Every time I say the word California to myself I immediately get The O.C. title song in my head. Just me then? I went to North America for the first time a few weeks ago and on my own. I chose California as my state of choice to explore and boy, there’s a lot to see. Here’s everything I did whilst travelling in California.
There are lots of really touristy things to see in California, specifically San Francisco and Los Angeles where I spent most of my time. And one thing I would bear in mind is that Cali and just generally North America is fucking huge. Seriously. There’s so much to see and do and this trip doesn’t reflect everything you can do, it just reflects everything I did (and really enjoyed). It was by far one of my favourite travelling experiences. Travelling in California was amazing.
Some of this list is obvious, others less so, but these are all the things I remembered from my trip. (Besides from the obvious Golden Gate Bridge)
Even better, there’s actually an Airbnb experience that lets you hang out with cute rescue doggos at the same time. So I would remember that if you do. I hiked up to Griffith Observatory in the evening with a few friends (watch out for rattle snakes!) and it was magical. There are a few different routes up there you can try, but you get a great view of LA.
There is also a super cute rescue dog opportunity on Airbnb for this, where you hike up with a bunch of doggos. You can see that here.
They’re frickin’ boss. If you like being in nature and nice walks, you’ll love this. The forests are super quiet and peaceful and you get to be surrounded by beautiful redwood trees. I even saw a chipmunk! I got a bus out of San Francisco to see them and it was super worth it and magical.
There are a variety of tours, but this was the one I went on.
If you go in September/late August like I did, you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing some whales and dolphins. And I wouldn’t miss it. You can get a pretty cheap boat and guide out. It was honestly beautiful and I felt pretty privileged to see them! I saw them in San Francisco, but you can also just see them generally along the coast if you’re travelling in California.
You can go along the piers and easily enquire with people about them. It’s not something you need to book in advance.
Alcatraz felt a little bit weird to me. You’re essentially going around a defunct prison where some of the biggest criminals stayed, such as Al Capone and the Birdman. You do need to book weeks in advance, however I did manage to get a ticket just a few days in advance (because I was on my own). Alcatraz is in a bubble of its own.
Once you get the ferry across, you get welcomed by one of the rangers as it’s a national park in its own right. I then went up to the actual prison, where you get a free audio guide (headphones) that guides you around the main area of the prison, detailing the breakouts and such. It’s a bit… surreal.
But what I found more interesting was the other history side to Alcatraz most people don’t know about. It’s the fact it was an Indian Reservation, had a whole community of families (from the officers inside) and a thriving nature reserve. The whole area is quite odd. There are talks running throughout the day from the rangers, but if you get there late like I did then you probably won’t get a chance. This is a must go-to whilst travelling in California.
There are also night tours available, which sound cool as it’d make it just that bit more eerie!
I had a choice between going to Universal Studios Hollywood or Warner Brothers Studio Tour Hollywood and for whatever reason I chose the latter! This was one of my favourite parts of my trip to California, if you love films, you need to go here.
Firstly, the tours are tailored to the group you’re with. E.g. if you love Batman you can go see the old Batman costumes and sets, if you love Gilmore Girls etc. etc. So you’ve got a good chance of seeing stuff you’re actually interested in! It also has the most recent Fantastic Beasts Costumes as well, if you’re a Potter nerd.
I proper fan-girled throughout this, being the basic bitch I am, I loved the Gilmore Girls and Pretty Little Liars set. The guides are really friendly and it has a similar vibe to the Harry Potter Studios in London if you’ve been there. The tour will take a few hours, and I’d recommend going there in the day as it’s an active studios so you can see the hustle and bustle of it all.
If you love plants, you’ll love the botanical gardens in San Francisco. It’s proper cute and feels quite chill, it’s also less unbearably hot than the inner city of San Francisco. There are some great photo opportunities as well, and loads of places to explore if you want to escape the craziness of the city. The Japanese Tea Gardens are lovely. The Botanical Gardens are right next to the Golden Gate Park, but you’ll still need to get transport there.
Santa Monica is weird.
In honesty, I found it a little disappointing in some ways, but then again I was exhausted when I got there. It’s nice to cycle along, but it is very people heavy and trashy (but I think that’s the charm in a way). It’s still worth a visit as it is quite a sight in places and you’ll see all sorts of people there. (Very fun for people watching!) I couldn’t really leave it off this guide to California.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 were great. It’s great to walk along and you won’t be there for ages, but it’s fun to see nevertheless. It’s got a great little chill vibe. The resident Sea Lions you will probably hear them before you see them and make for a great photo opp.
