Tag: La Jolla

Route One – Day Three: SANTA BARBARA TO SAN DIEGO

We’ve now made it down Highway One into Southern California, after starting in San Francisco, winding our way through Big Sur and staying in San Simeon!! Click here, if you missed that part.

We then went from San Simeon, via San Luis Opismo and Solvang to reach Santa Barbara – you’ve guessed it, hit the link if you want to read that page.

Now onto the third and final day of our trip along the Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Barbara to San Diego!!

10.30am – Leave El Capitan Canyon (You should leave at 9.30am)

We left late every morning. Don't do that. Leave on time or leave early!!!

We left late every morning. Don’t do that. Leave on time or leave early!!!

Ok, we really couldn’t leave on time, whatever day it was!

We were aiming for 10am but still left half an hour late. It was Alicia’s birthday though, so we treated ourselves to a relaxing breakfast at the Canyon Market!

We had a great night’s sleep. It was lovely to wake up in the middle of nowhere but still be able to charge our phones and have a shower without leaving our lodge.

The lodge is quite basic but it has everything you need, including an alarm clock, microwave and those little toiletries that you usually get in a hotel.

You could probably leave at 10am and make it to San Diego in good time but we’d suggest leaving at 9.30am (or earlier) so that you don’t feel rushed.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful city – and there’s lots to do, including its famous zoo – but we didn’t stop there as wanted to get some miles under our belts before we stopped again.

As it was our last day with the car, we wrapped the kids up in the back, slapped on some sun-screen and got the top down on the convertible straight away!

Santa Barbara is the first point where you feel you're really back in the modern world again! Photo by Jw4nvc/Wikimedia

Santa Barbara is the first point where you feel you’re really back in the modern world again! Photo by Jw4nvc/Wikimedia

Route One out of Santa Barbara is also Highway 101 which, by this point, we’d learned meant it was a normal three-lane road and not the road that was winding its way through Big Sur a few days ago!

The Pacific returns into view within half an hour. Here you get a widescreen ocean view, with no mountains or sharp corners to get in the way.

Once you pass Oxnard, you can leave the 101 and get back onto the road we all want to be on again! Almost immediately, Highway One gets straight back to business!

As you hit Point Magu, you get to see the rugged side of Southern California: what it’s lacking in lush vegetation and crashing waves, it makes up with the dusty, cliff-faces, that will be on your left, and the glistening blue water on your right.

12.45pm – Malibu (11.45am for you)

The beach houses are worth millions and are where many of the biggest stars live. Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr.

The beach houses are worth millions and are where many of the biggest stars live. Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr.

You probably know this already, but you won’t see any famous film stars wandering the streets or buying milk in Hollywood or LA because most of them actually live in Malibu.

The small-ish houses – and garages – that you’ll see on your right as you drive through Malibu, are actually worth millions and owned by some very famous people.

The general rule is, the more solid the gate, the more famous the person will be (you’ll see more of these before you hit the busy part of Malibu).

We were hoping to stop for lunch at one of the beaches in Malibu but the kids were still asleep.

By the time we thought we’d wake them up, we saw a sign for a beach called Paradise Cove, which we now know is the place they filmed Lethal Weapon, American Pie and this Britney Spears video, to name a few.

They wanted $40 to park there, so I did a U’y and we carried on.

In researching this article, I’ve found out that if you spend over $30 in the cafe, you get a rebate and only have to pay $6 for parking.

So, it could could be a pretty cool place for you to stop and have lunch!

Malibu detours

Paramount Ranch is still used as a film set but not as much as in its' heyday. It's free to visit. Photo by edward stojakovic on Flickr. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Paramount Ranch is still used as a film set but not as much as in its’ heyday. It’s free to visit. Photo by edward stojakovic on Flickr. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

If you want to stop without spending any money, it would’ve been best to pull into one of the lay-bys before you get to downtown Malibu.

