Journalist Emily Stott, who worked for Northern Life before continuing her career in the South of England, is taking a six-month trip with her boyfriend, travelling to the USA, South East Asia and India. She will be writing about the next leg of her trip to South East Asia in the next edition of Northern Life.
The last time I was in the USA, I was a screaming five year old whose major highlight was seeing Snow White at Disneyland, so all the other memories have faded completely over the years.
It has always been a dream of mine to go back and after much planning and saving, me and my boyfriend Mark, bought the tickets, boarded a plane to LAX and hit the road.
We first stayed with family in Huntington Beach, a gorgeous town in Orange County, which has been our base for exploring for the last three weeks.
We’ve seen sea lions basking in the sunshine at La Jollo near San Diego, strolled along Venice Beach, matched our handprints with that of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard and seen the glittering lights of the city from way up high at the Griffith Observatory.
Then it was time to start our American road trip, hiring a huge car – all cars in America are unnecessarily huge – and taking on a nail biting ride of driving on the equally huge Californian freeways. That part has not been so interesting. Everything is so vast and spread out that after eight hours on the road if we never saw a McDonald’s or Walmart sign again it would be relief.
The first stop on the road trip was Monterey but first we were to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, famed for its breath-taking views of the ocean as you drive along the weaving roads on the side of a mountain.
The day that we drove this once in a lifetime road happened to be the day that a storm hit that part of California and it just happened to be the first drop of rain they have had since April. What luck!
A sight that is usually something to behold had become a grey expanse and the thick cloud and fog meant we could barely see further than the end of the car. Driving up windy roads on the edge of a cliff in horizontal rain and high winds is something I never want to repeat. One word – terrifying.
We had planned to stop off at Big Sur to take in the views and spent the next few hours convinced we had missed it through the fog, when finally we drove along the Bixby Bridge, parked up and very tentatively got out of the car to stand by the edge and take some very windswept selfies while trying not to blow away!
Our failed attempt at the infamous road did not dampen our spirits for the rest of the trip though. With a new found lust for life (after we didn’t die!) we arrived in Monterey and spent two nights there.
This involved sea kayaking among sea otters, playing hide and seek with a seal (I don’t think we imagined it – the seal definitely seemed to know the rules) and visiting the aquarium.
In the late afternoon we took advantage of the happy hour drinks in a rather posh looking Italian restaurant that we stumbled into, sat at the bar, and ordered three dollar beers. After about 20 minutes and two beers later, I realised that we had been sitting between a group of Brits and another British couple. The bar was crawling with Brits – we’d all clearly seen the three dollar beer sign outside and if there’s something you can rely on us Brits for, it’s to sniff out a cheap pint.
The following day, we drove back to Big Sur in the sunshine so we could appreciate it without the fear of certain death!
The Californian tour continued to San Francisco, where we stayed at an Airbnb near the Mission District and met a few other travellers who were also passing through from Austria.
I can’t stress enough how much I loved San Francisco, it was completely different to where we had been before. For one thing, we could actually use our feet, and walk places, whereas to get anywhere in LA involves the car and a freeway. It has beautiful, old houses, the historic trams weaving in and out of the streets and a great atmosphere. We walked from Mission where we were staying to the gay quarter, Castro, which is decorated with rainbow flags on every lamppost and adorning the road under our feet. We carried on to Haight, which I had been told was where the counter-culture movement in the 60s began. And I was not disappointed. Some of the shops and definitely some of the people looked like they had stepped off the set of a film from that psychedelic era.
Our city tour went from those iconic streets from a time of free love, to the eerily dark place of Alcatraz, the prison located on an island just off San Francisco Bay. Now just a visitor attraction after it closed in the 60s, it was here where those locked up could look though iron bars and glimpse normal people outside enjoying themselves in the sun, which was enough to drive them mad.
We took a ferry across to the island, walked along the echoing corridors and even went inside some of the cells. We learnt about all those men who had tried to escape, and ultimately were found alive and locked back up, or drowned in the sea. Despite the morbid nature of the visit, it had a nice message to it that prisons shouldn’t be a punishment designed to drive the inmates insane, but should try and rehabilitate those who have lost their way.
After our city break, we left via the Golden Gate bridge and drove up to Yosemite National Park for a little bit of nature – which is an understatement. Two days of hiking through woods and climbing rocks to reach Yosemite Falls means I’m writing this with a nature hangover – exhausted.
Yosemite was absolutely beautiful, from the huge mountains, to lakes at eight thousand feet high, to the stunning waterfalls. We spotted deer casually strolling alongside hikers and thankfully didn’t encounter any mountain lions or bears, despite continually forgetting the rules and leaving packets of Pringles in the car.
Eager for a decent shower, we then jumped back in the car and headed south again to Huntington Beach.
Since then we’ve also been to Universal Studios, one of the most popular attractions in LA. From movie sets to earthquake reenactments and lots of immersive rides – with dinosaurs from Jurassic Park to the wizarding world of Harry Potter – it was a great family day out.
After just a few weeks here it’s clear just how varied California is and just how vast. A drive from Lancashire to London looks like nothing in comparison now!
The landscape and the people are so different, from the wilderness of mountains and forests that stretch for miles, to the bustling city of LA, the laidback surfer culture of Huntington Beach and the last living hippies in their tie-dye glory in San Francisco.