Oahu, windward shore

Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the windward (east) shore of Oahu that I love. We stayed there when we first visited three years again, but I couldn’t find a reasonably priced rental property when I searched for this trip, thus we spent nearly a week on the leeward (west) shore. But the minute we drove through the mountain tunnel towards the east and the spectacular pali cliffs opened up, I just fell in love with this place all over again.

Hawaii Oahu

Windward Oahu is much closer to the rural ideal of Hawaii than the built-up, busy leeward side. The one road up the island follows the coast and you pass golden beaches, aqua oceans and those spectacular green mountains rising sheer above the coastline. It’s a much quieter, more laid-back place and you can feel your shoulders relaxing  by the second.

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We spent three nights in the tiny town of Hauula. Our rental house was simple but airy and light, and we all kind of loved it. In the evening, kids played on the quiet street and we sat on the veranda so we could wallow in the cool air.

Friday was pretty much perfect! We drove down the coast to the lovely town of Kailua, parked at the  beach and went off to hike the Lanakai Pillbox trail. The pillboxes are the nickname given to the WW2 look-out posts dotted around this island. This hike was short – the trail was only 0.7 miles, one mile total with the walk from the car park, but it was steep and technical. There was much scrambling using our hands, there were some ropes in place so we could pull ourselves up bits. It was hot but as long as we stayed close to the ocean, this wonderful breeze cooled us down. And as we climbed, the views got better and better. The colour of the water is the most beautiful colour in the world. As ever, no photos do it justice.

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The two pillboxes gave us the chance to sit and rest and wallow in the views. And pose for photos.

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This came out much more ‘poser-y’ than intended!

Hike done, we had lunch at Buzz’s by the beach. We don’t have the budget to eat out regularly on this long summer trip but we’d eaten enough PBJ sarnies to justify a lunch out and we ate at Buzz’s which was utter bliss.

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Turns out I do like tropical cocktails after all. 

And then we threw ourselves into that gorgeous jade-green water which was warm and beautiful with a gentle slope of silky sand and we spent the whole afternoon wallowing.

 

Hawaii beach Kailua

We also hiked another pillbox trail, the Ehukai Pillbox trail on the north shore. A mile up and a mile down it involved another short, steep climb and then some wonderful views.

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In terms of running, I ran on the ocean road, early in the morning. Running this side of the island is definitely cooler than the other side, mainly due to the breeze, and being so close to the ocean at daybreak was pretty magical. Gladys joined me a few times this week, it’s been lovely having company even if we’ve only run a mile together before separating to run at our own pace/distance.

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We checked out the massive old banyan tree which was featured in ‘Lost’….

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…we ate the most wonderful shrimp at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck…

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…and we visited the lovely Japanese temple, where the real delight is having the birds land on your hand and delicately peck food out of your palm. Seriously magical.

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Yesterday afternoon, we left Oahu and flew to the Big Island for the next part of our trip and Gladys flew on to Kauai to enjoy the silence that comes from NOT having kids around. I have to be honest, I was a little heart-broken to leave Oahu. I can’t see that we’ll ever come back – it’s too far from the UK, flights are too expensive and there are so many other places to explore. I’m incredibly grateful to have been here twice, to have seen those beautiful mountains and to have splashed about in that amazing ocean.

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Mahalo, Oahu! Big Island, here we come!

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Oahu, leeward shore!

We arrived on the Hawaiian island of Oahu last Thursday, staggering off our red-eye from Sydney. Coming out the airport, the humidity hit us like a steam train. We visibly wilted.

We’re splitting our 10 days in Oahu between two locations – for the first week we’re staying in Makakilo, a non-touristy town just outside Honolulu. We found a super-cheap house to rent and it was too good a bargain to turn down. Today, we’re heading over to the east shore (windward side). Our friend Gladys from the Bay Area arrived on Friday, she’ll be with us until Saturday!

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Our time so far has been split basically between hiking and beaches. We’re not big beach people but Hawaii always proves the exception, the beaches here are amazing. We loved Hanauma Bay (but didn’t love having to pay $7.50 per person to get in) but we’re also loving the man-made beaches at Ko’Olani where the waves are so gentle that the Dude can splash about with only regular supervision instead of paranoid supervision. We had a lovely few hours on Waikiki beach and yesterday we found a gorgeous beach at Paradise Cove. There’s a super-expensive luau there ($90 per person!!!) but the beach is open to the public and it was gorgeous. So there has been much swimming, snorkeling, reading, chilling and relaxing.

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There has also been some fantastic hiking! We finally climbed up gorgeous Diamond Head. It was really hot and we kind of melted but the views at the top were spectacular. There was also excellent people-watching – the Japanese and Korean ladies looked so incredibly elegant and sweat-free as they climbed. How do they do it?

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We hiked the popular, short and easy Manoa Falls….

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…and then hiked the lovely Pu’u Pia trail a few roads away. We had this entirely to ourselves. We climbed the root-covered trail for just over a mile before emerging onto a little clearing at the summit with the most wonderful views over the mountains. Big Brother had been hugely unimpressed with the hike but once he saw the views,he got almost enthusiastic!

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However yesterday’s hike was epic in every sense…the spectacular Koko Head steps. Koko Head is a tuff cone (volcanic ash) that rises up only 625 ft but the trail up follows the old tram that was used in World War Two. As such it’s basically vertical and I’m really not exaggerating! The boys were both slightly nervous of this hike and we’d been honest that it wouldn’t be much fun during the actual hike but the views would be worth it.

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It was tough going up. We started at 8am (wish we’d started at 7am) and the sweat literally dripped down our faces and off our noses. The first half isn’t too bad but then there’s a short section which is a bridge and that’s actually quite nerve-wracking. And then you basically climb straight up for the remainder. Gladys flew ahead, I encouraged the Dude up and the Husband coaxed Big Brother who’d not done anything like this before. We were super-proud of the boys when they made it to the top. SUPER-proud.

