California Road Trip

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May I suggest you make yourself a cup of tea and read this at a leisurely pace…. take regular breaks…. and eyedrops may be needed if you attempt to read it all in one go…. concise, this ain’t!

California. What an incredible, dramatic and diverse state! Home to the organic and locavore movement, this is a place which is heavily aware of the impact we’re having on the planet as the state is experiencing an extreme draught. Seriously, people are PAINTING their lawns green as they’re so parched yet all the while trying to keep up appearances…. not a fan of this myself! Restaurants will only serve water upon request and no more than 5 mins in the shower per day is strongly advised. More tech companies and start up businesses are either moving to or setting up in California which has increased the population of the state somewhat and put a larger strain on their resources. All in all, the state currently only has one year’s supply of water left.

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Apparently California relies heavily on their wet winters for their water supply which have been too dry the last few years. The snow and rain is needed to pack out the tops of the mountains and when the heat arrives in the summer, this will melt into the reservoirs and provide Cali with some much needed H2o. Everyone we spoke to said they were hoping that this winter would be a “good” one. Fingers crossed!

Ever since I was a teenager, I have dreamed of doing a road trip around California. The sunshine. The happy people. The great outdoors. Thankfully my hubby was keen on checking it out too so we spent our belated honeymoon travelling around California for 5 weeks (21st May -23rd June 2015). This sounds long, but honestly, you could do it in 2 months and still feel a little rushed!

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We hired a car and found it to be cheaper to pick it up San Fran town centre instead of at the airport ($1000 cheaper!).

I was much more cautious of GM foods out here. They can sneak into a lot of foods in America, especially if you’re dining out a lot. Canola oil is often used as a cooking oil and this is most likely to be GM. Also, unless it says GM free or is organic, most soya will be GM and most meat will have been fed on GM grain unless it is organic. Tricky and I’m sure we didn’t avoid it entirely, but I tried my best!

SAN FRAN – 3 days

I was convinced I was going to fall in love with SF. From what I had heard from friends who had visited before I thought I was going to want to move there. A very eco-conscious city that is actually rather walk-able by American standards, sadly everyone somehow forgot to mention the mind-blowing number of homeless people there are in the city. I had been told that Tenderloin is one area where homelessness is heavily concentrated but if you ask me, I would say most of the central part of town is. And it’s heart wrenching. Partially clothed and usually with obvious mental health issues, the amount of homeless people is quite astonishing. A homeless woman even helped us buy our train tickets on our trip back to the airport, and we of course gave her a the change. A friend of ours who grew up in SF and recently moved back explained how many of them had not been given the right help early on in life and often ended up on the streets. She mentioned that it is getting better and a conscious effort is being made to reduce the amount of homeless people. I do hope this is the case.

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The weather in SF is amazingly similar to the UK – grey and cloudy, but this tends to burn off around noon. We also learned that the surrounding Bay Area is almost a different climate entirely and is mostly sunny. It turns out most people live outside the city and commute in to get the most out of the weather. We sadly didn’t know this, so ended up renting an Air B’n’B apartment in Soma which is an up and coming part of the city. Our apartment block had been a car park one year ago.

We did, however, find some awesome places to eat with the most memorable being our breakfast at Plough where they use a lot of organic ingredients from local farms. My husband still raves about how good that breakfast was. The farmers’ market at the weekend was also fun and I loved seeing peaches available. Kinda novel as we just don’t get that on our stalls in the UK. And boy oh boy did they taste so good!

The PLANT – café organic was a great place for organic food and smoothies. They have several locations in and around SF and I would totally recommend them as a great breakfast, brunch or lunch spot.

Mill Valley and Strawberry Hill were really lovely areas just outside the city which we really enjoyed and driving through the woods with the rolling mist was awesome!

CARMEL BY THE SEA – 2 days

Next stop was south of SF in the cutest little town called Carmel-by-the-Sea. We stayed at the Vagabond’s House which was super quaint and even had a fireplace with a real fire in the bedroom! Heaven!

