American Road Trip

My Road Trip in 2014 to San Francisco and other trips across the border

California Dreamin’

We crossed the border into California last Tuesday morning – unfortunately it was around this point that we hit a few bits of bad luck. It seems you can’t win with weather in California and it switched from sweltering (35+) to cold and thunderstorms. We drove down the eastern side of California, passing briefly into the sunny desert landscapes of Nevada. After passing through Reno we swung back into California to visit South Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is a huge alpine lake, in the summer it’s a popular beach destination and in the winter it’s popular for skiing! Our morning in Tahoe started off promising; we got up early to enjoy the sun and myself and Melissa rented a paddle boat while Gill and Karen lounged on the beach. The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is so clear and beautiful. We couldn’t help but hop out of the boat for a dip! We managed to fit in a fantastic brunch at IHOP as well, but after that things started to turn sour.

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The clouds and thunderstorms rolled in and we discovered that our next destination, the beautiful Yosemite National Park, was being ravaged by wildfires. We spent a good part of the afternoon trying to get a hold of our hotel to find out what was going on – it turns out we could still make it down to Yosemite Valley, but a lot of highways were closed and the extra time added to the journey in and out of the park meant that we would barely have any time there (it was also very smoky in the valley). So we decided to skip Yosemite. This was a hard hit for me since it was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to, but things can’t always go as planned and I think we made the right decision to skip it.

In lieu of Yosemite, we went to Santa Cruz! We decided to leave the rainy weather in Tahoe behind and took off for the sunny west coast. Santa Cruz is a beach town about an hour outside of San Francisco. The main attraction is the beach and boardwalk, which if you ask me, is a brilliant combination! You can lounge on the golden sand and swim in the pacific, or you can take in all of the thrill rides along the boardwalk at the back of the beach! On windy days, you’ll find the town crawling with surfers.

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Mel and Karen opted to soak in the sun on the beach, but Gill and I broke up the day with several rides on the boardwalk! Our favorites were a wooden roller coast, this drop ride called double shot that threw you up in the air and let you freefall back down, and of course, a theme park classic, the swings! The view from the air was fantastic and we had a great afternoon trying different rides, going for a dip in the ocean, and sampling different treats from the boardwalk (dippin dots was a popular one). We finished the visit with a little shopping on the boardwalk, grabbed some slushies, and then took off for our final destination, San Francisco.

Unfortunately, we had another bit of bad luck when we arrived in San Francisco – our hostel lost our reservation and we were forced to split up one night and then double bunk another. But we ended up getting one night free, which made up for our loss by skipping Yosemite (gotta look on the bright side). We’ve actually finished the trip now (I’m writing to you from back in Vancouver), but I’ve got one more post coming for you about the three days we spent in San Francisco. So stick around for one last entry! Gill’s vlog for this portion of the trip isn’t ready yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post it at the bottom of this blog!

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Driving Through Oregon

We departed Seattle in the morning for our second destination, Portland! It’s only a 2.5 hour drive so we arrived just in time to head into the city centre to check out some food carts for lunch. There’s more than 700 international food carts located all over the city, so there was lots of selection to choose from. Gill, Mel, and Karen all had gourmet grilled cheese and had the BEST falafel I’ve ever had in my whole life (seriously, I’m still dreaming about it)!

Our first impression of Portland is that it is one of the most chill cities. It’s Beerfest this weekend and since Portland has more microbreweries per capita than any other city in the world, there were a lot of people visiting. But even though the city is flooded with tourists attending Beerfest, it still felt completely relaxed. It’s so easygoing that after spending the day there, Mel decided it was her favourite city she’d ever visited!

The first attraction we hit up was Powell’s Bookstore, which ended up being everyone’s favourite part of Portland. Powell’s is the largest new and second hand bookstore in the world, and as an avid reader it was a dream! The whole building is stacked to the ceiling with books and there’s several different rooms making up the bookstore – we spent an hour and a half wondering from the orange room to the rose room to the gold room. There were so many books that we all left with a full bag!

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After Powell’s we walked to Portland’s second largest attraction (or perhaps biggest attraction for some people), Voodoo Doughnuts! This famous doughnut shop had a lineup out the door to try some of the tastiest and most original doughnut creations. Between us we sampled the ‘Portland Cream’, ‘Maple Crueller’, ‘Dirt Doughnut’ (covered with crushed Oreos), and the ‘Miami Viceberry’! They did not disappoint and were easily the best doughnuts we’ve ever had!

We had a bit of trouble figuring out what the best Portland landmarks were, so we decided to take a walking your with a local in the late afternoon. It was a great decision and we learned so many interesting things about the city! Portland is known for being chill and for being weird. The official slogan of Portland is “keep Portland weird” and the more we learned about its eccentric past the more appropriate it seemed. Only 40% of people living in Portland actually grew up in Oregon. The rare individuals that actually grow up in Oregon are referred to as Unicorns because they’re almost like a mythical species. The downside to having so many people moving into the city though is that Portland currently has the second highest unemployment rate in the country (second only to Detroit). We found this easy to believe as we saw a lot of homeless people around and it explains the high number of food carts that have popped up in the city as many people are forced to start their own business in order to sustain their livelihoods (the number of carts increased from 70 to 700 in 2009).