The side of the road gets busy when there’s access to a beach, so if you spot a space and can pull in safely, go for it! (FYI – The beach scene in Grease – and loads of other movies – were filmed at Leo Carrillo State Park, where you should be able to pull this trick).

Want to feel like you’re in a movie and don’t mind a 25min detour? Paramount Ranch is in the hills above Malibu (turn left after Point Dume beach) which is where some of the biggest films of the 1920s were filmed.

Today, you can visit the Old Western Town, which was used in Dr Quinn Medicine Woman but the ranch has recently been used as a location, more recently, in American Sniper, Van Helsing, The X-Files, Scream and…Norbit (somehow, not that I’ve seen it but it does seem strange).

It has free parking and picnic tables, so this could work for you.

The Getty Villa is a great place to stop for a bit of culture (and lunch) in Malibu.

The Getty Villa is a great place to stop for a bit of culture (and lunch) in Malibu.

If you want some culture, The Getty Villa is a great place to stop.

You’ve already seen what one rich American tycoon can build – up at Hearst Castle –  why not visit the property which Jean-Paul Getty made, to house his Greek and Roman collections?!

It’s been built in the style of a Roman villa and it’s simply stunning. I found the Roman architecture and history more interesting and beautiful than most of the antiquities inside it.

We went there a few years ago, so it wasn’t on our itinerary for this trip.

It’s free to visit but parking is $15. I think we got round it in a couple of hours and you can have lunch there, too.

2pm – Los Angeles (1pm for you)

Santa Monica is a great place to stop for lunch or have a wander along the pier.

Santa Monica is a great place to stop for lunch or have a wander along the pier.

Ok, you will probably have lunch in Malibu but we didn’t so we’ll keep the itinerary going as it happened for us so it doesn’t get too confusing!

This is definitely the most urban part of the whole drive. It is Los Angeles, after all, so what did you expect?!

You don’t get great views of the ocean for most of this section but you’re only a couple of minutes away from a beach at every moment.

As you’re choosing to do Route One, this probably isn’t your first trip to California and you’ve probably already “done” LA so I’m not going to go into all of the things you could do in the city, here. I’ll mention a few places on Route One though, just in case though.

Santa Monica is the first place you’ll drive through, after Malibu.

If you’ve only been to Venice Beach on previous trips, it’s definitely worth stopping and – at least – having a walk along the pier, which feels a lot like being on Brighton Pier with all of the rides and attractions! That might be because it’s the oldest pleasure pier on the West Coast.

It’s also home to the world’s first solar-powered Ferris Wheel.

Venice Beach promenade is an experience like no other! Look out for Muscle Beach, too! Photo by Sidvic/Wikimedia

Venice Beach promenade is an experience like no other! Look out for Muscle Beach, too! Photo by Sidvic/Wikimedia

Next up is Venice Beach, which is famous for its lively atmosphere and “interesting” mix of people. You’ve probably already been there, as most people go there on their first trip to LA, but if you haven’t, this is home to Muscle Beach and worth a wander around.

Route One moves inland for a while. You’re on normal roads with the rest of LA.

Yes, it’s just like being in any city but it’s a good point to stop and think about how the Pacific Coast Highway has changed over the past three days – the places you’ve been, the buildings and people you’ve seen – it’s quite a ride!

You soon end up at the airport! And not just driving past LAX, you go under the famous bridge which jumbo jets are casually driving across!

After the airport, you’re back on the coastal route and the beach cities of Hermosa and Redondo. This is where we ended up eating our lunch, in the end!

2.15pm – Lunch and onwards (1.15pm for you)

LA driving is always very slow so make sure you try just go with the flow...of the traffic, otherwise you might crash!

LA driving is always very slow so make sure you try just go with the flow…of the traffic, otherwise you might crash!

We left it late. Very late to stop off for food. Please don’t report us to children’s services!

