And finally to the border with Mexico….

La Jolla – Imperial Beach – Chula Vista – Border Field State Park

We had some discussion about where this journey ends – San Diego (Jen’s vote) or the border with Mexico (mine, for a complete North-to-South). We went to the border.

Our final ride south started from La Jolla and comprised an 80km round trip down the Coronado peninsula in San Diego Bay, through Imperial Beach to Border Field State Park, up the east side of the Bay and finishing in Downtown San Diego where we would be staying for a few days.

We had a leisurely start following the coast – Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and across Mission Bay to San Diego Port. We took the ferry to Coronado, a 15 minute commuter shuttle across the bay. It seemed fitting to be on the water again and particularly as we had started this journey with a ferry ride.

We chose the route to avoid the highway border crossing further inland, which we thought would be grissly – frenetic, fraught and depressing. Our final stop had to be on the beach, after all we’ve been Pacific Coast PedElle-ing!

San Diego is ranked in the top 10 cycling cities in the US, reflective of the many efforts to improve bicycling in the city. For example, we were able to take the 24 mile Bayshore Bikeway from Coronado around the Bay, largely avoiding roads. There is, nevertheless, room for improvement – cycle lanes unexpectedly stop/ disappear/ cut across turning traffic. Not helpful. As ever, more ‘joining up’ is needed. Less of Exit 10, below – please!

Taking the Bikeway was really pleasant. We passed other Lycra clad cyclists and realised the route probably makes an excellent training circuit – if you want it flat! We had wide views across the bay, to the city and its southern outskirts. At one stage we were opposite the city’s industrial zone and were bemused by distinctive large, white mountains on the far shore, shimmering in the sun. We discovered on our return that this was The South Bay Salt Works at Chula Vista, the second oldest business in San Diego County.

The southern end of the Bay is a designated Wildlife Refuge a 3,900 acre salt marsh and coastal uplands home to many endangered and migratory birds and increasingly important as large tracts of former wetland have been filled-in, drained and diked. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded.

On leaving the Bay at the town of Imperial Beach we passed 2 Wheels Cycling Boutique with an impressive display of bikes including the latest range of Specialized Turbo electric models. We can concede now, E-bike is a wise choice for many of the cities we have passed through. Next door was Trident Coffee – perfect, we thought. But oh so wrong. Their USP is craft cold brew, canned to go. We sampled a shot, not pleasant, a Trident Tragedy! And we thought a missed opportunity. Located at one end of the Bay and next to the Bikeway, clearly popular for walkers and cyclists, and a quality cycle shop – surely a natural place for a groovy cafe serving decent coffee.

The suburbs of Imperial Beach gave way to stables and ranches. Then Border Field State Park, another important wildlife habitat of sand dunes and salt marshes. It is flat, exposed and was virtually deserted. The official track through the Park was diverted due to floodwater with sewage contamination; unpleasant. The website describes the Park as a ‘unique experience where these two countries meet…and delightful’. Frankly, we found it soul sapping. The border at this point comprises two security fences about 30m apart. On the Mexican side high density housing is being developed right up to the fence, as far as the eye can see. On the US side nothing but the beach and the park. A sharp and abrupt contrast.

Throughout the day we had been conscious of a heavy military presence. San Diego Bay is the largest naval base in the US hosting some 60 vessels. We had to skirt around Marine Corps Recruitment Depot, Coronado Naval Base, Naval Amphibious Base (where the SEALs train), Silver Strand Training Complex, Naval Outlying Landing Field and Imperial Beach Naval Base. The military ships moored in the Bay include USS Midway (now a maritime museum) commissioned a week after the end of WW2 and the first vessel that was too large to navigate the Panama Canal. It was used in Vietnam and as part of Desert Storm and decommissioned in 1992. It is vast and imposing from the water, even against a backdrop of the tall buildings in Downtown San Diego.

As we approached the border 4 helicopters were circling ahead. Not sure what they were making of us pushing our bikes through sand (the track detour) and darting in to the undergrowth (nature calling!). We made our way to the beach. Glistening sliver sand, deep blue sea, crashing surf. We had arrived. An enormous sense of gratitude and achievement completing what we had set out to do; healthy, safe and still the best of friends.

And for those who like stats. We have ridden some 4,500 km through British Colombia, Oregon, Washington and California States; climbed 45,000m; had one puncture; had one bike service each, which involved new chains, a new brake cable and replacement cogs. We have drunk over 200 espressos, slept in countless different beds, visited and drank fine (mostly!) wine in every wine region on the west coast and have eaten an awful lot of granola, yoghurt, fruit and bran muffins!

A great experience and where to next!

It never rains in Southern California……(Except on us!)

LA to Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach to Redondo Beach to Long Beach to Seal Beach to Huntington Beach to Newport Beach to Laguna Beach to Dana Point to Capistrano Beach to Oceanside to Carlsbad to Leucadia to Encinitas to Cardiff to La Jolla

Leaving LA on our bikes was a joy. A bicycle /pedestrian only route took us virtually the entire way from our apartment on Venice Beach to Redondo Beach, located some 19km south of LA.

We passed through small beachside town after small beachside town and rode along car free beachside routes the whole way. As a result we were able to take in everything around us … lovely beachside homes, many surfers, beach volleyball, fellow cyclists , crashing waves and blue skies. A perfect morning!

The next 40km was, however not so pleasant as we turned inland and had to ride through LA’s massive docks and refineries. Very, very tough riding with a lot of HGV traffic, associated pollution, noise, heat and very uninspiring scenery.

Eventually we hit Long beach. A storm was, however building, the temperature dropped, clouds started forming and the wind started blowing sand across the beachside cycle route. We donned scarves and rode on through to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach until we got to our destination at Laguna Beach. We only just made it before the skies opened and it started thundering and lightening and pouring with rain….. We were a ‘tad incredulous! It never rains in Southern California or so the song says !

Next day we learned that such storms are in fact extremely rare. Everyone local loved it! At breakfast we met a group of ten year old girls who were very excited by the previous night’s thunder and lightning They were celebrating one of the girl’s tenth birthday and had had a sleep over. They told us that they had reached their grand old ages having never seen thunder and lightening and as they told their tale they all splashed around in the puddles!

A rainy Saturday in Laguna was then spent doing yoga and sitting in cafes. The only consolations were A. Susie the yoga teacher and her 90 minute class at YogaWorks, which we both agreed was the best of the tour so far… those stubborn hip flexors, tight from so much riding were stretched and pulled and we both felt a whole lot better afterwards! And B. A visit to the Hobbie surf shop and learning all about surfing, board development, local surf stars and the competition that has been going between the US, Hawaii and Australia over the last 40 or so years.

On Sunday the rain had at last stopped but the clouds lingered. Again bags were packed and strapped to the bikes and we began a 75km ride to Leucadia. A ride that should have been quite straightforward and easy. No hills and mostly car free. We got up early and took to the road with the many other Sunday morning cyclists.

