Pacific Coast, San Diego & LA

By Alex

It’s November 1st and we’re about to start the next stage of our trip in Colombia! We checked out of our Airbnb here in Miami and have a few hours to kill so no better time to do another load of laundry. Sunday seems a very busy laundromat day – the place is packed. We’re two blocks from South Beach and its full of locals (mainly Hispanics). We read somewhere that two thirds of the population in Miami is from Central and South America so that explains it. Everything is bilingual here.

We just counted that it’s our fourth time in a US laundromat and each of the them have given a really good overview of the areas we’ve been in. Berkeley was full of college students on their laptops, San Diego was a mix of local motel workers and eccentric locals, and here is packed with tv screens showing a Spanish film drama and nearly everyone speaking Spanish loudly. Laundromats obviously work well if you’re renting, but we still can’t get over the amount of people that don’t own a washing machine – they can’t be any more expensive than at home? It’s a good hour or so hanging around every week. Guess it’s interesting just watching the world go by.

We fly out in five hours direct with American Airlines to Bogota. The flight is only 3 hours (less than getting to the west coast!) and we land about 9pm at night. We’re both excited and a bit apprehensive about Colombia. From watching ‘Narcos’ on Netflix and reading bits, Colombia seems to have moved on hugely from the mass-drug-killing-days of the 80s & 90s. We won’t know till we arrive but there’s not much more you can do beside the usual basics of staying in good areas and not walking down dark alleyways. We also watched a Netflix documentary on Miami and the whole 80s drug cartels etc. I didn’t know the significance of it for Miami but it was the most dangerous place in the US in the 80s! It’s hard to imagine it here now… It’s very safe and no different to the other cities we’ve been in so far. While there were thousands of people killed, it also resulted in an economic boom for Miami with all the wealthy drug cartels splashing their cash around. Miami probably wouldn’t be the banking powerhouse of the south east and the tourist mecca it has now become. Maybe Colombia might be similar?

We’re behind on the blog. I was meant to get ‘the last two weeks’ up a bit sooner but guess it’s all relatively timeless. We’ve been more uploading photos as we go on Instagram.

John wrote about our time in San Francisco last week (see here). For me, it’s been my highlight of the trip so far, along with New York. I could live in either cities very easily. Not surprising that both are the most expensive places we’ve been to also. Sitting in Mission’s Dolores Park on the Sunday afternoon with everyone just chilling out and sipping whatever your having while overlooking the city skyline was special. No aggro or attitude. Just what you expect a perfect Sunday to be. And interesting no police around to enforce the strict public drinking rules either. That evening we just got some food in Castro and did a mini pub crawl which was fun. I’ve been to Castro before but never spent enough time to get a real sense of the place. The same goes for San Fran as a whole.

We left on a Monday and picked up our car rental from Dollar. We had decided to try our luck at getting a free upgrade or paying a small bit extra if needed. Our last ‘compact’ car was OK but too small. We could tell from the Dollar guy that he was right out of the ‘how to get the customer to take all the extras’ school and he was annoyingly over-selling everything. I had to kindly refuse (“thanks but no thanks”) the gold plated insurance about five times! Once he knew we wanted an upgrade he kept pushing a yellow convertible Chevrolet (lovely but not at four times what we were paying) and we finally negotiated on a mid-sized hyundai saloon car which was great and a huge step up.

Off we went from San Fran along the Pacific Highway which hugs the west coast. The famous spectacular views are half way down the journey to LA at Big Sur, but even the first stretch by Santa Cruz and Monterey were impressive. We stayed in Monterey overnight in a basic hotel and got a nice burger and craft beer in a local gastro pub. Monterey is a main stop off point along the route and you could see it by the number of hotels and eateries. The town of Carmel is also right beside Monterey and we started off Day 2 there wandering around the quant little town. It’s a bigger version of Dalkey with an amazing white sandy beach. Of course it’s famous because Clint Eastwood was once the republican mayor of the town. He didn’t seem to be in town that day. It would be a nice place to retire and you could see that. Half the shops were gallery or antique sellers. We did our usual and went for large coffees instead.

On we went driving down the dramatic coastline along Big Sur that stretches for about 75 miles. John did all the driving that day so I just kept looking out the window and snapping photos on both our phones. John laughs when I keep drawing parallels to places!.. but… it was like the Wild Atlantic Way with good weather. We stopped along some of the beaches where elephant seals were just lazy-ing away by themselves. They were so non-pulsed with everyone gawking at them. We had managed to get a reasonable motel just past Big Sur in a small town called Morro Bay and had fish n chips after another amazing sunset.

The next morning we visited Hearst Castle which was 30 minutes back up the road. It’s a spectacular (I’ll need a thesaurus soon!) castle built on a hill overlooking the Atlantic by the rich millionaire (billionaire?) William Randolph Hearst from 1920. It looks like a Spanish church from the outside but inside it has a European castle feel with ceilings, tapestries and loads of artefacts shipped over from Europe. Even a ceremonial mace from Dublin which our guide Sandi pointed out. He seemed to like maces as he bought a famous one from Galway also. The two swimming pools are what makes this place – one Greek-deco inspired outside pool overlooking the Atlantic, and the other a more stunning indoor pool covered in deep blue and gold pattern mosaic tiles.

