Road Trip: USA (Part II)

Link to my previous post: https://niceavailableprojects.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/road-trip-usa-part-i/

I think I haven’t mentioned this enough, but after election season (although some people beg to differ, sorry fam), US still has that alluring charm that attracts both tourists and immigrants alike.

I’ll be recommending some of the most spellbinding attractions on the route of Highway 1.

Big Sur:

This rugged stretch of coastline between San Simeon and Carmel is pretty much the Amalfi coast of the US. If you’re looking for yet another getaway from the city life, be sure to give yourselves a couple of days to reach there and to unwind. Located not-so-conveniently on California’s coastal Highway 1, glide through 80 miles of uninterrupted scenery, seaside cliffs, and majestic coastal views, also dubbed as the “greatest meeting place of land and sea “. To the east lies the Santa Lucia Mountains, to the west rests the vast Pacific Ocean.

Bixby Creek is the first stop before entering Big Sur. It’s really the reason why we’re able to cross from San Francisco all the way to LA. My advice is that you don’t take anything more than 40 minutes here as there are other vantage points where you can view the intriguing scenery.

Point Lobos is a protected nature reserve with a crystal clear, turquoise lagoon nestled in its center. Dubbed as the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world” by landscape artist Francis McComas, it’s deemed the “crown jewel” in the California state park system, and it’s no wonder that they called it so. The extensive range of its habitat is startling, and what’s more its outstanding coastal scenery provides an opportune moment for recreation. Just take your time here, but not so much.

 

San Simeon:

I dub this the ‘pit stop town’. There’s hardly anything here unless you like staring at vast nothingness dotted with greens, this is your place. However, spend nothing more than one day and one night here. I suggest a quick stay at an inn like Pelican Inn and take the room with the fireplace if you’re going on the winter!!

San Luis Obispo:

I like to call this one the ‘weed town’. I see people high on weed like it’s 4/20—everywhere. Besides the awesome Aaron’s Brothers shop and Jamba Juice at downtown SLO (that’s what the locals call it), I  recommend spending only 1 night at an inn. It’s also super difficult to find reasonable food here so, find a nice Inn and move on.

Santa Barbra:

Tiny Silicon Valley and such a lovely town! I think this was the major highlight of my trip. Shop all your fave American brands like Brandy Melville, Express etc and also department stores Nordstrom and Macy’s. The wide variety of food like Chipotle, Panera Bread at La Cumbre Plaza (Sear’s is there too) just opposite the inn that I stayed in, the Best Western Pepper Tree Inn along State street.There’s also Smart and Final, Starbucks and even Ross (haha yes for all you thrifty shoppers) at the 5 points.

You’ll need to drive along State St to downtown SB, however as it’s not walkable distance and the tram doesn’t go to that area.

Paseo Nuevo is one of the malls in downtown SB. Affordable Banana Republic, not-so-affordable Nordstrom, Express— they’re all here! Bath and Body Works as well.

Drive further to the beach (top up gas first) to catch the sunset. Due to daylight savings, sunset is between 4-4.30pm. I would recommend staying near this area (there are lots of seaside inns here which might actually be better than the one that I stayed in) This is recommended even by the locals! Side note: I had the most awesome opportunity to interact with the locals there and made friends too!

Wrap up the journey with a quick brekkie or lunch at Chick-Fil-A! The service staff is the friendliest here!

Solvang:

Little predominantly Danish town. You can shop all your favorite European goodies here! This is a major tourist spot, so expect crowded and sometimes impassible streets.

Park at the carpark behind the windmollen (Dutch for Windmill) and stroll through town. You can ride in the horse-drawn carriage for $5 which will take you around the town and where the tour guide who’s dressed in the traditional Danish will expound on the rich history of the Danish settlers who lived there centuries ago.

Take a stroll through the streets of Solvang where there’s an array of boutiques, antique shops, and souvenir shops. Try out the “European Fashion and Gifts” shop. Visit the Farmer’s Market every Wednesday for fresh produce too. Just walk along Atterdag Street or Copenhagen Drive or follow the tourist crowds.

There are plenty of authentic Danish restaurants like the Red Viking Restaurant and other restaurants that also serve Danish sweets.

 

LA:

The most stressful part of the journey. Too many cars (I mean, nothing new) and I was caught in the Thanksgiving jam too 😦

I absolutely love the Grove and the Farmer’s Market beside it because it’s trendy and has that hype.  (I think I hunt down Farmer’s Markets for a living) All your American brands are situated here and it’s also the place where Jimmy Kimmel films his ‘pedestrian questions’ segment of his show sometimes.