The kids woke up near LAX and we knew we had to pull over straight away. We stopped at Hermosa Beach and grabbed a deli sandwich from a supermarket and ate it on the beach. It was nice but not what we’d planned at all!

We got back into the car an hour later (3.15pm) and we were faced with a dilemma. It was Alicia’s birthday and we promised to meet all of her family and friends in San Diego for a special dinner. We had to be on time or we’d be really late!

We had two options: a) continue along Route One and hope we made it; or b) get onto the motorway and definitely make it back.

Option B was the sensible route, which we took, but it might’ve been a mistake!!

Rush hour was on its way, and there was an accident, so we crawled for an hour on the freeway before hitting San Diego County and finally picking up some speed.

If we’d stayed on Route One, we’d have got to Long Beach half an hour later. We’d then have the beautiful ocean for company, as we made our way through Orange County and on to Dana Point – the official end of Route One – about an hour-and-a-half after that.

4.45pm – Dana Point (4.15pm for you)

Dana Point is the official start of Highway One! Photo by Dr Warner on Flickr.

Dana Point is the official start of Highway One! Photo by Dr Warner on Flickr.

**If we’ve confused you with timings now, the time for you (above) assumes you had a one hour stopover in Hermosa beach with us, but you got there an hour earlier at 1.15pm, so you get back driving again at 2.15pm.  In reality, you’d have stopped in Malibu but this is the one hour break we needed to put into your itinerary!**

So, Route One officially finishes at Dana Point but the Historic 101 continues down to San Diego.

If you’re going the full stretch, via the Interstate or coastal road, you HAVE to take the motorway (I-5) for 27 miles (25 minutes) at Dana Point.

We took the Interstate all the way down to San Diego and got there at exactly 6pm (yay, we weren’t late!) but, the route in our video (uploading soon!) which goes through San Diego County’s beach towns, should work if you left that hour earlier than us. We go back soon to get the exact timings for you, though!

You’ll see signs for the “Coast Highway” again as you approach Oceanside on the freeway. If you stay on the motorway, you’re about 45 minutes from Downtown San Diego but on the 101 it’ll take you twice that.

Oceanside

Oceanside will be your first port of call. It has the longest wooden pier (over water) on the West Coast, which has great sea views – and a lovely Ruby’s Diner at the end of it! Just make sure you plan enough time to walk the pier – it’s a half-a-mile round trip!

Just up from the pier is the famous house from Top Gun. You know, the one that Tom Cruise visits Kelly McGillis and they become silhouettes and move in slow motion to Take my Breath Away!  😉

It’s the only house at 102 Pacific Street. This is because the block has been bought by a developer and is due to be turned into a hotel.

Fear not, Top Gun fans, they’re going to move the Victorian house to another location while the hotel is built and then place is onto the exact same spot! See it in the original location while you can!

The house has been restored and painted (not sure why they didn’t go for the same colours that were in Top Gun) and there’s a fence around it to stop it from being vandalised. But, you can still get photos and pretend to be Tom Cruise, jumping off his Harley!

Oceanside wouldn’t have been a place to stop in the 1980s but it’s been regenerated over the past decade with a big new cinema, some great restaurants and bars, plus it’s home to the California Surf Museum.

Check out the Craft Beer scene here, too: Stone has an awesome shop with the coolest beer garden I’ve ever been in, and there are also microbreweries at Bagby, Breakwater, the Surfside Tap Room and, of course Oceanside Ale Works, if you want a tour of their brewery.

Carlsbad & Encinitas

You'll drive under this sign if you take the 101 down to San Diego! Photo by Mike Fairbanks

You’ll drive under this sign if you take the 101 down to San Diego! Photo by Mike Fairbanks

The beautiful sandy beaches continue into Carlsbad. You might come back here for Legoland or the Outlet Village, which has some great brands…and prices.

Encinitas is a beach town which is so famous for its surfing, that the Beach Boys name-checked Swami’s Beach, in Surfin’ USA!