All was going according to plan until we turned inland and hit the gates of Camp Pendleton, a major US Marine base, which fills 125,000acres of land, running 17 miles along the coast and about 15 miles inland. We had, however anticipated this major obstacle having looked on the map and seen hatched red lines notating US Military land and guessed that there would be no way through unless we had the correct documentation.

Given this we had looked online to see if we needed to do anything special to pass through. In so doing we found a letter from Major General someone or other which informed us that we should report to the entrance gate and show ID and then we would be allowed to pass through the base.

All straightforward stuff. But ah no. We discover that, yes you need to report to the gate, show your ID BUT then you need to get a pass which can only be obtained from an office adjacent to the entrance and which is only open between certain times Monday through Thursday. Being a Sunday it was not therefore possible to secure said pass and there was no other way to get through this bit of the coastline. Hmmmmm problemo!

The corporal at the gate, a boy of 19 or so smiled and confirmed that we would need to turn round and come back on Monday or go back and get a train through. We of course suggested in our best British accents that this would not be possible and that we had travelled all the way from Canada and were going to Mexico and could not possibly turn round and get the train. We explained that the US military website did not contain the information we were now being presented with and p.s. we were two British , middle aged women who clearly were of a limited security risk….and hence could he possibly make an exception and let us pass. The retort to this diatribe was ‘no mam.’

Obviously a different tack was required and as we talked on and on a number of positive things started to emerge from what seemed an intractable situation. Firstly the lovely corporal claimed that he had heard about us (we have had to stop and pass through several military installations on our journey and obviously the US military had been discussing our manoeuvres!). Secondly we were able to demonstrate that their information giving was inadequate on the website and needed updating in line with the new regime of passage that was being presented to us and finally just when we thought our anglo-American negotiations were about to hit a brick wall four other middle aged local cyclists (including one British rider who originally hailed from Lewisham) – all of whom had the necessary passes – showed up at the gate and offered to escort us through the base.

A telephone call-to someone very important somewhere on the base was made and the lovely corporal got authorization for us to pass through with our escort…. A sigh of relief from us and we rode swiftly through with our new best friends, chatting about cycling experiences and the inclement weather (which had now reinstated itself to wall to wall sunshine).

Our cycling pals deposited us at the side of the road at the base exit point. We were both a little out of breath due to the fact that they all raced and set a speedy pace through the base and as a result we both had to ride at our best to keep up. We were therefore rather relieved when we reached the exit 12km later and were able to wave them goodbye and then return to our more sedate (bag-carrying) pace for the remainder of our journey!

We rode on through Oceanside and onto Carlsbad for lunch. The latter of which was established in 1880 as a spa town and vacation resort and is home to the first American outpost of Legoland. It covers some 128 acres and is divided up into multi areas, including Miniland USA, where miniature landscapes modeled on New York City, New Orleans, New England and Sothern California have been constructed using more than 40 million lego bricks.

This stop was then followed by a short ride to our final destination for the day at Leucadia. A small and charming beachside suburb of San Diego.

Sadly the PCH road runs through the middle of the town but we discovered that there is a controversial plan to downgrade the road, slow traffic speeds by introducing roundabouts, new lighting and new crossings, introduce streetscape improvements and introduce segregated cycle lanes (more road diets!). All good stuff to us but again the car lobby appears to be up in arms! Fifteen people, including two state coastal commissioners have challenged the plans, under the misleading banner: ‘One lane , insane!’

Said one of the opponents: ‘The increase in (car) travel time has the potential to deter the public from traveling to the town and use the beaches’.

In terms of the supporters, one councilor pointed out that the plan is not about moving cars as fast as possible. ‘ It is about creating a place for people to gather, and to enjoy the beauty of our community’…..erm yes!

The project , which covers a 2.5 mile stretch of road has been in the planning stages for almost a decade. We wish the supporters of the project the very best. It is to us a no brainer that the project will benefit the town and will create a place that people will want to visit and will make it a much more successful and more attractive place!…albeit cars might have to move a bit slower.

In terms of our visit we stay in a small surf motel for two days and learn that this is a place that indeed revolves around the beach. Pretty much everyone surfs, a sport we don’t quite get having never tried (about to change courtesy of Surf Divas of San Diego….read on!). We started to practice by learning some surfing lingo – share the stoke, dude!

A waiter and local surfer and Harry Kean double explains the significance of catching/ reading the wave and how privileged he feels when he rides a wave. As he put it he is effectively the last human being able to experience and feel the energy of a wave which started life many thousands of miles away. He told us how hard it is to learn to surf well but once you get it, it will hook you forever. At this point in the proceedings I would suggest that if either one of us gets to standing that it will be a miracle!

In terms of highlights in our 48 hours in the town we visited the beaches and watched people surf the waves, we ate delicious fish tacos in a basic beachside restaurant called Fish!, we also ate an amazing fish stew in Harry Kean’s restaurant, we sat reading in the lovely cafe Pannikin, which occupies the former railway station, we did a wine tasting of local wines and we visited the meditation gardens created by a religious group called the Self Realization Fellowship in the early twentieth century. The latter of which was on the coastline and comprised beautifully manicured gardens, ponds full of Coy and waterfalls. It is place for silence and meditation and was a lovely space to dwell in for a while.

Having laundered, planned the last two rides of the journey to the Mexican border we hit PCH once again to take a short trip to La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya ). The ride was short and very pleasurable. The road followed the cost, rising and falling and a generous bike lane allowed us to ride in safety and comfort all the way. Indeed at one point we found ourselves going up hill to Torrey Pines and a two lane dual carriage way bike lane was provided… this is more like it!

We arrive at our home for the next two nights, which comprised a group of small wooden cottages built in 1911. The original owner used to own 20 of these cottage groupings, which provided holiday retreats for people visiting from San Diego. It originally took a four hour journey from San Diego to get to the seaside resort of La Jola and was a popular holiday destination. All of the original cottage groups have sadly all been cleared and replaced with mid rise condos. Our little enclave, however remains squished between two such condos and provided a quirky enclave in the street.

Whilst many artists, writers and holiday makers have found their way to this lovely place we were apparently their first long distance cyclists to arrive on their bikes!

The next couple of days was spent deliberation and then booking surfing lessons with Surf Divas, doing an impossible and way too advanced yoga class, searching out the culinary delights of La Jolla and preparing for our final ride to the Mexican border!

Los Angeles (part one)

Ventura to Malibu to Venice Beach to Beverley Hills to Venice Beach

……Leading on from Claire and our night in a caravan park……We wake up early – super early ! in our retro Wayfarer caravan in Ventura as a result of a combination of sunshine streaming through a glass roof light, the sound of a hooting train passing on the track running adjacent to one side of the park and the roar of engines from construction vehicles which are building a new housing complex on the other side of the park. 

