California (San Francisco to Los Angeles)

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In May 2015, my buddy Blair and I took a trip to California. The whole trip was only four days long, but we saw a lot of sights and covered a lot of ground during those four days. We started in San Francisco, stayed there for two days, then drove down the Pacific Coastal Highway to Los Angeles, and spent one day in Los Angeles.

The hotel we stayed at in San Francisco was called the San Remo Hotel, and it was really neat. It was full of quirky, old, ornate decorations, and was just really charming. We checked out Alcatraz, which, independent of its history as a prison, is a really beautiful island with some really nice gardens. The guided audio tour of the prison was pretty interesting too. In my memory, the part of the audio tour that stands out the most was the tale of three prisoners who actually successfully broke out of the prison and were never seen again – though no one knows for certain if they ever made it back to land. They employed an elaborate strategy to escape: they managed to dig holes in the walls of their cells, then climb up to the roof through an adjacent boiler room. But most interesting of all (to me, anyways), they put papier-mâché sculptures of their own heads in their beds so the guards would think they were asleep in bed as they made their escape. According to Wikipedia, it may have been the only successful escape from Alcatraz in the prison’s history.

After Alcatraz, we rented a convertible. We got a Mazda MX-5, which was very cool-looking, and had a sweet hardtop roof that could retract automatically at the touch of a button. We drove across the Golden Gate bridge to Muir Woods National Monument, which is a national park with massive redwood trees. After Muir Woods, we headed to Muir Beach. I had the intention of taking a photo of San Francisco from this vantage point, with the sun setting over the water. I must have misunderstood the location in my planning, because San Francisco wasn’t even visible from this point, and I think the sunset was obscured by a cliffside. Regardless, it was still a very nice spot (it can be seen below in the photo of waves crashing against rocks).

The drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles was glorious. We, very intentionally, took the longer scenic route along the Pacific Coastal Highway. I had compiled a long, awesome playlist for the drive, mostly comprised of rock songs fit for two bros cruising down the highway. We stopped at the Bixby Bridge for a photo op, and later visited a little town called Carmel-by-the-Sea. After grabbing lunch in Carmel, we carried on driving down the coast for some time. I had one shot that I really wanted to get on this drive: I wanted to get a photo of the sun setting over the ocean. As the sun began to set, it was becoming clear that finding a good spot to pull over and get the photo would be difficult. My buddy was skeptical we would even find one in time, but I held out hoping we would. There was this slowpoke driving in front of us as the sun was setting, and we were running out of time to get the shot. We passed him and a parking lot next to the ocean appeared, and we pulled over quickly into the lot. I quickly got my tripod out of the trunk and dialed in the camera settings I thought would work best for the shot, then ran up a small hill to a vantage point I thought would work well. I tried to be quick on the draw, focusing camera so that everything would be in focus, and snapped some photos before the sun was out of view. Within the course of less than a minute, the sun went from being totally visible to being totally hidden behind the ocean. Had we not passed the slowpoke in front of us on the highway, I would have missed the opportunity entirely.

We drove all night, and eventually got to Los Angeles around 2 or 3 in the morning and checked into the hotel. The next day we cruised around L.A. in the convertible, which was totally badass. We would fly out later that evening, so, in very quick succession, we checked out a bunch of the sights in L.A.: the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Walk of Fame (the only star that I cared to make a point of finding on the boulevard was David Bowie’s), Santa Monica Pier, and Venice Beach, where we saw another spectacular sunset. Once the sun set, it was time to return the car and head to the airport to make our way back to Canada.