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However, we also learned many wonderful things about how green and sustainable of a city Portland is. They’ve had a global warming city plan since 1992, they heavily promote biking, they founded the car sharing industry, and they currently divert 66% of their waste out of landfills with recycling and composting programs (Vancouver is at 58%). We also learned that Portland is home to a large number of haunted buildings, as well as the worlds largest and smallest city parks! Overall, it was an interesting and educational tour and we loved the opportunity to learn a little more about this unique city.

We’ve now departed Portland, but as we drove east across the mountains we discovered that the rest of Oregon is just as interesting and beautiful! We hit the long driving stretch of our trip as we made our way towards California and we had an incredibly scenic drive through Oregon. We drove through dense, old growth forest, past snow peaked mountains, across golden desert plains, and over ancient volcanic lava flats. We spent a whole day driving through Oregon, but we kept the trip interesting with a stop at the ‘Lava Lands Visitor Center’ to check out an old volcano and see the rock lava flows that still descend from the volcano. We drove to the top of the volcano, or ‘lava butte’ and I found it really interesting because you could see how the lava had wiped out every living thing and that the tree line quickly picked up again at the edge of the lava flow.

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We also stopped into Crater Lake National Park and enjoyed incredible views on the lake which now fills the crater of a gigantic ancient volcano. It’s the deepest lake in the United States – we hiked up to a tower called ‘The Watchman’ to get an even better view of the stunning mountain vista. Crater Lake is one of many mountains and the backdrop of the mountains surrounding Crater Lake were just as jaw dropping as the lake itself!

We’ll spend a night in Southern Oregon before crossing the border into California and making our way to South Lake Tahoe. Here’s Gill’s next video blog:

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The Road Trip Begins. First Stop: Seattle

The road trip has officially begun! The group enjoyed one last day in Vancouver before catching the night bus to Seattle. We decided to just drive one way to San Francisco, so we took the bus to Seattle where we picked up our rental car.

The group spent the last day in Vancouver at Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s located at the base of the mountains in North Vancouver and features a huge swinging bridge across the river gorge, as well as a trail of platforms and bridges up in the trees. It was a crowded day, but a good opportunity to get a little bit outside the city and enjoy the giant trees! The evening was spent on the bus to Seattle where we played a spirited game of Harry Potter 20 Questions until something went wrong in the bathroom at the back of the bus and we spent the last 20 minutes of the trip holding our noses from the smell!

Fortunately things quickly improved the next day with a full day of exploring in Seattle. We started off at Pike Place Market, exploring the eclectic collection of shops that make up the market. Pike Place is arguably Seattle’s biggest attraction after the Space Needle – my favourite shops included this one that specialized specifically in TV and movie memorabilia (they have a whole aisle of just movie scripts) and a pet shop featuring items starring any breed of cat or dog you can imagine! Gills favourite purchase was a pair of socks with pomeranians on them and I was very tempted to buy coasters with my favourite breeds on them!

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After exhausting the market, we made our way along the waterfront towards Seattle center to see the EMP Museum and the Space Needle. We were pleasantly surprised to find the place in full swing celebrating the Seafair when we arrived! Apparently Seattle hosts the Seafair every year to celebrate the warm weather and summer season. There were tons of tents set up giving out free stuff and there was performers in the middle of the square. We made the most of it and enjoyed free brownies and granola bars while watching the most bedazzled troupe of dancers! It turns out the entire event was sponsored by Alaskan Airlines and we had a good laugh at the hats they were handing out!

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The EMP Museum proved to be everyone’s favourite part of the day and we all agreed it was the best value for money. The museum is housed in this huge multicoloured metal building and stands for the “Experience Music Project”. It had exhibits on music, sci-fi, and pop culture. Mel’s favourite exhibit was the sci-fi exhibit, but the rest of us favoured Fantasyland. It highlighted some of our favourite films and movies, including Harry Potter, the Wizard of Oz, and The Princess Bride! The museum had some great exhibits on popular artists to come out of the Northwest, as well as an exhibit on music videos.

We finished off the afternoon with a bit of shopping and went to the top of the Space Needle in the evening. It was a beautifully clear day, so we had a great view of Seattle with the scenic Mount Rainier in the background. Overall it was a very busy day, but we feel like we accomplished a lot. We finished with an enjoyable walk back to the train as the Seafair Parade serenaded us with lively music one block over!

Check out Gill’s second vlog summarizing our last day in Vancouver and our day in Seattle. Next stop: Portland!

 

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