USA West Coast road trip – The California state (01 – 05 December)

Our hopes driving towards California were high. We expected that the weather will get better and a little more sun. At first, it was just like that. The further we drove from the Crater lake the sunnier the weather got.

As a result of Jaanus’ research, we decided to make a quick visit to Pluto’s cave, which was at about half of our way to San Francisco. We were at first very frightened when GPS directed us through a random dirt road. On both sides of the road, there caravans and yards with signs warning for angry dogs. It seemed that people lived there but we did not manage to see anybody. The road would have been difficult to pass without a four-wheel drive. Finally, we made it to the spot where GPS told we had arrived. We followed the small footpath to the actual caves. At first, they did not look to be anything special. Youngsters had made a lot of graffiti on the walls of the caves and it was obvious that someone has had a party there. When we walked further, we started to be more and more surprised about the size of the caves. They just did not seem to come to the end and it was spooky as hell. We were the only ones there and this made everything even spookier. Visiting the Pluto’s Caves was definitely one of the most frightening things we have done so far.

Our next stop was San Francisco. We arrived in the dark to the Golden Gate bridge which was shining with lights. Next to the bridge is a recreation area where you can enjoy the view to the bridge. We parked our car there for the night and enjoyed the view to the bridge and the city before going to sleep. In the morning we woke up with the same view but different 😊 You know, same-same, but different..but still the same.

In the recreation area, there is one small lighthouse. We decided we will go check this out but when we arrived, it turned out that it is open only one day of the week. And it was not that day. Despite that, we could enjoy a nice view because the road to the lighthouse was running alongside the coast.

Next to follow was the long-awaited crossing of the Golden Gate bridge. Crossing the bride to San Francisco is taxed and vice versa it is free. With a rental car, it is easy, you can just cross and the camera takes a picture of the number plate. The tax will be deducted from the credit card connected to the car rental booking. Crossing the bridge was like any other and we thought we could perhaps feel the swinging which is common to suspension bridges. On the other side of the bridge, there was an information center and a museum dedicated to the bridge. There were several bridge models to represent the physics and architectural specifications of the bridge. Without a doubt, the bridge is an American icon by being one of the largest bridges of its kind at the time.

While we were at the museum it started to pour rain again. Bad luck with the weather again. We got to the car and drove around the city hoping to find a reasonably priced parking spot.
After spending an hour in front of Starbucks “stealing” the internet, the rain started to get lighter and then it finally stopped. We were lucky to find a parking spot and went to enjoy the city as tourists.

The one must do a thing for us was to ride a tram through San Francisco steep streets. When we made it to the tram station, we found that the waiting time is 45 minutes. Luckily, we did not have to wait that long, but certainly, there were too many tourists. Long waiting time allowed us to observe how the drivers turned the trams around at the turning stations – they certainly must have a lot of strength. The tram ride itself was worth waiting for. Just like in the movie, we stood on the side of the tram holding on to a post. On some moments, when tram rushed down the hill, it got quite scary. We chose the most traditional routing, from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. It runs through China Town and also stopped at the famous tram museum.

Fisherman’s Wharf was sightseeing itself. From there we could observe the infamous prison Alcatraz, which is situated on a nearby island. It is also possible to hop onto a ferry in order to go visit the prison. Another famous spot on the wharf is called pier 39. This pier is home for many of the sea lions in the area. It was quite funny to observe their everyday life. Constant fight for a sunny spot, females taking care of their baby’s and males fighting over female attention.

When we walked back to the tram station, it was obvious that this is is a true tourist trap. Different souvenir stores, museums, galleries, cafeterias and restaurants waiting to empty the wallets of the innocent tourists. Since we do not like the tourist traps, then we tried to get out of there as soon as possible. For this, we had to wait at the tram station another 20 minutes.

For our great surprise, we did spot quite a lot of homeless people around the Union Square and Center of the SF. At first, we were even a little afraid to park our car around there because all our present life is in the car. There was a demonstration where people yelled something in Spanish. Thereby we did not feel particularly safe and decided to leave SF already around noon time.

Next destination was San Jose where we met Kaija’s volleyball teammate Kärdu and her daughter. It was very refreshing to meet our Estonian friends and talking about normal everyday life made us feel like we are at home.

