Right now, we’re here in Boston

When I last visited Boston, Massachusetts, I was with my Mum. She much preferred the charm and clean Boston to the hustle and bustle of the Lower East Side of New York and I really liked it too. I vowed to return, and I had a few things firmly on my agenda.

I arrived from New York using Greyhound, and the journey took around 4 hours. My plug outlets refused to work, but otherwise the journey was fine.

My hotel is in Chinatown, and Boston is a fairly walkable city. My plan was to walk to Faneuil Hall and get food, then go for a stroll to the common. On my walk, I was approached by a man.

“Sorry miss, I just see that you’re a beautiful lady. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

I hesitated. I wasn’t really planning on company, but at the same time, I really did need to take a daily portrait… 

I let him walk with me, and despite him touching my shoulder to steer me, an erratic tendency to switch sides when he walked and calling me “baby”, he was pleasant enough. He was from the projects in Roxbury and had a tough upbringing, but now he sells tobacco for a company. He walked me to Faneuil Hall, but even I could see it was touristy and I lost interest. Instead we went to North End, then had to leave pretty abruptly but I took his email for if I want to meet for dinner (I didn’t).

I was grateful for this diversion. North End was very quaint and beautiful. Everything had been preserved from how it originally was. 

It was a nice walk, which took me to the Boston Common where I took a lemonade and sat out in the sun taking selfies.

From there I was beginning to feel a little hungry, so I searched for food and found a little food court in Downtown Crossing. I took a Louisiana blackened chicken with rice, and I continue to be defeated by the portion sizes in the states. I couldn’t finish it at all! My dinner concluded my day so that I could launder my very dirty clothes.

The next day I decided to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and check visiting Harvard off my bucket list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum comes so highly recommended by me that it has its own blog post here. An actual first on this blog!

Harvard is accessible by the MBTA, you can take the red line heading to Alewife, and get off at the easily named “Harvard” stop. Once you leave the station, Harvard yard is waiting right there for you. 

In the Harvard Yard you’ll find lots to see – the statue of John Harvard, the memorial library and church and the opportunity to walk around saying you can “pahk ya cah in the hahvid yahd”. 

I found it interesting to walk a little further down Massachusetts Avenue and look at the Law School because I am a massive fan of Legally Blonde and Legally Blonde: The Musical (also a few very important real life people went there too. But mostly Elle Woods). There are a few museums such as the Peabody Museum, and the Semitic Museum which I would have particularly liked to see, but I spent too long at the ISGM and arrived thirty minutes after it closed.

There are a few cafés and restaurants to eat in, I took a huge ciabatta panini from a deli with a few continental foods and a fresh lemonade from shake shack then I headed home.

With big players like Washington DC and the mighty New York City so nearby, I think Boston often gets overlooked. One of my favourite songs is about this city, so it will always carry a special place in my heart. There is so much history and so much beauty, I hope European visitors don’t overlook it for much longer!

Favourite sights: North End, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Hostel: HI Boston Hostel

Positive: Really clean, great rooms, in a great location with lots of activities, a nice breakfast and a really nice, communal atmosphere

Negative: only that the wifi can be a bit patchy, which is fine because you’re on holiday BUT it did also affect the laundry card machine.

UNMISSABLE BOSTON: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is up there with some of the greatest museums I have ever been in, in my life. In ways that were completely unexpected, that museum
was beyond words exceptional.

You can get to the museum from the Museum of Fine Arts subway stop, and the address is here. If you visit the museum within two days of the MFA, you can access discounts, as well as if it’s your birthday or you are named Isabella. None applied to me, so my entrance was $15.

Who was Isabella Stewart Gardner? 

Gardner was a collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She inherited quite clearly a shitton of money from her Dad, which enabled her to curate this incredible collection of art, furniture, fabrics and much more. 

What can I expect from the museum?

This museum is unlike anything I have ever experienced. If you enjoy art, interiors, decor, history and culture, you will love this museum. It is designed around a spectacular courtyard, with themed rooms circling around the green, landscaped centrepiece. The life of Isabella, her personality and passions seep through the museum. You can really feel this personal touch, it tells a story but encourages you to develop your own opinions and foster your own creativity as you go around. The placing of objects invites you to make your own connections and understanding. In short, the whole museum is a gallery.

What did you love about this museum?

Isabella was a lover of the renaissance era and Venetian art and furniture. She was an Italophile like me, who collected things rich in Italian history. Her collection also includes Arabic, Indian and Dutch pieces too, with an entire Dutch room and a Chinese Loggia.

My favourite rooms were the Veronese room with its beautiful mirror piece, the Titian room and its connections to the centrepiece Europa running through the entire room and the grand Gothic Room on the third floor.

On the second floor I was in love with the early Italian room and the adorable little salon. 

Finally, the courtyard is breathtaking.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is unlike anywhere I have been and I cannot recommend it enough. I don’t think you will find a similar experience anywhere else.

