California Dreaming

I hope you have some spare time because this one is quite long, I've tried to write as much detail as I could to hopefully help with any holidays you might have coming up to California.

After 12 days in California I touched back down in London on Wednesday afternoon, spending most of my time in San Francisco. This was my first trip to America, I never had a real urge to travel to the U.S. I always thought it would be cool to visit New York as I have a few friends who live there but on return I can say this is one of the best trips I have ever been on.

I arrived Thursday night after about a 11 hour flight from Heathrow with British Airways, flying on an Airbus A380 I pre purchased a seat on the upper deck which I hoped would be quieter and it was. As an added bonus the flight was half empty so they gave me an exit row seat for my long legs.

After a bit of turbulence and watching three movies, my aim was to stay up to adjust to Californian time, we arrived at around 8pm at San Francisco airport or SFO. It was about a 30-40min UBER to Russian Hill where I would be staying while in San Francisco, only a short walk to Lombard Street, the famous curving road tourist attraction.

Friday was spent exploring the inner city, popping into shops and just soaking up the atmosphere so not much to report on.

Saturday lunch was booked at the recommended Nopa restaurant which is a short walk from Golden Gate Park and this is where the adventure started. As I was up early due to the time difference, we thought it would be fun to check out the California Academy of Sciences located in Golden Gate Park before lunch at Nopa. To my surprise it was quite expensive to get in, tickets were $39.95 each but this gave us access to the Aquarium, Tusher African Hall, Earthquake exhibition, Human Odyssey, The Swamp and Colour of Life.

After a couple hours of exploring it was time to head to lunch, by this time we were starving and were looking forward to the famous Custard French Toast at Nopa. I went for the Wood Grilled Hamburger, which was delicious and we shared the Custard French Toast which I can only describe as epic, one of the best things I had tasted in a long time.

One thing I had to get used to was the minimum 15% you had to add as a tip for each meal you had, so if you ever travel to America keep this in mind when you're out and about.

Now we were fuelled it was time to go for a bike ride, we chose a bicycle rental company which was at the very east point of Golden Gate Park right near the Whole Foods. We hired two bicycles and cycled all the way through the park to the coast where we parked up our bikes and walked around the coast to see the Golden Gate Bridge. After that we headed back home and relaxed for a while before heading out for drinks with some friends.

Sunday afternoon was already booked, we would be heading to Alcatraz on the night tour, a ticket was about $45 and included an audio tour once on the island. We headed to Pier 33 which is where the ferry would set off from and involved a 15-20min trip to the island itself.

To start the tour the ferry takes you around the island before docking, during this time we were given some history on the island. Once disembarked we were greeted by a tour guide who would walk us up to the main building with some insights along the way. When we arrived in the main cell block building each person was given a audio device which would talk us through the jail and its history.

The tour takes about 60-90mins and walks you through the whole prison building feeding you information and history along the way and I can say this is probably the best audio tour I've ever been on. The voices on the audio tour were both convicted felons and guards who worked during the period of the jail. As it was a night tour we also we lucky enough to catch a magical sunset as we looked back onto San Francisco and its hills.

Monday morning we ventured to Coit Tower which gives visitors a vast look over San Francisco and its bay. Monday night we were headed to the NBA in Oakland so we spent the day venturing around the city. Which started off with a walk through China Town and a visit to the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where we discovered how fortune cookies were made and we also learnt that this was where fortune cookies were invented and that they have no link to Chinese culture.

We purchased a couple of bags of fortune cookies and next we ended up at lunch at a very nice spot, China Live, which looked brand new and had a nice little shop that we ventured through after our meal.

We still had plenty of time before we needed to be at the NBA so we hit up the Golden State Warriors merchandise store to get some kit for the game. Much to our luck the clothing was half price because there was a change of sponsor between seasons so I now have myself a Golden State Warriors jersey.

We caught the BART public transport system over to the arena and it was $8 for a return ticket and it was about 30mins and towards the end it was very cramped on the train not too dissimilar to the London Underground.

After a short walk we joined a long queue to wait to enter the arena, which slowly started moving after a little time. Much to our dismay we had to throw out our purchased fortune cookies because they did not allow food into the arena.

The NBA was great, with plenty of entertainment before, during and after the match to keep the audience entertained. The tickets weren't cheap, we were probably 30 rows back and the tickets were about $100 each.

The game was great and if I make it back over to the states I will definitely need to see another.

Tuesday we headed to SFO airport to pick up our convertible Camaro, I thought when in California you need to be driving a convertible muscle car and it wasn't until we saw the car that we realised how big it was, American cars are definitely larger.

We needed the car to drive to Yosemite National Park where we would be spending the next few days exploring the amazing sights. On our way over we stopped off at the Premium Outlets Mall where we did some shopping and as it was an outlet mall they had massive discounts on major brands.

