The California Travel Diaries |Solvang to Santa Barbara

Since my teen years I always dreamed of a road trip around California and it remained as only a dream for quite some time. It was an idea, a “once in a lifetime” opportunity you may say. Something I thought I wouldn’t be able to actually afford or do in my 20’s. If I’m perfectly honest, I never really had any intentions of traveling at all during this period of my life, apart from the odd beach break here and there – especially after finally getting a good job out of university. I thought that I would wait for the perfect timing to go on such an adventure. Two years soon passed as a graduate and I quickly learned that the “perfect” timing to do anything, travel included, doesn’t quite exist and cannot be controlled. Instead, I could be in control of saving up some money, carefully planning my route and gaining some courage to do something that I always wanted to do. As confident and open minded as I am, I must admit that leaving the comfort of routine and predictability behind was quite a scary idea … even if it was only for a matter of a few weeks or months. That being said, this trip was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

If you’re new to this travel series, you catch up on my journey so far here. If you’re keeping up to date with me, I last left you in San Luis Obispo. I next took a quick detour to Solvang, where the famous Californian golden sun was shining bright as I walked through a real life Hans Christen Anderson storybook. Solvang is a town where Danish-American’s settled, and a tribute to the author is paid through the Hans Christian Anderson museum. My boyfriend and I spent some time mooching around the stores, enjoying Danish pastries and soaking up some sun, before heading over the Santa Ynez Mountains to Santa Barbara.

As we drove to our next stop, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Europe rather than America. The Mediterranean style apartments with their red roofs and white walls hold a stark similarity to it’s Croatian friend across the pond. The Spanish influence is also particularly strong and is evident within the laid back, community feel to the town; a familiar feeling throughout typical Californian lifestyle and Santa Barbara is certainly no exception.

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On route to the Summer Solstice Festival

The Basics

When? I visited Santa Barbara in late June for 2 days over Summer Solstice weekend.

Weather? June gloom! It was around 22 degrees but the sun had gone away and only reappeared as we left.

Accommodation? Airbnb about 5 minutes drive away from the centre.

To Do? Beaches, Hikes, Rainbow Monument, Casa del Herrero, Stearns Wharf, Presidio of Santa Barbara, Botanical Garden, Lotusland, Deep Sea Tasting Room and more!

To Eat & Drink? Funk Zone, Paxi, Smithys, Wine Therapi, Cold Spring Tavern

We arrived in Santa Barbara unfortunately during the June Gloom period where grey, overcast skies mirrored the English climate far too much for my liking. Luckily for the optimist within me, this wasn’t enough to dampen my mood. The Summer Solstice Festival was in full swing, so we dropped off our bags at our Airbnb and quickly drove down to catch the end of the Parade at Almeda Park. Soon realising that lots of dancing, drinks and good times were to be had, we swiftly returned back to our Airbnb to park our rental car and caught an Uber instead. The entrance fee to the Summer Solstice festival was $20 which entitled us to one drink each, if my memory serves me correctly. Hungry from all the excitement, we ate some Greek food and danced the afternoon away with a few cold ones in hand. After a few hours of people watching, dancing, singing along to some songs, we then strolled along the streets into town and made the most of not having to drive, by getting another drink at Smithy’s. This was a recommended bar from a fellow blogger, that I too would definitely suggest if you’re stopping over in Santa Barbara. For dinner we chose pizza at Paxi and ended with a night cap at Wine Therapi where we listened to more live music (Oh how I loved Santa Barbara – I think I say that about every stop in this series!)

A wedding taking place in the grounds of Santa Barbara County Court House

Our Airbnb host recommended that we go to Cold Spring Tavern for a famous tri-tip sandwich, so the next day we headed on over to this Western style saloon. This eatery is located on a scenic mountainside where families and a ton of (friendly) bikers visit. We filled up on a sandwich along with, wait for it… even more live music! We then decided to use up all that energy on a hike to Inspiration Point. If you have the chance to do this whilst you are in Santa Barbara, I would recommend to complete the hike when there is bit more sun out. Although this sadly was not an option for us, we did enjoy some good old fashioned air as well as having the opportunity to just talk and take in some beautiful Californian nature. After cooling off back home, we explored more of the town in the afternoon from Stearns Wharf, East Beach to Butterfly Beach. We even saw a panoramic view of the town whilst a wedding was happening in the grounds of the County Court House! We then topped off our visit with a date night out bowling. Even though my visit to Santa Barbara was short and sweet, it definitely made a long-standing impression on me. I know for sure that I’ll definitely be back to see it again, especially to capture my missed Instagram opportunity by the colourful Paseo steps!