Harlem History and Brooklyn Charm

On my first visit to New York City, my Mum
straight refused to visit Harlem. She said it was too dangerous and wouldn’t go there. I vowed to visit this time, in the morning so I could then go on to Brooklyn later in the day.

I could walk to Harlem from my hostel, and on the way I strolled to the popular Levain bakery for a soft, indulgent brioche. It was milky, not too sweet, fluffy and just delicious. Almost croissant like, but still cakey. I watched the world pass as I ate, then carried on up North.

Around the Harriet Tubman memorial, Harlem becomes distinctly Black focused, which is why I came. For the rich black history. The murals and the bookshops. The people were just as friendly, with a guy stopping me to chat and offering his hand in marriage as a solution to my not being able to move to New York.

From Harlem I took the train straight to Bedford Avenue which is in the heart of hipsterised, gentrified Williamsburg in Brooklyn. 

First on the agenda was the Mini Mall. This was really cool, and definitely didn’t give off the Too Cool To Talk To You vibe. I ended up buying a whole lot of gifts here and a pair of shorts for me. 

From there I walked to the City Reliquary, but after spending $40 on shorts I didn’t also want to pay for entrance there so I instead followed a poster for a yard sale and went to that instead. There I met Dollfille, a living doll with really beautiful fashion, and I looked around my first yard sale.

The plan from here was to go to Artist and Fleas, get lunch and then make a plan from there. In actual fact I saw that down one street there was a few fairground rides. I became curious and followed it down. There were fairground games, Italian food vendors and Italian flags and a huge shrine at the bottom of the street. It didn’t yet make any sense. The vendors who chatted to me were Italian, but no one really divulged more than “it’s a festival we have every year”. The police explained that they carry the shrine at around 4pm, and it’s an Italian community thing. I was so curious I decided to come back around 4pm.

Artist and Fleas was nearby, but it was as I expected, very closed off and up itself and I didn’t love any of the things on sale so I left. 

Opposite was Smorgasburg which was a big Brooklyn hipster food market with trendy vendors lining. I am so disappointed in myself to admit that I chose to order a spaghetti doughnut. I know. It tasted exactly as bad as it sounds, but it was fun to eat at the “beach” of the East River. 

By this point I could head back to the festival, stopping first at a funky pink little gift shop that caught my eye. It’s Brooklyn Broads, a feminist gift shop that donates 10% of all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Although it’s pricey, all the gifts are created by female artists who the shop supports. I enjoyed looking around and it was very photogenic.

I finally made it back to the street festival, where it had really picked up. People were crowding around the shrine, and the sounds of Italian American Brooklyn accents punctuated the air amongst frying funnel cake and calzone.

A local explained to me that it was a long festival that happens every year. They carry the shrine up and down the block to a band, there is food and on the Sunday a mass. One young Italian American guy told me he is involved in carrying the shrine – called in Italian a “giglio”, or lily. It’s a huge heavy thing, but in Italy they carry it for almost twelve hours!

It was quite a spectacle to behold. The music, the carrying of the giglio, the culture and the celebration that was in the air. Everyone knew I was a tourist but I didn’t feel like an outsider at all as the whole block and its diverse community joined in.

I stayed until nearly 8pm, soaking up the celebration, taking photos, meeting people and hearing their stories and watching them parade the giglio. Above everything, this was the most perfect way to spend my day.

Although Manhattan’s midtown has many must-see sights, events like this that are just so true to the community makes venturing out of the centre so worth it.

Favourite sights: Levain bakery and Harriet Tubman Memorial in Harlem, Mini Mall and Manhattan Skyline in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Lower East Side Exploits: New York City Day 1 and 2

Returning to New York City was like a “hello, old friend” after all the new encounters on the West Coast. I arrived at JFK and strutted through the encounter like it was habit, with a casual air I assumed to be very New York. Confusion fell onto my face when I had to decipher the AirTrain – but I quickly understood to reach Manhattan I could take the Jamaica bound AirTrain then the Long Island Rail Road to Pennsylvania Station. 

At Jamaica, I was able to pay for the AirTrain as an exit fare and the Long Island Rail Road. At Penn Station I boarded the 1 train to my hostel up on 101st Street. When a man got on the train with trackmarks and dried blood on his legs and sat opposite a very cute Latino man and a rabbi, I laughed and thought of course. It’s New York at 1am.

The hostel I stayed at wasn’t pleasant, all the money went on the outside with a very basic interior. It was clean but aging, and the locks on the door decided when they wanted to open. Still on Pacific Standard Time, around 2:30am I managed to sleep.

The next day, I decided to tackle the Lower East Side. I booked a tour of the tenement museum that morning for 11AM and headed straight there. The tour I booked was Hard Times, the story of one Italian and one German Jewish family who lived in a particular tenement building on the Lower East Side. You visit the rooms they inhabited, hear their stories and look at their documents. I have wanted to visit this museum for a long time, and I can really recommend my particular tour and the educator Kimberlee who was knowledgable and lively.

