My Notebook of the amazing places I have visited and the memories and experiences I don't want to forget.
We couldn’t help it in 2013 we went back to California and San Francisco. This time round we decided to drive south towards Los Angeles. During our trip we discussed that we probably wouldn’t be going back to California for a good few years at least, and it was a bit depressing. We had a great time visiting places we had never been to before, exploring new cities as well as staying in familiar locations, going back to places we loved or discovering new places.
Our trip was as follows:
14-18th March 2013: San Francisco –
As on previous trips we had 4 nights in the City, and still that wasn’t enough. Although by this point we had been to San Francisco twice before we still found great new places and rediscovered old ones. We explored new neighbourhoods such as Richmond, Seacliff, Sunset, Inner Sunset, Haigh-Ashbury & Twin Peaks; visiting places like Point Lobos and Lands End (for a view of the sea, the bay and the bridge) and Buena Vista & Corona Heights Park (excellent views of the City).
As we both loved doughnuts/donuts visiting Dynamo Donuts in the Mission, during a day out eating our weight in Tacos, was a no-brainer. The maple glazed bacon apple donut was amazing, one of the best I have had. As we loved baked goods we also discovered Arizmendi Bakery a co-op selling great morning pastries, artisan bread and other goodies.
I was also on a quest for great coffee, revising Blue Bottle was a must but I also discovered Ritual Coffee Roasters (which in my opinion serves better coffee then Blue Bottle), and the Philz Coffee (the choice of coffee here is a bit overwhelming but it is so good).
As San Francisco was well known for it’s excellent cocktail bars we also paid a visit to Tradition (441Jones St), which is probably better for groups as the places is very loud but the drinks are excellent. We also found our favourite bar, the wonderful Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Ave). Comstock is a great traditional American bar with a short but great cocktail menu, we sat at the bar enjoying our first drink, then our second and time just flew by.
18th-19th March 2013: The Big Sur and San Luis Obispo
We left San Francisco and headed south via Highway 1 and The Big Sur. We had travelled in the other direction back in 2009, travelling North from Santa Barbara towards Monterey, so it was interesting to do it the other way round, stopping at various lookout points along the way.
We stopped at Pfeiffer Big Sur Park and explored a little. We also did the short hike to Partington Cove for some dazzling views of the coast and spotted some whales out in the bay in the distance. We also managed to fit in a quick stop at the Julia Pfiffer Burns State Park for the view that everyone associates with the Big Sur, McWay Falls.
See more on our previous visit to The Big Sur in 2009 here.
We arrived in San Luis Obispo around 6pm. After dinner and drinks we had a short stroll through town, it was pleasant with funky coffee shops and other stores.
19th-22nd March 2013: Santa Barbara
After a morning stroll through San Luis Obispo we hit the road again and headed towards Santa Barbara, stopping at Old West Cinnamon Rolls (861 Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA) for the biggest, the best and probably the most calorific cinnamon rolls we had ever had. They were divine, do not miss this place.
After a short drive we arrived in Santa Barbara, we were in town for 3 nights so plenty of time to properly explore the place. Back in 2009 we were only here for 1 night so it was nice to have more time. We managed to discover the farmers market on State St, and we also visited nearby Ventura as during a Whale Watching trip unfortunately we only saw dolphins not whales.
The standout food discoveries were great Mexican joints. My top place was Lilys Tacos (310 Chapala St) located almost under the freeway, not exactly in a touristy location. When we got there around 5:30pm on a Wednesday there was already a queue. It is a nondescript place, order at the bar, pick up your order and put what ever salsa topping you want on top. The salsa bar was great, different salsas, some hot, others hotter, tomato, onions, cilantro, limes, radishes – everything. The asada and adobada tacos were the best I have ever had. Just watch the hot salsas. We also enjoyed the food at Los Agaves (600 N Milpas St), here you order at the counter but the food is bought to you at a table. The dishes here were most substantial and very inventive, we really enjoyed it. We couldn’t miss out on great coffee and we found that at Handlebar Coffee Roasters (128 E Canon Perdido St), a coffee shop with a cycling theme which is quite popular now; and great beer at Brewhouse (229 W Montecito St) where we sampled some great local brews and I tried a 4oz glass of Habanero Pilsner – it was interesting but weird. Lastly we also had a great pastrami sandwiches at Norton’s Pastrami and Deli (18 W Figueroa St), something you perhaps wouldn’t expect on the West Coast.
22-23rd March 2013: Twentynine Palms (Joshua Tree National Park)
We left Santa Barbara early in the morning and headed east towards Joshua Tree National Park, via a stop at the Ontario Mills Outlet Center for some retail therapy and San Bernardino for lunch. After checking into out hotel in Twentynine Palms we drove to Joshua Tree arriving in the park around 3pm. Unfortunately Cholllulla Cactus Garden was closed due to some disease that affected the cacti, however we did manage to see Arch Rock and Keys View and did a couple of short trails. We also caught the sunset near Sheep Pass / Jumbo Rock which was amazing.
After dinner in a nearby town we headed back to our hotel, the following morning we got up before 6am and drove back into Joshua Tree. As the sun wasn’t up yet it was very cold, which caught us by surprise considering how hot it was during the day. We drove to Baker Dam and witnessed the sunrise, we also did a couple of short trails. It was really peaceful and quite in the park and the morning light was beautiful.
