On 10th June Claire, Charlie and Oscar joined us for part of our USA road trip. They flew into San Francisco airport, where we met them. At the same time as they were flying in, we were swapping hire cars. Our big red car that had served us faithfully for five weeks and 5000 miles suddenly started complaining ‘Change engine oil soon’ – so we went to Budget at the airport and they gave us a new one, after some hassles and phone calls to Chicago. Interestingly, they gave us another identical car – just cleaner and with California plates. When we’d finished sorting this out, Claire and the boys had turned up, so we all set off together into San Francisco.
We had booked three nights in a motel in SF, and managed to explore the city fairly thoroughly in that time. A lot of that was done using an open-top tour bus, which showed us the highlights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park (with an excellent children’s playground and a carousel), Union Square and Chinatown. We also did an evening bus tour which took us across the Bay Bridge. Another highlight for the boys was a ride an a San Francisco cable car.
However, a lot of our time in SF was spent at Fisherman’s Wharf, the main tourist centre. We looked round the tacky gift shops, watched the sea lions slobbed out on floating decks, and visited the aquarium. This had colourful jellyfish and a walk-through transparent tunnel with sharks and rays, and the boys were fascinated.
From the wharf we also went on a boat trip out on the bay, through the Golden Gate, and back past Alcatraz. Despite our dire threats, we did not have to stop the boat and deposit the boys on the prison island.
Before we left San Francisco, we were pleased to be able to meet up with Ian’s cousin Pamela and her husband Irving, who live not far away. We had coffee together, and enjoyed chatting about our last visit to SF, back in 1993.
The Coast Road
From SF we headed south to LA, mainly along the scenic coast road State Highway 1. There are some really picturesque stretches of coast here.
Our first stop was at Monterey, where we explored another Fisherman’s Wharf. They have sea lions there as well, and we had a meal with a great view of their basking platform. We didn’t see any sea otters, which was a shame.
As a change from sea lions, the next day we stopped at a beach where there were dozens of elephant seals hauled out. Most were just slobbed out, and some were flicking sand over themselves. Many of the males were sparring together, rearing up and showing their teeth and roaring very loudly.
We spent the night at Pismo Beach, which was packed as they had a car show that weekend. It was interesting to see all the classic cars, and some quite weird ones, cruising the streets. Because of the car show, coupled with a graduation, most motels were full, but we managed to find an extremely nice (albeit expensive) two-room suite.
The next day we visited Santa Barbara, which has a pier and some beautiful architecture. We had intended to stay there, but due to university graduations, the town was full. So we pressed on, and had to go several miles down the coast (and pay well over the odds) before we could find accommodation.
The next stretch of coast passed through the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, which includes Malibu Beach. We found a beach nearby where Charlie and Oscar enjoyed themselves hugely playing at the edge of the sea and getting soaking wet. We stopped at Santa Monica itself, to visit the pier – once again it was crowded with people enjoying the sun.
We were fortunate to find a hotel in Anaheim which was just across the road from Disneyland, as close as it could be. We also discovered that since our last visit here (1993), they’ve added a whole new park, so now there’s original Disneyland and the new Disney California Adventure. The latter has themes based on more recent Disney/Pixar films, as well as some elements borrowed from other parks, such as MGM Studios in Florida. It also has more thrill rides than the traditional park. We decided to spend two days at Disney, rather than one, in order to explore both parks.
Although Charlie is an old Disney hand (this was his third Disney park in his short life), he was still amazed and thrilled by some of the rides, shows and parades, especially as he is very familiar with many of the characters. Oscar obviously had less idea about what was going on, but seemed to be taking it in and enjoying it.
We spent the first day (8am to midnight) in Disneyland, and the second day at California Adventure, until it closed at 10pm, when Sandie, Claire and Charlie went back to Disneyland for the last two hours. The weather was good – cloudy in the morning but then clearing to bright sunshine and warm temperatures. We went on as many rides as possible, including new rides featuring Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc and other recent cartoons. We saw the parades in both parks, though in both cases they seemed to suffer untypical glitches which made the parade stand still for long periods.
All in all, a great time was had by young and old and we were glad we had extended our planned visit to two days.
And then there were two…
Claire had booked standby tickets to fly home with the boys from Los Angeles airport with BA. There are three flights a day, so we all turned up for the first flight, to be told it was full. The same happened with the second flight, and we were becoming afraid it was going to be a replay of our experience in Cape Town. But luckily the three of them got on to the third flight, upgraded to premium economy, and had a smooth flight home. So then there were just two of us again, to continue for another week exploring California and Nevada.