Given this we decide that getting back to sleep is not going to be an option so we get up, load up the bikes and go in search of breakfast . Based on a local recommendation we find a bakery, which is located opposite the Majestic Ventura Theatre. We sit sipping coffee and then notice the billboards for the venue are advertising a series of forthcoming concerts, one of which is to take place on 31st October at which Morrissey will be the headline act ….could this be the man himself  ? … we googled and yes it is true Morrissey is doing a short, solo 14 night US and South American tour playing, opening in Ventura …. gosh how good would that be to see the big M again or then on second thoughts maybe it is best to leave these things and keep ones image of the Smiths and Morrissey as a charming manperforming at a university concert some 30 years ago rather than watch a middle aged angry man and I suspect a largely middle aged audience try to recapture their yoof!?

After a drift down memory lane and a discussion of all matters Smiths and Morrissey over breakfast it was time to return to the task in hand for the day… our ride to Malibu. Our trusty digital mapping system, Komoot had decided that the best route for us to follow would be inland, away from the coast road and over the hills behind Malibu. The profile showed some hefty climbs, which we did not much fancy so we tried to adjust the given route manually to follow the coast road. Komoot, however had other ideas and would not allow any such human interference and given past experiences when we have forced it to adjust we have learned to our cost the reason why it stubbornly resists adjustment i.e road collapse and no way through or gravel roads not suitable for road bikes. In this particular case we assumed shere volume of traffic, lack of a hard shoulder and extreme danger and hence we decided to follow the suggested inland route.

The first part of the trip was flat and took us through Oxtenad, a rapidly expanding new city. Nothing remotely interesting to note apart from the fact it reminded us of cycling through somewhere like Swindon or Slough but with more car showrooms. The built up area eventually gave way to fields and fields of agriculture that seemed to go on for miles (a theme already described by the small blond one) and because of the layout of said fields we found ourselves criss crossing the landscape following field boundaries. Eventually the landscape changed and we started to climb rapidly. The landscape became more rugged comprising rock outcrops and succulent desert plants and cacti. The heat was intense and the climbing was surprisingly tough. Partly I think because we are starting to fatigue from so much cycling (yes, it’s possible!) and this together with the heat slowed us to a snail‘s pace. We crossed over the top of the elevation and as we rode deeper inland the landscape started to become punctuated by large and spectacular houses and ranches. Huge and elaborate gates on the highway announced the presence of each ranch  and long tree lined driveways beyond led the visitor to the homes of what we could only imagine to be Hollywood superstars or other oligarchs.

As we cycled along we both (so we discussed later) fantasised about being rescued on the road by some superstar and driven in their air conditioned swish motor to some palatial ranch in the hills where we would be looked after and resuscitated with the spoils of Hollywood stardom. This daydreaming helped distract us from the pain of pushing bike, luggage and body up hill and through desert.

The arrival of the LA suburb of Westlake, provided a welcome lunch spot and respite. A strange manufactured and I think probably a highly unsustainable place comprising clusters of condos built around lakes and set within a manicured and over watered landscape. Having said this a lovely spot to sit under a tree and eat nice things !

After lunch , more ups and downs and many more swanky houses perched on hilltops well out of reach of any unwanted visitor. After much huffing and puffing we drop down dramatically (and scarily) to the coast and rejoin the Pacific Coast Highway, which took us along the beach into the heart of Malibu.

We found ourselves a small but overpriced room in what seemed like the heart of the Malibu strip. We showered and then decided to take ourselves to Nobu. We fancied a bit of light Sushi and Nobu was a familiar spo’ and more importantly was within staggering distance. The restaurant overlooked the beach and is situated in a cool contemporary flat roofed building made of wood, glass and steel. It sits next to the recently opened Soho House Malibu. Both places were buzzing. Flash car , after flash car arriving , disgorging their beautiful international occupants before being parked by young surf dude looking valets. All very urban, twinkly lights,  music pumping , much chitter chatter, beautiful waiting staff clad in black and beautiful interiors.

After being ushered to our table we both agreed that we were perhaps not really comfortable with or ready for this slick international dining experience. We ate , paid the huge bill, made a quick exit and breathed a sigh of relief when we stepped into the darkness and could hear only the noise of waves and the crickets in the hillside behind.

Next morning we prepared for a very short ride to Venice Beach. We breakfasted on Malibu Pier at the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe. A lovely spot at the end of the pier, owned and operated by a Swedish model, turned restaurateur serving all things local and organic (obvs! ). We sat outside a simple wooden blue and white painted cafe building situated at the end of the pier watching the early morning surfers, drinking coffee and eating the obligatory muesli, fruit and yoghurt. As we sat taking in the moment we began chatting to an American guy from Florida and an Australian girl from Melbourne who are in the process of making a very long distance relationship work and who had both just stepped of their respective planes earlier in the day and were about to enjoy a two week road trip to San Francisco together. Over the next hour or so we swapped our stories, wished them well and began the cycling day.

We got back onto the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and set off to LA. I have to say Malibu and the road is a tad disappointing as it is not possible to view the sea due to the many houses that run along the road. They get great views but for those on the road it is just miles of garages and housing backs and staff going about their tasks. Exceedingly disappointing ! The route , however eventually hits the beach and a lovely bike and pedestrian track allows you to ride literally on the beach and to stop off at various beach cafes.

At Santa Monica the route turned away from the beach and took us to higher ground and onto Main Street. We followed the route to our home for the next three days near to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in the Venice Beach neighbourhood.

This time our home is a lovely apartment in a residential street. We unload and shower and begin our stay in LA.

LA stay, part one….

Both of us were a little bit apprehensive and I have to say a bit non plussed about LA. I for one could not really get my head round the city or how it worked. I thought it would be all freeways, traffic jams, pollution and faceless low density suburbs.

The powers that be in the city are,  however putting serious, serious effort into transforming this car orientated city and shifting the balance away from the car to other public transport modes, bicycle and walking.

Los Angeles Department of City Planning are in the process of implementing their Mobility Plan 2035, which was adopted in 2015, after lengthy and contentious debate. The Plan is an holistic plan, which seeks to balance uses of the streets and use of the city from many different aspects. Plans include the designation of hundreds of miles of bicycle and bus lanes, and incorporates changes to many of the City’s main arteries such as Sunset, Hollywood and Wiltshire Boulevards. Plans see lanes used by vehicles become cycle lanes, pedestrian walkways , bus lanes and parks. A process known as ‘road-dieting’, great thought. Sadly though the plan is meeting much political resistance and opposition as people think their journey might be slowed or it might lead to more congestion.

The Transport Plan sits alongside policies with an emphasis on densifying development and introducing mixed use zoning policies.

A very exciting and positive Plan, which is starting to take shape. But still, we read that 84% of trips under three miles are taken by car in LA and whilst we cycled around the City we were very much in the minority.

