Hello, if you have been following SYGM on social media (of course you have) you will have seen a collection of posts from ‘Alice & Matt’ about their recent honeymoon to California. Well that is us, and I (Alice) am about to tell you all about it!
Matt and I got married in June 2015 (you can see our wedding here) but due to a series of events including a puppy, a bereavement, a new house purchase and now a surprise baby due in September we have only just got round to taking our honeymoon!
We picked California for the variety mostly. It enabled us to have every kind of honeymoon; beach, dramatic views, action, adventure, you name it, and it’s there. The state of CA is so vast that there will be a destination to suit every couple.
Disclaimer; you will do a LOT of driving. In fact I can’t really adequately describe the level of driving required to get from one place to another because we don’t really have any equivalents here in the UK but please don’t let that put you off. It is more than worth it.
Second disclaimer; I was five and a half months pregnant when we took our trip so there will be lots of things you may well want to do that we just couldn’t achieve that are not just limited to drinking wine. That said we did a lot and hopefully this guide / review / rambling story will give you a flavour of the amazingness of California.
Here is a basic overview of what we did and I will also break it down into days to explain what we did day by day and where we ate and stayed each night.
Our trip was essentially up the Pacific coast and back again, with a brief venture inland. We flew in to LA, and then drove to San Luis Obispo, then up to San Francisco. From here we drove inland to Yosemite. After that it was back down the Pacific coast via Santa Cruz, Monterey, finishing in Santa Barbara before flying back out of LA again. In hindsight this structure of going there and back and repeating the drive was too much, so although it’s more expensive to use two different airports I would recommend it if you are going to do a fly drive. Start in LA then fly out of San Francisco (or whichever way you’d prefer), you could even use San Diego as a start or finish airport too, but we just didn’t venture that far down.
A few background points we flew with Virgin out of Heathrow who were fantastic and looked after us really well and we hired our car through Avis which we booked and paid for before we left. We also used Purple Parking to get us to and from the airport in London.
Day 1 – Sunday – Off we go!
We flew on a Sunday mid-afternoon UK time and then arrived in LA local time about 7pm. We both forced ourselves to stay awake on the flight for the full ten hours (pretty torturous) but we were determined to attempt to adapt to US time as quickly as possible and for that we needed to be exhausted enough to go straight to sleep. We were staying at a Travelodge near the airport as we figured we would just want to go to bed and we had arranged to collect the car the next morning which was conveniently located just round the corner from the Travelodge. I’ll be honest and say I had low expectations of the Travelodge but I was actually pleasantly surprised! Our room was big, clean and thank fully quiet. All we needed for a simple stop over.
Day 2 – Monday – Santa Monica
First thing, after a questionable breakfast (don’t expect much here) Matt walked the small jaunt to go pick up the hire car while I lounged by the Travelodge pool. (Again, surprisingly clean and pleasant!). We then headed out to Santa Monica. We wanted a relaxing first day after the flight to readjust and recover a bit so we figured there’s nothing better than the beach on what was a glorious and scorching hot day! This was our first experience of driving in LA and it took us AGES to get there. It was scary for us both but the only way to get over it was to get on the Freeway and cope! It was busy, chaotic and huge; with four lanes of traffic both sides with no real overtaking system but we managed, and the easiest thing to do is try to relax and go with the flow. Oh and have a good Sat Nav and leave plenty of time, you’ll be sitting in a lot of queuing traffic. Santa Monica was stunning as you’ll see from the photos below. We basically chilled on the beach, ate an incredible lunch at the True Food Kitchen (highly recommended) and soaked up the atmosphere on the Pier. That night we stayed in an Air B and B property in West Hollywood, very close to Sunset Boulevard and had dinner at The Counter on Sunset Boulevard. The best burger and French fries I’ve ever eaten in my life – and I’m a vegetarian! You build them yourself at The Counter using a tick box menu with all these different options about the meat, the toppings the sides etc and it was really fresh and lovely. We simply discovered this place on TripAdvisor but I highly recommend it. I think they’re a chain so if you don’t go to this one in Sunset Boulevard you’ll find plenty of others around CA. After dinner it was bed…not that we slept much, thanks jet lag.