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Life Update: I’m Going Travelling!

What’s in My Travel Bag

The California Travel Diaries: Welcome to San Francisco

The California Travel Diaries: Sonoma and Napa

The California Travel Diaries: Yosemite

The California Travel Diaries: Monterey to Big Sur

The California Travel Diaries: SLO

 

 

The California Travel Diaries | SLO

When planning any trip it’s great to read up on as much as you can before you go away, particularly for a road trip. You really don’t want to be stranded staring at your google maps and hoping for the best! Whether it’s reading blog posts, travel guides or watching YouTube videos, nowadays we have so much access to a wealth of information. Quite frankly, you wouldn’t be doing yourselves any favours by simply “going with the flow”, at least not for the whole trip! About this time last year, I began to plan my California summer travels. I too scoured the internet and turned to my good old fashioned travel book, Lonely Planet’s California (thanks to my brother for gifting this to me!). Thank goodness that I did my research too, otherwise I may have missed out on visiting San Luis Obispo – a little gem in the Californian crown of jewels.

Positioned roughly 3 hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Luis Obispo or SLO as it’s affectionately known, is so much more than just a halfway point. Loved by both the old and the young, SLO encapsulates it’s population perfectly. The town has a youthful energy to it whilst also being complimented by it’s peaceful waves. The relaxed pace and the stunning views make it the perfect destination to sit back and relax whilst sipping wine. If you haven’t guessed it, SLO is a very popular spot for Wine Country tasting tours, particularly in late June.

The Basics

Accommodation:

We stayed for two nights with a fantastic South African host who had lived in California for over 20 years. Friendly, warm and welcome – her home reflected her character. Based a 15 minute walk to the town, with free parking and an en-suite bedroom complete with a coffee machine, I would highly recommend this spot to anyone who needs a room in SLO!

Travel:

Getting around by car in Cali is by far the easiest option, however I would happily cycle around SLO maybe even visiting a winery or 2 along the way

To do:

  • Wineries upon wineries
  • Farmers Markets
  • Beaches
  • Nature Trails
  • Bubblegum Alley

Eat & Drink:

  • SLO Brewing company
  • Libertine’s
  • Tri Tip Sandwiches
  • Clam Chowder

Somewhat tired after our day of exploring Monterey and Big Sur, it was a late Thursday afternoon when we arrived at our Airbnb. As we pulled into the neighborhood where we were staying, we fell just a bit more in love with the Golden State. As scenic as Monterey is, SLO was definitely more on our level and our age range. The views remained on par with Monterey, as our host’s house was set behind a backdrop of a glorious mountain. California really is the gift that keeps on giving! We had limited time to see SLO so unfortunately we didn’t hike up the trails surrounding us, but this is a great idea should you be looking for a long weekend in San Luis Obispo. After we freshened up we took a stroll into town, and to our delight the Farmers Market was in full swing. Families, students and holidaymakers were sprawled across downtown, showing their support to local farmers and businesses in buying local produce, fresh fruit and vegetables. I can definitely see why this vibrant county is so popular with college kids! For dinner we shared a couple slices of pizza and a tri-tip sandwich. The best thing was that we could try all of this delicious food on a traveller’s budget! After a walk in the outdoor market we grabbed a drink at SLO Brewing company before making our way home and coming across Bubblegum Alley. Although unclear when this strange toursit attraction originated, thought to be sometime between the end of WW2 and the 1950’s, it’s worth a visit just for the quirkiness of it. The next day we dedicated to exploring more of Wine Country.