From the tenement museum, my plan was to visit a few bookshops and a Tokyo fashion store, but everywhere was closed so I instead strolled down to Little Italy, which was lively but a little touristy, and through Chinatown down to the Brooklyn Bridge. 

In between the two was a little park inhabited almost entirely by elderly Chinese people! From the bridge I headed back North through the Financial District which is very grand and an interesting sight before taking a trip through Soho, Noho and Tribeca.

There were a few interesting shops – Maman Bakery, but also a little marketplace which was so up itself. The staff really acted like they didn’t want you there. In addition, at this point the street cat calling became relentless and continued right until I got home. That really put a damper on how I felt about the people in this part of New York!

I got all the way up to Washington Square Park and realised it was time to eat, but also knew the prices would rise as the numbers of the streets rose – we were approaching Times Square. 

So I walked back down to a pizzeria for a slice of New York Pizza and hated it so much I left most of it. It was in the artsy hub of Greenwich Village which had a great atmosphere.

Nearer Times Square, there’s a big deli where I got brown rice, mashed potato and cajun shrimp! It was lovely!

I ended my night at Times Square, which is a must do and a spectacle for first time tourist, but with one visit under my belt and as a London dweller who finds Piccadilly Circus annoying, I could have taken or left it.

My second day was rather similar as it was so rainy and I spent it mostly strolling around the Lower East Side with my friend – only there are two additions: we visited the Tokyo fashion store, and ate at the Cheese Grille for National Mac and Cheese Day! The Mac and Cheese was quite nice – a bit too thick and stringy and the crispy breadcrumb layer was too buttery and the pasta a little too soft, though. 

The Lower East side has a lot more charm and grit than midtown. I recommend strolling through both to see the contrast between spectacular skyline and getting a cricked neck from looking up and the history and culture of the Lower East Side.

Favourite sights: Greenwich Village, Tenement Museum, Little Italy

Hostel: Broadway Hotel and Hostel

Positives: Rooms are shared with one other, very close to the subway

Negatives: Too much money for what you get. It’s very old and needs refurbishment.

The City by the Bay, San Francisco

Years ago, my friend told me that in San Francisco you will hear sirens of fire engines, and it’s because there are so many homeless people that when they die, the fire engines are sent to collect their body.

Another friend told me the homeless population was so severe and so alarming that she found it hard to enjoy the city.

In Carmel, I told a man I was going to San Francisco. He replied “Good luck. Don’t go out at night. My niece was in Golden Gate Park at night and some crazy guy just shot her.”

In between this were pockets of people telling me it’s just like any other city and I’d be fine, but I was very aware of the fact I’d be arriving in the very dark of the night. I would have no data to call a taxi, and possibly no wifi to get an uber. 9th July would be the day I would die. I’d venture aimlessly into the Tenderloin and get ravaged to death by zombies.

Or not. The upbeat track from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album, “Fashion of His Love” came on shuffle as we crossed over the bay on glittering bridge – Oakland behind us and Port of San Francisco illuminated in red ahead of us. It was so gloriously camp and I felt a sudden rush of joy and understanding why exactly I was here.

I hopped off the bus and waiting right there was a taxi driver named Phillip, who told me to call him any time, day or night, if I needed to get home safe. 

“And don’t use Uber!” He said, in heavily accented English. “The Uber drivers, they cut the red light and if there’s an accident you’re not protected!”

“I’m trying to boycott it” I said, sadly. “It’s very convenient but they’re not a good company.”

He told me no matter what the meter says, he’ll charge me $10, but I gave him a pretty nice tip anyway.

Music City Hostel was where I stayed. By day a recording studio and place where rockers go to jam, and by night a bed for travellers. One such was a young woman cycling down the North American West Coast. She had been travelling for two years, and we bonded over the our shared values and complete shock over the lack of an American social care system.

“There are so many poor and homeless people!” I exclaimed. “In Los Angeles a section of one street in downtown was like a favela! Can’t they see the system is failing these guys?”

“There IS no system to fail them!”

I talked endlessly, having come from Carmel where I had no one to talk to, and then we fell into an amicable quietness as we prepared our travel admin and slept.

The next day, my personal life back in London got chaotic. It was wrought with anxiety and stress and I didn’t end up leaving the hostel until late afternoon. With back-home drama, it was hard to see the city and be in the moment. I walked up to the Golden Gate bridge, a long and taxing walk, but I couldn’t find a good vantage point in the Presidio.

I did find the very pretty Palace of Fine Arts, and the beauty of a woman in a blue dress changed the dark spirit of my day. I joined the Chinese tourists clustered together taking selfies, and walked along the waterfront. An astonishingly handsome man with a cute baby stopped me for a chat and recommended me some places to go eat and see. 

