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USA 2019: Day 18

Los Angeles, CA – Friday 25 October

Endeavour at the Science Center in LA

Today’s desitnation was the California Science Center, wherein lies the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I must admit I was expecting it to be a bit bigger in real life, but if you think about how they used to fly them around on top of a modified 747, it makes sense. It was also a bit tattier than I imagined it, but I suppose going to space and back 25 times is quite rough on the paintwork.

I enjoyed seeing it (and the rest of the exhibits), but a small part of me wonders whether spending $200 million to transport and exhibit it was the best possible use of the dosh.

USA 2019: Day 17

Los Angeles, CA – Thursday 24 October

HQ for the next five nights

I flew out of Vegas on Southwest Airlines this morning, back over to LA to spend an extra-long weekend. I’m pleased to say I made it out of Sin City without doing any gambling – given my ongoing battle to control my weight, I suspect mine is the sort of personality which would chase its losses if given the chance to.

Southwest could definitely teach most of the short haul carriers in Europe a thing or two – I arrived at McCarran International Airport with just under an hour to go before the flight, self-labelled and handed over my checked baggage on the sidewalk outside the terminal, breezed through security, and just had time to grab a sandwich before take off. We arrived early, and I only had to wait 90 seconds before the bags arrived on the carousel. I can’t ever remember flying around Europe going that smoothly.

So far, I’m pleased with the Aventura Hotel in LA – reasonably handy for all the places I want to visit, and almost brand new, which means clean, done up to a nice standard, and featuring a decent sized TV and USB charging sockets.

My planned five nights here is the longest in-one-place stay of the trip, and it’s nice to be somewhere long enough to make it worthwhile unpacking.

There’s also a KFC a couple of blocks over (well, I’m planning on visiting some famous but pricey Hollywood restaurants, so the daily average spend has to be dragged back down somehow…).

USA 2019: Day 16

The Grand Canyon, AZ – Wednesday 23 October

The main reason for flying over to Las Vegas for a couple of nights was to visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, both of which are possible to cover in one (long) day trip from LV.

I got picked up at 0545(!) from my hotel, then we drove out to the Grand Canyon – in the past 24 hours, adding Nevada and Arizona to the list has doubled the number of US states I’ve visited.

First stop was the Hoover Dam, which is, erm, big. I was surprised how little water there was in the lake, though.

Hoover Dam (intake towers on the right, dam in the middle)

It surprised me to learn that, in the land of pure capitalism, the dam was both built by the government, and remains owned and operated by the government to this day.

And then, a mere four hours’ drive further on (we had a good tour guide who kept us entertained on the bus though) – the Grand Canyon.

Pictures, especially those taken on a mobile phone by me, cannot convey the sheer size of this hole in the ground, but here’s the best one I managed:

The Grand Canyon, seen from the south rim near the village

All in all, a grand day out. (See what I did there?)

USA 2019: Day 15

Santa Monica, CA / Las Vegas, NV – Tuesday 22 October

Pacific Coast Highway, Day 4 – Santa Barbara to LA

Santa Monica

And so my PCH drive finished up on the beach in Santa Monica. The final stretch of the PCH didn’t measure up to Carmel->SLO, but it was mostly costal and mostly very pretty. Malibu is now a place to me, not just a name on a drinks bottle, and I’ve visited the Santa Monica Pier (and a pizza joint just behind it).

Since I’m dropping the rental car off at LAX anyway, I decided to fly over to Las Vegas for 48 hours before returning to spend time in LA. The 45 minutes it took for me to drive eight miles from the beach to the airport rather cemented in my mind the decision I’ve made to do without a car during my time in LA. Yes, the car is king here, but they have the bones of a light rail system – plus, factoring in the cost of parking, car rental and gas, I can afford a few Ubers and not have to worry about drinking beer with my lunch.

Incidentally, based on a sample of three, all bartenders in the USA think I’m under 21*, and only two thirds of them are willing to accept a UK driving licence as proof of age. If in doubt, carry your passport around (or take a break from the sauce).

I flew Southwest Airlines over to Vegas, and today finished up in my hotel (the Golden Nugget Casino) just after 10pm.

*The author was 31 years old in 2019, but will admit he looks quite boyish when clean-shaven.

USA 2019: Day 14

Santa Barbara, CA – Monday 21 October

Pacific Coast Highway, Day 3 – SLO to Santa Barbara

I’m definitely in southern California now – the weather is noticeably hotter and the sun brighter, so it’s sun cream and shades all the way.

