So on the 29th September myself, my other half and two of our close friends jetted off to California for a week and we had a plan. A loose one, but a plan all the same!
To fit as many things into the week as possible, things that we wanted to do and see.
And boy did we succeed! We packed SO much into our days, but it was so worth it!
Back in June, we booked this big break, as we had planned once we both had turned 30, and then the weeks flew by before the time had come!
First booked were flights. We booked with Aer Lingus direct from Dublin, to and from San Francisco, and then as a sort of afterthought, researched a return flight to LA from San Francisco which came up at undeniable value with Southwest, so ya know, like two holidays in one!
When it came to accommodation, we had researched hotels and such, but found that, especially in San Francisco, they were extortionate prices, so we went for the next best thing, which were what I would call “high end” hostels.
We booked both places, where we could see their high ratings and great reviews, so we knew that we had a place to put the head down where it was safe, clean, and private too.
With our flights and accommodation booked, we were set! The next thing we researched was what to do and see in both areas, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that a lot of things were either very reasonable prices (compared to Ireland anyways) or free – even better!
We did decide to book two major attractions before we left though, and they were Universal Studios and Alcatraz. It was definitely worth booking these in advance because for one, they are on the pricier side so it’s money gone before you have set foot on a plane, but also we found that Alcatraz was being booked up very fast.
So onto the real nitty gritty -the holiday!
We arrived in San Francisco on the Saturday afternoon at 15:30pm PDT, and unfortunately for us there was a 4 hour delay on our connecting Southwest flight to Los Angeles, but we got through it, had a bit of a snooze, passed the time, and before we knew it we were sitting on a plane with a mere 37 of us in total, gliding over to LA in just 50 mins!
By the time we eventually arrived at our LA accommodation it was nearing midnight so it was pretty much lights out and sleep until our first full day of our California experience…
Waking up at about 7am, we got up, got dressed, and headed straight out. No messing here! We took our first walk down from the hostel where we were ideally located close to the beautiful Venice Beach. So beautiful, it was like a dream! Zero filter needed for this stunning view…
So after we took some time here to take in all this beauty, we planned our day out as discussed, and headed for the California Science Center.
California Science Center
This is a fantastic place for people of all ages to explore science and history through it’s many exhibits and demonstrations, but what we were truly there for was to see Endeavour!
Now if you aren’t familiar with space, science or in fact the amazing Endeavour, let me tell you a little snippet.
Endeavour is a retired space shuttle from NASA’s space shuttle program. It made its last journey in May of 2011, and is now permanently housed in the California Science Center.
When you see this in person, it’s magical, to think that its real and you only pay $3 which is insane to see something that is like a once in a lifetime experience! It’s an absolute must when you are in LA in my opinion, and I’d definitely go again! The photo doesn’t even do it justice…
Around the Endeavour, we did also have a look around the other exhibits they had for no extra charge, and there were some pretty cool things to see. Between space suits, training suits, a space potty, wheels used from the Endeavour, there was just so many amazing things to see and learn from!
Overall, the California Science Center was well worth the trip, whether you have children or not, it’s an absolute must. Don’t miss it while you’re in California!
At $25 per person, this may seem steep but OUE Skyspace was absolutely worth it for the experience. We hopped into the turbo lift and shot up to our destination of the 69th floor. It was strange to feel our ears popping!
What welcomes you on the 69th floor is magnificent. There is a bar where we bought one beer each, sat down by the window, and took in the stunning view of LA. You could also walk outside to take pictures and get that truly unique view.
You could see for miles!
I’m not going to lie though, I definitely felt that beer going to my head, one reason I don’t drink on airplanes!
The final stop on day one was Hollywood Boulevard. This was definitely high on my priority list.
We ventured up the street where we walked along all those famous stars, and then stopped at the even more famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It was beautiful!
I was there for one place though and one place only. Right in front of the theatre there is an array of handprints, footprints and signatures by various famous people, and I found the one that I had always dreamed of. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself!
I’ve always been a big fan and even though it wasn’t him personally to imprint this place of recognition, it was his three children who placed his shoes, their hands, his name and his famous glove into the cement. An absolute dream come true!
