Thursday, 5 July 2012

California's West Coast

Los Angeles is quite foggy in June/July and the weather is quite cool compared to the interior of the state, so it's a welcomed relief. In the mornings we walk along the beach where lots of other people are surfing, walking, running or riding their bikes. During the weekends people play beach volleyball. The houses on the hill at the southern end of the beach look like Positano in Italy.

On one of our drives we went along Mulholland Drive/Hollywood to check out Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and the Hollywood sign. When most people think of Hollywood, they are actually thinking of Beverly Hills. Rodeo Drive is in Beverly Hills, with lots of exclusive brand name shops. The traffic on the freeways is horrible, six lanes of fast moving mayhem.

Getty Museum
The Getty Museum is a private collection of pieces from all over the world. The museum is free but parking is $15.

From Pacific Palisades we headed to Malibu to catch up with a Klaus, our photography friend from Yellowstone. We had booked a site in advance at Point Magu which is so far the worst campsite we have encountered. It wasn't the campground I thought we were booking. We were lined up along the beachfront with no protection and horrible old rusting porta loos. When we came back from having dinner and the campground was locked!

Klaus took us to photograph Pelicans flying off the cliff
Finding a place to stay the next night was very difficult as it was the weekend. We ended up in a county campground in Ojay (pronounced oh-hi). The camp had been pretty much taken over by one family (extended) and their friends who come up every year on this weekend. They invited us to join them for dinner. It was the best BBQ beef we have ever eaten. Even though we were invited to dinner the next night too we decided to move on.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town. Unfortunately there is only one RV park and it's not that nice, so we only stayed a night. The city has a really nice feel to it and the main street is lovely to walk down.

The West coast in summer is shrouded in fog, which was very disappointing. When the sea air hits the warm interior it fogs over and in the morning there is a fine mist. Not the most ideal conditions to be seeing the Big Sur. It would also be better to see it driving from north to south as the road heading north is on the far side of the cliff. We were surprised how much of the road is actually a little inland. We would have to find a campsite pretty early on in the day otherwise we might not find anything at all. It is extremely busy at this time of year because of school holidays and there are children (usually screaming children!) everywhere. We were pretty lucky often getting one of the last sites available. If the weather had been nicer, we would have taken more time travelling up the coast but sitting out under the damp overcast skies is not my kind of camping.

Hearst Castle is near San Simeon. There are a number of tours to take and we chose the most popular for first timers seeing the main rooms. It would have been nice if the kitchen had been included. It's nice but I wouldn't rave about it. I enjoyed the tour at Scotty's castle and the chateau's in France much more.

one of the small villas at Hearst Castle
Amazing tapestries on the wall
the outside swimming pool
the inside swimming pool 
He had his own private zoo here, but all the animals have been long gone. His parties were legendary with hollywood stars and politicians.

Just north of San Simeon are some resident elephant seals. They come back to the same beach every year. Apparently January and February is the time to see the babies.

Elephant Seal
Photographing from the walkway
We will have to the Big Sur another time, from north to south. Lindsay thinks the Great Ocean Road is much nicer as you are always on the cliff.

We had arranged to meet up with Yoshi whom we had also met in Yellowstone who lived in Watsonville.The big food bowl of America - they grow everything here and there are lots of places on the side of the road selling fruit and vegetables. He had said that he was going to Moss Landing that day which was also on our list as we had been told there were sea otters there. They are so cute, they swim, float, roll over in the water and have the cutest little faces. Yoshi took us to some of his favorite sites for wildlife near Santa Cruz, San Jose and Watsonville. We didn't see everything because of course the animals aren't just going to stay waiting for you. We did see a family of burrowing owls, some wood ducks, egrets and some grey bird with long legs! Unfortunately no coyote, barn owls or racoons.

Sea Otter

these burrowing owls were in a paddock next to eBay
We hadn't organised ourselves very well and we couldn't get the accommodation in San Francisco that we wanted at such short notice, so we decided to head north and come back on our return trip. Even as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, it was covered in fog.

We tried to get a spot in the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve but like a lot of Californian parks, the campground was closed due to funding. We heard last week that they had just found $52 million of unallocated funds. I'm sure the staff who have taken pay cuts or lost their jobs and the volunteers who get nothing would be very angry about this. A volunteer in the visitor centre recommended an RV campground nearby which was really good. The sites were well spread apart and there was lots of vegetation for shade and screening. That morning we were going to explore the Sonoma coast but it was drizzling, overcast and just miserable. Back at our campsite not far away, there was no drizzle or fog at all. So we decided to move inland slightly and explore the wine country.

Napa Valley, CA
Our friends from the night before had recommended Napa Valley and a few of the wineries, so we cut across to Calistoga. Bothe Napa Valley state forest is not far out of town which is really nice. We did a wine tasting and tour at Shrumberg. They make sparkling wines and we got to taste quite a few. Their most expensive sparklings are hand turned (riddled), and the poor riddler turns hundreds of bottles for four hours every day. 

I had read about some music in the park on Thursday nights, so we took our chairs, some wine and dip for a relaxing few hours. We asked someone if it was okay to drink alcohol in a park, they replied, "you are in the Napa Valley, of course it's alright, they are selling it here". 

The next day we had a trade tour at Domaine Chandon (thank you Ben and Julie) which was even better. Again lots of bubbles; I don't think you can have enough bubbles personally. I asked him why you get drunk more quickly on champagne. He said the carbon dioxide makes it go into your bloodstream quicker. No riddler's here, they have very big machines that do that by computer. 

Lindsay needed a chiropractor the next day so we went to St Helena. What a lovely town.

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