As Travel Consultants travel and exploring is in our blood. Seeing the world and all its hidden gems is something we are hugely passionate about.
We headed off for one of the best months of our lives, an experience never to forget, a total once in a lifetime trip; here is our California blog with the highs the few lows and the in-betweens. We didn’t drive due to the insurance as we were both under 25, but we did use Amtrak, local buses, shuttle services, tubes and taxis, all easy to use and allowed us to sit back and enjoy the experience.
We flew with Air New Zealand and we would highly recommend them for their great service and very comfortable flight.
The first night was at an airport hotel which was perfect, giving us time to relax and recuperate after the long flight, and easy to get to with the airport shuttle.
Our first stop was 2 nights in Santa Barbara. A shuttle bus took us from our hotel to Santa Barbara, a quick and direct service which dropped us off right outside our hotel. We really liked Santa Barbara, it’s a quiet, laid back coastal town, quirky and quaint, a relaxing atmosphere with lovely little shops, nice restaurants and a beautiful beach. A perfect place to start our journey and meet interesting people and a great place to chill with delicious cocktails, cooling down in the hot Californian sun.
We moved on after 2 days and used the Amtrak service heading to Salinas. Once at the station in Salinas, we took another shuttle bus (amazing driver, so funny and gave us lots of tips and info on Monterey) which took 20 minutes. We stayed in good, basic accommodation across from a large shopping mall giving us a 20 minute walk to the town centre. There is a tram service which travels round the main tourist areas which is free and so handy. The vibrant town centre was packed with some great bars and restaurants and fisherman’s wharf is must do. You can paddle board or canoe from the harbour. The beach was a complete surprise; beautiful white sands and clear water where you can spot a seal or 2. A visit to the Monterey bay aquarium is well worth doing, it has amazing exhibitions and our favourite was the jelly fish, it was like another world. We really enjoyed Monterey and would recommend it for families and people looking for another relaxed coastal resort.
On the move again now to San Francisco for 4 nights. We travelled on a bus from Monterey to San Jose station where we got the fast train in to San Francisco, this was easy enough to do and was only about 3 hours travelling time.
We took a visit to Alcatraz. Unfortunately we didn’t pre-book our tickets so the only way to possible to get our hands on tickets was to queue at the pier at 3.30am where they give out 200 tickets. We were lucky enough to bag 2! We would recommend pre-booking your tickets in the UK. The Alcatraz experience is incredible and without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip.
We also paid a visit to the California Science Museum at the Golden Gate Park, a great day for families with fun and informative exhibits. A huge place with lots to explore and free to the public. We also took in some other tourist sites such as the famous Painted Ladies Viewing Point and of course a wee visit to Mrs Doubtfire’s house which was slightly difficult to find but worth seeing.
We also visited the scary San Francisco Dungeons and we found out about the city’s mysterious dark side. The cable cars are an amazing experience going up and down the very steep hills, you do need to use them and flat shoes to complete your San Fran experience. We walked up Lombard Street which was bizarre as we thought we were going to pass out with the heat and how steep it was. Definitely recommend taking plenty of water if you are tackling any of the steep hills in the heat. San Francisco was amazing. We loved the city’s atmosphere, the unique people and it’s now one of our favourite cities in the world.
Leaving San Francisco for Sacramento we used the Greyhound bus services and we recommend a centrally located hotel to allow you to experience all Sacramento has to offer, including visiting O L Capitol Park and museums.
When travelling on to Hollywood we had a 9 hour Greyhound bus journey to Los Angeles which we would recommend taking a sleeping pillow. We jumped on the open top bus into Hollywood Boulevard which took us around all the main tourist spots. This was an easy way to get about and a good way to get our bearings. We strolled along the iconic sunset strip and drank margaritas the size of my head! There were great bars and restaurants of every type to choose from. We also visited Madame Tussauds which was great.
A taxi ride from West Hollywood to Venice Beach was around 40 dollars. We spent the most amazing day at Venice beach chilling and people watching. So many totally amazing and individual characters, from remarkable street performers lining the streets, to the gym boys flexing on muscle beach and Santa Monica pier is the most perfect place for a cold beer. Venice beach is full of hippies that have parked up from the sixty’s! There are so many interesting people and art, something we’ll never forget. Santa Monica is fully pedestrianised which is really nice as there is plenty of outdoor eating and buskers.
We hired pink vintage (pink is the Thorne Travel colours after all) bikes at Venice beach as it is a lovely cycle and a nice way to see the beach and the sights. We used the tube to get to Hollywood boulevard, which was very easy. We took the Stars’ Homes Tour taking us past the homes of Katy Perry, Bruce Willis, Vinnie Jones and Johnny Depp, well worth doing with a hilarious guide who gave us lots of gossip and stories.
We also visited Universal studios, the tube takes you straight there which was brilliant. Our favourite ride was the Simpsons. We would recommend is the Warner Bro’s studio tours, which we booked before we left including coach travel from Hollywood Boulevard it was well worth it. The famous Friend’s couch was my favourite part along with the Batman and Harry Potter exhibition.
Two days of madness commenced at the Hard Summer Music Festival just outside the city, with buses taking us there from the tube station. We saw loads of amazing DJ’s in the sun.
We then travelled from LA to Long Beach and stayed in the Queen Mary for one night. This hotel/ship was definitely not your typical hotel and you are staying in a place of history. A slightly weird experience, it felt like we were back in time. This Hotel is one of the most haunted in America and although a great experience, we must admit it wasn’t the most restful of sleeps we’ve had! It was unique though and I would recommend it for anyone looking for a something different.
We left Long Beach for Huntington Beach using public transport to get from Long Beach to Huntington beach. We ventured into the Knotts Berry Theme park where we screamed ourselves silly on some of the world’s greatest rides. Finishing off our stay here with surfing lessons on Hunting Beach (Surf City USA) was hilarious, great fun and completely out of our comfort zone but loved it.
Now onto San Diego.
One of the best thing’s we saw was SeaWorld. A great family day out and we got to see the amazing Shamu show & lots of other astounding sea animals, with great rides. San Diego Zoo and Safari was a highlight of our full trip, this special place houses more than 3,700 animals. This was the most amazing place with interactive experiences available for a small charge and you can get about the zoo by open top bus or cable car. A must see in San Diego. The seal boat tour was also great family day giving an up close and personal way to see the seals and our captain was very friendly and informative. San Diego is suited well for families.
Off we head to Palm Springs. We would not recommend Palm Springs at this time of year, unless you like it really hot (40 degrees plus!). A lovely couple of days to chill in the pool due to the heat and we did get an amazing tan. In Palm Springs you need to take in an evening desert safari. It gave us a really interesting way to see the landscape and desert animals, including rattle snakes, and we spent a couple of hours star gazing.
We felt privileged and inspired to have visited such a wonderful state and all the different areas within it, each offering something unique.
- The open top bus is well worth doing
- Book city passes with Thorne Travel it saves money and you get lots of extra free excursions
- Favourite bar in Santa Barbara is the Sandbar, really nice with a great atmosphere
- Favourite bar on Sunset strip is the Cabo Cantina, not what you imagine a typical Hollywood bar to be. Its quirky and the Margarita’s and Patron are lethal – great atmosphere
- Loved the Fishopper in Monterey although I don’t like seafood I tried mussels for the first time and loved them. With lots of different meats and lovely staff, sitting by the sea eating dinner was relaxing.
We hope you have enjoyed our post and we have inspired some travellers out there.