So that ended our day 1 of an amazing adventure -and what a way to end it!
Well what can I say about this day. Fun, fun and more fun!
As I said already, Universal Studios was one of the things we had booked in advance, as at $109 per ticket, it was definitely not something we wanted to have to factor in on our holiday, and booking in advance meant that we had a swift and straight forward entry.
Universal Studios was definitely one of those genuinely extra fun days, and even though I originally thought it was quite pricey, to be fair I didn’t know what to expect.
It absolutely exceeded my expectations.
We spent a good 7/8 hours here and I can only imagine how magical it is for a child because to me, it was just such a happy place to be!
We went on the studio tour which was way more than I expected it to be. We were brought around to various parts where films were made, all the different set ups, and how rain and a flash flood is made to be realistic in the movies – check it out!
We also had our 3D glasses at the ready as we got onto our ride for the tour, and little did I know what we would need them for. Turns out an earthquake in a dark underground train station, a fight between King Kong and the dinosaurs, and a car chase were those reasons – honestly, you have to be there to experience these things!
They have lots of different rides on at Universal, but I was thankful that it wasn’t all just rides, it’s just a matter of what you choose. We went on The Simpsons simulator ride and it was INSANE! (In a good way) We treated ourselves to a massive donut from Lard Lad Donuts, just you know, to take away the shock! It was GIGANTIC! So we ate one between two..:-)
We also went through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and this was definitely up my street along with every other avid HP fan.
I went for a Butterbeer, which despite what I’ve heard, was really nice! You can have it frozen or cold, but I went for cold. It was relieving in the hot Californian sun!
(Please bear in mind also that the food and drink at Universal, you pay for there, just in case you think it’s part of your ticket!)
The final thing we did at Universal was the Waterworld show, which was out of this world.
Actors and actresses from various shows in America come together to act out some serious villain vs good sketches, you can sit on the wet seat areas where you resign yourself to getting wet if they see fit, and well, it’s just alot of outrageous fun!
Water, fire, falls from heights, they even have a plane that makes a ridiculously awe inspiring entrance – no seriously!
After our amazing day at Universal, we had worked up some hungry tums, so we headed off to somewhere else we were itching to try out – In-N-Out Burger!
This was particularly desired by my other half, and it did not disappoint! Delicious burgers, chips and milkshakes. Just another place you’ve got to try out! (And yes we did start watching Big Mouth on Netflix when we got home as it happens – ha!)
So when we had satisfied our appetites it was time to go and see the City Hall and the park in front of it. Apparently the City Hall does open to the public, but on this occasion, photos of the outside were all that were taken from this experience!
Santa Monica Pier
To finish our wonderful day, we decided that this evening was the one to head over to Santa Monica Pier, and see what it had to offer.
A beautiful area with lots of stalls, food places and bright lights greeted us, and there were lots of people around, creating a lovely atmosphere!
Many people of all ages came together, very family orientated too, and it was just so lovely to walk along the pier and take everything in. A perfect end to a pretty perfect day.
From Santa Monica Pier we then went to explore a bit of Santa Monica itself, and ended up on the famous street that is the Third Street Promenade. This was a totally unique place that I’ve never seen anything like before!
Third Street Promenade
We strolled along the street and stopped by at a shop for some bubble tea, and carried on down until we got to this little treasure of a place, where pianos stood, along with some seats to sit down at, just randomly for anyone to use.
We decided to sit down on these seats, and all of a sudden we noticed another small group of people going over to a piano, one started playing and another began to sing – and they were awesome!
Where else would you get it? It was just so free, so relaxing, so chilled, amazing stuff. Santa Monica is definitely one desirable place to stay I reckon!
Day three was our last day in Los Angeles, so we really wanted to make this day count.
We began the day by heading to the well known Venice Canals. We strolled alongside this gorgeous area of man made canals where dainty little homes were tucked away, random little boats parked, bridges stood and many flowers in bloom lay. An amazing sight!
This is a must see, and definitely go when you can take your time to take in your surroundings.
