California Holiday

San FranciscoI’ve not been over to America for 6 years, since me, Robert and Pete went over to Maryland in 2005. Last month me and Robert finally went back for a 10 day trip round California.  We’d been planning (and saving) for 4 months so I was looking forward to it more than any other holiday I’d had in a long time and it didn’t disappoint.

We were flying out the Friday before Thanksgiving week. We had an early start, the flight was on time at 11am and even though we were stacked for an hour or so at San Francisco airport, we landed around 2pm PT.


We picked up the Mustang convertible hire car and once I’d figured out how to move the seat forward, we were on our way to downtown San Francisco, to our hotel the Grand Hyatt.  We dropped our bags and decided we needed to go and try and find a US SIM card, so we headed out… into the rain that seemed to start especially for us. We found ourselves in a T-Mobile shop, where my Galaxy Nexus was rather a talking point for them all.  It had been released just the day before and was only available in London, so I think they were quite surprised to have someone walk into their shop with it.  The guy selling us our SIM cards commented I’d made what had previously been a very poor day for him.

Despite the rain, we had a wander around down town San Francisco incuding a fantastic burger at Super Duper Burger.


On Saturday we drove round various view points of the Golden Gate bridge, there was lovely sunshine so the top came down on the Mustang, despite the chilly winds! We did a little shopping but resisted spending too much.


In the afternoon we headed an hour or so South to Mountain View in the hunt for Google HQ.  Nothing open, but we got pictures of the statues.

Google HQIMG_20111119_150645.jpgThe Google Statues

The Concierge had got some Stanford v Cal tickets, known as The Big Game, which was due to kickoff just after 7pm.  We headed from Google HQ to Stanford, which was only a few miles away. We were a good few hours early, so took in the pre-game atmosphere, lots of entertainment going on.  We’d been told we were in the Cal section of the stadium, so we’d bought a few Cal bits and peices to wear… of course when we got there, we were sat mainly with Stanford fans, except some rather drunk Cal fans in front of us. The game was rather wet, but we got to  see  Heisman favourite Andrew Luck guide Stanford to a win.  I was very tired by the time we got home around 11:30pm.


More football on Sunday,  off to the game we went on the bus, with our ponchos and huge sandwiches! The weather started to clear and the sun came out somewhere in the second quarter.  I got some great photos as the 49ers dominated the Cardinals.  We left early in the fourth quarter so we were home in time to watch the Eagles beat the Giants on TV.  An early night for me after this.

Okay, we looked silly, but it kept us dryer and warmer than we were at Stanford Cal!Initially ruled out of bounds, then given as a scoreIMG_6401.JPG

On Monday morning we walked down to Union Square for drinks and made a few phone calls over Google Voice, a US only service(very cheap, 2c a min).

We then met with Casey, who came to pick us up from the hotel.  I’d only conversed with Casey a few days previous on the XDA Developers forum, but he took the day out to show us round the sites and for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  We hung out with him, his wife and daughter while the Patriots destroyed the Chiefs in the evening.

Casey, who hosted us for a day and showed us some great sitesIMG_6464.JPGIMG_6478.JPG

Tuesday was quite a relaxed day.  Our first stop was to see Lombard Street, the most famous curvy, windy street in San Francisco.  Following this  we cruised out in the Mustang to a mall north from San Francisco and then headed round to Oakland to visit the Raiders stadium.  A few more outlet malls before heading back to the hotel.  In the evening we had a wonder round Golden Gate Park.


Wednesday was not such a free day.  We had to travel 450 miles down the Pacific Coast Highway to our next hotel in Los Angeles.  We set out at 10am after another great breakfast at the Hyatt and made our way back down to Mountain View to have a look round the computer museum.  I’m not a big museum fan, but I could relate to a lot of what was in here, in fact it made me feel quite old when things I used as a kid are now museum pieces!


After an hour or so there, we continued down to Monterey where we’d have lunch.  Parking wasn’t so easy, and after moving the car closer a traffic cop decided I’d parked too far from the curb and left me a $35 ticket!  It appeared their computer system was down for a couple of days though, and when it came back up, no sign of my ticket!

