Best of the USA

May 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

There some great things that we just don’t have in Australia, here are a few of our favorites.

Food and Restaurants:
Best Mexican: La Salsa, Santa Monica
Best Fish Tacos: Rubios, Las Vegas
Best Hamburger: In-n-Out Burger, Los Angeles, Fatburger, Las Vegas
Best Breakfast: Ihop, Las Vegas
Best Restaurant: Cuvee, Napa Valley
* Free refills on soft drinks in fast food places and restaurants
* Free Chips and Salsa when sitting in a Mexican restaurant

Places and Things:
Best Place: Las Vegas
Best Architecture: Carmel
Best Hotel: Hyatt, San Francisco
Best Tourist Attraction: Warner Brothers Studios Los Angeles
* Able to turn left on a red light (like us turning right on a red light)
* Able to do 40 kms over the speed limit and people still pass you on the freeway


V Australia, LAX, Holiday Inn

May 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Our last day was full of last minute things to do and places to see. We wanted to get some shopping in so we headed to a shopping centre at Culver City then a trip up to UCLA and a burger for lunch at In-n-Out Burger, from there we checked out of the hotel.

The Holiday Inn at Century City is OK, but as with any hotel in LA, they are expensive, tired and old looking. The Holiday Inn would be a new place with new carpet and a coat of paint. The mattress in our room sunk in the middle and I think it’s probably been there when it opened so it was a little uncomfortable. Breakfast was included in the rate, but it’s made up of powdered eggs and other items that are just full of sugar, but overall, the rooms are big and unlike other hotels we stayed in, this one had a refrigerator and the rooms were quite large.

We raced around Beverly Hills and Hollywood to take some photos and battled the LA traffic to take the rental car back before the peak (seems all times are peak). We managed to get to the airport 4 hours ahead of time, just to make sure we didn’t have to rush. The terminal in which V Australia takes off from is a domestic terminal. They just don’t cater for international travelers with only a Burger King that only sells chicken a restaurant that I wouldn’t let my dog eat at (it was dirty and disgusting) and off course a Starbucks. Originally, we thought of sitting and having a few drinks and dinner in the restaurant, but after seeing the filth, my thoughts were if they don’t care about the cleanliest of the restaurant, then they won’t care about the food, so I let the waiter know. We had one drink and left (no tip either). We found another vendor selling sandwiches so we had no choice but to pay $10 each for a sandwich that was stale (shame on you LAX).

We boarded the flight to Melbourne that was delayed, and Bron was pulled a side and her carry on weighed. They said it was too heavy and had to be checked on but she kept arguing and eventually they gave up and picked on somebody else. The flight was relatively full and the seating arrangements were OK. However 16 hours on a plane is a long time and I don’t think any airline cares about its economy passengers. The seats are hard and uncomfortable, the entertainment system is good, but we had the same moves on the way home as we did on the way over which is stupid. The food on the way over was good, but on the way back, it was disgusting. My main meal was horrible (fish that was overcooked and dry, with a few vegetables), along with a dry bread roll and 2 pieces of fruit. I’d finished my meal before your one free drink was offered. Breakfast was worse, the meal was cold and the orange juice they served was frozen. Service was ordinary, it seems Australian airlines want to spend more time relaxing than serving their customers. Not sure I’ll fly with V Australia based on the last leg of our trip.

Warner Brothers Studios, Venice Beach and Malibu

May 10th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

A Warner Brothers studio tour was on the agenda today, we booked it the night before and lucky, because most of the tours were already full. The drive to Burbank was a long one due to the traffic in LA as we were traveling in peak hour. The tour started with a short movie of the history of WB and some of their best known movies and TV shows. We then got into a trolley cart and began the tour around the lot. First stop was in a set that recreates a whole town square. This has been used extensively in TV shows and movies over the years, including The Gilmour Girls (Stars Hollow town square), The Ghost Whisperer and currently Pretty Little Liars (which they were setting up for as we were there). There are also many house facades, which were recognizable from shows we have seen including The Mentalist and Fringe. This was really cool to see. Many of the buildings have two, even three or four, different facades. We continued on through the huge sound stages and saw where so many famous movies and TV shows have been made. It was a fantastic insight into how they are made, and quite astonishing what they can actually do with a movies set. We also got to see original cars and many of the props used, and saw the actual working set of the show Mike and Molly. We then went through the WB museum where they display actual costumes and memorabilia dating back to Casablanca days. The tour was fantastic, a definite highlight of our trip so far, even though we didn’t get to see anyone famous!