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The views were spectacular and the breeze was like champagne dancing off your skin.

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Grateful to Gladys for taking so many family photos

The descent was easier but a little scary. I’m dreading the pain in my quads come this morning. Having said that, it was one of my favourite hikes ever and I loved it! I also loved the malasadas (portuguese doughnuts) that we inhaled afterwards.

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When not hiking, we also spent a morning at Pearl Harbor. It was the morning after the Manchester bombing so I was in a somber mood and this war memorial just made me sigh even deeper at man’s inhumanity to man throughout the centuries.

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In terms of running, it’s not been great. It’s too hot to run here after 7am and the humidity is fierce. I ran a solid, if uninspiring, 6 miles round suburban Kapolei and then on Monday I dragged my people to the Kapolei Running Club for their 3 mile run. This is a new running club, it only started in March, but it’s been growing fast. People were super-friendly, there was smoothie at the end and Big Brother won a prize in the raffle! This morning I’ll be running again..I hereby commit 🙂

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Sweaty…

So far, so lovely. Windward side, we’re coming for you!

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Sydney!

Oh Sydney, aren’t you GORGEOUS???

We arrived in Sydney on Monday afternoon just as the sun came out. We dumped our bags in our hostel and set off walking up Darling Harbour in search of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The sun sparkled on the water, the sky was deep blue and I was in love immediately. The bridge was massive and solid, the opera house was weird and beautiful – it was just so surreal to be there, seeing these iconic structures we’d seen in books our whole lives!

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Over the course of the next few days, Sydney continued to win us over. We spent a day checking out museums. First up was the excellent Australian Museum. We avoided the special spider exhibition (shudder) but everything else was wonderful.

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A dingo stole my baby’s…heart

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We call this his ‘Bruce’ hat. I adore it.

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Pick up one of these pretty shells and it will literally kill you!

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We visited Hyde Park Barracks – the Ellis Island of Sydney, where arriving convicts were processed. As a Brit, it was sobering and a little uncomfortable but also fascinating and raised the question of how a country populated almost entirely with convicts could build itself into such a fantastic nation so soon. Kind of a reverse Lord of the Flies. Personally, I was humbled by the courage and gutsiness of the women who made that journey. I hadn’t realised how many orphan girls from the Irish Potato Famine were shipped over or how boat-loads of women responded to adverts and came over to try and better their lives. So much research to do! I did love dressing up (!) especially when I found one lady with my name. Mine is Cathryn Joy but this is basically the same 🙂

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I could have worn that skirt forever!                       Not the bonnet though…

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The original treadmill…a form of punishment.

We spent a day at the excellent Taronga Zoo. We ummed and aahed about the zoo because a zoo is a zoo is a zoo, but this had Australian animals we wouldn’t see elsewhere else, so off we went. We splurged on a Koala experience…you’re (rightly) not allowed to handle them in NSW but you can get super-close. It was totally worth the money! Wonderful. And when some kookaburras landed overhead later that day, I was set for life.

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One evening we went to the Observatory. The three boys were very excited. Not being a fan of space exploration, I was less so but I have to admit, everyone’s excitement was contagious! We saw Jupiter clearly through the telescope (it was beautiful) and the planetarium was also great. There were fantastic night views of the Harbour Bridge too.

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Sydney was also wonderful because I got to see two internet friends! I interviewed Fairy ages ago about running in Malaysia and we’ve kept in touch via the internet. This week I got to meet her in real life and she took me to a Zumba class, her real passion. It was wonderful to meet her at long last and the Zumba class was a load of fun, even if my legs ached like death the next day!

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The gorgeous Fairy (in blue). Queen of Zumba and selfies!

I also got coffee with Fiona, who I’ve met once before in real life as well as online. Lovely to catch up with her. I asked her about Australian runners – I’ve noticed how incredibly fast and effortless they ALL look when I see them running past and she nodded. Fiona is FAST – when she ran the SF Half Marathon in 2014 she was the 19th woman of 4,000 but here in Australia she said she’s only top 10%. Definitely not moving here…I’d never AG place again! So good to see her!

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In terms of running in Sydney, I got out for two awesome runs. On the first one, I headed up over the Harbour Bridge, of course! Fantastic views.

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#seenonmyrun

For the second run, I started early and ran past the Opera House before looping round the seawall and through the Botanical gardens. Even at that early hour, the place was rammed with runners. All the tourists held their smart phones out for photos and wore massive grins.

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We also did a great hike on our last day, a well-known 10k hike from The Spit to Manly. We got the bus (178) to the Spit and set off. The recommended time allowance is 3 hours. We scoffed at it, but frankly we needed about that amount of time and we didn’t dilly-dally. It was a gorgeous walk, with great views and plenty of shade. We got the ferry back, covering about 9 miles in total that day, tired but happy. Really recommended for future visitors.

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Bruce admires the view

A quick note on our hotel – The Pod Sydney. It was so cool. Like a Japanese capsule hotel. Well located, spotlessly clean, excellent value and SO much fun. The boys adored it! Heartily recommended.

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My pod dweller husband

There was so much we loved about Australia. It felt so safe. It was so clean. The people are so friendly and laid-back. The accent makes you smile. Its history is fascinating and well cherished. It has a real British feel to it but the cities are incredibly multi-cultural in the best kind of way. (I wonder how Australia seems to have made multi-culturalism work so well where Europe seems to be struggling with it). I loved the fantastic coffee and the cool coffee shops. We loved the ease of internal flights. We loved the kangaroos, the turtles, the koalas, kookaburras and the beautiful, colourful birds. We loved the bad radio stations that play songs from at least 10 years ago, which means that we know the words and can sing along.

