An impromptu adventure to Yosemite

America sure has some beautiful countryside. I was hoping to get the chance to visit some national parks on my visit, but wasn’t sure how I was going to make it without a car. Fortunately, I found this guy on Couchsurfing. He’s travelling from Alaska to Argentina, hitchhiking much of the way, and I was able to join him on part of his journey, along with three others. That’s how five strangers happened to rent a car together and drive out of San Francisco to visit the Muir Woods and journey to Yosemite National Park, camping over the weekend.


We began by meeting up at a coffee shop on Friday evening to plan, with me arriving late because I only decided to join at the last minute. Organisation was difficult, as we all had different itineraries. Our hitchhiking host wanted to visit all the national parks from Yosemite down to Death Valley, and not everyone wanted to join for the whole trip, myself included.

After a brief stop to see the redwoods of Muir Woods (and my first ever glimpse of chipmunks!), we headed out east in the direction of Yosemite. Time was getting on, so we needed to find a place to stay, but had no luck finding a campsite that wasn’t full. Desperately, we decided to spend the night in an equestrian campsite. Not knowing if this was allowed or not, we nervously looked out for rangers as we set up our tents. No-one bothered us, however, and we left the morning without incident.

Yosemite was certainly a sight for sore eyes, after a three-hour delay getting into the park. I wasn’t expecting traffic in the middle of a national park, but it turns out Barack Obama himself was to blame, as he had visited the park that morning and security had been tightened. Thanks, Obama! Sadly, we were too late to see the man himself, but it was weird to think that he was there just before we were.

As it was, we didn’t get to see as much of the park as we’d have liked. We managed to take in one of the graceful waterfalls, albeit amid thronging crowds, and two of us were able to sneak in a short hike to Mirror Lake, a shallow pond beautifully reflecting the surrounding rocky mountains Yosemite is known for.

Later on, we were lucky enough to find a free camping ground in the woods, and tucked in to a makeshift but cosy dinner over the stove (no campfire for us, we didn’t have a permit). The next day we made our way to Fresno where two of us set off back to San Francisco. Sadly, the rest of the trip fell apart from there, but I think we did pretty well considering none of us had met since three days prior.

Yosemite was undoubtedly stunning, but it was the quieter moments camping in the woods and strolling among the redwoods that made this trip worthwhile for me. That, and I have a new travelling companion who’s going to be with me for the rest of my trip up to Vancouver! I’m not sure if I’ll ever return to Yosemite, but if I do it would have to be off-peak and for a longer period, travelling deeper into the park and taking the time to truly enjoy it. For the brief time I had though, I’m satisfied.


Posted in Travel, USA | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

More photos of San Francisco

This gallery contains 12 photos.

I’ve got a blog post brewing about Yosemite, but I’m tired and don’t have a lot of time, so here’s some more shots of the very photogenic San Francisco.

Gallery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Across the Golden Gate

I’ve been doing a lot of walking around San Francisco. The city is so different from Los Angeles, it’s hard to believe I’m in the same state. LA’s wide streets, barren terrain and urban sprawl have been replaced with cosy cafés, lush parks and tramways, making it feel much more like a European city. Despite how famously hilly it is, it’s surprising cycle-friendly. I hired a bike and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s most iconic landmark.


The Golden Gate Bridge


San Francisco’s numerous hills provide ample vista opportunities, and it’s not hard to come across stunning views across the city. The most spectacular has to be from the dual summits of Twin Peaks, which I hiked up from the colourful Castro district, following many steep streets and stairs. It was so windy up top I could barely stand upright.


The view of downtown from Twin Peaks

I haven’t felt any earthquakes, and I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed about that. Apart from the ever-present threat of the next big quake, I could see myself living here.

My camera’s had plenty of use – I took about a million photos of the bridge, and other areas like the Embercadero and the Golden Gate Park are highly photogenic.

Posted in Travel, USA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Travelling to San Francisco in style

I was supposed to be getting a lift up to San Francisco from someone on Couchsurfing but I never heard from them, so I took the train instead. I’m glad I did – though the drive would have been great, the train goes places the road doesn’t. They call it the Coast Starlight, and it runs all the way from LA to Seattle. My leg of the journey took 11 hours, but the time flew by. I’ve always loved train travel, but none I have taken has felt quite as sophisticated as this. This was LA to San Francisco in style.

The route took us right along the coast between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and I was lucky enough to catch a guided tour along this section, narrated by volunteers from Trails and Rails. This is program co-sponsored by Amtrak and the National Park Service educating rail passengers about the natural heritage of the area. I learnt all about the local fauna and history of the area.