In the afternoon we headed down to Venice Beach and walked along the promenade to Muscle Beach. This place was a real eye opener, with many unusual people and sights to see, including legal Marijuana clinics. It’s a good place to take your kids and show them why they should stay at school and not take drugs or drink to excess.

We left Venice Beach and headed to the exclusive suburb of Malibu. It is an affluent, beachfront city, and consists of a 34 km strip of prime Pacific coastline, most of it you can’t see though because of the houses built on it. In the spots where there is no house, or restaurant, etc, there is a huge chain wire fence, to keep the public out. It is quite normal in the US, as we found in Florida, for people to build right on the sand and actually own the beach! There is obviously a lot of money here.

Our last night in LA LA land and we had dinner at the Pink Taco, then back to start the arduous task of packing while drinking some wine made by Francis F. Coppola.

Santa Barbara and Los Angeles

May 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

We arrived at our hotel in Goleta, a neighboring city of Santa Barbara, for our next night stay. We were pretty disappointed with the place (it was old, dirty and miles from anything worth seeing), but as it was only for one night we sucked it up and got on with things. We headed into Santa Barbara old town for a look around. The city centre is gorgeous, old Spanish style architecture and really upmarket shopping area, including some lovely restaurants. We then got some Chinese take-away and headed back to the hotel room where we ate dinner and drank our lovely bottle of bubbly, we had bought in Sonoma, from plastic cups!! We decided we would spend another night in the area and looked for another hotel to check into as the one we were in was SHIT! Next morning we headed off toward Lake Chumash and then on to a little town called Solvang, in the Santa Ynez Valley (the Santa Barbara wine growing area). This quaint little place was established by the Danish in 1911, and replicates a Danish village. We stopped here for a while and had coffee and a walk around. Then we traveled on to La Purisima mission, which dates back to 1787 and was home to the Spanish and the native Chumash people from the area. Due to an earthquake in 1812 and many years of neglect the mission deteriorated, but was restored in the 1930’s to its state today. It was really interesting to see how these people lived and survived all those years ago.

Next we headed back to Santa Barbara and our new, and very much improved, accommodation at the Inn by the Harbour. It was a lovely little hotel and we had a great room and the staff were amazing – why couldn’t we have found it a day earlier. After getting settled we walked (the very short walk) down to the main harbor and Sterarns Wharf to have a look around. Unfortunately the haze had not cleared for the whole day so our visibility was almost non-existent! That night we had dinner at a little restaurant called Bouchon, which had been recommended to us by the chef in Sonoma that we had met. Dinner was pretty good, but we both agreed that some of our restaurants in Melbourne would leave it for dead. A nice night out anyway.

Next morning up early and on the road again, headed for LA! A stop on the way at the Camarillo Outlet mall for more shopping and lunch, and then on to Tinseltown. We arrived mid arvo and checked back in the the Holiday Inn Century City, where we had started from two weeks earlier. That night we made our way to Santa Monica. The sand area is so wide, not like anything I have seen before. The historic pier was lively with the typical tacky souvenir shops and restaurants and an amusement park. Originally built in the early 1900’s it was partially destroyed in 1980’s due to lack of management, but in the past 20 years had been restored (so to speak) to how it is today. We walked around the Third St Promenade (another shopping/eating area) which was very lively, had some dinner (Mexican) and then back to room for bed.

Saturday, did a bit of car swapping first up this morning, then of to Universal Studios, which Bron had always wanted to do here in LA. We hopped on the studio tour first up, which takes you around the studios and has some cool “re-enactments”, like Jaws and Earthquake and a new King Kong simulator. We spent the rest of the day just walking around checking everything out, finished on the Jurassic Park ride and then headed back. We stopped at the Beverly Centre and then picked up take away dinner again, which we enjoyed with a nice bottle of Californian red.

Mothers day here today. Did a bit of real Hollywood sight-seeing. First, made our way to “The Brady Bunch” house – very cool to see. Next past the Capital Records building and on to Hollywood Boulevard, the real tourist hot-spot here. We walked along the walk of fame, Kodak Theater, Graumans Chinese theater and saw the hand and foot prints. Had lunch at Soul Daddy (a restaurant that won a TV competition that we had been watching prior to coming over, called “Americas next great restaurant”, which coincidentally Curtis Stone was in, and we had seen him in Vegas). Next to the Farmers Markets (which is just a big restaurant area) and the Grove. Mark had organised a photo shoot with a model and we met her later in the afternoon in a gorgeous Beverly Canon gardens at the Montage hotel on Wilshire Blvd (near Rodeo Drive). After that we had some dinner at RockSugar, an Asian restaurant at Century City, then back to the room after another very full and tiring day.