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In terms of what we didn’t like…I really can’t think of much. The only thing that comes to mind is the terrifying wildlife! I’m not scared of snakes per se, but I am super-scared of spiders. I have to admit, I was terrified before coming to Aus and checked under each toilet seat every time I went to the loo. In the end, it wasn’t too bad. No spiders in our hotel rooms, no spiders in public bathrooms. However we saw plenty of flipping big orb spiders in the trees throughout our time here although we saw significantly more in Sydney! I don’t like orb spiders but they stayed in the trees and ignored me, so it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I expected, probably due in the main to this being the Autumn season here. We saw no snakes. I can’t deny that my enjoyment of Australia was definitely lessened by my fear of spiders although I tried hard not to let that happen…but I won’t let that put me off coming back if ever we get the chance to do so!

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Sydney has to go down as one of my favourite cities ever. It helped that we had good weather, but the whole place has a cheerful, bustling, multicultural vibe that we all just loved. I would love to come back!

Australia, you’ve been wonderful, thank you! Oahu, Hawaii….here we come!

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Queensland

We flew out of Melbourne early on Wednesday morning, just as the sun came out after two days of steady drizzle! Darn. Flying internally within Australia is slightly freaky because THEY DO NOT CHECK IDs. Not even once! We kept offering up our passports for inspection but no-one wanted them. We literally could have given our tickets to someone off the streets and they could have flown under our names. Unnerving!

Our brief stop in Brisbane was mainly so that we could see our lovely friend Y, with whom we both used to work 12 years ago. We hadn’t seen her since our wedding, but it was flipping wonderful to see her and have lunch before a quick trip around the Gallery of Modern Art and the Queensland Art Gallery!

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Bundaberg, four hours north, is a nice enough little town. Three nights there was a big proportion of our trip but we were there primarily to do a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Whilst we are not scuba divers, we quite like snorkeling once we (I) get the hang of breathing and stop hyperventilating. And given the rate in which mankind is trashing the planet, we felt like we had to take this chance to see the reef before it changed beyond recognition. So our plan was to spend one day mooching round Bundaberg, one day on the boat trip and then, after doing parkrun Bundaberg we’d drive back south to the Sunshine Coast for the weekend.

Our plan was thwarted. The night before our boat trip, we got an email that it had been cancelled due to bad weather. I’m grateful that the company put safety before profit, and so we switched our plans round to do the boat trip on the Saturday instead. This meant two days mooching round Bundaberg and missing parkrun but we really needed to see the reef. Our two days in Bundy were relaxing and fun – we did a lot of walking along the pretty coastal trails, we tasted the world-famous locally-made ginger beer, we went kangaroo hunting (with cameras), I ran 9 solid, if uneventful, miles round the town and we went to the gorgeous Woodgate Beach.

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Dreadful photo but incredibly exciting

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The sand here was like crumbled digestive biscuit/graham cracker

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He took his ginger beer tasters like tequila shots. Concerned for his teenage years

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Naughts-and-crosses in the sand

On Saturday we got to do the boat trip – it turns out we were lucky, it was the first day they’d been out for a week due to bad weather. The 2-hour trip out and back was rough (proud of my iron stomach!) but once we got there it was great. A wonderful little coral island in a protected reef.

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First up, we snorkeled. I’ve snorkeled before but I’m very nervous in the water. As the waves buffeted me around, it honestly took all my courage to keep putting my head in the water and to stop hyperventilating and breathe slowly. I nearly gave up a few times. However on the plane to Australia, I made some goals for the trip and one was simply ‘Be Brave’ so I kept trying. After a while, I found myself floating around as fish swam around me and it was magical. I actually found holding my nose was really helpful even though I clearly didn’t need to. Anyway, I loved snorkeling and can’t wait to do it again in Hawaii.

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The boys snorkeling. No photos of me, you’ll just have to trust me

After that, we took a glass bottomed boat to the island…we saw sea-turtles swimming round below us. The island itself was beautiful, like something out of a fairy tale. The beach was made of coral sand, with different corals lying about. The whole thing was gorgeous. This was one of the things we were most looking forward to, a real investment, and it was worth it 100%.

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Trails on a desert island. Magical. 

The final day in Queensland was spent in Caloundra, a tourist town about an hour from Brisbane. It was overcast so we lazed around – went to church, explored the market and walked up the coast path to Dicky Beach so I could get a photo for my dad (Dicky).

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A quick note on runners here in Oz…they are all so fast! Seriously! We saw runners of all speeds at parkrun last weekend but those that I see running in an evening or a morning? Super-fast, super-strong, looking super awesome. They also tend to be super-handsome!

Today, Monday, we’re whizzing down to Brisbane and getting a plane to Sydney. But that’s another story!

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Melbourne!

We arrived in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon and flew out early on Wednesday morning. Just two and a half days there, but it was awesome. What a great city! It felt very much like London, probably due to the grey skies, chilly temperatures and drizzle that we had on and off for our stay, but it also had a hip edge like Portland. So I kind of loved it from the start!

Because this is still a running blog at heart, let me talk first about running in Melbourne. The best-known place to run is called the Tan Track and it’s a 2.3 mile loop of soft gravel which winds its way round the Botanical Gardens with only one road crossing. I headed there on our first morning and not even the rain could dampen my enthusiasm. Melbourne was packed with runners on the Southbank along the Yarra river and round the Tan and it was pretty awesome. There is one short section on pavement and one significant hill (if you’re going clockwise) but otherwise it’s fairly flat. I spotted one bathroom and not many other opportunities if nature called, so beware. I ran it on both mornings, the second morning I ran two laps, and I really really enjoyed it! I’ve not run much lately and it made me super-happy to get some miles into my legs!

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Soft surface, markers every 0.5km and lit at night!

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Yarra sunrise

On the Sunday we explored the lovely Botanical Gardens before going to our apartment. We’d rented a little place off Spencer St and we loved it. I love the countryside but I also really love big cities with big tall buildings, so it thrilled my heart to see shiny skyscrapers from where I lay in bed.

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Seriously, isn’t this where Danaerys sits to rule in Meereen?