Me at Kynsi Wines

  • Kynsi Wines – Our first stop was at this lovely barn setting vineyard. With a family run atmosphere and chilled out vibes, it was the perfect start to our own wine trail.
  • Saucelito Canyon – This particular weekend in June there was a SLO wine tasting event with Saucelito Canyon being one of it’s stops. As a result there were tacos on offer and live music. We chatted to some lovely American’s for a couple of hours over wine, where we absorbed as many tips from them as we could.  Here’s a shout out to Neil, Deb, Bebe and Jim!
  • Biddle Ranch Vineyard – Set in the Edna Valley, we enjoyed some wine outside overlooking the stunning vineyard which is pictured in my featured image of this post. I’ll let that do the talking.
  • Edna Vineyards – The largest and most established of them all. This winery was impressive and beautifully presented, with each item of decor carefully chosen. Although I personally preferred the smaller wineries with a more laid back vibe, the beautiful grounds and good service was worth a visit.

Later that day we made a trip to Avilla Beach, a small town within San Luis Obispo. To our delight we attended another Farmers Market. Although on a smaller scale to the downtown market in SLO, the quality of produce didn’t suffer. If we had more time I would’ve liked to have a spa day and enjoy the mineral hot springs, go shopping or dare I say, sip some more wine! Instead my boyfriend and I enjoyed the views of the oceanfront as the sun came down.

Late afternoon at Avilla Beach

Before we left SLO we made a trip the next morning to Pismo Beach. Unfortunately our timing meant we were there during the “June Gloom” period. Nonetheless we visited it’s iconic pier and renowned turquoise waters that did not disappoint. You can also enjoy horseback riding across the dunes and capture memories that will last a lifetime at Pismo Beach. SLO CAL was named “the happiest city in the world” by Oprah, and I can definitely support this! It is a beautiful and more affordable county with so many stunning beaches and scenic hikes to complete. There is even something for culture and history lovers to do with Spanish missions to see that date back to the 1700’s! With all the charm and glamour that California holds, San Luis Obispo really appealed to me and I became more and more convinced that one day it may just be a home away from home.

If you enjoyed this you should read:

The California Travel Diaries: Welcome to San Francisco

The California Travel Diaries: Sonoma and Napa

The California Travel Diaries: Yosemite

The California Travel Diaries: Monterey to Big Sur

 

 

The California Travel Diaries | Monterey to Big Sur

Welcome back to another installment of the California Travel Diaries! A collection of blog posts from my Summer 2018 travels that I hope will help you plan any future trips, as well for me to remember exactly what I did! California is full of so many hidden gems. Golden beaches where the sun shines so bright, you can’t help but smile as you to stop to admire the bold crashing waves. Although some beaches are much too dangerous to swim in, the Pacific Ocean offers stunning views; a treat for drivers who can follow the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), giving a whole new meaning to the term “road trip”. If you’re following this thread you’ll know that at this point my boyfriend and I had just completed our day’s hike in Yosemite. Following this we got some much needed R & R in Fresno, where we experienced our first touch of the Californian heatwave and enjoyed some delicious authentic Mexican food at a family run restaurant called,”Hacienda Tequila”. Feeling rejuvenated after this break, we made the journey to perhaps one of my most anticipated stops on this road trip – Monterey. The PCH begins in San Francisco and if you are planning a trip to California I’d highly recommend that you prioritize this drive on your list. Even if you decide to only follow just a portion of the PCH, like we did, you will definitely not be disappointed.

If the town Monterey doesn’t instantly sound familiar to you, then think again. The town’s aquarium was the inspiration behind the film of Finding Dory and some of Big Little Lies was actually filmed upon location!

The Aquarium was a must see on our list but do note, there aren’t any whales here (as we mistakenly thought). Shows and talks are available with fantastic educational exhibits sharing the amazing research that is conducted here. We had so much fun throughout the day as we as saw the otters play, feeding time for the penguins and mesmerizing jelly fish.

The Basics

Weather: The weather in June was a cool 18 degrees. Monterey is based by the sea meaning you have that fresh sea breeze coming in, so I would definitely recommend a light jacket to hand. That way you can easily layer up when you feel the chill!