We followed Highway 101 for much of the way – the route I would have taken by car – but then the routes diverged and we entered Vandenburg Air Force Base – where the road is not allowed. How come the train is allowed? Because it was here first! It costs a lot of money to relocate a train route, and evidently the US military wasn’t willing to foot the bill. Trains are stopped during missile tests, but there were none scheduled for this day. The base is home to multiple NASA launch sites, and also SpaceX, Elon Musk’s commercial space programme.

After San Luis Obispo, the tour guides departed and we descended into the mountains. Later that evening, dinner was served in the dining car and I was sat with fellow solo travellers, each with a unique story to tell. It was a good day considering I spent the entire time travelling.

Posted in On the move, Travel, USA | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Under the Californian sun

I’m behind on my blogging schedule already. I’d been staying in Santa Monica a few days and decided to hire a bike and go cycling down the beach. A cycle track snakes its way along the sand and even though Americans don’t seem to understand the concept of ‘bikes only’, it’s by far the best way to see the beach. Venice is not really the right place if you want to actually go bathing, but it’s a fine place to walk or bike, or just sit in the cafes and watch the weird world go by. Freaks, musicians and muscle men show off their stuff while skaters and rollerbladers zip by. One place I sat at had a man who’d brought his parrot along, much to the delight of passers-by.

This is how I imagined California to be, the laid-back beach life under the sun and the palm-trees. Are you jealous yet? I took my bike all the way down Venice Beach and around the marina to Manhattan Beach. It took a couple of hours because I kept stopping to take pictures or sit in the shade. The route took me right past LAX airport, where aircraft flew right over my head. Manhattan is a much quieter beach, without the chain of cafes and bars lining the road, but I saw plenty of barbecue parties gathering in the evening sun. I got the feeling this is where the real locals come.

I made it back to Venice before sunset (nervously as my bike had no lights) and had dinner along the beachfront. I then took the opportunity for some night photography on the pier before turning in for the night.

Before I left town I was able to meet up with an old friend who by amazing coincidence was in LA on business, and went out drinking by the pier with his colleagues while lunatic daredevils thew themselves off the steps on skateboards. It was a great way to round off my short stay here. Santa Monica has managed to maintain a seaside town feel even though it’s part of the LA metro area, and has left an impression on me.

Posted in Travel, USA | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Photos from the Los Angeles coast

I’ve been exploring the LA area. I’m staying in Santa Monica, an attractive coastal town, but yesterday I met someone with a car and we drove up to Malibu. The weather’s been mostly cloudy – this must be the ‘June Gloom’ I’ve heard about – but it’s a very pleasant climate. I’m too lazy to blog right now so here’s some photos.

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

California is having a primary!

I’m in Hollywood. It’s not really my sort of place to be honest. I don’t go in for celebrity culture and kitsch. I do like movies though, and it’s fascinating to walk around the place that defined what movies are today, even if it’s a shadow of its former self. Today Hollywood has more of a spiritual association with filmmaking than a practical one – most films are made elsewhere, and only one studio, Paramount, still has its headquarters here. Even though many stars still live in LA, here you’ll see the people who didn’t make it; brought in by the allure of a fast path to stardom only to have reality hit hard. Strolling down Hollywood Boulevard I overheard a homeless man talking about stage fright, which about sums it up for me. It’s a place of broken dreams. Perhaps that’s what Green Day were really singing about?


My first full day here happens to be the day of the California presidential primary (I can’t help but read that in Kiefer Sutherland’s voice). I haven’t seen much evidence of this. I saw one Hillary sign and one Bernie sign and that was it, although I did find the Hollywood Heritage Museum closed to me when it turned out to be a polling station.


As I write this, the polls are still open for half an hour, and the latest polls have the Democratic candidates neck and neck (Not to get too political, but go Bernie!). Even if Sanders wins here though, the nomination lies pretty securely in Clinton’s hands. The less said about the nominee on the other side the better, I think. I decided earlier that I wouldn’t bring him up unless others do. I think most Americans are a bit embarrassed by him.

After wandering around Hollywood I found an awesome little cafe in the park called the Trails Cafe, which serves very good quiche, and hiked the eponymous trails up to the Griffith Observatory and back. The hilltop offers a stunning panoramic view of the LA skyline, not to mention the famous Hollywood sign. At the observatory a planetarium showed a 360 degree film about water in space. I rather enjoyed it, though it’s hard to be impressed by the technology when you’ve tried an HTC Vive (the dangers of being a tech enthusiast).


I’ve never seen a city as big as Los Angeles in my life. The urban sprawl seemed to spread to the horizon in every direction, and I could barely even make out the coast from my vantage point. Tomorrow though I’m planning to head west, to check out Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

Posted in Travel, USA | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment