With our heads full of the mountains and giant trees in Yosemite we drive west towards the coast, passing dusty flatlands full of orange groves and pistachio orchards sustained incredibly it seems without any rain at all.
We are excited to begin the leg of the trip that will take us down the Pacific highway, through Big Sur and eventually to San Diego. We catch up with the coast at Monterey, an old canning town and the spiritual, literary and actual home of John Steinbeck. Cannery Row has been preserved at best it can with the sardines long depleted and the warehouses of no use. The town has a pier full of fish restaurants, all complete with 'barkers' trying to lure us in with tastings of clam chowder. The highlight of an otherwise poor meal is a group of Brits at the next table discussing the issues of the 'Fosse septique' at their French home. Happily the two following nights we find restaurants of exceptional quality and meet a lovely couple of Californian tech-workers and enjoy a lively chat about Google, Yahoo and if it is ever going to be possible to retire in the US if you are in your mid 50s.
From Monterey we start the drive south, visiting rich, twee Carmel where nearly every shop has a picture of Clint Eastwood with his arm around the store owner. Our next stop is San Simeon, a base we have chosen so we can visit Hearst Castle, the folly of a megalomaniac media baron. It's not a long drive but takes us an age as we have to stop every mile and marvel at the view. Beautiful mountains, inaccessible coves and cerulean seas leave us short of words but long on wonder. Our ocean front hotel has a lovely ritual where each night log fires are lit in a sort of beach side chiminea. As the sun sets colourfully the fires are lit and we meet Ian, a bit of a loner but on a road trip with his elderly dad. Ian turns out to be an interesting and informed young man and one of those chance encounters that left us better informed about the American mindset.
We make the trip to Hearst Castle moaning at the cost and the lack of joined up tours and find ourselves immediately falling back on our English snobbish 'You think this is cool/old/tasteful?' mindset. It is actually pure kitsch. It is though technically interesting and the huge endeavor took nearly 30 years to get to its still unfinished state. In the end the question is what kind of hubris would lead a man to want to build a fake bit of Spain atop a Californian hill?
Up the road from San Simeon is Cambria a town apparently designed to look like an English village. It doesn't but its hotch pot architecture and charm wins us over. Up on Nit Witt Ridge is the anti-Hearst Castle, a home built by the town's refuse collector over a 50 year period using found or recycled material. Now that is a proper castle.
Our Pacific route is interrupted as we arrive at Los Angeles where we are looking forward to meeting up with Hugh on his home turf. We have only ever met Hugh in London when he is there for business and he looks years younger not having to battle with jet lag. We hang out and Hugh drives us to Hollywood Boulevard and Santa Monica's Muscle Beach. Sadly the muscles are having a day off. We visit his office in Beverley Hills where he has a 360 degree view of LA and the Hollywood sign in the distance. LA is not an easy tourist town, but neither is it a town without culture, actually quiet the opposite - there are 841 museums, unless Wikipedia is kidding, and 21 theatrical openings every week. You need lots of dedicated time to discover it. Although if you live there you are doomed to spend your time driving its sprawl on the busiest, widest roads we have ever seen. The city has under 4 million inhabitants but apparently they are all on the road 24 hours a day.
Jean is rather broken with a dreadful hacking cough, so bad that at one point Tony thought medical intervention would be needed. It wasn't but the cough has worn her out and we are glad to be on a tourist bus doing nothing but sitting, looking and listening.
It is not a handsome city for the most part but it does have lovely mountains and cute coastal resorts at Santa Monica and Venice and you can, as we did, drive by the former homes of movie stars, and spot their names or hand prints on the pavements. We did get as close as you can these days to the Hollywood sign, a curious and compelling icon.
We say a farewell to Hugh, who in his typically generous manner offers to ship our glass object back to London. It remains to be seen whether it arrives in one piece. Next stop Laguna Beach where a coughing and spluttering Jean needs some sun and rest.
We check out a few hotels and settle for a room overlooking a tropical and pleasant courtyard. Jean is still rnot well but the weather is glorious and there is pool 3 feet from our room. Laguna Beach is a great resort, with loads of restaurants and galleries. We even find a coffee shop doing its own roasting and have an in depth chat about.... OK, OK if you're not interested...
The drive to San Diego is not quite so lovely but still pretty good and there seem to be plenty of small attractive resorts. We have a damn fine room in a grand and old hotel though are annoyed that the more expensive the hotel the more certain it is you will be charged for parking and wifi. You will not be surprised that we were surprised that San Diego was not as we expected. Not a quaint Mexican town, and not a pretty Spanish style resort. But instead a bustly and modern city with a few preserved bits, plenty of ugly high-rise and a huge number of homeless. But what to think when you see the homeless guy at the ATM? Or another with an iphone?
It has a Little Italy which was more a Tiny Italy but when we visited a nearby but unrelated weekend market had lovely fresh foods and delights. Best of all San Diego has the magnificent Balboa Park with fourteen museums and handsome Spanish, even Moorish, buildings and we spent a lovely and cultured day including listening to the world's largest outdoor organ. The recital began, oddly, with the English national anthem, normally not a tune we would stand up for but our national pride got the better of us. We visited La Jolla (pronounced it seems La Hoya) which is a resort close by the city which had a lovely cliff walk with seals and many kinds of birds but in particular herons in great abundance.
It has been a very special trip driving the coastal road sandwiched heavenly between the mountains and the ocean but we still have much to look forward to, not least the decadence of Vegas, our next stop.
Seals relaxing in Monterey marina
The seas had incredible colours
Moody sunset at Luguna Beach
Tea tree in Monterey
Only in Carmel!
One of a 1000 lovely views on the coastal road
more Pacific Coast road
Pacific Coast road
San Simeon beach
San Simeon near Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle garden
Nitt Witt Mansion
San Simeon Pier
Pebble Beach San Simeon
Giant kelp on the beach
Los Angeles from our friend Hugh's Hollywoodoffice
Muscle beach Santa Monica
Meagre muscles on the beach
Skate park Venice beach
Gulls can't read it seems
The coffee conversation
Hill side homes at Luguna Beach
Cliff walk La Jolla
Cliff walk La Jolla
La Jolla cliff walk
La Jolla seals and marine birds
Balboa Park San Diego
The 'Spreckles' Organ Balboa park