At the start of the new year of 2019 I was wondering how I should make the most of what would be my twenty third year on the planet. Leaving the continent of Europe seemed like a fun idea, but what if all your friends are broke!? What if you’re single!? Don’t let that stop you! MY choice was to visit California, well Los Angeles and San Francisco at least, over my birthday week in late May to early June. Why California? Well they speak English which means my permanent state of awkwardness and anxiety is only slightly heightened from what it’s like here in the UK. Also as an avid consumer of media, California seemed like an iconic place to check out, and it’s sunny there, that always helps coming from rainy Wales.
Previously my longest flight ever was probably Bristol-Vienna or Cardiff-Barcelona, which both roughly take just over two hours. So jumping to a direct flight from London to LA, which takes at least 10 hours is a bit of a switch-up. This was also not helped by the fact that flight ended up being delayed by over 3 hours and as I had picked the cheapest option, the legroom in economy class wasn’t really suitable for anyone over 6 feet tall. Leaving London at 6pm GMT and arriving in LA at 10pm PST is not good for the system really, but after getting my phone to connect to T-Mobile, I got an Uber from LAX to an Airbnb in Santa Monica. Slightly late check-in, very tired, but I made it. Hooray!
Despite having my sense of time absolutely destroyed by the flight I still woke up pretty early and so decided to get out and about. I got breakfast and immediately messed up tipping, the cornerstone of American dining, before heading down to the famous pier. I checked out downtown Santa Monica which is kinda what you’d expect, just shops and restaurants. Not that exciting.
Anyway the best thing to do while in Santa Monica is definitely the bike path. You can ride uninterrupted from Pacific Palisades to Santa Monica to Venice Beach without having to touch the roads with dreaded LA traffic. It’s a shame that the massive Marina Del Rey harbour prevents you from smoothly continuing on down to Manhattan Beach because that would be a crazy bike ride. Regardless, the dedicated path takes you through a lot of cool spots and avoids the tacky beach-facing stalls that you’d have a constant stream of if you were walking across.
I didn't really take too many pictures while I was in Santa Monica but I can attest it is quite nice.
The coastal bike path
The pier is pretty cool!
It’s a proper tourist trap.
Sketchy people trying to sell you things on the boardwalk
This is one of the things I may have misjudged, but Downtown LA is not really that interesting if you’re on your own and don’t have a car. People in Los Angeles love driving, the roads are busy as hell and I guess the city is so huge that you’d ideally want a car. Still I wasn’t ready to feel like an alien for walking 10 minutes from my new Airbnb loft to Little Tokyo. There were literally no other pedestrians, just homeless men - and it wasn't a particularly bad area. Downtown LA is probably cool if you're there to dine out, but as a loser just walking around it was just hot and felt a bit empty aside from the big hotspots. There was also no shade, in typical British fashion I complain about the weather no matter what.
I went to some museums and honestly they weren’t too interesting. I’m not very invested when it comes to art but even I have to admit some of the stuff on show in The Museum of Contemporary Art seemed a bit pretentious. Whatever, the coolest thing to do in Downtown LA is definitely the Skyspace which is an observation deck on the second tallest building in the LA skyline, that you can pay to go up to. I went up in time for the sunset and it was pretty cool! Maybe the best way to actually experience Downtown LA is from as high up as possible.
Getting up high and enjoying the view from the LA skyline
It’s a nice atmosphere at night time
Lots of culture spread about
Why is it so easy to wander from downtown to skid row?
There’s no shade
The ultimate tacky center of American celebrity and pop culture! I stayed right in the middle, just off the main intersection of Hollywood Boulevard. But as a lover of the movies, I had to go! I checked out “The Hollywood Museum” which was filled with props they probably found in dumpsters behind Universal Studios. I spent a lot of time in the middle of the consumerist capital of Hollywood, very tacky but still remarkably endearing at times. I went on a small hike with fellow travellers from the hostel to get close to the Hollywood sign as well, of course. It wouldn't be a trip to LA if I didn’t make the pilgrimage, awkwardly shuffling up past the rich people's houses in the hills - as teslas drove past. I also walked through Runyon Canyon Park and through to the heart of the Hollywood Hills, where I once again felt like an alien misplaced walking down Mulholland Drive to reach an overlook.
Finally there’s Griffith Observatory, one of LA’s most iconic landmarks. It’s in La La Land! It’s kind of a tourist trap but the view is great and it’s a classic spot to watch the sunset. Wow!
Lots of iconic buildings
Hiking to the Hollywood sign is cool
Good views to be had if you venture up in the hills
Didn’t see Tom Cruise
After leaving Hollywood, before I went back to LAX to fly to San Francisco, I did check out The La Brea Tar Pits, which is just pools of tar that bubble. Nearby here in central LA is the Los Angeles County Museum of art, which I didn't go inside but has the famous public art piece outside which is just 202 street lamps put in a grid, I saw them in the daytime so they kinda left me nonplussed but here's an image of them looking nice at night-time:
Generally Los Angeles kept me busy. Santa Monica and Hollywood were fun to explore. Downtown LA not so much, but the views from the skyline were worth the day spent there.