Helpfully in terms of orientation, we met a guy on our first day in Venice Beach who was a New Yorker and who had lived in London for a long time. He told us to view the city as a series of islands and to break the city down and visit each island in turn then ‘sail’ off to the next island via the many highways that criss cross the city.

With this in mind we decided that we would do the city in two visits . Visit one : Venice Beach and Santa Monica and then Beverley Hills, Hollywood and West Hollywood and Visit two which will happen just before we fly home: Los Feliz and Downtown.

So in terms of Visit one Venice Beach, the canals, Abbot Kinney Blvd and Santa Monica was done on foot and Hollywood and Beverley Hills on bicycle. The latter of which involved a 50km round trip cycle ride from Venice Beach. We thought the two areas looked pretty close on the map but as we learned they take quite a lot of riding to take everything in! However we did manage to experience first hand the work of the transport plan on Sunset Boulevard, which was a very positive experience involving wide safe new bike lanes and a new linear park, which was being beautifully landscaped.

So from visit one we can safely say our view of the City has completely changed and in terms of what we did/loved on our first visit:

1. The architecture no two buildings are the same and it is clear that architects and their clients are not afraid to experiment , explore their creativity and express themselves. We took in some early Frank Gehry in Venice beach , which was a treat and strolled around looking at the many lovely homes that comprise the neighbourhoods.

2. Abbot Kinney boulevard, which I think takes its place as one of my favourite streets ever (on a par with Bermondsey Street even! ).  Unique buildings, great street art, an eclectic mix of shops and small businesses and great restaurants, cafes and bars to sit and let the day drift by. Like many good streets there was not one major chain store and every business had taken great care in terms of how they presented themselves on the street.

3. An absolute delight were the Venice canals. Who’d have thought canals in LA. The Venice Canal Historic District was developed by the man himself, Abbot Kinney in 1905. We learn that he was a tobacco millionaire who wanted to bring a taste of Venice in America. A lovely vision but in 1924 the city decided it needed more roads and most of the canals were filled in to create streets. After lots of court hearings from residents about whether it was legal to fill them in, the Supreme Court ruled it was in 1928. By the end of the year, almost all of them were gone, save the ones that remain today.

It was said that the remaining canals were saved by the Depression and the contractor’s bankruptcy. Hurrah for that as the area is simply delightful. We strolled up and down for several hours through this serene place, walking the canal side routes and crossing bridges. An eclectic mix of houses line the canals, which are probably some of the most appealing (in our view) real estate in the city. The planting in the gardens is also lovely. A great haven in the city!

4. Then, as always there was the food. This is a place where there is absolutely no excuse not to be super healthy and to understand what it means to be super healthy! Being vegan or at least vegetarian is pretty much essential. Health brews, bowls and mixes of every kind prevail. 

Some notable and eyebrow raising examples for the cynical Londoner. 

For breakfast we were asked if we would like a shot of chlorophyll in our water (to help us turn green possibly ?….who knows!)…. Then at lunch we went to a restaurant called Cafe Gratitude, a group of plant based restaurants that operate in a number of Californian cities. All meals, which consisted of carefully constructed (curated even!) salads or bowls of organic and raw things, grains, seeds etc were assigned titles including ‘humble,’ ‘connected’ ,’pure’, ‘dazzling’ , ‘whole’, ‘evolved’…. you get the picture. We were encouraged to say when we ordered… ‘I am ‘humble’ etc … I was in fact ‘humble’ and the small blond one was ‘gracious’…. despite this the food was rather lovely!

We were then asked by our waitress to think about the question of the day, which on the day of our visit was: ‘what is most important to you?’…. we obviously discussed and after these three months on the road and thinking about our families and friends we came to the joint conclusion that our health and wellbeing and that of our friends and family would be our answer.

In addition everywhere served super healthy smoothies, juices and immune shots which sought to cure hangovers (not so healthy! ), liver health, brain health, joint health etc etc.

Other notable good moments included reuniting with Salt and Straw. Weird flavours first encountered in Portland and produced by a small and perfectly formed business. My favourite ice creamier of the tour, which is saying something in the context of the amounts consumed, and the discovery of Açaí bowls. Now this has featured large. A typical Brazilian dish made of frozen and mashed açaí palm fruit. It is served as a smoothie in a bowl or a glass, and topped with coconut, granola and banana. We will definitely be bringing this back!

Other super dooper restaurants included Butcher’s Daughter. Lovely interiors, more great healthy food and a lovely place to dwell!

5. ….and so to Beverley Hills and Hollywood. In summary and in response to the question so what was this are like I think both of us would shrug our shoulders and say hmm ok. Expensive shops, familiar designers, expensive cars and big houses. Just what we expected. It was fun to cycle around and observe the scene. From our limited observations it seems that the local population nearly all drive to their shop, restaurant, hairdresser destination in an expensive car with blacked out windows (star or wane-bee), pull up outside and walk into chosen shop etc. A valet then parks said expensive car until the owner needs it. 

We tentatively cycled around the area dodging heavy traffic. Very annoying for cyclists as you cannot see the driver behind dark glass and hence can’t make eye contact as they come out of junctions, or wave!

One street we liked was Melrose Place. Very like Beauchamp Place in London, a smaller tree lined street off the main highways and hence quieter and less traffic and a place you can sit in a cafe and dwell.

We then spent the afternoon looking around the ‘bird streets’ of Beverley Hills and cycling down all the streets one has heard about in the movies: Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive.

In summary, however a place to visit once but not somewhere we need to go back to.

So that was LA part one … we shall return for part two at the end of the tour. Now time to head south to San Diego and our final destination at the Mexico border!

The road to LA

San Francisco – Half Moon Bay – Pescadaro – Santa Cruz Monterey Carmel – Big Sur – Lucia – Cambia – San Luis Obsipo – Santa Maria – Solvang – Santa Barbara – Carpinteria – Ventura

A long leg (about 750km) taking us south, part-inland where the coast is inaccessible or to avoid busy stretches of highway. As ever, oodles of variety, changing landscapes, drama and quirkiness. It became evident after a few days there would be a definite theme to the inland sections – Fruit & Veg. Vast plains of intensive agriculture looking innocuous on the map – flat profile, dead straight roads, sharp right angle turns – but for hours on end becoming relentless, even tedious. Don’t take this as an indulgent complaint – it’s a fact! And of course there were benefits, some of this produce ended up on our plates. Hurrah for Farm-to-Fork.

To Half Moon Bay. The faithful Komoot took us out of San Fran along an almost level bike lane. Result! Once out of the city conurbation there was a bit of climbing. A coffee stop just when we needed it and chatted with a lady who’d recently cycled coast-to-coast across America, it changed her life. Good on her – she was probably 10+ years ahead of us. Got us thinking about future pedElle-ing.

