We arrived in Santa Barbara in the damp misty fog, Sven played golf in the damp misty fog, whilst Martha & I got cold and wet in the golf carts driving the boys around, we left Santa Barbara in the damp misty fog! We had hoped for some clearance in the weather as we drove south towards Los Angeles and we managed to find some sunshine in Malibu. A cheese and bread roll picnic whilst watching the surfers on Malibu beach was just enough to warm the body and soul before we carried on south and arrived in Santa Monica in damp, misty fog. August is clearly not the time to visit the California coast.
Determined not to be outdone by the weather we took a couple of major excursions, the first by bicycle to Venice Beach and the canals and, second, by car covering Northern LA – Sunset Boulevard, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and onto downtown LA.
We really wanted to go to Venice Beach having seen it on countless TV programs and films. Depicted as overflowing with tanned, fit, beautiful people the reality was sadly the opposite. It was full of cheap shops bursting with tourist tat, street vendors pushing beads, ‘paintings’ and palmistry. There were hundreds of tattoo parlours, henna artists and doctor surgeries where (we understood) you could be prescribed marijuana for any ailment you could dream up. I bought a t-shirt whilst Debbie went to admire the bodies working out at Muscle Beach. We then had a go at trying to be all athletic on the bars and rings! Yet Venice Beach is a buzzy, busy place replete with eccentrics, scam artists, mad hatters and people as high as kites on marijuana. The beach is wide and long and very popular but no one is swimming (the sea is too cold). However, I was able to brush up on my knowledge of women’s beach volleyball.
Northern Los Angeles is the suburb of the rich and famous, you can even take a tour of the stars homes in the area! In comparison to the rest of LA it is very green, pretty, civilised and pleasant to drive around. However the heart of Hollywood that we all know about amounts to about 3 blocks, names of stars are embedded in the boulevard between Vine Street & La Brea Avenue. Either side the area is seedy and dedicated to adult entertainment. The most interesting part was a few shops dedicated to fancy dress, wigs and extravagant shoes – entirely fitting with the theatrical culture of Hollywood.
We were able to drive up towards the famous sign, and then a short hike to get as close to the ‘Hollywood’ hill as possible.
In short LA is a sprawling mess around hundreds of square miles. What other city has numerous freeways (motorways) across town? It took us an hour to drive from West to East LA and leave on interstate 15 towards Las Vegas. We had already planned to break the journey by taking a night at Barstow at the start of the desert ride. Barstow is renowned for nothing, not even being a good mid-Way point between LA & Las Vegas. So we trekked off-piste to the San Bernardino Mountains. The whole area is man-made (not the mountains!), purpose built recreational area for boating and skiing through the construction of dams across the higher valleys – and then filled with water. Most welcome was the rise in temperature that finally rose into the 90s (about 25c). Most sad was that the area has been badly affected by fire in recent years. The drive rises up to 7000 feet to a route that is called ‘Rim of the world’ where the mountain range overlooks the most eastern boroughs of Los Angeles in the south and the deserts in the North. The route took us around Silverlake – a large boating lake, Lake Arrowhead, the most picturesque of the towns – an alpine style summer spot for the wealthy LA citizens escaping the heat of the city.
Finally Big Bear Lake, a winter ski resort at 7000ft. The lake extends for 7 miles so when the snow has melted it becomes a playground for water sports, the place has a much more homely style to it with wooden chalets tucked away in the forests. Unfortunately fires are a big thing out here, as we speak there is a huge one raging in the San Gabriel mountains which we passed, and a large one in Santa Cruz whilst we were in the Monterey Bay area.
The drive was an absolute relief on the senses after the hubble and bubble of LA, and with a glorious surprise as we drove around the final rim on our way back down – a staggering view across the Mojave desert which was a stark contrast to the 7000ft elevation that we were descending. The lakes were an ideal detour and one we appreciated even more after we arrived in Barstow – it really does offer nothing, apart from a large outlet mall – not much good when you are travelling with backpacks!