Monterey to Santa Barbara

May 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Originally we thought of stopping about halfway between Monterey and Santa Barbara, but in the end, we just couldn’t decided on where to stay, so we ended up driving the entire 4 hours. On the way we stopped at Carmel-by-the-Sea, often called simply Carmel. It is a small city in Monterey County, California, founded in 1902 and incorporated in 1916. Situated on the Monterey Peninsula, the town is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history.

We briefly spoke with a real estate agent while looking in her window at properties in the area, some of the houses were selling for between 500k and 18 million dollars. This is where Clint Eastwood lives and was once the Mayor and is also the home of Pebble Beach golf course which is world famous.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, also known as the Carmel Mission, is a Roman Catholic mission church in Carmel, California. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

It was the headquarters of the original upper Las Californias Province missions headed by Father Junpero Serra from 1770 until his death in 1784. The mission also was the seat of the padre presidente, Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It was destroyed in the mid-19th century, only to be restored beginning in 1884. It remains a parish church today. It is the only one to have its original bell tower dome.

Another 30 minutes down the road to the Big Sur, on a windy coastal road. Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as Bixby Bridge, is a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge in Big Sur, California. The bridge is located 13 miles (21 km) south of Carmel in Monterey County along California Highway One. They were also filming some movie, there were people dressed in 50’s outfits and a number of old 50’s cars that were parked on the side of the road and a number of the back of a car mover.

Bixby Creek Bridge is important historically because it introduced automobile travel to Big Sur, connecting the remote coastal towns to each other.

Another long drive back down highway 101 for another 4 hours to Santa Barbara.




May 5th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

It was a reasonably short drive from American Canyon down the highway to San Francisco until we hit the Toll booth. The traffic was horrific, but the $6 per car the government charges is a cash cow for them. After we battled the traffic, the drive to the Golden Gate bridge was seamless. It was another beautiful day, but a chilly breeze filled the air.
Golden Gate Bridge
I would have thought there would be more security over the bridge since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but maybe there are many electronic eyes watching us. We were told that more people jump from the Golden Gate bridge than anywhere else in the world, it’s very sad.

Baker Beach was a great place to take photos of the bridge, best be there on a weekday as the weekends are quite busy. I also believe it’s a nudist beach and they can get quite upset if you go down there with a camera, but luckily there wasn’t anybody there that day.

We drove then for a few hours towards Monterey before having some lunch at Gilroy. In-Out Burgers have been around for about 40 years and since spending quite some time in the states a few years ago, it’s the first time we actually tried one of these burgers. They are simple, no up sizing and fancy ingredients and cheap. $2.95 for a cheeseburger, and the 2nd best burger I’ve had. Number 1 is still Fatburger.

History surrounds you in the City of Monterey, one of the most historic sites in California. Original adobes are found on many street corners. Some are open for tours, others house contemporary businesses. From California’s first theater to Colton Hall where the state’s constitution was first written, you can trace Monterey’s rich past on the Path of History.

We were told to go to the Monterey Fish House by the guy at the hotel as he said the it’s local food and not generally one for the tourists which appealed to us. When we arrived at the restaurant, there was already a number of people waiting for a table, so we put our name down and waited for about 10 minutes. We sat right at the front door and as the night went on, so did the people waiting for a seat. We ordered our meals and after they arrived, we felt like we had an audience

Kendall Jackson

May 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Sonoma is just a short distance from Napa, it is separated by a mountain range and there is stiff competition between both regions. Some of the wineries have setup tasting rooms in a quaint town called Healdsburg, which saves driving between the wineries as the distances between them is quite vast, and also because a lot of the wineries are not open to the public.

The atmosphere is not quite the same as you would experience in the wine regions in Australia, but We drove about 15kms to Kendall Jackson where they have built a magnificent facility including tasting rooms and function centre. They hold festivals here (similar to the concerts at Rochford) and also have a magnificent garden, which supplies their kitchen. They offer wine/food pairings for about $20 per person, and you can choose from several different ones.

