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Early retirement travels - week 12 California & Home

Santa Barbara - a view during my morning run

It's my last week which means mixed feelings. This year's travel adventure is nearly over but I have getting home to look forward to.

My flight leaves LAX on Saturday and before then I’ll visit Napa Valley, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and head down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. The coast road is far from the quickest route but surely it’s the most scenic.

I arrived in Napa on Monday lunchtime, perfectly timed for a coffee shop visit before an afternoon wandering around the town and a run. Last week's snow at Lake Tahoe had thwarted any running plans so I was determined not to let one week of no running slide into two. Running in a strange town isn't ideal, I find there's too much stopping and starting, but I do get a flavour of the town, what the houses are like, whether it looks affluent or a bit run down and if there are a few or many people about and what they’re up to. Napa appears to be in the more affluent category.

The next morning I drove along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, a scenic route through vineyards and wineries. While I wasn’t drinking alcohol during my travels, how could I visit such a famous wine region without tasting the wine? I decided I couldn’t, so pulled into the Silverado Vineyard for a tasting, with a spittoon allowing me to both stick to my alcohol-free travel and, even more important, drive one hundred percent sober. I also stopped off at the pretty towns of Yountville and St Helena before heading away from Napa Valley in the afternoon.

I stopped for a photo crossing the Golden Gate Bridge but not in San Francisco as I’d visited the city before. I planned to keep going to an overnight stop in Monterrey but given an already long day of driving, the dark, the rain and with Monterrey still an hour or more away I decided to stop earlier in Santa Cruz. I walked to the centre of town for dinner and the next morning walked down the wharf and along the Boardwalk to see the vintage roller coaster. Maybe it was the rain (it rained a lot this week) but it didn’t seem to be such an exciting place.

Back on the road, I passed through Monterrey before stopping in the attractive town of Carmel. If I could have a do over, I’d swap my night in Santa Cruz for a night in Carmel, I’m sure I’d have been happy to spend a few days there. Instead I had a couple of hours window shopping and of course visited a coffee shop. I wonder whether I risk ejection from the FIRE community based on my propensity for stopping in coffee shops?

Leaving Carmel my next destination was Solvang, a town founded by Danish immigrants who wanted a place that felt like home. It’s a little bizarre, a super quaint Danish style town in the middle of California, something that wouldn’t look out of place in Disneyland.

I was pleased with my 20km morning run in Solvang before breakfast. Back in the car, I continued south past Pizmo Beach and Elephant Seal Vista Point where, as the name suggests, you can see seals, and get surprising close to them. Just the type of thing Sally would enjoy, if only she hadn’t finished her travels two months earlier. Next up was Big Sur National Park which I’d read has some beautiful walks which didn’t seem so attractive in the rain. But at least the scenery on the drive was still spectacular.

The last stop on my trip was Santa Barbara. I find I want to do less as I get towards the end of my travels and this week, including my time in Santa Barbara, was no exception. I wandered around the town, walked along the pier and to the marina, looked at the shops in Main Street and found coffee shops to while the time away. It feels a bit lazy but sometimes it’s okay not to do much, which is something I'm still trying to work on. Along with Carmel, Santa Barbara was my favourite town on this coastal drive.

And that pretty much brings my three month journey to an end. On Saturday I left Santa Barbara, passing through Malibu on my way to LAX. Ten hours flying plus an eight hour time difference got me to London early Sunday afternoon. A few days visiting family and then back home. Where did those three months go?

I guess there’s one more early retirement travels post to do, summing up the past three months - what we did, what we liked best or not so much, what we might have done differently, how much it cost etc. The accountant bit of me that still exists is intrigued to compare the average daily cost of California to Costa Rica to Colombia, and how all of those compare to what we spend for normal life at home. I’m also keen to see how my efforts to eat healthily and exercise regularly went – did the better weeks outdo the less good weeks or vice versa?

On that last point, California has been a struggle for healthy eating. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m on my own, because the weather is cooler or because less healthy stuff is so accessible, but I’m struggling to justify more than a 5 out of 10 for my diet this week. Too many chocolate bars – sugar is so addictive! On the plus side, I’m giving myself full marks for exercise, my only ten out of ten of the trip, for my three runs and two hotel room HIIT routines. I think I’ll end on that positive note!

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I find my blog is a little like keeping a journal and sometimes read back about what I did or what I was thinking six months or a year ago. I always thought that keeping a diary sounded a bit dull, but it turns out it can be kind of fun.

Week 12 - what I've done:

Monday – Orangevale to Napa Valley. A wander around Napa and an afternoon run

Tuesday – Drove the Silverado Trail. Wine tasting. Stopped in Yountville and St Helena. Overnight in Santa Cruz

Wednesday – Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. Santa Cruz to Solvang today

Thursday – Morning run in Solvang followed by a wander round the town. Drive to Santa Barbara. Walked down Main Street. Coffee, lunch and some blog writing

Friday – Santa Barbara. Morning run. Diner breakfast. Blog. Afternoon hotel room workout

Saturday – Morning hotel room workout. Santa Barbara to Malibu to LAX for my flight to the UK

Sunday – Landed in the UK early afternoon. Travels are finished!

Week 12 - I spent a total of £735 / €823 / $962 for 1 person on:

Accommodation £342 / €381 / $446

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £166 / €186 / $218

Transport £175 / €196 / $229

Attractions £45 / €51 / $59 Wine tasting - I think I chose an expensive one

Laundry £5 / €6 / $7

Toiletries £2 / €3 / $3


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