We made some back of the car sandwiches again for lunch (can’t beat them!) before our 350 mile drive to San Diego. We hadn’t planned to go that far south but we had a few days so managed to fit San Diego in. I was really glad we did. It’s seemingly the second biggest city in California after LA with a population of 1.6 million. We stayed in our best motel so far, the Dolphin Motel, about 15 mins outside the city near Ocean Beach. The rooms were fairly standard, but it was cheap at 60 dollars a night. What made it was the owner, a Ned Flanders-like figure who nicely directed his staff via walkie talkie. He wanted to make everyone feel at home in his motel.

We spent a night around the Gaslamp Quarter (a well done Temple Bar) and got some cheap pints watching the Thursday night American football games at a local bar. Every sports bar goes all out on huge screens showing multiple games at once. Guess you need them when there are so many ads. On our second day we saw the USS Midway aircraft carrier which is now a permanent museum, complete with old aircraft onboard etc. Including one with a shamrock painted tail. Not Aerlingus though. The carrier served from the Second World War and right up to the first Gulf War. San Diego is a big military town and we saw navel bases and training buildings everywhere. We walked around Balboa Park which is right in the centre of the city. It’s the world’s second biggest city park (after the Phoenix Park I assume) and it houses about 12 museums all laid out around a Spanish villa themed landscape.

That evening we drove through Hillcrest, San Diego’s mini Castro, and caught the sunset at Ocean Beach which was amazing. People were lining up their deck chairs to see it on the beach. San Diego is a ‘neat little city’ – great weather all year round, perfect beaches, employment options and a city life if you want that too. You can see why people flock to it. We didn’t get across the border to Mexico, but definitely next time.

After our three nights in San Diego it was on to our 2 hour drive north to Los Angeles. We had booked another airbnb for four nights, staying in Century City (half way between Santa Monica and Hollywood). We had some time before check in so we drove to an outlet mall to get some last minute gear for South America. Treking shoes will be needed for Machu Picchu! We ended up recycling some of our clothes we didn’t need in a local clothes bin… but our bags are pretty much the same weight again!

We went to Hollywood Drive and the Walk of Fame (aka Hollywood Stars) the first day. It’s grand for what it is but it’s pretty tacky and I’m sure locals wouldn’t be caught dead there. Tons of Pound shops and tourist tack. We walked along the main strip and some of the boulevards around the area and it was pretty disappointing,

We drove back through West Hollywood (their gay area) and got a few drinks there on the way home. Seemed to be more happening and more of a local community. Where we were staying it was fairly residential with lots of nice family houses. I’d say they are pretty expensive as its beside Beverly Hills. Lots of the houses went all out in decking their front gardens in hallowe’en stuff.

We managed to get a parking ticket during our first night as the car was parked in the wrong direction! The space was fine, but we didn’t notice every other car is parked with the front right wheel to the curb. After a bit of searching online, it’s a California statewide rule in section (a) subset. Anyway, at least it was only $63.

We checked out the La Brea Tar Pits which were interesting. Basically when they were digging for oil they uncovered prehistoric bones and fossils of loads of extinct animals like mammoths, etc. They are still digging and uncovering more pieces of bones everyday. They have turned it into a visitor park and it’s really well done.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

We also went up to the Griffith Observatory for sunset as there are great views all across the city. You can also check out the famous Hollywood sign from there! Besides the amazing sunset it’s definitely something to do next time you’re there.

On our last evening we explored a bit of the downtown area which is such a contrast to the rest of the city. It was like being back in San Fran or New York for a few blocks. Then you go a few more and you’re in Skid Row which feels a bit unsafe and you venture backwards. We got some yummy pizza at the Regent Theatre and took in City Hall and the LA Times building.

Another highlight of LA was Venice Beach and the hipster area around Abbot Kinney which was full of tempting coffee shops and artistic clothes sellers.

LA is still one of those cities that I’m still trying to work out in my head. Obviously the entertainment industry is big and if you’re in that line of work there is nowhere else to be in the world. There are tons of celebs and people trying to break into the industry milling around the city. It’s got some lovely beaches (we saw Santa Monica and Venice beaches, both great!) and there are some nice areas around Silver Lake and Echo Park to live and hang out. Weather is pretty good too. Besides that we spent a good lot of time in traffic on freeways getting from one place to the other.

As our four days went on you could see that each area of LA is so different and they just happen to be connected by freeways and boulevards. LA’s missing something and you keep trying to find it. I’m not sure it exists? Maybe it’s missing connective-ness and a proper city identify. Will need to give it another try sometime.

Ok that’s all from me now. John’s going to do a post on Miami later this week. Miami was a really pleasant surprise, really liked it!

We’re kicking off our Colombian adventure today.

This entry was posted in North America

2 thoughts on “Pacific Coast, San Diego & LA

    Alexander November 4, 2015 at 9:57 am Reply

    Great reading! Takes me back a few weeks :)Truly agree on your do’s and don’ts of LA. It is what it is, yet still we want to go back there some day.

    I think you might had the same tour guide as we did on Hearst Castle. Did he speak some Chinese?

    Can’t believe you’re going to Colombia next. Will be interesting to hear how that turns out.

      Alex November 5, 2015 at 5:09 pm Reply

      Cheers Alex, glad they aren’t too much text-waffle!
      Our tour guide in Heasrt was actually a woman.. Sandi. She was pretty good!

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