California dreaming...

14th August - 1st september 2017

The American state of California and its iconic lifestyle is somewhere we have always dreamt of seeing…

We spent 18 days travelling the West Coast of America including a quick trip inland to experience the crazy world of Las Vegas. The round trip started and concluded in the memorising city of San Francisco where we arrived on a 2hr20min flight from Vancouver.

Three nights in SF gave us just the right amount of time to explore all that the city has to offer. SF still remains one of our favourite city spots with its cultural steep streets lined with coloured houses and vintage tram lines surrounded by the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf. The best place to stay in the city as a backpacker is The Pacific Tradewinds Hostel. One of our favourite hostels to date due to its intimate and friendly atmosphere and clean facilities.

Note: for a couple the private room works out only a couple of dollars more than 2 beds in a mixed dorm.

Due to the size of the city you will need to use some public transport along the way. Bus tickets last 90 minutes, we were a little cheeky and used ours all day. Just flash the ticket at the driver as you hop on and they take no notice of what it says.

Top picks of things to do in SF:

  • Catch a tram up one of the steep streets (costs a couple of dollars) and hang out of the window for a picture

  • Hire a bike (Blazing saddles $20pp 24 hours. Note the hostel will give you a discount voucher)

  • Start at The Bay Bridge and cycle along the waterfront past all the piers to the Golden Gate Bridge

  • If you have any leg power left cycle over the bridge to the small Mexican town and catch the ferry back at sunset around 7pm (ferry costs $11). Allow a whole day to really enjoy this

  • Take the tour of Alcatraz prison and experience a significant part of America’s history. Tours leave throughout the day and night from Fishermans Wharf. Book ahead online as it is always fully booked. Tickets cost $38pp for the boat across return and an audio tour

  • Eat the famous SF seafood dish chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf

  • Watch a baseball game at AT&T park. Soak up the atmosphere with great views from the stadium of the bay (tickets online for as little as $6)

  • See the famous ‘Painted Ladies’ houses on Steiner Street

  • Also check out Mrs Doubtfires’ house on the way up

  • The Bay Bridge in our opinion is much more impressive than Golden Gate. It is located at the opposite end of the bay. Catch this one at night

When our magical time in the city of San Francisco sadly came to an end we collected our car rental from Budget Cars and hit the road. The rental cost £357 for 18 days. If you are under the age of 25 expect to pay a daily cost. We were delighted to have the basic car we booked upgraded to VW Beetle. It seemed very fitting for California! Again a few weeks after dropping the car back, Budget tried to charge us for the petrol tank being empty, when we had filled it up just like before with Hertz. So keep an eye on your bank statement as they will try it.

We were set and the dreamy Californian highway 101 drive was where we were heading, after a trip to Walmart of course! This time round we were actually set to camp with beautiful blue skies above us. See our last blog post 'Beautiful British Columbia' for camping essentials packing list. Allow around $150 for all the equipment you will need.

West Coast road trip (18 nights):

  • San Francisco – Yosemite National Park 3.15hr (Leave early as when it gets dark here it gets dark)

Yosemite National Park (3 nights) – Camping $50pn unpowered tent weekday

Camp outside of the national park for less, it’s just a 10 minute drive to the park entrance. The entrance fee per vehicle is $30 which lasts for 1 week. Once in the park you can drive and stop at many points; lookouts, waterfalls, lakes, swim spots, hikes (short and long), and picnic areas. It is an extremely beautiful park so allow at least 2 days to really see the true beauty of everything that it has to offer. We were lucky enough to see a young black bear crossing the road so make sure you drive slowly and keep your eyes peeled

  • Yosemite National Park – Lone Pine 5.5hr

Lone Pine (1 night) – Boulder Creek Caravan Park $37pn unpowered tent

This is just a stop off so don’t leave Yosemite too early as you really want to arrive here early evening, just enough time to set up in the last of the daylight and get some rest

  • Lone Pine – Las Vegas Via Death Valley National Park 4.5hr without stopping (include photo stops in Death Valley)

Death Valley National Park is one of those famous drives that you see on the movies that we really wanted to complete. It is one of the hottest places on earth and the drive is around 2-3hr so ensure you fill up the car with engine coolant, petrol and drinking water before leaving. There is one petrol station in the park but it is very expensive so do try to avoid. Look out for the beautiful striped wild horses as you reach the end. You may see fighter jets whizz around meters above the car. These are the pilots from the local army base training and having some fun. They are quite famous for doing so here

  • Las Vegas (3 nights) – The Treasure Island Hotel $200 total for queen room

‘Viva Las Vegas!’ What can we say about this crazy city built in the middle of the desert? For one don’t go here on a backpacker’s budget! You are in the middle of the desert and it is ‘Las Vegas’ so everything costs triple what it should do plus you are expected to tip on everything you do, even paid excursions. The main reason for stopping here was for the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 wonders of the world that was high on our bucket list. Looking back now we realised the best option would have been to drive to the GC ourselves and skip Vegas. However, not knowing this when planning we booked a day tour through GC Tours at $105pp. It was a good day trip which included breakfast and lunch and stops at The Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon National Parks. The Grand Canyon is everything you think it to be and more. Such a big and beautiful natural formation that leaves you speechless. If you do stop off in Vegas avoid the big hotels and main strip bars for eating and drinking if on a budget, head to Fremont Street for cheaper deals, live street entertainment and a better atmosphere in our opinion. Prepare yourself for bright lights, big crowds, loud music, lots of air-conditioning, in door smoking and begging… we won’t continue in such a negative tone. Let’s just say Las Vegas may not be our favourite destination and certainly isn’t helping to reduce global warming!