Away from the rugged and more hidden surf spots is Moonlight Beach which is a family friendly beach with volleyball areas and a park for kids.

There are some great places to eat and drink in along the 101, here.

The shops are as cool as the residents so it could be a great place for an evening meal without even having to leave the road.

La Jolla

Finish your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip next to the rock pools and wildlife at La Jolla Cove. Photo by Chad McDonald/Flickr

Finish your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip watching the sun set next to the rock pools and wildlife at La Jolla Cove. Photo by Chad McDonald/Flickr

Next, the beach towns go very upmarket. Starting with Solana Beach, you’ll then hit Del Mar, which is home to some of San Diego’s richest residents, plus the city’s famous racetrack.

It has an old, colonial feel and you can quickly tell from the boutique shops that this isn’t a cheap place to live.

When you’re sat next to the ocean, a bit like you were in Big Sur, it means that you’re heading into Torrey Pines State Park – which is, yes, the home of the famous golf course!!!

After you pass the PGA course – and check to see if you recognise anyone playing – you’ll descend into La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya, Brits – I called it La Jolly-er for a while!).

It’s Spanish for ‘The Jewel’ and it really does feel like a gem when you’re there.

This is officially where the signs for the Historic 101 end.

Drive on down to La Jolla Cove where you can watch the sunset with the seals on the rock pools.

It’s a perfect place to finish your epic trip. There are loads of restaurants in La Jolla – they’re not all crazily priced – so you can grab some food and a beer – you deserve it!

6pm – San Diego (6.30pm for you – you’re late for once!)

Ok, you’ve made it to La Jolla, which is an awesome part of San Diego to complete the Pacific Coast Highway. But, if you’ve made it in good time and the sun isn’t going to set for another hour, why not go for the big finish?

The Cabrillo Monument is one of the southern-most parts of California, with views of San Diego and nearby Mexico!

It’s the place where the first Europeans landed on the West Coast of America, back in 1542, so it’s a perfect spot to show that you have conquered California, too!

The view of San Diego from the Cabrillo National monument . A perfect place to finish your route to the very south of California and the USA. Photo by Cszmurlo/Wikimedia

The view of San Diego from the Cabrillo National monument . A perfect place to finish your route to the very south of California and the USA. Photo by Cszmurlo/Wikimedia

To get there from La Jolla Cove, follow Prospect Street until you can join La Jolla Blvd. This turns into Mission Blvd and you’ll get a taste of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

Follow the signs to Ocean Beach and Point Loma. Take Catalina Drive which takes you to the monument. (It’s $10 to get into the National Park site, but the pass works for a week, so you can come back another day to explore properly).

Drink in that San Diego sunset with the 360 degree views that are available from the Cabrillo peninsula.

ROUTE ONE: DONE, IN STYLE!!!!!

Alicia at the Cabrillo National Monument at one of the most Southern tips of San Diego.

Alicia at the Cabrillo National Monument at one of the most Southern tips of San Diego.

Our verdict

We did the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, with two kids and one red convertible. What would we do differently?

Our timings!! We left late every day. Without any children I think we’d have been more to time but if you’re taking little ones, add an extra half an hour to the start time!

We would also probably do it over four days, rather than three.

It did feel a bit rushed at times, and we only visited one tourist attraction (Hearst Castle). It would also mean that we could start Big Sur earlier in the day and not feel as though we rushed through all of those special scenic spots. (Check out our suggested four-day itinerary at the bottom of this page).

It was a trip of a lifetime, and it felt like that.

We travelled across such varied landscapes, climates and places where the weather, the atmosphere and people changed with every hour that we travelled.

Would we do it again? DEFINITELY!

We have lots of family in Northern California, so we will try flying in there and driving down Route One to San Diego again in the next few years.

We’d love to know if you drive the Pacific Coast using our itinerary – or use parts of it – for your road trip.

Add your views and suggestions in the comments below. We can’t wait to hear from you and hope it helps!

