After a ten-day mammoth road trip (quite literally as I went to Mammoth Lakes!), I arrived back in my second home, the O.C. Which stands for Orange County, California, in case you didn’t know. I think in the 90s there was a TV show called the O.C. so lots of people know it from that.
I am staying with my best friend Liz, who lives here in Laguna Beach. We went to school together and worked out this week that we have known each other for thirty years! Guess that’s why we can live together for a number of weeks and still get on.
Life here in late summer is starting to flown around me. Gone are the days of thinking, hmmm, I should be doing something! Getting into beach life is pretty easy. Especially when you take a look at some of the beach photos below.
The American drag show
One of the fun things I always do when here is indulge is some American drag. Which is quite different to UK drag. In the UK, most drag acts sing live. Here, noone does. Which actually I prefer. TBH lots of drag acts can’t sing that well, whereas as all the drag acts here mime, it means you get to see a wonderful performance, usually with some great dance moves and some spot-on lip-syncing.
I’ve made a video below of some of the great acts we’ve seen!
Quite the assault on the senses! Didn’t really know what to expect. Hotel we are in is really nice, 4*, but it was kinda of like staying in Ibiza! Huge pool parties, incessant music. But the other part of the hotel is really nice and sophisticated. Guess it is symbolic of Las Vegas generally, a contradiction.
We are staying in the older Downtown area, where Las Vegas grew up, and where the original casinos like the Golden Nugget are. It is next to the Fremont Street experience, a bizarre covered pedestrianised area where everywhere weirdo in Las Vegas seems to like to hangout! You can zipline down the street, have a photo taken with a Chippendale and walk around drinking copious magaritas!
The main ‘strip’ is more upmarket, if that’s possible! Again loads of people walking around drinking alcohol which is something I have never experienced before. The highlights for me are:
The Bellagio fountains – very impressive
The Weirdness of Fremont Street
The overwhelming neon
I would not rush back here but I am glad I ‘experienced’ it!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Beachlife. Spent today in a great hippy town called Encinitas. Lots of veggie restaurants, meditation and beautiful gardens. Ended the day back in Laguna Beach on my favourite beach, West Street Beach, with my favourite person, Liz 🙂
It was quite a momentous day for me to start my trip. Sunday 11 September. Not necessarily because it was the day I left the UK, but because it was the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.
At Heathrow, the news channel in the lounge was showing live coverage of families remembering their lost loved ones at Ground Zero. Whenever you think of that awful day, you can’t help but remember where you were when you first heard about what was happening. I went to Ground Zero in 2013 and it’s a very emotional and sombering experience. If you ever get the chance, I recommended you visit the site too.
In Heisler Park, in Laguna Beach, the community have created their own 9/11 memorial – two girders from one of the towers that fell, welded together. I visited the memorial yesterday and there was a simple tribute left there, with a simple but powerful message – ‘Never Forget’.
I have been to Laguna Beach many times in my life, and it feels like home from home. As you can see from the photos below, it’s a beautiful and quirky place!
Jetlag is a killer. A little tip though – melatonin. I don’t think you can buy it in the UK, but you can in the US, and it is a godsend! It helps you stay sleep when you body actually wants to wake you up at 4am!
I am still adjusting to life away from home, both physically and mentally. But as I sit here, looking out at the sun setting across the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, I am optimistic this is the beginning of a fantastic experience for me…