Monterey for lunchNot a bad view!I got a parking ticket for this :-(  Although it seemed to vanish in their system so I couldn't pay it...

It was now almost 3pm and we still had 330 miles to go.  More to the point, we only had around an hour and a half of daylight left, how where we to enjoy the views of the PCH if we couldn’t see them!  Time to get moving.

It certainly is an amazing drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, the views along the coast  and the windy road made for a great experience.  Stopping only for some gas and our one time stop in a McDonalds for a coffee, we arrived at our next hotel, an amazing looking Miyako Hybrid Hotel by 10pm.

The Pacific Coast Highway.  What an amazing driveOur second hotel, in a 'mini Japan' in LAIMG_0135.JPG

Thanksgiving Thursday!  Every year they now have three NFL games on Thanksgiving.  With us being on the West Coast, the first game was to kick off at 9:30am.  We hadn’t arranged any breakfast at the hotel, so we wandered up the road to the 7-Eleven to buy that and supplies for the day.  The first game wasn’t so exciting, the Packers destroyed the Lions.  After this game we bought lunch from the Japanese market across the road.  The second game was much closer, the Cowboys edged the Dolphins by a point, with a game winning Field Goal as time expired.

The evening game pitted the Harbough brothers against each other, the Ravens getting the better of the 49ers in a defensive battle.

With the games over before 9pm we headed out to see if we could get any night shots of the Hollywood sign.  I’d located a viewing point up Mulholland Drive, but this was closed outside of daylight hours.  Back at the hotel to late to eat in their restaurant, we scouted the local area for somewhere to eat  There was apparently only one place open, with a limited menu and I was left eating raw tuna!

IMG_20111124_143704.jpgLA at nightIMG_0145.JPG

The day after Thanksgiving Thursday is known in America as Black Friday.  It’s one of the reasons I like to be in America this particular week.  Most major retailers have huge sales, some just on Friday, but many the week during and the weekend after.  We’d picked out and outlet mall in Camarillo, around an hour west out of LA, so after breakfast in the hotel, we set out.


I was a little disappointed by the mall.  It was rather huge, but I couldn’t find anything I fancied and the queue in the Nike store was one of the biggest queue’s I’ve ever seen in a shop!  To make the most of the trip though, we decided to head to Malibu for lunch, before cruising back through the posh areas of LA such as Beverly Hills.  The weather had warmed up to around 22oC, so it was great weather for having the top down and taking in the sites.

We had lunch right on Malibu beach and had quite a lengthy chat with a lady sat next to us who was from Guildford but now lived in LA.

IMG_0195.JPGMe and the Mustang on Malibu beachIMG_0220.JPG

We also stopped by Mulholland Drive again and got some photo’s of the Hollywood sign and a close fly-by from a Police helicopter!

IMG_0281.JPGA police helicopter gave us a fly by!A nice view of LA from Mulholland Drive


What a fantastic day, with fantastic weather, seeing some amazing sites.

Saturday was to be another travel day, but this time a more manageable 120 miles down to San Diego.  After a brief stop at a San Diego outlet mall (for me to buy some socks and underwear!) we got to our next hotel, The Sofia around midday.  It looked very nice, kinda old fashioned, but our room was considerably more cramped than the previous two, but at least there was free, strong WiFi!

Our final hotel, very nice old designIMG_0297.JPGThe room was rather small though

We headed straight back out to find some lunch.  The hotel was located pretty much in the centre of San Diego, so it was easy for us to walk round down town San Diego, getting a feel for the city in the gorgeous weather.


I really like San Diego and really there are too many nice photo’s of the city for me to show you here, so do make sure you have a look through the rest of them on my Picasa album.  I particularly loved the baseball stadium in the middle of the city.  You could effectively just watch a game while sat in the small park next to it, due to the cut out in the stadium.


We saw a few tours on segway’s which looked rather fun.  One of the tour guides told us in passing that he’d just seen the Broncos bus unload near by.  I was then fairly sure I saw a few Broncos around downtown San Diego, eating in restaurants and trying to get rental Smart cars working!

The evening meal was at Wendy’s… finally!  Wendy’s being one of my favourite burger joints and it being right across the road from our hotel, it had to be done!