Three Day Itinerary

We’ve spread our road trip itinerary over three pages, which might not be the handiest way to plan your Route One adventure, so here’s our suggested timings for a three day, and then a four day trip.

Day 1

8am – Golden Gate Bridge Photos

9am – Leave Golden Gate Bridge

11.30am – Santa Cruz (lunch/sightsee for two hours)

1.30pm – Leave Santa Cruz

2.30pm – Monterey (you could have lunch/sight-see here instead)

3.30pm – Big Sur (includes 15 minutes stop at Bixby Bridge)

4.15pm – Pfeiffer Beach (45 min stop)

5pm – Leave Pfeiffer Beach

5.15pm – Nepenthe for dinner (one hour)

6.15pm – Leave Nepenthe

6.30pm – McWay Falls (30mins or later if the sun sets at this time for you)

7pm – Leave McWay Falls

8.20pm – Arrive in San Simeon/Cambria

Day 2

10am – Take your tour of Hearst Castle and have lunch (3 hours)

1pm – Leave Hearst Castle

1.15pm – Elephant Seals (15 mins)

1.30pm – Leave Elephant Seals

2.45pm – San Luis Obispo (Madonna Inn rest-stop, he he!)

3pm – Leave SLO

4.45pm – Solvang (45 min break and Danish pastry)

5.30pm – Leave Solvang

6.15pm – El Capitan Canyon (or another place in Santa Barbara)

Day 3

9.30am – Leave Santa Barbara

11.45am – Malibu (lunch and walkabout for 1h 15mins)

1pm – Leave Malibu

2.15pm – LAX

(Stop for 30mins at Huntingdon Beach or wherever you fancy in Orange County)

4.45pm – Dana Point

6.30pm – San Diego (La Jolla)

7.20pm – San Diego (Cabrillo Monument – adjust timings for sunset)

Four Day Itinerary

Day 1

9am – Golden Gate Bridge Photos

10am – Leave Golden Gate Bridge

12.30am – Santa Cruz (lunch/sightsee for two hours)

2.30pm – Leave Santa Cruz

3.30pm – Monterey (Aquarium or wander around, plus overnight)

Day 2

10am – Leave Monterey

11.30am – Arrive at Big Sur (15mins at Bixby Bridge)

12.15pm Pfeiffer Beach (one hour stop)

1.15pm – Leave Pfeiffer Beach

1.30m – Nepenthe lunch (one hour)

2.30pm – Leave Nepenthe

2.45pm – McWay Falls (45mins)

3.30pm – Leave McWay Falls

5pm – Arrive in San Simeon/Cambria

Day 3

10am – Take your tour of Hearst Castle and have lunch (3 hours)

1pm – Leave Hearst Castle

1.15pm – Elephant Seals (15 mins)

1.30pm – Leave Elephant Seals

2.45pm – San Luis Obispo (Madonna Inn rest-stop)

3pm – Leave SLO

4.45pm – Solvang (45 min break and Danish pastry)

5.30pm – Leave Solvang

6.15pm – El Capitan Canyon (or another place in Santa Barbara)

Day 4

9.30am – Leave Santa Barbara

11.45am – Malibu (lunch and walkabout for 1h 15mins)

1pm – Leave Malibu

2.15pm – LAX

(Stop for 30mins at Huntingdon Beach or wherever you fancy in Orange County)

4.45pm – Dana Point

6.30pm – San Diego (La Jolla)

7.20pm – San Diego (Cabrillo Monument – adjust timings for sunset)

House Swap review: what’s it like to do a Home Exchange?

Our holiday/vacation House Swap in California

A few weeks ago, we explained why we wanted to try a Home Swap for the first time and how we made it happen.

It’s not, usually, as simple as grabbing a coffee, jumping on your computer, choosing a house you like the look of and agreeing a deal before your drink’s even cold. It can take some time – and effort – to get seal a deal. So, we went through the process that helped us get two weeks’ “free” accommodation in San Diego.