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Botanical Gardens

Traveling with the 7-year-old Dude and the Husband’s son, Big Brother, who is 13 AND with us on a budget meant that we didn’t do the whole hipster coffee shop/cocktail bar/chic gallery thing which Melbourne does seem to excel at. That would be fun! Instead, we did some fantastic family friendly stuff. On Monday we went to the excellent Scienceworks museum. I’m not science-y but we all really enjoyed our hours there.

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They had this cool thing where you could race Cathy Freeman. She won…

We then did a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the Husband is a big fan…

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Testing out the home team urinal

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Press conference

…and in the evening we splashed out and went up the Skydeck, the 88-floor tower with spectacular views over the city!

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Monday had been pretty spendy, so on Tuesday, we went for an urban hike at Yarra Bend Park. There I discovered some great paved trails, primarily the Capital City Trail which runs nearly 30km around Melbourne. It seemed like it would be a great place to do a long run bearing in mind it’s pretty flat, paved and has loos fairly frequently. It also seemed pretty safe…the whole of Melbourne felt very safe actually, we all noted how safe we felt at all times of day and night at least in the city centre area where we were staying. Our 5km hike there was pretty if not spectacular but it had great views over downtown Melbourne.

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Capital City Trail

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Well this made my day…

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We then explored the hip district of Fitzroy and finished off our day with the excellent Melbourne Museum which we all really enjoyed and would recommend!

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Taxidermy coat of arms!

I really liked Melbourne. It had a great feel to it as I’ve said, a real European/PNW vibe. It was safe and clean, there was loads to do especially if you’re kid-free and blessed with great weather. It felt like a really livable city. If we hadn’t just bought a house in the UK, eh? Although spiders…

On Wednesday, we were up early and got on our plane to Brisbane…but that’s a story for another blog post.

 

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Sydney to Melbourne

It has been quite the week. On Tuesday we left our lives as Californians and flew to Sydney. The last week in California was rough…my beloved cat flew to the UK to spend the summer with his grandparents, I left my first teaching job and, with it, the children I adored. There was a final dawn run in the redwoods and there were many many goodbyes to friends. We packed up our entire apartment and loaded it onto a truck for shipping.  It was exhausting and draining physically and emotionally. Whilst I reminded myself every day that it wasn’t like I was in Syria, that these were first world problems, it was still a tough week.

I’ve mentioned before that I was reluctant to spend this summer traveling, that I would rather have gone straight back to the UK. Well, six days into our trip I freely admit that I was wrong and the Husband was right because it’s been wonderful so far.

Cue the much happier blogger you usually know and love.

We flew all day Tuesday – SF to Honolulu to Sydney. We got a surprise upgrade for the long flight between Hawaii and Australia, which was such a treat. We somehow lost Wednesday on the flight.  I have no idea how that happened, but the Husband’s lovely son, Big Brother, arrived on Thursday morning to spend the entire trip with us. He’s 13, he’s awesome and the Dude thinks he is the coolest thing ever!!

We headed straight up to the mountains, to the Blue Mountains about an hour outside Sydney. We were all shattered from our flights so we kept things easy but the views were so spectacular that no photo will do them justice. We hiked a short way along the ridge from Govett’s Leap – we had the trails basically to ourselves, it was so empty and the views were crazy!

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Then we did the touristy thing at Echo Point for the Three Sisters. You can see why all the tourists flock there, it’s spectacular.

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On Friday, we drove 4 hours down the coast towards Melbourne. We stopped outside Nowra and hiked in a park called Bomaderry Creek. Hugely different to the Blue Mountains. Those vast views were replaced with trails winding through dense forest, and under overhanging cliffs. The signposting could have been better (!) but it was a great 3 mile hike!

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This hike required a ladder over a massive boulder

On Saturday, we did parkrun at Batemans Bay. This was Big Brother’s first ever 5k. I ended up running with the Dude, the Husband ran with Big Brother who very sensibly walk-ran it. It was a lovely course along the waterfront on a cool morning, and the best thing was watching Big Brother totally smoke his dad with his final sprint!! It was the race’s first birthday so there was cake. I got rumbled with the cake!

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Rumbled with cake.

There also happened to be a Kayaking Festival on in Batemans Bay the same morning. We’d registered the night before so after parkrun we wandered over. It was a really lovely community event, people were super-friendly. We got kitted out and reminded how to paddle and before we knew it we were out in our double-kayaks on the Clyde River where jellyfish floated around us. (Apparently they weren’t venomous). The 2km race was 4 laps around some buoys. It was awesome fun. I paddled with Big Brother, and the Husband and the Dude had their own boat. We were exhausted at the end (no upper body strength) but with salty faces and wet bottoms we were all triumphant!

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Bonfire at the Kayak Festival, the night before

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The victorious team!

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I love this photo so much

Today, Sunday, was not as much fun – there was a lot of driving but finally we arrived in Melbourne. I’ll blog about that next week, once we’ve explored more, but on first impressions I LOVE the place. It’s like London crossed with Portland and I can’t wait to explore in the morning. I’m also dying to do some running – I’ve barely run for two weeks now due to the whole moving/traveling thing and it’s starting to bug me!!

A few things we’ve noted so far.

