California Roadtrip

A month long 2,500 mile (4,000 kilometre) road trip throughout the state of California.

We flew into LAX (Los Angeles) and gratefully accepted the hospitality of family in the Trabuco Canyon area of Orange County.

Trabuco Canyon area and Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Silverado

The local garden birds include Anna’s Hummingbird, Wouter spend some time trying (but not quite succeeding to his satisfaction) to capture these fast moving little birds in our hosts’ back yard.

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird

Our first local stop was a short outing to the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Silverado.

Western Gray Squirrel at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.
Western Gray Squirrel at Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.









Starting our road journey proper, we headed south, down the coast, to San Diego.


The first major attraction was Legoland in Carlsbad as one of the boys is a Lego enthusiast. To make the trip extra special, we stayed in the Legoland Hotel. Having always been a fan of miniatures and models, Wouter thoroughly enjoyed the Mini USA. Although an enjoyable experience, from a “value for money” perspective, this part of the journey ranks close to the bottom.

Sydney Opera House - In Lego Bricks; Legoland California.
Sydney Opera House – In Lego Bricks; Legoland California.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo is not small at 40 hectare (compared with Wellington’s 13 ha, Auckland’s 16 ha but about half the size of Johannesburg’s 81 ha and Pretoria’s 85 ha). San Diego Zoo houses some 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. The Zoo is credited with being a pioneer in “cageless” exhibits. It was therefore a bit disappointing to encounter several rather cramped old style cage exhibits for some of the big cats. Yet attention to detail outside of the exhibits themselves (pathways, plantings etc) makes for surroundings that are pleasant and appealing. Overall a very enjoyable zoo experience. It was a long day for everyone, and the zoo environs are quite hilly. A double decker bus ride is the alternate method of traversing the grounds.

Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo
Rhinoceros at San Diego Zoo

Gaslamp Quarter – San Diego

We spent a morning exploring the historic Gaslamp Quarter with its 94 historic buildings. We parked up around 9am, and the streets were pretty quiet, as it appears that the historic buildings are mostly occupied by bars and restaurants. We did the town circuit on a fully restored 1946 street car.

Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego
Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego

USS Midway Museum

We then embarked on a tour of the now retired aircraft carrier the USS Midway (the USS Midway Museum). The Midway Museum offers a self-guided audio tour where you key a display number into the supplied audio player and listen to detailed information through the supplied headphones. We also joined the guided tour through air traffic control, maps room and the bridge.

F-14 Tomcat on the flight deck of the USS Midway.
F-14 Tomcat on the flight deck of the USS Midway.


Seaworld impressed us with the quality of the exhibitions and the execution of the shows. Undoubtedly the stand out theme park of the trip; these people know how to put on a show.

Orca at Seaworld

In San Diego we made a U-turn and headed back north.

Disneyland Resorts in Anaheim

Disneyland is a really busy place. We took our hats off to all the staff who appear to work incredibly hard every shift, to make sure we have a good time.  We had made a note of the rides we wanted to experience, and after that it was just a matter of some queuing, some watching the time to score fast pass tickets and then enjoying the ride.  Star Tours, a Star Wars simulator was awesome. We all did it twice, and Willem & Wouter did it three times, each time a different film scene simulation.


California Adventure

This park had rides more suited to older children and teens. We enjoyed California Screamin’ several times, Wouter braved the Tower of Terror and Paula made sure the family experienced the Cars ride. Five years in the making it is a great ride combination of entertainment and some racing too! We stayed up and went back to see the World of Colour, a water, sound and laser show that kept us amazed for half an hour.

Fire at Disney World of Color

We now head further north, with our next big stop San Francisco. On the way we visit the mission in Santa Barbara and overnight in Monterey.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium is build on the site that once housed a thriving sardine cannery. It is regularly voted one of the top 5 aquariums in the USA. There is opportunity to interact with some of the creatures and some exiting exploration for children. There are a number of scheduled feeding times, which we looked forward to. During our visit the sea otter feeding was totally oversubscribed and the open ocean exhibit not as exiting as anticipated. Watching an octopus do its thing is a joy and the jellyfish exhibit is out of this world. We stayed at the Inercontinental hotel there. Paula and Willem took the ‘jellyfish’ staircase, which needs to be experienced.  Unfortunately, other aspects to the hotel left much to be desired.

Anemone at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Anemone at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

San Francisco; home of Chinatown, historic cable car, the Golden Gate Bridge

San Fransisco is a cool little place. We stayed on Bush St, just down from the Chinatown gate. We spent one day walking the city, and we managed to cover Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill (no parrots though..), Pier 39 – very cold wind that day, sealions out in force. Also the cable car museum – totally recommend this for interest sake, but also because you stand a better chance of getting on board a cable car up that high in the city. ($24 for 4 stops…). Unlike the Wellington Cable Car, the San Fran ones grip the cable to travel, and release the cable to stop.  Got off at Union Square, then back to Bush street and completed the day by a walk through Chinatown. Our short visit concluded the next day with a visit to the Ferry Building for some lovely artisan San Fran sourdough, followed by a trip to (and part way across) the famous golden gate bridge.

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill from Pier 39.
Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill from Pier 39.



Next we headed far north away from the main centres and north of the little town of Orick.

Redwoods National and State Parks

We found accommodation at Elk Meadow lodges which we used as base camp from where we made daily excursions into various Redwood parks. The Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) have the particular distinction of being the tallest trees on earth. The current champion is the Hyperion tree in the Redwoods National Park with a verified height of 115.55m (379.1 feet).

Coastal Redwood in Prairie Creek State Park
Coastal Redwood in Prairie Creek State Park
















We turn at the Clamath River mouth, the northernmost point of our journey and leave the coast to cross the state of California (east – west)

A long drive from Elk Meadow via Arcata, Redding and Sacramento to end up on the eastern side of the state at the Sierra Nevada to just outside the South Gate of Yosemite National Park. On the way we stop in at the National Railway Museum in Sacramento. This place has some seriously impressive steam trains.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a massive park. We stayed in nice accommodation just south of Fishcamp and north of a pleasant township called Oakhurst (great seafood restaurant – Crab Cakes). We stayed in a small detached cottage room surrounded by trees. We enjoyed some walking, sightseeing and chilling out. The rock formations in the park are fantastic, and to sit at Glacier point in the early morning looking out at half dome was pretty nice.

Half Dome from Glacier Point
Half Dome from Glacier Point








From Yosemite back to the Trabuco Canyon area, LAX and home.

2 thoughts on “California Roadtrip”

  1. I lost one of my SD Cards at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in April.

    It was delivered to me today 18 September, with an anonymous note “Found in Monterey”, post marked El Dorado Hills, CA September 08, 2014.

    Thank you, received with gratitude.

  2. Inspiring photos! Thank you for sharing your USA experiences. It has really helped the planning of our trip!

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