During the 60s and 70s San Francisco was the home of the ‘Love Generation’, ‘Flower Power’ and the Peace Movement. The enthusiastic young things who stuck flowers in the barrels of the National Guard’s rifles, painted themselves and their cars psychedelic
colours and sat in front of mounted police to protest the Vietnam War, are now well into middle age. They returned to the streets today with their kids and grandkids to send a message to President Bush about the looming conflict in Iraq. The message was - ‘Not in Our Name!’
Banners in hand, they began moving through the city as we headed out for a morning drive to the bayside town of Sausalito. A light mist limited visibility but the warm sun still managed to flood through. Sausalito is a wealthy city just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Built around seemingly endless marinas, it was once a major shipbuilding area where hundreds of the ‘Liberty Ships’ that protected the WWII Atlantic conveys were built. Today, it’s a peaceful and civilised enclave with exclusive shops, well-kept gardens and absolutely none of the homeless that haunt every street corner in San Francisco. We had a pleasant coffee on the waterfront while seals dived and played just offshore.
Heading back into the city, we hit ‘grid-lock’ traffic conditions caused by the anti-war protest. Faced with virtually no operating public transport, we elected to walk into town for a last look around. Protesters fifty abreast filled the main street, Market Street, for about ten blocks as they marched to the city hall. The protest was peaceful, but the weight of numbers on the streets caused absolute chaos.
The way the protest and another large demonstration in Washington were portrayed on TV was interesting. CNN referred to the protesters as ‘peace activists’. We didn’t see too many ‘activists’, only hundreds of thousands of very ordinary American families pushing very reasonable arguments against the war. Some pointed out that the projected US$1000 billion cost of a war against Iraq could do a lot to address poverty in America. Not a bad point!!
Leaving San Francisco today was just as the rest of our visit here has been, easy and laid-back. The city doesn’t have the freeway tangle that most large US cities use to move traffic about. Our exit to the suburbs was facilitated by a pleasant drive through new housing estates that closely aligned with the character of the city’s older buildings. Within 20 minutes we were on State Highway One - and off.
Silver Surf Motel is probably the thirtieth motel that we have visited. It is one of a half dozen motels that make up the town of San Simeon, about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. On our way here today, we visited the old capital of Mexican California, Monterey, and the ultra-trendy town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Monterey’s fame is well earned. It has a long and noble history and has played a significant part in the development of the state. The first constitutional convention was held here and today, we visited the building and very room where the founding fathers of the state of California drafted their document. The room is set up as though those who laboured over the Constitution had just left the room.
John Steinbeck immortalized Monterey and its short-lived sardine fishing industry in his novel, “Cannery Row”. The fishing started in 1900. By 1945 the sardines were fished out and the industry declined. Today only a few of the old cannery buildings remain. Sadly, the whole area that Steinbeck wrote about is now a major tourist trap with lines of souvenir shops and restaurants. In contrast, the good people of Monterey have done a magnificent job of preserving and presenting the other historical aspects of their small city with a self guided walk visiting many well restored buildings from the Spanish and Mexican periods.
Clint Eastwood popularized the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. His term as mayor publicized the town and drew thousands of tourists to its trendy shops and cafes. Ok if you want to shop with the would-be rich and famous! “Noosa-on-Steroids” describes it well.
On our way to the Silver Surf Motel, we drove along the California coastal National Park called Big Sur. For almost 100 miles we were treated to some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world. Light fog did little to diminish the impact of Big Sur’s headlands, beaches and wildlife. Sea lions lounged on the beaches and sea otters ‘frolicked’ in the giant kelp just off shore.
Motels like the Silver Surf have been our home for almost two months now. Even the cheapest of them have had met some basic standards. They are very clean, have at least twenty TV channels, sometimes more than one hundred, most don’t have fridges or provide in-room coffee, but all have ice machines. The very best provide breakfast, have fridges, microwaves and internet access. Prices in the budget to moderate range motels have ranged from AUS$50 to AUS$120 a night. Cost is more related to location than to facilities. Motels near Interstate Highways, railway lines or in rough areas are a bargain. A nice neighbourhood and good view can set you back at least twice the rates charged by the chain motels in the less favourable areas.
Thanks to the motel coupon system, we have saved bulk dollars. When you cross a state line, Welcome Centres provide cheapskate tourists like us with magazines listing motels which offer cut-rate prices. These are at least $20 off the rack rate and, sometimes undercut each other by the same amount or more. It’s a great game, made better by the fact that they offer directions off the Interstates and major roads, so finding a bed for the night has not been a problem.
Route 101 is probably better known as the ‘Ventura Highway’, as immortalized in the Eagles’ song of the same name. This afternoon, with temperatures in the low 20s Celsius and the sun belting down on the Pacific, we cruised south down 101 with the radio tuned to a “Golden Oldies” station. We even wound the windows down! Cool!
The morning had been a bit disappointing, as we were unable to get on a tour of Hearst Castle. Our spirits lifted as we mingled with the rich and would-be famous on the streets of Santa Barbara. Even given the tourist-y focus of the city, it was great! This holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Day) the locals were out and about in force. The city has succeeded in capturing and maintaining its Spanish heritage with beautifully restored Mexican era buildings like the Mission and recreations like the magnificent 1920s courthouse.
We were impressed to see a giant Moreton Bay Fig in a park by the Amtrak station. It is the biggest of its type in the U.S. and possibly the world. Its roots run under more than an acre of ground and an estimated 1000 people could stand in its shade at noon. Gum trees and wattle are so common in Southern California that rounding some corners on the highway it would be easy to believe you were in Australia.
Southern California has a real ‘laid-back’ feel. People dress casually, very much as at home, they enjoy the outdoors and the surf. Wetsuit clad surfers were out in their hundreds today. Some kids were swimming in the shallows and hundreds strolled the beaches.
On this end-of-holiday Monday, the traffic into LA was something to behold. Five-lane freeways ground to a halt at most major on-ramps. Our normally easy search for a suitable motel was more difficult than usual due to the traffic and the unwillingness of some motels to ‘deal’ on lower rates. We will be in LA for the next four nights and expected prices similar to those elsewhere. Wrong. We have settled into a mediocre place in the middle of downtown Santa Monica. It has all the things we don’t want, like valet parking (which costs), no fridge, which is annoying and it’s old, so every time somebody moves on the floor below or above we hear it!… Never mind, it’s LA and close to the beach and the Santa Monica pier!!!