Behind me was a beautiful view of the bridge, clouded by the San Francisco fogs, so I just walked up to the Ghirardelli Square, too exhausted emotionally and physically to go any further and took a sub-par meal from a diner there. I went back home because sometimes you need a still day when you go away.

The next day, I was determined to make more things happen. It was my 24th birthday. My hostel mate Hannah wished me happy birthday, and my first point of interest was the Ferry Building – by way of Sephora, of course.

The Ferry Building hosts a huge fresh food market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and since I hadn’t eaten much yesterday my stomach felt like a bottomless pit. I got a crispy, flaky croissant and a pretty nice macaron to eat as I strolled around, then contemplated just how I’d get to the Castro.

The F Train. 

These old streetcars shuttle up and down the cities, tackling the steep hilly streets so you don’t have to. A friendly guy began chatting to me about his favourite places to go in San Francisco, what job I do and asked for my number. I gave him my email and he boarded the bus with me. When I mentioned the word “boyfriend”, suddenly the stop at current was his stop. 

As we ferried down Market, the streets began getting gayer and gayer. Flags waved in the wind and I knew the historical Castro was very close. I had seen this place in movies like Milk, and read about it again and again in my quest to Know Our Damn History. A huge rainbow flag waved over the Twin Peaks bar, the oldest gay bar in San Francisco, and we were here. 

I strolled down, entering the colourful shops with ephemera and souvenirs, unable to stop myself from buying the small bits and pieces as gifts. Then I saw Dog Eared Books, a bookshop with immediate personality. It was wonderful, and as I chatted to the staff I remembered it was my birthday. I told one staff member I loved her badge, she thanked me and I went on my way. Then her colleague tapped me and said “Happy Birthday”. He presented the badge to me in his palm, and they smiled as my jaw dropped.

“Are you SERIOUS?!” I gasped. “Really? This is for me?”

“I have one spare.” The girl smiled. I bought a book and some more badges and pinned the badges to my coat. I couldn’t stop smiling.

It was time to head back and find some food as I was beginning to feel lightheaded, and on the F Train back a Spanish couple began to chat to me. They were from North Spain, and initially thought I was a local. When they realised I wasn’t, we spoke about Spain and their British tourists and the homelessness situation in San Francisco. They wrote me their address and told me whenever I was in San Sebastian, I could be their guest.

I took the F Train to Fisherman’s Wharf, but it was so touristy and I was so exhausted I walked straight through it to North Beach/Little Italy, stopping only to pick up two postcards in a shop where the walls were lined with toy cars. 

North Beach became apparent because of the Italian Flags all over the posts. I was looking for Il Casaro, a well acclaimed restaurant for Napolitano style pizza.

 I watched the chefs make it right in front of me, and ate like a little Napolitana before heading on back down to my last stop – City Lights Bookstore.

The bookstore was in the heart of the Beat Culture of San Francisco, opposite the Beat Museum and with its own section dedicated to Beat Literature. There were seats where you could pass the time reading their books – this was a bookshop that really loved books. Downstairs in non fiction was packed to the brim with social science books, a section called “Muckracking” and a children’s section full of activisty children’s books. My favourite was called “A is for Activist”. I wanted to wheel the whole bookshop to the till and say “I’ll take this, please.”

My journey home took me through Chinatown. I said I loved Bangkok Chinatown the most – but I loved San Francisco Chinatown more than I could have expected. The shops were full of cute kitschy pink goodies, but sadly they were all closing. 

I photographed murals as I passed them, and outside my hostel photographed a punky cool girl wearing a bag that read “hex the patriarchy”. I became so excited, telling her I was in love with just how radical and how political and me this whole city was.

It had been a great birthday. On the Monday I found it hard to love the city but by Tuesday I found it hard to leave. The rich history and rich present, the culture and the people, the art and the books. It was so much more than I expected.

I didn’t see the worst of homelessness because I was never very near to Union Square, but what was always alarming was the amount of homeless wheelchair users. Something was clearly amiss in qthat situation, and it was evident of a much larger issue that I didn’t see.

I’m sad that I didn’t visit as much as I wanted to in San Francisco, but I am grateful for all I did see!
Favourite sights: The Castro, The Ferry Building, The City Lights Bookstore

Hostel: Music City Hostel

Positives: Clean, well located just off Polk Street. It’s fairly close to the Tenderloin but far enough away to not experience any big problems

Negatives: The small bathrooms lock from the inside, but you can still open them with a card key from the outside regardless of whether it is locked from the inside. In my opinion this design flaw is a massive issue! You of course must always knock before entering, but that doesn’t mean people still forget and almost every time I used the bathroom for any length of time, someone would enter.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, the village so darling.

Los Angeles, Venice Beach, Santa Barbara, San Francisco. I had heard of these spots and longed to visit them. Carmel was the wildcard destination whose location I wasn’t even sure of. It looked pretty and broke up the long route between Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

Getting to Carmel without a car is a little bit of a faff but you can read about how I did it here.