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This places is flooded with nice restaurants, many of which were using organic, seasonal ingredients. La Bicyclette is a must for breakfast and we had a seriously delicious rustic style supper at La Balena – pricey but honestly worth it!

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Carmel Belle is a cafe situated inside a covered courtyard and also uses a lot of organic ingredients and has organic coffee too! Handy if you need a little shelter if the weather turns a bit chilly… which is very likely! Just around the corner is Basil which again uses local and organic ingredients and I would say the food here is a little more up market and absolutely wonderful. We stopped here for lunch on the first day but would be ideal for the evening as well.

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A few blocks from our hotel was ECO CARMEL – a shop that sells so many wonderful eco-inspired items… from organic cloth bags and interesting books to ethical jewellery, homewares and even organic mattresses! I picked up some reusable organic cotton bags as I knew I would need more of these on our travels.

Just a few blocks walk from where we were staying was the beach where we enjoyed a few hours of soaking up the sun and playing with our bat and ball set by Frescobol Carioca. The next day we drove to the nearby farmers’ market where I enjoyed a punnet of organic strawberries (heaven!) and more peaches (so good!).

BIG SUR – 4 days

We stayed in two different locations in the Big Sur.

First up was The Post Ranch Inn. Unbelievably expensive but oh so worth every penny! We treated ourselves to just once night as it was our honeymoon but having done so we would both go back in a heartbeat and happily pay.

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The Post Ranch Inn has managed to marry superior luxury with eco-friendly and it is done to perfection. The accommodation is made from sustainable sources and blends in with the natural surroundings. They have their own solar panels, their own spring supplying water, a landscape filled with native and drought friendly plants. Their cleaning system is biodegradable. A kitchen garden supplies some of the vegetables which are cooked alongside local and organic ingredients at their on site restaurant and wild turkeys wander the forest grounds… keep an eye out!

When booking you have a choice of an ocean view where you stay on the cliff side or a forest view where you stay in a cabin-come-tree-house. We opted for the latter but you honestly can’t go wrong with either. We arrived early as we were keen to make use of our limited time there, and we were treated by the warmest, most helpful and relaxed staff we encountered our entire trip…. seriously, I may have considered adding them on Facebook….

Our tree house was impeccable. Every detail had been carefully thought out and the combination was just perfection. I’m obsessed with fires. Living in the UK and being a girl (girls are always colder than guys!) I find if I’m not close to a fire, I’m a bit grumpy. The heat of the fire with the gentle smell of the wood smoke scenting our room made it super cosy! The towels and robes were made from organic cotton by Coyuchi and in-keeping with the eco ethos of The Post Ranch Inn, we were provided with BPA-free reusable stainless steel water bottles to take home with us.

We had a balcony with two chairs to sit and watch the wildlife and rolling mists pass by and I woke up early the next morning to make sure I enjoyed my organic coffee on that balcony. It was just so special. I also had the best night’s sleep ever in this place. I often worry by saying how amazing a place is, that there’s a chance people’s hope may be built up and often they are let down, but not here… not in this magical corner of Big Sur.

During our stay, I indulged in THE BEST MASSAGE OF MY LIFE at their spa. Using organic products, I spent a blissful hour and half in a tree house over looking the forest. After a late supper in the restaurant where we not only ate amazing food but feasted our eyes on the incredible cliff drop view with the sun slowly setting in the back ground, I changed into an organic cotton robe  and made my way to one of two 24/7 hot tubs where we relaxed in the steaming hot water under the starry night sky…. this is still my go-to happy place when I close my eyes.

Before leaving for our second location in the Big Sur, we spent the morning enjoying the swimming pool at the bottom of the forest which we were lucky enough to enjoy all to ourselves. With a view of mountains in the background and gorgeous sunshine we both found it hard to leave…But thankfully, we were only heading up the road to…

GLEN OAKS

Our very own cabin in the woods! Glen Oaks offers a variety of different sized cabins, each with their own outside fire pit which I insisted we light at every given opportunity. I also enjoyed practising some harmonic whilst soaking up with warmth, wrapped in a woollen blanket. I hope the woodland critters found it enjoyable to listen to….

