Tag Archives: California

It’s an American Thing

My favorite city in America is San Francisco with its Golden Gate Bridge. I can image myself living in one of the city’s terraces on a steep hill. A New York loft in Soho comes in a close second, just a short subway ride from Central Park.

And then there is Las Vegas, where you can see the whole world in one place, San Diego where you can see all the animals in the whole world in one place and Los Angeles where you can see all the stars in the whole world in one place.

One of my favorite trips in America was a Californian road trip along Route 66 and Big Sur- seeing the natural beauty of Joshua Tree National Park and the Grand Canyon plus the man made mansion Hearst Castle along the way. California just has so much to offer. There are ghost towns in the desert, seals on the coast and redwoods in Yosemite.

My bestie is from the tiny town of Stuart, Nebraska- a four-hour drive through cornfields from Omaha. I was lucky enough to be included in their annual 4th July celebrations and it was really something special to be welcomed as one of the family.

Of course, my love affair with American culture started early on with Snow White and a trip to Disneyland. I always wondered what it would be like to go to a real American high school like in Buffy, or a real American college like in Beverly Hills 90210 or go to a football game with real American cheerleaders like in Hellcats.

Anne Rice and Twilight peaked my interest in visiting the Deep South and Washington State. The Vampire Diaries and The Originals have made me want to visit Georgia and New Orleans. Gilmore Girls makes me want to go to New England and let’s not forget Sex and the City for New York inspiration, cosmopolitan style.

Which brings me to shopping of course. You can get anything you want at ridiculously low prices compared to Australia, which probably explains why most of us shop online these days.

There is the tasty simplicity of the classic American diner, the best Mexican food and margarita’s outside of Mexico and buffalo ribs smoked the right way. If you have room for desert, there is jello pie, smores and Twizzlers.

The country is so varied, that I can see why you may never want to leave. If you want mountains, you can go to Colorado, if you want water parks, you go to Florida, if you want a history lesson, you go to Washington DC.

I would love to visit a plantation in Louisiana, party for a night in Miami and drift up the coast of Oregon. It would be great to stay in a Boston brownstone, a Chicago skyscraper or a Hampton’s mansion.

The people are friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic about their country. Yes, America has a bit of something for everyone, and I guess that’s what makes the country so great in the first place.

Related posts: It’s a Canadian Thing, San Francisco, 2007- Part 1: Falling in love again, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road tip, 2007Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007New York, 2005, Part 2: Sex and the City Style, TV replays and movie marathons, USA, 1990

San Francisco, 2007, Part 2: This is not the end

The next day my husband-to-be (HTB) and I headed to Greenwich St with its rows of rounded houses and the Church of St Peter and Paul. I found my dream house and we got a great view of Coit tower from the top of Lombard St where you could really see the Z shape of the famous zigzag road.

From here we caught a cable car down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. I was excited to take a trip on such an iconic mode of transport and surprised to see the driver was in the centre of the carriage.

Fisherman’s Wharf had seal statues and dolphin topiary, so I knew straight away that it was my kind of place. We found an $8.98 store where my HTB cleaned up, buying jeans and t-shirts for only $8.98! All I found was a t-shirt by Sarah Jessica Parker. I didn’t even know she had a label, so I guess it never made it to Australian shores.

The number one thing my HTB wanted to do in San Francisco was go to Alcatraz. Another place I was not that keen on and wouldn’t have gone to if not for him, which actually turned out to be pretty damn interesting. Anyway, I am always up for a ferry trip, and the journey over affording views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland bridges did not disappoint.

We disembarked the ferry at Building 64 under the looming watchful eye of the guard tower. We passed the officer’s club, lighthouse and warden’s house before heading inside the prison and switching on our audio tour. We saw the shower room and a cell house. I could really imagine the sounds of city drifting over at night and it reminded me of Chateau d’ If in Marseille. How creepy it must have been to be a guard here cut off from the rest of the city.

The gun gallery was wisely close by to maximum security cell block D and we continued through the dining hall and kitchen to a cell block where a tunnel had been dug in an attempt to escape. We went inside the admin building where visitors signed in and ended the tour in the recreation yard where I took a great photo of my HTB posing as a prisoner.

Back on dry land, we took a local bus to Baker’s Beach for an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We were the only tourists on the beach and the bridge looked much clearer than the last time I was in San Francisco when it was obscured by fog.

Searching for the Alamo, we found the Panhandle instead and went into Golden Gate Park. I came to see lakes and real Bison so was happy when we found them. I liked the cute little Shakespeare’s garden that grows all the plants mentioned in his plays; and the gorgeous Japanese garden. I walked across a few stepping-stones, found a Buddha statue and stood at the top of Half-moon Bridge and took in the sight of waterfalls and bonsai trees.

Even though we had seen a lot, I knew that there was more of San Francisco that I wanted to explore and I hoped that I would be back in the wonderful city soon.

