Las Vegas – July 2021

Once upon a time Carol and I talked about coming to Vegas to get married, yeah, we are that classy 😉 Well that didn’t happen, instead choosing Gretna Green to tie the knot in 2017. We also planned to come to Vegas for our friend Jane’s big birthday but that didn’t happen either.

The question was, would we ever make it to Vegas?

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The Grand Canyon – July 2021

Trying to organise a trip to the Grand Canyon from Vegas is quite frankly hard work; confusing and a bit of a minefield. There are so many options in terms of which area to visit; South, West or North rims, which mode of transport to use; car, bus, plane or helicopter and what company to book through; the prices vary from the reasonable to the outlandishly ridiculous. It took us days to decide which trip to book and quite a lot of internet research but we finally decided to visit the West Rim via an organised coach trip.

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Downtown LA – 2021

We had checked out Hollywood, the beaches, some celebrity haunts and taken some trips out of LA but one place we hadn’t visited was downtown; although we had driven through the high rises on the freeway a few times. It was time to see what it had to offer.

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Los Angeles – Art

You don’t have to look too hard to find some culture in LA, there are around 30 art galleries and 16 museums to choose from so it is hard to know where to start. We aren’t particularly art buffs but with a city so abundent in art we had to visit at least a couple during our time here. We managed to visit two of them including probably the most famous.

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Los Angeles 2021 – Hitting the Beach

LA is not only famous for Hollywood and celebrities but also for its array of beaches along the coast. Having a month here has given us ample opportunity to visit some of the most popular beaches and whilst we haven’t actually swam at all, it’s not all about the sea!

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A Day in San Diego – July 2021

Some days we sit at home, and recover from whatever we did the day before, which will usually have included driving, in one of the most congested cities we have ever visited. Other days we’re “up and at ’em” squeezing more into a single day that even we think possible, or sensible anyway. Our day-trip to San Diego was definitely the latter!

We join in travel forums on Facebook, and talk to friends, and San Diego is one of the most recommended cities to visit in California, and even in the entire USA. When I ask why though, I am met with vague comments such as “because it’s beautiful” and when I ask for specifics, people mention the zoo, or Sea World. I am very anti the existence of places like Sea World, as I feel those beautiful animals would have a much better life living in the ocean, rather than in a swimming pool in a big city. The fact that Sea World exists in San Diego is, for me, a very good reason not to visit the city. Anyway, by popular consent San Diego is a must visit place, so we thought the best way to find out if that’s true or not was to make the 2 hour journey south of LA and see for ourselves.

We were on our way by 8am, and an hour later we had made it to San Clemente where we stopped for a Subway breakfast, a Starbucks coffee and a picnic for later in the day from Ralph’s.

An hour later we stopped at Las Flores Viewpoint, where our attention was grabbed by a US Navy aircraft carrier anchored just off shore, with 3 or 4 helicopters carrying goods to and from it from a site on the nearby shore.

Again, our viewpoint rewarded us with some wildlife sightings, this time the incredibly cute ground squirrels we had seen previously on the Pacific Coast Highway. Maybe not as cute as the tiny Chipmunks we saw at The Joshua Tree national park, but still cute, especially the ones I saw kissing 😘

The wildlife was fun, the military manoeuvres impressive, and we would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for the half dozen or so tanks that whizzed past us kicking up an almighty dust storm. We may well be far from the desert here, but trust me, almost the entire state is dry and dusty.

La Jolla

When we had asked people for specific reasons to visit San Diego, one place that I was interested to see, is La Jolla Cove (pronounced La Hoya if anyone is interested). This is a very popular spot, so much so that we struggled to find a parking spot. When we did, we immediately saw why it was such a draw. A beautiful stretch of coastline featuring beaches, picnic spots, rocky coves and wildlife!

We saw seals, they’re the ones with earholes, and short front flippers which are too weak to support them when they move on land, and sea lions, the ones with external ears and longer, stronger front flippers that can support them and help them move on land.

We had quite a walk, and our sense of smell immediately virtually transported us back to The Galápagos Islands as we approached the sea lions. Californian Sea Lions are technically a different species to those found in Ecuador, with different shaped faces for one thing, and I am not sure if the Californian ones are as used to human interaction, and nothing will beat our experience at Cerro Tijeretas, San Cristóbal, but it was still a pleasure to see ‘the boys’ again.

