California Dreaming!

Published in the Sunday World Magazine 7th June 2015

Our dream car from Sixt Car rental on the Pacific Coast Highway
A Family Road Trip could well be a recipe for disaster, especially with a wifi obsessed teen and tween. So, I make sure that our route from Los Angeles to San Francisco is dotted with internet friendly hotels. Our trusty steed is a comfortable Volvo jeep from Sixt car rentals − it’s easy to book online and organise its return to an alternate city. 

The Pacific Park fairground at Santa Monica

The journey starts at Santa Monica as we check-in to the super trendy Shore Hotel. We are offered a glass of champagne on arrival and slip out to the pool with the best view on Santa Monica’s Ocean Avenue. There’s so much more to this town than pristine beaches. Third Street Promenade hosts great stores and eateries with sculpted dinosaurs and animal trees. We hire bikes from Perry’s Cafe which has rentals dotted along Ocean Front Walk. As we take the winding bicycle path to Venice Beach my daughter Nicole is instantly swayed towards the henna tattoos. 

Venus Beach by bike

A cacophony of buskers, Bob Marley and entertainment from a $5 freakshow beckon, but we keep peddling. We are part of bohemia and this teenage heaven gets a cool thumbs-up.
Back on Santa Monica Pier there’s lots to do at the retro Pacific Park fairground complete with wooden rollercoasters and the absolute end of the road signpost for route 66. Inspired by the body builders and svelte-like models on rollerskates whizzing past, we take the healthy option to eat at the True Food Kitchen. Mouth-watering smoothies with Kale and mangos wash down our grass-fed-beef burgers.


The end of Route 66 on Santa Monica Pier


Bus tour of LA is best way to get around

A bus tour is the best way to get our bearings in the sprawling LA metropolis. We take the long established Starline Tours red route from the Chinese theatre. Rodeo drive is a decadent display of over indulgence and even the Pretty Woman factor doesn’t entice us to get off the bus. Instead the kids love the upbeat graffiti covered stores on Melrose and funky eateries like Pinks Hot Dogs. We spend ages walking along Hollywood Boulevard while the kids search for their favourite stars. California is theme park paradise and we opt for Universal Studios. We jump on the newest rollercoaster rides and end up drenched at some old jewels like Jurassic Park and the stunt show Waterworld. We move in to the city centre next night to stay at the Radisson Midtown Hotel situated close to Staples Centre. I bought tickets on line for a Lakers basketball game and we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with the kid’s favourite actor, Will Ferrell.

At Universal studios

We wave goodbye to LA and start our drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. Highway One takes us past Malibu mansions and the crystal blue coastline. Soon we start to climb the winding roads through the national parklands en route to our first stop at Santa Barbara. We check-in at the Fess Parker by Double Tree which is situated on the seafront and a great location to explore State Street and the pier. The kids hit the hot tub and I take the opportunity to stroll on the Mediterranean-like seafront, as Donald Trump and his entourage jog past.

Fess Parker hotel in Santa Barbara
One night isn’t enough in this cosy haven that smacks of old Andalucia but we set off again. ‘Look at the lovely wine-gardens,’ the tween points out on the road to San Luis Obispo. Our hotel at Apple Farm is fantastic for families and we are greeted on arrival with a glass of local wine and warm chocolate chip cookies. 

We wave goodbye to LA and start our drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. Highway One takes us past Malibu mansions and the crystal blue coastline. Soon we start to climb the winding roads through the national parklands en route to our first stop at Santa Barbara. We check-in at the Fess Parker by Double Tree which is situated on the seafront and a great location to explore State Street and the pier. The kids hit the hot tub and I take the opportunity to stroll on the Mediterranean-like seafront, as Donald Trump and his entourage jog past.

Bubblegum Alley San Luis Obispo

The rooms in our family suite are adjoined and cosy, decorated with vintage-apple-crate design. Downtown San Luis is home to Bubblegum Alley − my daughter informs me that her favourite Youtubers have been here. We can smell the sweet sickly stench of chewed gum as we approach it. Some people choose to leave notes and other mementos attached to their gum but my crew just stick a blob on the wall. Ideal for families SLO boasts the stunning Pismo Beach and famous Hearst Castle nearby. We get up early next morning to eat breakfast at Morro Bay.