When I arrived, it was nightfall. I knew there was a bit of a distance between the bus stop and the city, but I didn’t expect what I got. You see, I’m a city girl. A hardened Londoner. Mudchute is “out in the sticks”. Walking alone through a dark, rural residential area with no street lights is unsettling at best. 

Then I had the chilling thought as I walked – “you know, this looks like the kind of place a serial killer might come to kidnap a woman.” Suddenly, my walk just got all the more horror movie. My mind kept flashing back to Get Out and every car that pulled up, I expected to hear a chanted “run rabbit run”. I decided to get to the first hotel and ask them to either accompany me or book a taxi. Under my breath I muttered “you’re a brave girl, you can do this” in the mean time. Streets passed, but I could still see no hotels. I saw two women and greeted them, so they could identify the pieces of my hacked up body. When my walk narrowed down to five minutes, I began to see lighted buildings and people! The adrenaline kicked in and I began to laugh. My hotel, The Village Inn, stood ahead of me, and in the lobby I laughed with relief. 

The receptionist was a jolly woman with that cheerful enthusiasm I encounter again and again on this trip. She reassured me of how safe I am, and told me about how she was so disorganised this afternoon. She told me about the aquarium and how she loves it, and how great Bubba Gump and Ghirardelli is. Her warmth disarmed me, but I still stuck the chain on the door and turned the room television on for comfort.

Everyone knows Carmel is absolutely fine, I’m just really city. The next day proved I had absolutely nothing to worry about because Carmel looks like something off a chocolate box. It looks like I should have worried more about witches luring me in with trails of sweet treats.

The village centre of Carmel is made up “inns”, restaurants, art galleries, wine tasting rooms and little gift shops. The first time I walked around, all the wine tasting rooms were closed and I wasn’t grabbed by any of the galleries so I mainly just gawped at the restaurant and pinpointed a few places for lunch and dinner. I whizzed round in about an hour or half an hour and felt a bit flat and disappointed. I had so much time here. 

With not much else to do with my time, I took a stroll down to the beach. There it was. A beach so beautiful it was up there with some of the beaches in Asia. Deep, rich, sapphire waters and pristine white sands. It was beyond beautiful. When they call it the crown jewel of the California coast, they are not lying. The chilly air warmed a little and I wrote in my journal, took obligatory selfies and paddled in the sea.

On the far left of the beach, you can climb some stairs and begin Scenic Drive, a long road that maps itself along the route of the coast. The houses perched along the coast were almost as much of an appeal as the beautiful ocean views.

 I stopped to chat with some Mexican contractors and walked further down to the next beach, where I returned back along the road and up to 5th Avenue Deli, a “create your own sandwich” deli with friendly staff. I picked the bread, bacon and… monterey jack. Wait. I realised I was eating a local cheese. And the lunch was delicious! 

I walked a little distance from there, and found this adorable little sweet shop where I indulged in a little pick-and-mix! I was a little sleepy, so I returned to my hotel to rest, change and listen to the soundtrack of Moana because the beautiful oceans had inspired me. Refreshed but still a little full from my late lunch, I returned to the village for dinner. I pinpointed a few places – Little Napoli, La Bicyclette and Dametra in particular. La Bicyclette was too pricey and Little Napoli was usually fully booked so I opted for the cheapest and nearest, Dametra.

It was lively and in the sun, which I really liked. It felt like I was dining out in Spain somewhere. I ordered the “four cheese ravioli” but they did bring me a lasagna. The staff were really friendly so this wasn’t a problem. I continued to eavesdrop and people watch until my food came. It was very good, but I’m realising, I spend so much time really full because the portions are so much bigger than what I’m used to here!

After dinner, I returned to my room for the night. My next day was spent at Big Sur and Monterey, which you can read about here.
My final morning, I dedicated to finding a local wine. I had heard good things about Caraccioli, a local Monterey winery. Luckily, it was open when I visited, and they guided me to a summery rosé which was light and would travel well. Again, the staff are so friendly, so I can recommend that winery. Later, I’ll tell you if the wine is any good!
On my way to re-finding my little deli, I “found” the not-so-secret garden. It was a bit of an open secret, but it’s a beautiful space that leads into Pilgrim’s Way Bookshop. Whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s a peaceful little spot that allows you to destress and think about life. 

The bookshop is also quite cute, and I particularly enjoyed one book!

From there, it was time to say goodbye to Carmel. I bought my little deli sandwiches and headed back to collect my bag.
Carmel is really cute and photogenic and although it will burn a hole in your pocket, you’re paying for excellent quality and an excellent experience. It was by far the most expensive stop on my trip, but I don’t really regret it. The only thing I’ll say is that there aren’t a lot of solo travellers here, and if I wanted to meet more of the young traveller scene, I probably should have stayed in Monterey. Regardless, I prefer Carmel to Monterey, but I prefer Santa Barbara to Carmel. I would never trade in that breathtaking beach view, though!
Favourite sights: The beach, Caraccioli winery, scenic drive.

