Our August/September road trip across Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California (LA to Monterey) eventually ended up with us driving 2,500 miles over three weeks.We did worry that 7 days of seeing red rocks and canyons might be too much of the same thing (it wasn’t.) I had second thoughts about how much we would enjoy the Big Sur coast AGAIN, after seeing it all 3 years ago.We’d put this trip together too quickly,in March when I usually like a year to plan things.We shouldn’t have worried; it was – with only a few exceptions – magical.We’re missing it still.
MALIBU AND THE COAST (18 – 20 August 2016)
After 20 hours of travelling from our home in Scotland to Los Angeles ( American Airlines from Glasgow via Philadelphia , 13 hours in total plus 2 hours layover), we’d chosen Malibu for a relaxed 2 night/1 full day start before the big driving tour started of real.Arriving somewhere really beautiful is the best antidote I know to jet lag and travel weariness and much as I wanted to explore LA, I thought landing in the city would be too much too soon.
It was the right decision. Strolling aimlessly on some beaches beside the ocean and crashing surf was just the thing after long haul flights and an 8 hour time difference (LA was behind UK time.) The ocean always does it for me , quickly winding me down and getting us both into holiday mode almost immediately.And Malibu was such a short drive from LAX – 40 minutes we reckoned.(I’ve posted at the end of this Malibu write up how we came to get Lost in LA within 40 minutes of arriving. We laugh about it now but at the time…..oooh…nearly a fall out on Day 1, something we have a history of – though luckily, we tend to wake up and make up quite quickly next day.)
Flight got in 15 mins early from Philly at 6.30pm, luggage arrived in jig-time, got the hire car super-quick from Alamo (booked through third party agent ‘economycarhire’ that we use wherever we travel and have done over the past 10 years or so.Excellent re getting low cost fully comp insurance as part of the deal and low prices overall, extra driver for free etc. They are now called Zest.You don’t know who the local car hire firm will be – they confirm that once you’ve booked and they choose whoever can offer the best deal at the time.)
It then all went wrong , very wrong as we tried to follow the map we’d downloaded onto Chris’s iPhone. To cut a long story short, it took us over two hours from that point until we finally arrived at our destination.Groundhog Day – there’s always ONE really bad driving hiccup that we have on any trip.At least it got it out of the way (we hoped.)
So…. at 9.45pm we drove up the mountain road which is Little Rock Way in Malibu. Electric gates swung open to let our car into the drive of our Airbnb, ‘Ocean View Villa ‘ and closed silently behind us. Shelley , our hostess, was waiting at the front door with a friendly smile and a wave. We got the luggage(mostly mine) dragged out and utter relief washed over us. We’d arrived – hours later than planned – but we were HERE and it looked BEAUTIFUL. Palm trees rustled in the breeze, dark against the now -clear sky.I breathed in the dry warm air, smelling of sage and pines. Gorgeous. Like the Southern Mediterranean. Familiar and lovely.Stress and bad moods evaporated.
We were shown quickly round the kitchen and our room and the outside seating areas we could use for breakfast. The rest of the household were in bed and it was late to be arriving so we said our goodnights quickly taking a cue from Shelley and that was us – alone at last in the lovely accommodation which was ours for the next 2 nights . SO much nicer than arriving at a hotel – and what hotel could give us all this space and quiet and beauty for $100 a night in an area like this? And to cap it all, we were still speaking to each other! Lots to be thankful for…….
MALIBU –19th August
Point Dume, Carbon Beach,Malibu Pier, Matador Beach, Geoffrey’s for lunch, Malibu Village, The Getty Villa.
The dolphins were hunting furiously offshore, diving and leaping and churning the ocean off Point Dume as we watched in awe. They were too far out to get a proper shot with the small zoom I had with me but we were thrilled beyond words. Our first few hours strolling some of Malibu’s beige- sand beaches and we had this impressive display playing out in front of us.We’d thought the day had started well when a coyote had slipped through the dry brushwood below our accommodation, but this was just outstanding.We were buoyed up now with a light breakfast of fresh fruit, toast and honey and gallons of tea, all enjoyed on the beautiful patio of our Airbnb.It was a fine start to the day.
The architecture along this 27 mile stretch of prime real estate I have to say isn’t fantastic – with the exception of an occasionally stunning beach villa or two and one or two mega homes overlooking above Highway 1. You wouldn’t travel halfway across the world to see it but it worked well for us as a relaxing start.There’s nothing quite like being beside the ocean.
