What are work perks for if not to be taken advantage of for your own personal travel ambitions? With the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Utah at the end of our Christmas break, it would have been rude not to tack on a cheeky roadie around California on the way. With the bosses blessing one of my workmates and I loosely planned a circuitous route from San Francisco to Salt Lake City taking in some of California's stunning coastline as well as the Nevada desert and a couple of National Parks over a two week stretch of American winter.
I flew up to Auckland on Boxing Day feeling a little worse for wear after the previous day's festivities and gorging myself on classic kiwi summer BBQ fare. I had packed in a hurry that morning and my bag was a concerning 20kg already since we were heading into winter and wanted to get in a bit of trail action as well as shopping and of course gambling in Vegas. To be fair I used everything in my suitcase but I had 3 times as many clothes as what I backpacked around Europe with!
We arrived in San Francisco feeling totally awesome after a 13 hour flight with little sleep and that really really good plane food. Having a somewhat limited budget we had opted for the HI at Fisherman's Wharf to spend the first couple of nights before we picked up our hire care and started the actual road part of the road trip. It's not the flashest hostel I've spent time in but it was warm and clean with pretty good staff and the location is ideal for exploring in most directions.
A wander down towards Pier 39 takes you past plenty of great seafood restaurants and kiosks if you're that way inclined. We took a massively scenic walk all the way from here to Union Square up and down hills that took me back to living in Dunedin again. Street Cars are a much more leisurely form of transport but be prepared to line up for a long long time to get on one from the Fisherman's Wharf end on Hyde Street. The shopping at Union Square is pretty awesome and if that's your thing then I would recommend staying in this part of town and just visiting the waterfront instead.
On our second day way rented bikes from Blazing Saddles (also on Hyde St) and cycled along the waterfront and over the Golden Gate Bridge. The ride is pretty easy and a fun way to see the bridge from both sides. The guys at Blazing Saddles made sure we knew exactly where we were going and it's almost impossible to get lost (if you're a direction challenged individual use Google Maps and pin some points along the way before you leave). Once across we continued on to the idyllic Sausalito which conveniently is downhill the whole way from the bridge and all kinds of quaint. It was a bit early for lunch but this would be a great spot to stop for food before you catch the ferry back across the harbour or continue on to Muir Woods.
We opted to head back across on the ferry (we had tickets already from the bike rental which made life easy) and continue exploring the city. While we still had the bikes we made our way right across town and inadvertently straight through the ghetto to see the painted ladies which were actually pretty amazing. My eight year old Full House loving self was properly impressed. Much shopping and another night at the hostel later we were picking up our rental and heading west for Yosemite. The rental company had thoughtfully given us a car with no gas in it so our first challenge was getting out of the city in rush hour traffic whilst trying to find somewhere to fill up. I had a few nervous moments driving on the wrong side of the road down the narrow streets but thankfully I'll never see those people again.
The drive inland took us through Modesto and Merced and onto a little town called Mariposa about 90 minutes from Yosemite National Park. The Main Street was straight out of every feel good American film I had seen in the 90's with a handful of shops, s couple of gas stations and surrounded by beautiful green forest. We were lucky there hadn't been a lot of snow when we arrived so we were able to drive into the park ourselves without chains the next day. The YARTS bus runs fairly regularly though and would have been a good alternative had the weather been different.
As we got nearer to Yosemite and started to glimpse the huge granite towers that form the walls of the valley, I got just a little bit excited. I've watched countless videos and documentaries set in the park but seeing it in person was pretty breathtaking. We headed to the visitor centre to collect a map and set out to Yosemite Falls which is a short walk away from here. The trails are all paved but covered in ice which made things interesting. About five minutes into the walk we rounded a corner to see three deer wandering into a clearing in front of us. I felt incredibly stealth trying to get a shot of them until I realised they were completely tame and most likely after some food from us.
From here we spent some time exploring further around the park but had to make tracks in the early afternoon to try get back out to the coast by that night. I'll have to go back in summer now to spend a bit more time hiking some of the more further out trails without snow everywhere. Our destination that evening was the seaside town of Monterey and we arrived well after dark after a pretty long day of driving on massive freeways to get there. The main attractions here are the aquarium and the seafood - neither of which we experienced as we were back on the road early the next day. We had lost a day after arriving in Mariposa due to a stomach bug I promised I wouldn't mention in here (bad things happened) so we had to catch up a day if we were going to arrive in LA on time.
From Monterey we began the winding journey down the Pacific Coast Highway which sits atop some pretty spectacular cliffs as we made our way south through Big Sur. The real danger here isn't the road's proximity to a certain death fall down a huge cliff but the tourists stopping erratically and suddenly around every second corner. Anything for that perfect Instagram shot though right? The weather was clear and sunny so we did manage to get a few holiday snaps for the Mum's before heading to Hearst Castle in the late afternoon. I've traveled all around Europe and seen plenty of spectacular castles but this place is still well worth the visit. Courtesy of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the Castle is incomplete but exuding that grand opulence which accompanies some of the most prolific art collectors in the world. Catch a tour of the grounds, grand rooms or cottages from $25 for an adult.