Chick-fil-A & IHOP
After this visit, it was time for some grub, so we went for our first Chick-fil-A where the chicken was pretty impressive, and because our eyes were bigger than our bellies, we also went to IHOP which, in hindsight we would have went to when we hadn’t eaten already because the pancakes were HUGE and well, we couldn’t finish them, but they were delicious!
Our final destination for Los Angeles was at Griffith Observatory, which I think is also one of those main attractions you have to see at least once.
You get a fantastic view of not only the city, but of the Hollywood sign also from here…
as well as being able to explore the inside of the building itself where you can go to live shows, explore many different exhibits of all things astronomy and check out the stunning ceiling!
Before long it was time to leave, but we packed a lot of things into our LA trip, and succeeded in doing the things we wanted to do the most.
We were back in LAX that evening to catch our return flight with Southwest to San Francisco, leaving quite fulfilled and joyful after our experience so far!
The morning of day four, it was “Good Morning San Francisco!”… And a very good morning to the best French Toast I have ever had in a local cafe – just look at it!
Our first day here was a day of exploration, so again we managed to fill our day. We went to Chinatown which had a lot to offer in the form of gift shops filled with all sorts of things to buy and take home.
Nice for a spot of simple gift shopping!
Cable car Museum
We then went onto the long awaited cable car! Not before we took a trip to the cable car museum though. We got to see how they work, and there was so much history attached to discover. and best of all, it was free!
Myself and the other half had looked these up in the last few months and thought they looked so cool, and it was pretty cool in person too! Here’s Jeff hanging out of one like a pro….!
Ferry Building & Pier 39
Once we got off the cable car, it was straight onto an equally cool railcar to the Ferry building which offered lots of places to eat, the best coffee in town, and a beautiful market full of delicious food and products.
A really lovely place to wander, and we wandered close by Pier 39 where we got this sourdough bread bowl filled with fresh seafood chowder – a big thing in San Francisco!
Once finished at Pier 39, our next stop was at the Maritime Museum, which consisted of boats that you could board and explore its contents, and gives you an insight into it’s maritime history.
At $15 per person, in my opinion it is well worth a visit. There are so many cool things to see, even old vintage vehicles!
After all the wandering, it was time for something sweet, and cold in that sunshine! We found ourselves sat in Ghirardelli’s looking at their delicious menu of sweet treats.
This place is an absolute definite if you want the finest chocolate and sundaes, and in it’s original home too of San Francisco.
It was pretty hard to choose but we did eventually choose, and we were presented with the best sundaes we’ve ever laid eyes on.
Delicious, rich, beautiful ice cream with all the trimmings – you won’t want to pass up on one of these babies!
After our fair share in sundae heaven, there wasn’t much more planned for the day, so we made our way to Lombard Street to get a couple of photos. It is a beautiful place, but to be honest I would have passed on this unless you are someone who really likes these kind of things, you may find that lots of people gathering around it just takes away from it.
Still, it was nice to see it, and to get a photo!
We were up bright and early as usual, and made our way to Pier 33 for our pre-booked slot to go to Alcatraz, and this was something I was also really looking forward to.
When we did book this, slots seemed to be booking up pretty quickly so I would say it’s definitely a good idea to pre-book and not to leave it until you are actually there.
Our ferry arrived and we left to see this famous island which was once home to many prisoners as a federal prison.
We arrived minutes later and stepped off the ferry to an introductory speech by a member of staff to start our journey up.
Unfortunately for us, it happens to be fly season there right now, so we took the cardboard swatters that were on offer.
Apparently they have a bird season too, so I don’t know which would be better if either of them, but rest assured that the flies aren’t harmful, just annoying really!
You can avail of the audio tour option on this visit, but we chose not to. We found that we preferred to explore ourselves, and saw a little bit more than those who did do the audio tour, as with that, you have to really follow the voice you’re listening to, so we found that lots of people were standing around in bunched groups while we, the non-listeners, were stuck trying to get passed them, or to look at certain things.
What stood out to me also, was that there didn’t seem to be a cap on how many people were on the island at one time, so there was probably more people than I would have wanted there, and the atmosphere and aura of the place was sort of taken away in that way, but still, it is a fascinating place to see and I would say that you would have to do it once, but probably not ever again after that.
