The Road Trip Begins!

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We took the Amtrak train from Portland to Seattle which we found a great way to travel at $30 each, big comfy chairs, free wifi and best of all, gorgeous views out along the Pacific coast. The service was so impressive we even arrived in Seattle 20 minutes early! This bonus time was soon outweighed by having to wait 45 minutes for our bus out to the suburbs to our Airbnb for the next two nights. We’d hoped to get Servas hosts for Seattle and Vancouver but many people were away, already hosting or it was simply an inconvenient time. One of the challenges of travelling with Servas. However we struck gold with our back up of really cheap airbnb’s in both cities. Our Seattle host, Janina, went above and beyond, cooking us breakfast, giving us lifts across the city and lending us her discount card for attractions. At $45/night perhaps we were better off not having Servas here?!

Chihuly Garden and Glass
We only had one full day in the city but it left a positive impression on us.

Space needle - imagine what people thought of it in 1962?!

Space needle – imagine what people thought of it in 1962?!

We started out early at the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition in the Seattle centre (the former space for the 1962 World’s Fair) which Seattle has done a fantastic job of converting into a number of tourist attractions including Space Needle, the Experience Music Project museum, a family friendly science centre and art buffs delight – the Chihuly exhibition. The incredible display tells the story of local glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s life and shows a number of his works. They are massive pieces of blown glass, beautifully coloured and hung together to form big shapes reflecting the sea or flowers or abstract forms. Chihuly is also fascinated by glass/green houses and there is an amazing garden display outside, just below space needle which is absolutely gorgeous. It’s only a small exhibition and its not very backpacker budget friendly at $19/head but we were lucky to get some money off with Janina’s discount card! Despite the high cost I would definitely recommend a visit, something unusual and unlike any art display I’ve seen elsewhere.Seattle Mitch at Chihuly

Seattle food scene
Next up was the free walking tour where we learned about Seattle’s love for Happy Hours, the story of chief Seattle and of course, Starbucks. The tour conveniently finished at lunch time close to Pike Place market where we sampled some of the city’s best food offerings – a delicious salmon pate pastie from Piroshky Piroshky, definitely worth the wait in the short queue, and then a 4 dish sampler of different chowders from Pike Place Chowder.

Clam chowder sampler

Clam chowder sampler

Two of which were very tasty, the other two rather average so I would say not worth the much longer wait! When in Seattle we felt we had to go to Starbucks (the chain which had to close nearly all of its stores in Australia because the coffee isn’t up to Aussie standards!) and we thought we’d visited probably the highest Starbucks in the world on the 40th story of the Columbia Tower – coffee with a view and without the cost of going up Space Needle!

Enjoying an iced Starbucks coffee in its hometown

Enjoying an iced Starbucks coffee in its hometown

For an alternative view of the city we headed to Kerry Park (note, this isn’t really a park but a strip of grass) which nonetheless affords a fantastic view of the cityscape, harbour and islands. Definitely worth the climb! Getting weary we retired to REI, the outdoor shop every American had recommended for us to stock up on camping gear for the next stage of our trip (a 6 week road trip, primarily camping in National Parks making our way from west to east across the North American continent). After an hour of extensive research we were hungry again and so found a diner recommended by our tour guide. It was pretty dark and grungy but the burger was good and the Mac and cheese hearty and warming.

Seattle's grungy diner food, don't knock it til you've tried it!

Seattle’s grungy diner food, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!

The road trip begins
We left Seattle in Beatrice, an upgrade to a large Nissan Altima sedan and our stead for the next 6 weeks, as the wind and rain came in, and headed north for Vancouver. Our first stop was back at REI on the way out of the city to buy the camping gear we’d researched the day prior and then we were truly off with the Canadian Border in sight.

