This is something of a travel log and really rather late as we came back from the USA on September 10th! We had had a three week stay and had been planning this for some considerable time – almost since the time in my teens when I was a big John Steinbeck fan (still am, come to that!) I had always wanted to emulate his ‘Travels with Charley’ but times and finances impact, so we decided upon this exploration – but using a train as neither of us is experienced in driving on the right! So here goes –
We flew from Heathrow to Seattle and stayed in the Edgewater Hotel – famous for the Beatles staying there in the 60’s! It was delightful – and at only one night by no means long enough to get more than just a glimpse of Seattle.
A San Fransisco Cable Car
Twenty-three hours on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train in a small sleeping carriage were all part of the adventure! Arrived in Emeryville and straight into San Francisco – we were staying at the Westin St Francis – renowned as the hotel in which silent film star Fatty Arbuckle was accused of rape, and at which novelist Dashiel Hammett was the agent for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. A delightful place to stay, and right on Union Square so in the midst of the city, shops and restaurants. We had a fantastic stay here and really loved the city enjoying tours of the bay and the city. It was great to walk in – even with the famous hills, and the cable cars were a fun, if bouncy, experience. The area of Haight and Ashbury, where the 60’s Summer of Love started, was an interesting area, if a little tawdry in places, and the echoes of Jimmy Hendrix and Otis Redding followed us around. I loved the Palace of Fine Arts – a series of originally temporary buildings that allegedly inspired George Lucas to create R2D2!
From San Francisco we also had a day tour to see the Coastal Sequoia at Muir Wood and also visit 3 different wineries in the Sonoma (2) and Napa Valleys (1). I have always loved the idea of sequoia as they are so huge and so ancient in the same way as the English Oak links you back into history – so do the sequoia, but they are also so magnificently tall. We missed a tour to Alcatraz – to actually go onto the island, but we did see it on our boat trip, and also San Quentin (both very grim!) on one of our coach trips.
Then back to the train and on to Salinas – the Steinbeck connection again. The National Steinbeck Center is a wonderful experience – and we stayed for a long time enjoying all the film and readings included from and about each book. We also got to see Rocinante (named after Don Quixote’s horse) – in this case a small camper van on the back of a small truck. His birthplace was also there – now a cafe – but we were unlucky enough to be there on a day it was closed. Took photos from the outside though…
One of the Grand Rooms in Hearst Castle
After that we went on to near San Simeon so that we could visit the amazing Hearst Castle – built by William Randolph Hearst, the American media mogul, between 1865 and 1947 and full of the most amazing art and artefacts. It needs more than one visit to see it properly. We stayed at a coastal resort hotel and really enjoyed the walks along the beaches on the Pacific Coast and even saw dolphins frolicking in the ocean!
Then back to San Luis Obispo for the train and with some time to kill wandered to the mission, with a take out deli lunch in a park. This was a super little city and it would have been good to have spent a little more time there. It was at this point that we discovered the trains did not always arrive on time! It was an hour late but, amazingly, it arrived in LA on time!
Some of Warner Bros Awards
We were staying in Beverly Hills (pleasant, if rather exclusive). A tour of the city followed but we were no where nearer getting a sense of the geography of LA as it is just so huge! Eating at the farmers market was an interesting experience – so much choice, more nationalities of food than one could ever imagine in one place. The Warner Bros tour, in Burbank, was great fun, with Will even taking part in a small scene from Friends on the original set! He played Ross!! So many lovely things to see, I even got to hold and be photographed with a real Oscar (they’re very heavy) and the tour of the backlot gave us the opportunity to see the Big Bang set! Having seen that we decided we really must eat again at the Cheesecake Factory in honour of Penny from the Big Bang.
We visited the Paley Centre for Media where I could quite happily have stayed watching my way through a few exhibits from their permanent media collection which contains over 160,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. They are catalogued online too! An amazing place. Whilst we were there they also had a collection of Marilyn Monroe outfits on show.
As we were in Beverly Hills we felt we should at least walk down Rodeo Drive – only window shopping of course. We may have passed famous people, but we really had no idea! It was like Bond Street (London) with bling, then more added bling! On our final day we decided to explore some of the museums LA had to offer – the Petersen Motor Museum and the LA County Museum of Art (where we also saw a Sunday night concert). All worth the visiting if you are in LA! We ran out of time before we could visit the Tar Pits Museum – but we did see the actual tar pit bubbling away! Very strange to think of such an ancient thing there in the midst of such a modern city.
Part of the Desert Garden
After LA we went to visit some of Will’s distant relations (7th cousins) – living in Upland – a sort of LA suburb about an hours drive from Beverly Hills. Here we were entertained right royally and had a superb time. Great that we got on with them so well (we had never met before). We visited Mount Baldy and the ranger station there, as well as the Nixon Library and Huntington Gardens. The Nixon Library is an archive of the Presidency and life of Richard Nixon, although I was perhaps too young to remember much about his Presidency other than the headlines, it was a fascinating experience and I learned a great deal. There was also the home he was born in – a wooden catalogue home delivered as a flat pack and built on site, as well as his Presidential helicopter – I’d recommend a visit. The Huntington is in Pasadena and is too big to see in one visit. I did a quick look into the Art Gallery as they had a Hopper painting I had never seen before, plus the library has some amazing treasures which I had to see but, possibly the highlight for us, was the desert garden. This must have been one of the most amazing collections of cacti, succulents and other strange and wonderful desert plants. Again – this merits more than one day of visits as it is over 120 acres – without ever going into any of the buildings.
Then it was back onto a different train – the Pacific Surfliner – to head off to San Diego. Here we were again staying at a beach coastal resort – rather fun! We had a lovely day with friends who live in Little Italy and they showed us around the city and out to Point Loma. Again, a fascinating city with a huge influence from all the military services based in and around it. We explored the USS Midway – now a huge museum, and also went into the Old Town – definitely a tourist trap, but fascinating to see the origins of the city and it’s Mexican influences.
Then it was back, via air, to Heathrow. I knew we might get jet-lag but hadn’t realised how oddly it affects you! After about a week we were back to whatever we usually associate as our usual sleep patterns! It was an fantastic trip and we were very lucky to be able to do it! Not sure we’ll get to the West Coast again but we really enjoyed the experience!