We have just finished our West Coast 4 week trip – 2200+ miles, 2 countries, 3 states and 13 hotels. We flew from our home town of Toronto (Canada) to Vancouver (Canada) where our son is going to school. After a short visit we went by train to Seattle and then Portland before picking up a car to drive down the west coast along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We stayed in small towns, small cities, large cities and in the outlying reaches of Los Angeles. The plan was to travel as far as San Diego and then head to Las Vegas for the 4th of July. We saw a lot of new and interesting things – you can read each separate blog on the places we stopped. But reflecting on the airplane on the way home, there was a solid list of things that remained the same over the course of the entire trip. In no particular order ….
1) Really bad pillows: We have our own pillows at home that work for our own unique needs. David prefers an orthopaedic memory foam pillow and mine is designed for side sleepers. As hotels have moved to improve mattresses, we now worry about the pillows. By the 4th hotel on our West Coast 4 week trip with flat or hard or just awful pillows with no support, we were literally exhausted from sleeping bad. A quick trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond got us new pillows and we then looked like all the people we had previously laughed at who check in with their pillows in hand. At the one higher end hotel we stayed in, we left our pillows in the car but after the first night they were rescued. There was no “pillow menu”, something we had seen quite a bit the last time we were in Europe.
2) The great ocean views: We had been to Vancouver before and were quite used to the views of the Pacific ocean but most of Vancouver is flat and it really is not a surfing destination. We once went way out to Tofino, BC on the Pacific Ocean and that felt like a real ocean view. Our first sight of the Pacific on the wild rocky shores of northern Oregon caused us to pull off on the “Vista” stop to just watch the surf pound. As we moved along the coast into California, our awe of the view dulled a little, although you would not know that from the number of ocean and beach pictures we continued to take. When we reached San Diego we could enjoy both the rough coast line of La Jolla or the long stretches of white sand beaches on Coronado Island. We never strayed very far from the sound of the surf on this West Coast 4 week trip.
3) Gas prices in the US: Gas prices floated between about $3.90 (US$ per US gal) and $4.10 at most stops on our West Coast 4 week trip. We never saw weekend spikes or long lines for discount gas although there were some local chains that were a bit less. As Canadians, with vast supplies of petroleum, we are paying around $5.30 (converted for US$ and USgal). A lot of the difference is Canadian taxes.
4) Liquor and beer prices in the grocery stores: First of all, in Ontario, you can’t buy beer or liquor in grocery stores. There are government operated “Beer Stores” and government operated “Liquor Stores”. Sometimes you can buy wine in a private wine store (or from a winery). We saw prices that were consistently less than half the price we pay in Canada where we pay a doubling down of provincial and federal “sin taxes”. We never hesitated to pick up wine or beer on our West Coast 4 week trip.
5) No rain: While we went to California with the song “it doesn’t rain in Southern California” in our minds, we expected some precipitation during the West Coast 4 week trip. Even in Vancouver and through Oregon we got not a drop of rain. The biggest precipitation (and hair problem) we did see resulted from “June Gloom” fog that took sometimes hours to burn off. Overall, the temperatures were warm and we saw the sun very day. Very good for sun lizards like us.
6) Drivers stay in the left lane and don’t move right when they have passed: Drivers in the US were as clueless as Canadian drivers and refuse to drive in the right lane(s). This is the one thing we love about driving in Europe (other than the very fast autoroutes), where everyone knows that only jerks stay in the left lane, regardless of their speed.
7) We took the slower beach road: When researching driving times in California, they were always way understated as they assumed you would want to drive on I5. If there was a way to travel at the waters edge, we would find it for the West Coast 4 week trip. We traveled most of the way on Hwy 1 or Hwy 101 – known as the Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH). This always messed up travel time calculations because of the many detours or stops we would make but resulted in many more “ahhhh” moments. This routing also caused us to reconsider whether driving on the Amalfi Coast was really so bad after all!
8) Never take the first hotel room offered: We actually learned this lesson in Europe when we were there last fall for 6 weeks but we needed a reminder. It seemed that whether we arrived really early, at the checkin time or later in the evening, the first room offered seemed to be the room of last resorts (David calls this the “Expedia Room”). We are not sure if this was because our bargain shopping on the internet flagged these as less expensive rooms or whether it is standard policy to pawn off bad rooms unless someone complains. We now always complain if the room is not what we booked or is the worst room in the class we booked. We are generally not looking to get upgraded, although we have been amazed by upgrades at times – we just want a reasonable room in the “class” we paid for regardless of what it actually cost us.
9) In general we found nothing but bad customer service on our West Coast 4 week trip: Big towns, small towns, tourist or local places – in general we got slow service, wrong orders, lack of staff and general lack of caring. When we have travelled in Europe we found the small towns and local spots to have exemplary service but not so on this US trip. The exceptions were notable! All of the service and virtually everything we did got documented in novels written by David on TripAdvisor. He works hard to maintain his Senior Contributor status by “sharing”.
10) I was worried about getting scurvy from the lack of vegetables: We travelled through some of the vastest farmlands we have ever seen, so we wondered how we could not be enjoying more fresh produce. We bought fresh fruit (and a super food powder) for our daily smoothies and that may be the only thing that kept us nutritionally balanced. We would sometimes buy fresh produce for our picnics but other than salads, it was hard to find vegetables hiding anywhere on the massive servings we got in the US. By the second week, we were “ham”ing it to reduce the portions sizes (“ham” = “half a meal” = sharing a meal for 2 of us). I was craving fruits and veggies at the end of our West Coast 4 week trip.
And travelling together was good: The last constant on yet one more long trip was laughing and having fun travelling with David, even if I wanted to steal his room key and lock him out once or twice. I was never tempted to send him home on our West Coast 4 week trip.
Have you done a West Coast 4 week trip? What common themes are running through your travels? Share them with us. Let us know if any of the Canadian comparisons noted above require more explanation.