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Movie Stars, Red Woods, Cable Cars…California

by Trish Utter

Trish & Brooke riding Cable Cars in San Francisco

The golden state of California is well worth a visit but to tell the truth, it was not high on my 20-year-old daughter’s list of places to go. I told Brooke that I felt visiting California was important for her worldly education. I wanted her to see things that she had seen on TV but in person. It is hard to get the scale of a California Redwood or the fresh smell of the forest from a website or TV. We started in Los Angeles, our first stay was at the Mondrian Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard which was a wonderful central location. If you ask for a room as high up as possible and facing away from the pool you will get spectacular views of the Hollywood Hills and downtown LA.

One of the first things I do when visiting a new city is take a tour. We did this with Starline Tours and opted for the Grand Tour. We were picked up from our hotel and taken to their main terminal where we boarded a luxury tour bus. Our guide narrated the 5.5-hour tour that took us to the Chinese Theatre where the Oscars are presented, and up into the Hollywood Hills to see the famous sign and the fabulous view overlooking LA. We drove down Melrose Avenue and saw loads of interesting restaurants and boutiques we wanted to visit. The bus stopped for lunch at the famous Farmers Market that opened in 1934 where you will find lots of high quality and creative food. One vendor was selling coffee in what looked like mini ice-cream cones!

Muir Woods

You might have heard of the brand Supreme, a high-end clothing store that has only 2 locations in America, we could not say no to going in when we passed it in LA. We arrived at the shop before they opened and were one of the first 15 in a very long line. When the store opened, they were only allowing a few people in at a time. After literally one minute of being open the brand had sold out of a limited edition collaboration…. we hadn’t even made it in the store yet! People that buy things here are re-selling items online for 3 times what they paid; The demand is that high. After buying some clothing I decided to buy just one more thing but since I had already paid for my items, the employees told me if I wanted to make another purchase, I would have to go back outside and go through the line all over again!

We also visited Bathing Ape, a similar clothing brand like Supreme. Their store in Los Angeles is the only one in the nation, with their original store based in Japan. Brooke and I could not help but splurge on some of their unique and collectible fashion items that are one of a kind.

My friend Cory Katz who lives in West Hollywood took us to Sur, a restaurant that is on the TV show, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Sur is filled with fresh flowers and the scent is intoxicating. I was surprised at the affordable prices for fabulous fresh, organic food in a beautiful setting.

We left Los Angeles traveled north to Santa Monica where we stayed at Le Meridien Delfina. A nice feature of this hotel was their free shuttle that would take you anywhere local. You can call them to be picked up as long as you are within a 2-mile radius of the hotel. We had them drop us off at Urth Café, a popular restaurant offering organic food and coffee. The pastry case overflows with tasty choices. Every time we went it was packed. The restaurant is surrounded with fabulous plants which makes it such a nice place for a tourist break.

Santa Monica Pier is a famous landmark. The last time I was there I was a kid and saw the original Charlie’s Angels being filmed. There is an amusement park on the pier that is a lot of fun and beautiful at night as it is all lit up.

When we were down on the beach we noticed electric scooters left all over the place. They are by a company called Lime. You download their app and scan the scooter and you’re off! That simple. No docking, you can pick one up and drop it off where ever you want. We went to Venice Beach and back on the scooters and as well as all over town!

Enjoying the LIME Scooter

I highly recommend you dine at Malibu Farm. This restaurant is located on the pier in Malibu. Just as the name suggests, all the food is fresh right from local farms. We were seated at a large wood farmhouse table with fresh cut flowers under the shade of the pergola overlooking the water. It was so nice to sit with my coffee and watch the surfers of Malibu while eating a delicious, farm to table breakfast. Oh to be the rich and famous! If you cannot make it to Malibu, they have just opened a new location in Miami!

We had a great drive on Route 1 in this
Camaro SS from Enterprise-Rent-A-Car

I picked up a rental car from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Enterprise has a wide variety of cars you can rent including Ferrari’s and Porsche. Route 1 is THE most iconic drive in America so it is well worth opting for a convertible performance car for the curvy roads and great weather. I rented a Camaro SS convertible. Top down, wind in our hair and camera’s at the ready for the breathtaking scenery. We briefly stopped in Santa Monica and then headed off to San Simeon as we wanted to see Hearst Castle. What I didn’t expect was to find one of the most wonderful and unique hotels I have ever stayed in…the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon and located on the Pacific Coast Highway. From the road, the hotel looks unassuming but we got our key and opened the door to our room and …wow! The room was huge and had a large balcony, which felt more like a mini apartment. We were right on the beach with views of the rugged Pacific. Every room in the hotel had a fireplace for when the cool beach breeze came along after sundown. The nighttime temperature was cool so we lit a match and got the fire going, toasted our S’mores which were left by the fire for us, and gazed out the window at the mesmerizing view. What heaven. It was sort of like 5-star camping. The hotel has 2 pools, a life-size chess board and outdoor fireplaces that are set up for you to use on their grounds that stretch along the coast. The service at the hotel was wonderful. This is a romantic place but also a great place for families. The Cavalier has a restaurant which offers a wide variety of food. We were only 3 miles from Hearst Castle, a few minutes from the village of Cambria, close to wine country and just a few minutes from the Elephant Seal Rookery. The Rookery was another highlight of our visit. Huge seals cover the beach. We watched them sunbathing and playing alone the rugged coastline Massive boulders jut out into the Pacific and if you are lucky you will see the fog roll in which is absolutely magical. We could not take enough photos. Just a spectacular spot for nature and wildlife.

