On Monday after lunch we drove from Las Vegas to Death Valley. The hottest (and second lowest) place on earth was not so very hot in mid-March, but still a lot warmer than Vegas. It’s a great nature reserve and it’s huge. Just driving through it took us several hours (incl. stops). I was very impressed with the place, the natural environment is amazing with large salt pans, desert sand dunes and high mountains.
A place you can spend several days in, but we decided that a few hours was enough and continued our road trip to Los Angeles. There we arrived late at night and managed to get a suite in the Hotel California on Santa Monica Beach. My sister and I both did some emails before catching a few hours of very much needed sleep. My sister woke me up the next morning to go running along Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Enjoyable to run along the beaches, but I was not too impressed by Venice Beach. A lot of homeless people and the place felt run down, not what I had expected.
I got free tickets from The Walt Disney Company for the Disneyland, so in the afternoon we decided to check that out. We visited Disney’s California Experience, the second theme park that Disney built in Anaheim. Similar to Disneyland with a lot of attractions and Disney characters, but with a bit more focus on California. We spent a few hours here before driving back into the city (experiencing LAs traffic jams…). We took a hotel on Sunset boulevard and spent the evening walking around Hollywood and having a few beers. Also here I was a bit disappointed. Hollywood boulevard is totally run down, hardly any decent bars or restaurants and mainly tattoo shops and other seedy places. Sunset was a bit better, but hardly so. The bars we found were okay, but nothing special compared to Shanghai. My expectations were not met.
The next morning we took off early, driving through Beverly Hills and later checking out the shops around Rodeo Drive. Beverly Hills has some huge mansions, but most houses were quite normal actually. Not sure if I would like to live here, it all felt a bit pretentious. We then drove out of the city on Highway 1, and had our first stop in Malibu. We had lunch on the beach, watching some seals play in the water right in front of us and a surfer trying to catch the big waves. Very enjoyable. We then kept on driving on Highway 1 until we hit Avila Beach around 6 pm, just in time to watch the sunset there. Avila Beach is a very nice town, especially because it was completely rebuilt after an oil leak in 1998. The oil company spent big money to compensate the people and made the town very nice. We spent an evening drinking wine on the hotel’s rooftop and then had a big dinner in a local seafood restaurant.
The next day we had a long ride again along Highway 1. Our first stop was Hearst Castle, a crazy place built by a person who clearly did not know what to do with his money. We then continued through Big Sur, with the most beautiful coast line that I have ever seen. Totally amazing. At some parts there was heavy fog, but the further we got the better the weather was and the last 20 miles or so the sky was completely blue again. We then went to Carmel-by-the-sea, arguably the nicest town (village?) in the US. I love the place. Nice restaurants, shops and galleries and an amazing beach front. It seems like the perfect place to retire. We then went to the Pebble Beach golf course where we had dinner in the club’s restaurant overlooking the 18th hole. But we first did the 17-mile drive around the Pebble Beach peninsula. Absolutely worth it, beautiful nature and amazing houses along the coast.
Late at night we drove on to Santa Cruz where we stayed in a hotel next to the main beach. Santa Cruz itself was a bit of a disappointment, but the beach is nice. The fun park with roller coasters and other attractions looked terrible, but I guess that’s what most people come to Santa Cruz for… We then drove on to Half Moon Bay for lunch at the Ritz-Carlton, located on a golf course next to the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. A magnificent location!
After lunch we drove to Palo Alto where we did some shopping and had a drink on University Avenue. In the late afternoon I took my sister to the airport where she took a flight to Vancouver to go skiing and to watch the final day of the Paralympics. I stayed for two more nights, and today (Sunday) I am flying back to Shanghai, writing this during the 13-hour flight over the Pacific. I had a great time with my sister, we got to know each other much better during the past day. And I have finally seen a bit more of California than just San Francisco and the Valley, something I had wanted to do for a long time already.
For more pictures of the road trip see here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chijs/sets/72157623619616072/
I had more or less the same sentiment towards LA and especially Venice Beach and Hollywood boulevard, since California in general is so well kept how it can be that LA with all the powerful industry around can be such a mess. Anyway I was prepared for Venice Beach, it was more or less what I expected but Hollywood boulevard was a big disappointment, as you say totally run down and abandoned to its luck.