Crossing the border

Crossing the border

The border crossing was quick and fairly uneventful despite us carefully ensuring we had our ESTA’s, car rental agreement, dates for coming and going all sorted, the friendly immigration officer was only interested in our passports. That evening we got the Canada Line train (which by the way is an excellent form of public transport to get around) into the city to meet Gwyn, the cousin of some family friends, for dinner and to get the local’s lowdown on Vancouver. We had a lovely evening and I enjoyed sampling the strange Canadian drink of a Caesar. It’s pretty similar to a Bloody Mary except rather than tomato juice, they use clamato juice. That’s right, a mixture of tomato and clams! Sounds gross but actually there isn’t a strong fishy flavour and topped with a gherkin, it went down quite nicely. As so many people have been generous to us on our trip Gwyn was no different and as well as giving us some great local advice, treated us to dinner.

Finding family friends in Vancouver

Finding family friends in Vancouver

Chinatown
Despite the horrendous forecast for heavy rain the following day we woke up to a hint of blue sky and so headed back into the city for the free walking tour of Chinatown.

Entering Chinatown

Entering Chinatown

Unlike some of the other free walking tours we’ve done, Vancouver doesn’t run their general one everyday so we were doing a specific neighbourhood. I had no idea that Vancouver had such a high Chinese population of approximately 40%. Many of them came over in the gold rush and we heard stories of a fairly turbulent history with strict and harsh immigration policies. Chinatown itself was pretty quiet, not the bustling narrow streets you see in Sydney, perhaps because it was a Sunday? Anyhow, the deserted streets added to the sense of melancholy as we heard stories of how the Chinese were treated and we came away from the tour feeling somewhat despondent. However, worth a mention are the lovely Chinese gardens where the tour ended which are free and deserve a look if you’re in the area.

Chinese gardens

Chinese gardens

Stanley Park
Despite the grey clouds the forecast rain was still holding off so we caught a bus over to Stanley Park. The park is huge and offers plenty of recreational space with paths for walkers, cyclists, and even rollerblades around the perimeter with great views back to the city and across the harbour. There is also a wonderful display of totem poles in the middle of the park and we picked up our road trip mascot, Monty the Moose from a great little gift shop.

City view from Stanley Park

City view from Stanley Park

Totem poles, Stanley Park

Totem poles, Stanley Park

Roller blade lane! Stanley park

Roller blade lane! Stanley park

As luck would have it a friend from back in Canberra happened to be in Vancouver that night too so we arranged to meet Claire and her friend for dinner by the waterfront. Despite being far from the Berra we had a crazy Canberra moment when Claire’s friend turned out to be one of my water policy colleagues from DFAT! We enjoyed hearing tales of their 4 day kayak trip near Vancouver Island and their close up encounter with the orcas – something we’ll have to bookmark for next time!

Flexible plans and beautiful campsites
We left Vancouver early to make the most of ‘one of Canada’s most scenic road trips’ – the sea to sky way from Vancouver to Whistler. Unfortunately the bad weather had finally caught up with us and the low cloud and torrential rain prevented us from enjoying much of the scenery. We were glad to have invested in waterproof trousers and wellies which meant we still ventured out to visit BC’s third highest waterfall at Shannon Falls Provincial Park. We had planned to have our first night of camping in Whistler but after a break for coffee and salted caramel slice it was still pouring with rain at 4pm and the weather was supposedly better further east where we were headed the following day. Rather than chase the sun, we escaped the rain by pushing on and we’re so glad we did as we stumbled upon a beauty of a campsite at Marble Creek.

Mist rising off the lake, morning of our first camp

Mist rising off the lake, morning of our first camp

There were only pit toilets and picnic benches for facilities but that meant there were only about three other campers besides us and it was beautiful to camp right next to the river and lake. We went to sleep with the sound of coyotes howling and awoke to the beautiful sight of the mist rising off the lake. We were so happy we’d swapped rainy Whistler for this!
Lake Louise
By driving further on the rainy day it meant we had a shorter drive to Lake Louise the following day. Only about an hour into the scenic drive, twisting around a mountain pass, Mitch spotted a big moose ambling along in the field next to us!

