My 20 Day United States Itinerary

I wanted to go for sixty days initially, then one month, but in the end around three weeks was the most workable solution with work and life being how it was.

I booked my flight from New York to London first, because I didn’t know how long I would be able to spend in the states, and booked my flight from London to Los Angeles later. Both flights were with Norwegian Airlines. My itinerary covered California, New York and Massachusetts, ticking off places and things I’ve alway wanted to do!

London to Los Angeles: 11 hours with Norwegian Air

A long, exhausting flight made worse by the fact if you don’t pre-pay and pre-book your meals, you will have to pay in flight or starve. I starved on principle.

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2nd – 5th July: Los Angeles and Venice Beach

I spent two nights in a hostel in Hollywood, and one night in a hostel on Venice boulevard about five minutes from the beach. 

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5th – 6th July: Santa Barbara 

A brief stop to see the pretty Spanish influenced town of Santa Barbara on the pacific coast

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6th-9th July: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and Big Sur

Arriving in the evening of the 6th allowed me a day and a half in Carmel and one day exploring Big Sur and Monterey

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9th-12th July: San Francisco

A few days around the time of my birthday to stroll through landmarks, hilly streets, historical neighbourhoods for gay rights and wonderful bookshops

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12th – 16th: New York City

Museums, bookshops, markets, seeing friends, eating lots of food and spontaneously attending a street party in Brooklyn!

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16th – 18th: Boston, Massachusetts

Visiting the pretty and quaint city of Boston, and Cambridge for the prestigious Harvard College.

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18th – 19th: Falmouth, Massachusetts

A very quick visit to the coastal town along Cape Cod

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19th – 21st New York City

Back to New York for my flight home: time for museums, Coney Island, Chelsea and more Brooklyn adventures!

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5 Big Ol’ Myths About Travelling Across America

Many of us would love to travel across the States but there’s always a reason not to. My advice is to just book your flights as soon as you have the capacity to do so, and you’ll soon find the solutions for any issues you expected to come up against.

Here are some common misconceptions that I found to be completely workable when I was in the States.

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It’s not possible to do it without a car!

Not true. I never learned to drive, but the United States has a very decent bus and train network. You can buy Amtrak passes and Greyhound bus tickets or multi-stop passes. Many cities have public transit, uber is popular and it’s perfectly acceptable to use your legs to cycle and walk too!

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It’s going to be so expensive.

It’s probably going to be pricier than staying in Western Europe and if you’ve travelled in Asia or South America you might sense that you are literally just burning away money in comparison to how cheap the cost of living is.

Finding a place to stay isn’t cheap, but Couchsurfing is a possibility. Flights and getting around may cost you. But my biggest expenditure on the daily was things like gifts, shopping and paying to get into museums – all optionals. By eating at delis, markets and grocery stores my food budget was often around $15-$20 a day.

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I need someone to go with.

No, you don’t! Going to the States was my first solo female travel trip. I wanted to go alone, but even if I wanted a companion no one was available to go with me at the time.

I rarely felt like I was alone because everyone was so chatty and friendly wherever I went. People would ask to accompany me round cities, I met people in the hostels, got invited on dates (polite blushing) so you really don’t feel that absence at all!

And for every other situation, you can befriend someone’s dog!

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Many places are quite dangerous, aren’t they?

If you’re going to be caught up in a criminal incident, the only thing that needs to happen is that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It therefore means that in the middle of the safest place on Earth, you could come up against an issue.

Everyone warned me about this and that place. Here isn’t safe and there isn’t safe. Poverty, homelessness and drug abuse are serious issues in big cities and there are some very desperate people in desperate situations. Do your research, be aware of your surroundings and be sensible. As a woman alone without insurance, I made sure to be back before it got too late into the night in a few cities – but it’s not always a necessary precaution and in many places I was out roaming until late and felt completely safe.

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Hmmm… Now is just not the right time. Maybe I’ll book for next year.

Next year will not be the right time either! You’ll always find the reason not to! Find a cheap flight, close your eyes and press “book”!

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.

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.”

SKINNY FRIES? Treason!

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.

“Letitia?”

“Yes!”

“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.

MORE INFORMATION HERE

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.