There are loads of tours as well along the pier, so I would have a browse of them. But do compare prices between them, as some are complete rip-offs, as with anything travel wise.
If you’re driving around California and just want a chill day, Malibu is lovely. Quite frankly, I was sunburnt to shit by this point, a little hormonal, and all round tired, but I still had a great time! It’s a bit of a bitch to get to (about an hour away from LA), but it’s great for a cheeky bit of sunbathing and paddling in the sea. It’s also where loads of rich people live, so you might catch a celebrity if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
As I said, take this ‘Guide to California’ with a pinch of salt, I’ve only been once, but these are all the things to do that stood out to me as a newbie North American tourist.
One thing I will say about my experience of food is that god damn, I ate a lot of waffles and fried chicken. I also ate a lot of burgers and fried food in general, I pretty much ate out at least twice a day and it was my main drain of funds. (No regrets)
I have a few places that come to mind in terms of food. Admittedly, my travelling in California was centered around my food consumption, as I measured where I was going depending on that. Because that’s the type of person I am.
This was the place I went to the first night I arrived. I was knackered, tired and just wanted somewhere close to go, this was what my AirBnB host recommended. Little Star specialises in deep-pan Chicago style pizzas and they’re super satisfying. The cheese is super gooey, the base was nice and starchy and it’s got quite a homely feel.
The first thing I thought admittedly was ‘hell this is a bit pricey for pizza’ but they’re huge in a tall manner. I only ate half of mine and took the rest back to the house to eat for the morning. (Standard)
You can find it in the Alamo Square district and opens late, however it gets super busy so bear that in mind.
Do you ever just dream about some food you’ve had?
Well this was that for me. Super Duper Burgers did the most impressive, juiciest burgers in all of California. Honestly, one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. They’re simple and emphasise how organic they are. It’s nice and cheap and I could get a burger for $9 with garlic cheese fries (and that’s a good price for California). Definitely somewhere to try. They are spread across California and San Francisco, so you can easily get a choice of place travelling in California.
Out of my waffles and fried chicken binge, this was one place that came to mind. Little Skillet is in San Francisco and from what I could gather is quite the local spot. It’s actually a bar as well, but known for its breakfast choices.
This was such a cool little spot and if you like waffles, chicken and mac and cheese (all of my favourite things), then you’ll love it here. It’s a bit out of the way and isn’t really near anywhere, but to be honest, most places in California aren’t close to each other.
10 days in I started craving fish and chips. Sue me.
If you get that craving for British food, this is the place to go for fish and chips. It’s a bit ironic I’m actually including this, but it did stick out as a place to go for the obvious reason. It’s ran by a British couple so it has all the quirks. It’s based off Fisherman’s Wharf and is reasonably priced.
A classic – so many people have raved about In N Out so I had to give it a go. To me, if you’ve tried Five Guys, it’s very similar just cheaper. And also has less weird portions.
Get a milkshake and order from the special menu (that everyone already knows about). I still prefer Super Burger but this was still a good shout.
Oh hey, another breakfast place! This place was recommended to me by a local in an Uber and omg yes. It’s simple but oh so good. This was a local recommendation so a good one to go to travelling in California.
Based off of Venice beach, this place gets super busy. They sell, well, egg related breakfast foods. I had an egg and bacon sandwich, which felt pretty extravagant tbh. If you’re near Venice Beach, try here. Head to Egg Slut.
You might have noticed in the above that most of the places are based in San Francisco. This is because I spent most of my time in San Francisco and naturally me travelling in California is a little more San Francisco-centric.
I had probably one of the best times ever in California travelling alone. It was my first time travelling alone and I would definitely do it again. This post is nearly 2 months overdue, consider it almost a diary of my experience. I’ve also written about my experience travelling alone for the first time here. If you’re hesitant about going because of cost etc., just do it, it’s great.
If you’re wondering where I stayed, here’s the link to my Airbnb in San Francisco, which was lovely and in an old Victorian house. The one in LA was cheap, nice inside, but a tiny bit of a dodgy area as it was right next to Compton (oops) so I probably wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re desperate haha.
Hope you enjoyed this hella long blog post on everything I did whilst travelling in California, after a few weeks travelling around. If you’re wondering how I travelled around, I travelled by Greyhound bus between places. It suited me as it was cheap.
I’m Eleanor, a UK Manchester based Lifestyle & Beauty Blogger. I write about beauty products, feminism, mental health and my adventures in the big city of MCR.