Ok, so we weren't quick enough with the camera for the real deal..

Ok, so we weren’t quick enough with the camera for the real deal..

Monty wasn’t the only one in the car to get excited by our first Canadian animal sighting! We arrived late afternoon to Lake Louise campground in Banff National Park and joyed by the lack of rain we decided to stretch our legs with a walk around stunning Lake Moraine. The reflections in the turquoise waters of the surrounding mountains are just beautiful.

Lak Moraine

Lak Moraine

As we were there quite late in the day we missed most of the tourists and there were only a few other people on the trail walking their dogs. Now this is worth a mention. In both Canada and the U.S. it is allowed to bring your dogs, kept on leads, into the National parks! We love this! It would be so great if we could share the wonderful walks in Canberra’s surrounding parks with our dog, Skye. It was lovely to see people on camping holidays being able to bring their pets along the for the fun. We had a quick stop at Lake Louise which is also very pretty and looked longingly at the Fairmont Lodge right on its banks but at more than $500 a night for a room, it was back to the campsite for us backpackers!
The icefields parkway
Described by National Geographic as ‘one of the world’s most spectacular driving tours’ we were thinking that we were cursed to have bad weather for the second time in a few days for these scenic drives. However, knowing that we had a second shot at the drive on our way back from Jasper meant that we didn’t have to do everything on the first day. It turns out the wildlife don’t mind the rain and eagle-eyed Mitch was at it again, this time spotting a wolf on the road side just before it ran across a few metres ahead of us! It’s such a thrill to see wildlife in their natural setting. Moments we continued to experience over the succeeding days. Our first stop was about half way along at the Columbia Icefields where we did a loop walk up to the toe of impressive Athabasca Glacier. It started to snow a little which made it feel all the more atmospheric but the freezing temperatures meant we didn’t hang around! A bit further on we visited both the Sunwapta and Athabasca waterfalls. Both pretty and worth getting out to stretch the legs but with Niagra Falls on our itinerary we’re saving ourselves to be wowed there..
Mt Edith Cavell
Now, what is definitely worth a side trip is a drive up to Mt Edith Cavell which we were fortunate to take based on the fact that I’d seen a postcard of the view in the Icefields visitor centre, strangely it wasn’t mentioned in either our lonely planet guide or the icefields parkway leaflet. A short 1.5km return walk will take you along the ‘path of the glacier trail’ toward the great north face of Mt Edith Cavell and the most beautiful glacial lake. We arrived at the viewpoint just as a lump of ice came crashing down the mountainside into the lake. It is an absolutely beautiful spot and a must if driving the parkway.

Mt Edith Cavell, glacial lake, photo doesn't do it justice. One of the most beautiful views.

Mt Edith Cavell, glacial lake, photo doesn’t do it justice. One of the most beautiful views.

Our final destination was Whistler campsite just outside of Jasper but I’ll save Jasper for the next post. It deserves the spotlight all to itself..

San Francisco and Yosemite NP

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San Francisco – what a cool city! The home of the Giants (although much to Mitch’s disappointment the current baseball champs were playing away while we were there), the birthplace of the gay rights movement (think recent blockbuster, Milk) and best of all, a foodie’s paradise!
We were very fortunate to stay with the U.S. Servas national secretary, Mary Jane for 4 nights in her beautiful home at the top of a steep hill near the Mission District.

View from Coit's Tower of the city

View from Coit’s Tower of the city

With stunning views of the cityscape, the water and the bay bridge, breakfasts cooked for us and lunches packed each day, and motivating conversation about what our futures may hold we had another fantastic Servas experience.
After a bit of confusion with the car hire company Mary Jane (who’s 81 but looks in her mid 60s and took the crazy San Francisco traffic in her stride) picked us up and took us on a little driving tour of the UN plaza, past city hall, theatres, numerous murals painted on the sides of buildings and up to Fisherman’s Wharf where we visited the old cannery, now the Argonaut Hotel.

