Down on the West Coast • Part two
The first part of the trip was rather intense, moving from one place to another every day over large distances. The second part of the trip was more laid-back and we enjoyed Californian city life to the fullest. We went to Western USA during the second half of April and it turned out to be the perfect period for us. Not only because it is still the low season, meaning less people and lower accommodation prices, but also because the spring temperatures were a real delight, nor too warm, nor too cold.
Day 8 | Yosemite National Park, San Francisco
After breakfast at our Airbnb in Fresno, we hit the road towards Yosemite National Park, characterized by its pines, waterfalls and snowy mountain tops (approximately 2 hours drive). We first stopped at Tunnel view for a gorgeous panorama and then continued towards the visitor center area. The highlights we decided to go to were Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall and Mirror Lake (unfortunately the road to Glacier Point was closed at the time), using the shuttle buses in between. My only regrets are that we were there on a Saturday, meaning the park was crowded, and that we had to leave around 16:00 in order to arrive at San Francisco at a decent hour (4 hours drive). Once we arrived in San Francisco, we dropped our luggage at the beautiful Victorian house we were staying at and we went to Kitchen Story for a delicious, organic dinner.
Day 9 | San Francisco
We stayed in San Francisco for 3 days and we absolutely adored it! There is something about this city that made us feel really at ease. Is it the fact that it's so gay friendly? Or the fact that it's so beautiful, with its Victorian houses, countless hills and little streets? Or the fact that it has so much to offer, like great restaurants, parks and beaches?
On our first day, we explored the East of the city. We started by going to a real San Francisco institution named Mama's. Be warned, the place is so popular you have to queue for an hour or so before enjoying their delicious French toasts and Benedict eggs. After brunch, we went to the famous Lombard Street and to Pier 39 to see the sea lions. Later we climbed the Filbert Steps among hidden cottages and we stood at the Coit Tower. Finally, we went through Chinatown and discovered the Jack Kerouac Alley, named after the writer of the modern classic "On the road". Watch out, Chinatown gives you the real Chinese experience, meaning its poor, dirty and crowded, and the Jack Kerouac Alley has become homeless people central. In the evening, we went to an excellent Indian restaurant located near our Airbnb called Indian Oven.
Day 10 | San Francisco
On our second day, we explored the West of the city. We had pancakes, granola and banana bread at Park Chow, before heading to the Golden Gate Park. The park is huge and has many beautiful spots, such as the Rose garden, Stow Lake and the Botanical Garden. We spent the entire morning walking inside the park and then took the car to Outerlands for lunch. In the afternoon, we discovered the coast facing incredibly strong winds (the San Francisco weather can be unpredictable at times). We went to Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths Ruins and Baker Beach. That last top is the nicest one because it offers beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge. In the evening, we had customized burgers at Roam Burger and went to the movies at Sundance Kabuki. Fun fact: there is a balcony that is reserved for viewers above 21 on which you may drink alcohol during the movie. Also, they propose movie themed cocktails, so you might end up sipping a Baloo cocktail if for instance you go see The Jungle Book, as we did.
Day 11 | San Francisco
On our last day in San Francisco, we explored the central part of the city. We had trouble choosing what to have for breakfast at Sweet Maple and then headed to Alamo Square to admire the famous Victorian houses located there, also known as Painted ladies. We had a walk in Buena Vista Park for some panoramas over the city and then immersed ourselves in the gay area. It started at lunch when we went to Chow and continued all the way through the Castro neighborhood. Later we had a walk in the Noe Valley, where it's all about strollers instead of rainbow crosswalks. In the evening we had dinner at E&O Kitchen and Bar, a trendy restaurant that proposes excellent Asian-inspired dishes.
Day 12 | Pacific Coast Highway, Morro Bay
Time to hit the road again! We left San Francisco to reach Morro Bay along the Pacific Coast Highway (6 hours drive) and unfortunately encountered our first heavy rains. Therefore we weren't able to see Natural Bridges State Beach. However at noon we stopped at Carmel-by-the-Sea to have lunch at Katy's Place and we were delighted to see the sun again. We pursued our epic descent down on the West Coast and made several stops in the incredible Big Sur area. First Pfeiffer Beach, an isolated beach with big rocks and surprising purple sand. Then Partington Cove, a secret place where we were surrounded by nothing else but the wild sea. And finally McWay Falls, located in a magical bay with crystal clear water. Once we arrived in Morro Bay, we discovered our new Airbnb and had Mexican dinner at Mi Casa.
Day 13 | Pacific Coast Highway, Los Angeles
The next morning we had real, heavy American breakfast at Coffee Pot before driving further down South to eventually reach Los Angeles (4 hours drive). We did a first extensive stop at Santa Barbara, a coastal city characterized by its Spanish architecture. We had a walk on Stearns Wharf, the city's wooden pier, and we visited the County Courthouse, where you can climb up to the roof to overlook the area. For lunch, we headed to Mesa Verde, a vege/vegan heaven where the plates are equally beautiful and delicious. We passed through Malibu and stopped a little further to have a walk on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. With its surfers, skaters, junkies, etc the boardwalk can be described as an entertaining, urban, human zoo. Later on, we went to the famous Santa Monica Pier with its big wheel and other attractions. We had drinks on the roof terrace of Ristorante Al Mare from which we watched the sunset. For dinner, we went to Tender Greens, before driving to our last Airbnb located in West Hollywood.
Day 14 | Los Angeles
Los Angeles is gigantic so you need your car throughout the day. It has some legendary spots, but like any other big city, it also has random areas which are of no interest. What you won't find in other cities though is the very tangible presence of the movie industry and the many, many palm trees!
We started the day by having breakfast at The Griddle Cafe, a famous place in LA that's very crowded and where the plates are huge. I literally ate an eighth of my pile of pancakes. After that, we went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame that actually stretches over many streets (some of which are no so glamorous). We bought a Star Map on the street and headed to Beverly Hills. We had lunch at Urth Caffé, a place known for its drinks, and enjoyed the sun on their terrace. Later we channeled our inner Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive, admiring the many luxury boutiques, before taking the car through the streets of Beverly Hills, gazing at the huge homes of the "beautiful people". We had a treat at The Cheesecake Factory and then headed to the Griffith Observatory to watch the sunset over the Hollywood Sign (another epic moment). For dinner, we headed to Hugo's, where the atmosphere is intimate and the food is delectable.
Day 15 | Los Angeles
On our last day in Western USA, we had breakfast at the apartment (the doggie bag containing my pancakes from The Griddle Cafe) before randomly driving through Hollywood to discovering its hills, mansions and panoramas. We also drove to the Hollywood Resevoir for a privileged view on the Hollywood Sign. Before heading to the airport, we stopped at Los Angeles County Store for some local designed items to bring home as souvenirs and we did a quick jump at My Vegan located in front for some fresh smoothies.
Should you plan a similar trip and have complementary questions, don't hesitate to leave a comment below!