Inside Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle is set high on one of the hills in San Simeon. A bus takes you from the Welcome Center at the bottom of the hill and winds its way up the steep and curvy road. Cattle wander across the vast expanse of rolling hills that are blanketed with tall golden grass. This was the vacation house for William Randolph Hearst who was a newspaper tycoon. Construction started in 1919. The road up to the house was engineered to be invisible from the house and from a distance. Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope and Greta Garbo were regular guests. As Hearst was busy working most of the day he supplied activities for his guest to do until he was free in the evenings. Oh, and if you keep your eyes peeled you may see some unexpected wildlife like zebra roaming around the land! They are the decedents of the animals that were kept at the Hearst private zoo. Quite funny while you’re driving and you see cattle and then a …Zebra!

It was very hard to tear away from San Simenon, we had no idea we would fall in love with this gem of a place. I guess that is how Hearst felt. We continued our trip north until we reached Santa Cruz. The scenery changed from golden hills to tall evergreens. Here we visited their Farmers Market and walked through their main shopping area.

We headed to Muir Woods located just outside San Francisco. This should be on your Bucket List! On our way, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and stopped to take photos. Did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge was not meant to be burnt red color? It was by error. The color was applied as a primer and was liked so much as it made the bridge stand out in the fog that often rolls in. We were lucky enough to get there at sunset. Just a spectacular time to take photos in this famous spot.

Just across the bridge and close to Muir Woods, we found a supermarket in Mill-Valley called Good Earth. I had popped in to ask if there was a good local restaurant and the locals in there recommended we eat there and said that they come here for breakfast and dinner. The hot food was organic and fresh with tons of vegan and vegetarian options. There is a fire pit outside so you can eat there or in their café. I would recommend this supermarket as a destination! We even returned in the morning for breakfast that included farm fresh poached eggs and hot lattes.

Hearst Castle in San Simeon

In the morning, we drop up to Muir Woods. The curvy and steep road up to it is an adventure in itself. Our Enterprise convertible Camaro rental car was perfect. Once in the woods Brooke was in heaven literally hugging every tree! These prehistoric trees that tower over you, up to 379 feet above you, are truly good for your soul. Make sure you have made reservations well before your visit.

Union Square

A short drive from Muir Woods and we were in the heart of San Francisco. We checked into the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake. Talk about a great location. The hotel is located next to the famous Union Square! Cable cars actually stop right in front of the hotel. You just can’t get any better, or closer, than this. Our room was up high with a spectacular view of Union Square.

Big Bus Tours, Hop-OnHop-Off is a great way to see a city. We boarded down at the Warf and drove past Haight and Ashbury, famous as a hippie area during the 60’s. The great thing about the Big Bus tours is that you can jump on and off. We jumped off the bus on Haight Street which is full of ultra-trendy boutiques and organic restaurants and coffee shops. Brooke took me to a clothing store called Dolls Kill, another store only found in California. If you visit Haight Street, this store is iconic and something you’ve never seen before and one of Brooke’s favorites! There are lots of resale clothing stores that have Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other designer items for cheap prices.

Elephant Seal Rookery

The Speakeasy. Our Lyft driver dropped us off in a questionable area. I wasn’t sure about this at all. We had a secret password that we had to give a person we met in the street and ushered down into a lavish, gold and velvet room with casino tables. Upon entry, your cell phone is turned off and placed into a sealed pouch which is a brilliant idea. And there we were, back in 1923! Dress code is strict, you will not get in unless you are in costume. You are totally immersed in an underground world of Prohibition with showgirls and their secret world. You have no idea who is a guest and who is an actor. We sat in front of the stage and watched a brilliant show. One of the showgirls looked as if she wanted to cry and get off the stage. We followed her back to her dressing room where there was a one-way mirror so you can see what goes on in the dressing room. Here we saw her arguing with cast members. We weren’t sure if this was part of the show or if it was real. We soon realized this is what the Speakeasy was all about! It is sort of like an old version of reality TV- A peek into what their real lives were like back in the 20’s. By far it is one of the best things I have ever seen. If you visit San Francisco, you must put this at the top of your list. Its something hard to explain so trust us on this one!

Local Taste of the
City Tours

Local Taste of the City Tours

We met on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Green Street for the Little Italy Food Tour. Our first stop was to the delicatessen, Molinari that is famous for their salami. They started making this back in 1896 after arriving in the US from the Piedmont area of Italy. We visited cafes, a local church, saw jewelry being made and got a sense of the ethnicity of the area.