We left the park and after grabbing a quick coffee and breakfast we drove on south towards San Diego, stopping for lunch on the outskirts of the City.
23-24th March 2013: San Diego
After checking into out hotel around lunchtime we quickly walked down to the Harbor and visited the USS Midway museum. This has to be the best, most interesting and engaging museum I have ever been to. We were there until closing at 5pm and still that wasn’t enough time to see everything in detail. The guided tour sections were great and the audio tour was also very informative without being boring. Excellent day out. For dinner we decided to drive to Phil’s BBQ (3750 Sport Arena Blvd), I heard this place was popular but nothing prepared me for the enormous queue going all the way around the building. Luckily I heard that you can order the same food at the bar and in the bar it was first come first served when it came to getting a table. We walked in the bar and after about 5 minutes we had a table, the BBQ was good but I had better and it was certainly not worth the queue. When we left the people that were behind us in the original line were only then being shown to their seats. Due to getting up early we were very tired so ended up going back to our hotel, unfortunately we didn’t get to explore the bars of San Diego.
The following morning we walked to The Mission (1250 J St) for breakfast, it was very nice and we saw a bit of the city during the 20 minute walk from our hotel. After checking out of our hotel we drove to Mission Beach and we had a walk around this area, there were some beautiful beach houses which faced the sea. We then drove on to La Jolla and had an early lunch at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood (703 Turquoise St), this is just a little hole in the wall type place but the fish tacos were excellent. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to explore La Jolla, as we ran out of time. We then left San Diego and headed north towards Los Angeles. San Diego is definitely a city I feel I haven’t yet experienced, 1 night was not enough.
24-27th March 2013: Los Angeles
We were in Los Angeles for 3 nights and got to see quiet a bit of LA and the surrounding area.
We visited Universal Studios which to be honest apart from the studio tour was a bit disappointing, we also did the Warner Brothers Studio Tour which was excellent and a real eye opener as to how all these shows that we all watch are filmed.
We walked down Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Strip and saw the famous Kodak Theatre, Chinese Theatre, Tower Records and the Walk of Fame. It was surreal to see all the places we had seen on TV, in movies etc in real life, but also we found the whole area a bit too touristy and over the top, with a lot of cheap tacky souvenir shops all around.
We drove up Mullholand Drive for views over Los Angeles stopping at overlooks such as Universal City Overlook and Hollywood Bowl Overlook, these had spectacular views of the sprawling metropolis and also included views of the Hollywood sign. From above you could also see the spectacular homes of the rich and famous with their swimming pools and unique mansions.
We had to visit Griffin Park and the Observatory, we did this in the late afternoon so we caught the sunset and saw the lights come on in the City below. We also managed to look through the famous Zeiss telescope. The observatory commands views of the Los Angeles Basin, from here on a clear day you can see LA, the Hollywood sign and the pacific ocean.
We also had time to visit nearby Santa Monica, we really enjoyed walking along the wide beach and exploring the local cafes and shops. It is here that we also saw the end of Route 66 (or the start depending which way you are travelling), in 2012 we had seen the start in Chicago, IL so this was nice to do. It is just a shame we didn’t have longer to explore Santa Monica or have any time to visit nearby Venice….maybe next time.
We also found some great places to eat whilst in Los Angeles. The breakfasts were great we particularly enjoyed the breakfast at The Griddle Cafe (7916 Sunset Blvd) where the pancakes are as big as dinner plates so just get one (i warned you!) and at Blu Jam Cafe (7371 Melrose Ave) where I had the signature dish ‘crunchy french toast’ which was brioche dipped in batter, rolled in crunchy corn flakes, topped with fresh berries, served with vanilla bean sauces and it was scrumptious.
We also had a pretty good burger and enjoyed some great beers at Stout Burger (1544 N Cahuenga Blvd), and tried a variety of baked goods from the cookies to the cakes, breads to the muffins at Porto’s Bakery (Various Locations), all of which were really tasty.
Before arriving in LA we were not sure if we would like it, but we did. If we visit again I don’t think we would stay near Hollywood Boulevard this time, we’ve seen all the sights around there now. We really enjoyed the beach and the hills and would visit those areas again. LA has some great cocktail bars which we didn’t really visit, also there are some great independent food outlets outside of the central tourist area. We hope to be back one day to cross some more places off our list.
27-29th March 2013: Monterey and the surrounding area
We left LA after breakfast and headed north towards Malibu. We drove past some spectacular houses, and briefly stopped at El Matador Beach in Malibu. Our next stop was In-N-Out Burger in Arroyo Grande where we had lunch. Then we pressed on heading north arriving at Monterey in the evening.
We were in Monterey for 2 nights and managed to re-explore a bit of The Big Sur coastline just south of Monterey. We re-visited Point Lobos State Reserve and Pacific Grove Marine Park.
We found a great little bakery in Pacific Grove called Pavel’s Backerei (219 Forst Ave) which sold some really outstanding pastries and baked good. We also had breakfast in our favourite spot in the area First Awakenings (125 Ocean View Blvd), which we also visited in 2009.
See more on our previous visit to Monterey in 2009 here.
We left Monterey shortly after breakfast on 29th March 2013. We made sure we had time for a quick walk along the Ocean before we left. Then we said goodbye to the Ocean and the town and headed north towards San Francisco Airport, stopping in San Jose for lunch along the way. And then waved goodbye to California.