While being in San Jose we also decided that we do not have enough time to go to Las Vegas. Furthermore, we had to skip Yosemite National Park, because it is not allowed to go there without tire chains at this time of the year. Talking to Kärdu we concluded that driving down to Los Angelas via the coastal road is a perfect alternative.

Overall it was a good decision because Jaanus had a problem with one of his knees which got swollen from time to time. Thereby we avoided long walks and hikes. Driving along coastal road was a good way to give the leg some rest because coming from American car culture you do not really need to walk anywhere over a few hundred meters to enjoy good views. All the sights have parking lots close by.

We did some research and marked down some spots we wanted to visit and set the wheels in motion. We stopped at Point Pino lighthouse, Calla Lilly Valley, Bixby Ceremonial bridge, Point Sur lighthouse, Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns natural park where the McWay waterfall is located, Elephant Seals beach and viewpoint, Morro Rock and Bay – surfers favorite spot, Santa Barbara, Point Dume natural park and Malibu.

Over the two days, we made, of course, more stops than above mentioned but those were the most significant. We certainly “enjoyed” typical American fast food but also time to time used our gas cooker. Every once for a while there was a place to pull over and enjoy the sea and the view. It reminded us a little bit of Croatia where we also followed a coastal road. In California however, nature is much greener and colorful, especially the northern part. The more south we got the flatter the landscape got until we reached to Santa Barbara and Malibu, which were surrounded by mountains. In Malibu, we saw the result of recent forest fires. It had destroyed houses, utility poles, trees, and nature. It was pretty sad to witness all the damage.

Driving on from Malibu we suddenly discovered ourselves in Los Angeles. The first thing we saw was Santa Monica Pier. Since we had just walked on the similar pier in Santa Barbara then we did not bother to pay for parking and we continued to drive towards Venice Beach.

In order to do Venice beach any justice, we would need to dedicate the whole post for describing it. You may check our Instagram story to get some insight. Neither of us had seen so many and so different kinds of people in one place. The beachfront area was full of street artists and souvenir sellers. People waking by enjoyed the music created at point by the numerous street musicians. There were a lot of people also doings sports – skatepark, outdoor gym, and all sorts of ballgame fields which seemed to be free of charge. The favorite activity of tourists seemed to be racing with electrical scooters. The beach itself was just like in the Baywatch movie, except the weather seemed to be much colder than in the movie. Only very few people were swimming. So we decided to enjoy some Mexican food and beer at the beachfront bar and skip the swimming as well.

When it got dark, we went to Griffith Observatory. Since it was a rush-hour, it took us 2 hours to get there. Fortunately, we decided to avoid the highways, so we also saw a little bit of the city within these 2 hours. For example, we drove on Hollywood Boulevard. The Griffith Observatory is definitely one of the most awesome places to visit in LA. Not to mention the super view to the LA in city lights, the museum is super cool and one could spend the whole day there in order to absorb all that it has to offer – the space system, planets, the moon, and the sun.

Next morning, we went to discover Hollywood. First, we went to the Hollywood Hills to see the famous Hollywood sign. In addition, one can drive around the Hollywood hills and admire the houses and cars of the rich and famous. Tesla was quite a popular car around this area but we also spot Ferraries and Maserati.

We continued and went for a walk on the famous Walk of Fame which is located on Hollywood Boulevard. Parking there is difficult but after some research, we found a nearby shopping center where you could park with reasonable price if you buy something from there. It was very convenient because it is not easy to park with the truck we had. When we made it to the street we were like just any other tourist walking the head down looking for famous stars. Jaanus found its favorite in seconds. It took more time for Kaija to find hers. In front of the Chinese Theatre, we studied carefully the hand and feet marks of famous people and looked for our favorites. We are not sure if the concrete has shirked over the time or most of the stars really have tiny hands and feet.

The weather was turning bad and it started to pour again. We decided that we will find some AirBnB place for this evening. We looked up the cheapest one and it turned out to be in China town. On the day after we needed to start driving to the airport already.

To sum up, driving along the coastline we experienced the most varied and beautiful landscape and nature. We enjoyed every single moment of it. We also have to thank the Walmart where we bought most of our foodstuff and other equipment which we could return at the end of the trip – the trick which Kaija learned when she used to sell books in the US. In addition, in it is allowed to park overnight at Walmart parking lots and that’s exactly what we did. In addition, there is also a decent toilet and WiFi. That is why the backpackers love Wallmarts.

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