Post by Sean Dunn, graduated BSc Geography 2014, current MSc student
The beginning of our trip started in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport with a mixture of excitement for the trip and dreading the long flight ahead of it. After a couple of good films, singing along to songs in Frozen with Amelia, my teddy bear George and I landed in San Francisco. Due to some severe jetlag we barely made it to midnight after a slice of pizza and a local beer. The next morning we made our way to the Airport to meet the rest of the Santa Cruz goers and the lecturers, where our journey began to Santa Cruz in some rather lively minivans playing California themed songs.
Once we arrived in Santa Cruz we had some time to explore and get orientated with this new city. It may be fair to say on the first night some of us enjoyed the local selection of alcoholic drinks and the novelty of being 21 in America. The next day we were taken on a walking tour of the city by the lecturers making friends with some lively seals, crossing a disused railway bridge and exploring local lagoon systems (which we revisited during our group project). The evening was then our own to begin planning for the next working day on our projects.
My group did a project concerning drought and whether it had heightened arguments between recreational users and conservationists of state parks and wetland areas. I think I speak for all of my group when saying we thoroughly enjoyed this experience and our project. At times we felt a bit out of our depth choosing a more human geography related topic but wouldn’t change it at all in hindsight. Our methods included interview and volunteering days and I believe this way we were fully able to experience the most of being in California and meeting the locals. It was a lot of hard work but enjoyable at the same time. We had the opportunity to travel throughout Santa Cruz County meeting countless interesting locals from keen fishermen all the way up to conservationists for global companies.
As well as our project work the lecturers took us on trips around the County which I really enjoyed as there isn’t much point going so far to visit a place without learning about your surroundings. The locations visited included the University, San Andreas Fault line, Redwood forests and a beach site where the famous surfing brand O’Neil was founded. I feel like I learnt a lot about the city.
When we weren’t working on our projects, the evenings and night time were ours to do whatever we wanted. Obviously some privileges come with our first trip to the USA being over the age of 21… a well-deserved night out! One of the best nights was for our pal Liz’s 21st where the lecturers gave her a cake and card. Most evenings were spent on the beach playing volleyball at the public courts and just soaking up the last of the California sunshine for the day. My room and I bought food from the local supermarket to make group dinners and lunches but if you didn’t feel like that there is no shortage in options. I don’t think there was a day when the boys didn’t have at least one Mexican from the little taco joint opposite the hotel! Apart from that there was a large selection of restaurants and small takeaways both in the city centre and along the boardwalk. One of the best places we visited doubled up as a restaurant and bar. It is a pizza place called Woodstock’s where we searched online finding a voucher which is pretty good. If you sign up to the newsletter you get half price extra-large pizzas which is about 20 inches. There were 8 of us with 4 pizzas and enough for lunch the next day! Whilst there we saw they had a dollar night, so we returned that day. When you buy a beer it is just one dollar for a refill!
After all of our fun in Santa Cruz and 10 brilliant days it was time to leave the city. It was a weird feeling to be returning back to San Francisco Airport. Once we arrived the goodbyes began but not before a big group photo of the whole trip. It feels weird saying it but it was emotional seeing everyone slowly walk off in different directions with suitcases rolling behind them. Everyone had made different plans whether it was travelling, first flight home or visiting family. For us, we were travelling.
First thing to do was collect the cars. It started well when the guy upgraded us to an SUV for free. I was the person driving and when I saw the car, I was in shock. My car at home is a Ford Fiesta and this was huge! Once I managed to get out the small lanes of the car park we were on our way due south! 8 of us in two cars starting our California Adventure. Our first stop was in Monterey at the opposite end of Monterey Bay to Santa Cruz. We grabbed a bite to eat in a restaurant and had a drink before going back to the hotel. We were absolutely shattered and I was preparing myself the drive the next day.
The next day was the drive down Highway 1. This is possibly the most picturesque driving I have ever done. Every few seconds was a perfect picture moment. Navigating up and down the cliffs on windy roads we finally arrived at Big Sur. We climbed to the top of the mountain to a beautiful waterfall for a photo moment before climbing the other way to one of the best views I have ever seen: looking out onto the redwood forests with the Pacific Ocean in the background. After this we continued to Santa Maria our rest stop for the night. The next morning we set of for LA. We stayed in a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard and drove up Mulholland Drive to take a picture of the Hollywood sign. This was the best part of LA as from this viewpoint you could see the entire skyline of the city.
Our last driving point was San Diego. This was one of my favourite cities we visited and I finally had some time off from the driving. We spent 3 nights here and did so much in such a short space of time! We drove on the interstate to the last exit before Mexico to an outlet mall. I would 100% recommend visiting one of these! I ended up getting a pair of Reebok classics and a Ralph Lauren polo for the equivalent of £40 where that would be about £120 over here! We also went to watch a baseball match between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants. I couldn’t attend without getting a foam finger! Our last day we spent on a local beach watching the sunset all together before an early night for the morning drive back up the coast towards San Francisco. We stopped only for some lunch in Santa Barbara which was beautiful. Lunch at the natural café for some healthy vegetarian food and a quick look in the thrift stores! One overnight stop and 16 hours of driving later we made it to San Francisco. The next two days we spent walking around the city, sampling the seafood and getting some presents for loved ones at home! Our last night was a bit emotional after spending so long in America!
I would 110% recommend this trip to anyone. I still look back on it now knowing it was the best experience of my life. The photos just remind me of what a good time we had. It was the most amazing way to end my University experience with some of my best mates over the previous three years! I hope I haven’t bored you too much and I hope you enjoy the photos of my teddy bear and his tour around California!