Leaving the Big Sur bought a huge change in scenery. The further south we traveled, the less open space and more built up area there was, the more accessible but less picturesque the beaches were, and the less winding and wider the roads became. That’s not to say that the places we visited weren’t beautiful, some of the areas, cities included, were stunning, they were just different.
The first town we thought warranted a stop off was Morro Bay, and, although we only stayed here long enough to have a mooch around the harbor and Morro Bay Rock we still managed to find more sea otters and kite surfers – winning!
Next was Pismo Beach with it’s wonderful Cinnamon Bun store and equally as wonderful beach side campsite. With nothing but sand dunes separating us, Winnie and the sea we spent our time wandering the beach and nothing much else- lush.
Further South of Pismo is the only place on the West Coast that allows people to drive their cars on the beach, mini-campers included. So, seduced by the novelty, we took Winnie for a trip on the beach. She even dipped her wheels in the sea briefly! After driving about two miles one way we picked a secluded spot and made dinner with our toes in the sand (a great dinner despite the minor set back of setting light to one of our gas canisters- opps!). With full belly’s we got cosy in the back of Winnie to enjoy a rather gorgeous sunset. A great end to the day.
Before hitting Santa Barbara, our first major city since San Fran, we decided to spend one more day with nothing but beach to amuse us. We parked up at El Capitan Campsite, which is set on a bluff with brilliant views of the sea and has a beautiful beach where we took a stroll.
Santa Barbara is a pristine, Spanish influenced beach town with a lot of wealth. We spent our day exploring the beautiful Spanish, colonial style buildings like the Court House, El Presidio Fort, The Mission and La Arcadia where we had a fab lunch. These buildings, kept in immaculate condition, are enough to convince anyone they had traveled to Spain with out realizing it. We worked off our lunch with a wander down the pier (Sterns Wharf) watching the fisherman (and pelicans) hard at work trying to land the catch of the day. Finally we took a drive around Hope Ranch, a highly sought after area in the real estate world due to its huge and some what audacious mansions.
We rested from our long day of sight seeing at Carpentaria Campsite, where again, the only thing separating the sea and us was the sand dunes. Despite being a little to close for comfort to our campsite neighbors we stayed here two nights as the beach access was unbeatable. We spent our days sunbathing, playing bat and ball and chilling on our own little area of beach behind the sand dunes. In the evenings we settled in to a bottle of rum and coke and kept warm by the campfire, which was built into the sand.
Just when we thought we couldn’t find a campsite any closer to the sea we rocked up at Thronhill Broome in Malibu. Set right along the 101 this campsite is far from perfect but it does have insane beach access, with picnic tables and fire rings in the sand and no sand dunes in the way of the brilliant view it was wonderful. That evening we decided to break our routine (and dictated gender norms), so while I made my first fire, Mike cooked dinner. Turns out I’m a dab hand at the fire building and Mike is by far the better chef so all was good. We spent the rest of our evening with drinks in hand, watching the sun slowly fall.
Our second night in Malibu was spent at Malibu Creek State Park, a beautiful area in the Santa Monica Mountains where TV shows and movies such as MA.S.H. were filmed. While there we decided to explore the area. We were sent on a short walk to some ‘rock pools’ but given how dry the area was we weren’t expecting to find much. We were wrong. We stumbled across an oasis, with water just screaming out at us to dive in, and surrounding cliffs just shouting out at us to jump off. There was just one problem; not expecting a swimming opportunity we had come with out swimmers, underwear would have to do. It was lush. I went for a swim while Mike went for the more daring option of jumping of the surrounding rock formations. We then took a rather soggy walk back to our camp.
Malibu itself did not offer much to talk about. With no real central hub it mainly consists of very expensive houses wedged between the traffic jammed highway 101 and the sea. We did visit a swanky shopping area but with no money to spend this characterless complex didn’t offer much. However Malibu does have one redeeming feature; its beaches! With the famous Zuma beach stretching for miles and Malibu Lagoon State Beach attracting hundreds of surfers with its perfect point break we spent most of our time with the sand between our toes.
We spent our first day in LA playing the tourist. First we explored the beaches; we strolled from Santa Monica beach to Venice beach taking in the sites as we went. Santa Monica is LA’s old Muscle beach; in fact it still has the beach gym equipment to prove it. To us it seemed like a massive playground, with ropes to climb, monkey bars to swing on and bars to hang from, although climbing the 10m fireman’s pole did leave a bit of an ache I have to admit.
Walking to Venice Beach provided some of the best people watching we have had so far. This stretch of beach is renowned for its eccentric characters. From Barbie’s on roller blades, steroid filled gym monkeys and dogs dressed as bikers to ‘Green Doctors’ offering ‘legal’ marijuana and market sellers sleeping in cardboard boxes we saw it all. It is also home to the new Muscle Beach and you can see why they moved it here. As well as having the same beach equipment as Santa Monica they also have a membership only outside gym and a stage for bodybuilding events, one of which was in full swing when we arrived. We took a pew in the staggered seating area and watched as men popped blood vessels trying to lift enormous weights- mad!