Accommodation: It’s true what they say, beauty does come at a price. For us this meant that we decided to book an Airbnb about 30 minutes away from Monterey in a town called Salinas. Unfortunately, our hosts made us feel quite uncomfortable with so many rules (no wheeling the suitcases over the floor, don’t use the shower after 10pm, you can only eat your food in your room, you cannot use the kitchen, leave your shoes under the chair in the kitchen when you enter… it was all very strange). This did however motivate us to really make the most out of our day trip; every cloud has it’s silver lining!

Parking: Fortunately we could park our car by our Airbnb for free. Parking rates for Monterey was about $15 for the day.

See & Do

  • Monterey Aquarium
  • Lovers Point Park
  • Old Fisherman’s Wharf

Eat & Drink

  • Wharf Chocolate Factory
  • Cannery Row Brewing Co
  • Sly McFly’s
  • Paluca Trattoria

Me at Lovers Point Park

We then took a stroll beside the beach, where we once again saw sea-lions sunbathing (love how common this is in Cali!). We took the route towards Lovers Point Park which is both an idyllic family fun area and a romantic location (above). Here there is also a stunning rocky landscaped area; a unique spot where you can watch the sun rise over the ocean. We did decide to climb the rocks, but beware, this requires steady footing! However you do get a fantastic view of Monterey Bay.

We also ventured to Old Fisherman’s Wharf, a small area of restaurants and eateries. I bought a famous frozen chocolate covered banana that was as delicious as it sounds! If you wish to pop in for alcoholic beverage whilst in Monterey, I would recommend either Cannery Row Brewing Co or Sly McFly’s. We paid about $22 for two drinks (including tip). For dinner it was an obvious choice that we would dine at the Big Little Lie’s Restaurant, Paluca Trattoria. Overlooking the fabulous view of the Marina, we each enjoyed a delicious Italian pasta dish.

Monterey Harbor

The next day we visited the picturesque town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, another famous stop along the PCH. Famous for it’s 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach with 17 vista points ranging from ocean views to marvellous golf courses. You can drive or cycle around this route, seeing breathtaking nature of vibrant hues like the below. N.B. You have to pay about $10 to enter by car but it’s free to cycle.

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A snap from the 17 Mile Drive

We also visited the town itself, stopping off in the Plaza to sample some Cheese in the aptly named, “The Cheese Shop”. After browsing a few of the stores we then headed to one of the most famous PCH views of Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.

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Big Sur is an area that is described as more of a “State of Mind” than a place. I think that the saying, “A photo speaks a 1000 words” perfectly sums up this panoramic shot of Big Sur.

I could never have pictured how breathtakingly beautiful and unforgettable these 2 days in Monterey to Big Sur could be. If you are ever in two minds of whether travel is something you should do, I can tell you that even over these first 11 days, it was so worth it and we still had another 33 to go…!

If you enjoyed this blog post you should subscribe and read:

The California Travel Diaries: Sonoma and Napa

The California Travel Diaries: Yosemite

The California Travel Diaries: Welcome to San Francisco

A Not So Blue Monday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The California Travel Diaries | Welcome to San Francisco

Hello all! Is it really already August? I suppose it is! Despite good intentions I did not post any blogs at all in July… Although the Californian sun rays inspired me so much so that I could have burst out of my (imaginary) seams. Nonetheless being constantly on the go meant that time and tiredness was not on my side. This resulted in many of my blog ideas remaining as “drafts”. To get back on track to where I left off, let’s have a quick catch up on what’s been happening in the world…

WELL, for all of the British out there we were on the edge of our seats watching Wimbledon and do I even have to mention the Football World Cup… We so nearly brought IT home. Love Island took over our TV screens throughout those early Summer evenings and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again arrived to our cinemas at a convenient time to bridge that heart shaped hole in our lives. Quite rightly, this is now the soundtrack to Summer 2018. In the midst of all of this, there was also my trip to California and New York – hence the lack of blogging! Despite this momentary tumbleweed of silence on Nataliatalksabout, I am full of stories, tips, reviews and a nice golden tan to share with you (had to be said- we all know it’s going to be wearing off soon enough). Therefore I have decided to begin a new series on my blog called “The California Travel Diaries” where I can finally dedicate the time to talk about my trip.

