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A Road to Somewhere Else...

A Road to Somewhere Else...
Written by
Linda Sheridan

Following on from last month's article 'A Road to Somewhere', our editor continues her travelogue on her travels up the west coast of the US. Having taken a last look at the famed Los Angeles, we travelled north to Santa Barbara - a very pretty town and well worth a visit. 

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There is a most delicious hat shop on State Street, 'The Green and Yellow Basket'! Staying long enough to have dinner overlooking the ocean, we moved on to Santa Maria for an overnight stay. One of my concerns about travelling in this way was where we would stay along the road. I needn't have worried - there are plenty of hotels to choose from. Checking online with TripAdvisor for recommended hotels in the area, it only remained for us to find it on our trusty SatNav, give them a quick call to make a reservation, and we had a bed for the night...

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From Santa Maria we moved north to Monterey, stopping at San Simeon for lunch. I started out with good intentions, deciding it was my turn to drive the Mustang, but the Hearst wines were begging to be sampled so, reluctantly, I handed over the keys and settled down with a lovely crisp glass of Californian chardonnay. Next up was the Big Sur - a breathtaking stretch of coastline where mountain meets cloud, meets sea...

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Arriving in Monterey early evening, we decided to stay for 2 nights and take in the atmosphere. A word of warning when taking a Californian road trip, for Friday and Saturday nights it's worth booking your accommodation in advance - it's a very busy time of the week. Monterey is gorgeous, though very touristic. We dined at Estéban's on Munras Avenue - we had to wait a fair while for a table but it was definitely worth it! There are lots of historic places to visit, should you feel so inclined and, although there was definitely a bustle in the air, it wasn't crowded. Having taught Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' for several years now, it was pure pleasure to pass so close to the Salinas Valley and see the famous mountain range in the distance. Pure California...

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Moving ever northward, we drove on to San Francisco. If ever there was a city to beat my home town, this is it. I adore San Francisco; there is something about the smell in the air, the rattle of the trolley cars, the sharp incline of almost every street, the view of the bay (fog allowing!). We spoiled outselves a little and stayed at the Sheraton, just because it has a great location. Right next to the famous Chinatown and very close to the piers, the hotel provides a very relaxing oasis in a whirlpool of people and traffic. We stayed long enough to eat a fabulous dinner of clam chowder and crab (there are so many restaurants on the pier that it's hard to choose) and drive along almost every street in the city (including the world famous Lombard Street), ascend the historic Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill and photograph the city within an inch of its life... seeing landmarks such as Haight and Astbury (you have to know it to understand it), the Bay Bridge, The Golden Gate... Everyone knows about the famous Alcatraz island in the bay and its prison history, but I hadn't realised that San Quentin sits on the north shore of the bay. An idyllic location, though I'm not sure I'd see it quite that way from the inside...

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Regretfully leaving this lovely city, we made our way over the Golden Gate and drove around east and south to stay at Merced for the night so that we would be conveniently placed to drive into Yosemite the next day. Looking at the map, one of us wanted to visit Napa Valley and the other wanted to visit Yosemite (no prizes for guessing which was which!). There was no way to do this and leave via Golden Gate Bridge without doubling back somewhere, so we resigned ourselves to that. Yosemite is an experience to behold if you've never been before. The peaks of the mountains bring a whole new meaning to the word 'majestic'. After the fog of San Francisco, the weather was a baking 90 degrees (only farenheit in the US!) with clear blue skies. Disappointingly, the world and his wife visits the park in August so we didn't stay as long as we might and my lovely dream of horse-riding along the mountain ridges was unrealised. But there are some beautiful walks to be had and it's much cooler in the shade.

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Driving on to Napa for the night, we took our time on the road, taking in the fabulous views (but by-passing rush hour in Sacramento), arriving in the town early evening. Again, we didn't reserve a place to stay until we got to Napa, deciding that we wanted to see the town first. It was with utmost pleasure that we discovered the fully refurbished and rather quaint Napa River Inn on the riverside at the old mill. A stunning hotel, it was rather a shame to stay for only one night. Tired, hungry and looking like street urchins, there was only time for a quick shower before going to eat. But Cole's Chop House is one of the best restaurants I've eaten in - from the service, to the food and it's tranquil garden, I could live in Napa quite happily... and that's before I even set foot in a vineyard... more of that in the next instalment!

To be continued...

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