The trip had to be limited to just over two weeks but we wanted to see family, the California coast, the 'desert' and, of course, Las Vegas... so here's what we did.
As usual we flew trusty British Airways into San Francisco’s (SFO) International Airport… originally Mills Field Municipal but that’s another fascinating story The usual hassle of locating and picking up hire cars was avoided because we were met by my eldest son. We quickly sped out of the city inland to their Napa Valley home. Here the joy was to meet our new grand-daughter. We would return later to spend more time with the family towards the end of our trip.
Early the following morning we were dropped of at the Amtrak terminal in Oakland to catch the Coast Starlight for our twelve hour train ride to Los Angeles. The huge train had left its starting point, Seattle, the previous morning so we were only joining for the last leg of its long journey. High up in our compartment we watched San Francisco slip by and soon we were pounding down the coastal track. Never-ending seaward vistas unfolded out of our picture window. We stopped for a half hour break at the dusty, but pretty, town of Santa Barbara. The train finally reached Los Angeles’s Central Station at nine o’clock that evening. What a fabulous experience the day had been… and we made a promise to ourselves to plan another American train trip one day.
Just like an airport, the baggage was handled swiftly and soon appeared on the carousel where we were waiting. Helpfully transferred with our luggage – we always take too much! – to a waiting taxi for the trip across the city to the coast for our next stay at the Marina del Rey Marriott Hotel. I should explain that we had chosen Marriott Hotels for most of the holiday because of a favourable promotion with British Airways. It was a good choice. This fine hotel overlooking the marina was restful and indulging. We enjoyed an upgrade to a suite, excellent meals and a warm ambience for our three night stay. I particularly enjoyed the outdoor Glow Lounge.
Being just a couple of blocks from Venice Beach we were drawn to this eclectic destination each day. Just walking the beachfront parade with its often ‘unusual’ sights left us with many uplifting reminiscences. One day we took the almost compulsory trip up into the Hollywood hills, the Chinese Theatre, Universal Studios and Rodeo Drive. I didn’t enjoy so much the intrusive tour of the movie star homes which was included though.
On the day of our departure we picked up a rental car. Anything with SatNav was my requirement and the only readily available model at the Hertz in-house desk was a smart but compact Pontiac Coupe. We just about squeezed our ever- expanding luggage into the car and headed south.
The drive out of LA was easy. Good road signage and an all-knowing voice from the navigation system soon had us wending our way along the I-10. In fact, the purchased Rand McNally State map remains folded in my desk to this day. We arrived at the welcoming Desert Springs Resort & Spa mid-afternoon. What a spacious and impressive complex. Again this was a promotional deal through our BA Club membership and this luxury brand J W Marriott hotel was top-notch. Excellent accommodation, fine food and a very inviting bar! I was even tempted into the truly expansive swimming pool… what a sight that must have been for other guests! We spent four really relaxing days in Palm Springs as it had always been intended to be our true holiday within the holiday… I hope that makes sense. The next step of the trip was to be our adventure.
After a leisurely drive through often-barren landscape, to come upon the sudden mirage that is Las Vegas is astonishing. The city’s forefathers could not have fully realised what they were creating in those early days and I challenge anyone not to be taken aback at their first vision of Las Vegas sitting lost in the Nevada desert!
Our hotel here was the iconic Caesar’s Palace. I had always promised myself a visit to this renowned edifice even before my involvement the casino industry. It was the weekend and not cheap. No BA special deals here but it proved to worth every cent. The hotel itself is impressive but it’s the ‘attachments’ that go beyond. The endless casino, the shopping enclave, the pool deck, the theatres and lounges… everything leads seamlessly onto the next area. Even the restaurant and food courts reflect that Caesar’s panache. Then of course the Palace simply overflows into the streets and the other hotels and casinos. A veritable wonderland. Our three nights in Las Vegas just flew by… but what a pleasure it was. Maybe next time it will be the Venetian?
Time to head back to the Bay Area. Our drive took us north now via Death Valley. Ghost towns but so sign of the Undertaker! We broke the journey for one brief night at Merced and arrived in Sonoma in the Winelands around mid-day. We checked into the famous Swiss Hotel overlooking the Sonoma Plaza or square. This historic hostelry is very popular and we were lucky that my son had managed to secure a reservation for these next few days. Although most of our time was spent with the family in Sonoma we did explore the town and surrounds. I could not help feeling the similarity with Stellenbosch in South Africa’s Cape Winelands. not just for the produce but the lifestyle and the hospitality. Besides the good hotel and family visits, I remember a couple of huge breakfasts at the Black Bear Diner and have very pleasant, if hazy, memories of Murphy’s Irish Pub.
For our last three nights we bade farewell to the family and moved into San Francisco, specifically the Marriott Hotel by Fisherman’s Wharf… our final BA special stay. Not imposing, pokey bedroom and cafeteria-type dining but adequate for our last tourist fling. We did the expected outings into the city for the streetcar ride, the visit to fisherman’s wharf the downtown shopping. Yes the shopping! A couple of delightful meals – the Crab House at Pier 39 and Kuleto’s on Powell Street off Union Square.
And then, all too soon, the trip was over. We headed across town fro the airport after breakfast on our final day. Got lost a couple of times en route but still made the check-in counter far too early. Oh! the joys of the BA Club lounges. Caught up with the English newspapers, snacked and had a glass or two… then, before we realised, we were boarding and homeward-bound.
Easy arrival though Heathrow’s cathedral-like Terminal 5, car collected and on the M40 for an smooth drive home to Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare’s country..