After Mexico City we arrived in Los Angeles where we stayed within a stone’s throw of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, hoping to be able to walk to places, or failing that, wanting to be close to transport links. In practice, we ended up using a Lyft service as well as being driven around by a friend who lives locally. Los Angeles is not a particularly pedestrian friendly city but we found the streets pleasantly spacious.
Further afield we visited Sunset Junction in the hip Silver Lake, complete with its vintage shops and local produce market. In the evening, we took a walk and a comedy show at Malibu beach.
We hired a car for our journey northward up the west coast to San Francisco. It got off to a confusing start, however, as we headed due east to spend a couple of nights at 29 Palms, near the otherworldly Joshua Tree National Park. Camping in the park is also possible, but our minimalistic travel didn’t allow this.
This seemingly barren desert is home to a surprising number of different fauna and the rocky features combine with wide, sweeping, tree-filled planes to form remarkable landscapes. The park is quite vast, with numerous hiking trails starting from different points connected by roads meaning that car is very much a necessity here. It also attracts its fair share of climbers, with some of the rock reaching heights of 10 storeys plus.
En route back towards LA and the coast, the 3,300 metre (or 10,800 feet in local currency) Mount San Jacinto dominates the skyline. Nestled at its base is the famous resort of Palm Springs.
Santa Barbara was our first stop along the coast in the northwards direction. A charming town centre, consisting of mainly recent but thoughtful architecture, opens on to a palm tree lined stretch of beach. The morning leaden skies were not a regular occurrence.
Next up we arrived in San Luis Obispo, which marks the point where one would normally leave Highway 101 for Highway 1, which is the tourist route to take as it hugs the coastline. The town is worth a brief stop for the cat and fiddle sculpture alone!
We had heard from several sources that Hwy 1 was closed just south of Big Sur due to a landslide, so took the decision to travel on the inland 101 up to Monterrey instead, then head back down to Big Sur or at least as far as we could get before reaching the closure.
Upon reaching Big Sur, we learned that Hwy 1 was in fact closed in four different places, one of which was a bridge that the authorities had had to demolish due to the damage it had sustained. Unprecedented rainfall in previous weeks was the apparent cause.
However, there was still enough of the highway open for us to catch a good deal of its spectacular views, accessible hikes and the occasional windswept beach.
After our long day of sightseeing and a brief stop at the surf town of Santa Cruz (where Niina’s childhood favourite, The Lost Boys, was filmed), we reached the unique San Francisco where we parted company with the hire car. We knew we were going to get on very well with this place and had accordingly booked a five night stay.
We spent considerable time on Mission Street, an arterial road that runs from the southwest neighbourhood of Daly right up to the northeast waterfront of the city. The route and associated Mission district feature some of San Francisco’s more colourful sights, both in terms of street art and people!
We also paid several visits to the Castro district, which is historically significant for the LGBT movement. The Castro Theater, the former site of Castro Camera and the area’s friendly and vibrant atmosphere are big draws.
Around North Beach you can find two stalwarts of the culturally revolutionary Beat movement – the Beat Museum and City Lights Booksellers. Both are a must-see for anyone interested in the histories of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, et al., the latter also known for publishing many controversial (and even banned) works during the era.
Having bid farewell to the hire car, we took an overnight Amtrak train for the next leg of our journey – to Portland. Views of pine-shrouded mountains, a luxurious dining car (accessed by reservation only) and an over-complicated boarding process made for a train experience different to any other!
Portland’s treasures are dotted around the city, rather than centred in the downtown area, which means a bit of time is required to seek them out.
All around the city, stores display signs making it clear that everyone is welcome. The town’s progressive attitudes attract thousands of new residents every year.
We correctly anticipated that finding good vegetarian and vegan food would be easier once we reached the States. A block downtown is lined with food carts on all sides, adding up to a great variety of choices for omnivores and herbivores alike.
Another (albeit much shorter) northbound Amtrak journey took us on to Seattle. In a similar vein to Portland, you have to look further afield from the centre to find its sweet spots. Downtown did feel a bit like a concrete jungle and there seemed to be construction work going on everywhere. There is rapid population growth here due to the presence of several large operations for companies like Google, Amazon and Boeing.
We were fortunate to pick the Capitol Hill neighbourhood for our stay. A thriving and colourful area with lots of theatres, restaurants, parks and bars.
The nearby Freemont district is well worth a visit too. There’s a famous troll sculpture (incorporating a VW Beetle), an unexpected Lenin statue and great view over Lake Union from Gas Works Park. The Lenin statue was rescued from a Czechoslovakian scrapyard by a Washington resident in the 90s and has continued to spark local debate about its presence ever since.
While in the Seattle area, we did a 10-day silent meditation retreat at a Vipassana centre about 2 hours away. As we moved into the last two weeks of our journey, it was a well timed opportunity for mental cleansing in preparation for our return.
The final leg of our travels was by Greyhound bus to Vancouver, a well chosen location for the final stop before our return. In contrast to some of the US cities we visited, the high rises don’t seem cluttered and the downtown area had a spacious feel about it. Right adjacent to this area is Stanley Park, a large green space with a long coastline taking up most of its circumference. We spent several hours cycling around the coast, taking in the totem poles on its east side and the views of North Vancouver.
Just beyond North Vancouver is a spectacular series of snow-capped mountains, visible from most parts of the city. We were well located in the downtown area with great views from our 11th floor dwelling.
This, our 39th blog post, marks the end of our 13 month adventure. Thanks to all who have followed us along the way and we’ll start up again when our next trip begins. In the meantime we’ll be staying in Brighton for a while and may even write a little bonus post on how we’re settling back in, in due course.