We sat frozen in our seats as the USA border guy investigated the innards of our car Percy, unfathomably sweating under his examination. He gave us the nod to continue onto the secondary inspection for some fingerprint taking and, three hours later, we hit Seattle.
The city was fantastic. Despite the constant rain, we were determined to explore the city without it dampening our excitement of the first official stop on our USA road trip.
Pike Place was a treasure trove of delicious foods and titbits, and the bars in Belltown free poured which we took full advantage of. Shorty’s was one such bar, with a cool Coney Island theme (think creepy clowns).
Feeling the need for some class, we checked out a jazz joint on the same street. We gracefully crashed through the doorway, giggly and drenched from the rain, into a grey haired majority audience, listening to a slow piano ballad in silence. We freeze as every face turns towards us. The silence builds for a long microsecond before we crack and skedaddle into a neighbouring whiskey bar, the Rabbit Hole.
The bar was awesome, with cool décor and people playing games. Here, we met a strange guy called Sean/Sian, who turned out to be actually called Chuck, from Mississippi (or rather “Missipi”, as he kept repeating in his heavy Southern accent).
The next morning, hungover and once again in torrential rain, we leave for Portland, a sprawling city covered in highways. Ironically, I slept as we passed the city and woke only for coffee and Pho. After gorging on Vietnamese food, we travelled to the small town, Seaside, two hours from Portland, presuming it would be a quaint substitute for a big city.
We were wrong.
Passing cars that looked like they were on steroids, shabby houses and out-of-season fairground rides, we had the uneasy feeling of entering Murderville. The fact that we were the only ones staying at the hostel didn’t help. It resembled your average granny’s house, albeit creepy, including a library of VCRs, three pianos and that old people smell, which I’m sure they must bottle and spritz every morning.
Trying to reach the outside world
We were going to return to Portland, when Percy had a tantrum and threw us into a panic about whether he would run. To be safe, we decided to just drive south along the 101 to San Francisco, or as far as we could make it. We hit every small, funny-sounding town on the way, including Garibaldi, Tillamook and Depoe Bay, the latter home to the world’s smallest harbour.
Yet Gold Beach was to be our final destination for the day. We slept in an RV park, all three of us rolled up like sardines in the back of Percy. Super cosy until an alarm blasted and we argued over whether it was a prison outbreak siren or a tsunami warning.
Whatever it was, we survived the night and woke at 6am to catch the sunrise. We popped into the most American café, Double D’s, for coffee, passing the “Guns allowed” sign and Christmas baubles used for decoration with mild terror.
Armed with a pint of alleged coffee, we escaped Gold Beach and drove along rugged coastlines all the way from Oregon to California.
The Avenue of the Giants welcomed us into the state of California. We were surrounded by gargantuan tree trunks that led to cloud-scraping leafy limbs. The Redwood Forest had a fairytale feeling to it, making us forget the outside world until it allowed us brief, sporadic glimpses of the coast just beyond its borders.
The Redwood Forest
With only a brief stop in the town Eureka, the Golden Gate Bridge was a much appreciated sight after a long day of driving. San Francisco rewarded our tired brains with a manic one-way system, cop cars, traffic and deathly vertical hills. And extortionate parking fees to top it all off.
Thankfully, we got a break from Percy and our excessive peanut intake and took to the streets. Blue skies, rolling hills (although, as previously mentioned, deathly), trams, ferries and great coffee – San Fran had it all.
A superb coffee place was the Blue Bottle, particularly when sipped on the dock behind the Ferry Building, which in itself is crammed with foodie places. North Beach, the Italian district, was stunning, with grand houses lining each street, culminating in the Coit Tower, offering great 360 views. Chinatown was an explosion of colours and smells, chaotic with people running everywhere and shops bursting with curious goods. Valencia Street offered a great alternate shopping selection, with a colourful assortment of quirky stores and cafés to escape into.
San Francisco delights
In true road trip style, we celebrated our last night in San Fran with a bang and checked out the next morning with the hangovers from hell. To cure us, however, was driving the jaw-dropping highway one to Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is a pretty beach town painted in pastel colours and palm trees, and the HI Hostel fit the scene perfectly. The dorm rooms were clusters of cottages, equipped with their own lounge areas and kitchenette. What’s more, the main kitchen offered mounds of free food donated from local supermarkets.
Although the night was spent with a demon snorer, we set off the next day with the sun shining and our belly’s full of free food. It was a lazy drive along Big Sur, my favourite chunk of coastline. It took us all day to drive along it, having to stop every other half hour to gawp at the landscape.
Eventually, we arrived in Santa Barbara and stayed in a classic American motel (which isn’t as shady as it sounds). The town was boutique to say the least, with quaint cafés and shops lining the main street, guiding the way to the beach.
Santa Monica was next on our list, having hastily passed through rich Malibu with our finger’s crossed that we didn’t scratch the precious BMWs and Mercedes flanking us. There wasn’t much in Santa Monica, it being on the outskirts of LA, except shopping. And (window) shop we did.
Alas, it wasn’t all carefree since we had to say goodbye to Sally, an emotional farewell as our awesome trio was losing an awesome member.
That night, Danni and I didn’t want to linger in LA, so we stayed in the quiet town by Redondo Beach before fleeing to San Diego early the next morning.
San Diego was such a quirky city, including our hostel which used to be a brothel, and the sun was shining! We set out to admire the city, including the beautiful architecture of the museums and successfully snuck into the science museum by accident – because that’s just how we roll. We also checked out the neighbouring town, La Jolla, and the beach ruled by seals.
Sad attempt to fill Sally’s absence
We also popped to Mexico for lunch. The town Tijuana was full of food, music and mango margaritas, which we made sure to thoroughly try. And to continue the fiesta atmosphere, we investigated the night scene once we returned to San Diego. The Star Bar was a fun place to start, particularly in comparison to the fancy-priced bars surrounding the hostel.
It certainly showed its mark the next morning when, needing to check out and adult, we were once again struck down by hellish hangovers. We survived, however, and we returned to LA without any dramatics from yours truly. Here I was reluctantly left to my own devices, as I had to say goodbye to Danni. The road trip was officially over.
My spirits were down, so I booked a flight to Peru for the end of the week. I had no Spanish, no extensive funds or any clue what to do once I hit South America (check out my arrival here).
So, to distract my disorganised self, I visited Hollywood.
I saw the sign, walked the Walk of Fame and dodged the celebrity imitations. Hollywood was ugly and underwhelming. I quickly exited and took the bus to Rodeo Drive, where I felt like a peasant, severely judged in my jeans and boots combo.
Shiny Beverly Hills
With Hollywood officially checked off my list, LA held no more allure for me. The next morning, I flew from LAX to Peru for my next adventure.
For an epic snapshot of our road trip, check out Danni’s YouTube video here.