Hotel: Carmel Village Inn

Positives: Comfortable, friendly staff, enormous breakfast buffet

Negatives: If you’re a solo female traveller, you’ll feel a little secluded.

Journeying from Santa Barbara to Carmel/Monterey

Santa Barbara has so far been my favourite stop on the trip, and although I was sad to be leaving, the journey from there to Carmel was beyond incredible. I booked the rather complicated journey in a very simple process on the Amtrak website by inputting my destinations and the website figures out the connections, a bit like TheTrainLine. There was a slightly faster and more expensive option, but I took the cheaper option at $55.

The Amtrak train, equipped with patchy but functional on-board wifi, immediately began travelling along the coast. The views were beyond words. I couldn’t believe I was on a train, and I couldn’t believe this was my life. I was excitedly texting my friends, asking if I was dreaming. It was breathtaking, and better than I could have imagined.

I didn’t ever want it to stop.

When it did, it was at San Luis Obispo. This stop was of five minutes, and I pictured myself having to run at the speed of light to make my connection but the transfers were all connected so this Thruway Bus had to wait for me. I deliberately selected this route through San Luis Obispo because I wanted to go there and see this town, even just by passing through on a coach!

The San Luis to Salinas bus was pretty uneventful and I slept and played my little California themed playlist. The next stop was Salinas, and it was around two hours until the bus onto Carmel arrived. I initially planned to sit and wait it out, reading the tourist flyers. But I read about an Salinas old town and decided to explore. To drop my backpack it was $5 which seemed a bit absurd, but I didn’t want to be stuck inside and I didn’t want to carry it.

I’m glad I journeyed into Salinas. The old town is near the station, it’s almost a little historical living museums of trains and old houses. I initially took a left out of the station but everything seemed a little bit too far, so I walked the other way and found the most glorious small town. Salinas is lovely. Spanish tiendas, motor trade workshops, little houses and churches and beautifully painted wooden houses line a long stretch of road that leads and leads and leads. On the way there I passed a young guy guarding a shop with a metal gated front, and on the way back I stopped to chat to him. He was Mexican, and his family moved to Salinas when he was seven. He told me he would love to travel, but hasn’t yet had the chance. When I returned, he’d show me around, he said.

I was running short on time to get back to the station, but I needn’t have worried. The Amtraks always come in late, I would quickly learn. I was catching a connecting bus, but the bus had to wait for a train full of passengers to come in, which was forty five minutes after its due time. I got to Carmel late, and at nightfall. What happens is you are dropped off at the bus stop in Carmel which is around a forty minute walk from the village. In daylight it’s not a problem, but at night there are no streetlights and it’s very quiet, so you might want to take a taxi, especially if you’re travelling alone.

For travellers without a car, it’s a long and fiddly way of getting up the coast, but the Santa Barbara to San Luis stretch goes right along the coast and the views are unrivalled. It’s perfectly doable, and I really enjoyed travelling with Amtrak!

Monterey: Steinbeck, Cheese and a real pretty aesthetic

I always thought I’d do this trip reading Grapes of Wrath but I forgot to pick up a copy. It’s a shame, because it would have been real topical reading.

We drove through Monterey on my way to Carmel and I couldn’t believe how pretty this little town was. Not pretty in a Carmel way, pretty in an ex industrial, fictional, Americana way. I was almost sad to be staying in Carmel if Monterey looked this good.

My opportunity to visit came after my Big Sur tour. I was dropped off in the touristy Cannery Row – the name of a Steinbeck novel. I was very tired suddenly, possibly because I had become hungry. I dragged myself down to one of the many seafood restaurants and planned to have fish and chips. I had spied a box earlier, and though it enticed me, there was just one problem.

“I’m from London.” I said. “Is your fish and chips with skinny fries or thick cut chips?”

“Errmm…” the girl looked bemused “It’s skinny fries, I think. Just regular french fries.”

I scowled.

“Okay, no worries.”


I decided to go to the Lalla restaurant for a macaroni cheese with shrimps and four cheese. I took a lemonade and watched the sea. It was a nice macaroni but the portion defeated me. 

Satisfied, I decided to walk down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The names of Monterey districts mirror San Francisco’s in many ways. Fisherman’s Wharf is pretty and pastel, with all the beach fare you’d expect like funnel cake, sweet shops, ice cream and restaurants. 

You can watch whales and dolphins, but I was enjoying it in a free way. On the way to the wharf, I saw a harbour seal anyway!

I tried saltwater taffy for the first time but I wasn’t a fan – they’re like chewits but way more soft and chewy, saltier and more tasteless.

