How come is this article coming to you just now? Well, I couldn’t just flash out a blurb relating our experience over there, I needed to think it through and enough time to write it down. Although I did take some notes while we were road tripping through California, last year, it won’t be enough for a full article. So there you go, our trip to L.A., unfolded. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did, and that this article gives you some inspiration to plan your next trip to California.
First, we flew to Los Angeles on August 24th, back to London on September 8th of 2019. We booked our two tickets in April 2019 for around 780 pounds – totally worth it.
British Airways: what a great experience on board! Yes, we booked a Basic Economy fare but the in-flight service was delightful. So much food! And not too bad. We watched many films, too, because it’d be a shame not to be enjoying those glaring screens over 12 hours.
I remember precisely how I felt at that moment. It was like a dream come true – again.
To give you some background, I studied, worked and lived in L.A. for 3 years, between 2013 and 2016. I enrolled one year at UCLA Extension, studying the fundamentals of international trade and marketing, followed by a job as a Sales and Marketing Coordinator at a luxury travel agency based in Pacific Palisades. Among the parties, discoveries, trips and all, I moved out throughout the City of Angels like 5 times in total: three times within Westwood, once to Topanga Canyon and once to Palms. I ended up having to renew my visa and going back to the US, but I found myself in a difficult position where my visa would expire at some point. I then decided to move to the UK in December 2016 once being offered a job in Leeds. End of the dream. I’ve had no regrets professionally, but I’ve been missing the lifestyle very much since I left beautiful California.
Therefore, you understand now why, last year, I was feeling like a bird while I was landing in L.A. again after 3 years. With everything I lived there, it was a perfect time to say goodbye and close the Cali chapter. And also create unforgettable memories with Salty, my amazing partner.
We had one stop in Las Vegas before passing immigration and getting on a domestic flight to Los Angeles. I remember the queue for ESTA visas was endless, and we both were wrecks with an awful breath.
Next step was to hop on a Flyaway shuttle to meet my friend Sandy in Woodland Hills (you need to get to the right stop in LAX, direction “Van Nuys”). Sandy has been such a nice host, offering us the possibility to stay at her place and rent one of her cars (an old Toyota Corolla that did the job – aka “Grandma”) for the whole journey.
We started by chilling at Sandy’s place, settling in our room and drove to Santa Monica to see the Santa Monica Pier and grab a Yogurtland.
The next day we headed to chic Santa Barbara (aka “French Riviera”) where we had a swim on the beach followed by the best barbecue ever at The Cold Spring Tavern.
I took Salty to places that I knew already because I really didn’t mind going again, I was actually super happy to re-experience their vibes, anyway how can you forget such a delicious barbecue sandwich? The Cold Spring Tavern makes them so well and you’re sure to spend a great moment with the bikers and the restaurant customers, sitting outside in the shade of the forest and listening to some country’s band.
At a glance, we visited: Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Francisco, Sausalito, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, UCLA, Westwood, Newport Beach, Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach, Hollywood, Chinese Theater, Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Union Station, El Pueblo, Art District, Venice Beach, Abbot Kinney Blvd., Hermosa Beach, Universal Studios, Studios City, West Hollywood, Santa Monica again (because we loved it).
I’d planned a surprise road trip for Salty which included Monterey – Carmel-by-the-Sea – San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge – Sausalito – Sacramento – Lake Tahoe over about 3 to 4 days.
We stayed 1 night in Monterey, 1 night in San Francisco, and 2 nights in Lake Tahoe. A bit quick, I agree, but we were on a budget, so we had to keep it efficient and minimalist. We did use our legs lots though! Can’t recall how many steps exactly we’ve walked at the time but we never stopped one second. When you know you have two weeks and only two weeks, every bit counts and there’s no way we’d lie down when there’s so much to see.
The highlight of that road trip? Sausalito. Gosh how expensive, but how charming. It’s as representative as what you’d see on a postcard, it looks like a sea town from the South of France, with the Golden Gate as a background.
The cherry on top? When we arrived, I led Salty who was driving to the Golden Gate (unfortunately hidden in thick fog) and told him, just so he could realize what was going on – “You’re driving on the Golden Gate now”. It was also my first time crossing the bridge and getting to the other side – aka “The Bay Area”.
But eh, we’re not done. Before getting to SF we met that dude on Monterey beach:
We were feeling peckish – and by the way, in terms of food, yes, if you want to “eat well” it’s expensive in America, not to mention the tips that are strongly “suggested” as you may already know. Unless you end up eating in fast-food restaurants only. But we managed. – so we made our way to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a few miles only from Monterey.
