I visited Los Angeles on a business trip, attending the World Sulphur Symposium in Long Beach. Since Los Angeles is a long way from home, I decided to extend my trip and drive up to the Sequoia National Park after the conference. I rented a Ford Mustang for the trip and after five days in Long Beach and Los Angeles I spent three days on the road driving to the Sequoia National Park and then down to San Luis Obispo, Lompoc, Malibu and Santa Monica. If you are only interested in driving from Los Angeles to the Sequoia National Park, then scroll down a little to the middle of the page. Here is my itinerary list:
Cost of the Road Trip
Because I was on a business trip I did not need to pay for the flight and a few nights hotel but here is a breakdown:
- Flight: £790 return
- Car Rental: $79 for the weekend plus $11/day for zero excess insurance
- Food: $15-20/day
- Fuel: $40
Staying at The Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach
I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel by Marriott in Downtown Long Beach for four nights. The hotel was pretty amazing, with nice views over the main street. My room was on the fifth floor with views over the same street. The hotel had a swimming pool on the roof top and they offer valet parking as well. There was an on-site restaurant and breakfast was included. I didn’t really have much to complain about except that the carpets were slightly worn and made the place feel old. Otherwise good location and the breakfast was good too.
Long Beach is a pretty town near Los Angeles. It has a massive port and some nice areas in its downtown along with some big hotels. If you don’t want to spend a huge amount of money on hotels it is a good place to stay while in LA. There is a direct connection by train into downtown Los Angeles and if you don’t feel like big city you can easily spend a weekend here too.
The main arteries in Long Beach are Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard. My hotel, the Renaissance Long Beach was on the latter. The room had nice views (to the right) and the hotel had a rooftop swimming pool as well. Most of the restaurants and bars are near the hotel on Pine Avenue and I went there on my first night for a local pint. The local beer was so bitter I couldn’t actually finish it!
After the drink I walked up and down on Ocean Boulevard and then went to the seafront. The city has developed this area very well and there are now plenty of restaurants to enjoy a seaside lunch or dinner. By this time it was nearly midnight and I was very tired so I went back to the hotel to sleep.
The next morning I got up early and took the first train into LA. The train station, which is more like a tram if you are European, was just outside the hotel. Contrary to the various urban myths, LA has a good public transport system and various street cars and underground trains. This one was the Blue Line from Long Beach direct to Downtown LA. If you have watched Collateral with Tom Cruise you will instantly recognise the train. I’ve shot the below video about the trip into downtown Los Angeles. Buying a day-pass is super easy: there are ticket machines everywhere and it’s also very cheap. The ticket is valid on buses, trains and underground so well worth the money.
Getting to Downtown Los Angeles from Long Beach
I got off at the last stop at 7th Street/Metro Center and went above ground to see the downtown area. A quick walk down 7th Street toward the south then a left on S Grand Avenue will take you to the areas with all the skyscrapers. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is also there and various other museums and parks. After the Walt Disney Concert Hall there is the Grand Park LA with benches and waterfalls to relax a little.
At the bottom end of the park is the Los Angeles City Hall which in itself is worth a visit. Just behind the city halls is Main Street. Turn right on this street and walk all the way to 5th Street where the “historic” downtown area is. There are some street vendors here and a couple of smaller parks if you want to have a cheap lunch. After lunch I decided to hang around in downtown Los Angeles a little longer then I headed over to Hollywood.
I took a bus to Rodeo Drive first and looked around there hunting for celebrities. I might have seen a few although I didn’t recognise anyone! The bus from Rodeo Drive to West Hollywood was direct and took about half an hour.
Hollywood was very busy and I was not a very big fan of it so to be honest all I did was visit the toilet in the shopping mall then walked down the main street. From here, I then got a bus up to the Universal Studio’s City, which is a huge funfair in the hills surrounding LA. I must say it was a lot more fun than hanging around in crowded Hollywood. I had a nice big scoop of ice cream and went to see some of the huge statues at the central square then sat down and did a bit of people watching.
As I had been walking all day I was pretty tired so instead of hanging around for much longer I got on the red line subway train to Metro Center. There I changed to the Blue Line direct to Long Beach where I arrived late in the evening well after sunset. If you thought it was impossible to get around LA without a car, here I am living proof that as a tourist using public transport I could get around LA very easily!
Renting From Alamo
I was in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach talking to a contact when he told me that he rented a Mustang for the following week in Florida. He gave me the price and it was cheaper than I expected so I decided to rent one too! I quickly went on the internet there and he showed me the site: Alamo Rental Car. They had a special offer that weekend as well so I made a booking for three days. I rented this beauty here, a silver 2014 Mustang.
Once the conference finished I headed out to the airport to pick it up. As soon as I had the keys I drove up to Mount Wilson to see LA from above. Unfortunately I got there quite late so it was already dark but the view was still stunning! The city was like a sea of lights and the heatwaves made it look like the city lights flowed like waves. I can’t describe the view better than this: lights as far as the eye can see.
By this time it was around midnight and I decided to head back to LA for the night. I booked a room in the Historic Mayfair for that evening. The room was not exactly amazing but they shot many famous movies in the lobby which I wanted to see. As I was driving down from Mount Wilson I was dozing off so I pulled over and slept a little by the side of the road. I got back to the hotel around 3AM, slept a little and spent the morning writing up a sulphur and sulphuric acid report! I left the hotel around mid-day to drive to the Sequoia National Forest.