Related posts: San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again, USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007,  Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again

Being a fan of Party of Five and Charmed, I was in love with the city of San Francisco even before I revisited. I love the rows of terrace houses, the harbour that reminds me so much of Sydney and the hilly roads. Although, I’m sure if I lived here I would get sick of those hills after a while.

My husband-to-be (HTB) and I stayed in a small room in the Tenderloin district with an ethnic supermarket next door. I was a bit apprehensive about the area having just read a book about a prostitute that lived in the Tenderloin back in the days when it was a dangerous place to live. But that was years ago and it was a nice room, so I cast these fears aside.

We started our day with a walk up the Filbert steps on Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The walk up the long spiral staircase punctuated by murals made the climb interesting. From the top of the tower we could see all of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Oakland Bay Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Transamerica Building and Lombard Street. It was awesome.

Back down the hill, we went to Jackson Square with all its lovely old rounded buildings and colourful jazz murals. Murals was becoming a bit of a theme for the city! We found the foot of the Transamerica building, which turned out to be an office building.

Chinatown was pretty much like every other Chinatown all over the world- colourful with lion gates and the smell of incense in the air. I did get ripped off on the purchase of some postage stamps, which was new. Which just goes to show that no matter how much you travel, you can still become victim to a travel scam. I don’t think I ever sent postcards again after that.

The Macey’s in Union square was lit up and decorated with impressive Christmas decorations. Being the main square of San Francisco it was very busy with people rushing around running errands and shopping for Christmas presents. We found Lotta’s fountain nearby which was tinier than I expected and ran into a gay couple who gave us an Irish pub recommendation nearby.

The pub was packed, had good food, great beer and we met a guy who worked at Google. Gays and Google- you can’t get more San Fran than that!

Related posts: USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2

I’d only heard of the town of Barstow in a Sheryl Crow song, so was surprised to find that it was a town of bail bondsman and cheap motels. Even the local gas station attendant didn’t know where the centre of town was! I guess it was a song about Leaving Las Vegas; and Las Vegas it most definitely was not. We found a deserted cheap Mexican restaurant, had a huge burrito and retired early.

The next day, my husband-to-be (HTB) and I drove through the Napa Valley, clearly in the off season as none of the vineyards were open for business. We bunny hopped up Big Sur in a storm to avoid possible falling rocks and got the most crazy brooding photo of Point Sur.  I braved the weather to see a beach full of Elephant seals and stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Hearst Castle was my absolute favourite part of the road trip. We saw zebra’s grazing on our approach to the mansion, had a hot cup of seafood chowder and took the first timers tour out of the 6 different ones that are offered.

Starting at the gorgeous blue Neptune pool on the terrace, the guide took us to Casa del Mar guest house where I was quite taken with a painting of French princess. The Casa Grande (main house) was decorated for Christmas with a tree made entirely of red Poinsettia plants in the main hall. We continued on through the refectory, the dining room and the after dinner room. There was a private cinema and the indoor Roman pool which I wanted for my own.

Our stop that night was in Monterrey Bay where we saw sea lions and otters from the pier. It was a place I wished we had stayed longer on our trip.

We went to Santa Cruz, but it was the one week of the year that the boardwalk was closed. Instead we saw classic blue lifeguard towers, spotted fur seals and envied at the nice houses on Pacific Ave at Beach Hill. Dinner was at a restaurant on fisherman’s wharf from where we watched the sunset over Cowell beach.

Our last stop before hitting San Francisco was the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We went to Redwood circle, Old circle, Chimney tree and Redwood burl. The tall trees, like the father and mother of the forest, reminded me of Yosemite and the squirrels looked quite at home here.

Related posts: Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

USA Road trip, 2007

Who doesn’t love a road trip?

As my husband-to- be (HTB) and I rolled out of Anaheim in our hire car, we were about to embark on my favourite road trip to date.

We coasted along the Californian highway beside flat plains with white windmills surrounded by mountains.

Our aim for today was to visit Joshua Tree National Park. We stopped at a small information centre along the way to make sure we were going the right way. They were very friendly and helpful and we were able to find the entry gates to the park very easily after that.

At Key’s View it was actually snowing and we rugged up as we took in the sight of the Coachella Valley. We saw Pinto Mountain, Cap Rock and Skull Rock, which actually looked like a skull. There were also some very brave rock climbers in Hidden Valley.

There were many Joshua Trees of course and lots of varieties of cactus in the Cholla Cactus Garden, where we also spotted a coyote with her cubs.

Near sunset, we made it to Indian Cove and the fading light produced pretty colours on the surrounding rocks.

We stayed the night in a motel at Twenty Nine Palms. For dinner, we went to the local BBQ restaurant where I had the biggest jacket potato I have seen in my life and my HTB ordered half a rack of ribs which sure looked like half a cow. We couldn’t believe it when a man from a new army base came in and ordered two racks just for himself.