From Hearst Castle we made our way a little further south to Morro Bay for pizza, a glass of wine and an early night. We were away again first thing the next day and shopped our way through Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara before arriving just outside of Ventura to stay with some family friends for a couple of nights. As much as I enjoy doing my own thing while traveling, there's nothing quite like staying with some locals and getting to know an area from a non-tourist point of view. Terri and Alex were incredibly accommodating and treated us to a tour of the Patagonia Archive where Terri works collating and preserving the history of the company. When you work in the outdoor industry going to Patagonia is a little bit like going to Disneyland and we actually got to meet Yvon Chouinard - at the salad bar naturally.
Rebecca spent a morning out rowing on the lake while I tried to sleep off some of the cold that I had been carrying since our second day in San Fran. It was hard to leave the beautiful home and great conversation at the Laine's and return to the not so stimulating confines of the rental car but thankfully the trip from here to Santa Monica was fast and incredibly picturesque. We checked into the HI after having a difficult time trying to find somewhere to park the car. The accommodation here is pretty standard but the location is awesome with the pier just around the corner and plenty of great shopping in just about every direction. If you want to blend in whilst in LA just remember to always carry a yoga mat with you at all times and only drink overpriced green juice.
The only non-retail aspect of our three day stay in LA was a morning hike up in the Hollywood hills and a visit to Griffith Observatory. We had beautiful weather and it was nice to see another part of the city as well as stumbling upon the ubiquitous film set halfway up Mt Hollywood. I had been to Universal Studios on a previous visit so skipped the Theme Parks this time around, however if you haven't been I would still recommend taking a day to explore at least one. We left the city with myself a little worse for wear after the previous night out so to be honest I don't remember the trip to Joshua Tree. Arriving in the early afternoon to the alien-like desert landscape, I soon perked up and got a bit excited again. We were surrounded by strange looking trees, enormous rock piles and a whole lot of dirt that I just couldn't get enough photos of.
Our accommodation was in Twenty-nine Palms, just on the outskirts of the park so we dropped off our gear before heading to the visitor centre to pay our entrance fee. You can drive right across the park in a couple of hours but we stopped in so many places we ended up heading in and back out the same way. It's a little off the beaten track but the Park was really worth the visit. The landscape is just so different from anything else I've ever seen and watching the sun set was pretty breathtaking, We only had an afternoon after losing a day earlier in the trip to sickness but we still covered a fair amount in the few hours of daylight we had left. The Applebee's in Yucca Valley was the perfect end to a pretty spectacular day.
Our last stop before heading to Salt Lake City and the actual "work" part of the work trip (yes feel free to roll your eyes at that) was Vegas... naturally. There was a fair amount of driving on some long boring roads in between the two spots and a couple of hours in I was paying not so much attention to things like speed limits and state troopers parked on the side of the highway. Thankfully the kind Police Officer was good enough to pull me over and explain the difference between miles per hour and kilometres per hour as he quickly deduced this was the reason for my being about 40kph over the speed limit. I got off with a warning after a lot of "yes sir, sorry sir, I understand sir" - I'm fairly certain I would have lost my license back in NZ! Upon entering the city my first impression was pure fear as I encountered possibly the worst drivers in America (other than myself clearly) all heading at break neck speed along the freeway. We were staying at Bally's more or less in the middle of the strip and after finally ditching the car and getting to relax a little I got to fully take in the wonder that is Las Vegas.
It was early afternoon so we checked in and headed out to walk the length of the strip and see each of the different casinos along the way. With very limited funds there wasn't going to be much gambling but after a 3 hour time share presentation on the outskirts of town we managed cheap tickets to Cirque du soleil and about $25 worth of dinner vouchers. I didn't buy into the time share in the end but if I ever do I'm convinced Vegas is the place to do it. Just walking around and admiring the general splendor was plenty to keep me entertained (I had sworn off alcohol after the incident in LA which we won't go into) but if you're not into betting then there are plenty of shows, great restaurants and clubs to visit as well. Then again I suppose some people go to gamble too.
We left Vegas at 5am with a 6.5hr drive to Salt Lake ahead of us to get the rental back on time. We were doing great until we stopped at an iHop for breakfast only to find we had gone forward in time when we crossed the state border. Thus began the most frustrating race against time following my earlier run in with the Feds and the torrential rain which followed us for the next few hours. By the time we reached our drop off point we had 2 minutes to spare before we started getting fined for being late. We parked in the very bottom of the hotel and I left Rebecca to carry all of our luggage while I sprinted upstairs to the Hertz office - which was closed. After catching my breath I calmly dropped the keys in the drop box and tried to figure out if I wanted to be pissed they weren't there or just relieved we wouldn't get charged any more.
Next work trip I'm not driving.
Rachael and Jeremy