California Dreaming

I’ve been quiet for a few months on here but it’s not for lack of things to write about! We’ve had a busy summer with work, holidays, and other exciting things going on, but as the baby is due any day now, I’ve been saving things up to write about for when I’m on maternity leave! The biggest thing to write though is about our awesome holiday to California in June, so I’m starting to write this post at the beginning of November just before the baby arrives. Depending on how things go over the next few days, who knows when it will be posted!

Steve and I went to LA for a few days on our honeymoon 3 years ago, but felt like there was more that we wanted to do, and things that the kids would enjoy. So we saved up after Florida 2 years ago, and made it back this year for a tour of California- starting in Yosemite National Park, a few days in Los Angeles, and finishing with a few days in San Diego. We managed to squeeze a lot in so here are some of our highlights!

After spending a night in a motel near the airport, we drove up from LA to Yosemite on the first day of the holiday, stopping at Pyramid Lake on the way to break up the drive. It was pretty quiet when we arrived so we stocked up on snacks and hired a little boat to go onto the lake. It wasn’t until we went out that we realised how apt the name Pyramid Lake is, with the shape of the mountains surrounding it. The kids loved jumping off the pontoons into the water and having a go at driving the boat themselves. We also learned the lesson early on that the sun is stronger than it looks, and you need more sun cream than you think you do!

When we had burnt off some energy we carried on up to our accommodation near Mariposa in Catheys Valley. This was one of the selling points of the trip for me, as we stayed on a ranch called Epic Alpacas where we had a beautiful lodge with access to a little lake, and the freedom to drop in on the resident alpacas whenever we wanted!

On our first day we decided it would be a good idea to get to grips with the area and find out what was around so that we would know what we wanted to come back to, and not waste our limited time. We booked onto a Yosemite Tour that didn’t involve too much walking, what with being 4 months pregnant and all, and met up with our guide Ira in Mariposa. We went with a small group on a minibus, and Ira took us around some of the highlights of the park, including places that we wouldn’t have found ourselves. Ira pointed out trees and seeds that we don’t have in the UK, and took us to hidden waterfalls, stunning view points, sneaky photo opportunities, and even lent Sam his hat!

One site that we didn’t get to see on the tour that we were keen to, was the giant sequoia trees, the closest of which were at Mariposa Grove. It was quite difficult to really get our heads around just how big the trees were- they were so tall that after a while it becomes difficult to comprehend. It was slightly easier to get your head around the width of them when you saw one that had come down, or that you could walk through the middle of. I was also very excited to see the wildlife that was around, particularly the deer and chipmunks!

While we were at Mariposa Grove we also popped down to a town called Wawona, which is one of the oldest towns in Yosemite, and has a population of about 170. There are a lot of buildings preserved from the late 1800s so you can see what life was like for the original inhabitants. Most interestingly is the bridge which was designed for horses and pedestrians. They still ride horses across it so it definitely feels and smells authentic!

Later that evening we stepped back in time again to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad at Fish Camp. We’d decided to go for the Moonlight special so we arrived at dusk and had an al fresco BBQ, before boarding the Shay steam locomotive which chugged us down into the valley for a sing along around the campfire, before chugging back up to the camp. It was kind of cool to sit behind the engine and feel the ash from the fire come back down, and to hear the whistle echoing around the valley.

When it was time to drive back down from Yosemite to LA, we had let ourselves be talked into attempting to go across the Tioga Pass and take the long way round! The only problem was that there had been a lot of snowfall over the winter and so the pass still wasn’t open all the time. It was due to be fully opened the following week, but for that weekend it was only open between 10-11am, and 3-4pm. Packing up took longer than we were expecting so by the time we were on our way it was looking a bit touch-and-go as to whether we would meet the 11am deadline. As we got nearer we ended up close enough to risk it as we weren’t sure exactly where the cut off point was. We eventually reached the cut-off barrier at about 11.10am, but as we weren’t planning on driving back that day, the rangers very kindly let us through with strict instructions not to stop. We broke the rule slightly to have a quick snowball fight (when else do you get the chance to throw a snowball in 30 degree heat?!), but other than that we enjoyed the stunning scenery from the car, and discovered the detour was well worth it. We also discovered that the pass ended in Inyo National Park, so we managed to get another national park under our belts!

It only took an hour or so to drive over the pass, so there were a couple of other stops we wanted to make before leaving Yosemite. The first was a ghost town called Bodie, which was originally a mining town that was gradually abandoned over the years and is preserved in a state of arrested decay. It became a State Historic Park in 1962 and so the State have preserved the appearance of the buildings, rather than restoring them. It’s quite spooky to wander around deserted school rooms, a church, houses, bars, even a funeral directors. The road down to Bodie was an adventure in itself- more similar to a farm track winding its way through the mountains. However, you couldn’t help but be blown away by the sheer vastness of the panorama in front of you.

Our final stop was at Mono Lake, a beautiful area with the unusual formations known as Tufa towers. These columns of limestone are formed by a reaction between calcium and the alkaline lake water. They were originally formed underwater but came to the surface when the water level of the lake fell when it was diverted to supply LA with water. As well as the striking towers, the area surrounding the lake is stunning, with the mountains rising up behind, and full of bird life.

After a very long drive, where you felt like you were making no headway as the valley we were driving through was so big, we eventually arrived in Los Angeles for the second stage of the holiday. The order that we did things all blends together, but there were a few things that stand out! The kids enjoyed a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain with Steve, but as I couldn’t go on any rides I had a day at LA Zoo by myself- and was very thankful for Ubers and public WiFi!

