We left Pacific Grove full of fried chicken and headed down Highway One, starting with 17 mile drive, a route mentioned to us by a Lyft driver the night before, and accidentally stumbled across courtesy of our Sat Nav that ignored the fact that it costs to take this route.
$10 turned out to be one of the biggest bargains of our trip so far, as we coasted down this scenic section of the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping to see jaw-dropping vistas, huge waves crashing against the rocky coastline and the famous ghost trees.
It was a full day of driving, but it didn’t once feel like a chore, and our minds weren’t on the destination, they were completely engrossed in the seemingly endless beauty. Taking this drive North to South must be the best way to enjoy it, as you are an extra lane closer to the sea and get uninterrupted views the whole way down. We drove through the huge trees in Big Sur, saw elephant seals and stopped for a snack at a small ranch, before reaching our Airbnb in Pacific Palisades, which is a handy ten minute drive from Santa Monica Pier in L.A.
Although tired from our long day on the road, we went for some great, simple food and beers at The Craftsman Bar & Kitchen in Santa Monica, where they played classic rock music and we could people watch from the outdoor seating area. We took a stroll along the pier, which was welcomingly peaceful at night, before getting some rest for a long few days of exploring.
We started our day at the beach by having great breakfast bagels at Flake, a small coffee shop that epitomised the Venice Beach area. The atmosphere was so laid back and everywhere you looked there were men with pony tails, flip flops and sandals, and a feeling that you were in the most hipster place in the city. We then walked to the Venice boardwalk, which has to be one of my favourite places in the world. An eclectic mix of street performers, local aspiring artists selling their work and tourists, revelling in the bizarre.
We grabbed a locally brewed beer at Venice Ale House, before heading to James’ Beach, the restaurant where they filmed the fish tacos scene from I Love You, Man (if you haven’t seen that movie, you have to). We had amazing fresh calamari and mac and cheese, before chatting to an L.A. resident, Allen, who was sat alone at the bar. We ended up talking for hours, before he bought us a beer and offered us a lift to a great wine bar down the road that he had recommended. If we were in England, we would have politely declined and ran to the nearest police station, but Allen seemed to be great company, so we went with him and the three of us drank and talked until they kicked us out. People often have an idea of Americans being brash, loud and obnoxious, but Allen was a great example of how welcoming and open the locals can be, and we had one of the best nights of our trip so far.
The next morning, both a little dehydrated and me regretting the Del Taco ordered and eaten at 1:30am (I would go on to regret this for the next 48 hours, without going into too much detail), we headed for the Griffith Observatory. After having a quick look around the building and admiring the view of the smog-covered city, we hiked up to see the Hollywood sign, before returning to buy camping gear for our upcoming trip to Havasu Falls (which I will get to in the next post).
I absolutely loved our time in L.A., and despite being someone who would never want to live in London, or any other city for that matter, L.A. seems like a perfect home for me. It is truly unique in that it combines the downtown area and entertainment capital of the world, with sprawling mountains covered in endless hiking trails, and one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. There really isn’t anywhere like Los Angeles, and I was sad to leave, but luckily the sadness was quickly muted by the bright lights of Las Vegas.
We were only in Sin City for one night, as it meant we were closer to our three day camping trip, but we made the most of it, spending the night bar hopping on Fremont Street, watching the fountains at the Bellagio, and I even won $9 on slot machines (the fact that I then proceeded to lose it is beside the point). We wished we had more time at the Golden Nugget and in Vegas in general, but left full of energy and anxiety at the prospect of a twenty mile round hike into a canyon over sixty miles from any other civilisation, to sleep in a tent surrounded by mountain lions, scorpions and rattlesnakes. Which I will put down in words when I next have time.