Travel - California Dreaming Part One

February 03, 2015

An exciting opportunity to go to California for So You're Getting Married in just a couple of weeks has made me think back to previous trips there. One particularly amazing one was back in 2012 with my family and Ben. We went on a road trip for two weeks, visiting San Francisco, Yosemite, Santa Barbara, Orange County and LA. I just love America so much and particularly the West Coast with the sunshine, food and lifestyle. Today is Part One with a focus on San Fran, Yosemite and Santa Barbara with Huntington Beach and LA up later this week. 

When I was at uni and my brother was at school doing exams, we'd always book our holidays for the 30th June, the last day before the prices go up for the summer. So off we flew, California was calling! 

We started in San Francisco, picking up our car from the airport and starting our road trip. 

It was our second time to San Fran and I've got to be honest, it's not my favourite place. It's a great base to start or finish a road trip up the coast and is fab for shopping, the trams, the steepest streets and Ghiardelli chocolate but both times we've been it's been super gloomy and the Golden Gate bridge was covered in fog. I think later in the year is a better time to go, in September it warms up so maybe we judged it a bit unfairly. 

After spending a couple of days in San Fran on our previous visit in 2008, we only booked one night in the city this time staying at a Radisson hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. Previously we stayed at the Argonaut Hotel which I'd recommend if you're planning a trip. We had an afternoon there to walk around before feeling super tired and jet lagged so we went straight into an In n Out Burger, before going to bed! 

When I first saw In n Out, years ago, I thought it was a cheap imitation of McDonalds with the same trademark red and yellow colours. It was only a couple of years later that I discovered the hype around In n Out and so on our next trip had to try it out. I love their burgers so so much. I don't eat chips, or should I say fries, but their burgers are delicious. Hard to compare to Five Guys or Shake Shack, why choose I guess! In n Out are big on the West Coast although Five Guys, traditionally on the East coast are catching up! Ben and I can't wait to be eating their cheeseburgers again in just a couple of weeks. When in America... 

Fuelled up on cheeseburgers and caught up on sleep, we all woke up early the next day ready for our drive to Yosemite national park. We drove past the golden gate bridge on our way out of the city, just to see if we'd have better views of this time. But nope still covered in fog! 

As I mentioned, the streets are really really steep so driving up and down them is an experience. At the top of one near Lombardi street, famous for it's steep bends, we got this view of the sun just peeking over the city. 

We said goodbye to San Fran and started properly on our road trip. I have so much love for these guys and my parents. And I love how we all get on so well together to still go on big family trips away. There was a lot of laughter on this trip and I've loved looking back on these photos and remembering some funny stories. 

All good American road trips should include a stop at a diner, Denny's was our favourite. Coffee, juice, eggs, pancakes, waffles, fruit or a mixture of all of the above. Food in America always seems ridiculously cheap compared to what we're used to in the South of England. 

It was about a four hour drive to Yosemite from San Fran, turning beautifully sunny as soon as we got out of the city. 

Blue skies and open roads, California is perfect for a fly-drive holiday. Petrol/Gas is also super cheap compared to the UK and car hire isn't expensive. 

We drove straight into the national park, accommodation is limited inside so we stayed just outside at Yosemite View Lodge for two nights. It was just two miles outside so really easy to drive in each day. You have to pay a small fee per car to enter the parks boundaries for the time you're visiting, I think it was about $20 which covers you for parking too.

I'd heard it was a really beautiful place to visit and an outstanding area of national beauty etc but I didn't really know much more about it before we went. But woweee was I in awe. Yosemite was designated a World Heritage Site and internationally recognised for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams and giant sequoia groves. Almost all of it has been designated and kept as wilderness and was central to the development of the national park idea. 

It really was spectacular and we spent a few days exploring the forests, valley floor, rivers and waterfalls. The start of July was a beautiful time to visit, it was really warm with the bluest of blue skies. It gets freezing cold and covered in snow in the winter, taking months to thaw out but summer and autumn are beautiful. 