Independence Day on Santa Monica and Venice

Where in California would you find an Italophile? Venice Beach of course! I did the worst thing I could do which was discover other people’s opinions and they all said it was “the ‘hood”. I was sure that my choice of blue shorts and pink and white stripes would get me shot if I strayed onto the wrong streets. I know.

I took an Uber to my next hostel, PodVenice, which is friendly and open plan but not much in the way of organised events unlike Walk of Fame hostel. I pretty much dropped my bags and went out. First stop was Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where the name and colour of the store Lemonade naturally attracted me. I ordered a big Old Fashioned Lemonade which was a bit too big and sweet for me to sink quickly, and walked down the boulevard.

It was lovely. I am sure it’s gentrified left right and centre, with all the organic and healthy stores that the poor locals can’t afford, but there are a lot of public art and uplifting messages. 


It’s definitely a pretty street, and very photogenic and social media friendly like all gentrified enclaves.


Abbot Kinney takes you close to the boardwalk, where everything is like they say. There are so many characters. I thought the people watching comments were a bit absurd, but from the skaters in the park, the grown man sucking a dummy, the man and his scooby doo bike and the crack smokers, there is a lot to see.


 I watched the skaters, dipped my toes into the Pacific for the first time and then walked onwards to Santa Monica Beach.


You can tell you’re leaving Venice because the atmosphere becomes more polite and sanitised. Gone are the medical marijuana shops and in their place, cycle paths. Then you come upon the original muscle beach and it’s a sight to behold. There’s nothing like it. Asia has many public gyms but not like this, where the most physically competent Californians flip and glide and tightrope around to my awe.


 One such Californian approached me. He had been working out since January and wanted me to take pictures of him. I was more than happy to oblige. 

From there I visited the pier, where the rides and food are so expensive, but it’s a fun watch. I rested my aching legs on the beach before walking back and finding the smaller muscle beach on Venice. I’m sure it features in a movie, but the Venice muscle beach has just as impressive athletes and it’s great to watch them work out and train together. The food on the boardwalk seems to be variations of poke, pizza and tacos which I didn’t want, so I headed back to Abbot Kinney. My camera lens came apart in my hands at this point, but rather than cry, I went to get dinner at Lemonade. 


I’m not a big salad fan, but all the food looked so delicious that I took this leafy green salad (over a macaroni cheese!) and the people in the store were so nice! It was a nice salad, but I wanted something more so I tried the grocery store on the left around five minutes away. Everything was pricey organic food! I gave up and went back to my hostel to rest for the night.

The plan was to sleep, but I met two English girls and two American guys, and imposed myself on their plans to watch the 4th July fireworks from the beach! It was such a nice way to wind down, with fireworks going off in the nearby Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica pier as well as further away in Long Beach and Malibu. It was surreal!


I loved Venice Beach and Santa Monica. You can see there is poverty, and homelessness, but there is also a lovely, friendly atmosphere where everyone is laid back and there is no aggression. I felt so comfortable and welcomed, and I am glad to have put this on my itinerary

Favourite sights: Both muscle beaches, Abbot Kinney Boulevard

Safety: The area felt pretty safe, there are a lot of homeless people so you just have to keep your eyes open and be sensible with valuables

Hostel PodVenice

Positives: cheap, located right near Abbot Kinney and Venice beach, area seems safe, looks really beautiful, ping pong and basketball amongst other activities

Negatives: Very open plan and there are no real group activities like a hostel trip to see 4th July fireworks or anything like that

My 25km walking tour of Los Angeles


I was so close to not going to the City of Angels. Things were happening in my life and my health that it didn’t make it wise for me to truck off alone to the USA. There came a point when I even began to lose the motivation to go. It took until the last week for me to finally book all my rooms, and I was packing my bags in the final few days. I decided to go because I needed to step away from my stress for a while, not to ignore it but to deal with it. 

Like Jefferson says in the musical Hamilton:

“If there’s a fire you’re trying to douse, you can’t put it out from inside the house”

Any doubts of whether I wanted to travel were extinguished when I touched down in LAX. It was a direct, eleven hour flight from Gatwick with Norwegian Airlines. You need to ensure you pre-book food because if you don’t, you will not be fed. Unlike OmanAir or Virgin Atlantic they also don’t give you a travel pack! Blankets and headphones must be paid for. It’s very basic.


