This summer, I was lucky enough to spend 10 days with my family in southern/central California for a truly memorable holiday. Before this trip, I’d only ever experienced one transatlantic flight, so even the idea of a 10 hour flight and arriving in the United States excited me. There’s something indescribably magical about long flights, much as they may be inconvenient (and result in lack of sleep)!
We made 4 stops on our trip: San Francisco, Napa, Yosemite and Carmel-By-The-Sea.
San Francisco is eclectic, hilly and beautiful. It’s a small peninsula city, but the amount of diversity there astounded me. It has a thriving LGBTQ+ community, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge (sadly too misty to get any photos of), an incredible park and a Latin American quarter, known as the Mission District. We spent our first full day at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39: tourist traps, but definitely worth the visit nonetheless. Spotting sea lions off the pier was a highlight for me; I was more excited than all the kids around me. Day 2 started late, but we headed out for lunch and ventured to 16th and Mission for a super burrito: something I’d craved ever since I heard it was a thing. Valencia Street is full of thrift shops, artsy stalls and a wonderful bookshop, which I obviously spent ages in! The day ended with a trip to the beautiful Japanese tea gardens in the Golden Gate Park, full of koi carp and Japanese-style architecture: it was the perfect place to relax after a long day in the sun!
Our final day in San Francisco was the most eerie and arguably the most interesting: we took a ferry to Alcatraz Island, and saw the ex penitentiary. Alcatraz is a national park, and audio tours narrated by ex-prisoners and wardens are offered. It was fascinating to gain insight into life in one of the world’s most notorious prisons, as well as seeing the evidence of the various escape attempts that took place (and one that may have been successful).
We booked to visit Napa with plans to do a wine tasting: of course, this idea fell short, as I’m under 21 (the legal US drinking age) and my dad needed to drive the next day. Instead of a wine tasting, we visited Oxbow Market, which had been recommended for food; it didn’t disappoint. Napa itself has little charm, with the vineyards as the main attraction, but the bustling market full of various eateries and grocery stalls definitely had Borough Market vibes, which I loved.
Yosemite National Park is absolutely breathtaking. We hiked in the blazing heat around the valley floor, doing all we could to avoid bears, and took in some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. The park is full of giant sequoia and redwood trees (the tallest living things on Earth), and the stunning Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and the Three Brothers mountains. The beautiful, crystal-clear river is perfect for swimming and kayaking, and the ideal antidote to the dry heat. We made two trips into the park, and I’d absolutely love to visit again.
Our last stop, Carmel, is a quaint little village on Monterey Bay. The architecture there is beautiful, if a little twee: I felt like I’d stepped into a fairytale and I loved it. Carmel is full of boutique shops and restaurants, and has two incredible beaches from which we watched grey whales! It’s also very close to Point Lobos State Park and Monterey, both of which we visited and loved. I was desperate to see Monterey Bay Aquarium and it was a highlight of the trip for me. We saw the sea otters being fed and learned about their importance in maintaining the kelp forests of the Pacific Ocean, and obviously took pictures of the clownfish we saw (Finding Nemo, anyone)? One thing I loved about the aquarium was the interactive exhibit that educates people on the environmental impact of the fish they eat, encouraging people to make sustainable decisions when buying fish.
California is beautiful and diverse, both in terms of landscape and culture. San Francisco, with its large international community, is testimony to this, and the natural beauty of the state astonishes me. Obviously, we didn’t venture very far South, and Los Angeles wasn’t on our itinerary, but it was amazing to see the parts of California that are a bit more rugged and less glamorous in some cases. Northern California is picturesque with buckets of character and plenty of sunshine. What’s not to love?