  • We love the Aussie accent, it’s just so cheerful and informal and gorgeous!
  • The Aussies are super-friendly too! Everyone seems very laid-back and cheerful. We love this.
  • Everywhere is lovely and clean, for which this arachnophobe is very grateful. One spider sighting down…it was big but not heart-attack fodder so I’m okay.
  • On that note, I’ve been extremely nervous when hiking about 8-legged beasts but so far it’s been cool. Hiking trails are called ‘walking or running tracks’.
  • New South Wales is beautiful, incredibly green and rural. Australia feels a little like the UK – the architecture is often similar, the countryside has looked similar and many of the names of cities and towns are the same as in the UK. It feels like England on acid! Victoria, closer to Melbourne, is flatter and slightly dull, to be honest, but I know we’ve missed the ‘good bits’.
  • We’ve been driving the famous coast road and surprisingly it’s not been that coastal, it’s generally inland for the majority of the time. The best section is definitely Sydney to Eden – after that it got a bit boring (forest for HOURS) and then really nothing worth seeing for hundreds of miles. We wouldn’t recommend driving this stretch.
  • SO many people smoke here! I thought smoking had ceased around the world but apparently not! People also seem to drink quite a lot too!
  • The guys are either super-hot or ‘super-not’. There’s no in-between!!
  • Aussie hotels all have electric kettles which makes tea-making very easy. British people appreciate this very much after years of lukewarm tea made with coffee-maker warm water!
  • Every single little town has at least two awesome-looking cafes/bakeries/coffee shops. I literally try to spot them as we drive through. We are on a tight budget for this four-month trip so I’m not indulging and it’s KILLING ME!!!! I would love to sit, drink and eat in every single one of them!

We are in Melbourne for the next three nights and two days…and we are ready to explore!

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Goodbye, gorgeous California

Tonight, we get on a plane and head off to Australia. We’ll hopefully be back in the US in a few weeks for the American section of our World Tour and we’ll even be back EVER SO BRIEFLY in SF, but to all intents and purposes, this is it. This is us leaving California and leaving our much-loved American life.

In January, we visited Fort Ross, an old Russian trading post up on the Sonoma Coast and I heard a quote that struck me so much I emailed the Visitor Centre asking them if they could send it to me. These are the words of Alexander Gavrilovitch Rotchev, the last manager of the Fort, before it was closed forever. He and his family loved their Californian life and as he prepared to return to Russia in 1841 he said this.

‘What an enchanting land is California!…I passed the best years of my life there, and I reverently carry the memory of those days in my soul’

I cannot think of a better way to say all that my heart feels right now.

SF mt tam

 

Goodbye,beautiful darling California. Thank you for everything.

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Things I can’t wait to do when we move home

I had some comments on my last post (and emails from my mother) that implied I’d painted a grim picture of life in the UK. That honestly wasn’t my intention and I wholeheartedly apologize if that’s how it came off.

The last post was entirely about the things we love about our current home and that we’d miss when we moved back. I have noticed in the past that when I’m away from the UK I remember it differently to how it is in reality. I remember it as more grey, miserable and grumpy. So there’s always a lovely surprise at how green and beautiful the place is, how funny and down to earth the people are and how happy we are to be there. So, UK and UK people, I’m so sorry if I appeared to diss the place, that wasn’t the intention of my post AT ALL.

We are honestly super excited to be moving back. We are in the process of buying a house that we haven’t seen yet – we sent my parents to see it, as my mum is much more fastidious and I knew that if she liked it, we would too. The Husband won’t let me ‘announce’ it on social media until we’ve exchanged contracts and the purchase is definitely going through but we are fully intending to buy this place and we are honestly beside ourselves at living there!!! Can’t wait to be able to tell you more!

In the meantime, I thought that it would be fun to create a list of things I’m excited  about as regards moving home! It was pretty easy! Bearing in mind we’ll be on a much tighter budget, we won’t be doing all these things in the first few weeks but sooner or later, we’ll get there!

So…without further ado, this is what we’re excited about.

Our new lives!

  • Being near our families again!!!
  • Being near our friends again!!!
  • Our new house!
  • Our new garden!!!
  • Planting and growing our own redwood trees
  • Trying to grow vegetables for the first time
  • Growing some California poppies alongside their British cousins
  • The British sense of humour and camaraderie
  • Befriending newcomers and making them welcome
  • Befriending American expats and returning the favour
  • Getting involved politically
  • Finally having a garage!
  • Settling into our new church and getting involved
  • Meeting our neighbours and hopefully making some friends
parents family SFO

No more airport photos!!

Shops

  • Marks & Spencers
  • Waitrose
  • John Lewis
  • Farm Shops
  • The cafe that I have found online in our new town and am planning to adopt as my place due to its good veggie soups
  • Shopping at our local market
  • Go Outdoors
  • Corner shops!

Food

  • Good bread
  • Good cheese
  • Good sausages (for my boys)
  • Good bacon (ditto)
  • Good tea
  • Scones, jam and cream
  • Good curries
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Really good pies
  • Our mums’ Sunday lunches
  • Crumpets

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Taking the Dude to Europe

  • Generally being just a 2 hour flight away from 30 different countries!
  • Speaking French and Italian again!
  • The Sound of Music tour in Salzburg
  • Switzerland
  • Skiing in France
  • Camping and cycling in Scandinavia
  • FINALLY visiting my dream town, Annecy
  • Greece, for the first time
  • Sicily!
  • Rome
  • La Coupole WW2 bunker, Normandy
Places that make my heart glad: Austria

This is a real place. Hallstadt.

Exploring the UK

  • Lots of camping!
  • Lots of cycling on quiet country roads
  • Running along canal towpaths
  • The Lake District
  • The Dales
  • The Peak District
  • Devon and Cornwall
  • The Scilly Islands
  • The Cotswolds
  • The Isle of Wight
  • Castles!
  • Joining the National Trust
  • Pub lunches
  • The Eden Project

Running 

  • Running on trails outside my new back door!
  • Joining my new running club
  • Wearing a club vest at a race
  • Exploring our new town on foot
  • Trail races
  • Going to Marathon Talk‘s Run Camp
  • Running on the South West Coast Path
  • parkrun tourism
  • Running/hiking the 250 mile Pennine Way
  • Hopefully meeting other local runners on social media
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Umm…this will be my daily running route come September!

Seeing

  • All the redwood trees in the UK listed on this website
  • Robins
  • Sheep!
  • Postboxes and telephone boxes
  • Old buildings
  • Cobbled streets!
  • Thatched cottages
  • Christmas markets
  • Seasons!!! Especially Autumn!
  • Pantomimes

IMG_2703

Not….