As we strolled along the quiet sands of Point Dume, the 24 hours without sleep; last night’s nightmare ; the stress of driving around lost in LA for a full 2 hours in the dark; the 8 hrs jet lag – all were completely forgotten. We were now ensconced for a couple of nights in a very attractive home halfway up a pleasant mountain road, far from the constant traffic below and with hazy views of the ocean. We’d woken to palm trees rustling in the cool early morning breeze and hummingbirds feeding on garden flowers as we ate breakfast.
I’m a beach fiend and was keen to tick off some of the famous ones here, so Carbon Beach had been our first call this morning. It was lined solidly with ‘billionaire’ pads, most of which looked distinctly underwhelming. And though the surf did almost reach their front steps, who would want Joe Public (aka Us) wandering in front all day, or the roar of the Pacific Highway traffic behind? There were small ‘Coastal Access ‘ signposts at various points along the beach so it was easy to park (free) on the roadside and explore the various sands up and down the coast. The hardest thing was trying to cross the highway with its 6 lanes of fast traffic and not be sent to eternity squashed beyond recognition.
The beaches were nice, some narrow , some wider and I loved seeing the wading birds on the quieter ones….snowy egrets, dunlin, sanderlings, knots, a whimbrel. They were a surprising part of a built up, busy area where some beaches were equipped with volleyball nets and lifeguard stations and the sea was filled with surfers and small bobbing boats. I love a good beach but these were too developed and busy to appeal for long. The crashing surf and ocean however, were relaxing and lovely.
Malibu Pier charged $5 to park for 30mins, worth it to stroll out along its famous boardwalk. These iconic boardwalks up and down the coast were a magnet to me, quite touristy but attractive. A bit Art Deco, pastel coloured, clapboard buildings, lined with restaurants and shops but all with a very traditional feel.We just HAD to walk out on them; they were full of life.Fishermen baited hooks and threw lines into the sea, staff busied about the restaurants, getting ready for another busy day.A place where the sun nearly always shines (and where years of drought had wrought havoc up and down the coast.Fires had raged throughout California over the last few months and some were still not under control.)
We’d planned a morning of driving up as far as Matador Beach.The weather – 70 degrees, hazy blue sky – was made for beach wandering. Zuma is the most popular beach in the area but though it was huge and very wide it was ultra busy and too full of activities and people for me. The lonelier and wilder a beach is, the better.
Malibu beach itself was full of surfers, little black bodies dotting the surface of the sea. Surf school! We recognised the line of beach houses in front of Malibu lagoon, used in the opening shot of Two and a Half Men, a favourite (a delightfully Non – PC and sharply observed American SitCom we love.) Matador was a thin strip of beach with a steep short path and then steeper steps to access it. It was after 12 noon by now and already busy so it was a struggle to park ($3 or try your luck on the highway).It looked nice enough but nowhere had been as attractive as Point Dume.
At the far end of PD, a path winds up onto the high ground giving a wonderful walk along the bluffs with gorgeous ocean views. The ground was covered in wildflowers, almost like South Africa’s fynbos. It was one of my favourite things about the Californian coast.In spring it must be amazing with even more wildflowers.It looked as if you could easily walk mile upon mile along the coast, exploring the beaches which make up a lot of this 1,000 mile stretch from Oregon to San Diego. They weren’t the ‘wow’ white or cream huge sweeps of shell sand of the Scottish Hebrides that we are used to.Many had surf which was too rough for swimming, or strong undertows and the water was probably as cold as ours. And it’s White Shark territory. But they are bathed in pretty constant sunshine.No wonder they’re mobbed, as ours (thankfully) are not.
We watched sealions cavorting way down below us , crystal clear in the transparent turquoise water. A golden- coloured buzzard flew close over our heads, on the hunt. We spent 90 mins in beautiful Point Dume. Not quite far from the madding crowd but really enjoyable.
A super-pricey lunch at Geoffrey’s
I’d booked us into lunch at 12.30 in Geoffrey’s, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Malibu coast.It was GORGEOUS.Had to pay $8 for valet parking, unavoidable unless you knew where to park in the area. We were shown to a lovely seat in a great spot above lush gardens and tall palm trees.I love palm trees! So beautiful.
Nice menu too. Super pricey but – that’s the area and location.But this was a splash out meal for us – a celebration of the start of our big trip.