Exploring the awesome 'walk in' fountain at Levi Straus Plaza with our lovely host Mary Jane

Exploring the awesome ‘walk in’ fountain at Levi Straus Plaza with our lovely host Mary Jane

In San Francisco when someone takes over an old building they try to keep a sense of the history and so the hotel has beautiful wooden beams and old iron gates which were in use during its time as a cannery. There’s also a fantastic timeline exhibition just past the lobby explaining the history. Well worth a five minute look. We had a quick wander around the National Parks Info Centre next door which took you through an overview of San Francisco’s history going from a tiny 200 person village, to bustling sea port and then base for the gold miners. A great introduction to the city and all free!
We had dinner that night with some of Mary Jane’s friends and fellow Servas hosts, Marci and Susan and enjoyed some spirited conversation about American politics as we watched the Republican, or GoP (Grand old Party), presidential candidate debate. It was entertaining but also a little scary as none of them discussed any sensible, progressive policies and the likelihood is that one of these middle aged, white (all but one), conservatives will become the next president.

Alcatraz and Angel

Welcome to Alcatraz

Welcome to Alcatraz

The following day we went back in time to the 1960s with a boat trip out to infamous Alcatraz Island which kept some of America’s most notorious criminals, such as Al Capone, locked up and thwarted numerous escape attempts. If you want to visit Alcatraz in peak season be sure to book at least a month in advance, or if you miss out as we did, book the double pass to include a visit to Angel island in the afternoon.

Hearing from her inmates about life at Alcatraz

Hearing from her inmates about life at Alcatraz

The tours are very well run and include a free audioguide around the old prison with stories told by former inmates and prison officers.
Angel Island is much larger and there’s a great little guided tram ride around the island which is very informative and takes in some beautiful views back across the bay to the city. It’s a beautiful island and I’d like to go back to do some cycling or hiking around it.
As we were back in the city mid afternoon we decided to walk up to Coit’s tower which looked to be just across the road from the ferry terminal. In fact it was up several steep flights of stairs which got our hearts racing! There was a bit of queue for the lift to the top but it’s set up so you queue around the base which is painted with about five incredible murals detailing San Francisco’s past. Even if you don’t fancy heading up, Coit’s tower it’s worth a visit to look at these alone. However, I would recommend spending the few dollars to go up to the top on a clear day to take in the fantastic panoramic view of the city.

Cable cars being turned around

Cable cars being turned around

Next up we found our way to the beginning of the Powell & Mason cable car where the workers spin the cars around manually on a turntable and excited tourists queue for about an hour to ride the iconic cable car up and down San Francisco’s famous hilly roads. It’s a bit pricey at $7/person but it was fun to sit up the front, holding on to a pole while leaning out and watching the driver operate the cables.SF - Jen and cable car

San Fran for Foodie’s
The following day was set aside for all things food. We started out with the Saturday organic farmers market at the Ferry Building, great for sampling the fresh seasonal fruits, I loved the ‘plucots’, a cross between plums and apricots, although definitely not suited to a backpackers budget.

Colourful displays at the ferry building markets

Colourful displays at the ferry building markets

You’re better to head to the people’s market to stock up on seasonal fare if you’re watching your pennies! For lunch we caught the BART out to Berkley and killed some time wandering through the lovely green campus before making our way to Alice Waters restaurant, Chez Pannise. The restaurant opened in the 60s and was one of the first to embrace using local, organic ingredients. I’d read all about it in American food critic’s Ruth Reichl’s books and so was very excited to treat ourselves to lunch in the more affordable cafe upstairs. Lunch was great, everything was healthy, tasty and fresh however I think my expectations were a little high as I wasn’t totally blown away. The star dish for me was the roasted squid with mixed bean salad while Mitch enjoyed the quail.

Lunch at chez Panisse - squid? Don't mind if I do..

Lunch at chez Panisse – squid? Don’t mind if I do..