  • Being nervous about wild animals when running!
  • Worrying about school shootings
  • Worrying about earthquakes
  • Having to pay for healthcare
  • Living under the current delightful president

So much to get excited about!! We just need to get Charlie safely back tomorrow! Cross your paws, people!

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How the Bay Area has changed me

Next week, we move away from the Bay Area after nearly 7 years of living here. I am dreading this week…I finish my college course, I say goodbye to my beloved preschoolers, my darling cat flies home alone, we have our leaving picnic and I have my final Sunday at the church I love. I honestly want this week to be over already.

Our Californian days have very definitely been the best years of our lives. They have also been an incredibly formative period and I thought it was worth documenting those changes. This may be slightly self-indulgent and naval-gazing but I’m in a reflective state of mind at the moment. Both reflective and slightly unhinged, let’s be honest. This is going to be a tough week!!

Anyway…this is how the Bay Area has changed me and my family.

I became a runner. I’d been a runner for an 18 month period in the UK but when we moved here, I was very much a cyclist at heart. Within days of moving here, I’d been inspired by the tanned, long-legged, swingy-pony-tailed girls I saw running around San Mateo and I wanted to run again. Since we’ve lived here, running has become my addiction of choice. It’s brought me so much joy, so much self-esteem and so many friends. I’m looking forward to cycling more on the quieter UK roads but I’m super-excited to become a UK runner and to check out the UK running scene for realz.

me

I became a trail runner. – In all my UK running, it never ever occurred to me to run off-road. Never. Weird. Especially because we were BIG hikers. But we moved here and at the time there were plenty of wonderful running blogs set here in the Bay Area and of course many of them were on trails. I was intrigued. So one fateful day, I persuaded my boys to go to Huddart Park and hike whilst I tried running. It was literally life-changing and the trail obsession began. When we move back to the UK, investigating and joining the UK trail community is something that is getting me really excited.

Marin Trails Me

Being outdoors became part of us. – I feel like we were fairly outdoorsy in the UK. We camped (which in the UK is a sign of being seriously tough). We hiked. We cycled everywhere. But the weather here is so wonderful that it became part of our identity as a family and I really hope we continue this in the UK. We’ll need some new gear (yay), we’ll need to toughen up our backbones and face the delightful British weather but I think that this is who our family is now, and that’s wonderful.

us hiking windy

I became a cook – Let’s not lie, I’m still far from a great cook. But when we moved here I was truly awful. But I discovered food blogs, I discovered new ingredients, I discovered a couple of good, simple cookbooks and worked my way quietly through them and bit by bit, I learned to cook. There are still some dishes that I present to my family with apologies and promises not to make them again (we still have to eat them) but those nights are few and far between. Also, our diet has completely changed. Thanks to blogs like 101cookbooks or Minimalist Baker, our style of eating is totally different to how it used to be and I’m determined not to give this up when we move home.

I became a vegetarian – (Actually, an occasional pescatarian). Vegetarianism in the UK is hard. It’s a very meat-and-carbs centred diet and previous to moving here, I had NO desire to give up meat. It wasn’t even an option. The Husband and I used to give thanks that we’d not married vegetarians. But here, so many people ARE veggie and most other people don’t blink if you present them with a vegetable main course so, bit by bit, my perceptions changed. It became attractive to me and one Lent, I gave meat up as a trial and I never looked back. The Husband, a confirmed carnivore, was more than willing to cut back drastically on his meat and he eats the veggie food I serve him willingly. I am DEFINITELY not going back on this!

Tomatoes vegetables market

I became a preschool teacher. – When we moved here, I was on maternity leave from an office job working in marketing for a BIG company. Whilst I enjoyed my role and LOVED my colleagues, I knew that this didn’t make my heart happy, but I was trapped by the great wages and the perks. After five very happy years of mothering, I was ready to go back to work when the Dude started school. Two interviews later, I knew I wasn’t going back into the office. So I finally fulfilled a life-long secret hankering to teach. I went back to college a few days before my 40th birthday and nine months later I started teaching preschool. It has without doubt been the very best change to my life that California has given me. There’s such peace in finally doing the job God made me to do – and I’m grateful that the Husband earns enough for me to be able to do it, as you don’t teach preschool for the money. I won’t be teaching immediately in the UK – I want to settle the Dude into his new life for a few months – but come January 2018, I’m back in the classroom doing the job I love.

I became closer to God. – When we moved here, my life-long faith was a little fragile. I’d wandered away from God in my 20s and was just in the process of building my faith up again. This move has been amazing for my faith. I found the very best church in the world, full of lovely people who don’t judge but just welcome and love. It shaped me and built me up. Being a Christian in the UK is pretty tough – as a country, it’s very anti-faith, anti-God – and it will be a shock after the acceptance I’ve found here, but I’m ready to represent when we get back.

I became a leftie – Politically, I’ve always been pretty central, maybe slightly right of centre. But when you live in America if you believe in free healthcare for all, in a woman’s right to choose and in gun-control you’re pretty much socialist. I’ve been surrounded here by wonderful liberal friends who have made me think hard about what I believe politically. I don’t agree with them on all things but I’m definitely more passionate about political things than I was and I’m definitely a Guardian reader these days. I’ve been reluctant to get too much into the political situation here  in the US. I’m a guest here and I have not been comfortable criticizing TOO MUCH the country that has welcomed me. Once we get back, I feel much more empowered to get politically involved, particularly given the delights of Brexit. So, my future MP, get ready for this California Leftie arriving on your doorstep with banana bread and lots to talk about.

I became a blogger. – D’oh. Here we are. This blog has also been one of the best things I did in California because I met you guys. And I’m so grateful.

I became nicer. – In the UK, we’re much more guarded towards people we don’t know. We hunt in packs, outsiders are not welcome until we know them well or unless we’re all drunk together. I think I was always the outlier, I’ve always been friendlier and more welcoming than the average Brit, but within a week of living here, I realized that I wasn’t as welcoming as I liked to think. I’m planning to take that wonderful California attitude of welcome back to the UK.