I recommend avoiding Hollywood Boulevard because it’s super shady and warning: DO NOT TAKE A PICTURE WITH THE PEOPLE IN THE COSTUME – they’ll ask you for money! This is really dangerous because if you do take a picture with them and don’t give them their due payment, they turn pushy and violent. This comes from my first-hand experience.

The Hollywood walk of fame is another attraction, but don’t spend too long here as well. Ask your tour guide or any shop attendee over there to see the stars of your favorite actors and other famous people. Or Google it.

You can see the Hollywood Sign from 2 points: the Dolby Theatre mall or hiking up to the Griffith Observatory. Your tour guide will only take you to the first point, you have to drive for the second point. However, note that the first point doesn’t provide you with an advantageous view of the sign – when you take a picture of it, you can barely see it. Hence, check your itinerary and if time permits, you can hike up to Griffith Observatory.

 

I’ve been here twice before too, so I didn’t spend too much time here as well. The tour was also quite a waste because it was so fast and I’ve already visited all the places. However, the tour guide was extremely amiable! He was an African-American who knew the ins and outs of LA like the back of his hand. He even told me to try out for UCLA and give it a shot because he said it’s quite easy to go in, at least that’s what his son (who studies there) said.

I stayed in Marriott LAX so I had a pretty good view of the… highways. When or if I have the chance to go back, I will stay in Hotel Bel-Air as it’s closer to Beverly Hills.

 

 

 

I hoped this comprehensive guide helped you!

 

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Road Trip: USA (Part I)

This week I’m doing a brief overview of some of the not-often-sought-after points of interest in the following cities.

San Francisco:

If you’re looking for some city sights to behold, take the nearest Bay Area Rapid Transit (otherwise commonly known as BART) to the Embarcadero station. If that is too costly for you and your family, another convenient alternative would be Uber. BART is also liable for frequent pauses and minor breakdowns.

Additionally, you can take a short drive up to Twin Peaks, where it gives you the advantageous view of the Bay Area and quite possibly the Golden Gate as well. Just imagine the twinkling city lights beneath your very eyes, ain’t that romantic?

Remember the scene from ‘inside out’ where there was a tram in the background and a building with a clock on it? Take a short walk south and you will spot a clock tower with the flag on its roof. That’s the exact same building you’re looking at — the Ferry Building. It’s one of San Fran’s most iconic and historical buildings, with a plethora of shops and restaurants to indulge in.

Next, check out the Ghiradelli Square. As its name suggests, it is home to the former Ghiradelli Chocolate manufactory. It’s rich in history but also has a row of boutiques and restaurants.

Besides that, another tourist destination and point of interest is ‘The Fisherman’s Wharf’, home to seafood galore. If you’re an avid seafood consumer, this is the place to pop by — you’ll definitely love it. Major. Check out Scoma’s or Sabella & Latorre or any of the restaurants within a 2 block radius, you’ll do your tummy a huge favor.

Likewise, if you have more time on your hands, do head to Pier 39, another iconic tourist destination which exudes a very San Franciscan vibe.

Carmel:

A beautiful seaside town on the Monterey Peninsula with fairytale-like cottages and galleries. A recent census showed that there were about a few ten thousand residents residing in the area, so that gives you a clue to the crowdedness of this city/town. It can be really misleading at first because you aren’t really sure where to categorize this place under. When I first cast my eyes on Carmel, it was as if I was transported back in time to when I first visited Europe, and a wave of nostalgia just hit me. It was almost seemingly identical to most European countries.

However, before you head down to Carmel, drop by the 17-mile drive. It is privately owned so you have to pay an entrance fee of USD10, but rest assured it is worth it. Take the Pebble Beach exit from Highway 1 (exit 339A) towards the 17-mile drive. Alternatively, you can head over to Pebble Beach straight if your schedule is packed. Both offer scenic (and if you’re fortunate enough) empty viewing areas overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. Priceless. (unless if you’re talking about 17-mile drive, then maybe not so)

This small quaint town is a must-see for art enthusiasts, as this city boasts one of the most sophisticated and elite art pieces in Monterey County. These art galleries are synonymous with retail shops _ they kind of go hand in hand. When you see a retail shop, you are bound to discover an art gallery next to it. Its rich aesthetic history is credited to its early founders who were also artists. The early city council was also largely dominated by artists, even some of the mayors were artists! I wasn’t surprised to find the art galleries filled with crowds as the locals have a flair for appreciating the arts.

