Stops 16-21 - North California Coast
Santa Cruz (Wednesday)
We loved sunny Santa Cruz! We stayed for two nights with a lovely girl called Nona and her dog Zaga, and quickly decided we wanted to be BFFs with her. We took advantage of her home's perfect location and spent a day on the beach soaking up some sunshine, and getting our own back on the hundreds of times we had been the victims of heckling/perving, by unashamedly perving on the DOZENS of topless hot men all over the beach. We suffered marginally for our gawping, with Helen taking a couple of blows from a football being thrown around (the semi naked men were ever so apologetic....) and some excitable dogs skidding across us and our towels full speed more than once - small prices to pay for an afternoon of eye candy.
Santa Cruz isn't a huge place, with a marina, fairground and sandy beaches being the main attractions, but we loved its chilled hippie vibe.
After two days in Santa Cruz we moved south, stopping briefly at Monterey to walk by the water, watching some sea lions basking in the sunshine before reaching genteel and very English-feeling Carmel By The Sea. A beautiful little town with a long stretch of beach, and full of little designer boutiques and quaint 'inns' - ours was pink, naturally!
We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sunshine before spending the afternoon on the beach (where we spotted a dog in a life jacket - highlight of the day) and then decided to reward our recent good-eating behaviour by a blow out at THE place to eat in Carmel - Dametra Cafe - an unassuming Greek restaurant, where we again put our newly acquired wine knowledge to use and enjoyed a local bottle and a seafood feast, with an musical interval during which the elderly chef was wheeled out of the kitchen to sing a jaunty Greek song accompanied by a waiter on a guitar - great entertainment! Of course, over the course of the night we made friends with three older gentleman golfers who kindly treated us to our baklava dessert in exchange for us blathering on about our travels. A brilliant splurge night.
Big Sur (Saturday)
The next day we drove the epic Big Sur - a 100 mile stretch of craggy North California coastline, it was like a Top Gear drive with winding roads, steep drops and endless blue ocean to our right the entire time. We stopped for lunch in the mountains at restaurant Nepenthe with stunning views down to the water, and then onto Point Piedras Blancas - home to an enormous elephant seal colony, with literally thousands of them lazing about on the beach. The surrounding air had a distinct whiff of fishy wet dog, but they were great to see in such a number so close up. We moved onward to Hearst Castle - California's most famous monument to wealth and ambition, not a castle but in fact the ranch of a famous newspaper magnate in the 1800's, before driving through quaint Cambria, sadly everything closed by the time we arrived. Our penultimate stop for the day was Morro Bay to view Morro Rock - a volcanic peak jutting up from the ocean floor, before making a pitstop for the night at Arroyo Grande which we didn't get to see in daylight, but don't think we missed much! The next day we made our way further south, stopping for a rather blustery and sandy picnic lunch at Guadalupe - home to an un-noteworthy town, but gateway to North America's largest coastal sand dunes, with scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End shot here.
Santa Barbara (Sunday)
A small and pretty town, with an endless beach which Nat attempted to run in 29C degree heat - NOT a good idea! We enjoyed a couple of days here chilling on the beach, exploring Stearns Wharf (a wooden pier) and shopping along State Street, unable to ignore the siren call of the boutiques along its stretch. Our accommodation literally gave us ants in our pants (or in our bed at least) and a gross incident involving the host's bug-eyed dog leaving us a present in the kitchen which we'd rather not talk about.... Our fellow housemate Ben was a lovely chap, very friendly and more than happy to have his tv taken over by two girls in need of a chick-flick fix. He was a little bewildered when he innocently asked "are you two married?" to which Nat dizzily clarified "no, no, we're just friends..." - he hadn't meant to each other...
North L.A (Tuesday)
We moved on next to the Santa Monica hills just 20 minutes from Hollywood, in the beautifully luxurious home of film-costume-designer-turned-doggie-outfit-designer Carin. Pool, hot tub and sauna all at our disposal.... A far cry from some of our American pov pads.
We spent our first day here living it up on Malibu Beach, gawping at the gigantic houses on the beach and enjoying white wine spritzers in the sunshine. We spent the evening driving the 3.5 hours to Santa Barbara and back, because Nat had managed to leave her iPad there as an unintentional gift for our host.... fool!
The next day we headed south to Santa Monica, where we let our inner kids run riot at the fairground on the pier there. We enjoyed the fantastic views of Santa Monica town and beach from the top of the Ferris wheel, before meandering along the beachfront footpath, stopping to watch the performing gymnasts making use of the 'Muscle Beach' equipment, a hard task but someone had to supervise..... After the relative calm of Santa Monica we headed next for Venice Beach - like Blackpool on acid! We had great fun strolling along the beachfront taking in the different characters and stalls set up here - countless 'Marijuana Doctors' able to give you a 'prescription' at the drop of a hat for any imagined and instantly diagnosed ailment; street performers; artists; men working out in outdoor gyms and playing basketball. We stopped for a drink in the sunshine to allow us to people watch and take in the crazies, before Nat went for a sunset run along the beach and pier while Helen went to a yoga class.
The next day we left the sunny California coastline and headed inland for Las Vegas, en route to Zion National Park.