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A small trek through the forest (about 10 minutes walk) brought us out to the roadside cafe where we ate on the first night. The food was nice but not amazing. We later discovered Deetjens, the best place for organic breakfast, lunch and supper in Big Sur! Set in an old-worldy style house, Deetjens became our go-to place when we needed food. The Big Sur Bakery was also a little gem serving Acme coffee and some really awesome homemade baked goods and wood fired pizzas.

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This is the part of our trip where we first tried hiking and completely fell in love with it. We started by visiting the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where we experienced waterfalls, California condors, redwood trees and some of the most incredible views out to sea. If it seems like there is a decline in the bee population in the world, you might want to check up here first, as they are everywhere and it is beautiful to see!

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Luckily someone kindly informed us about poison oak; something I don’t think we have in the UK and both myself and Mark were unfamiliar with. Kinda like stinging nettles, but worse, is what we gathered from word of mouth. California condors have been successfully reintroduced to the area after facing extinction and they are a delight to see! I can’t help but wonder if they were designed with their own in built slow mo mode as watching them in real time is simply poetic.

A few notes on hiking… eco style:

We took our refillable water bottles * with us everywhere!

Sun safety – I tend not to wear spf if possible and prefer to cover up or stick to the shade as I personally feel better if I soak up some natural vitamin D, however we fell in love with this non-toxic suncream by Badger * for the insanely hot days and wore a hat.

We packed some non-hiking shoes in the car to change into after cooling our feet in the Big Sur river post hike – bliss

Camera – we took ours everywhere and we’re so glad we did.

Backpack – before leaving the UK, I ordered a daypack from Axe and Paddle. This was super useful throughout the trip and received a lot of compliments from everyone including bell boys, fellow hikers and airport security! It’s a crowd pleaser…. a handy one at that!

Snacks – we filled reusable cloth bags with nuts or fruit and sandwiches which we had bought en route.

SANTA BARBARA – 2 days

Heading south of Big Sur, the views just continue to be breath taking. It’s advised to drive slowly any way as the roads are so narrow and you really are on the edge of a steep drop but also it allows the driver to drink in some of the stunning surroundings too. We stopped off at Hearst’s Castle en route to Santa Barbara which is something we would both recommend doing, even just for a couple of hours. A fascinating hidden gem!

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In SB we stayed for a night at The Simpson Inn which felt very traditional and victorian. The only thing that bothered me was the polyester sheets on the bed…. hottest night of my life! I left a small note asking if they might reconsider this choice for bed sheets…. I hope they read it!

The town itself is very quaint, clean and safe… a bit like if Disney has built a town, I imagine it would be pretty close to SB. Sadly an oil spill meant that swimming in the sea wasn’t advised, so instead we took a stroll around the boutiques and cafés and boutiques. In the evening, we were lucky enough to secure a table at the newly opened Nuance restaurant where we both enjoyed an organic chicken. The food here was really good and the staff were super welcoming too.

L.A. pt. one – 3 days

Next stop, LA…. which we did twice. The first time we stayed in Marina del Ray in a wonderful apartment via One Fine Stay. Being a bit of a Disney geek (to put it mildly), we spent two days at the Disney parks and one on Abbot Kinney Blvd. The first evening though, we ate at True Food Kitchen in Santa Monica where we enjoyed the largest bowl of crudités ever and a bison burger… had to be done. They use a lot of organic ingredients.

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Disney – Having visited Disneyland Paris since I was about 12 of an almost annual basis, you could say I love Disney rides! What was fascinating though was how much tamer and quainter the rides in California are when compared to the newer parks. This is the only one Disney himself oversaw and is much more family friendly than the rest. Not knowing this at first, we embarked on the Space Mountain ride which in Paris involves a 360 degree loop and corkscrew whilst hurtling at speed through space. You are locked in, strapped down and held in place by gravitational pull and a lot of high tech equipment. When it came to the California version, we hopped in a buggy cart with a simple metal bar to hold on to and for a moment I hoped this wasn’t going to be the same ride…. thankfully, it was much tamer!

