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Road trippin' down Highway 1. San Francisco - LA

11 - 23rd November 2011

Our 7 day trip began on a grey and wet San Franciscan morning. Four hungover (but sober...) travelers; two English guys and two Scottish girls loaded with all their possessions made their way up to the top floor of the car rental centre to find their mode of transport for the journey; a Chrysler 300. A standard chice for American drug dealers, this American beast was huge and tank like compared to most cars in the UK, but we soon grew to love it and the novelty of four white kids driving around in it never grew old.

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A couple of hours or so down the road, we reached our first stopover; Pigeon Point lighthouse, a hostel right on the coast complete with the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of North America as well as dramatic views of the coast and waves crashing on the rocks. The bleak and somewhat un-Californian weather led to an evening of board games - convenient as our livers needed a night off.

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The next morning, we continued the journey 30 miles south down the beautiful and now sunny coast to Santa Cruz, where we stayed at the flat of a guy the others had met a few weeks before. After being shown around this intimate (everyone seemed to know each other...) and friendly sea-side town, we hit the town by night, which included a number of interesting encounters. The night began with a few drinks in a friends vinyl record store, which required self-restraint as I drooled over the extensive record collection and tried to not cover them in drink. From here we moved on to a couple of house parties; the highlight being able to play DJ with another well stocked record collection. Obviously, plenty of Michael Jackson followed and kept the party going.

The following morning, we lined our stomachs with a mountain of homemade banana and choc chip pancakes (a trend which continued throughout the week) before again hitting the road towards our next coastal stop; Monterey.

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Sleepy Monterey didn't do too much for us except provide a night sop over and another pancake brekkie. But following another beautiful day of coastal driving, we arrived at San Louis Obispo (or SLO); the homeplace of American nuisance Zac Efron. Even though we again found the town and it's night life to be a little sleepy, a sunny day out the nearby Avila beach; possibly the nicest beach of the trip made up for it.

Our next stop was Santa Barbara, home to the MJ paedophilia court case and his nearby Neverland Ranch (sadly missed out on this road-trip). Considering the area was also well known for its wine, we set ourselves the aim of finding a wine tasting in the town. After stumbling around for some time, we eventually found a wine tasting and all had a good time developing our palates.

The following morning we headed off to the final stop of the road trip, Venice Beach; a beach district of LA. We arrived to a beach covered with a thick fog, however we set about exploring the area, and the girls were keen to find the famous 'muscle beach'. The weather must have been dampening, as the only body builder to be found was a slightly soggy old man, and far more muscles could be seen washed up upon the shore. The rest of the beach provided a more entertaining albeit intimidating experience with locals on the streets in your face selling everything from weed to psychic visions. We passed on these and decided to hit the hostel bar and then sample the Venice Beach nightlife.

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The morning after saw a terrifyingly early start in order to make the 11am car drop-off in San Diego. Following a quiet drive and the certain puzzle of finding the car rental depot, we finally made it to our hostel on Pacific Beach, San Diego. We were welcomed by a lively party atmosphere and soon enrolled on an 'all you can eat and drink for $10' beach patio party. Being the final evening of our road trip, we took a tactical power nap and did our $10 justice.

The following day we made our way into San Diego and explored the quaint streets on the Gaslamp district and the extensive Bay area. To our dismay however, it was here we discovered that in fact none of the film Anchorman was filmed in San Diego; leading to a mass sense of betrayal and dampened group morale. Equipped with this knowledge, the next day we boarded our Greyhound bus back up north to LA. This was an interesting experience as we not had an encounter with US border control who had a difficult time understanding why 4 UK tourists who had just spent a weekend by the Mexican border were all heading to LA and leaving the US within a few days of each other. We however eventually pulled up into downtown LA which was prematurely dark with cloud and drenched in rain. Following a goodbye to our Scottish traveling companions over some burgers, Matt and I headed back to the coast and another coastal district of LA; Santa Monica.

Being in LA on the evening of a big match for LA Galaxy; the MLS final, we decided to head straight to a bar to get some of the atmosphere. Even though Galaxy eventually secured a win, it was clear from this bar at least that soccer hadn't quite fully infiltrated itself into American culture yet, as we found ourselves to be the only ones watching it in a room of yelling NFL fans.

Following a recommendation from home (thanks Bernie and Sarah) regarding staying in Santa Monica, it turned out to provide the perfect base from which to explore LA and chill out. With beautifully clean beaches and attractive downtown area, Matt and I both agreed that this was our favorite destination over the past week of travelling, and it created the perfect environment in which we could reflect about our past weeks/months in the USA before we both continued westward. What's more, we noticed an unusual abundance of English themed shops selling all sorts of home comforts, which led to a few cravings having to be suppressed.

Our final touristy duty whilst in LA had to be a tour of Hollywood. We decided to hit the gold-paved roads of the area with 'Rastabus'; a tour company who had converted a mini-bus in to a green, yellow and red beast which blared reggae and Beach Boys. Throughout the day we sped past various homes (and fences) of the rich and famous as well as palm tree lined streets and extortionate shopping districts. Perhaps the highlight included driving up to the LA observatory where a stunning, clear view of sprawling LA could be seen (rare because of the smog), as well as the famous (and firearm guarded) Hollywood sign. Another highlight was stopping over at 'The Original Farmers Market'; home to a maze of covered markets and food joints.

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  • If you ever get the chance - eat at 'Singapore's Banana Leaf' - served the 'top 3' noodles I have ever eaten *

After one more day of beach and shopping to update my wardrobe for the Australian summer (as well as one more Chipotle [Mexican grill sure to soon be huge in the UK]), the time finally came to leave the US and embark on the 14 hour flight west to Melbourne.

Overall, the combination of Californian coast, lifestyle and people made for an awesome week; and a sure contrast to that of the East Coast. The whole experience was however made great by driving down the coast with three other travelers who just wanted to take it easy and absorb the easy-going Californian lifestyle.

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  • CALIFORNIA TOP THREE *

1. Santa Monica - beautiful beach and great hub for exploring nearby Hollywood. (Good place if you miss home comforts ... loads of 'British' shops)
2. Santa Cruz - It's really not that far...
3. Driving Highway 1 - millions of beaches, windy roads and mexican restaurants.

Posted by tom_e_free 02:45 Archived in USA

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