The route shifted inland and we hit agricultural – field upon field of cabbages, sprouts, strawberries; cabbages, sprouts, strawberries; cabbages, sprouts, strawberries….

And then we crossed in to pumpkin land – acres and acres – in fields, on the side of the road, adorning buildings. When we got to Half Moon Bay the town was awash with them – all shapes, sizes, colours – vegetable, glass, ceramic, velvet, paper…..Then we read, Half Moon Bay is the self-acclaimed pumpkin capital of the world. QED.

To Santa Cruz. We rode much of the day in thick mist. Quite haunting, particularly as we were on some remote roads going through eucalyptus woods, strongly scented in the damp air. But we missed some cool CA surf spots – shrouded in mist. We passed Mavericks at Pillar Point. The Mavs (for those in the know) is on the World surfing circuit and has a Big Wave contest in February when swells generate surf with a 50ft wave face. It would have been incredible to see some of this. Obviously the wrong month for us and in fact it didn’t happen at all this year, locals cite evidence of La Niña pattern.

Our taste of cool was possibly more prosaic but well suited to us. Seeing the best cycling sign thus far (photo below) and Downtown Local cafe in Pescadero – a vintage haven of classic books, vinyl on the turntable, motorcycle gear and B&W films playing on a projector in the back.

Other things that made us smile along the way – a bit of gentle cat-and-mouse with a sky blue vintage convertible driven by a senior ‘cowboy’ in his suede jacket, jeans, Stetson and aviators. Living his dream!….No idea what make but truly beautiful, alas no picture.

To Monterey. An early start, but not until we had breakfasted at a neighboured Brazilian cafe, delicious. And then another day of cabbages, sprouts and for a change, artichokes. We had a glorious ride into Monterey, skirting sand dunes and skittish sand squirrels. The late afternoon sun was catching the oranges, pinks, rusts of succulents growing along the path and the sea was deep blue.

We spent the weekend in Monterey which gave us time to explore, relax, get our hair cut and have the ubiquitous laundromat visit.

We visited the newly opened Cooper-Molera Adobe with buildings dating from 1827 that have survived earthquakes and periods of neglect, been restored and present the layered history of families who lived in and built Monterey from its early years as the political and commercial capital of Mexico’s largest province, to a centre for agricultural/ fishing innovation in CA State. Cooper-Molera was responsible for bringing artichoke farming to the Salinas, by the late 1920s some 12,000 acres were being farmed, and as we‘d seen the day before still a massive crop.

Fishing has greatly influenced development of the town from the Native Americans, early settlers and through the boom/ bust of whaling and sardine industries. At the turn of the 20th Century Monterey became the centre for canning. The demand for sardines during both world wars lead to periods of growth.Fish was landed and prepared in the shore-side wharves, shuttled across high level bridge links to the canning buildings behind, and back to shore for export. Today, the focus seems to be tourism, Monterey Aquarium and Steinbeck (born in Salinas).

We stumbled across the Porsche Club of America having its annual convention in town. Some beautiful classics (cars, not the drivers) although they looked rather diminutive parked alongside your average American SUV.

On Sunday morning we took the coast road and ‘17 mile drive’ over the headland to Carmel-on-Sea. We left early, and the morning light on the sea was wonderful. The colours were vivid. We were particularly fortunate as part of the route was closed to traffic for the Monterey fun-run, so with some fellow cyclists we had the road to ourselves. The road follows the shoreline, wiggling around coves. It is interspersed with golf courses making some tricky looking but spectacular beachside holes (losing a ball surely doesn’t matter when there’s an outstanding view?). The approach to Carmel took us through pine forests, along private road roads with exclusive housing tucked away and Pebble Beach. Clint Eastwood owns the beach and was Mayor of Carmel in 1986 – get the gist! The town was full of restaurants, Bicyclette had our name all over it but we were too early for lunch; faux pas, poor planning!

Big Sur.This was going to be a highlight. All along our journey people have been telling us what a tremendous route it is, and how lucky we are as the road only fully re-opened mid July, following landslides that washed away great chunks of the highway. Local residents told us it rained solidly for 4 days and more than 1 million tons of roach and dirt fell into the sea burying a quarter mile section of the road and cutting off communities. This followed months of prolonged bad weather and earlier rockslides since January 2017. We saw the rebuilding works where sections of new highway and bridges are still under construction. Impressive, and an engineering challenge coping with the full force of the elements.

We had worked out it was best to ride BS early in the week and to take our time. We spent 2 and a bit days. Our other concern was the weather, which we read can be unpredictable, and a lurking rain cloud hovered over us on the first part of our journey. It arrived on our second day. We had no choice but to ride in the rain – it meant we wore our overshoes (no longer unnecessary luggage). It also meant no-one else was on the road, which was a luxury. In fact the ran wasn’t too bad whilst we were on BS. Later on in the day, however it became hideous – more on this later.

It is hard to put in to words the beauty of this part of the coastline. It is not just about the shoreside, the inland views are just as stunning. The light and reflections are constantly changing; colours are intense – across the spectrum and from a subtle wash to deeply saturated; there is continuous movement – the breeze, surging waves, the kelp, sea life, birds, wafting grasses. in addition the constant changes in elevation mean that one minute you are riding at sea level , the next the land rises and you look down from the road to the sea far below you with accompanying dramatic, plunging bluffs. Nature doing its thing; the results of volcanic activity from below and erosion from above. It was just as beautiful in the rain – different hues and scents, heightened and atmospheric.

Yet again we realise how fortunate we are to be cycling and ‘in’ the landscape, not seeing it truncated as a series of snapshots through a car window. Needless to say we were passed by many open-top cars, probably the next best way to travel!

We found some gems along the way. Lucia, where we stayed in one of a row of wooden cottages that clung to a rocky outcrop. Deetjens Inn at Castro Canyon Creek, a former stopover for travelers along the coastal wagon road before Highway 1 was completed in 1937. In the 1930s the Deetjens constructed a redwood barn using reclaimed materials from Cannery Row in Monterey. Adventurous travelers and artists came for weeks to hike, write, dine and play – the birth of Deetjens Inn. Now a collection of rustic buildings hidden away in lush landscaping, bursting with antiques and character. We stopped here for breakfast and felt we’d walked into a Scott Fitzgerald meets Du Maurier novel. Surrounded by cherubs, quirky pottery, low ceilings, hunting mementos and old photos we ate a huge breakfast serenaded by classical music…..lovely!

To Cambria. This was the rainy day on BS, from Lucia. As time moved on the rain and wind got heavier and heavier. No option but heads down, pedal hard and don’t stop until you arrive! (Editor’s note: Past Hearst Castle – apparently a must see, but not for the very wet and miserable on this day, ditto Harmony with a population of 18 – too bad if you fall pout width your neighbors. Done, we arrived in the midst of Cambria’s annual scarecrow festival. Extraordinary but clearly taken very seriously, full size creations – performing, surfing, chilling, lolling, even cycling – check out the pictures. It helps the town get together and brings in the tourists.