Whilst walking around the parks, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so many people eat turkey legs on the go… I also don’t think I’ve ever witnessed turkey legs that big before! We did our best to try and avoid the crap food but there are limits in a place like Disney. We took our own reusable water bottles and there are plenty of water fountains to fill these up at. The first evening at Disney, we made a reservation at the Carthay Circle Restaurant which is probably the best of the selection offered at Disney. It’s based in the Buena Vista Park and at least offers organic teas however the food was crap. I had under cooked fish. The second day at Disney, we ate a late lunch at the Blue Bayou which was worse. If I was going again (and the rides are totally worth it) I would be tempted to have a super large breakfast, miss lunch and leave the park and eat out in L.A. for supper. You’re not allowed to bring in food otherwise I would totally pack something.

I would love Disney to consider using more locally sourced, organic food and also take into consideration the amount of plastic they race through in a day. It could totally be done, I just don’t think they feel the need to.

Abbot Kinney Blvd – We kinda stumbled upon this place whilst searching for a lunch spot. I had used the goop app to find a lunch spot nearby and sadly the place they suggested was permanently closed! Thankfully Gjelina was just a block away and served up one of the best lunches I’ve ever had. It was a simple chunky white fish that had been baked in their wood fired oven and was simply melt in the mouth delicious. It’s a little pricey here, but you at least feel like the sourcing of ingredients is worth it. Also a wonderful place for people watching!

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On Abbot Kinney are several gems that we discovered including Kreation which is a 100% organic juice bar and lunch spot where many of their juices are served in returnable glass bottles. You get a $1 back for every bottle you return, which we did!

Alternative Apparel* is a casual, sport inspired organic clothing brand where Mark picked up a really nice organic cotton hoodie (which he is still getting complimented on overtime he wears it!). It is also really reasonably priced.

Tom’s is located here, serving organic coffee in their shoe shop with the cutest garden space at the back to sit and chill.

Strange Invisible Perfumes *– Made from a blend certified organic, wildcrafted, biodynamic, and hydro-distilled essences, all of their perfumes are completely botanical and unfiltered. Super cute store that I would totally check out again.

There are several stores that sell some eco brands mixed in with everything else so it’s definitely worth popping in and having a browse. There is even an eco mattress shop on AKB!

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That evening we drove to Malibu Pier and ate at Malibu Farm which uses a lot of local produce including veggies grown in the owner’s garden and lots of organic ingredients. We sat outside to take in the view of surfers catching the final few waves before sunset. The food was wonderful and this would be one of my go-to places when we next go back to L.A.

SAN DIEGO – 2 days

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Whale’s Vagi…..I’ll stop right there. If you haven’t seen Anchor Man then that reference will be lost on you and will leave me looking a little creepy….After 3 days is L.A we set off to San Diego….via Laguna Beach… had to be done. We both watched the TV show and wanted to check it out. It’s so nice! Surfer types playing volley ball on the beach, kombucha served on tap in organic juice bar Juice and Shakes, and we stopped for a spot of lunch at La Sirena Grill… a super casual mexican inspired food spot. They have a strong sense of being environmentally friendly, using reclaimed wood for the interiors, using compostable packaging for takeaways and using lots of organic ingredients.

In San Diego we stayed at the U.S. Grant hotel which was lovely, set in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and about a half hour walk from the San Diego Zoo which we did the very next day….it held animals, the likes of which I have never seen…. I mean this bird is like seven birds in one:

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In the evening we ate at JSIX, which was a few blocks away from the hotel and had a lovely menu and interiors. The staff were super friendly and they use a lot of organic, sustainable and hormone-free ingredients sourced locally.

Before heading out to Palm Springs, we stopped off at WholeFoods to pick up a few bits to nibble on in the car. I find that Whole Foods Market in America has way more organic bulk produce and is more geared towards people shopping without packaging (although, don’t get me wrong, there are still too many plastic produce bags for my liking!). In San Diego, Whole Foods had bulk cold pressed organic coffee and sold organic bulk produce bags… It really is the little things in life…..

