A not to miss in your lifetime experience is to explore the outdoor lifestyle of California with spectacular scenery, sublime sunrises, scrumptious seafood and sun-kissed serenity.
Our trip took us by RV (recreational vehicle) from San Francisco through the National Parks down to Los Angeles and back up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Los Angeles is a feast for the senses: high energy, brilliant for eating, shopping, people watching and much more! Being famed as ‘main-stage’, I “totally” expected its drama. However, for me California’s true drama is away from the excitement of ‘centre-stage’ and into the wilds of her magnificent natural theatre where you become part of the scene.
The giant wilderness areas of California are extreme. Death Valley is an unfathomable place with vast salt-pans, deep, fiery-tinted canyons full of solitude and a desert drama of mountain-size sand dunes, vertical cliff drops and singing rocks.
In my mind it is forever summer in the Golden State of California and everything and everyone glows with a coating of sunshine.
As we flew into San Francisco, our first view was the glorious Golden Gate Bridge in all its splendour, shining in a vivid blue cloudless sky.
Above: Tram in San Francisco
The sensational San Fran experience, (fascinating boat trip to Alcatraz Island, tram rides, al fresco eating) paled in comparison to our first wilderness wonder experience.
We motored east, through the hillsides of the north, carpeted with vineyards and dotted with ancient oaks and into Yosemite National Park’s mountainous scenery. B&B on wheels is the perfect way to explore this area and pretty soon we ‘parked up’ prepared for the night. After a cuppa we walked through ancient giant sequoias and into the tranquillity of Yosemite’s deep valley, feeling the power of the glaciers and waterfalls plunging from massive granite faces.
I felt so small – humbled and yet highly energised and invigorated by my surroundings. There is so much to reminisce: such as our climb up to Sentinel Dome and our daring trek above the snowline tracking a brown bear (and getting lost – it’s not an adventure unless you do!) … but I would need several more pages to cover this!
We then rolled onto the southern Sierra Nevada to Sequoia and King Canyon National park to see the world’s largest trees.
The rugged splendour of the area was jaw-droppingly dramatic as too was Sequoia gazing.
Surrounding us were huge sky-scraper high Giant Forests, mountains and deep canyons full of frothing serpentine rivers.
The sublime experiences snowballed with the next destination taking us out of the wilds; towards two worlds colliding and the opposite end of the spectrum – into the very heart of civilisation at its most beautiful.
Above: Santa Barbara
Above: A beautiful vine entwined doorway in Santa Barbara
Known as the American Riviera, in my opinion Santa Barbara is (apart from the Cotswolds!) the perfect place on the planet to live. It is the essence of California condensed into one small ‘village’, a yachting, ‘Beach Bum’, shopping and fine dining mecca wafting with the heavenly scents of jasmine and orange blossom and beautiful people.
Above: Vineyards surrounding Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara’s ‘must do’ options are infinite such as a vineyard and wine-tasting tour in the Santa Ynez Valley and wine-country feast at Solvang. We tasted new vintages straight from the barrel!
There are little known hidden gems such as the unforgettably romantic Montecito with its tree-shaded lanes and charming village.
Top of my list, however, were the beach related activities – paddle-surfing the warm, crystalline waves with playful dolphins while soaking up views of the distant Santa Ynez mountain range plunging to the coastline was a particular highlight. Sea-swimming triathlon training with new-found ‘friends’ (complete strangers) on the beach was amazing. My imagination morphed myself into the ‘all-Californian girl’ there and then! I loved running, sun-soaked on the beach and hiking the winding mountain trails, festooned with vibrant palettes of wildflower blooms, enlivened by the breath taking views of the blue Pacific and then plunging under a waterfall in a gin-clear rock pool to cool down.
One of my life’s most exhilarating driving experiences is from Santa Barbara on the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey.
The route provides a transient, twisting, granite, cliff-hugging natural theatre with sound-effects of the roaring surf.
We discovered such wonders as ‘Big Sur’, with swathes of sunshine sand surf beaches and picturesque Monterey with its renowned aquarium.
There is still so much to explore and write about! … Rafting, hiking, camping, birdwatching, biking, water sports, fishing, rock climbing, skiing, whale watching –
… ‘I’ll be back’!
Above: View of a cove from The Pacific Coast Highway