California · Travelling

Week 2 – San Luis Obispo, The Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Francisco & Alameda

The sights & sounds of California – BHJ style…

Week two is underway and mainly consists of a lot of driving! The quintissential roadtrip you might say. Everytime I have come to California I have done some kind of road trip. Mainly because there are so many great places to see!

San Luis Obispo

This was the second visit to SLO, as the locals call it. It so happened that we arrived on a Thursday, a great day to visit so it turned out, as Thursday is the weekly farmers market.

Look who I stumbled upon at SLO farmers market…
The farmers market is a great mixture of local farm produce, political activism, gymnastics displays and sizzling hot BBQs! Loads of friendly people, and families, great atmosphere, a definite must if you find yourself in SLO.

The town also has one of the original California missions, which is great to look around.

The Big Sur

The Big Sur is famous the wold over as one of the most spectacular drives in the world. And rightly so. You drive along miles of roads cut out of the side of huge cliffs. Spectacular scenery everywhere, as the road hugs the coast for miles and miles.

Elephant seals on the Big Sur
The Big Sur
One of the sights I saw were about 100 elephant seals lazing on the beach! And you can get really close to them. The beach is a few miles away from the entrance to Hearst Castle.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is an explosion of wealth and extravagance. The land it is built on was bought by the Hearst family in the 1800s. Originally a simple ranch, it was turned into the huge house that you see today by the famous media magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst Castle
We only got to see about five of the grand rooms but what an eclectic mix of styles they are! Choir stalls from Spanish churches sit alongside 1930s style sofas, ornate wooden ceilings and crystal chandeliers.

It is relatively expensive ($25) to visit, but definitely worth it. You learn about the history of the estate in the twenty minute ride up which was very interesting.

Hearst Castle
We also saw wild zebras, descendants of the original herds that Mr Hearst kept on the estate. The gardens are beautiful and the views are stunning. Apparently every movie starlet and celebrity that was of note stayed at the castle, from Charlie Chaplin to Marlene Dietrich. If you get the chance, it’s worth a visit for sure.

The ornate indoor pool at Hearst Castle

Monterey and Santa Cruz

Monterey consisted of a two hour stop, but it’s worth longer if you have the time. It’s very famous for it’s huge aquarium, which is stunning, as it the location of the town. We walked down through fishermans wharf and admired the view out across the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed overnight in Santa Cruz. Apparently it is a big university town, and it shows, as there are lots of interesting characters around. We ate dinner at fabulous vegetarian diner called Saturn Cafe, and during the course of the meal, two people decided to cycle a bike around the place, as you do. It feels like Brighton in many ways.

The town has a large boardwalk full of rides, and a long pier. We walked down the pier and encountered a whole host of squabbling seals, making the funniest noises! How any of them get any sleep is anyone’s guess!

Santa Cruz boardwalk
There was also an early morning prayer meeting happening on the beach for well over 200 children. We listened for a while, and it seemed pretty full on! But the kids seemed to be enjoying it and lots were there alone, so probably weren’t there just because their parents made them! Not a site you would see very much in the UK I feel.

I liked Santa Cruz, more run down than Monterey but more a reflection of the real America perhaps too.

Alameda Island and San Francisco

Alameda Island is on the east bay of San Francisco bay, near to Oakland and it is probably not somewhere you necessarily think to visit. I have spent two days here visiting my friends Paula and Mike and their two children Freya and Bethan. It is a lovely little island, very suburban, but drive five minutes away and you literally ‘cross the rails’ and you are in a rough part of the city of Oakland. I think that opitimises a lot of America, rich areas sat right next to poor ones.

San Fran skyline from Alameda

We went to Oakland to get the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to see a baseball game (San Francisco Giants). Well, it was fun but I really had no clue what was going on ha!

Most people did not even seem to be watching the games, though there was the occasional cheer! Mostly people ate and talked. It is more a social event than a sporting event. The stadium is amazing though with a stunning view across the bay.

AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants

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