One evening we ventured into Hollywood to watch Spiderman Far From Home at the Chinese Theatre, which was an incredible experience, unlike any other cinema. The capacity of the theatre is enormous, which gives watching a film a distinct community feeling, which you may well get in other cinemas in the US but you certainly don’t have in the UK! While we were in the area we also explored the hand prints and signatures outside the Chinese theatre, and on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and popped over to Madame Tussauds for some photo opportunities!

On another day we took a boat trip from Newport Beach to see if we could see any whales or dolphins. Steve and I had taken a trip with the same company on our honeymoon and not seen anything, but we thought we would give them another try. It was just as well that we did, as we saw one of the biggest pods of dolphins we have ever seen, as well as some Risso’s dolphins, which I’ve never seen before.

We tried a few different beaches down the LA coast, from Malibu down to Venice beach, with mixed reviews. The kids weren’t keen on swimming from the beaches as the waves were quite strong while we were there, and the sea wasn’t as warm as they were expecting! We tried to get to Santa Monica pier a few times and only managed once through a combination of bad traffic and difficulty finding parking. We walked down Venice Beach one evening though, going through the gyms to the skate park, which they enjoyed a lot more!

The other theme park that we did go to was Universal Studios. The kids went in the morning and I joined them later on in the day when they had done most of the rides, to soak up the atmosphere and have a butterbeer! I also managed to go on the studio tour, and catch the Waterworld show, so Universal Studios is definitely better for pregnant people than Six Flags!

We filled a few gaps with other things around LA in between bigger blocks. I love the Farmer’s Market so we went there for lunch a couple of times, as well as finding some YouTubers houses for the kids, sliding around the outside of a skyscraper at UAE Skyspace, and driving up to Hollywood Reservoir to see the Hollywood sign. We also spent a few hours at La Brea Tar Pits, where we finally found some actual history!

Just before leaving we went to the Warner Bros Studio Tour, which Steve and I had done before, but thought the kids would enjoy it. There were quite a few film references that they didn’t know, but they enjoyed the Friends and Big Bang Theory sets, so it was worth the trip. It was also interesting seeing the filming tricks that are commonly used, and seeing some of the vehicles from the Batman films, and which ones actually work!

One of our absolute highlights though was going to Dodger Stadium to watch the LA Dodgers play the San Diego Padres on Independence Day. It took us a little while to work out how baseball works, but we got there in the end and really enjoyed the game, particularly as the Dodgers won! As it was the 4th July the game was followed by fireworks, which just seemed to go on forever. Every time you thought they had finished a new song would start and off they would go again! It was a brilliant atmosphere though and we would definitely go to a baseball match again.

The final leg of our trip headed down to San Diego, which is fortunately a much closer drive to LA than Yosemite! After driving around LA a couple of times, I definitely preferred San Diego! It felt a lot more open, calmer, and because of all the lakes it didn’t feel as built up and congested. We also saw a lot more nature than in LA. We spent a full day in San Diego Zoo- we were originally planning to come out and go back in, but found that there was so much to do that we stayed all day.

We also spent a good few hours at the Aquarium of the Pacific, which as well as having fish also had otters, sharks, seals and sea lions, and some brilliant sea horses and jellyfish of all varieties! I did feel a bit guilty going straight from there to have prawns for tea at Bubba Gump though.

I also discovered my favourite beach in San Diego. La Jolla Cove is not great for sunbathing, but is the place to go if you want to see seals! People are allowed on the beach, but the seals (and pelicans) definitely have the priority. Seals are protected on the beach so you are legally not allowed to approach them and there are signs everywhere telling you what to do if you are worried about an animal. This is obviously generally taken on board. When a tourist kept getting closer to a seal pup to take a photo there was a whole crowd of people shouting at her to stop, and obviously quite angry about it.

One of the kids favourite places to go was at the complete other end of the scale. Although we didn’t go to any huge theme parks in San Diego, we still managed to find an amusement park called Belmont Park, with a lot of smaller rides, mini golf, and a high ropes course, zip wire and climbing wall. There was also an added bonus of the food that was available- huge ice creams, pizzas and funnel cake!

Of course, no holiday is complete without water sports, so we spent an afternoon at Mission Bay where Steve, Ryan and I went kayaking, and Katy-Grace and Sam had some paddleboards. They loved it so they stayed on longer when we had finished, which was fine until we realised we couldn’t see them anymore because they’d managed to paddle themselves to the other side of the lake! While we were waiting for them by the side of the lake we saw a jumping fish, and discovered that the noise from planes landing at San Diego airport reverberates around the lake so it sounds like you’re under attack!

Speaking of being under attack, we also headed over to the harbour to explore the USS Midway, a huge aircraft carrier from the Vietnam War, which is now a museum. It’s so big we didn’t get to visit all of it, even though we spent hours walking around, but it’s such a maze that eventually one corridor feels very much like another. The highlight for me was reading the stories of people who had served on the carrier, or on the planes that are now installed as part of the museum. Ryan and Katy-Grace also had a go on a fighter jet simulator, however they controlled it so they ended up spending most of the time upside down!

So that’s my round up of nearly 3 weeks in California. I can safely say that I don’t feel the need to go back to LA, although I could go back to the Farmer’s Market again, I’m satisfied that I’ve seen everything there that I wanted to see! We absolutely loved Yosemite, and I would love to go back there and spend some more time exploring. Particularly if I’m not pregnant and can do a bit more hiking, or being generally more active! I love the idea of camping in Yosemite, but I think that in reality, I would probably be a bit nervous about being eaten by a bear! I also really enjoyed San Diego, so although we did a lot while we were there, the relaxed pace makes me more likely to want to go back and see what we missed. We were very lucky to have another holiday this year, but it was of a very different speed so I’ll do a short post about that one later on. Bye for now!

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