I had Jumbo Coconut prawns to start with a plum dipping sauce. Excellent. Great choice and delicious….. as they should be at $18! Olive bread rolls served, warm.The joy of good bread! Stuffed ourselves on it, as ever and were given a second basket which we also demolished.We were starving.The last main meal we’d had was on the Glasgow to Philly flight. Chris had prawn and octopus ceviche which was just ok.More importantly to him, what WAS outstanding was the Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon he had to accompany it .$10 a glass but wow…one of the best I’ve tasted.Fruity and aromatic.In fact, some of the best white wines we’ve tried, have been Californian.Would never buy Californian at home as it’s just too wishy-washy; we must get the rubbish stuff imported while they keep the good stuff for themselves.And why not?
My Maine lobster(1lb in weight cooked) and salad with blue cheese was excellent. Actually it was too much but I had always wanted to try lobster from Maine so got that out of my system.Very nice if a tad chewy in places: very rich and heavy.
Chris had an excellent dish of 3 giant scallops on a bed of foie gras risotto. Great flavour, really powerful taste.Wow.
Both these dishes were a whooping $35 and $30 respectively .I’d say overpriced by $10 each. But ok…..location, loction and we were loving it.Sometimes, it IS worth it though it doesn’t make the final bill any less painful (a whopping $159).Our budget of $100 per day was well and truly blown.
Chris’s Chardonnay was a Napa Valley Carneros which was superb too.A real beefy chardonnay with a buttery taste. After all that, I couldn’t even eat dessert, usually the part of a meal I most enjoy but I was stuffed full.Should have eased up on the bread but we’d fallen on it as if we hadn’t eaten for days.
We wandered down to the beach in front of the restaurant to another narrow strip of beigey sand lapped by the surf. Smart beach houses as a backdrop.Very nice.
Stopped off at Malibu Market for a browse, a really upmarket cluster of smart shops and cafes – Cindy Crawford’s neighbourhood – but no famous faces on view.
By mid-afternoon, it was Culture Time and the Getty Villa beckoned.
The Getty Villa
Shelley’s husband Paul,when he’d asked us this morning what we had planned for the day, had talked it down a lot, but we felt it was a must see. Well, I did. It was a bit awkward to access from the ‘wrong’ side of the highway but we made it after a few dodgy U turns.Parking was $15 although entry itself was free which seemed reasonable.Got there at 2.45pm.
Beautiful grounds, a relatively newly built villa in the style of Ancient Greece, all to show off Mr Getty’s billion dollar collection of ancient artefacts from around the world.The villa itself didn’t do too much for me but the collection was something else.Really astonishing.Well worth a visit – stunning Roman mosaic floors (which I love), ancient jewellery -so beautiful; Roman and Greek portraits; stone carved figures from the Stone Age! Incredible.What a collection.
Lovely grounds to wander but we were getting pretty weary on our feet after 90 minutes of wandering around, so headed for home.Picked up some extortionately priced wine in a local Mini-market, really shocking price ($15 I recall for something pretty gruesome) and some crisps.
We flaked out, knackered, at 7pm in our room and devoured some anti-culture: 2 episodes of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ a Box Set we’re making our way through. Last night’s broken sleep and jet lag and a fairly packed day, had knocked us flat.
We had an early rise too next day, as we had to get across to Long Beach airport by around 10am for a 11.30am flight to Las Vegas, from where we’d drive to Zion National Park.
Chatted to Paul , Shelley’s husband, the next morning at the back of 7am, about where we were headed next.I was slightly crest-fallen to hear that he much preferred Colorado to the desert areas which he dismissed as ‘ok.’ There’s not much you can say in response to that kind of remark, when you’ve invested a week and a fair amount of cash visiting areas which have left someone underwhelmed! Mild panic that we should planned Colorado instead!
Long Beach Airport for Las Vegas (20th August)
We felt we’d made a BIG mistake by choosing to fly to Las Vegas from Long Beach airport instead of the much nearer LAX. So the big electric gates of Ocean Drive closed behind us at 7.45am – I just didn’t want to get caught out by terrible traffic or another ‘getting lost’ scenario given it was about 50 miles away. In fact, as usual, I’d got too anxious over nothing.The journey from Malibu on a Saturday morning was really fast on Hwy 405.And it turned out to be a gem of an airport. Art Deco-ish, very quiet and tiny (9 gates), even the luggage arrived outside the main complex.It was nothing like the usual big city airport hub and we loved it for that. Dropped the car off quickly and easily and got a rather good breakfast from one of the cafes,sitting outside below tall, elegant palm trees, in the sunshine , with tons of time to spare.It was one of the most relaxing airports I’ve ever been in, a pleasure and what you wish all airports were like.