I walked along Lighthouse on the way back and found a used book store, but my mistake/genius was walking back to Cannery Row and the Aquarium region because the bus back to Carmel was near the wharf. Luckily, MST runs a free trolley through Monterey! It’s a cute little experience, and takes you right to the Transit Plaza where the onwards buses go and if you’re wondering why you see so few homeless in the tourist areas – it’s because they’re all at the Transit Plaza. A friendly bus driver told me which buses to take and when, and I headed to the Trader Joe’s store to get some food for dinner before catching my bus home, where I chatted about life with a wonderful woman called Suzanne.

I didn’t spend much time in Monterey, and whilst Monterey Jack cheese is great, and the city is very photogenic, the problem is that I’m spoiled. I stayed in Carmel, and I had just come from Santa Barbara. I felt like it couldn’t hold a candle. There were a few merits, the tourist scene may have been better for a solo traveller. The aquarium is a pretty popular spot, and said to be the world’s best, but with a price tag to go along with it at $48 for adults. For that reason I recommend it, but was happy with my stay in Carmel.


Touring Big Sur with Dave’s Big Sur Tours

“I’ll probably just force someone from my hotel to take me there.” I told people. 

That was my plan for seeing the spectacular Big Sur, a stretch of beautiful landscapes just south of Carmel. Deep down I wasn’t made of the stuff to make that work. I searched for a long time for a big bus tour, but very few places do it. One of the two tours that did it was Dave’s Big Sur Tours. The reviews praised and praised the man himself, so I sent him a quick email half expecting to not hear back or be told he was booked until 2019. 

Within hours, I got a chirpy and friendly response letting me know he was free on the very day I wanted to explore, the prices and payment method. I put down my deposit, and a part of me was more excited about meeting Dave than going to most of the cities on my travels! I reminded myself that if I felt lonely on this trip, at least there was Dave! In the intermediate time, he was prompt with responses and kept me updated with the plan. 

At 9AM of the day of the tour, there he was.



“I thought that might be you!”

If I seemed like the girl behind the email, he certainly seemed like the guy behind the email. Enthusiastic about life, happy, and just so Californian. That beautiful positive and laid back attitude I just kept encountering. It would be a great day.

I climbed into his car and we mapped out the day – Big Sur, Pebble Beach and then a drop off in Monterey. I trusted his knowledge to take me to see the places I liked, and his listening skills and people skills attuned him immediately to the stories I might like, scenery I might like – and yes, the fact I would LOVE photos of me for the Social Media. 

He took me to a small and pretty grove where Betty White lives, and with every building or structure he knew the story behind it. He had an anecdote for so many situations, and we gave names to the pedestrians we passed. Roxanne was a recurrent character. Not only that, but we visited a glorious little ranch.

The road ahead as we drove was just like the movies, unfolding with grandeur and the undeniable sense of a day trip on the roads of America. He blasted the music of the Beatles and I learned more from his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Beatles than I could ever have done from a day of Wikipedia. Each song he made me laugh with his impressions of John and Paul in the Beatles movie Eight Days a Week. 

At Bixby Bridge he told me about the history and how it came to be. The prisoners would trek from San Quentin to build the bridge, and upon its completion it knocked an hour off the journey. Any questions I had, I knew he could answer and I would happily have stopped the car to just hear him talk about local history.

We drove all the way to the Big Sur River Inn motel lodges in the woods, and they were absolutely dreamy. The guests lazed with their feet soaking in the river, or tubing down using the current. In huge decanters they served sangria and whiskey. The air was so pungent with the scent of Redwoods and thick forest. It was such a wonderful place I took a flyer for when I return.

Our next walk took us down by the river, where we chatted a little about the nature of life and love, and how some people pass into our lives and they are wonderful, but the way of the world means they weren’t meant to stay. In many ways, our outlooks on life converged.

The drive back was just as wonderful, this time with some of Dave’s favourite radio stations and hosts and singing our favourite Weird Al Yankovic songs. We drove along the 17 mile drive, where the pretty golf courses and coastline is, and then through America’s Last Hometown, Pacific Grove. This pretty little small town greeted us to a yard sale, victorian houses and the epitome of small town quintessence. When I was telling Dave I love these places because they are so different to what I’m used to in London, what was in front of me but a red London telephone box?

In Monterey the tour ended, but not before a visit to the Spindrift Inn to meet the lovely staff. It’s a pretty pretty little hotel which I earmarked for last time. I said goodbye to Dave with a hug I’d give a long time friend, knowing it wouldn’t be the last I’d see or hear of this amazing guy.

After a day in Monterey I was texting a friend in my room, snacking on Trader Joe’s Pane Rustica to the sound of my room neighbours having underwhelming sex when my room telephone rang. I thought it was a noise complaint, because maybe someone thought it was ME having that noisy sex (I wish). In fact the call was to say “there’s a guy downstairs with a lens cap for you, shall I send him up?” 