Hours later we arrived at Rush Creek Lodge which was an amazing place to arrive to in the dark, the whole place was lit up and looked even better during the day. We settled in and had some dinner before getting a good nights rest before our epic hike the next day.

Up bright and early we grabbed some breakfast in the restaurant and then on our way back to the room we stopped at the Rush Creek Lodge general store to pick up some supplies for the hike as we wanted to have lunch at the top.

We put our things together and then jumped in the Camaro and made our way to Yosemite Village, we needed to head to the visitors centre to get some information on the trail we wanted to take, it's always best to speak to the experts first to see whether the trails are in good condition or not. There is also a fee of $30 to enter the road that takes you towards Yosemite Village and pay booth is just around the corner from Rush Creek Lodge.

The road heading into Yosemite Village was epic and you can't begin to describe the vastness of the area. Along the road is just sheer cliff faces that rise to about 7000ft and in a few hours we would be at the top looking down.

After a quick pit stop at the visitors centre we had to drive back around to camp 4 where the trail begun, we would be walking up the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail which would take us to just under 7000ft at the peak and what we learnt later is that it would take around 2 hours to get there.

The trail began with endless switchbacks as we climbed the side of the mountain, it then tailed off to the side to pass the waterfall that we would be hiking to the top of. It was tough on the legs and I had a heavy backpack full of food and water so it gave my legs an extra workout. Within 30mins of climbing we were in t-shirts as you get very hot very quickly, so if you ever go hiking make sure to wear layers.

Once we made it to the top the views were vast, you could see for miles and it was then that I realised how big this place was. Unfortunately the wind was kicking up and there was a snow warning to we had to head back down the trail a small way where it was a bit calmer to enjoy our lunch and then make the trek back down the mountain.

There was on and off drizzle as we made our way down so it took just under 2 hours to make it down as well as the track was quite slippery and to be honest I was only in trainers so my grip levels weren't great.

After we made it to the bottom we headed back to the car and slowly made our way home as the sun disappeared. I must admit when we arrived back in our room I don't think I've ever been that tired in my life, I was absolutely exhausted, a mixture of altitude and the sheer hike took its toll on me.

We tucked into some dinner and then had a restful night.

The car was ours until late on Thursday evening so we decided to take a scenic route home which stopped through Mariposa where we explored the Mariposa Museum which gave us a history lesson on the town and its gold boom. Entry was $5 per person and we spent about an hour there before we needed to keep going as we had a long drive towards San Jose.

San Jose wasn't anything so we continued on through to Paolo Alto, where we visited the Google Merchandise Store which was very separate to the main Google campus. To be honest the store was a little disappointing it was just a load of t-shirts, pencils and mugs, nothing too special considering the company is worth $500 million.

Dinner time had come around and we had hit the jackpot in Burlingame, a nice little town that we decided to stop in and grab some Japanese food. We had dinner at I Prive which was located on one of the main shopping strips and we feasted on some exceptional Sushi and noodle dishes. Time to return the car to the airport.

Friday we spent the morning and afternoon cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge and then having a great lunch in Sausalito right on the waterfront. It was a magical day for the weather and it was nice to soak up the atmosphere of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Saturday we decided to do a road trip so we hired another car, I wanted to get a Ford Mustang to compare the Ford and the Chevrolet but we were handed the keys to a BMW 340i Convertible which I was happy with.

We were driving down the coast heading for Monterey, the trip took about 2.5 hours along the main highways from Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco.

Monterey wasn't a bad little town, the sun was shining and the beach was really nice. We explored the pier first but it was very busy and very touristy so we decided to go for a long walk along the beach which was refreshing.

Lunchtime soon came around so we walked into town and ended up eating at Alvarado Street Brewery which had a cool and relaxed vibe inside, the Asian Chicken Salad went down well.

Onwards, we headed back towards San Francisco stopping off in Santa Cruz to walk along the famous pier and then drove a little further along the coast to catch one of the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen. To top it off we spent the next hour watching the surreal colours of the sky while we drove up Highway 1.

You can't complete a trip to San Francisco without a stop at the famous Ghiradelli Ice Cream shop where you can have a sundae with 1500kcal, I chose the Banana Split which was delicious but also made me feel sick afterwards. Also made a purchase of their chocolates which come in many different flavours.

To finish off the afternoon we walked down to Pier 1 where we dined on some red wine and a cheese board at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant before walking home.

The trip was slowly coming to an end but it was one of the best trips I have ever been on, it was a diverse holiday with plenty of different activities and I enjoyed the Californian way of life. I would definitely recommend the trip to anyway who has thought about visiting California.

Overall the holiday set me back around £1500, that included a return flight from London with British Airways, but if you're staying in a hotel you will need to add that to your budget. My total did include two nights at Rush Creek Lodge but the rest of the time accomodation was free.

If you have any questions please let me know and I will do my best to answer them.

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