And so at 11.30am our JetBlue flight took off and swept over the ocean above a hazy Los Angeles before turning full circle and heading across the desert to the true start of our road trip – 8 days touring Utah and Arizona; our much-awaited Desert Trip was about to begin.
NEXT: ZION NATIONAL PARK
If of interest……..
ARRIVAL AND GETTING LOST IN LA (another Groundhog Day)
The long haul flight was over, we’d finally arrived in LA after a couple of hours in Philadelphia , easy flights with almost no turbulence ( thank heavens, I always dread it) that went past far quicker than I thought they would.In fact, we arrived 15 mins early at 6.30pm! Good old American Airlines (except they hadn’t fed us since Philly – never mind, as Chris said, he could do with losing a few pounds.) Border security was reassuringly stern and unsmiling and deadly serious. Just what you need to inspire a bit of confidence re. keeping the loonies out. Luggage arrived super-quick and after only a minute’s wait outside the Terminal, the shuttle bus came to take us to Alamo car hire. It was barely 30 mins since we’d landed! This was all going SO smoothly……
Got the car really quickly after turning down, with a smile, all the usual expensive extras they try to sell you – no, we had full cover insurance of our own, no we didn’t need SatNav( we’re old-fashioned folk that prefer a good map and we’d downloaded a good one that would take us from LAX to Malibu in jig-time).Oh, the smugness!
Hah – pride does indeed come before a fall!
The directions we had to Malibu on the iPhone, however, were from LAX and didn’t cover the retail/commercial park area we were now in which was a confusing, convoluted 15 minutes away from the airport. So – the minute we drove out of the parking lot we didn’t have clue where we were. All the road signs I’d noticed directing us here had gone. There was nothing to suggest which direction we should go to get back to the airport.I could imagine Alamo chuckling at us, shaking their heads : ‘ all because they wouldn’t pay an extra $15 per day, the cheapos….. ‘
As ever, my husband fell back on traditional navigation methods and started looking out for where the setting sun was. Malibu was west , so west we had to go. Despite a very hazy sky, he reckoned the sun was OVER THERE .I squinted but couldn’t really see much ; but next thing I knew we were taking a right turn towards a slighter brighter patch of sky. Being a Mountain Leader with a qualification to prove it, Chris prides himself on his navigation skills and I am , generally, very confident in these. So, without any doubts, we spent the next 30 minutes driving along a Boulevard which went on for MILES. There was hardly any traffic on it. It started to get dark. There were so few signposts, I couldn’t believe it.Why wasn’t Pacific Highway signposted? Or the 405? The few signs there were, mentioned street names which we didn’t recognise from those we’d pored over just hours ago when double-checking our route. We made some left turns thinking those MUST take us down nearer the coast and the highways we needed. But after 40 minutes of trying to turn south, I recognised a block of flats we’d already passed some time ago. We were lost.
To crown it all, Chris ‘s voice went ominously quiet- ‘ Look….the moon’s up…. ’ Sure enough, right slap bang in front of us was a big yellow orb. It wasn’t a romantic observation however; it meant we were headed EAST (where the moon rises) and had been for some time. Numpties! I don’t know what we’d thought we’d seen in that hazy sky an hour ago but it wasn’t the setting sun. A combination of mild starvation and jet-lag had clearly addled our brains.
I’m fairly relaxed about being lost (knowing it’s only temporary) but Chris gets DEEPLY upset – I’d say personality-change upset , going from very mild-mannered and incredibly polite, to growling and snarling and leaving me walking on egg-shells. Annoyingly for him, I go from impatient and too quick about everything, mildly manic, to very calm and logical. It’s made for some pretty stressful starts to holidays where we aren’t speaking to each other by the end of Day 1 and go to bed in a huge huff with each other. Happy holidays.(Thankfully, by morning, our humour has (usually) returned.)
The map we had downloaded was good but we still weren’t ON it yet and trying to tie it in with a Greater Los Angeles map in our Lonely Planet Guide book was impossible – the script on the latter was ridiculously tiny. Unreadable. All we knew was we had to now drive for as long as possible in the opposite direction and hopefully pick up signs or intersect with a road which appeared on one of the maps we had.
About 30 minutes later,which felt like an eternity, that was in fact what we did; La Brea Boulevard appeared – oh, joy! – and in no time , major roads signs appeared again. Finally, we joined up with Hwy 405 Santa Monica.We were on our way! (Chris later excused his severe grumpiness with the fact that he was sure we’d strayed into some pretty dodgy LA areas and were dangerously close to Compton et al of which I’d been blissfully unaware.) Great laughs we’ve had since about this little interlude but it was a nightmare at the time.