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We left the L.A. area on Saturday 21st May and drove north along the coast on highway 1. It was a lovely sunny day but I’m afraid we drove right through Santa Monica again (we can’t stop everywhere… shame though as it looked very nice… and in fact several older people in Venice said to us pointedly “Santa Monica is much more for families than Venice…”). After Santa Monica we went right past Malibu without stopping too (it didn’t look like we’d imagined somehow – it was a great long stretch of coastline, quite busy, lots of surfers getting changed by the side of the road, kind of messy). At one point just further north there were so many wet-suited surfers bobbing about on the waves that I thought they were a flock of birds of some kind! It was the weekend, I suppose – plenty of action on the water. After this we went past a military base, inland a little past the first signs of the great Californian agricultural industry (strawberries first, cabbages later!) and then whole towns that seemed more Mexican than anything else (they have been Mexican before of course… and it seems they’re on their way back… if they ever left).
We made our first stop for a break at Santa Barbara which is one of those picture-perfect little cities – super clean, quite small, lots of ‘interesting’ places to eat and shop (i.e. also quite expensive). It was very nice though (and evidently tolerant – I saw women holding hands openly in the street without anyone yelling at them – always a good sign). We had an ‘interesting’ cup of coffee and a little snack and then walked through the warm streets enjoying the flowers everywhere and the Spanish revival buildings (well, that’s what the guide book calls them). This was certainly one of the Californias outsiders know – quite wealthy, liberal, sunny, kids skateboarding down the street...
We were due somewhere further north for dinner so after the break we covered some more miles and went up the 101 as far as San Luis Obispo. There we stopped for another short break (and a few necessities… phone card, restrooms…) and saw another small, pleasant city (this one not quite as fancy as Santa Barbara – a few lively bars and students having a good time as we passed through though). Photos of this journey so far are here:
We noticed, on passing through, that San Luis Obispo had a drive-in movie place too – something we hoped to sample while in the U.S. but not tonight because we had to……visit people we hardly know! That’s right it was time to call in on a blogger friend – Chris from Enchanted Oak. I know Chris from poetry blogs (the Poetry Bus in particular) but I had never met her before, never even spoken on the phone… and yet somehow I knew we would get on fine (I’ve yet to meet a bad blogger). Chris had invited us all to stay and a little worn from all the hotels and motels we said a resounding ‘yes, please’. Even better Chris and her husband keep dogs so h was particularly keen.
We arrived at Chris’ on the Saturday evening, ate a lovely dinner with her and her husband, Joe, and had a relaxing, friendly evening all round – much asking of questions, much telling of stories. Chris had already told me that they were invited to a picnic with friends on the Sunday and would we like to come too and again we’d said ‘yes, please’ so that was what we all did the following day. Chris, because she’s very open about such things on her blog and elsewhere, had also told me that the picnic was for AA members like herself and their families (that’s AA as in Alcoholics Anonymous, British readers, not Automobile Association) and would we be OK with that. We said we absolutely would and I, for one, was fascinated to see what kind of an event it would be.
As it turned out the AA ‘picnic’ on the Sunday was one of the best parties we’ve been to in ages. It was at a lovely spot – deep in the Californian valleys and miles from any town – and there was stacks of food, loads of people (we’d imagined a small gathering of about 20… it was more like 100), a good band playing, lots of messing about in boats on the river (see great photo of h and a new friend in a kayak). There was such a mix of folk too – all ages and walks of life – and everyone was so friendly (and of course no-one was drunk and fighting or falling in the river or just being very dull). We can highly recommend AA picnics – a fantastic afternoon out.
After the party Chris and Joe wanted to show us more of the coast so they took us up to Cambria to walk on the pebbles and get blown about by the wind (just like home!). We all nosied about Cambria’s tourist shopping street too – had a coffee, looked in windows. Then they drove us back through the beautiful green rolling hills to their home just inland from there. A really lovely day all round. Our pics of this couple of days are here:
On Monday morning we said many warm good-byes (big hugs… especially for the dogs!) and set off north from Chris’ (armed with lots of Joe’s great baking, maps and books from Chris, pebbles from Cambria beach…). We drove north along the 101 because the famous coastal highway 1 to Big Sur was blocked due to a landslide just north of Cambria (and had been since April). Our plan was to get to Monterey and visit Big Sur from above, as it were, so we had booked a place in Monterey for Monday night.
We arrived in Monterey in time for an early check-in and a late lunch. It’s a pretty, sunny little place and we weren’t in the mood for a load more driving so we had a lazy afternoon and then a walk around and a look at the wharf/pier. Whilst walking on the wharf we heard a lot of barking. “Seals” said h straightaway and she was pretty much right as it was in fact a large group of Californian sea lions barking and posing and showing off right in the harbour there (great fun to watch and much cheaper than the aquarium - photo at head of post and in slideshow). After that it was back to the hotel for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (humans, not sea lions - first part of the final). And just think – Mark gets a whole month or so free of it before the British version starts again in September when we get home… He’s so lucky.
On Tuesday we set off south down highway 1 to visit the much acclaimed Big Sur area (seemed odd to be going backwards!). The road was up in a few places and there were quite a few people about so it wasn’t quite the idyllic coast experience we’d imagined. Also we have seen more dramatic and more beautiful coast roads (some in Scotland for a start) but still, it was pretty and the sun was shining and we stopped at a beach here and a very nice café with views there (thanks Fi – lovely lunch at Café Kevah). Maybe it was the blocked highway that partly spoiled the full effect, maybe it was the reputation (it’s always hard to live up to these big build-ups – look at the poor old Grand Canyon) but we didn’t get quite the wow factor from Big Sur that we expected. Maybe it’s just that we live near a pretty amazing (and hardly visited) coastline ourselves. It could well be that.
After our down-and-back-up trip to Big Sur we stopped at Carmel for a little look around (pretty fancy, very busy). Someone drove into our bumper whilst trying to park by the beach but no-one was hurt and it wasn’t much of a drama. After Carmel we headed up to our last stop before San Francisco – Santa Cruz, another place by the ocean.
We’d booked a motel in Santa Cruz that someone online had said was near the beach. As it turned out it wasn’t that near the beach but luckily we like a walk and even better it was a really nice little place (friendly owner, great complimentary breakfast, warm courtyard pool, good laundry machine, great night’s sleep). Around about the motel there seemed to be quite a lot of people living in what looked like old rooms from motels now out-of-service. Quite a few kicked-in doors and such like too but the area was friendly and we walked about no problem.
Santa Cruz has quite a famous boardwalk so we headed down to that – once again in lovely sunshine. Things didn’t seem to have really opened for the season (Memorial Day was still a few days away) and most of the amusements were still closed but the beach had quite a few folk scattered on it and there were quite a few young ones (high school or college age) playing volleyball, rushing about, chatting on phones. I can imagine it is quite the place to be once summer comes – like Blackpool with slightly more reliable sunshine perhaps…
We had our dinner on the pier (it was great - restaurants here are so good!) and wandered back for the excitements that are doing some laundry and part two of the final of “Dancing with the Stars”. Then we went to sleep – next stop San Francisco. Photos of Monterey, Big Sur, Carmel and Santa Cruz are here:
We’re in Oregon right now with about a week left in the U.S. Still two more California posts to fit in some time though (San Francisco and then Redwood country!).