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PALM SPRINGS

Next up, a trip to the inside of a hair dryer, otherwise known as Palm Springs, where the average temp during our stay, was around 45 degrees centigrade/celsius. We stayed at the Parker Palm Springs which isn’t eco conscious in any way but has a super fun 1960s vibe, with a homemade lemonade shack and staff dressed in dapper tennis attire of the era. Hummingbirds were everywhere here and I tried desperately to get a photo but they’re so skittish! Organic food isn’t big in Palm Springs yet, but Palm Greens is the only place doing it and is a great spot for organic breakfasts, lunches or evening meals. It’s super casual and “Cher in Concert” is on loop on a screen in the background, which kinda works!

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Joshua Tree Park is about a one hour drive away and we arrived before sunset to mainly avoid the heat but also watch the evening light cast some amazing shadows and silhouettes as it set. Just magical and well worth the drive.

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L.A. pt 2 – 3 days

The second time around, we stayed in the Chateau Marmont where Mark walked passed Oprah and X Factor judge Randy Jackson could be seen chilling’ daily – he loves it here apparently. The rooms at CM are quirky, old school and curiously all smoking. It has been left seemingly unchanged since being built in 1929. It’s very true of the time, right down to the bell boys’ attire. All rather charming for a couple of Brits! 5 mins walk, yes WALK, down Sunset Blvd was EVO Kitchen, where organic food was served a-plenty and the pizzas were a decent size. Ideal for lunch! We walked it off in Runyon Canyon and soaked up some of the views over the city.

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We hung out at Melrose where we found The Reformation – aka the eco label all the celebs are loving right now and Greenline Beauty, where the owner, Stacey really knows her stuff and only stocks the cleanest non-toxic make up available! I walked away with a Jane Iredale lip tint and a big smile on my face! Rodeo Drive was great for people watching and also has another Kreation juice bar around the corner. I returned some bottles, got some dollars back and felt smug.

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I also got my unruly hair cut into a normal look again as the mad professor vibe was only a few days away from taking over my barnett! I booked myself into Primrose Organic Salon Boutique where Lesley did an amazing job giving me a super cool hair cut. Even the maître d’ at the Chateau Marmont was forthcoming with compliments on my new do! The owner of Primrose also makes her own lotions and potions which you can buy and I’ll definitely be popping back the next time I’m in town.

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK – 2 days

We made a minor error in that we hadn’t realised it was over a 5 hour drive to our next destination, most of which was off grid, high up in the Sequoia National Park. Thankfully, somehow, Mark’s phone continued to track us without signal and allowed us to find our way to the Sequoia High Sierra Camp set at 8,000 ft in the forest. If you’re going, take a REAL map and plan ahead.

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To put it simply, this place is just breathtaking. An opportunity to try a spot of glamping in the wilderness, where we got our own canvas tent with a real bed and luxurious bedding. Each evening, a fine dining experience was served with the other guests at the main hall which also housed a plethora of board games and an enormous fire to toast our toes by. Hot water bottles were available to us each night and turned the bed into a super cosy cocoon. Our car probably wasn’t designed to drive up the winding forest roads and I occasionally had to jump out and move some small boulders out of our path on the way there. We had been sent a welcome email explaining we would need to park our car in the designated car park and then hike the rest of the way bringing only what we need and to not leave behind any lotions, potions, gels, pastes, food, drink etc in the car as BEARS WILL FIND THEM! Thankfully we were travelling light-ish so managed to carry our bags on the 30 minute up-hill stroll to the main house but boy oh boy was it worth the trek!