We also saw some surprisingly sweet baby seagulls, such a shame they grow up 😉

We had arrived prepared with costumes, masks, snorkels and towels, but did not get in the water, primarily because most of the people who did deemed it necessary to wear wetsuits. California has some very famous beaches, but we’ve seen much better in Antigua for one place, and the water here is really not very inviting in terms of temperature, appearance, or cleanliness. Anyway, with our limited parking time up, we had to move on.

The Gaslamp Quarter

This comes under the heading of “Nice place, visited at the wrong time” According to Google, “The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively downtown neighborhood, known for its nightlife. Clubs, dive bars and cocktail lounges draw a young crowd, while the Spreckels and Balboa theaters have diverse programs of music, comedy and drama. There’s a mix of chain and independent restaurants in the area, with many global options. Horton Plaza Park has grassy lawns, ice cream and coffee vendors, and an interactive fountain.” So, great for a weekend night out, not so impressive on an early Thursday afternoon. On a plus parking only cost one dollar here, and we did have a nice walk in the scorching hot sun.

Balboa Park

After the mild disappointment of the Gaslamp Quarter, we headed to Balboa Park, and this place is definitely worth a visit! We were first struck by an open theatre, which turns out to be Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Well, there was an impressive structure, a stage and lots of seating erected, but to be honest we weren’t really sure what it was, or what kind of event it was used for. We took some shade, sat on a bench, ate our picnic and did some people watching. There was a guy sat on the stage, guitar in hand, and you just knew he was imagining the seats were full, but none of them visible as everyone stood up, chanting his name and calling for yet another encore. His daydream (or was it mine?) only interrupted by an on-stage skateboarder losing control and nearly crashing into him…

There is plenty else to see in Balboa Park, for example a beautiful Japanese Garden. We didn’t pay the entry fee or take the walk, but we did get some photos from a high view point.

Balboa Gardens is home to 16 museums, multiple performing arts venues, lovely gardens, trails, and many other creative and recreational attractions, including the San Diego Zoo. We gave the zoo a miss, but we did take a (free) tram ride around the entire park, and saw some beautiful clock towers, buildings and some very colourful flowers. All in all this park is worthy of a day at least, of anyone’s time.

Mount Soledad

What else could we squeeze into a non-stop city tour? We had time for one more visit, and we chose to drive to the top of Mount Soledad. In the grand scale of things this may be classed as more of a hill than a mountain at 822 feet high, but again we found it to be a worthwhile visit. It offers a 360° panoramic view of San Diego’s coastline, city centre and nearby mountains. We even saw Mexico from there!

All that remained now was a 191km drive back to Los Angeles which took very nearly 3 1/2 hours due to the heavy traffic, and a well earned night’s sleep.

Personally I don’t think I’ll be visiting Los Angeles again, but San Diego is a definite possibility, it is beautiful and was well worth our all-too-brief visit.

Nigel & Carol xx

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – 2021

Another recommended place for us to visit was the Aerial tramway (or in more layman’s terms a cable car) in Palm Springs. Although this was located very near Joshua Tree National Park we couldn’t fit both in in one day; instead we made a separate trip one afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California – 2021

We took a few day trips out of LA, one of which was to the Joshua Tree National Park which was recommended to us due to stunning views of the deserts; this is a point where the Mojave & Colorado deserts meet and there are two distinct ecosystems. The Park is located 175 Km or so from LA and took us 2.5hrs to drive to. The park covers over 800,000 acres so it is pretty darn big; our issue was where to start!

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A Day in San Francisco – June 2021

What would be the first thing to head for when spending a day in San Francisco? The bridge of course! We woke up and left a little later than scheduled due to the long drive the day before, but within the hour we were approaching one of the most famous structures in the world!

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The Pacific Coast Highway – Los Angeles to San Francisco

Epic! This was one of our best ever drives. Beautiful scenery, be that forest, mountain or the Pacific Ocean, everywhere you look!

Whilst in California it would be rude not to visit San Francisco; the issue was however that we were based in LA which is a good 6-7 drive away and our plans for moving on from Los Angeles go in a different direction. We decided to take a couple of days away from LA and drive the Pacific Coast road, also known as California 1, which has been highly recommended by a lot of people we have spoken to. Hotel booked for 2 nights thanks to the kindness of Nigel’s colleagues due to a parting gift voucher, we started our rather long but completely awesome journey.

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