Driving from Los Angeles to the Sequoia National Forest
I drove north on I-5 and on Highway 99. At Bakersfield I turned right onto CR-178 and then at Lake Isabella left onto CR-155. The drive was breathtaking in many ways. Once I left the urban sprawl of LA came the wide open spaces on either side of the freeway. It was quite dry that year and the scenery looked more like a parched desert than anything else. After abot an hour and a half of driving came a forest of oil wells which I found quite fascinating as I never saw anything like that before.
Bakersfield wasn’t particularly spectacular so I spent no time there, just drove through. One of the most amazing parts of the journey began when I entered the Kern Canyon Road. The best way to describe it is this: imagine a huge area with rolling hills, not very high with massive boulders scattered around every now and then. My immediate impression was that those big rocks were left there by some giants throwing things at each other after a brawl. It was a sunny day so I rolled the windows down and enjoyed as the spring breeze caressed my face and arms!
The Sequoia National Forest is home to the world’s largest trees. It has the greatest concentration of giant sequoia groves anywhere in the planet! Protected within the Giant Sequoia National Monument, these groves and the areas around them are managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
My destination within the park was the 100 Giants Trail. Once past Lake Isabella the hills became higher and the trees taller. I drove at a leisurely pace as the curves were quite sharp in some places. I didn’t mind the slow pace: the views were absolutely stunning!
The Trail of 100 Giants
The M-90 road that leads to the trail is only seasonal and closes between November-May but opens earlier if the weather permits. I got very lucky as the park service opened it that very day and I was there in April!
If you’ve never seen giant sequoia trees before it is hard to describe the sight. Imagine seeing a medium size church tower: the tower’s thickness is the girth of the tree! Now take a 100 meter tall skyscraper and you’ve got a sequoia tree. Some of them were so large I could fit my Mustang in them twice at the base. I still find it incredible that those greedy bastard property developers had no qualms about clearing off thousands of acres of these trees!
I spent half the afternoon at the forest then it was time to eat something. There was one restaurant along M-90 and it was also the best in the park! The owner told me they live there winter and summer and that winter in 2014 was probably the warmest he could remember. Snowfall was also meagre and instead of the usual 10-15 meters that winter only about 6 meters fell! Shocking!
Once I finished my burger I headed down to the coast via Visalia. It was dark by this time and I was getting very tired so I slept in the car instead of checking into a hotel to save a little money.
Sleeping in the Car
I drove to a secluded place and parked up along a dirt road facing toward the direction of a big city. As I was contemplating where to go the following day I pulled the window down to let some fresh air in. As I was doing this I spotted a train driving in the distance, all lit up like a Christmas Tree! I totally loved it there – it felt like being in the movie Tron!
Unfortunately, I had a pretty horrible sleep as the Mustang was very small inside for sleeping. I got up very early and headed down to San Luis Obispo on the coast. Driving toward the sea meant that I had to cross a small mountain range after which the scenery changed from desert to lush green pastures with cows grazing everywhere.
It was such a huge change in less than an hour that I was wondering whether I was still in the same state. This was just another proof that California is such a diverse state with a huge flora and fauna that even driving half an hour can completely change the scenery.
I got to the beach around 10AM and then headed down to Lompoc, which was a delightful little beach for surfers on the way down towards Los Angeles. I had a relaxing half an hour here but then I had to make my way back to the airport as my flight’s departure was that evening. So I drove through Malibu and arrived in Santa Monica just in time for lunch.
Visiting Santa Monica in California
Santa Monica is a town with a stunning sandy beach that I’ve seen in many movies. Santa Monica and its white sandy beach is probably the number one representation of what I call California Dream. It has a splendid beach where beautiful people are working out – just like in Baywatch!
I had more than one reason to visit Santa Monica: I wanted to see the Farmers Market and also the famous pier plus the heritage center. Also, at one point in my life I worked for Demand Media Studios and their headquarter is in Santa Monica. The ride to Santa Monica took a little over an hour on an air conditioned direct bus. Nowadays you can also take a direct train but at the time the bus was the most convenient.
Once I got to Santa Monica I parked up and walked to the Farmers Market to get some fruits and veg. The market is not very big but it has a great variety and most of the things are from the local area. I decided to get a packet of strawberries and a small bottle of lavender oil which the girl that sold it made.
After the market I went to the California Heritage Museum on the corner. The museum is an old house which used to be in a different location. When the council decided to build the freeway the house was in the way. But, instead of demolishing it they moved it to where it is now.
The Heritage Museum in Santa Monica
The house is home to various exhibits and provides a good insight into what life was like in the last century. It is easy to spend an hour or more here but I was dying to see the beach so I left. The streets leading to the beach are suburban developments from the last century and look amazing. As soon as I reached the end of the streets the fresh sea breeze hits me and I knew I arrived in my California Dream!
The water wasn’t warm enough to go inside but the sun was out so I laid down to sunbath a little. About half an hour later I made my way to the pier but I didn’t go in as it was full of tourists. From here it is a short walk to downtown Santa Monica. I went there to grab some food and then hopped in the car, drove to the airport to drop it off and then checked in for my flight back to London.