We later learnt our host that evening won best scarecrow in show award in 2017 – for a giant dinosaur! They also won the award for super hosts, in our book. A wonderful B&B – decorated for Fall, with pumpkins, of course. Catering for every wish (offering the laundry when they saw our soggy clothes) and certainly going the extra mile for comfort and hospitality, including an early evening soirée with local wine and delicious appetizers. The following morning breakfast had a Mexican twist and was scrumptious and perfect for a hard day’s ride.

To Santa Maria. What to say – well, slightly intrepid as talking through the next 2 days’ route with our host’s neighbour the night before (also a cyclist) there had been a sharp intake of breathe and ‘that will be a workout’. Joy! Fortunately the rain had passed, early mist cleared and it became a long hot day. We followed the coast, coffee in Morro Bay (more pumpkins as smiley / sad biscuits in the bakery, wondered if the sad ones might end up on the shelf) a detour to San Luis Obispo,recommended for lunch and to get the tyres pumped. On the way into town we passed the Madonna Inn – a noteworthy pop culture landmark and super kitsch with themed rooms, think safari/ caveman/ love nest! Then a long long haul through the veg fields. The afternoon was arduous.

Eventually we came back to the coast. Late afternoon ( and ready to stop) we passed the beautiful Seal Bay and Pismo Bay but with miles still to cycle. We turned inland through yet more veg fields and got to the very busy outskirts of Santa Maria and our home for the night, a dull motel in a retail park on the highway. The grumps set-in big time – why had we opted to stay here and not one of the groovy looking shacks on the coast? (Editor’s note: trip to the supermarket (highlight!) and the gathering of lovely things to make a picnic and a half bottle of fine red wine (gosh how we live!) and things slightly improved!)

To Santa Barbara. The hilly leg of the ‘workout’. Another misty start, more miles of farmland, glasshouses, fruit and veg. Then we turned in to the Foxen Canyon Valley, a wine region. The road was extremely quiet with a gradual incline, the sun was shining, vines were starting to turn and we remembered why we had chosen to stop at Santa Maria. But this was to be the calm before some tough riding later in the day.

En route (actually a voluntary detour) we stopped in Solvang passing more farms, apple and pear orchards this time. Solvang was established by Danish settlers as a cooperative agricultural in 1911. We expected some Scandi-sophistication but were greeted by more of a Disney-esque toy town. (Editor’s note: Claire had drawn a picture of Scandi hues of blues and greens, stripped back wood shacks etc- not this place!) Thankfully we found a haven and had a lazy lunch under the shade of their verandah. Just as well as the afternoon passing through the Santa Ynez Valley was long, hot, hilly and intense with narrow sections of road and some nutty drivers in Friday-get-home-as quick-as-I-can mode. We deliberated at lunch about the route after our waiter said he wouldn’t ride his motorbike on on our chosen route but we placed our faith in Komoot and were super ‘gnarly’ (SoCal lingo – gone beyond radical/ extreme/ perfection/ skill or all combined)! (Editor’s note: Nails in English).

We arrived in Santa Barbara drained and exhausted. We checked in to The Upham Hotel, a period classic that was just perfect for two extremely weary ladies.

We spent the weekend in Santa Barbara. Its historic centre retains the Spanish character brought by early settlers. Replicated when much of the town was rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1925, and reinforced by the planners and heritage lobbies of today. It was quite unlike any other town we have visited – red tiled roofs, white stucco, winding passages and intimate courtyards.

Scratching beneath the surface there is clearly tension between those wanting to retain ‘Old Spain in America’ and those who recognise that towns need to evolve (it’s healthy), adapt to changing times/ circumstances and that old and new can co-exist successfully. Strolling through town on Saturday morning we were surprised how quiet it seemed and the number of empty properties, notwithstanding clear affluence and many interesting independents. We discovered the SB Architects Association had organised an ‘open house’ self guided tour of local buildings. How perfect for two planners. But tickets were $80 each – we balked. In London these events are free.

(Skip the next bit if you don’t want planning chat!)

We were further bemused when we discovered the AA event was also promoting results of a public consultation exercise held a few months ago to investigate/ brainstorm ideas to revitalise State Street, the main high street. Why charge 80 bucks – it seems one easy way to alienate and disenfranchise people.

In brief, State Street is a long road, the spine of the old town, which ends at the beach but here becomes a dual carriageway as it goes under the freeway and over the railway. Instantly an unwelcome environment for anyone wanting to walk or cycle from the town centre to the beach although a hop on/ off shuttle bus goes up and down the street and along the beachfront, which is positive. The newly established Funk Zone is a draw at this end of town, former warehouses and industrial buildings being converted into studios, workshops, cafes, restaurants. Another example where some imagination and entrepreneurial spirit is injecting new life.

In response to local concerns about rising vacancies in the town centre and increasing homelessness, the AA held a charette and invited local architects and interested parties to come up with ideas at three levels – for State Street as the main drag, at street block scale and at individual plot scale. Reading some of the press commentary at the time, there appear to be the often cited criticism of landlords/ developers/ politicians/ planners – and claims of too much intervention, rigour, fastidiousness, inconsistency, greed, delay. The draw of Funk Zone gets criticism – surely its energy should be harnessed and seen as an asset. It is a rather depressing catalogue of complaints and blame. Whilst researching I came across one shocking quote that the homeless should be ‘moved on’ implying out-of-site, out-of-mind.

Suggestions coming out of the charette seemed (to us) pretty obvious – more and higher density housing in the centre (all tenures), mixed use on upper floors, densify sensitively, encourage contextual contemporary design, improve linkages, walking and cycling, reduce car parking etc etc. But will anything be done? It needs a joined up town centre strategy cutting through the silos of beurocracy – call in the Ross!

Other snippets from SB – movies were being made in the town long before LA’s claim to fame; silent films and Charlie Chaplin was a regular visitor. We had a wonderful yoga class at DiviniTree. There are some beautiful gardens. And, of course we ate well! (Editor’s note. The highlight being Smithy’s, which served us pretty ie attractive small plates of Southern Californian food).

To Ventura. This was a gentle Sunday ride along the coast through ‘seaside’ villages in the sunshine. In Carpinteria we cycled passed the California Avocado Festival aka Avofest (yes, more veg). Avos in every conceivable guise, live music, folk, dogs and fiesta time. We got to Ventura mid afternoon and our trailer at Waypoint, a renovated 1950s Airstream from Arizona with our own patch of carpet grass, deck and fairy lights. Having spent weeks sharing the road with trailers we felt it was time to get on board. Inside it was super snug and reminded me of childhood days in The Van, our family dormobile, Zzzzz.