Day 3 Tuesday – Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory and The Late Late Show with James Corden
On this day we headed in to Hollywood and did the touristy things, namely the walk of fame and the Chinese theatre. After that we drove out to the Griffith Observatory. Here you can do a walk, or what Americans like to call ‘hike’ out to see the Hollywood sign, but being pregnant and it being really bloody hot I wasn’t up for hiking of any kind, so we viewed it from nearby the Observatory. Early evening we had to head back in to the City as we were booked in to the audience to watch The Late Late Show with James Corden being filmed at CBS Studios. We were very lucky to wrangle this as guests as a very good friend of ours is one of the producers. We hung out in the Green Room with the stars – I chatted, albeit briefly, (I said a very bashful Hi) to Gwyneth Paltrow and we were treated to the full VIP experience. It was amazing and like I said, we were very lucky, but there are always opportunities to be audience members while shows are being filmed, so if you have a favourite its worth applying in the ballots to try to get tickets. After the show wrapped we went out for dinner with our friends to The Grove which is really close to CBS studios. (This is the place to celeb spot) it’s a huge shopping mall with restaurants and is apparently the place to go. That night we drove to Hermosa Beach as we were staying at Beach House, Hermosa Beach. Out of our entire trip this was probably one of my absolute favourite hotels and I was devastated as we were there for so little time! Our room was sensational; the photos don’t really do it justice and the location stunning. Basically I want to come back and spend two weeks here…I’ve added it to my life plan. It’s really close to LAX and so if you’ve got more time to spend in LA than we had I would say it would be your perfect base. It’s nestled between some of the most incredible beaches (Manhatten and Redondo) and it’s 30 minutes away from Disneyland, Universal Studios, Beverly Hills ect so couldn’t be more convenient. We were off to Disneyland early the next day so didn’t have any time at all to explore *sob* but I promise we will be back…and you should go too! Matt took these stunning photos of Hermosa Beach at sunrise. Like I said; heaven.
Day 4 Wednesday – Disneyland!
I won’t talk too much about Disneyland because I know it’s not for everyone. We went midweek (on a Wednesday) and out of season, so it wasn’t too hellish it terms of queing and mass crowds but my advice would still be; get there early but be prepared for a really long day, drink lots of water, rest when you can and the food in the park is shit and eye wateringly overpriced. That said we loved it. Matt did all the big rides he wanted to, and I did the mummy-to-be safe ones I could (yay flying Dumbo) and we couldn’t help but by sucked in by the Disney magic. It has to be seen and felt to be believed and those who go, go because they love it and won’t be disappointed. That night we stayed in an air b & b property in Anaheim which was simple but adequate. Nothing special but close to the park with a comfy bed to fall into at the end of a long but fun-filled day.
Day 5 Thursday – drive day
In terms of things we ‘did’ on this day, there wasn’t much. We literally sat in the car and drove for miles and miles from Anaheim to San Luis Obispo. We had brekkie and Denny’s Dinner (has to be done at least once) and made a start on the 280 ish mile drive. On paper if you looked at Google maps it would give you a drive time of about 4.5 hours but in reality with traffic getting out of LA, the stops we made, the route (Pacific Coast highway is slow and windy) it did honestly take the entire day. We stopped for ice cream at Paradise Cove Cafe in Malibu – if we hadn’t still been full from breakfast I totally would have eaten here, the menu and seafood looked immense – but we just stretched our legs with a stroll and our ices along the private beach. We spotted two killer whales while we were here too. Our overnight stop was the Madonna Inn at San Luis Obispo which is basically my new favourite place on earth. It’s a roadside motel in the basic sense but in reality it’s some kind of kitsch boutique paradise. It’s pink, garish, flowery and every bedroom has its own theme – ours was horse themed which you’ll see from the photos below, which made staying here quite the experience. People come from all over the world just to stay and experience this place, and the restaurant is world renowned too. I loved everything about it; the vibe, the rooms, the pancakes the fact you get given freshly baked cookies from their onsite bakery when you check in…it’s just a funny, hilarious, don’t take it too seriously kind of place which I think everyone should stay at for at least one night. You won’t regret it.