Today’s chunk of the PCH was a little less on the costal or picturesque side, so I drove it a bit faster and with fewer stops, and spent more time in Santa Barbara. There’s a pier with ice cream, and it also sold me a few post cards.

View from the courtyard of my hotel, looking directly up

USA 2019: Day 13

San Luis Obispo, CA – Sunday 20 October

Pacific Coast Highway, Day 2 – Carmel to SLO

Today’s drive was the most stunning section of the PCH for me – the road was right next to the water most of the way down, and this section includes Big Sur (which is a river, not a mountain as I’d always vaguely assumed).

Big Sur

Being a Sunday, the journey was not without traffic (at one vista point, it seemed like every other car in California besides mine was a convertible Mustang) – but still good fun.

My hotel in SLO was somewhat out of town, and the combination of heat and long drive meant I was content to have a burrito next door and collapse into it rather than going exploring.

USA 2019: Day 12

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA – Saturday 19 October

Pacific Coast Highway, Day 1 – SF to Carmel

Rusty the dog

Once again, I left SF early to beat the traffic. The only downside to this was that it takes a surprising amount of the morning for the fog to burn off and the sun to hit the Pacific. Once it does, though, you start to see why people rave about the scenery on the PCH.

I’m driving rental car 2.0, a Chevrolet Impala – this is a bit bigger than the Nissan and has a beefier engine, which makes it take off much better from a standing start, and cruise more smoothly.

Today’s 123 mile drive ended in Carmel, which is a classy seaside town with lots of nice restaurants. I lingered sufficiently long in mine that I ended up driving in the USA in the dark for the first time, but I made it two miles back to my hotel without any problems. And Rusty the dog was waiting to say hello.

USA 2019: Day 11

Angel Island State Park, CA – Friday, 18 October

Oh, deer

Angel Island is, funnly enough, an island – in the middle of San Francisco Bay. You get there on a ferry, which gives you some nice views, and then you can walk round the perimiter (about five miles) and have lunch at the cafe.

Well, that’s what I did today, and it was good fun. There was a suggestion that the local wildlife had its eye on my lunch, but he didn’t act on his thoughts, and I made it back in time for an early dinner. Tomorrow sees the start of my drive down the PCH, which I plan to get an early start on so I can get out of SF before the traffic builds up.

Local wildlife after my lunch

USA 2019: Day 10

Living roof

San Francisco, CA – Thursday, 17 October

And so back to San Francisco. With Fleet Week over, hotel rooms are somewhat less overpriced (and fighter jets are no longer making a lot of noise overhead), and I’ve found a nice spot in downtown (the Hotel Fusion). They even have Magners in the bar, which is nice, as “hard cider” is relatively rare over here. I’ve been on beer for the past week (although not much of it, since I’ve been driving most days).

I spent today at the California Academy of Sciences, which is a fairly substantial natural history museum and includes an aquarium, some penguins, and a “living roof”.

As it turns out, the cost of parking in downtown SF is sufficiently tedious that I’ve returned my rental car early, and found a deal with Budget which means I (a) come out ahead on the money and (b) have something with a bigger engine lined up for my Pacific Coast Highway trip, starting Saturday. The lack of grunt in the Nissan was really starting to annoy me, and it will be fun to drive something actually made in the USA.

The back of my metaphorical napkin for the PCH trip reads as follows:

Leg 1 = SF to Carmel-by-the-Sea, 123 miles
Leg 2 = Carmel-by-the-Sea to SLO, 132 miles
Leg 3 = SLO to Santa Barbara, 115 miles
Leg 4 = Santa Barbara to LAX, 94 miles (stop in Malibu, Santa Monica)

I’ll blog on the places to stay if they’re good.

USA 2019: Day 9

Sonoma, CA – Wednesday 16 October

Drove down from Auburn to Sonoma today. According to the Lonely Planet guide to California, if you only have time to visit one of the two “wine country” valleys in this area (Napa and Sonoma), this is the one.

I attended a wine tasting and was sufficiently impressed to be talked into buying a couple of rather expensive bottles. Here’s hoping I get them back to the UK intact – they’ll need to wait for a special occasion, but I can see why this area is famed for producing some of the best wine in the world (and I certainly drove past enough vineyards this week).

I’m staying at the charmingly retro El Pueblo Inn, which is a motel, but very classy with a pool and some nice gardens in the middle. The packet loss on the WiFi (50%) is bad enough that you won’t see this post until a day later, but other than that it’s very decent (good breakfast, too).