The Carmel Plaza isn’t really humongous as other malls are but it should accommodate most of your needs (or wants, depending on your perspective). Brands such as Anthropologie, J. Crew, Cole Hann, Khaki’s and other small boutiques are some shops located in this cozy plaza, which caters more to Generation X than Y.

Walk along Ocean Avenue and you will spot some famous brands like Coach. However, most of the other shops are high-end boutiques which will mostly suit the shopping habits of the rich. Coach has some pretty good service staff who try their hardest to fulfill your every request, and the prices aren’t crazy sky-rocket high like in Singapore (*wink wink*). Haha.

Stop by one of the wine houses for a short wine tasting session along Seventh Avenue and Lincoln Street. Carmel is widely known for their rich wine (same as Napa Valley, but only slightly lower in terms of quality) so popping by one of the shops wouldn’t be a waste of time.

Carmel has numerous newly-opened Meditarrean and fusion restaurants, so be sure to check them out. Dametra Cafe is one example. It serves a fusion of Italian and Mediterranean (more specifically Turkish) dishes and they definitely will send your taste buds soaring. If you’re heading out for a road trip, another option would be the Little Swiss Cafe. They serve authentic Swiss food, down to the sauces. For your next stop, head by Carmel Bakery, where they sell Starbucks-like coffee and tea and huge sweet pastries. Wrap up your food trail with dinner at the very cozy Village Corner. They have overhead heaters and if you’re a South-east Asian (like I am), you may request a table around the round fireplace. Overall, they all provide excellent service. And do not forget to tip. They love tips, especially the generous ones. (Most recommend a gratuity fee of 15% at least.)

Boutiques also somehow always feels crowded. I’m unable to comprehend it, but somehow everyone still ends up with a personnel attending to your every whim. You want a size bigger? You just ask it. You want another color? You name it. I’m just beyond speechless at their service, it truly inspires me and relieves me that there is still hope in the dying retail sector. (Well, at least in Singapore). Anthropologie is one great example, but other boutiques do provide great service as well. An extremely friendly bunch. Lastly, make sure to visit the Toy Store. Yes, it literally is called that. They also have unique California-themed souvenirs and countless other US-made toy products.

Lastly, the Carmel Mission is another destination for you devout folks out there. They sell merchandise like necklaces and rosaries and bracelets, and for a good sum of money (I’ve forgotten how much) you can pay a visit to the Mission founded by some missionaries from Spain. It has an explicit depiction of the Crucifixion, a very detailed history of the Missionaries and the spreading of the Gospel in California. The restroom is pretty clean too :). It’s a little way off from  Highway 1, but it’s worthwhile.

Experience

From West Europe to the East and West Coast of America to Asia —it’s wonderful how you can gain a wealth of experience from traveling the world. When you travel, you’re actually either indirectly or directly: immersing in the local culture, being more informed about the present situation and the history of the founding of the greatest countries on earth, and growing as a person. I’m not saying those who don’t travel as often are less informed, after all, the Internet serves the purpose of informing those who may not have as many opportunities to travel. I’m saying those who travel can have a personal experience that’s irreplaceable by any means of information.

Travel has opened my horizon to the beautiful world that God has created, the world that is teeming with endless possibilities and opportunities that is ours for the taking. I realized that my dreams aren’t limited to the country I was born and the other country that I partly grew up in, and that so much exists beyond my current situation.

I have seen so many places, stopped over in so many cities and countries that I’ve lost count. I wouldn’t say that I’m a frequent flyer, but I fly out every school holiday. I love meeting and connecting with new people in my trips and it benefitted me in knowing that I can count on these people to show me around town (again) and do the stuff that people do to earn money when I go overseas.

Firstly, I learned to be alert. Places like JFK International Airport, LAX, and all other airports in the US have a long and stringent security process, so it’s a bonus to be quick and agile (yes, taking off and putting your boots back on is a lot of work) and to follow instructions well ( just go inside the x-ray thingy they say ).

Secondly, I learned to be sensitive to the current situation in the area. Racism was pretty rampant in Europe, especially western European countries, even before the Black Lives Matter movement even existed. In Netherlands, the Zwarte Piet or Black Pete is an integral part of the secular Christmas story. In the USA, where the majority population sided with Hillary in the election, there was no way I can wear the MAGA hat because the liberals will hurl insults at me. These 2 examples highlight how I can’t say what is normally part of a conversation here in Singapore, over there.

Travel is accessible to all.  Even if you may not be afforded such a luxury, I encourage you to go beyond and unearth the wonders of this world.