I became more sober – Talking of alcohol…we drink too much in the UK. We don’t drink anywhere near as much in the US. It was quite a shock when I arrived. Whilst I still love wine, the Husband and I are nervous of returning to the British drinking culture – I know I can be easily swayed so I need to be wary.

me danville wine

We became more American – we’re so Californian now. We give high-fives, we use words like ‘dude’, we stay inside if it’s cloudy, we only camp if it’s sunny, we hate sarcasm and teasing because it offends people…we’re in for a shock.

The Husband became #Ironballz – Triathlon is now a thing in our family. Ironman is now a thing in our family. I’m working on the Husband to do Ironman Austria because it looks wonderful and because we get another cat if he does.

rich husband ironman vine man

We have a cat – Best. Gift. Ever.

Charlie

Totally gratuitous photo of my favourite ginger

We raised a Californian – We brought a fat British baby with us. We take home a tall, lanky Californian with an impeccable British accent. One thing I’m grateful for is the wonderful childhood the Golden State has given him. Endless sunshine. Swimming on hot days in icy snow-melt rivers. Cycling on warm evenings on pelican-studded trails by the water. Holding injured hummingbirds in his hands. Kissing agapanthus flowers and hiking through redwoods. I’m also grateful that he’s had a childhood with such diversity. In his class of 24, he’s one of 3 caucasian kids. This won’t be the case in rural England. I hope his nonchalant approach to diversity remains.

dude hiking edgewood

Seriously! Preschoolers are the best!

So there we go…lots of changes.Lots of things to be grateful for and lots of things to be careful don’t get rubbed away by the grey skies, grumpy people and excellent sausages.

One more week. Let’s do this.

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My Bay Area recommendations

Several times now, British friends who are coming to the Bay Area have asked me for my recommendations of places to go, places to eat and things to do. I LOVE helping people plan trips so I’m only too happy to write LONG emails listing things I think they’d like. Then it occurred to me that this would make a great blog post and then, in the future, I could just email them this link with a few modifications.

Bear in mind I wrote this in April 2017 – things change. Cafes and restaurants go out of business. New things open, some things close. But hopefully this is useful stuff if you’re coming to the Bay Area!

For running recommendations, click HERE. 

San Francisco

My favourite thing to do with visitors is to rent bikes and cycle along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge, over the bridge, down to Sausalito and get the ferry back. It’s about 11 miles, it’s pretty flat (although there are a few hills, I can’t lie). But the views are amazing. DO take layers – the bridge is ALWAYS freezing but people NEVER realise it and so they have a miserable experience. Also be sure to check ferry times in advance and get there in plenty of time at weekends and on holidays. Half way round, just under the bridge is my favourite cafe, the Warming Hut. Amazing views, excellent coffee, good cake a wonderful gift shop and nice (hot) hipster guys. Rent bikes with ‘Bike the Bridge’.

Babby's Bridge Fog Cycling

Hmmm…fog

Sausalito is lovely, I love to wander around and people-watch. There is excellent ice-cream (Lappert’s) and one of my fave restaurants (Salito’s) is on the waterfront there. It’s not too expensive and you can have a glass of wine on the water.

Golden Gate Park is good for a day. The California Academy of Sciences is excellent (good cafe) and worth the entrance fee. At Stow  Lake you can rent rowing boats and pedalo boats which is nice on a sunny day. Also good pierogis at the cafe. Further down the park is a field of bison and where the park meets the ocean is a lovely cafe/restaurant called the Beach Chalet. In the park, the best playground is the Koret’s Children’s Corner which is a great play park if you have kids.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake on a sunnier day than today

Ocean Beach is beautiful but LETHAL. DO NOT let your kids in the water there, people are killed all the time. I don’t let my son play in the ocean at all, the coastline is really dangerous. But the beach is pretty to play on. Further north, if you have a car, is Baker Beach which is also really lovely, it has amazing beach views of the bridge so it gives the best photo opps in the city, I think.

Alcatraz is good and kids should enjoy it. If you want to do it, book it NOW…it books up solidly the whole summer.

Th Exploratorium science museum is on the Embarcadero (waterfront) and it’s excellent. Not cheap but really good. I’m not even science-y and I like it.

There’s a parkrun on Crissy Field near the bridge at 9am on a Saturday. Coffee and doughnuts afterwards.

parkrun me sf GGB

You too can look like death in your parkrun photos with a view

Get a car, drive over the bridge and head up Hawk Hill for the very best views of the bridge, they’re amazing! Come off at Alexander Ave, turn left back under the 101, take the first right and start climbing. That whole area, the Marin headlands  is gorgeous and excellent for hiking and good views!

Golden Gate Bridge GGB

Yep!

 

SGA trails headlands GGB

SCA trail in the Marin headlands

In the Marin Headlands is the Nike Missile Site! Check opening times before you go but it’s REALLY good! Gives you the cold war shivers!

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Also north of the bridge, in Marin County, is Muir Woods where there’s a forest of redwood trees. Redwood trees are my obsession here, they’re the most amazing, tall, beautiful trees in the world. I love them. I recommend visiting and I recommend the cheese/onion scones at the cafe. If you have a car, I actually prefer the redwoods in Huddart Park, 20 miles south of the city in Woodside. MUCH quieter, you have them to yourselves, and you can eat at my favourite restaurant, Alice’s, at the junction of 84 and Skyline!!

redwoods

There are some lovely parks in the city. I like Dolores Park in the Mission (the parking is a shocker, though). The views are amazing and the play park is the best in the city. There are some excellent cafes nearby…the Dolores Park Cafe on the bottom corner is really nice and just round the corner is Tartine, a bakery which does the best croissants/almond croissants/pastries in the city. Also nearby is Bi-Rite ice-cream which people love. My fave ice-cream place is Smitten – their ice-cream is some of the best I’ve ever had, they have four locations around the city so google which is the closest. You shouldn’t leave SF without having Smitten.