We walked off the food that afternoon around the enormous Golden Gate Park which had some lovely gardens but is also a gathering place for much of the city’s homeless which was a bit confronting. There are various galleries and museums you can visit in the park as well as doing a Segway tour but we decided to save that for next time and were content to snooze in the sunshine.

Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge emerging from the fog

Golden Gate Bridge emerging from the fog

We were up early again on Sunday to hire some bikes from the ‘Basically free bike rental company.’ For $32/person day hire you get an excellent Cannondale bike (I’m thinking of upgrading when back in Aus!), lock and helmet and you can visit their sports warehouse enroute and get the value of your hire back to spend in store, hence ‘basically free.’ It’s a great deal for backpackers on a budget and the shop is huge. We ‘bought’ a little camp stove which we’ll need for later in our trip. The cycle route itself from Fisherman’s wharf, out across the bridge and around the coast to Sausilito is easy to follow with only a few hills and fantastic views throughout. It’s especially easy to follow in peak season as all of the other tourists are going the same way! We took our time and loved cycling across the long bridge, the tops of which had just emerged from the morning fog typical of the Bay. I recommend buying your ferry ticket and getting your loading token before exploring Sausalito as the queues get long in the afternoon. In fact, if I was to do it again I’d consider doing the loop in reverse as there were very few people getting off the ferry coming from San Fran with bikes as coming from Sausalito, it was pretty chaotic!
On the way back to Mary Jane’s we stopped off to sample Smitten Ice cream’s made to order organic ice cream.. I had sweetcorn and berries while Mitch enjoyed the pretzel, cookies and cream. Both were delicious and unbelievably creamy.

Yosemite
We decided to book a guided tour with Incredible Adventures rather than visiting Yosemite independently as I was put off by the advice I’d read online by having to bear proof all of your food, the cost of accommodation and our lack of camping gear.

First stop for view out across yosemite

First stop for view out across yosemite

It was a great decision as we could relax and enjoy everything the park had to offer without worrying about driving and finding our way around. We were a fairly small group of 13 from Australia, France, Japan and the Phillipines. The journey out to the park is about a 3.5 hour drive from SF which was broken up by a visit to a farmers market, a stop to swim at a gorgeous natural lake and waterfall and a short walk through a redwood forest to view some Giant Sequoia trees. The trees were beautiful and indeed, enormous, however it was a really busy touristy spot and we were a little underwhelmed compared to our visit to similarly ancient trees in Strahan, Tasmania a few years ago. The campsite was just outside the park in the valley where it was verrrry hot. It was a great spot though, just across the road from a river with a little beach which was the perfect way to cool off at the end of a day of hiking.

Loving life at yosemite

Loving life at yosemite

View of May Lake from Mount Hoffman, Yosemite

View of May Lake from Mount Hoffman, Yosemite

We did a number of wonderful hikes taking in the incredible scenery of the sheer granite rock faces, spotting chipmunks but unfortunately not sighting any bears.

Distant view of slack line from Taft Point

Distant view of slack line from Taft Point

I loved the views from Taft Point with the vertigo inducing drops from the high cliffs, left in their natural state with no railings or barriers. Some brave (read mental) slack liners had set up across a 2000 foot drop and we were lucky to be there in time to watch one guy venture across.

Slack lining at Taft Point

Slack lining at Taft Point

The whole group pitched in to cook breakfast (breakfast sandwiches – scrambled eggs and sausage in a bagel) and dinner (chicken, avocado and salsa tacos) followed by s’mores around the campfire. One of the Aussie girls in our group broke our guides group record of eating 5 s’mores in one sitting. They are incredibly sweet and she was looking a little worse for wear after number 5!
Visiting Yosemite put us way over budget however it was completely worth it. If you’re visiting San Francisco it is a must do however I would say you should allow a few days to visit. Some tours do a day trip but at such a long drive out it would be exhausting and I doubt you’d visit much beyond the valley. The high country is where the best hiking, views and cooler weather is at. It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to, perhaps at a different time of year to see the Autumn colours or in winter to see the rocks covered in snow.
I’d also like to return to San Francisco to visit the Sonoma wineries which we didn’t have time for and to visit more of the restaurants which we swapped on this visit for Mary Jane’s excellent home cooking!