We then hit up a Mexican hole in the wall for take out tortas (soft tacos) to eat while we watched the boarders at the skate park (also on the beach). The tortas were bloody delicious and the entertainment was fab too. We then decided to head back but not before getting an ice cream cookie sandwich for the walk back- yum.
Our next tourist destination was Rodeo Drive but we didn’t stay long. With the pavements lined with every thinkable designer store and the streets lined with the best sports cars on the market (including a Bugatti Veyron) we didn’t exactly feel like we belonged. Instead of staying there to shop we went for a drive to find some people that would fit in perfectly there. In possibly the most touristy hours of our whole trip, we bought a Hollywood Map of the Stars and went for a celebrity house perve. We saw the Playboy Mansion, Posh and Beck’s digs and Tom Cruise’s pad amongst others. Well we saw their gates anyway; as you would imagine their houses sit securely behind huge gates making it hard to peer into their houses- spoil sports.
We ended the day with a trip to the movies. But not just any movies, we headed to Hollywood Boulevard, home to some of the most famous cinemas in the world. The street itself is almost as entertaining as the films its cinemas show. Lined with pink stars showcasing the names of Hollywood big times and numerous film characters taking pictures with tourist for tips it really was fun to wander. We crossed the street with Jack Sparrow, The Joker and his girlfriend and had Mexican fast-food with a man dressed as a walking glitter ball- crazy. For afters we hit up Beards Papa for a scrummy cream puff and our new favorite, Ghiradeli, for a milkshake. Our next stop was El Capitan (a beautiful theatre that regularly holds Disney Film Premiers) to see Million Dollar Arm, a great feel good film. But that wasn’t enough for us. We couldn’t resist a stop off at one of the most famous cinemas in the world, the Chinese Theatre. With the outside surrounded by the hands and footprints of famous film stars this cinema is steeped in history. In stark contrast it now has one of the most modern, technically advanced 3D screens in the world. They were showing Godzilla, and, as terrible as the film was, it did have some epic graphics, which made for some great watching on such a huge screen. We crashed for the night in a KOA RV park- grand.
Wanting some sun we spent the next day at Griffith Park. First we went to the observatory to get a good look at the Hollywood sign. Well we got a look at it anyway; the thick smog created by the cities endlessly congested roads makes for a less then ideal view. Next we visited the eerie abandoned zoo they have in the park. With the cages now decorated in colorful graffiti this made for some great photo ops. Finally we went to The Grove’s farmers market for some supper. Its endless stands of freshly made food made our decision quite hard but we settled on some amazing Singapore goodies and for dessert a nutella crepe and a trip to the cheese cake factory for Mike- delish! We ate our puds at the lush outdoor space where the shopping mall provided blankets and entertainment. It was a great end to our day so we decided to get an early night ready for the epic day ahead.
So we had booked universal a while in advance, and it was only closer to the time that we realized we had booked it for memorial weekend! This turned our excitement for a fun kids day out into utter dread, worrying about the huge crowds and long waiting lines. We were so worried about it ruining our day that we purchased queue jump tickets in the hope that we would then have time to get on more than two rides. They worked a charm. We got to Universal silly early, and were the third group inline when the park opened. We then got to take advantage of the park being deserted, and went on the newly opened Despicable Me ride (it was set to be the busiest ride of the day). It was brilliant.
Next we hit up the studio tour, which was still queue free at this point. The tour takes you around the sets actually used in Hollywood movies and TV shows and tells you the history behind each one, demonstrating the special effects as you go. It also includes the amazing 360’ 3D King Kong experience, which is the closest I have actually felt to being in a movie. The tour is really interesting and super bizarre at the same time, while looking at the outside of the Bates Motel from Psycho, you can see the pink bubbly tops of The Who’s houses from Whoville.
Next came the rides. First we went on them all once without using our queue jump passes (they are only valid for one go on each ride) while the park had still not filled out. Our favs were The Mummy (an indoor rollercoaster that shoots off at the speed of light), Jurassic Park (a log flume that’s great for a cool off) and The Transformers Ride (another 3D experience where you’re on the move at the same time). We then watched some of the shows on offer; we met the fluffy dog from The Proposal, saw airplanes burst into flames and learnt the tricks of the movie making trade. Mike loved Waterworld, with is stunt men cast so much we did it twice!
And then for MORE rides. We did them all again with our queue jump pass and then again and again and again at the end of the day when we made the most of more small queues- it was great! We also decided to brave it in the House of Horrors- a dark maze with live actors employed solely on their ability to scare the living daylights out of you. I almost cried. It was genuinely one of the scariest things I have ever done. All in all Universal was a winner. We were entertained through out the day, not just with the rides and the shows but with live performers and movie characters situated all around the park- a brilliant end to our Hollywood experience.
We spent our last night in the world’s worst trailer park, Balboa RV park. We arrived at 11pm shattered from our long day and excited for bed only to find they had moved us from the site we had been the night before with out telling us, despite the fact our belongings were still in the site They had pushed our chairs and other bits to one side and made us collect them ourselves when we finally found someone to tell us what on earth was going on. When we complained we were called all the names under the sun including, very randomly, punks and were told to get the f***ing hell out of their RV park. Needless to say we wouldn’t recommend it! Big shame but hey ho!