This week brought on an adventure very different to my previous weekend travels as my mum (who was here visiting from Australia – in case you missed the last blog) and I went on a road trip down the Californian coast on the famous Highway 1. It was absolutely stunning (as I hope you will be able to see in the photos included) and we had a really fantastic time travelling together!
In order to make the most of our trip I took the week off school – I’m not entirely sure that I’m allowed to post that in this blog but I will say that in order to take the week off I planned for it the entire semester. I told my professors in Week 2 and reminded them again more recently, I asked them what extra work I could do for them to excuse my absence and I made sure that my attendance record throughout the entire semester was perfect until this week. I think that (whilst I’m sure I’m not meant to promote this) taking a week off is definitely doable as long as you are fair on your professors in the way you go about it before. As our grades are all pass/fail offering the extra work was not to keep my grades from being altered but instead to show respect to the professor and an acknowledgement that you are missing a class that they worked to prepare. Perhaps it is a step you don’t have to take but I would encourage that you do – the extra work that I am doing is so minimal that it was totally worth maintaining a good relationship with my professors. I’m really glad though that I took the week off – it was so worth it as it gave me an amazing opportunity to see America from the road – and wow, is it gorgeous!
We began our road trip in San Francisco – being from Australia, driving in America means driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car – my poor mum! It is important to note that many exchange students may find taking a road trip to be somewhat of an impossibility as you have to be over 25 for nearly – if not all – the car rental companies to rent to you. If you are 25 though, we rented from National Car Rentals and I would highly recommend them – they were so easy, well-priced and the car was great.
San Francisco is a really pretty city and having not visited there since I was 6, I was really glad to go back and see some of the main sites. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time there and it really was just the main sites we got to see, however, I have plans to go back after the semester ends and so I will explore more then. This time it was mainly about seeing family and having a little reunion with my cousins who live there who we obviously don’t get to see all that often. It was fantastic to see them all and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge was exciting as it is really a gorgeous bridge and we drove down the insanely steep and curvey Lombard Street which was a bit of an achievement in itself! Yay Mum! 🙂 We briefly saw the Fishermen’s Wharf and looked out at Alcatraz – I definitely have a long list of things I want to do next month but I think we did pretty well considering we only had one night there!
On Tuesday – after breakfast with a cousin and our San Fran road exploration we began the road trip part of our trip and headed south towards our first stop – Santa Cruz – where we spent the afternoon. Being the big kids that we are, we wanted to stop in Santa Cruz to hang out at the Boardwalk – a sea-side amusement park. We had so much fun riding rides and playing arcade games – total kids but so many laughs! From Santa Cruz we had to continue driving that afternoon down to Monterey where we would be spending our first night.
We made the decision to book hotels before we went which committed us to particular cities/towns on particular nights and meant that we had to drive certain distances each day. Whilst there were times on the road that I think we may have liked to change that, all in all, I think it was a good idea for us to book ahead because we needed to travel those distances in order to make it to LA by Friday. It also took the stress of finding somewhere when we got there away.
So, night one we drove to Monterey which was a really cute town – especially the Fisherman’s Wharf/Cannery Row where we headed down to for dinner. If you find yourself in Monterey, this area is definitely not to be missed – it’s basically the postcard picture of the quintessential fishing town and is full of restaurants that specialize in Seafood and are known for their Clam Chowder. I must admit, we didn’t order Chowder but the food that we had down there was fantastic – so delicious!!
We enjoyed exploring Monterey but the next morning we were off again and had to leave the sweet little town behind. Our second day of driving was definitely a big one! We started off with breakfast in Carmel which is a town that looks like it could have popped straight out of a fairytale story book. Everything is sweet and little, the streets house art gallery after art gallery and accordingly have some fantastic works for visitors to view. The beach is really pretty and we had breakfast in a tiny restaurant that really looked like it could have popped straight out of a Disney story – really all too cute! After Carmel it would be a while till our next town as we headed down the coastline and drove through the Big Sur region stopping at a few national parks and many many look out points. The Bixby Bridge was definitely a highlight as it was awesome to see a site so iconically Californian but really it was the jutting rocks in the endless water and the lush and dramatic mountains that had us totally in awe of the nature around us. It was amazing! Such a beautiful drive!!
After multiple hours of driving, we eventually reached our town for the evening San Simeon – known mainly because of Hearst Castle. To be honest, with the exception of the castle, San Simeon really has nothing – it’s very close to Cambria which had a very cute little main street with lovely gift shops and many restaurants – we had a delicious dinner there! I’m sure that the beach there is beautiful but we arrived too late in the afternoon to consider heading to the beach. Cambria, however, was lovely to stroll around and San Simeon had a cute little hotel for us to stay in and an amazing display of stars at night – it’s amazing how beautiful the night sky is in places untouched by city pollution.
The next morning we began the day with a tour of Hearst Castle which is a definite must if you are in the area – it is so gorgeous and is so interesting to see what really looks like a little piece of Europe in the midst of the rolling Californian hills. We opted for the Grand Rooms tour but if I make it back I would really like to do the evening tour next time!
From Hearst Castle we drove all the way down to Solvang which is known as the Dutch city of America. The town is so cute – it looks like it could be a Disneyworld pavilion! On our way we stopped briefly in San Louis Obispo which is definitely a larger town and looks like it has great restaurants and shopping although we didn’t experience either to really comment. We had a quick look at what may just be one of America’s most disgusting tourist attractions though – bubblegum alley. Basically, on the two long walls of one alley, tourists and locals alike go to add their mark on the town – their chewed up gum. It is really gross! Solvang though is dotted with windmills, thatched roofs and is nearly completely void of big businesses and food chains, opting instead to support local industry. We took a tour on horse and carriage around the city so that we could learn some of the history of the city and so we were able to really see a lot. We then walked around and ate at a Dutch restaurant that is in one of the original buildings built in Solvang in 1911 and was originally the old folk school before it was converted. We also checked out the bakeries as the town is known for their pastries. Whilst Solvang requires a little detour, I would highly recommend it as an opportunity to really see something totally different to the other towns.
Unfortunately from Solvang we hit our first bit of traffic and so we were unable to stop again in any other towns between Solvang and Los Angeles where we would be ending the road trip that night. Although it took much longer than anticipated, we made it to LA by Thursday night and to our hotel on Sunset Boulevard near Brentwood. Although excited to hit LA, we were sad that our Californian coastal experience had come to an end and spent much of the end of the drive researching other routes that we would like to drive in the near future having loved this road trip so much!
And so, after an amazing couple weeks with my mum visiting and a fantastic road trip, I am now waiting at LAX to board my red eye flight back to DC to hopefully make it back in time for the Cherry Blossom Festival tomorrow. I just had to farewell my mum who is in the next terminal over waiting for a flight back to Sydney which was sad but I am looking forward to all the fun things I have planned between now and the end of the semester. I definitely took the opportunity this week to do something new and I absolutely loved it!
And so, until next time…
And so, until next time…