Another amazing dinner with Servas host Mary Jane

Another amazing dinner with Servas host Mary Jane

Califooorniaaa

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Another city, another amazing Servas host! After a 12 hour flight with Aeroflot from Moscow (which was fine: $500 cheaper than the next competitor, below average airline food but comfortable enough with plenty of movies to choose from) and a 2 hour queue for immigration we were delighted to be picked up by our host, Dennis. To help us stay awake he took us on a little tour of the quaint Venice canals, pointed out huge murals on the sides of buildings and went for a stroll along Venice Beach. After a long flight it was great to be outdoors and breathe in the smell of the ocean and.. something else. There were waves of cannabis, legal in California for medical purposes, and from some beach front stores for $40 you can purchase a doctor’s note to buy it if you have ‘anxiety’ or ‘sleeping problems’, hence why it was so popular! We also visited Muscle beach where Arnie used to work out and enjoyed cheering on some folks who had drawn a crowd with their impressive work out on the rings. Most importantly we found an ice cream shop selling delicious butter pecan flavour.

Epic taco salad for dinner on first night in LA

Epic taco salad for dinner on first night in LA

After a quick pitt stop at Dennis’s place we headed out to join some friends of his at a Mexican restaurant down the road. We made the mistake of ordering a dish each (at $7 it hardly broke the bank) a taco salad and meat plate. I had forgotten about the gargantuan American portions and could barely eat half of the delicious salad which was served in a big crispy taco basket with a layer of black beans on the bottom, melted cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, salsa, sour cream.. Yum!

The following day we set out early to spend the day at Universal Studios. Dennis kindly dropped us off at the metro station and for $1.75 each we spent an hour getting across town to Universal City where we met up with an Edinburgh uni friend, Lyndsay.

Universal Studios - water world special effects

Universal Studios – water world special effects

We enjoyed the 3D simulator rides such as the Minions and the Transformers, were impressed with the effects at the Water Show World, loved the Studio Tour with the King Kong versus dinosaur 3D simulator and enjoyed a Duff beer alla The Simpsons. However we were slightly underwhelmed by the animal actors and special effects shows which talked more about what could happen rather than wowing us with demonstrations.

The Getty
The following day Dennis kindly dropped us and our bags off early at The Getty museum, an amazing art gallery displaying oil magnate, Paul Getty’s private collection which incredibly is free! The building was designed by architect Richard Meier to blend in with the surrounding mountains. The free architecture and gardens tours were excellent, the docents are extremely knowledgeable and passionate. Interestingly, the gardens were designed by a different artist and represent a living, moving sculpture.

The Getty

The Getty

They’re really beautiful and worth a visit in themselves with a tranquil stream flowing through the middle. We didn’t have a lot of time to explore all of the art work but enjoyed two temporary exhibitions, one of Greek antiquity sculptures and Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography. The latter displayed works from seven different artists who have explored alternative approaches to photography. My favourite was Matthew Brandt who took photos of three different lakes, developed them and then submerged the prints in a water sample from each of the lakes. The different minerals and chemicals from the water affected the photo so the landscape influenced the final artwork. Cool stuff!

View over the cactus garden to LA from the Getty

View over the cactus garden to LA from the Getty

Emily & Jeff’s Wedding
Lyndsay generously offered us a lift out to Thousand Oaks where we were headed for another old university friend’s wedding. Thousand Oaks is a strange town which seems to be somewhat in the middle of nowhere and feels a bit artificial. It’s also a place to have a car as pavements are somewhat sporadically placed! We were pleased to be treating ourselves to two nights at the Hyatt where most of the wedding guests were staying and loved relaxing by the hotel pool. It was a little odd that the room didn’t come with many amenities however you could order from a list of luxury items (such as a fridge!) to be delivered to your room. It was fun getting to know some of the other wedding guests at drinks the night before and great to enjoy some American tucker at the local pub – mac and cheese with chorizo topped with salt and vinegar crisps!