We chose to do the cheese/wine pairing, which consisted of:  2008 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Dlice de la Valle, The Epicurean Connection  A cow and goat’s milk blend cheese similar to fromage blanc with a soft and creamy texture and sweet essence. • 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnay, California Crottin, Redwood Hill Farm,A goat’s milk cheese with a sharp, meaty flavor and earthy aroma, while being both dense and fluffy in texture. 2008 Vintner’s Reserve Riesling Carmody, Bellwether Farms  Jersey cow’s milk cheese with a buttery intensity and caramel undertones, as well as a strong fresh milk flavor. 2006 Grand Reserve Syrah Estero Gold, Valley Ford Cheese Company A raw, cow’s milk cheese aged for 120 days with a natural rind to create its rich, buttery flavor and smooth, firm texture. 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Capricious, Achadinha Cheese Company A semi-firm, goat’s milk cheese with a slightly crumbly texture, toasty flavor and mild pungency at the finish. • 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay Point Reyes Blue, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, A raw cow’s milk cheese with a slightly salty flavor, attributed to the coastal fog. Aged for 6 months to allow the blue veins to deepen, as well as the flavor. • Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir Verjus Jello, A refreshing palate cleanser We had got to the last course when Mark decided to do the dessert pairing as well. This consisted of: This was so enjoyable. The chef came out and spoke to us at length about the food and we quizzed him on some good wineries to visit in the area. He also brought us some little extra food and a glass of port to wash it down, which was really nice. We had such a great time. We then made our way to J winery (one the chef had recommended). We were able to taste some sparkling and a really nice sticky, but all at a cost. $20 to taste 4 wines here, and only a rebate on purchases over $100! There stuff was nice, but not exceptional. Still we splurged and bought a bottle to enjoy at some stage before we leave. We made our way back to our next hotel for the night, another Holiday Inn Express, in American Canyon. We had a bite of dinner at a little Mexican restaurant and then back to the room for an early night.

Robert Mondavi – Napa Valley

May 3rd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Napa Valley is a county located north of the San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S. state of California. Napa Valley is considered one of the best American Viticulture Areas in California, and all of the United States. By the end of the nineteenth century there were more than one hundred and forty wineries in the area. Of those original wineries several still exist in the valley today including Charles Krug Winery, Shramsburg, Chateau Montelena and Beringer.

We previous booked a tour at one of the more well known wineries in Napa, Robert Mondavi. The cost of the tour was $25 and runs for approx 75 minutes. It started with our guide explaining the history of Robert Mondavi and the winery he created. We then visited the vineyard where there were acres and acres of grapes, the tour moved into the storage area where the wine sits in French Oak barrels for 40 days before they are pressed. Down in their cellar, we can see many hundreds of barrels. Up to the tasting room where there was a magnificent long table where we stat and tasted our wines. The first was a 2009 Fume Blanc (Sauvignon blanc). It was a pleasant wine, and crisp with a lot of citrus flavors @ $40 it was overpriced.

The second wine was a 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir. It had intense aromas of black fruit and wasn’t a bad wine at all for $27 per bottle. The last bottle was a 2007 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon at @ $45. This bottle had a rich bouquet of black cherries and blackberries and a little spice. It has a good after finish but still doesn’t stand up to some of the Australian wines that are less expensive.

The grounds of Mondavi are magnificent and well worth a visit.



San Francisco

May 1st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

We had an start to the day, we checked out of the hotel at 7.30 am and went to our usual breakfast restaurant, Ihop. They serve a 2 egg, hash brown, toast and fruit for 7.69 and it’s quite good, however the coffee is ordinary. We have to go to either Starbucks or the Coffee bean for a reasonable coffee. We also had to fill the car up with petrol and it runs at $3.80 per gallon (approx 83c a litre).

We arrived back at the car rental returns at the airport and everything from there was a breeze. We had to pay our $25 for each check-in bag, and our flight to San Francisco was without any delay or issue. Picking up our rental car wasn’t any issue, but the staff are constantly trying to encourage you to upgrade and take all the added extras, but the only extra that is advisable is the insurance. You don’t want to be liable if you damage the car.

We entered the address in the GPS and found the hotel easily.

We caught the cable car to Union Square and the amount of people shopping on a Saturday was unbelievable. We are told the economy is not doing so good, but it’s hard to believe with the amount of people shopping.

Everything you read on the travel guides is avoid Fisherman’s Wharf as it’s tacky, expensive and over rated, but we didn’t take their advice and stayed at the Hyatt. Valet parking is $45 per night and you can park a block away for $35, however we were lucky to have this included in our room rate. The rooms at the Hyatt are spacious and modern, but unlike most other hotels, WiFi is not included and you need to pay $9.95 per night.

Dinner was at one of the restaurants on the wharf, but the quality was ordinary as was the service.