People love Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a total tourist trap (kind of like Leicester Square where no local actually goes) but people do love it. The Ghiradelli Chocolate factory is well worth a visit, their sundaes are enormous. Nearby is the Buena Vista Cafe and they do amazing Irish Coffees as well as good brunch food.

Teens will prob like the Go Car rental which I have always wanted to do, but it’s too grown up for my little one.

Also on the Embarcadero is the Ferry Building, which I love. It’s a lovely old building filled with nice food stores and cafes. You’ll like it!! There’s good coffee there (Blue Bottle coffee). The line takes FOREVER but the coffee is good.

SF Ferry Building

The Ferry Building

The best hiking (and trail running) is on Mt Tamalpais (Mt Tam) in Marin County. You can drive to the top and the views are amazing. The best hikes (IMHO) start from Pantoll Ranger Station – Steep Ravine is my favourite trail but it’s called Steep for a reason.

steep ravine trails tam

My favourite beach is Stinson Beach which is also up on Mt Tam. It’s a long drive but totally worth it. The beach is lovely, the ocean is FAIRLY safe as long as you’re careful and we’ve had great days out there.

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Teens might like Dogpatch Boulders to do some rock climbing. There’s good ice cream next door at Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous.

We really like Half Moon Bay, about 20 miles down the coast from SF. Just north, at Moss Beach Harbor, is a fantastic locals-only beach off West Point Ave which is totally safe for the kids as it’s on the harbor so there are no waves. You can kayak there or SUP and there are plenty of places to eat nearby. Downtown HMB is lovely – very sweet. DO NOT go to the British pub – it’s rubbish and they do bangers & mash with packeted potato! Sam’s Chowder House, near the harbor, is wonderful – it’s a little pricey and there are super-long queues at the weekend but it’s great.

Half Moon Bay HMB Fog

An old photo but I never get tired of this view!

My favourite museum is in Oakland – the Oakland Museum of California. It’s wonderful!

In terms of sports, it’s worth seeing a baseball or football game if you’ve not done that before. We really loved watching the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey too.

Things to bear in mind:

  • I think SF is very safe but be careful as ever. One particularly dodgy area is the junction of 6th and Market and around there, plus the whole Tenderloin area. Steer clear.
  • Bring all the layers. You NEVER know what it will be like and the climate changes dramatically around the city.
  • This sounds petty but don’t call it San Fran. It really bugs locals. Call it San Francisco, SF or ‘the city’ Don’t call it Frisco.
  • Download Uber or Lyft and use them a lot. But you’ll need a car seat for your little one! The law is tight on this one. Or rent a car.
  • Parking is a shocker but driving is easy. I think drivers are more generous than in the UK.
  • I’ve mentioned a lot of my favourite cafes and restaurants. They’re all kid friendly. I’d recommend downloading the YELP app – people basically yelp anything they’re looking for, and I’d trust their cafe recommendations etc. A few more places I love are:

– the Stable Cafe in the Mission. Excellent brunch. EXCELLENT cafe au lait.

– I like Absinthe Bistro in Hayes Valley (basically downtown). It’s a little fancy (date night?) but lovely and there’s a Smitten ice-cream opposite for dessert.

– There’s an amazing second-hand book shop in the top left corner of the city, called Green Apple Books. If you like books, it’s worth the drive out there and there are excellent eateries around the shop!

– We love Live Sushi in Potrero Hill – great sushi, reasonable prices. Follow this up with cocktails at Epic Steakhouse or Waterfront Bar on the Embarcadero for great Bay Bridge views.

– There are some great shopping/cafe/people-watching areas I’d recommend. 1) Union St between Octavia & Pierce, 2) Fillmore St between Clay and Bush and 3) Hayes St between Gough and Webster. Fantastic parts of the city!

Away from the city…

Personally I’d always recommend Lake Tahoe, which is my favourite place!  4-5 hours away from SF, it’s the most gorgeous place. Skiing in winter, hiking or cycling in the summer plus kayaking, SUP-ing, hanging out..it’s wonderful. I prefer the north shore – I love Tahoe City and Rosie’s Cafe! My favourite town in the whole of California is Truckee, just north of the lake. I’d move there forever if I could.

tahoe

Santa Barbara is wonderful. It’s a good 5 hour drive without stops but it’s a lovely lovely city. If you go there, I can recommend a very good airbnb with a cat.

santa barbara palm

Yosemite is also wonderful but in a different way. If you go and can’t get lodging in the valley, stay in Groveland or Mariposa.

Yosemite

This place is incredible.

People rave about Monterey, it doesn’t rock my world but I may be wrong. It’s about 2 hours away. There’s an excellent aquarium (one of the best) and the coast road is pretty but I’m more a mountain girl than an ocean girl so I’m biased. South of Monterey is Big Sur which is a wonderful coast road – do stop at Nepenthe restaurant. There’s an expensive part but also a very reasonable cafe part with a terrace with the best view!

Nepenthe Big Sur

The view from the Nepenthe terrace is pretty wonderful

Also consider the Russian River – about 2 hour north of SF. Drive up the 101 to Santa Rosa then turn left and stay in Guerneville. We discovered this area last year and we love it. Kayaking, hiking in redwoods (running!), gorgeous coastline (Bodega Bay, Point Reyes) and nice wineries. We went back about 5 times in one year.

kayaking russian river

Wine Country is lovely but not ideal with kids. My favourite wineries are in Napa – we love Artesa to start with – buy a glass of sparkles to drink on the terrace. We like Frog’s Leap for the lovely garden and the lazy cat, and Sterling for the cable-car ride up to the winery and the incredible views from the terrace.

So there you go…our favourite things after 7 happy years of living here!!! Hope this is helpful.

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