Needless to say I arrived in Los Angeles exhausted and hungry. I waited for so long for my bag to arrive and began to panic that someone had nabbed it. As tired as I was, I asked about the price of a taxi.

“Depends on traffic, could be sixty or seventy dollars.” I laughed and walked back to the Flyaway Bus stop.

The Flyaway Buses go right into the heart of Hollywood, but there are also buses into Union, Van Nuys and more. The buses make no stops, so you must ensure they have the destination name on the front. It took around 45 minutes to come, and payment was by card at the end. The journey was pretty uneventful until we drew nearer, and I saw the street sign for Sunset Boulevard and began to get teary. The Hollywood sign was in the distance, and as we pulled up, I looked down to see the Walk of Fame. 

I hobbled my way down Hollywood Boulevard looking quite like a moving target for the shifty characters weaving their way down the street and running out in front of traffic but I had one mission. Food. I had not eaten anything but boiled sweets since 11AM English time and it was now 3AM. I found a place selling pizza by the slice and ate it faster than one might down a shot. I checked into my hostel and my head hit the pillow and I was out like a light.


It meant I could be up early the next morning to make my booking at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I planned to get there by public transport, but I couldn’t decipher the bus stops so I instead took an Uber. On my way back to the hotel for wifi to book it, a sweet and shy guy asked if he could take a picture of me. We drove past the Chateau Marmont and my jaw dropped, and when I saw the Beverly Hills sign, it all felt so surreal.


The Beverly Hills Hotel is breathtaking. It’s pink, with palms and fronds and is Instagram picture perfect. I was gracefully led to my seat at the Cabana Café and given ice water and my maple syrup pancakes promptly. I was sure that everyone was judging me as I stood to take a photograph of my meal, but I had worked hard to get here, enjoy my meal and be in this place and dammit I would take this photograph! 


The pancakes were rich and really big, they were so filling I wouldn’t really need to eat until much later.


I asked the concierge to take a picture and headed onwards down the residential part Rodeo Drive to Beverly Drive, where there is Beverly Gardens Park. For whenever I want a picture, my trick is to wait until someone is struggling to take a selfie then offer to take the picture for them. I then sneakily ask for one in return!


From Beverly Gardens Park, I walked down the more famous half of Rodeo Drive – the one with all the pristine designer stores! 


From there it was a walk through Beverly Hills to the Beverly Centre to find a Sephora, although I wasn’t so impressed with the rest of the mall. I walked around the wonderful West Hollywood, delighting in the Pride street paintings and Pacific Design Centre, before walking along Sunset Boulevard to the Chateau Marmont. 


I got adventurous and wanted a picture of the Hollywood sign, even though it was 3PM and my legs were getting tired. I turned onto Fuller Drive, thinking it would lead me there – actually, it led me to the Runyon Canyon Park. I was disappointed to walk up such a steep hill to not see the sign, but Runyon Canyon is beautiful in its own right.


It was another long hour before I found the best place to see the sign – up Beechwood Drive. It’s best to walk all the way up to the café for the best view probably, but I stopped a little before that and got a nice view.


Finally, my walking tour was done and I dragged my heavy legs back down Franklin and along Hollywood Boulevard one last time to find food, drink and get a quick glance of the Chinese Theatre and some all important stars…


Having walked 25km, I think I was done. Apart from the Beverly Hills Dog Park, I had seen all the places I wanted to see and I was more than satisfied. I loved it. Los Angeles was beautiful. I liked the people, friendly, always willing to smile and say hello and let you greet their cute dogs – and believe me, all the dogs are cute and like the front lawns, more groomed than I was! A homeless guy asked if I was homeless and a guy on Beechwood asked for my number. I could sit on benches and have the freedom to stop and write as I wanted to. I felt so free and happy and welcomed into this city of dreams. I don’t feel like it is fake – the laid back atmosphere was indescribable and I wish London would take a leaf out of its book.


Favourite sights: Beverly Hills, Runyon Canyon

Safety: There are areas full of tourists where you need to be mindful of pickpockets but generally it is safe. I walked down E 7th Street in DTLA before my coach and it really is like a favela. I was carrying all my belongings and could sww quite clearly it was better for me to turn back so I did.

Hostel: Hollywood Walk of Fame Hostel

Positives: centrally located, clean, lots of activities to get to know people

Negatives: The breakfast is very small! Toast, bagels and oranges pretty much!