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California Dreamin’

USA and Canada trip, Summer 2023: Week 4

  • Livermore, CA and San Francisco, CA
  • Livermore, CA to Alhambra, CA (Amtrak): 662km
  • Alhambra, CA and Los Angeles, CA

A little less travelling this week, and a little more pottering, but it’s a week that finishes with one of the most memorable moments yet, so read on.

I continue my stay with Ann and Andy in Livermore, exploring a bit more of the local area and catching some local events.

These include a trip to the curious but rather brilliant Blackhawk Museum, a huge and wildly eclectic collection of classic cars, western memorabilia, African and Chinese artefacts and stuffed animals. It’s quite beautifully maintained and presented, and apparently just appeared (along with a surrounding retail centre and housing) out of nowhere a few years back, thanks to a local benefactor. The car collection is extraordinary. Andy loves it, and I can understand why!

Cars at Blackhawk Museum

I spend some time wandering around the local town of Livermore, sampling the atmosphere. I suspect it is a good example of a well-off, small, low-rise American town, where the centre skews much more towards food and entertainment than we British folks are used to. Nearly all the shopping is located out of the way and only accessible by car.

We also catch a movie, watch a blues band at a garden center (sic), visit an inland marina and see a Shakespeare play at a winery as the sun sets. Enchanting.

Much Ado About Nothing

Also, just as I’d done in Chicago, I meet up for lunch with someone I only ‘knew’ previously online, in this case from an Ipswich Town supporters chat group. We’re everywhere! Brian is a Cork native who emigrated to the US and now lives across the bay from San Francisco. I take the ferry past Alcatraz and have Sunday lunch in Sausalito by the marina with ‘Mill Valley Blue’ and his charming wife. I promise to repay the hospitality in Ipswich one day soon.

The temperatures during my stay in Livermore are sweltering, breaking 100°F (38C) for several days in a row. Fortunately, air conditioning is ubiquitous in California. While it’s usually hot in the summer inland, this year seems to be exceptional. It’s remarkable though how much the temperature plummets as you get closer to the sea. We drive to the coast (perhaps 50km as the crow flies) to take the dog for a walk and give her some relief from the heat, and the temperature drops nearly 20C in that relatively short distance.

Here are the current temperatures from the two places, for example:


That said, it’s still beautifully sunny by the sea!

Seashore, Richmond, CA

There’s time for a farewell Chinese meal with my hosts, then it’s an early start for Los Angeles. My original hope was to get a coach down the Pacific Coast Highway, which by all accounts is beautiful, but… there aren’t any. I think this may be because it’s not a road which is friendly to large vehicles. Still, I’m surprised there aren’t some smaller vehicle tours.

I don’t want to catch the direct coastal train, because that’s what I’ll be coming back on in a week’s time. However, it turns out there’s another rail line heading south from San Francisco. It goes three-quarters of the way to Los Angeles, as far as Bakersfield, then Amtrak puts on a coach for the last hour or two, for anyone who wants to go further. I head for that!

Amtrak Stockton, CA station

I won’t pretend that the route is at all scenic. To be honest, it’s quite dull. I’m in Los Angeles in eight hours though, so it does the job. And we’re now at the fourth major city of my trip!

Los Angeles, City of Angels

Just as in San Francisco, I’m so lucky to have old friends to stay with. Ceri (and her husband Ian, who amusingly is in England during my visit) moved here a few years ago, and have a house in Alhambra, “a quiet city of about 85,000 people with a predominantly Asian and Latino population”, which is a few miles north of the downtown area and fairly close to the excellent A (“Blue”) line, which at just under 70km is the longest light rail line in the world. Alhambra is lovely, although just as bakingly hot as Livermore.

LA Metro A-Line train at South Pasadena station

I get the obvious out of the way and book a Hollywood-based city tour straight away. There can’t be a three-hour tour in the world that passes by so many famous places, so at least I get that out of my system. Hollywood Boulevard. Tick. Walk of Fame. Tick. Chinese Theater (sic). Tick. Hollywood sign. Tick. Mulholland Drive. Tick. Beverly Hills. Tick. Views over the city. Tick. The tour does them all, and many more besides.

Walk of Fame star

Chinese Theater, Hollywood, July 2023

Hollywood Sign

View over LA

If that was a treat, the following day is on another level. I didn’t mention that Ceri, who I’m staying with, lives in LA because she works at JPL. For NASA. Awesome, right?

And guess what? She can take me on a visit there.

The space geek that has been inside me since I was about 5 years old can’t quite believe it. Nor would the 14-year-old me, sitting in the library on games afternoons reading science books, thanks to my parents being liberal with the sick notes. I’m actually at JPL!

Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California

We even strike lucky, getting a personal tour of the Space Flight Operations Center from Jim McClure himself, the facility’s Operations Manager. I’m a little awestruck and am only now thinking of all the questions I should have asked. This should have been me:

I also get to see the Europa Clipper in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. This is being developed to study Europa through a series of flybys while in orbit around Jupiter. It’s planned for launch in October 2024, although it’ll take five and a half years to reach the destination. It’s instantly my new favourite space mission.

Europa Clipper, which will launch in October 2024, under assemply at JPL

I need to go and sit in a cool movie theater to recover, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. More from LA next week, and then it’s off on another long train journey, this time to the far north west of mainland USA.

Your comments

  1. Wow! That was an amazing few days. What a lot of exciting experiences and sights to see. Looking forward to the next instalment xxx

  2. Still out there living my best life Chris. I’m guessing that a surprise pre-season stop for ITFC in North West USA is about the only way your trip could get better!

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