The park is huge and you could never see all of it, we focused on the valley area which had a tour going around it and a few restaurants and stores in the middle of the valley where the hotels are. But as you walk out further there are countless trails for hiking and people climb up the mountains and walk for days. There are also places to explore slightly further out that you need a car for, we did the first couple of days within Yosemite's valley and then did some other highlights in the car on our way out.

You'll see these bear encounter signs all around the park, bears are common in Yosemite. I didn't know whether to be excited or super scared of meeting one. Lots of people camp in the park, can you imagine camping when there are bears around?? There are strict rules on keeping food sealed in lockers and even keeping things like shampoo bottles or picnic hampers out of sight in cars as bears have been known to rip into them looking, or smelling, food!

Despite there being a lot of bears around, it's rare to see one when exploring the park. We were lucky and saw one just off the side of the road though. It was called a yearling, a young black bear, with a brown coat at his age. No scary encounters thank goodness. 

Walking around is like being on a film set or something, it just doesn't look real. Amazing trees, mountains and blue skies as you look anywhere in the park. We walked up to a couple of water falls and got on the Valley Floor Tour and just generally wandered around in awe taking photos and soaking it all up. 

We booked in for breakfast at the Awahnee hotel one morning, a historic building and hotel in the park with a famous dining room. The breakfast was amazing, a huge buffet to set us for another day of exploring. 


On this day we went up to Tunnel View for one of the most famous views of Yosemite, you can see the mountains, El Capitan rising from the valley with Half Dome in the background. 

So so gorgeous. The Valley View was my favourite with the river in the foreground and crystal clear, but freezing cold, water running through. I'd love to visit in all seasons, I bet it looks amazing covered in snow or when the leaves start to turn in the Fall. 

We took some funny selfies with this sign, jumping up behind it and this civilised one, standing next to it. 

On our last day and before leaving to drive down the coast to Santa Barbara, we stopped at the Giant Sequoia forest at The Mariposa Grove. They are the largest living species on earth and over 3000 years old. We parked up and walked the trail to see some of the most famous trees, the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel tree. It was hard to get a perspective in photos of just how huge they were, you had to walk around with your neck just looking up at them. 

A really spectacular place but after a few days we were ready to get back on the road and hit the beach. 

It was about a six hour drive down the coast to Santa Barbara, the American Riveria of the West Coast. Palm tree lined beaches and a high end shopping town with Spanish inspired buildings and mountains behind, it was a gorgeous place to spend a couple of days. We were there for the Fourth of July so there were American flags and bunting up everywhere. There were some really good seafood restaurants on the pier and in the town and loads of shops. On our first afternoon we walked up to the main high street strip and started shopping straight away, coming out of American Eagle with too many bags for us all to carry. We'd been in America for nearly a week so couldn't wait to get some shopping under our belts before eating dinner on the pier as the sunset and then getting an early night, we'd driven so many miles that day. 

We stayed at The Hyatt Santa Barbara, about a fifteen minute walk to the main pier and town or you could get a shuttle bus. It was a lovely hotel, stylish rooms, a nice pool area and firepits for the evenings. 

Fourth of July was good fun, my Dad and I went running early along the beach and saw people setting up camp for the fireworks already! People marked out their areas with tape bringing huge tents and cool boxes for a whole day of bbqs and celebrations. We celebrated with pancakes in a cute diner for breakfast near the beach and then watched the town's annual parade and then watched fireworks and a live concert from the pier as it got dark. 

Part Two coming right up tomorrow with all my favourite bits, amazing sunsets, farmers markets, Malibu, Orange County, Crystal Cove and LA!
Have you been? Would you go?

R <3 xx 

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  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I'm off travelling around California in 6 weeks time and your post has definitely sparked my excitement.
    Love reading your blog!
    Love Jodie x

  2. Wow, what a trip! It seems that you’ve tried most of what California has to offer in one go. Anyway, that trip to Yosemite National Park must’ve been quite refreshing. I also like that view of the river, it just looks so tranquil out there. Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience with us. Cheers!

    Andrea Wilkins @ Getaway Outdoors


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