After spending weeks organising the swaps, flying thousands of miles to California and relying solely on the swappers for shelter when we landed, the big questions everyone asked us when we got home were: was it worth it and what was it like?

You’ve probably watched the video above, which gives you a snapshot but we can go into far more detail in an article.

It begins at home

The House Swap began before we’d even left England. We were in contact with our two swappers through our Home Exchange service (we went with Love Home Swap – you can find out why in this article) but it had been a few months since we’d arranged the exchange.

A few weeks before we were due to fly, an email came in from the family whose home we were going to stay in when we first landed.

Emily and Dan Palmer own their own mortgage planning service (check them out if you want to buy a house in California!) so it wasn’t a surprise when we received an ultra-efficient, and professional looking, attachment from them.

The first house was owned by the Palmer family from Encinitas.

The first house was owned by the Palmer family from Encinitas.

The little booklet had everything we needed to know about staying in their home in Encinitas – from how to get into the house when we arrived, what day the wheelie-bins needed to go out, contact numbers and, how to turn the Home Theatre system on – to the most important piece of info: how to get the Hot Tub going and what temperature it should be!!

This re-assured us that the people – and the house – were genuine and that we wouldn’t have to look for a hotel when we all stumble, jet-lagged, off the plane.

I mean, would criminals go as far as choosing a nice font for the booklet and leaving phone numbers (that we could check), just so they could steal our car and spending money when we arrived at the address they gave us? Don’t answer that!

Anyway, this allayed a lot of fears and we were now starting to get very excited about the trip.

Our La Jolla swappers – the Ferguson family – took a different approach and said they’d love to meet up with us in person to show us around.

It was also their first swap, so I think it was good way to reassure them that we weren’t “crazies” that were going to steal their home, identities and never let them back inside!

Time to fly

A nice babycino in the Airport Lounge before take-off - kids have it so good these days!!

A nice babycino in the Airport Lounge before take-off – kids have it so good these days!!

One of the perks of Love Home Swap was the promise of free Airport Lounge passes when take on their Standard and Platinum level membership levels. This wasn’t a deal breaker for us but it was that extra bit of luxury – a word that doesn’t usually mix with young children – that we could all enjoy before our long flight.

In the main Departures Lounge, the food is always really expensive and seating is cramped so it is always a treat to eat a “free” hot meal, grab some “free” snacks and magazines for the journey and prepare yourself for the storm that’s about to arrive. I’m not sure why I added free in inverted commas, as we didn’t pay for the passes, really!

Unfortunately, despite arriving at the airport three hours early to enjoy the food and facilities in the No.1 Traveller Lounge, we got stuck checking-in for an hour-and-a-half so we were close to not even bothering to go inside!! And believe me, forget having two toddlers waiting in a queue, there’s nothing worse than a delay at check-in when you know there’s sausage and bacon waiting for you on the other side of security! We did, however, manage to get 20 minutes in the Lounge and stuff a bacon sarnie down our throats before we had to board.

Arriving in California

Catching the plane to California!

We survived the Trans-Atlantic flights with our two kids (click here for our tips on flying with babies and toddlers) and were now hugging and greeting Alicia’s family in San Diego Airport’s arrivals lounge. The sun was setting across the bay and we now had a 30 minute drive north to Encinitas where I only had one thing on my mind: “Please let the house exist and not be a scam. We’ve been travelling for 20 hours – I don’t care if the house isn’t that good, just let it be there.”

The nerves really kicked in as we drove into the street. What if there was a family in there, unaware that someone else had put it up for a swap? There were no lights on in the house when we did arrive. The whole road was really dark. This could be good or bad. I got out of the car by myself and slowly walked up to the door which had a tiny, matchbox-style safe where we were told the key would be. I put in the code. It didn’t work. I tried it again. Nothing.

