|Loving life in Times Square|
From the notoriously brash city lights of Manhattan and the spontaneity that always seems to ensue (we found ourselves in the pool of a rooftop gay club overlooking the meatpacking district!), my friend Kate and I boarded a flight to San Francisco.
I had heard that San Fran is a fabulous liberal mecca- a place homosexuals and hippies flocked to during the 1969 Summer of Love and 70's gay rights movements- a place of cultural diversity, homelessness and great shopping. The first three points I can attest to but sadly I couldn't do any shopping as I could not possibly fit another item into my case, even with my beloved snugpack!
San Fran almost didn't feel Californian- a term which conjures images of the sun-kissed beach babes I was later to see further down the Californian coast. The city felt more cosmopolitan and multi-faceted than I had imagined- I could feel the Spanish roots of the city in the Mission (where we were couchsurfing), it's fishing industry buzz at Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, it's gay-friendliness in the Castro, it's financial and retail hub around Union Square and it's Asian flavours in Chinatown and Japantown.
We bought the great value City Pass which included unlimited rides on MUNI public transport (the cable cars are busy but good fun and better than hiking the steep streets by foot) plus entry to the small but mesmerising Aquarium, the SFMOMA where I got my art geek on, the fascinating Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, the Californian Academy of Sciences where we sadly missed and a trip to haunting Alcatraz, all for $69.
|Mesmerised in the Aquarium of the Bay|
San Fran's Chinatown is awesome- we indulged in only-fairly-dodgy MSG-laden buffet and fortune cookies, sampled delicious green teas and bought cheap Chinese souvenirs en route to the Beat writers' hangout; the City Lights Bookstore and it's seedy but lovable surroundings. We enjoyed the view of Union Square from the Cheesecake Factory atop Macy's and reflected on the 'prison of prisons' on Alcatraz Island where we enjoyed an informative if slightly creepy audio tour. We rummaged through the stalls at the Treasure Island Flea Market, climbed the Filbert steps to Coit Tower to see the murals and soaked up the festival atmosphere of Dolores Park with friends and booze. Happy days :)
One of the highlights of our visit was hiring bicycles from Blazing Saddles and cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. The ride was at times strenuous but very easy to navigate (follow the tourists!) and we thankfully got the $10 ferry back to Pier 39 after a couple of ice creams and a well-deserved rest in quaint Sausalito.
From San Fran we had a short but scenic flight over the Nevada desert to Las Vegas. Our time in Sin City was a little different to what we were used to as a friend hooked us up with a VIP experience we will never forget. From limousine airport transfers to daily room service treats in our beautiful suite, an amazing pavilion at an exclusive beach club and seafood platters, custom-made cocktails and delicious deserts at Rick Moonen's RM Seafood restaurant (who we met- he's lovely!) our time in Vegas was unreal.
We also enjoyed unique chef selections from the Bellagio's amazing Yellowtail restaurant, incredible seats for Cirque Du Soleil's magnificent show 'O' and table service or VIP at some of the Strip's best clubs including 1OAK, Pure, Hyde and The Bank.
When we weren't partying or relaxing on our poolside daybeds (such hard work!) we were soaking up the atmosphere of the Strip- riding New York New York's roller-coaster, one of the Venetian's gondolas and gambling on the addictive slot machines. We also spent a day exploring the Grand Canyon via a scenic flight and a multistop bus tour, which was breathtaking and totally unforgettable.
Sad to leave Vegas but in need of some R&R we flew to Los Angeles, where we did a pit-stop tour of all the touristy attractions like views of the Hollywood sign from the Planetarium Observatory, the Chinese Theatre's celebrity imprints and the Walk of Fame's stars, but I have to say LA did not capture my heart quite like other places we visited. Everything is either too busy and touristy, or too far apart and soul-less. I'd be willing to give it another go in the future but I have no burning need to return!
From LA we visited Santa Monica which was lovely- quite seaside-y and great to watch the fit acrobats at Muscle Beach! In LA we hired a car (NOT from Enterprise as we had booked- the 0800 number lady told us we could hire with international licenses and a debit card which is NOT the case, you need a credit card if you don't have a US license!) and drove down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at any beach that ticked our fancy. We made it down to San Diego nice and relaxed and had a wonderful few nights going to the beaches and Balboa Park, swing dancing and spending the last of our $$$.
All in all I had an amazing time on the West Coast- California has now become my favourite state and if I HAD to I could force myself to live by the beautiful sandy beaches of the Pacific Coast or the ever-changing City by the Bay in the future. Only if someone forced me to, that is ;)