Lovely Apple Farm hotel San Luis Obispo

 A mound protrudes just outside the harbour like a giant weathered sandcastle that the tide forgot to take out and a skateboard museum amuses the kids for a while. As we cruise along Big Sur the kids never once ask, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ The waves are a shade of turquoise blue that only the ocean can mix up. Big Sur is more a state of mind or rite of passage than a destination and we are delighted that the kids ‘get it!’ We stop at a gallery and restaurant for a chance to ponder the glorious three hour drive we have taken.

Cannery Row in Monterey

We are fully in our stride as we cruise in to Monterey and John Steinbeck country. Yes, Cannery Row is a ‘tourist trap’ but no longer ‘a stink’ as described by the author of the same novel. Instead the profuse aromas of warm chowder and homemade ice-cream fill the air. Monterey Bay Aquarium is a thrill for the kids and the little sea otters give displays of affection as they twist and turn on to their backs. The colourful jelly fish are a must see. Later we dine at the delicious Beach House restaurant at Lovers Bay − named after the religious pilgrims who came to this site to pray rather than the other kind of lovers.

Moneterey Bay Aquarium
Beach house restaurant in Monterey

Next morning I insist that my teen gets to know Steinbeck, after all he has read The Pearl. We eat lunch at Steinbeck House where the author was born and lived as a boy. It is lovingly preserved and run by the volunteers of Valley Guild who have created a welcoming restaurant. With appetites sated, the Steinbeck Center is only a stone’s throw away on Main Street, Salinas. Here the author’s work comes to life as we are treated to memorabilia and clips from the movies East of Eden and the Grapes of Wrathamongst others. I have to be dragged away by the family from my homage and ninety minutes later we are driving in to San Francisco. The San Remo hotel is over 100 years old and houses the atmospheric Dior d’Italia restaurant which has been around since1886. We are serenaded by wonderful live jazz as we dine on authentic Italian cuisine.

Entertainment at the San Remo Hotel
Shopping in Chinatown

There is so much to do in San Francisco it’s difficult to choose. Alcatraz is a must see and the audio tour takes us through every step of the cell-block. It’s pricey but book online to avoid the queues. Later we hire bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take in the overwhelming views of the bay and Marin County. Muir Woods, with Redwood trees stretching over 250 feet high is a great way to spend the day on the other side of the bay. We stop off in Mill Valley for lunch, a nice alternative to the bustling Sausalito.
Tram in San Fran
The Westin St Francis Union Square

We move into the Westin St Francis Hotel − an iconic landmark in Union Square and close to Westfield shopping centre with all the brands kid’s love. It’s a stone’s throw from Chinatown and probably the best location in the city. Our rooms are comfortable and modern – everything expected from a leading four star property. 

At the Golden Gate Bridge

Our CityPass assures entry into the main attractions including all transport options. We take a wooden tram from outside our hotel down to Pier 39 and dine at Pier Market restaurant. The fun packed Exploratorium and Madame Tussauds fill up the next day and all too soon we’ve reached the end of the road. 

Shopping in San Fran is great fun!
CityPass for SoCal and San Francisco can be purchased at www.CityPass.com
SoCal CityPass includes entry into the four big theme parks.
San Francisco CityPass includes all transport systems and entry into key attractions
Sixt Car rental ‘Rent Luxury Pay Economy’ see Website: http://www.sixt.com/car-rental/usa/santa-monica-ca/santa-monica-ocean-avenue
To get started go to www.sanfrancisco.travel and www.discoverlosangeles.com
Sightseeing Bus Tours see www.starlinetours.com
The Shore hotel, Santa Monica www.shorehotel.com
Radisson midtown http://www.radisson.com/los-angeles-hotel-ca-90007/cafiguer
For more about San Luis Obispo www.slo.org
To stay at Apple Farm www.applefarm.com
To learn more about The Steinbeck House see http://steinbeckhouse.com/
For more on The San Remo Hotel see www.Sanremohotel.com
For information on Muir woods visit www.marincounty.com
The Westin St Francis Hotel website is at http://www.starwoodhotels.com/westin
Flight details:
United Airlines will launch a daily nonstop service between Dublin and its Chicago hub, O’Hare International Airport, during the period Jun 5th, to Aug 18th (both dates westbound)

 

The lead in fare to LAX (through Chicago) and home from SFO (through Newark) ex Dublin – €620.25 per person. This includes the tax and fuel surcharge. Visit www.united.com or call 1890 925 252. 
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