Starting at Budget car rentals at LAX. Picture 30 degree heat, no shade, a numbered queuing system even though you’ve pre-booked, and a forthright American lady shouting orders through a microphone. She did actually work for Budget, so I assume there was some purpose to the shouting. This doesn’t sound fun? Really? Ok, so it didn’t amuse me but my travel buddy found my jetlagged, hangry, barely suppressed rage absolutely hilarious, and I do love to make people laugh.
My own satisfaction came with being given a beautiful big truck instead of the smallest, cheapest economy car we’d booked, and successfully navigating my way through LA traffic to Hollywood Boulevard. Then, employing some Doha-esque driving through rush hour traffic to see the Hollywood sign. Very proud of my little self!
Pine Mountain Lake brought a brilliant pet sit, a taste of USA Summer by the lake, and access to Yosemite National Park.
The Valley Floor Tour at Yosemite was well worth it, my only disappointment was not seeing any bears! We seemed to have hit the perfect time of year, as all the waterfalls were flowing. Yosemite is such a majestic place; trying to fathom the scale of El Capitan and pick out the insane climbers on its face as little pinpricks of colour was just bizarre.
Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland was a huge gated community, which provided swimming in a freshwater lake, picnics in beautiful surroundings and a new love and appreciation for Chihuahuas. It also uncovered new skills in feline rescue from storm drains and rooftops. Not to be repeated.
Next up was a change of pace in San Francisco. We went for Chinese at a really busy, tiny restaurant called R&G. Waited for a table while having a delicious cocktail in a packed bar, elbows tucked in and a hive of activity. It was well worth the wait and the excitement of the ‘table raffle’ and we stayed until they were clearing up around us.
One of the perks of the hotel was free coffee in the lobby (I do so love a freebie), so the couple of days we were there I filled my to-go cup (courtesy of Barista Cats in Auckland) and went to Union Square for people watching and caffeine. Walked down and only got slightly lost! Enjoyed the sunshine and had day old Italian pastries for breakfast. Divine.
I’d found the bakery on the long walk back from Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. We’d already broken up the walk with Happy Hour stops. All along Columbus Avenue back to our hotel, there were a plethora of restaurants, bars and cafes offering Happy Hour. It was just the thing after a day sightseeing, admiring preening sea lions, the chaos of Lombard Street, and being told Alcatraz tour tickets should have been booked about two months in advance. Discounted Prosecco and $3 cocktails were just the antidote to aching feet!
The cable car (tram) from Powell St. towards Fisherman’s Wharf was another highlight. There was a really long queue but we met some nice people and the time passed quickly. It was great hanging on to the outside of the tram as it heaved itself up the hills, bell dinging cheerfully. The wooden vintage trams are such an iconic part of San Francisco, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Although I did worry I’d end up on the internet – ‘Idiot tourist falls off tram while taking selfies.’
Mountain View was next, a great little town near San Jose. It was full of every cuisine you could want, from Mexican to Mongolian, several bookshops, cafes, and non-chain clothes shops. It took a lot of willpower not to blow the non-existent budget within a day of being there.
It was also the setting for another pet sit – the beautiful Oreo, who thankfully didn’t get stuck anywhere and didn’t try any aerial acrobatics. And, Oreo was so low maintenance, we even managed to go back into San Francisco and land some last minute Alcatraz tickets. A boat trip which took in the best sights of the bay, an incredibly interesting audio tour, and the chance to meet a former inmate while we were there!
A lot was packed in to my time in California, and I’m grateful I had such varied experiences, from big city, to small mountain town. Next stop, Las Vegas!