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Driving the California Coast

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The decision to drive the coast of the sunny state was partly because of a long-standing love of US road movies and an interest in San Francisco and the Summer of Love.

We flew into San Francisco from London Heathrow and picked up our hire car for the drive from there to San Diego. As it was the height of summer and a long drive, we had decided against the convertible and gone for a more sensible option with air conditioning.

We chose to stay for the first few nights in the city and explore before setting off on our travels. The city has a great deal to see and it is impossible to cover it all in a matter of days, but we managed to take a trip on one of the famous cable cars up the steep streets, wander around the pretty houses and quirky shops on Haight Avenue and enjoy the tourists attractions, restaurants and bars along Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf.

Our next stop was the Napa Valley wine region, north of San Francisco and home to more than 200 wineries, and we visited a number of them, including the Buena Vista Carneros Winery, founded in 1857 and the Fetzer Vineyard because I particularly like the wine and it has its own cosy inn.

Having stocked up, we travelled to the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, with its own heated mineral pools to try the spring waters and the town's mud baths.

Driving back to the coast, we put on some driving CDs and took in the views of the Pacific as we passed the town of San Jose, humming Burt Bacharach's iconic song. We drove down the beautiful coastline as far as the pretty resort town of Santa Cruz.

Popular with young people and college students, seaside resort has a pretty old-style boardwalk, a pleasant beach and some cosy cafes and diners, with sealions lounging on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.

On our drive down from Santa Cruz, we stopped for several hours in Monteray to visit the world-class aquarium there and marvelled at the sea otters, sharks, jellyfish, penguins, sea horses and myriad other marine species on display.

As the drive from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles is almost 400 miles, we opted to spend a night in the small town of Pismo Beach, which is around half way and has a long sandy beach.

We finally reached Los Angeles, the sprawling City of Dreams in the south of the state. We chose to spend several days exploring its many facets, visiting Chinatown, the museums, Disneyland, Long Beach, Hollywood, window shopping on Rodeo Drive and a hundred other sights and sounds. The people, sights, smells, food glamour and buzz of Los Angeles are overwhelming, heady and seductive.

After the bustle and pollution of Los Angeles, our final couple of days in the far quieter city of San Diego were a welcome relief.

We also managed to nip over the Mexican border to the town of Tijuana, where we shopped and wandered around the busy streets taking in a taste of a new culture and language.

California is one of the largest states in the US and has a laidback, multicultural feel, a sunny climate and a great deal of charm. We saw a great deal of the stunning coastline and would have liked more time to have explored the interior.

Driving from San Francisco and its historic charm to the craziness of Los Angeles is a trip from the sublime to the ridiculous and I enjoyed every moment of my first US road trip.


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