. Given that most of these are, apparently, pregnant females I can’t say that I blame them.

Finally, we came back to our hotel which overlooks Moonstone Beach. Unfortunately our room, unlike the hotel, overlooks the car park. We went for a walk along the beach and now I can say that I have paddled in both the Atlantic and the Pacific – I can confirm that both feel pretty much the same!

USA ’17 – Day 4 – Santa Monica, Santa Barbara & Solvang

When we planned this trip we gave ourselves a few nights in LA to help us get over any jet lag before heading out into the road trip itself. Today that started in earnest. We set out from our B&B and headed for Santa Monica. No paper maps for us but instead the trusty Google Maps and you really do have to trust it. In its efforts to avoid traffic it took us, once again, through some “interesting” areas of the city. It was beginning to make me think I was going to be in the staring role of a remake of The Bonfire of the Vanities!

It got us onto the freeway eventually and every other car seemed to be a Tesla. I’m not sure what the collective noun for a group of Tesla’s is, a Coil maybe? Anyway, there were plenty of Model S’s but we also saw a Model X too. To be fair only one occupant of our Mitsubishi was excited by this sighting!

Santa Monica & Santa Barbara

As I said in the previous posts Hollywood is a bit of a dump but, thankfully, other areas of Los Angeles are much nicer and Santa Monica is lovely. There is a sandy beach with a funfair filled pier – you could think you were in the UK if it wasn’t for the 30 degree temperature. The streets leading up to the beach are attractive and clean.

A little further up the coast is Santa Barbara which is even prettier with the Mediterranean influenced buildings.

Solvang

Our stop for the night was at a place called Solvang and it is something of an anomaly. Founded in 1911 by some Danes it has been built to look like a Danish town – if Walt Disney been the project manager. As you can see from the pictures below all the town is built in a European style along with windmills and churches but the clean, wholesome nature of it all really did remind me of the stylised version of England that is in Epcot at Walt Disney World. It just doesn’t seem real somehow.

Solvang is in the middle of the wine valley here and there are plenty of places in the town to do some wine tasting. What there doesn’t seem to be, if our experience this evening is anything to go by, are facilities for those of us that don’t drink. In two places we went to this evening for a pre-dinner drink neither served any soft drinks. The second place was the hotel we were staying at and I was told I could go back to my room and take something out of the room fridge and bring it back to the bar! I can’t say that I felt like a welcomed guest.

Tomorrow we move further up the coast.