Once back from the ferry, we decided to further our adventure by going to the Castro District, which was one of the first gay neighbourhoods in the US.
Here, we stopped for a bite to eat, and strolled along this colourful place, where sexual innuendos greet you on every shop title!
Golden Gate Park
After our swift visit to the district of rainbow colours, it was straight to Golden Gate Park.
This park is so big you couldn’t possibly explore it all, but of what we saw, it was tranquil, filled with natural beauty in the form of tall trees, flowers, lakes, and even the random squirrel – we also bumped into a raccoon believe it or not!
This is definitely a lovely place to go if you have some time to kill, and are looking for somewhere to go away from the hustle and bustle, and just enjoy some quiet time and fresh air.
Bike the Bridge
Our last full day in San Francisco, so of course we were going to make it a good one! Today was dedicated to going to see the famous Golden Gate bridge.
We did it the way all people seemed to do it – went by bike!
We approached a company called Blazing Saddles, who were happy to assist us and get us set up.
We chose to do the route that would take us over the Golden Gate, and straight to Sausalito and Tiburon.
Bearing in mind I hadn’t even sat on a bike in far too long, I was a little apprehensive, but I also didn’t want to miss this opportunity of seeing the famous bridge, and you know, it’s true what they say – you never forget!
I think we clocked it up to be about 25 miles of cycling in total, but it was so worth it!
You come across such amazing views. and the path is perfectly etched and signs are clear so that you can’t get lost.
By the time we got to Sausalito, we just couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was. We got off the bikes here, locked them up, and went into some charming shops, where we purchased some divine taffy in all kinds of delicious flavours.
Once we got back on the road for the home stretch for Tiburon, I have to say I was finding it a little bit harder as some hills are just too much to struggle up so you walk them instead, but we got there.
In Tiburon, we awaited our ferry back to our place of original departure…I really liked the look of this departure gate!
We hopped on the ferry where we again parked our bikes up, and walked up to the top of the ferry to witness the most stunning sunset views across San Francisco.
And even though it wasn’t a long journey back, we got a beer to celebrate our achievements. After all, we had earned them!
So I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed putting it together, and being there of course!
Finally I will leave you with the following pointers, just a few things you may want to know if you’re going Stateside…
- Tipping – If you aren’t familiar with the tipping culture, it can be a bit daunting when you are going somewhere like the US that has a strong tipping culture. Basically you can tip via physical money, by card or the old fashioned tipping jar. Tipping is not mandatory, but is customary in food places, where you would get served at a table. Fast food joints aren’t necessary, unless you want to that is! Outside of this, apart from bars or any other service industry, you can relax and not think about it!
- Booking in advance – As mentioned in this post, we booked two big things in advance. This primarily saved us from forking out of our holiday money while away, and gave us two benchmarks, knowing we were going to these places, and what days.
- Know the law – Bear in mind that you are in another country, which means laws may not be quite the same as at home. You can get a hefty fine for eating/drinking on transport, even not letting the elderly or pregnant take a seat will set you back. Be wise and informed!
- Transport – Research all transport options before you head away. In LA, we opted for LA Metro for which we bought a Tap card that cost us $9 for a day. This allowed us to use all buses and subway/light rails, which came in very handy as we were travelling a lot! In San Francisco, we bought a three day MUNI passport for $33 which gave us access to all the cablecars, railcars and buses in SF.
- On the subject of transport, we also used Uber as a way of travel. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone, as it is reliable and more importantly, safe. If you haven’t heard of Uber before, basically you download their app to your phone. When you want to get one, you can go to your app, put in your request for the required number of people and check for drivers close by, they could literally be one minute away from you or 10. When a driver accepts your request, you will get the ETA, and the details of your driver, from the name, the licence plate to the type of car, so you know who you’re looking out for, and what vehicle they are driving. Simple! And you will have prepaid through the app, so no worries there!
So that’s it guys! If you got this far, thank you for taking the time to read, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask! I will also have links to websites for some of the places mentioned above.
Until next time! x
Disclaimer: This post has not been sponsored or asked for in any way by any of the companies mentioned above or any other outside companies. These are also my own honest opinions, in my own words.