The next day we hit the famous Route 66 heading to Las Vegas. We were very excited to be on such an iconic road. This part was basically just two straight roads in the middle of nowhere with no petrol stations, so we were very surprised to see a man walking along the road with two shopping bags about halfway through the journey. Where did he shop when there were no shops to be seen? And where was he going?

We passed Bristol Dry Lake, Amboy Crater and crossed the Nevada Border.

Next stop Vegas Baby!

Related posts: Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

USA, 1990

All I remember about our family trip to Los Angeles, California in 1990 is Universal Studios and Disneyland.

At Universal, we got attacked by Jaws and King Kong and then caught in a flood. We were greeted personally by name by ETon a cutting edge computer bike ride; saw the Blues Brothers, animal actors and Harry and the Henderson’s shows and met KITT and the scientist from Back to the Future.

I relived my childhood on the Matterhorn bobsleds in Disneyland. We walked down Main Street, USA to Sleeping Beauty Castle and visited New Orleans Square. We rode the Mark Twain Riverboat, the cable car and went mad in It’s a Small World.

Only mum would brave a second day at Disneyland, while Dad opted to stay at the Thunderbird Motel. My favourite ride was the Splash Mountain log ride themed with Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. Even though it was new and had the biggest line, I went on it three times.

We left LA for Lake Henshaw and a drive through the Anza- Borrego Desert in our dark blue hire car. We visited the small town and church of Santa Ysabel and Julian with its weird pioneer museum featuring a stuffed raccoon.

In San Diego, we stayed with my parents friends Teri and Steve. They had two young boys who I enjoyed watching The Little Mermaid movie with and going to their favourite park on the harbour. It was the 75th Anniversary of San Diego Zoo when we visited and I remember the iconic flamingos at the entrance.

I loved Sea World San Diegowhere I petted a dolphin and saw the famous Shamu killer whale show. Mum pointed out the dolphin prams that they used for me last time I was there as a toddler and I got my photo taken with the Shamu in a costume.

Leaving San Diego, we drove through the Mojave desert to Yosemite National Park. I remember seeing Half Dome and driving right through the middle of a large redwood tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

We drove past mountains with white windmills, Mono Lake and stayed in a Tee Pee in the desert. I remember visiting the eerie Bodie ghost town where you could look inside the empty buildings.

Ending our road trip in San Francisco, my dad wanted to visit the hippy mecca Haight- Ashbury. I remember the pink Palace of Fine Arts theatre on a Lake. We caught a cable car up a steep hill, went to Golden Gate Park and visited Seal Rocks.

We flew home through Honolulu, Oahu in Hawaii where I got my picture taken with a macaw. Mum and I went shopping at the very cheap Waikiki, while my dad sat by the surfer statue on the beach. I remember going to the white Pearl Harbour Memorial and driving to Diamond Head. We went to Iolani Palace, Waimea Bay, Hanauma Bay and Pali lookout. We saw a hula dancer show and dad went windsurfing at Kailua.

Related posts: Travel rememberings, All Creatures Great and Small, TV Replays and Movie Marathons

Top 5 Wildlife to Spot in California

December 2007

1. Joshua Tree National Park

We have been driving through the park for an hour- a detour on the way to Las Vegas. I am on a mission to find the Cholla Cactus Garden, after my fill of knarled Joshua trees. It’s getting towards sunset- we may be running out of petrol soon. As we round a corner I spot something moving. “It’s a coyote!” I say. “No it’s not,” says Steve. But it is.

 

2. San Simeon

On a foggy day, we are headed for Hearst Castle. Randolph Hearst was a great lover of animals, just like me, and he once had a zoo there. I look out the passenger window and can’t believe my eyes. How can that be? Am I in Africa? Those black and white stripes cannot be mistaken. “It’s a zebra!” I say. “No it’s not,” says Steve. “YES it is,” I say.

 

3. Big Sur

On our way up Big Sur, the weather is quite bad. Steve wants to stop for a driving break, so we pull off the road. I stay in the car. Five minutes later, there is a knock on the window. “You have to come and see this,” says Steve. Below are an entire family of Elephant Seals on the beach- fighting, playing and dragging themselves around the sand.

 

4. Monterey

We stopped in Monterey for the night at a hotel on the edge of town. The hotel proprietor is a lover of animals, like myself, and promises that a trip to the harbour is a must so we head out along the wharf. “There’s one there!” I say. “No it’s not,” says Steve “YES it is,” I say. Seeing otters in the wild was a high light of this road trip for me.

 

5. San Francisco

We arrive at our final destination on the road trip. My favourite Californian city- San Francisco. We enter Golden Gate Park and head through the park on another one of my missions. The Bison Paddock is water logged but they are all there at the feeding pen. Real American Bison. Not roaming the plains like they once did, but there all the same.

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