Five days in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city I have always wanted to visit. This ambition I guess arose out of Armistead Maupin’s books Tales of the City, More tales of the city and many more (all of which I read); the music of Steely Dan and ‘60s flower power (yes there is a little bit of hippy in there somewhere!).
All through university I spent my summers in the States teaching tennis in the Pocono mountains just north of Philadelphia. These visits allowed me to travel extensively around the States. The furthest west I ever managed to get, however was New Orleans in 1986 with Newcastle university pal Charlotte Corke. We travelled as far as we could on Greyhound buses but eventually got stopped in our tracks by a hurricane and sadly had to return home.
I took myself back to the USA post university to NYC and Boston working as a bike courier (I bought myself one of the first Marin bikes with a short, straight cross bar to allow for fast riding through US city streets and avenues) and a cocktail waitress …. Whilst in Boston the courier company offered me the opportunity to transfer to their San Francisco office. The job was scheduled to start in the November. However I decided not to follow up on the offer as one of the other Boston couriers told me it rained constantly in November / December and that the City was very hilly… I instead stayed in Boston until the December snow and ice prevented me from riding my bike and doing my job. I returned home with a big bag of money, paid off all my student debts (things were a lot different way back then … the debts were a bit more manageable) and got my first full time job as a town planner in private consultancy in London. The year was 1988 and since then I have had in the back of my mind a wish to visit San Francisco. One great aim was to ride a bike down route 1 into San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the City.
This ambition was also one shared by the small blond Treanor one and so fast forward 30 years and our joint ambition has finally been realised and I have to say the journey to and across the bridge and our subsequent stay in the city did not disappoint. Indeed it massively exceeded all our expectations.
Our journey to the bridge saw us approaching the city from the north and as Claire has already mentioned we spent a few days looking down on and imagining SF from Marin City and the Marin headlands. We did some great rides, recommended by local cycle clubs where we viewed the city’s profile from high. This of course increased the anticipation in terms of what SF was going to be like .
The day eventually arrived where we were to ride into the city . We decided to go via Sausalito in order to see the many houseboats that sit in the bay. After lunch in a groovy Mexican shack we got on our bikes to ride across the bridge. The approach road from Sausalito hugs the coast and we had to contend with the most tremendous headwind, which almost blew us of our bikes. Heads down we turned a corner and there it was our first glimpsed view of Golden Gate Bridge … orange, as Claire said not red and shrouded partly in mist. We turned another corner and it disappeared and the wind battered us . We climbed a short hill, turned another corner and there looming above us was the bridge. I of course shed a small tear. After all these years there it was! With the wind blowing very hard we stood with all the other tourists and took the obligatory photos. The sea below looked wild and a group of very brave windsurfers rode the waves in the bay below .
After viewing and photos we walked our bikes to the cycle / pedestrian track that crosses the bridge. Multiple lanes of traffic hurtled past to our right as we began riding and the wind blew hard. We rode slowly alongside the many other tourists walking and riding. It was a pretty intense ride and to be frank not quite as enjoyable as I had envisaged . By the time we got to the other side, however the mist started to clear and the sun came out and we were presented with the classic picture views of the bridge … amazing!
After a few photos we then made our way to our hotel on Bush Street near to Union Square in the Nob Hill neighbourhood. It was during this journey that we learnt that San Francisco is indeed seriously hilly and we had to drag our bikes, luggage and selves up almost vertical slopes. A thought drifted through my head …. how do the less mobile get around this town?
Our home for the next five days: Le Petite Auberge. A small but perfectly formed hotel that styled itself as a small Parisienne town house. Possibly not that SF but it proved to be a perfect respite from the hub-bub of the city. A small lounge, a real log fire and complimentary drinks welcomed us at the end of each day and the staff were super friendly.
So what of our five days in the city? We think probably the best way to describe our experience in terms of what we learnt, what we liked and what we did not like is to summarise under headings. So again and in no particular order:
The neighbourhoods. The city’s core is relatively small and is defined by a number of distinct neighbourhoods, which give the City character. It is also a city that is easy to navigate and orientate due to a simple historic street grid that can be traced back to the city’s early growth. Having said this it proved helpful to understand the city’s topography and to understand how to avoid impossible gradients . … this is absolutely not a city for those who like walking in high heels (or cleats – Jen landed on her butt spectacularly on our arrival). Luckily we’d left the Blaniks at home!
So first of we got ourselves registered with the Ford Bike hire system and then set about discovering the city on foot and by bike. It is evident the extent to which earthquakes have influenced how the city has evolved.
Fave neighbourhoods : Dogpatch and Mid-Market (rejuvinating and growing. Old industrial buildings and warehouses are being regenerated and occupied by small businesses and artists. New interesting housing developments); Mission (San Francisco’s oldest neighbourhood, which supports lots of great restaurants and bars) SOMA (lots to see and do) and Pacific Heights (older and more established and full of older and very beautiful town houses built in the Champagne era of the late nineteenth century).
One neighbourhood that bemused us, however was Tenderloin. Situated at the heart of the city, running between Union Square and City Hall. The area comprises four key east west streets, which appear to have resisted gentrification, even though is bounded by some of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. It is home to many homeless people who appear to live on the streets that comprise the neighbourhood. The authorities clear the streets every morning, hose down the sidewalks and remove rubbish. By nightfall, however the city’s homeless again take their places on the sidewalks. Food and second hand clothes are handed out by volunteers from trucks and various support organisations occupy shop units in the ground floors of buildings.
On further investigation as to what is going on we learn it has a bad reputation and tourists are told to avoid the area. The area’s origins can be traced back to 1800 where prospectors and immigrants moved in because the area was flat…..the wealthier made their way to higher ground. The neighbourhood became known as an entertainment district – both legal and illegal.
During the Gold Rush, the Tenderloin was the spot to spend your money on a night out: at brothels, theatres, restaurants and hotels. From 1907 until the mid ’50s Tenderloin was one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. But the area’s demise came in the 1950s onwards, when the movie industry collapsed in the city. In addition the city started cracking down on the area’s quasi-legal businesses.
Without foot traffic or business, crime and drug dealing moved in and the neighbourhood was by-passed. However in this ignored neighbourhood many residents found community. Many people who could not find a home elsewhere found affordable housing in Tenderloin’s old hotels.
This accommodation – basically residential hotels have been offering a second chance for recovering addicts, domestic abuse survivors and people getting off the streets. The neighbourhood offered many a new beginning and it is this ‘new beginning’ that the residents found themselves wanting to save – even if it had problems.
There are also specific policy reasons why the Tenderloin has remained relatively affordable and has not gentrified to the same degree as the rest of the city. Apparently there was an aggressive nonprofit acquisition of land when land was relatively cheap and these not for profit organisations have held onto the land, and many of them run affordable housing programmes.