SAN FRANCISCO INTRO
Firstly I was pissed off because the plane that took me from LA to San Fran was so much comfier and actually had appropriate leg room. Why couldn't my 10 hour transatlantic flight be like this? Man... But hey, LA was cool, but San Francisco is better!
It's harder to definitively split up my time in San Francisco because I was all over the place every day instead of sticking to an area of the city. But I spent two nights in Downtown San Francisco and a further two nights at Fisherman's Wharf. Before heading to an Airbnb to rest for one night before flying back home the next afternoon.
While you have to queue like a holidaymaker at Disneyworld in order to get a ticket for unlimited tram use for a day (or however long), it's definitely worth it! Trams are the most fun mode of public transport and are especially useful for traversing the steep, steep hills of San Francisco (like really steep, famously steep in fact). You can sit in the tram, but of course the real obnoxious tourists like me are gonna hang out the side. It's like a mini rollercoaster operating around the city, taking you to further attractions. Instantly this makes San Francisco the best city I've ever been too!
There's something instantly more appealing about a tram you can just hop on and hang off the side of, than a bus or metro. Especially when you're hurdling down or tanking up steep roads.
I briefly mentioned Little Japan in LA, of which San Francisco has its own equivalent which I didn't visit. But I did spend time in San Fran's Chinatown. This was a really cool place with a lot of interesting shops and cool architecture. There were lots of nice statues for sale such as these monkeys, which sadly wouldn't fit in my suitcase :(
What can I say about this street? Obviously they were having a laugh when building it because it's needlessly twisty, but perhaps artfully designed with eight hairpin turns. It's a very pretty street, not sure if I'd want to live in a permanent tourist attraction with people taking selfies while driving down it. But it was cool to visit! Recommended for the novelty.
As I was travelling around San Francisco, nearer the north side, this tower sticks out on top of a hill overlooking downtown, across to the Oakland Bay Bridge and even all the way over the the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a bit of a trek up, but it's well worth it for the views. At this point in my stay in San Francisco I still hadn't seen the Golden Gate Bridge, so I thought "this is it!, I'll finally see it from the top of this tower" WRONG! Clouds were obscuring it still... But hey, nice views from this tower and the area it surrounds is very lush and beautiful.
FISHERMAN'S WHARF & PIER 39
This part of San Francisco features many hotspots. Namely, Pier 39. There are many piers across San Francisco, but Pier 39 is the one where tourists flock like seagulls to. Why? Well it has a nice design and lots of touristy restaurants and gift shops. The real attraction though? There's a bunch of sea lions chilling out by the side of the pier. Lots and lots of them. I vastly respect that sea lions just love chilling. They're my spirit animal, perhaps.
The Palace of Fine Arts
This sort of building seems misplaced in the hip city of San Francisco. Seems like something I'd see in Europe rather than the USA. Definitely an oddity, but one that's located in a really nice area. When I went visiting there were a bunch of rich kids having their high school graduation prom pictures taken there, but even that can't ruin the novelty of such an interesting building and serene surrounding area.
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
OK this was exciting for me. The Golden Gate Bridge was probably one of the most iconic monuments in my mind so I was excited to finally lay eyes upon it. I rented a bike from Fisherman's Wharf to ride to and across the bridge, highly recommended as a fun cycle route, offering thrilling and breath-taking views. On a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky, this was the time to really make the most of my trip. Cycling across the bridge and up to a nice vantage point on the other side was a great little adventure. This whole area is eye candy, even my mediocre phone can take pictures that look incredible in this area.
Man I love that bridge... Feel like a weirdo saying that...
Sunsets in the bay area are wonderful as well, I put in my earphones, slapped on some Toro y Moi and basked in the atmosphere... I loved it. What a dream. Moments like this being on my own hardly mattered. It's all about the vibes!
SAN FRAN OUTRO
San Francisco is my favourite city I have had the pleasure of visiting. I didn't even get to see all that much of it in the few days I was there, but I won't forget the fun I had tram surfing around the city and finally getting to see (what I think) is the most iconic bridge ever! My final evening in San Francisco was spent in Bernal Heights, in a guest room in a nice San Francisco home on a hill via Airbnb. Spending my last evening overlooking the city from Bernal Heights Park while a few locals also shared in basking in the sunset. It was a great, melancholic send off to a wonderful trip.
The flight back wasn't as painful, but still being 6'2" is unbearable on these budget airplanes. Next time I think my wallet will have to take the hit for the sake of my legs. I would love to visit San Francisco again. LA... Not so much, but I really appreciated my time there. A quintessential American city that has many a thrill. Santa Monica was really nice in particular though! I'd love to do that coastal bike ride again, that was excellent.
Anyway, signing off with possibly the best picture I have ever taken. I'm still proud of this one. Done with my crappy phone and all:
Hopefully I can visit somewhere else cool soon ;)