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California Part 2/3 – South going on North

Pacific Highway all the way to San Francisco, Berkley and Burning Man prep time in Sacramento (LONG POST)

sunny 26 °C
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Pacific Highway and Big Sur via Santa Cruz

The route up to San Francisco was always going to be a tough one to decide. We had the option of driving up the coast to see the amazing Big Sur or going more east and hitting Yosemite. Unfortunately we were unable to do both so we opted for Pacific Highway and Big Sur. The long drive had to however be broken over few days so the first night was spent in Santa Cruz. I remembered Santa Cruz after the soap opera from the late 80s that was a big hit in Croatia and that I kinda grew up with. We didn’t spend enough time there for me to spot any similarities from the show besides big, fancy houses.

Hearst Castle

Day 2 stop was going to be in San Simeon which is also a home to Hearst Castle. The most incredible estate on the hill which belonged to Mr Hearst, a publishing mogul from the start of 20th century that had a vision of building the most opulent home for his family and his famous Hollywood and New York friends. To do a tour there you had to pay $30 and there were at least 5 if not 6 different tours. We got the main castle and garden tour. You could also get a kitchen tour or a cottage tour but this one was definitely the most popular one so we went with the crowds and didn’t regret it. To get to the Castle we had to take a 15 minute drive on a narrow hilly roads. You couldn’t really see the Castle from the visitor centre at the bottom but as soon as we started to ascend the view of the castle expanded. It looked like something from a Great Gatsby novel, most notably the estate had the most impressive pool I have ever seen. Reminded me of what I imagine Roman Baths would look like. The main castle house was very impressive both outside and inside, surrounded with incredible fountains that were modelled after an Italian piazza, to impressive reception room, dining hall and cinema. Visit to the second floor where all of Mr Hearst’s private quarters were was not included in the tour but I am sure they would have been equally impressive. It was an excellent tour so if you ever get a chance to do it don’t hesitate it is definitely worth it. The night in San Simeon was also lush. We watched the sunset by the sea and fire and enjoyed a delicious steak to celebrate the sale of Edd’s business. It was a perfect last dinner we would have as a group of 3.

Big Sur and crazy car show in Carmel by the Sea

Day 2 of our drive to San Fran was looking more promising in terms of weather so we were optimistic we would see more of the dramatic cliffs, and we weren’t disappointed. There was plenty of amazing viewpoints and little walks that allowed us to see the beauty of the Pacific. We even managed to get a parking fine for parking in the opposite direction of traffic despite it being the only parking lot in the area. The best bit was yet to come as we visited Carmel on the sea. A little quaint but super rich town hour and a half drive from San Fran. There we were surprised to learn was a Monterrey Car Week was taking place. It is hard to describe the ridiculousness of the level of wealth all on display in the form of hyper and super cars just casually driving around the streets of Carmel. There were so many super cars that I can’t even begin to list them all – from Porsches, Lambos, Rollers, McLarens, Ferraris etc. I don’t think there was a single car there that was worth less than £200k. Absolute insanity and definitely explained why the single room in a below average motel was something like $400. Simply not enough accommodation for everyone who was attending this once a year event. My personal favourite was a purple Ferrari that I am now determined to own one day. Besides the attraction of super cars we also saw a “famous” house that looked like a ship and something from Hansel and Gretel.