In addition zoning policies prevent high rise buildings. Non residential uses above second floor are also specifically regulated.
The city has also made it hard to get rid of the Single Room Occupancies (SROs) in the residential hotels or their tenants. So the existing low cost housing stock is protected as low cost homes. In addition many of the buildings are historic and are protected.
As a result many people on lower incomes have not been forced out of their homes, which is a good thing. But the area has its problems and it seems more positive investment and social support is needed to help deal with the ever present on street issues of homelessness and addictions. We would hope a city of such wealth and innovation can work constructively with these communities.
The food. This is a city that is serious about its eating. There are many small and diverse neighbourhood eateries spread across the city, reflecting different strands of its cultural heritage. The choice was almost overwhelming and took quite a lot of in depth research to ensure we got a broad taste of the city!
We read a lot and asked the waiting staff in restaurants where they would eat. We thought we also should try and go and check out some different neighbourhoods ….our four fave finds were Al’s Place (Located in Mission, small, buzzy, loud and colourful. Pretty and inventive plates to share, contemporary American cooking); Cotogna (Downtown Italian, rustic feel, cosy, great for Sunday supper and delicious freshly made pasta); The Progress (Fillmore District… we wanted to go State Bird Provisions next door, but it was all booked up. The Progress is the sister restaurant and is every bit as special. Sharing plates and a main event of simply cooked quality plates of meat. Super delicious flavours combining all sorts of tastes and ingredients, but still managing to keep things simple and rustic. Seemed a very local SF crowd and a great space to eat in) and finally Del Popolo (wood fired Neapolitan style pizzas situated in the Nob Hill district. Lovely small laid back space. We sat at the bar and watched many pizzas being constructed and then cooked in a very large and fiery pizza oven. Again simple and all washed down with some pretty delicious local red wines).
We also discovered Jane’s on Filamore and Larkin for breakfast. Delicious and innovative breakfast bowls made of lots of lovely fresh things that are super good for you and quality coffee and ate a delicious ‘Pok’ (new to us, diced raw fish, rice, vegetables in layers and originating from Hawaii) in a ‘Meanwhile’ park in the Dogpatch district.
We also liked the way restaurants and bars built decks into former on street parking spaces. These build outs are used as extra seating and make the streets more vibrant…a bit of that in London would be great (if only planning didn’t have to get in the way).
The only disappointment in the eating department was that we did not have more time to visit many more eateries. The food scene in SF is super vibrant, fresh and exciting. It also felt very local. All the restaurants we visited were very welcoming, no stuffiness, pretense or mega expense. Just people who love food, wanting to experiment, try new things and to share what they are doing with their customers. All very refreshing and I guess very in tune with the whole San Francisco vibe.
Architecture. We wondered and cycled and took in the many buildings old and new. SF is a city that is booming and evolving very fast. Cranes are everywhere and some impressive new buildings are being added to the city’s skyline. In addition older warehouse buildings are being rejuvenated and brought back to life and large swathes of new mixed used buildings are being introduced into some of the neighbourhoods that surround the main downtown area.
Significant investment is also going into the public realm and street planting. Hence, a city that is actually delightful to stroll through or cycle.
Some building highlights included (although there are a many many more….and we only scratched the surface):
– The recently opened Salesforce intermodal transit station and Salesforce tower designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli architects and both of which are the centerpieces of the San Francisco Transit Center District Plan and Transbay Redevelopment Plan.
On further research we learn that these two plans comprise the key implementing documents for the creation of a new neighbourhood that covers some 40 acres at the heart of the City. Together they will help to enable a serious piece of replanning that will deliver around six million square feet of new downtown office space around the new multi level transit centre, 4,000 new homes (1,200 of which will be affordable – state law 35% of all new units in the Project Area must be delivered as affordable to very low- to moderate income housing), 100,000sqft of new retail, 1,000 new hotel rooms, new streets, landscaping and cycle infrastructure and around 11 acres of new public parks, including a 5.4 acre park on the roof of the transit centre.
We were lucky enough to visit the roof top park and transit centre, which have very recently opened. It is a very clever piece of city design which manages to accommodate train and bus infrastructure in a multi level building and to enclose it with buildings and screens such that the transit building itself and the buses and trains are largely hidden from view and the orientation of routes and the use of multi level ramps means that the buses existing and entering the building have little impact on the majority of the surrounding streets and public realm, which is designed with pedestrian and cyclist in mind. Interchange between modes happens inside the building at multi levels and the roof top park can be accessed directly from upper levels of new office buildings and hence although it is high up it still feels like a positive part of the public realm.
Since visiting we have learned that cracked beams in the new transit centre has forced it to close less than two months after it had opened. So our visit on 22nd September may be one of the last for a while!
– The SFMOMA extension by Snohetta in collaboration with EHDD Architecture, which incorporates and renovates the original Mario Botta designed building.
La Cocina, a community kitchen dedicated to helping immigrant women, start their own restaurant business. Located in Mission, the kitchen incubator combines with three townhouses, all designed by Paulett Taggart Architects.
Yerba Buena Center, Mission Street, which includes the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (by Fumihiko Maki, 1993), the Novellus Theatre (James Stewart Polshek and Partners, 1993) and the Metreon, a shopping and entertainment centre (SSWN/ Gary Handel and Associates, 1996).
– The 1948 Circle Gallery, 140 Maiden Lane, which is rumored to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s prototype for the Guggenheim in NYC.
– HAAS-Lilienthal House, 2007 Franklin Street. Queen Anne residence, which has been turned into a museum.
St Mary’s Cathedral, 111 Gough Street., designed in 1971 by architects Pietro Belluschi, Pier Luigi Nervi and McSweeney, Ryan and Lee.
Housing old and new. A morning spent looking at the rows of Victorian town houses in Russian Hill and the ‘Painted Ladies’ along Alamo Square Park is a must. We also enjoyed Lombard Street and China Town. Touristy but fascinating! However we also enjoyed strolling around the new housing developments in Bayview, Dogpatch and SOMA.
Art. The SFMOMA is not only a great building to wander around, it also has some great art to go see. We enjoyed their latest exhibition on Rene Magritte. It looked at his late career, examining his work from the 1940s through to the 1960s and allowed us to view some of his most famous paintings, many of which now sit in private collections. A lovely experience!
Yoga. A big feature of the journey to date has been participating in as much Yoga as possible in order to balance the endless hours on the bike and to stretch the bits that are getting over worked and the bits that are not getting used very much at all.
Yoga is big in SF and hence we were rather looking forward to the experience. We found two great yoga studios in Russian Hill. Both of which took their Yoga very seriously. We managed four sessions of Vinyassa, all of which were excellent. The teachers took time with us and as part of the sessions taught us to improve our postures. So this put us in good stead to take on the next part of our journey through to LA.
So that was San Francisco for us. Not long enough but a good introduction. We will be back, but for now we cycle southwards to LA!