Last year we headed to California to watch the Rugby 7s world cup and as neither of us had visited parts of California before we decided to tag on a bit of a whistle stop road trip to the back of the holiday.
We flew to San Francisco to watch the Rugby and do all the touristy things we could cram into a few days, we then drove down to Monterey Bay, visited Carmel by Sea and then headed to LA for the last leg of our trip before heading home. We didn’t make it to Malibu and I wish we had, so I would definitely consider a trip to Malibu next time.
We decided to hire a convertible Mustang, because why not? So driving the freeways and into LA through all the palm trees was a pretty cool experience.
Here’s what we did.
First stop San Francisco
As we were mainly here for the Rubgy we didn’t have a huge amount of time to do too much exploring, but we still managed to cram quite a fair bit in. San Francisco is very much an adult city and the remnants of an eclectic and hippy fuelled past are everywhere you visit. It felt to me like the City that never grew up and everyone living there had an air of true freedom. It’s certainly a cool place.
The first thing we did was book a tour through San Francisco Love Tours and I would highly recommend it. You get picked up in a super cute camper van and driven around the city, stopping off at all the main sightseeing spots. It was a great way to get our bearings and decide where we wanted to go back to.
An obvious must see in the San Francisco bridge, but be warned you might not get to see it in all its beauty. We visited three times and each time it was so foggy we could only see part of the bridge. San Francisco is known for its fog and the fact that it has its own climate so you can never be sure what weather you are going to get when you wake up. My advice would be to just layer up and take a rucksack so you can ditch the layers as and when the sun comes out.
The tour also took us to the Castro and Mission districts. San Francisco is split into a variety of different districts and each district has a distinct feel and vibe. Castro was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States and I wish we would have had more time to go back as it looked so vibrant. We also made a quick stop at Mission Dolores Park, which was gorgeous if you have some chill time. San Francisco has a lot of open spaces and parks so if you have some downtime then it’s well worth grabbing a slice of pizza and sitting in one of the parks to take in the views.
Another one of my favourite districts was Haight-Ashbury. It is the hippy area of San Fran and well worth a visit. Really vibrant and eclectic and if you like shopping then there are some fab shops to go in, check out a great designer vintage store called Wasteland. I would also suggest grabbing a coffee in Haight-Ashbury and just people watching for a while, we did this and even saw a naked cycle ride! San Francisco is a crazy place. Whilst you are in the area make sure you take a walk to The Painted Ladies and take in the colourful houses dotted all over the city.
San Francisco also has the classic Little Italy and China Town areas (in fact there are actually three china towns!) China town is definitely worth a visit just for the street art, it’s really stunning and can be found along most side streets. Grab a slice of pizza at Tony’s and finish off with an Ice Cream Sandwich from a Baked Bear. And if you are into your desserts and an opportunity for an Insta must have then pop along to the Ice Cream Museum in Union Square and Mr Holmes Bakehouse. Be warned it does have odd opening times so make sure you check if its open before you head down.
And if you are still eager for more touristy vibes then make sure you head to Fisherman's Wharf where you can grab some food, eye up Alcatraz from across the water (or book a tour if you fancy it) and take plenty of selfies with the hundreds of seals.
After a few days in San Francisco we took a drive down to Monterey Bay. We were only here for one night which meant we couldn’t experience a huge amount but we did manage to cram in the aquarium, which is one of the best in the world and a lovely dinner at Schooners. The view at Schooners was incredible and we enjoyed a fish supper whilst watching plenty of baby seals playing in the kelp. I was hoping for a sighting of a whale or two, but no such luck. Monterey is known for its whale watching experiences so if you are heading down and you have time then I would definitely recommend booking one.
If you aren’t able to go on a whale watching tour then the aquarium is 100% the next best thing if you are fascinated by sea life, and the view from the back of the aquarium is really beautiful. After you’ve visited head to the bay where you can enjoy a sit down meal or grab some takeaway seafood and enjoy it on the beach. Monterey is also home to the set of Big Little Lies if you are fans of the show and nearby Carmel by sea also has some great sight seeing spots that you might recognise from the show.
La La Land
Controversial opinion, but I hated LA. Again, it was very much a whistlestop tour and I am sure we could have seen and experienced more but what we did see was a bit of a disappointment. We started the trip by driving open top through Malibu and into Venice Beach and unfortunately the beach was not at all what I had expected, instead there was a lingering smell of weed and stale pee... We wandered for a little while and made our way to Abbot Kinney, which is a cute area if you want some nice Instagram shots and want to grab some food and just chill.
We also did the obligatory Hollywood tour, which was fun but again, nothing to shout home about. The highlight of the trip was that the day we did the walk of fame was the day Trump’s star had been smashed up. Was pretty funny! We grabbed lunch in a little cafe called Urth Cafe known for its appearance in Entourage, a favourite show of Joss and I’s, and attempted to do some shopping. But I was pregnant, hot, nauseous and the chafing was so real, so we admitted defeat and the fact that we didn’t really like LA all that much and headed back to our hotel.
Below was our itinerary to give you an idea of how we crammed so much into such a short trip if you were thinking of doing the same. However, I would probably say you need at least two weeks to do it properly and really do it justice. Oh and don’t do it when 7 weeks pregnant…
Day 1: Flight to San Francisco - arrive early afternoon
Day 2 - 4: Sightseeing and Rugby in San Francisco
Day 5: Get up early and drive to Monterey Bay - visit aquarium and drive over to Carmel by Sea
- We stayed at Portola Hotel & Spa, Monterey
Day 6: Super early start (5am) to drive to LA. Stop off at Venice Beach and Abbot Kinney
- We stayed at Millennium Biltmore LA
Day 7: Hollywood bus tour and flight home from LAX early evening