I was excited to take a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego, driving down the famous Pacific Coast Highway.
Impressions of San Francisco
My first impressions of San Francisco were the worst as we drove into the city over the Bay Bridge to meet dirty streets with homeless people, needle exchanges and food banks.
Our Hostel, HI San Fran City Centre was recommended by a friend and is located on the edge of the Tenderloin district. The hostel itself was nice, but being met outside by someone asking you for your money/cigarettes (I don’t smoke) or expecting you to listen to their life story was less than pleasant.
The police sirens passing all night every night also got old quickly.
On the definite plus side was the availability of cheap restaurants with fantastic comfort food on our doorstep.
It took a couple of days for us to venture out far enough to get better impressions of San Francisco and see what a beautiful city it is. In places the views certainly reminded me of my home city of Wellington.
We spent one dismal, wet afternoon catching a ferry out to Alcatraz and seeing the old jail. The rain did not let up and by the end of the outing I was soaked through. A television documentary series airing in the USA and this mythbusters episode have heightened the popularity of this attraction and it was pretty cool to walk around and get a feeling of the events which happened inside through the self-guided audio tour.
My personal highlight was seeing the San Francisco Ballet perform, a company I have held in high esteem for much of my life.
I also took some time out from sight seeing to watch a movie – when you’re in a movie theatre you could be in any city in the world and the temporary frustrations which arise when you’re travelling are forgotten.
I really want to go back, first impressions of San Francisco aside, it is without a doubt one of the world’s great cities.
San Francisco to San Diego
We visited Santa Cruz and the picturesque golf courses of Pebble Beach on route to Santa Barbara where we had booked to stay a night to break up the drive.
The original plan for the road trip from San Francisco to San Diego was to take the coastal scenic route of Highway 1, and though there were signs near Carmel saying the road was closed 50 miles ahead, we opted to ignore them, incorrectly believing there would be an alternative route somewhere prior to the point where the road was closed.
There wasn’t. Soon after Lucia (and with the petrol light on due to a reluctance to pay rural petrol prices) we met a lady with a stop sign and had to turn back and take the 101 from Carmel instead.
We finally got to Santa Barbara and spent the night and following morning there, having brunch, viewing the beach (not swimming weather) and doing a little shopping.
I cannot recommend StayON Beverly hostel on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles enough. It was clean and tidy, the shared bathrooms exceptional and included shampoo, soap and conditioner. The room included a double bed, plasma tv, desk and small refrigerator. The Keurig coffee machine was a new discovery for me and I am keen to buy one to take home.
At around $100US per night for two sharing it was the same price as private HI Hostel rooms in other large USA cities but much better value for money. If you’re travelling solo and don’t mind crashing in a dorm room, hostels are cheap, but if you’re sharing motel rooms away from the city centre (assuming you have either a car or access to good public transport system) are more reasonable than paying for a private room in a lot of hostels.
In Los Angeles we visited Griffin Park, the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood Sign and admired mansions in Beverly Hills. We spent a day at Universal Studios and drove out to Santa Monica and Venice Beaches and walked the Walk of Fame, also taking in the Kodak and Chinese Theatres.
The HI Hostel at Point Loma in San Diego was the best value place we stayed in the USA. All the staff were extremely friendly and made an effort to get to know you. Pancakes were available for breakfast and home made meals such as BBQ Burgers or Pasta and a desert were available for only $5 all 3 of the nights we stayed. We also gained a local pub (HI Hostels are alcohol free) – Catalina’s where there were cheap drinks, sports on television and pool tables.
The San Diego Zoo is the city’s biggest attraction. The place was huge – buses and a skyline ride were required to get around and see as much as we could and we spent the whole day there seeing animals and an adapted 4D version of Happy Feet.
Our second and final full day in San Diego was more relaxed. We drove around the city and got a feel for it before driving to the Mexican border to wave at Mexico. Tijuana is not the safest place for tourists or their vehicles and crossing the border was not advised.
Of all the cities I have visited in the States at this stage I see San Diego as the most liveable for me.