Day 6 Friday – Another drive day to San Francisco
This was another full on, intense day of driving with lots of miles and lots of hours in the car. We had a fantastic breakfast at the Madonna Inn so we didn’t need much else to eat, but we did buy a bag of crisps from Big Sur Tap House which looked like it would have been a nice place to get lunch had we wanted to. Not much else to report here, we arrived in San Francisco late (staying at the Phoenix Hotel) wandered aimlessly and hungrily until we found an Italian called Acqulina (nice enough) then went back to our room to go straight to sleep. I will say, we used Uber to get around San Fran and it was a lifesaver. Get the app on your phone as pretty much everywhere in California is Uber friendly and it’s really easy and efficient to use. A little word about the hotel; we stayed in San Fran 3 nights from Friday – Monday it’s in the Tenderloin district of the city which is quite frankly rough. Keep your wits about you if you stay here; drugs, poverty, homelessness are real and although we NEVER had a problem and I felt totally safe with Matt I wouldn’t wander late at night and keep cameras, flashy phones and wallets hidden. Basically don’t incite anything that could cause a problem. That said, we LOVED this hotel, its basic – with simple boutique rooms and a kind of rock n roll, student vibe but Orlando on the front desk was a really special man and made our stay so utterly amazing. I’d recommend you stay here just to chat to him. If you do, send him our love…we even got him to help us name our first child (and we’re sticking with it) that’s how friendly we were with him! Rooms were big, bright, clean and comfortable and we never had a problem with noise or neighbours. The only downside is that breakfast is typical American budget hotel fare of doughnuts and muffins. Walk a few blocks though and you’ll find plenty of delis and cafes who all do take out or massive supermarkets where you can pick up fruit salad boxes and yoghurt for next to nothing.
Day 7 Saturday – Exploring San Fran
We kinda did exactly that, wandered the city and explored. We didn’t have any plans at all for this day, just walked a lot (wear trainers – its hilly) and saw the sights. We took in Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street ate the best sandwich ever at Waterfront Café followed by one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had in my life. This was at Greens Restaurant which was my special treat as a vegetarian. However my lifelong carnivore husband equally enjoyed it so it certainly wasn’t a wasted experience. Plus the restaurant has sensational views over the bay as the sun sets.
Day 8 Sunday – Bike, bridge, Alcatraz
We were up early to a sunny but windy day and so we drove down to Fishermans Wharf again to hire bikes to cycle the Golden Gate Bridge. The route is flat and easy for pregnant ladies and novice cyclists so I would say that anyone can do it. There’s even the option for tandems and it really is the best way to see the bridge and views over the city and water. You get a map, although it’s all just one straight gravel path with loads of toilets / places to stop and eat along the way. It took us a few hours to do and was a really enjoyable morning which I would highly recommend. We knew we were headed to Alcatraz on the night tour so we opted for a late lunch at Tony’s Pizza to avoid being hungry while at the prison. Tony’s Pizza was recommended to us by a friend, it’s quite hard to get seated as it’s hugely popular with locals and tourists and you can tell why when you eat there. Absolutely DELICIOUS. The best pizza I’ve ever eaten outside of actual Italy. Go, wait for a seat, have a beer or make a reservation to go back later in the day, but you really shouldn’t go to San Fran without tasting one of these pizzas. It was about 3pm by the time we got there so we didn’t wait too long to be seated and I’m glad we did. The pizza was huge and I loved it even more eating the leftovers cold at 10pm after Alcatraz!
So on to Alcatraz… You need to book tickets in advance, even more so if you want to do the night tour like we did, but it’s really easy to do online and then you’re sent an e-ticket so you don’t need to remember printouts or anything. I’ll be honest when I say I wasn’t particularly fussed about going to Alcatraz – I’ve never seen The Rock, I didn’t know anything about the prison really but went along because I knew how much Matt wanted to go. Yet I was really, really impressed. There’s no cheesy tour guide, you get given an audio tour and get left to your own devices to make your way around. They tell you to make sure you’re back on the boat when it departs, and the rest is up to you. The audio tour is really well put together and the prison is fascinating – even if you think it’s not your thing I’d recommend you go out of curiosity. It’s creepy, and iconic and certainly kept me interested for the 4 hours we were there so well worth the money for us I’d say.
That’s it for now as I don’t want to overwhelm you too much, but check back soon for part 2!