My only response was “are you kidding me?! Oh my goodness!”

I threw on my coat and there he was, with my lens cap in my hand. He had found it, and not only that, come all this way to deliver it.

I think I won’t be the first or last person to say this: the scenery was something special but what really made this tour memorable and worth the money and more was the man himself. I think there really are some truly wonderful people in life and Dave is one of them. He is so full of character and full of positivity, so enthusiastic about life that it’s infectious. He knows what it means to deliver a tour and really get to the heart of each individual and that makes it something special. Something you would never get on a scripted big bus tour. 

To finish, he sent me a recap of the whole tour. I don’t know how he did it, but he had recalled the details of what we discussed, listened to, the radio shows at each point in the tour so perfectly that when I read it my jaw dropped and filled with that infectious warmth once again. 

I cannot recommend this tour enough. For four hours, it was $400 + $30 fuel surcharge. I booked by sending an email through his website here – and he will also offer advice on good places to stay nearby if you need it. It’s a wonderful experience led by one of the most amazing people I’ve had the privilege of meeting, so thank you Dave. Thank you so much.


Santa Barbara, you have my heart.

What do Mandalay, Da Nang and Santa Barbara all have in common? I fell in love with a place that I wouldn’t be spending much time. I knew in those destinations that more time would leave me at a loose end with not enough to do, but the beauty of the place begged me to stay. Santa Barbara begged me to stay forever.

I came up from Downtown Los Angeles on the Greyhound which snaked its way through the San Fernando Valley, passing by the city infamous for its abundance of Kardashians – Calabasas. I resented knowing that fact as much as I resented feeling glad about driving past. After the hills and valleys of the 101 move towards Ventura, the pacific coast unfolds in front of you with splendid ocean on the left and mountains on the right. On these buses, you want to be on the left heading North. 

It’s a two hour bus, and the fact it dropped me minutes from my hotel would be remarkable if the whole town were not so very very small. The Wayfarer Inn is next to the Amtrak and Greyhound station, a funky little stay decorated exactly to my tastes. Faux fur, mermaid wallpapers, tacky cushions and plush carpets. And a heated pool. There is also a team of spritely concierges who will oblige your need and respond to your solo female traveller flirting vibes. Vincent, you’re a darling.

My camera lens had come apart in my hand in Santa Monica, and I had thirty minutes to run to Samy’s Camera before it shut. It really takes a lot of adjustment to realise that not everywhere is open until the deep night like London. I picked up my new lens in time and strolled down the long stretch that is State Street.

Santa Barbara’s Spanish influence is undeniable. Not like Los Angeles where the bilingual signs remind you of the proximity to Mexico, but Spanish like an island in the Balearics. Spanish like white painted buildings with blue and yellow tiles. As Spanish as falling in love immediately with a place.

The paved streets prettied with mosaic vases, the palm fronts and abundant flowers, it all felt like the place was playing at being a city, but the bars and restaurants were buzzing with life and the shopping mall, designed like a city plaza, had all the regular favourites. I took a plate of fettuccine alfredo and watched the city go by. I chatted with a beautiful French girl from Toulouse and took her picture. I walked back down State Street, snapping my camera at everything that delighted me and then I arrived at the beach.

It’s a small stretch of beach, defined on one side by a long pier jutting out into the ocean leading to a restaurant on the left, and a pretty boat harbour on the right. I sat snapping selfies and enjoying the laid-back vibe of the city. In one distracted moment, I turned to look behind me and saw the setting sun illuminating the sky in orange and pink, against a backdrop of palm trees and turrets and mountains.

 I found some white chalky stones to take with me as souvenirs and took a walk along the harbour and back to state street smelling the seafood dinners, flowers and summer. 

The sunset was in front of me and my heart was so full. I knew this feeling was what it was like to find a place that is home. I returned to my hotel for a rest by the pool, and to my room with the plan to sleep for the night. 

In actuality, I met two women. We chatted until 11PM and the younger of the two women and I went out again. I hadn’t had enough of this city. We walked down State Street and although many places were closed or had closed kitchens, a few small dive bars were open selling pizza by the slice. We found one pretty little neon and black establishment where we spoke until nearly half one in the morning, the time passing without us knowing and the noise of the bar becoming progressively louder. 

For the first time on my trip, I walked home in the dark without fear of how safe I would be, and climbed into the softest bed I had ever known.

Santa Barbara is Californian beauty, drenched in something so quintessentially hispanic. It was like a perennial resort town, and I felt so peaceful there. I can’t think of a circumstance that would mean I don’t return and if I call California home some day, I hope Santa Barbara is the city.

Favourite sights: State street, the harbour, the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Centre

Hostel: The Wayfarer Inn

Positives: Very beautiful, luxurious and feels like a hotel. Clean and an excellent breakfast. Group events. Near to the station

Negatives: None at all. One of my favourite places I’ve ever stayed.