If we had had more money to spend on hotels, I’d have booked something in this town but it’s like 3 times more expensive than in Monterey, so we played around this. Tip: Sleep in Monterey, eat in Carmel. We found a local speciality restaurant, and for some reason, it was very quiet there at this time, because we arrived after or before the big bank holiday weekend of September – can’t remember exactly. But we spent like $20 each for an entree each (main course), which was not too bad, neither was the food. We were still shocked with the prices of the restaurants in Carmel though.
Oh, I love Salty’s photos so much. This one offers a view overlooking the sea from the top of Lombard Street. There we were, in San Francisco. We went to the most touristic points and shot photos everywhere. That’s where walking was the most challenging. As you know, the streets are very steep and you’d better be in good shape, especially if the weather is warm.
We couldn’t make it to Alcatraz because you need to book tickets months before, and it’s around $35-40 for a full audio tour (it includes the boat cruise of course).
Check this slider, because Salty took so many photos that I don’t know which to choose:
We slept at Hi Marin Headlands Hostel that was quite far from Downtown SF but very secluded and quiet. The climate in San Francisco changes very quickly and can be different in the centre and the Bay area. Frankly, the hostel was surrounded by fog and blocked the view quite a lot. But we enjoyed wandering around that area. We even came across an equestrian farm:
Just so you know, we were a few miles away from Sausalito Port, where you can hop on a boat to reach the coast of San Francisco (close to the Pier 39). It’s not free but it’s convenient.
Once we checked out the next morning, we drove to Lake Tahoe through Sacramento (it’s the quickest way to the lake). Obviously, we couldn’t escape from a stopover in Sacramento Old Town, and pretend we were two cowboys lost in the Far West. Another slider which sums it up pretty well:
And then we made it to Lake Tahoe. I had been once already, in 2015 and I had a fabulous memory of the lake and its surrounding natural beauty. We did some kayaking, cycling and we mostly ate sandwiches thanks to a small fridge in our motel room. We went swimming several times and cycled to the Nevada part of the lake, where the decor looks completely different. Still Lake Tahoe but lost somewhere in Reno, at least that’s what it felt like.
Oh no, time to go. I remember feeling really sad to leave Tahoe. We had a long drive before L.A. and we spent our Friday on the road. We were knackered when we arrived. Sandy has a hot tub and I remember we watched the starred sky while enjoying a glass of wine in her jacuzzi. It’s been a blast. Can’t believe we were there. One year later, it still feels like a short dream. A glimpse of the past. A TV show on Netflix.
We went out for a drink to Venice that evening, if I remember right. The rest of our stay would be focused on discovering the City of Angels and its exciting neighbourhoods. We visited loads: Beverly Hills, Bel Air, UCLA, Westwood, Newport Beach, Victoria Beach, Laguna Beach, Hollywood, Chinese Theater, Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Union Station, El Pueblo, Art District, Venice Beach, Abbot Kinney Blvd., Hermosa Beach, Universal Studios, Studios City, West Hollywood, Santa Monica again (because we loved it).
Note that Universal Studios was the mega surprise for Salty’s birthday. I pretended to take him to Union Station that day with the Metro, but we stopped suddenly in Studios City, and then took the shuttle to the park.
I’ll let you guess Salty’s wide smile at this point. 🙂 I was so happy too, it was both our first time there.
In Universal Studios, we did every attraction we could, and sometimes twice. Tip: go during the week, it’s cheaper and there are fewer people than at the weekend. We’ve been on a Wednesday.
See this map below? That gives you a quick overview of the attractions: Harry Potter, The Mummy, The Simpsons, The Walking Dead, Transformers, Jurassic Park, the Studios Tour (60 mn) with the TV shows’ decors (Wisteria Lane, for instance), etc. WE HAD SO MUCH FUN!
We continued our tour of Los Angeles…
Westwood and UCLA
Beverly Hills and Bel Air
Downtown L.A. & Hollywood
Hollywood Hills, Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory
Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Victoria Beach
Our friend Dhyan in Newport Beach took us to a secret place that only locals know of, it’s called Victoria Beach and you need a Fiat 500 to park in the narrow streets before accessing the beach – she did just that with us. We had a wonderful time in the waves and I was so happy to see her again after all these years.
To end our L.A. chapter, we escaped to Hermosa Beach, had a cycling tour in Santa Monica and Venice Beach, had the last swims in Santa Monica Beach and Topanga Beach, as well as a lovely glass of wine in Malibu Wines with our friend and amazing host Sandy.
Without these loving and caring people, our trip wouldn’t have been the same. We left California with our heads full of sun and memories to share.
Now, we’re glad we could manage a trip in 2019 and not this year, which wouldn’t have been feasible because of this sanitary mess we’re in.
Have you been to L.A.? Which area did you prefer? Any highlight to share with us and our readers? [Comment below]