Iconic American school bus transports guests to the wedding!

Iconic American school bus transports guests to the wedding!

The wedding itself was beautiful, set in a stunning walnut grove and decked out with white chairs, decorations and fairy lights. The bride and groom smiled their whole way through the evening and we had a lot of fun celebrating their marriage. We loved the buffet dinner with the Yukon mashed potatoes, the best I’ve had in my life! The wine mixing ceremony led to a wonderful combination of a South African Pinotage and Californian Pinot noir. There were also a lot of fun extras including a silent disco, croquet and DIY s’mores around the campfire. S’mores are made by toasting a marshmallow over the fire until golden on the outside and gooey in the middle and then sandwiching it between two biscuits and a few squares of chocolate which are melted by the hot marshmallow. Decidedly sticky and ridiculously delicious!

Enjoy cocktails with the bride - Foodies reunited!

Enjoy cocktails with the bride – Foodies reunited!

Driving Highway 1 – Santa Barbara
We picked up our not so sexy sedan hire car in Thousand Oaks and Mitch handled driving on the right (read wrong) side of the road like a pro. We found our next Servas hosts in the pretty Spanish inspired town of Santa Barbara. Darrell and Carol have a gorgeous house set up on the hill overlooking town.

Dinner with SERVAS host Darrell, Santa Barbara

Dinner with SERVAS host Darrell, Santa Barbara

We boosted our vegetable intake with a delicious stir fry for dinner with a tasty bottle of red that Darrell had just brought back from Mexico. They were a lovely couple, really interested in us and the purpose of our trip. They also shared some of their travel experiences in Israel and Spain and gave us some great suggestions for the rest of our road trip. Carol grew up in Brooklyn and returned to her roots serving up a tasty Jewish Babka (chocolate cake/bread) for dessert.
We were up early the next day for a hike around the surrounding mountain trails with Darrell before it got too hot. There was a little sea fog so we didn’t see out as far as the Channel Islands but got great views across town and to the sea. We spent the rest of the day exploring Santa Barbara by foot.

 Santa Barbara old Mission

Santa Barbara old Mission

We started with the old Spanish Mission which is very pretty and the blooming rose garden provided the perfect spot for our picnic lunch. We continued on to Karpeles Manuscript Library and Museum which we were the only people visiting and received great explanations of some the pieces from the lady on the front desk and enjoyed looking at exhibits such as the first computer in space, old peace treaties, and the first camera. It was a really interesting and diverse collection and worth popping in for twenty minutes or so. The courthouse is a beautiful building from the inside and out. The mural on the second floor is wonderfully colourful and you get great views from the top of the tower. We didn’t spend much time at the art and craft market along the harbour front as we were getting a bit hot but liked watching the stand up paddle boarders and other water sports from the pier. There’s a great shuttle service which for 50c takes you back up the hill which we happily took advantage of. Back at Carol and Darrel’s we cooled off in their pool before heading out to a Mexican place for dinner where a highlight was the horchata, a rice milk drink which was a bit like an iced chai latte.

Driving Highway 1 – Santa Barbara to Morro Bay
Our first stop was only about 10 minutes out of town up a big winding hill to find a cave containing American Indian paintings.

Native American Chumash cave paintings

Native American Chumash cave paintings

The cave was small but it was really interesting to compare the paintings with Aboriginal paintings. It was thanks to Carol and Darrel’s local knowledge that we found this old cultural gem which was unmentioned in our guide book.
We drove on through Solvang, an old Dutch influenced town which seemed very touristy and not much else so we kept on, stopping occasionally at vista points to take in the vast mountain views.