With the Sofia not even able to do breakfast, Sunday started at a local cafe St Tropez, for a lovely omelette.  I’d was concerned about the game at Qualcomm stadium today, as their website said no lenses longer than 3 inches and my 250mm zoom lens was well over 4 inches in length.  Because of this, we choose to drive to the stadium, only 5 or 6 miles away.  If they turned me away, I could swap lenses and take the standard lens in.  We got to the stadium nice and early and soaked in the 28oC heat and atmosphere.  On the opposite side of the stadium they had a tailgate area set up with a big screen with two games on and the Chargers cheerleaders signing calendars.


We went through the gate nearest our car, and thankfully they didn’t bat an eyelid at huge lens. With the walking round, it was feeling even hotter than 28, so we were grateful to find they sold a refillable coke for just over $11.  We certainly got our money’s worth from them!

Once again we were seated in with Broncos fans, wearing our Chargers T Shirts.  Nevermind, the atmosphere was amazing.  The game itself was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.  Tim Tebow has been pulling games out of his hat all season and this was no exception.  The Chargers took an early lead, only for Tebow and the Broncos to come back and tie it up at 13 late in the fourth.  The game went in to overtime and a missed Field Goal by the Chargers gave the game to the Broncos with 2 minutes left, they won 16-13.  Amazing game.



I quite literally took hundreds of photos.  The football ones can be seen here.

It took around 45 minutes to get out of the stadium.  We eventually found a radio station that we could listen to the Chargers fans moan about why their team has lost 6 straight games. The late game saw the Steelers beat the Chiefs, which we watched on the tiny, fuzzy TV in our room.

For evening meal we took a stroll into San Diego once again and had a nice pizza before heading back to the hotel to make a start packing.

Monday and the return trip home was to be almost as exciting as the Chargers Broncos game the previous day.  It started easy enough with a brief walk round San Diego after breakfast at St Tropez again.  A chat with mum and Auntie Marg, to wish her happy birthday.  Google Voice really is a great service to use while in the states!


With our rental car dropped off we were at San Diego airport in plenty of time for our 12:50am flight.  Unfortunately, having checked our luggage and made our way through security (me having my trainers swabbed!) we found our flight had been delayed due to fog in San Francisco.  Okay, 1:20pm, not a problem.  We would still land just before 3pm, with an hour and a half before out 4:30pm flight back to Heathrow.


We got a coffee while I tried to make some calls to Virgin Atlantic to check we would be okay still.  Then I received a rather worry e-mail notification… our flight had been delayed to 2:20pm.  This was disastrous.  We would land just after 3:30pm which would make it near impossible to switch to our flight home!  We both have travel insurance, but the next Virgin flight was not for two days, possibly due to the planned strike action in the UK on Wednesday.  Great as it may sound, when you’re all set to come home, you don’t want to be dumped back in San Fran for two more days with no plans, money, transport or place to stay!

I checked online for other flights, there were two others in the evening, but they were in the region of £1,000 each.

Whilst I was on the phone to Virgin, they called us to board our flight.  It would appear they’d brought it forward 30 minutes, we were back in with a chance.  Or were we…

They brought it forward to 1:50pm, but as the wheels left the runway it was 2:12pm, we touched back down at exactly 3:30pm, surely there was no chance we would make our flight.  We hurried to luggage claim.  Robert checked our route to the next baggage drop while I grabbed our bags.  We hustled to the drop point, it was now 3:52pm, the one guy left filling some paperwork called to see if we could still make it.  It was a pretty intense wait for 2 or 3 minutes until he was told we could!  Wow!

He checked our luggage but warned us it might not make it onto our plane and might be sent on the next flight the next day.

We rushed to security where they decided to search Robert. What!?!?!  We scuttled down the corridor as they put out a tannoy for “Mr A and R Crowther, last call for boarding Virgin Flight 20”.  We stepped on the plane and they closed the doors behind us. I almost couldn’t believe we made it.


The flight home was around 9½ hours.  I watched a couple more movies on my Tab and had a breif doze.  We landed around 10:30am and were both rather surprised to see they managed to get our bags onto the plane too.  Well done Virgin!

What a holiday…