California · Los Angeles · roadtrip · Travel · usa

USA Sept 2010 – “Star” Spotting in LA…

Our final full day in the US… and the final leg of our journey. We pack the Fletchemobile once more and set off at 9:30am after grabbing a light breakfast from the hotel office.

We decide to fill up at the gas station that we passed driving to Main Street last night – only to find that they don’t accept credit cards! The Fletchemobile is good to go for a little way yet, so we carry on down to Morro Bay.  We didn’t originally intend to stop off here, but we are lured in by the wonderful sight of Morro Rock shrouded in a cloud which make it look like it’s wearing a chef’s hat… Lovely little seaside town, definitely somewhere to consider stopping should we do this route again…

Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay

We drive on to Santa Barbara, via the beautiful vineyards of Santa Ynez and Lake Cachuma. Our GPS Tiff took us on an unexpected detour onto the CA-154, but we’re glad she did because it gives us a chance to see yet another different landscape from those we’d seen so far.

Our original plan had been to drive straight through from Monterey to Santa Barbara – we were SO glad that we decided to make the stopover in Cambria instead, as this was another couple of hours journey, and we would not have been able to take such a leisurely drive down the Big Sur coast.

Lake Cachuma, Santa Ynez Valley, California
Lake Cachuma, Santa Ynez Valley
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara

We arrive in Santa Barbara at lunchtime; this is another town that we would have liked to have been able to spend more time, as we only really got to see the ocean front, with no time to explore downtown.  We lunch at Eladio’s, a little restaurant on the corner of State Street with lovely views of Stearns Wharf. With our appetites sated, we take a stroll along Stearns Wharf to work off a little of our lunch, and then it’s back to the car to continue the final leg of our journey.

For the first time since driving into San Francisco, the Fletchemobile is surrounded by other cars and Mr Fletche copes admirably with the seven lanes of traffic as we enter Los Angeles. I guess this must be LA rush-hour… We take a wrong turning (partially Tiff’s fault, partially my fault…) and as we try and get back on track, we get our first glimpse of the Hollywood sign!

To get much better views, we drive to Griffith Park, and up to the Observatory. Fantastic views over LA and of that famous sign…

Hollywood Sign, Griffiths Observatory, Los Angeles, California
Hollywood Sign viewed from Griffiths Observatory

It’s a 10 minute drive to the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel from here, but the traffic is a nightmare and we have no idea if we’re in the right lane… We end up driving up Hollywood Boulevard before being able to make a right turn, and we handily find ourselves at the hotel parking lot. The parking lot is a bit of a tight squeeze, and I’m nervous about us getting blocked in tomorrow morning when we need to leave for the airport.  We park as near to the gate as we can, and hope and pray that we don’t have to reverse out into the busy traffic on Franklin tomorrow morning…

After a short rest, we make our way out to Hollywood Boulevard – just a short 5 minutes walk from the hotel. We take a stroll looking at all the stars on the Walk of Fame, and spend some time outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre looking at the hand and foot imprints. Judy Garland’s feet are tiny! Even smaller than my tiny Size 3s! And Mr Fletche is excited to discover that his feet are EXACTLY the same size as Steve McQueen’s…

Graumanns Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles, California
Chris has EXACTLY the same size feet as Steve McQueen…

We start to hit the slightly seedier end of Hollywood Boulevard, so we do a U-Turn and walk up the other side of the road back towards the theatres.  I’m excited that there is a real-life World premiere going on at the El Capitan Theatre – red carpets, limos, paparazzi, the lot! It’s the new Disney film “Secretariat”. We gather with the crowds for a while as all the “celebs” pour out of the theatre – there’s no-one we recognise…

Despite my aversion to melted cheese – and therefore pizza – I decide that Mr Fletche deserves a pizza treat for all the driving he’s done on this mighty trip, so we head for California Pizza Kitchen in the Hollywood & Highland Mall. Mr Fletche orders himself a pizza, and I get a Waldorf salad – which is possibly the tastiest and the hugest salad I have ever eaten! I get a Los Angeles Mai Tai – purely in the name of scientific research to compare with those in San Francisco and Monterey – and we order a slice of cheesecake to share.

We head back to the hotel to finish off the last of our beers, and settle down for our last night in America. Tomorrow’s going to be another long, long day…

Back Home and the Holiday Blues

The alarm goes off, and we try to ignore it for as long as possible… trying to put off the inevitable of having to pack, and check out for the very last time. Eventually we venture downstairs and grab a light breakfast – there’s a decent selection available, and we take it outside to eat on the patio. Then it’s back to finish off our packing, and wonder how the hell we fit everything into our two suitcases on the way out… the only additions are a San Francisco hoodie, a Monterey jacket, our beloved Las Vegas cooler and the souvenirs we bought for the folks back home – surely that can’t add up to an additional 5 kilos?

We check out and load up the Fletchemobile for the final time. We’re going to miss the Fletchemobile… our cars back home just won’t seem the same now. I’m already worrying about driving back home from Heathrow to Birmingham as I haven’t driven in 2 weeks, and Mr Fletche wonders whether he’ll ever be able to adjust to driving on the left hand side again…

Traffic is as much of a nightmare getting out of LA as it was getting in, and we’re glad we gave ourselves plenty of time to get to LAX. However, we arrive at Avis and say goodbye to the Fletchemobile, and arrive at the Tom Bradley International terminal with plenty of time to spare.

There’s a delay in checking the luggage… the BA staff appear to be throwing a party to celebrate the new British Airways / American Airlines alliance. We ponder briefly on whether our pilot may also have been imbibing champagne to celebrate. Finally, our suitcases are winging their way onto the plane – thankfully still just under the 23kg allowance – and we enjoy our final meal in America. A McDonalds. Well, what else?

Quick tip for anyone flying from LAX (particularly the international terminal) – there is very limited Duty Free available once you’ve passed the security gate. I purchased my new Coach purse (at last – some shopping! My birthday dollars from the parents have finally been well spent) before Security, and had to pick up at the boarding gate, but we left the cigarettes & alcohol until after Security.

The flight home is uneventful – there is an issue with the cooling system and we have to wait for the plane to take off in soaring temperatures akin to being in a sauna – but we’re soon flying over the Atlantic and heading back towards grey, drizzly England…

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