Great place to visit: Southern California and the Central Coast

The Grover Beach coastline.

The Grover Beach coastline.

For our honeymoon, we decided to visit my home state over the winter holidays. Our road trip included stops in Universal Studios, Santa Barbara, the Grover Beach butterfly grove, Monterey and Carmel. While Los Angeles has its characteristic showbiz feel, the Pacific Highway takes you winding up a wild coast line that looks much the same as it did 30 or 40 years ago, minus a few McMansions. California has a little something for everyone whether you like the glitter and glamour of Hollywood or the natural beauty of the Central and North coast.

The Interstate 5 freeway somewhere in the central valley.

The Interstate 5 freeway somewhere in the central valley.

Our first stop was Universal Studios, so we went shooting down I5, which is about as long and straight as a road can get. For lunch, we stopped at an In-n-Out, which is a fast-food restaurant primarily implanted in the south west of the United States. It’s not fine dining, but they pay their employees better than most other fast food and the food seems a little less processed. From there, we went to the Anza Hotel in Calabasas, which put us at about 20 minutes from Universal Studios and cost a lot less than the hotels next to the theme park. The décor at the hotel was really nice and we were surprised by how big the rooms were.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood

The Grinch tree.

The Grinch tree.

Since it was nearly Christmas, Universal Studios was decorated in all its Grinch-ly glory. We were on a strict schedule to get the park done in one day, so we started with the Studio Tour (complete with King Kong attack), followed by the rides in the lower studio. One of our favorite rides was Transformers: the fire effects and 3-D were really wild. To save time, we decided to eat lunch at the park which as a big mistake. I had heard that Pink’s (a hotdog stand) was a Los Angeles icon and since there was one in the park we decided to try it. We later referred to that meal as “le hotdog de la mort.”

Le hotdog de la mort

Le hotdog de la mort

The next day we took the 101 north towards Grover Beach with a lunch break in Santa Barbara. We puttered around the pier and then took the car downtown for lunch at the Persona Neapolitan Pizzeria. The concept of the pizzeria was to make your own combination, but we just ended up selecting things of the menu, which turned out to be quite good. After lunch, we visited the Santa Barbara Mission, under renovation at the time of our visit. The park outside the mission has a spectacular view of the ocean when the sun is out, leaving no doubt as to why many movie stars and tv personalities choose to make Santa Barbara their home.

Grover Beach is a little town just south of Pismo where you can visit the butterfly grove, one of the best spots to witness California’s monarch butterfly migration. Monarch butterflies migrate from as far as southern Canada to spend the winter on the California coastline, where they form masses clinging to the leaves of eucalyptus trees and are often mistaken as dead leaves themselves. From the butterfly grove, you can follow the beach all the way to Pismo, where surf shops, clam chowder and a slightly 80’s beach vibe await.

The new jellies exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The new jellies exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Finally, the last stop on our tour de Californie was the Carmel and Monterey area. During our visit, we explored the Monterey Bay coastal trail, the Monterey farmer’s market and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From our hotel in downtown Monterey, we able to visit almost everything on foot, a welcome break from driving! The Monterey Bay coastal trail winds all the way around to Pacific Grove where it passes the aquarium and the harbor seal sanctuary. Visiting Monterey by foot was not only a pleasure, but it saved us a lot of money since parking is quite expensive next to the aquarium. The aquarium features a sea otter exhibit and sometimes young white sharks, although there were no white sharks when we where there (white sharks must be released when they reach a certain size since they eat all the other fish in their tank – imagine Jaws music).

Not rocks, seals!

Not rocks, seals!

Well there you have it, from Hollywood movie magic to Monterey’s Cannery Row, a little taste of our California visit. We were really lucky to have the chance to visit this year and hope that this post helped share with you some of what California has to offer.

The next post will be back in France, detailing my exciting life as a PhD student writing her thesis. Just kidding, no one wants to hear about that.

Until next time, au revoir.

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