La Serenissima

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

San Francisco to LA by road

The Zephyr arrived in San Francisco (Emeryville, on the Oakland side of the bay) by 9.30 in the evening and we checked in to our hotel an hour or so later. As always, we had a very relaxed time in SFO; it was lovely. The architecture there is charming, with lots of the Victorian timber houses – the ones you see in the movies – still standing and quite a lot of Spanish style apartment buildings too.

We spent a deal of time just nosing around our neighbourhood in the Marina, Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights – where there are lovely homes and public buildings, such as the Palace of Fine Arts from the early 1900s. Another delight is walking up Fillmore street to Union street – home to lots of boutiques, cafes, stylish homewears, a great old art deco theatre – and buying roses at the florist on the corner. Then, closer to the Marina, is Chestnut street, offering lots of eateries, a wonderful Italian delcatessen that’s been there since the fifties and an Italian restaurant of similar vintage. All very welcoming and easy to feel at home in.

The Golden Gate Bridge is familiar to everyone, but the lesser shown Bay Bridge is also quite beautiful, shining silver rather than red. For contrast, we also recommend the Hispanic area in the Mission district – crazy and lively!! Very Mexico.

We generally use the public transport system there too (although we had a car). You can get a MUNI pass for 1, 3 or 7 days at reasonable prices which allows you to take trolley buses, street cars and cable trams. So we did a bit of zooming around that way. It’s interesting to be out and about with the regular folk of a place – you get a different feel to it compared with just going to the tourist places on a tour. And you can hop off in areas that appeal to you and pick up the bus or whatever later. The street cars are fascinating – MUNI has a collection of old street cars from many places in the US, such as Philadelphia and St Louis.

Of course, no visit to San Francisco is complete without walking in Muir Woods, across the Golden Gate Bridge on the northern side. Soaring redwoods, cool, leafy ferns and babbling brooks await. Aaaaagghhh! For a bit of culture, a visit to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park was rewarding. As it happened, there was a fabulous exhibition of Egyptian artifacts as well as regular exhibitions, such as Mexican sculpture.

We drove down to Monterey (via Gilroy*) and stayed there for 2 nights. Had a lovely lunch at a place we know at the old fisherman’s wharf and just hung out really. A visit to the Aquarium is also a regular must do. The scale of the tanks is quite amazing – one houses a kelp forest of some 20 feet high; another, some 30 feet wide, is home to all manner of fish, including tuna, which are actually enormous – look like they’re wrapped in silver foil – and quite ferocious at feeding time! 

There are also several visual art touches, such as a glass column housing sardines and a glass sculpture of jellyfish. The real jellyfish are just as beautiful and they are exhibited with picture frames around the tanks. Not surprisingly, this area is called “Jellies – living art”; they are simply gorgeous. 

I mentioned Gilroy because it’s one of the major outlet shopping precincts in California. Suffice to say, we had a power shopping day there and left at 4pm with the car stacked high!!

The drive down “the One” – highway number one – along the West Coast is one of life’s most beautiful journeys. The scenery is steep and rugged in parts; other times more gentle and undulating. The much photographed Bixby Bridge is also a lovely architectural contrast that harmonises with the landscape and the Pacific Ocean. 

From there we went to Santa Barbara, where, you guessed it, we had lunch on the pier. Fresh broiled lobster. Very nice. Santa Barbara itself has a relaxed atmosphere and features it’s Spanish origins strongly. The courthouse building is a great example of this and inside many walls are decked with hand painted Spanish tiles.

One of our favourite haunts for breakfast in Santa Barbara goes by the politically incorrect name of Sambo’s. It’s been there since the early fifties, and has on display an old copy of – you guessed it? – Little Black Sambo!

Then we went on down to LA. We stay in Marina del Rey, a nice spot and handy to other areas like Manhattan Beach. There’s also a great café down the street called Café Buna (a discovery of Julian’s and a “must go to”). They have fabulous breakfasts – you can have pretty much anything – and the staff are fantastic; very friendly and lots of laughs.

The Getty Centre is a wonderful complex of art and exhibition galleries with a fabulous Impressionist collection and other special exhibitions, this time on Art Deco furniture. The Getty also provides a dazzling panoramic view of LA – on a clear day, that is!

Architecturally, there are some gorgeous old art deco buildings on Wiltshire Blvd and there seems to be quite a lot of renewal happening. Opposite Macarthur Park, there is the most wonderful art deco hotel – the Parkview – which has Egyptian style goddesses (stone sculptures that is) set on the top floor, watching over the building. Quite amazing. The hotel appears in a lot of films. A modern retail mall carries on the deco theme … 

 From Marina del Rey, you have easy access to the freeways and/or surface roads to get to Century City (great shops) Macarthur Park (which was neither melting nor were there cakes left out in the rain), Echo Park (if you are a Michael Connelly fan, you’ll know this one), and the La Brea Tar Pits (which are actually on Wiltshire Blvd, and you can see them bubbling from your car!)

Now back to reality!..........but planning the next adventure…… here's some closing scenes from California …

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