Jackie went to California

“Last month I went on a holiday that I’ve wanted to do for years and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve always wanted to do the coastal drive in California that we’ve all seen on countless TV programmes & films.

Our trip started at Manchester where we boarded the very convenient Thomas Cook direct flight to San Francisco. We booked their Premium Service which was very good value for money. It’s a separate check in with Fast Passes, extra luggage allowance, a separate cabin on board with premium meals & drinks. The leg room was great on such a long flight and before we knew it we were landing in sunny San Francisco. We had 4 nights booked and had pre-planned what we wanted to do. Pre-booking for Alcatraz is essential as it gets booked up so far in advance. We did a city tour and miles & miles & miles of walking! It is a beautiful city and very easy to navigate but do not get a hire car as you definitely don’t need it and it’s a nightmare & very expensive to park. Things to look out for – Palace of Fine Arts, Star Wars Museum, Golden Gate Park and keep your eye out for naked people! Apparently it is legal in San Francisco to walk around naked although we didn’t see anyone thankfully!

After a fantastic & busy few days we were sad to leave but excited for the next part of the trip, Yosemite National Park. We picked up a hire car and navigated our way out of the city (what did we do before Sat Nav?!) over the Bay Bridge inland towards Yosemite. It was an easy three & half hour drive where the landscape & weather changed significantly. It got drier & hotter the further we went. We stayed just outside the Park in El Portal which is literally at the west park entrance which was perfect. Yosemite did not disappoint. It is truly spectacular and huge! At this time of year we had no problem with the traffic or parking but in the height of summer it is bad and you need to be there very early in the morning to avoid this issue. You must be organised in Yosemite as food outlets are few & far between so make sure you have supplies with you. The scenery is simply stunning and the hiking/trekking opportunities are fabulous. Don’t miss a trip to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias & try horse trekking if you can but most importantly remember your walking boots or at least good strong comfy footwear.

We absolutely loved Yosemite but after over a week now of constant walking & hiking we were ready for a rest and we set off back to the coast and the beautiful town of Monterey. It was much cooler back on the coast but just as beautiful in a different way. It is rugged & wild and laid back and really lovely. Our hotel was just outside the town which was fine for us as it had a fantastic restaurant and was on the beach. When I say on the beach, I mean literally on the beach! It was absolutely beautiful to wake up and look out over the Pacific Ocean, constantly keeping an eye out for whales which is a common sight in these parts. Each night the beach was scattered with bonfires and families & couples sat around them huddled in a blanket, toasting marshmallows. It was so relaxed and very ‘Californian’. The neighbouring town of Carmel is just as lovely but in a different way. It is more ‘chic’ and upmarket I think. The long high street down to the stunning beach cove is full of designer shops and fabulous restaurants, but very pricey! We loved Monterey and were sad to have had only 2 nights but off we set on to the next stop. On the way out we did the famous 17 miles drive which cost just over $10 to drive 17 miles of scenic road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula in California, much of which hugs the Pacific coastline and passes famous golf courses, mansions and scenic attractions, including the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees. Driving the ‘Big Sur’ which is a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast was just what I imagined and this is where we wished we had a convertible!

On our way down to Santa Barbara which took nearly all day, we stopped at Hearst Castle which has to be seen to be believed. It is a mansion & National Historic Landmark, and was a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947.

By now we were really ready for a chilled few days and that’s exactly what Santa Barbara gave us. The weather was perfect and it was so nice to just chill and wander the shops and enjoy the sunshine. It’s a pretty place that is Mediterranean in style with white stucco buildings and red-tile roofs which reflect the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. It has plenty of great restaurants, quirky shops and good wine.

After 3 nights we headed south to our last stop, Marina Del Rey a beach resort in Los Angeles. This was a great place to end our journey and conveniently close to the airport. It is walking distance to the famous Venice Beach and a short drive from Santa Monica & Malibu. Right across the road to our hotel was the Cheesecake Factory (which became a regular pit stop!) We spent a day at Universal Studios which is a must if you have kids! (or Disneyland) and saw the sights of LA as well as taking in a baseball game on the last night. The driving in LA is simply terrifying but we managed with the help of Google Maps!

We packed in so much during this trip and had such a great time. It was tiring though and living out of suitcases isn’t great but if you stay at least 2 or 3 nights in each place then it isn’t too bad and the holiday is definitely worth it. We drove over 1300 miles in all and enjoyed every minute. I would thoroughly recommend a fly drive on this coast which could be combined with Las Vegas if you had longer.”