As I began writing this first post to my California Travel Diaries series I realised just how much there was to tell you. And if you have been to America you know just how much there is to talk about. If you are planning any trips to California, hopefully this series will help you out with an itinerary or at the very least convince you why you should visit the state one day. Getting a taste for travel was very important to me this Summer and whether you love to travel or dream about travellin, this series will definitely be for you.

“I left my heart in San Francisco” Tony Bennett

Everyone knows how much planning there is to any trip let alone for a six week trip! For this post I will be focusing on how I planned the start of our travels which set the tone for the rest of the road trip.

The Basics

I was traveling with my boyfriend and we decided to try and beat jet lag as well as save some pennies by flying from London Gatwick to New York JFK Airport first. We stayed in NY for a couple of nights first before heading back to JFK to fly to San Francisco. Although it was a bit annoying taking so many airport trips close together, this in fact helped me beat jet lag!

Officially beginning our Summer adventure in Northern California in Fog City, the City by the Bay, SF, Frisco or plainly The City (if you’re from the area), we spent 3 days in San Francisco. For the budget traveller like myself, I would definitely say that this is a good amount of time to explore SF and get a feel for the city whilst leaving you with wanting more!

San Francisco has the reputation of being a beautiful, windy and tech central city thanks to the numerous companies based in Silicon Valley – hiya Facebook. The latter particularly being clear even upon arrival to the airport. Okay you may think an airport isn’t worth a mention, but once you are travelling you really appreciate a good airport! It was so modern, easy to navigate and their restrooms looked like a 5* hotel. If you have a long haul flight over to the States you will be thanking me later that you had the chance to freshen up there.

In my post Life Update: I’m Going Travelling! I told you that I was going on a Californian road trip, which means lots and lots of driving. Although this was so much fun, finding an affordable car rental company was an effort. We knew that SF has a good public transport system (unlike the rest of Cali), so planned not to pick up our rental car until our next stop. As it was going to be essential to drive for the next 5 weeks throughout the rest of California we were happy to delay the driving for a while. This wasn’t a problem as there is plenty of free wifi available in most cafés and restaurants, so you can order an Uber here and there when necessary.

Unfortunately you may have heard (quite rightly) that San Francisco is quite an expensive place to travel around and I would imagine, to live in. Nonetheless do not let this put you off on having San Francisico on your bucket list! It’s such a beautiful city with a refreshing energy. Let’s just say that I now know why Tony Bennett sang “I left my heart in San Francisco”. You can also listen to ‘San Francisco’ by Courier for a more ‘modern’ rendition.

As always, choosing accommodation can be relatively daunting especially when visiting a completely new city, state or let alone a new country. I stayed in the Outer Richmond district in SF; a really nice, colourful, safe and quiet part of town to explore by foot or by car. It is approx. a 30 min Uber ride away from the airport (I guess an “Uber” distance has become a new metric for millenials). When we met locals some asked why we decided to stay in this area. If I’m honest it was the cheapest and nicest Airbnb that we could find on our budget, but by no means were we disappointed. My boyfriend and I paid about £85 per night for two people with the extra fees e.g. cleaning and booking included. Between us this was the same price as a hostel in the centre of SF, but it meant that we could have our own private bedroom, more space and our own bathroom. Plus we didn’t mind travelling into the centre as we saw it as an opportunity to absorb even more of the city!

I think that covers the basics for San Francisco which leads me perfectly to our day by day itinerary. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment of the California Travel Diaries or you can subscribe to my blog to receive emails for (once again!) regular blog updates.

Thanks for reading!

Natalia x

If you liked this post you should check out:

Life Update: I’m Going Travelling!

What’s in My Travel Bag

The California Travel Diaries|San Francisco, Day 1

The California Travel Diares |San Francisco, Day 2

The California Travel Diaries |San Francisco, Day 3