San Jose and San Francisco

Instead of staying in Monterey which was too expensive we opted for a nice hotel in Santa Clara called Aloft before heading to San Francisco the next day. I had mixed expectations for San Fran as we’ve heard a lot of bad things about homelessness and drug abuse (worse than LA) on the streets, specifically bad is the area called Tenderloin but on the other hand there are so many things that we have been looking forward to doing there that it had to be good! It turned out to meet my expectations pretty much. Coming into city we saw not one but 3 people taking drugs openly on the street and the whole street covered in tents. Very disturbing sights! But surprisingly it was very contained to a particular area only, once we were on the street where our old school San Fran hotel called Golden Gate was. The hotel was the only property that wasn’t a hostel that we could find in San Fran under $200. Insanely expensive city. The reality is that we did leave booking until the very last minute and then on top of it it was a weekend which meant that prices were higher than usual anyway. Would definitely recommend booking things much more in advance if travelling to Bay area. Nevertheless the hotel although quite old and dated was clean and had everything we needed, including delicious breakfast pastries so couldn’t really complain.
San Francisco exploration was super fun we visited Chinatown, went down to the piers and them met up with my great friend Nora who used to be my housemate when I lived in Australia many years ago and who lives in Berkley now. She made a trip to San Francisco to show us around and meet us for dinner. We went for dinner at a place called Blackwood San Francisco at Marina District. It was delicious Thai food, would definitely recommend!
We also went for rooftop cocktails at the place called Dirty Habit, surprisingly the prices weren’t even that bad!
The next day in the morning we went to a famous old bookshop aka museum about the Beat generation where we found lots of info on John Kerouac and I even got a 50 cent book.
The guy at the shop recommended we go check out the café next door which was opened by a guy from a small town of Rovinj in Croatia.
The queue was unbelievably long but the double espresso I had was great so I did forgive them, though I committed a cardinal American sin and didn’t tip. Service was absolutely awful!
Next stop for the day was a visit to Alcatraz prison which involved a great little boat trip from the Pier. The boat was absolutely rammed which foreshadowed the tour – super busy. Because there were so many people the audio tour didn’t really work as you couldn’t get to designated spot when the audio guide instructed you to go. It would have been much better if they actually had timed entry into the prison. Alcatraz did some quite harsh but nothing like East State Penitentiary which we visited earlier on the trip in Philadelphia. Tried to get a good photo with Golden Gate bridge but unfortunately the fog named Carl that regularly ascends and descends in San Francisco was so thick that we could barely see it! Got some good photos of San Fran skyline though.
Close to where we got dropped off after Alcatraz was a famous Pier 39 where you can see copious amounts of sea lions just laying around doing absolutely nothing. Strange sight but very popular tourist stop. One more thing that was on our list was a big old school penny arcade called Musée Mécanique which had a great variety of games we haven’t seen before including one where you had to lift some sand and drop it off in a shipping container with the aim of the game being filling as much of container as possible. It was definitely more fun than it sounds haha. It was also a place where we met our friend Sam who we met earlier this year at Afrikaburn in South Africa. We went for couple of pints in the nearby pub before we decided it is time to give Hackett a big send off by going to a Drum’n bass night in the only club in San Fran that had it on. The place was quite small, we didn’t know any of the djs but hey it was a Wednesday night and it was the first drum n bass we heard in America so we fully embraced it and danced the night away. Great send off to Hackett and amazing catch up with our friend Sam.

Quick stop at Berkley

After 2 days in San Francisco we were ready to explore some more of Bay area and luckily my friend Nora generously took us in for a night. It was so wonderful to have a wholesome afternoon with her. We caught up on 10 years of friendship, she made us an amazingly delicious dinner and we watched new episodes of Indian matchmaking.

Prepping for Burning Man in Sacramento

Sacramento was always going to be a stop out of necessity rather than out of a particular desire to visit it. The main reason why we needed to stay there was because our Burning Man trailer was to be rented from there. In the end it actually turned out to be a great little spot. The weather was great, people were nice the food was good and most importantly it is close to Burning Man! We didn’t really do much besides numerous trips to Walmart, getting my hair and nails done and just getting mentally and physically ready for what was to come in the Black Rock City. I think I even mentioned moving there but Edd was not too keen. I will remember it as a great place and one that I would choose over LA or San Fran.
Close proximity to Black Rock City and the amount of projects you could run from there definitely ways in heavily in favour of it but whether this will ever become reality only time will tell. Next stop Burning Man!

Posted by eharpham 22:18 Archived in USA Tagged castles california carmel roadtrip bigsur

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