 

US trip 2016 (Singapore Airlines)

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything from SQ and I certainly wasn’t paid to do this. It’s just a way to spread the word. (They have excellent customer service 😉

Traveling is really something else. It adds color to your stories, wisdom to your years, and humanity to your soul. I learn a great deal when traveling — I count it one of my life’s greatest experiences and blessings.

For the third time consecutively, I took a close to a month-long vacation to the States. My parents initially wished to visit New Zealand and drive down the highways encompassed by endless lush greenery, dotted with white specks of wool. Oh and don’t forget the seemingly unending, towering and magnificent mountains & rivers. However, we took into account that our visa is going to expire in 2018 and that we wouldn’t have an opportunity next year to go because of national exams. Hence, we decided to embark on another long-haul flight to America (otherwise known as the land of the free, epitome of democracy, among others)! The bubbling anticipation is unexplainable. I rejoiced at the prospect that we’re traveling again after almost 10 months of school and what not.

Oftentimes,  most travel blogs mention every aspect of their destination, even their journey to and from the country, but they fail to write about another, rather imperative factor of their travel: the excitement and joy when perhaps they have some remaining leave they have yet to clear or that it was a long school break hence they’re able to travel again.

I couldn’t imagine that I would have the kind of opportunity to travel again. Ok so let’s be frank: My family isn’t a wealthy, tycoon/ mogul, kind of family. We’re your average, normal, kind of folk — we do simple things, so a trip to America (and every trip at that) is a huge blessing.

I fell in love with America ever since I heard stories of it from first; my Chinese textbook and second; from my other textbooks and story books and online blogs. The captivating stories of the war of 1812, from the first non-partisan president and the following 43 presidents to the stories of heroism and bravery and gallantry from World War II. (I’m not an ardent geek of wars and stuff, but I do love history.)  The first time I came to America was when I had just shortly turned 12, after yet another national exam (yes where I come from it’s just exams after exams). We covered most of the major cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, and Houston. We also stopped over at other cities which have unfortunately slipped to the deepest depths of my memory. However this time it’s different from the other two times that we came to U.S. We still did a stopover at places like Dallas and Atlanta, but we also made it a point to stop by smaller towns along the west coast. If you think that there’s pretty much nothing left to my story, you’re sadly mistaken. That simply was my introduction.

It was early November 2016. I came back from school (from another crazy and hectic ‘cram school’-like program for us), with a smile on my face and a small humming sound on my lips. The following day we left immediately for the airport, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we were forced to take a night flight — in the same class! For someone who is used to long-haul flights, the 13 hours and 10 minutes (plus and minus a few minutes for smooth and not-so-smooth air traffic) flight flew by in a breeze. ( See what I did there? ;). Three-course meals were served, one in the first leg of the flight, another towards the end of the flight. Snacks were frequently available, but almost four and a half hours prior to landing, the only snacks left were apples and grapes. I would also like to take this moment to appreciate the other fliers of Singapore Airlines of the not-economy-class cabin: Thank you for finishing up the snacks. My sympathy to the others similarly afflicted— know that you’re never alone. Moving on. I thoroughly enjoyed my flight. I had uninterrupted sleep on my fully-flat bed and watched all the movies that I missed the past five months. My definite all-time favorite would be the recently remade film ‘Ben-Hur’, produced by Roma Downey. Although some people would beg to differ, I think this one was way better than the original 1959 film. As we came to the last bit of the flight, dinner was served. It was going to be around the evening when we land, hence the choice of naming the meal ‘dinner’ instead of breakfast. I probably consumed more lattes and teas than I could count and had so many peanuts that I couldn’t eat down my main course.

Airplane food is notorious for its bland and tasteless food, but what I didn’t expect is that it would be difficult to swallow it down. My so-called ‘baked’ salmon was so difficult to cut through, and its skin was as though I was eating crackers. Despite my disappointment in the taste, I was satisfied with the presentation of the dishes. At least it looked appetizing and made me want to it eat instead of gagging out the whole thing.

After several adrenaline-stirring turbulences and multiple trips to the lavatory to fully utilize the amenities (lavatory was stocked with amenity you can find in a typical woman’s handbag), we finally touched down. There was no way I could mask my apparent excitement. It just seemed to bubble out of me. However, here comes the worst part about traveling: dealing with long immigration lines. We waited for almost an hour and a half and the wait was excruciatingly painful. We wasted a good hour and a half to queue up while it could be spent getting my Jamba Juice smoothie. I was deeply disappointed, but I guess nothing could overshadow my gleaming smile. 🙂