  • Las Vegas – San Diego 5hr

San Diego (1 night) – Camp land on the Bay $64pn unpowered tent (a little over priced but ok)

When in San Diego head to the old town and you will really feel the rich history of this once Mexican town (America slowly bought CA from Mexico). Just a 20 minute drive from the campsite you can stroll up the old Spanish cobbled streets browsing the many independent shops, bars and restaurants. The square is the perfect place for a bite to eat or a cold Mexican beer under the twinkling lights and pretty flowers whilst listening to live music in the background

  • San Diego – Orange County 1.5hr

Orange County (2 nights) – Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort $97pn unpowered tent (very expensive but beautiful campsite on the lake. Only campsite in Newport area)

Whilst in OC we visited Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Newport Beach is a great area where the cool kids go! You can spot them riding along the esplanade on their vintage bikes or surfing in the ocean. The beach is beautiful here and is lined with bustling seafood bars, quirky beach houses you will just want to look into and a couple of piers for fishing. Once back at the campsite the lakes edge is a great spot for relaxing with a book or they offer water sports and on an evening, lit by fire pit you can watch movies on the beach whilst toasting marshmallows. The next day we headed to Laguna Beach. Being a massive fan of ‘The Hills’ meant I couldn’t leave the OC without seeing where it was filmed. It’s another beautiful beach surrounded by lovely villas on ‘the hills’ and a little town not in shortage of trendy coffee stops

  • Orange County – Malibu 1.45hr

Malibu (2 nights) – State Parks $35pn unpowered tent (3 spots along Malibu beach, 1 on the beach and 2 just off the beach. Choose the ones off the beach if available as they have showers. Must book in advance or turn up at 8am to see if there is space. If you do camp on the beach as we did it is beautiful and you can drive 5 minutes to other 2 sites to shower for free. Just show pass)

Malibu is a great spot for visiting LA and Santa Monica. Santa Monica is a very busy spot for tourist’s due to the famous pier fairground. We set up in Malibu where you will find most of the locals hanging out then drove back to Santa Monica (about 30 minutes) on the evening for a trip to the pier. This time is good to see the sunset behind the ferris wheel and experience all of the bright lights with some candy floss. The next day the drive to LA was again around 30 minutes (avoid peak traffic times). During the day we did the hike up to the Hollywood sign which is beautiful, had a look around the magnificent homes of Beverley Hills and headed to downtown Hollywood. The star trail in Hollywood is rather disappointing! The area is run down and you feel a little out of your comfort zone but its something you have to tick off of the list. When back in Malibu you can relax on the lovely beaches and watch the surfers, dolphins and sunsets from the sand. Stroll along the pier and stop in one of the pretty cafes with a rather impressive ocean view. You may even spot a couple of local celebs as we did. As this is a wealthy area in CA don’t expect it to be cheap. However, life is what you make it and we made it cheap by having BBQ’s on the beach and packed lunches every day.

  • Malibu – Santa Barbara 1.45hr

Santa Barbara (1night) - Rancho Oso RV & Camping Resort $55pn

Santa Barbara is a pretty and quiet spot on the West Coast. The beach is beautiful and calm with a lovely pier for fishing and dining. The back streets again offer that feel of Spanish culture

  • Santa Barbara – Big Sur 4.45hr

Big Sur (1 night) – Camped 1r away in Monterey State Park $10pn unpowered tent

The Big Sur is recognised as one of the most beautiful spots on the West Coast. For us parts of the cliff scenery reminded us of the English coastline. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful day driving through the Big Sur stopping at many beautiful photo stops, beaches, hikes (short and long) and the national park at the top of the drive

  • Big Sur – San Francisco 3hr

Second time in SF stayed at an Air BNB just 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. It was a good spot to catch up on washing and get some rest for our domestic flight to our next intriguing American destination…


  • Seeing the Grand Canyon

  • Camping under the stars on Malibu beach

  • Driving through Death Valley National Park

  • Exploring San Francisco

Top tips:

  • Book camping in advance during summer and weekends

  • Purchase camping gear in Walmart

  • Eat in Chipotle

  • Download 'Maps Me' if you have no GPS for directions. The roads are pretty crazy

With love from the globe,

Isabelle & George x

Currently in Malaysia.

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