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First up, the view. Comfy chairs were set out for us to enjoy a hot cuppa and some cookies whilst drinking in the sunset before supper. Marmots popped up like puppets from behind the rocks and were so funny. We don’t have these in the U.K. so they were such a surprise. It was only after leaving the camp that we realised just how high up we were. Altitude sickness doesn’t exisit in the U.K. as the highest point is only around 4,000 ft and the sickness doesn’t kick in until you’re above 5,000 ft apparently…. So, what should have been a simple stroll to the shower block turned into us gasping for air as it was actually quite thin. Again, not knowing this, we went on a hike to nearby Mitchell’s Peak which took us to 10,300 ft. The view was breathtaking; we were looking down on to mountain peaks and birds of prey circled below. It was made even more atmospheric by the imminent thunderstorm which forced us to rush back to camp, get lost and find our way back just in time using only the pictures we’d taken on our phone! A three hour hailstone storm followed. We were sad to leave this unique place and would love to go back.

YOSEMITE

Almost like a real life Jurassic Park…. waterfalls move in slow motion and are everywhere (providing it’s not too late in the season where they may have run dry due to the drought). We stayed at the Ahwahnee in the village which is perhaps the nicest hotel going…. what the heck, it was our honeymoon! We hiked, I tripped and fell and was met by the most well prepared hikers ever… plasters, or should I say band-aids for every part of the body, wipes, tissues, special ointment…. if you’re gonna eat pavement, do it in Yosemite! We also spent a few mornings by the pool. With the delayed altitude sickness clinging on, I decided I was gonna take it easy.

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LAKE TAHOE

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton which was above the lake and a short drive away. It is a ski resort in the winter and simply beautiful in the summer. The restaurant was actually really good, using organic ingredients as well which we were both really impressed with.

We spent a day at Emerald Bay which someone told me is the second most photographed place in California (I forgot to ask what the first was and also check if this is true). If it is true, I can see why! Interestingly, a quirky, tudor style house sits just off the beach where I was a told many, many years ago a rather eccentric lady lived and insisted on building a tea room on the opposite island sitting in the lake…. she must have had British heritage to love tea that much….

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We also met up with friends and signed up to a sunset cruise with a live guitarist and snacks provided. It was a lovely way to end the day and our guide offered some interesting info about how much water was lost each day from the lake simply due to condensation and out-measured all the water used by all the cafés, restaurants, hotels, residence combined….who knew?!

NAPA VALLEY – 3 days

Our final few days were spent in a charming rustic hut, with outdoor showers, a porch and a rocking chair… simple but super luxurious all at once! The place: Carneros Inn in Napa where our mornings were spent poolside soaking up the glorious surrounds and our afternoons were spent exploring the local area. Neither of us drink really so the whole wine tasting thing was lost on us but we did taste some local olive oil in a small boutique in town. It was really good! The on site restaurant, Farm, was lovely and uses some organic and local ingredients but our favourite was Lucy Restaurant where organic and biodynamic is the order of the day every day and where we had the best meal of our trip. I would highly recommend!

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HIGHLIGHTS

The sunny weather, the vast variety of outdoor activities, be it camping, hiking, swimming, sailing it all requires some mostly decent weather of which there is a lot in California (perhaps less so in San Fran!). The abundance of local and organic food available was also great. It is a shame GM foods are almost everywhere in America but at least eating organically wherever possible meant we weren’t exposed to as much as we could have been.

But the best highlight over all was having the opportunity to spend so much time with my husband. It sounds soppy, heck it is soppy, but it’s the truth. He’s just my favourite person and spending every day together was just a dream.

I’ll do a post about flying zero waste soon. This one has been long enough! x

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3 Comments

  1. 8th October 2015 / 3:21 am

    Hi Kate, I’m impressed with how much ground you covered on your road trip! After my first California road trip I figured I didn’t need to do it again and I’m so glad I ignored that idea. Now I road trip in CA a lot and never get tired of the coastal views or run out of places to visit. These are some of my west coast road trip faves off the beaten path—I hope you get a chance to visit next time you head out on the open road. http://trysomethingfun.com/category/west-coast-road-trip/

  2. 20th October 2015 / 8:39 am

    This was such a great read, Kate! I’ve shared with a group of friends who are planning a Californian road trip next summer and they found it so useful. This really did look like the most perfect 5 weeks. Love to you both xxx

    • 22nd October 2015 / 3:50 pm

      Thank you! So pleased it came in handy! Lots of love to you too xxx

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