Clam chowder at Pismo Beach

Clam chowder at Pismo Beach

We enjoyed walking along Pismo Beach and, a little windswept, found our way to Splash cafe to try their infamous clam chowder for lunch. It comes served in a large scooped out bread roll with the top alongside for dipping. It was delicious, creamy and full of plenty of clams! We were full so had to get take away cinnamon rolls from the Great West Cinnamon Bun bakery – the one topped with cream cheese icing was ‘to die for.’

Cinnamon rolls - the one with cream cheese topping was delish

Cinnamon rolls – the one with cream cheese topping was delish

We followed Darrell’s advice again and treated ourselves to a hot springs mineral spa at Avilla Beach hidden up in the trees. It was wonderfully relaxing and we had beautifully soft skin afterwards. That evening we walked along the beach at Morro bay and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean whilst admiring the giant rock jutting out of the sea. The perfect end to day 2 on the road.

Morro Bay at sunset

Morro Bay at sunset

Driving Highway 1 – Morro Bay to Monterey
After another Mexican meal of huevos rancheros for breakfast we were set for a big day on the Big Sur. Our first stop was one of our favourites on the route, admiring the enormous elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.

Elephant seals

Elephant seals

Due to the time of year we only saw the males as the females were out at sea apparently fishing for squid. We observed a few of the males practising some sparring techniques and heard from the ranger about their lifestyle breeding patterns. They really were incredible to watch and amazing to see such enormous creatures up close.

Elephant seals sparring

Elephant seals sparring

A little further up the road we stopped at Julia Pfeiffer State Park to find the McWay Falls where a waterfall tumbles off the cliff straight onto the beach.

Big Sur - McWay Falls

Big Sur – McWay Falls

It was really very pretty but given the long line for the car park, we think it might have been a little overhyped.. Similarly our Lonely Planet advised a stop to check out a cove about a mile’s walk down a steep path to a rocky beach. Again, very pretty but perhaps not worth the detour. Simply driving along the Big Sur (a long stretch of coastline rather than a particular place or beach) and taking in the impressive cliff tops and views out over the ocean are what makes this drive special. I couldn’t help but compare it to Australia’s Great Ocean Road which I’d driven with my Dad back in March. Both provide stunning scenery, wonderful view points, winding roads and unfortunately, lots of other tourists!

Bixby Creek Bridge - Big Sur

Bixby Creek Bridge – Big Sur

Things were looking up as we neared Monterey and decided to stop at Point Lobos State Park. The car parks were rather full but we secured a spot near the seal look out and sat on the rocks being greatly entertained by two gorgeous sea otters. We went for a stroll up around the look out and heard the sea lions barking at each other before we saw them. Not as up close and personal as the elephant seals we’d seen earlier in the day but on our way back a deer and fawn crossed right in front of us!
That evening we joined our next Servas hosts, Phillip and Heidi for drinks at their local with a few of their friendly colleagues. I enjoyed sampling a local Monterey white wine and then meeting the rest of the family including Ginger their wonderful Labrador-pitbull cross.
The next day we visited the Monetery Bay Aquarium, dodging the $40/person entrance fee as Heidi and Phillip were members! It was a little smaller than I expected however as a research and conservation organisation they had some excellent talks and feeding presentations.

Point Lobos state park

Point Lobos state park

We spent the afternoon back out at Point Lobos on a hike around the coastline where we saw more sea otters, birds, seals and deer. It was definitely my favourite State Park of those we visited and worth the $2 to get a map of the hiking trails.
We cooked Thai green chicken curry for the family that night followed by cranachan which all went down a treat. It was interesting to talk to Heidi and Phillip about their work and I was particularly interested in Phillip’s mediation technique – the game of 3 Rules.

Monterey was our last stop before dropping the car off in San Francisco. It was great to have a sense of independence which came with having our own car (even though it wasn’t a convertible mustang!), take in the rugged coastal beauty and see so much wildlife in their natural habitat. Highway 1 – a must do for road trippers but try and avoid going during school holidays!