I knew it must be the right house – and why would all of the other instructions be correct, even down to the location of the key? If we did have to get a hotel for the first night, I was confident we’d be able to get in the following day. I tried the code one more time and then slid the button down instead of up, and off came the top of the safe to reveal a shiny silver key!!

I opened the door and turned on the light. This didn’t look like the house that we’d seen in the pictures…it was twice as big!! I ran excitedly back to the car to get the others.

The first swap

The house was so much bigger than we expected!

The house was so much bigger than we expected!

American homes are always bigger than English ones but when you’ve seen the photos of a house you think you’d know what it would look like.

Let’s just say the house was so big that I’d often get annoyed if I left something in the bedroom and I was in the kitchen because it was such a long walk back to pick it up again!

We also decided to put Samantha’s Travel Cot (Pack and Play, for Americans) in one of the walk-in wardrobes in the master bedroom because it was the same size as her room back in England – and it meant that we were less likely to wake her when we went to bed!

The ultra-modern furnishings made the house feel like a boutique hotel but it was still comfortable and very family friendly. It was super-clean and tidy but there were family photos up, which you kind of felt bad looking at, at first because it felt nosey, but it was actually really nice and – I’m not spiritual or into those weird aura things – but it did feel like we were staying in a very happy home.

The house was furnished beautifully - like a boutique hotel.

The house was furnished beautifully – like a boutique hotel.

The trust in the house was amazing: clothes were still in the wardrobes, instead of being hidden somewhere else. Their expensive appliances and even their home office was all open and accessible. There was even loose change left around the house. It felt great that they trusted us so much!

We were always going to treat the house better than our own but the faith they showed in us, made us even more determined to make this happen: to minimise mess/accidents we kept the kids out of the formal lounge area. We also made sure that one of us was with them all of the time, which we wouldn’t do at our home.

What is cooler than a zip line in your garden?

What is cooler than a zip line in your garden?

Not only was the house much bigger than we thought but we’d forgotten that the website showed pictures of the garden, which had a play structure and zip line. It was awesome!

We also forgot about how important toys are for kids. We had brought Dylan and Samantha’s favourite Teddy Bears with them but that was it, really. This house had everything a four-year-old boy could dream of: infinite lego sets, Star Wars toys, dressing up clothes, full pump-action Nerf guns with fully-stocked sponge ammo. The list – and the toys – could go on, which is one reason we ended up only letting him play with certain sets to minimise things getting lost or broken.

In the end, it was Samantha who did the only damage during the swap after she decided to eat Nerf bullets for breakfast. They were quick and easy to replace from the local Walmart…it could have been a lot worse!

Living in Encinitas

Don't worry, Encinitas isn't just a street - there's a beautiful beach and some great surfing spots, including one made famous by the Beach Boys! Name the beach in the Comments section!

Don’t worry, Encinitas isn’t just a street – there’s a beautiful beach and some great surfing spots, including one made famous by the Beach Boys! Name the beach in the Comments section!

We’d visited Encinitas on previous trips to San Diego but we didn’t quite find its charm. We stayed at Alicia’s sister’s house just north of the town and went surfing at a quiet beach which had some steep cliffs watching over us. It didn’t feel like the usual beach towns that were lucky enough to be on Route One.

This time, we saw it through totally different eyes. We were a couple of minutes away from the main street of Encinitas, with its cool cafes and surf-themed shops. We also found the “real” beach, which had car parking, a playground, volleyball courts and lots of space to spread out and enjoy being next to the ocean.

Encinitas is around 40 minutes from Downtown San Diego but the Palmer’s house was just a few blocks from the freeway, so it didn’t hurt that much when we did a long drive.

At first we tried to get out of the house as much as possible so that we didn’t “over-use” the house and so there was less chance we could break anything. But, after a few days we realised that was silly and we were really lucky to be living in such an amazing house so we started trying to use the Hot Tub once a day and invited Alicia’s family over for a BBQ.

What's better than a zip line? Oh yeah, a hot tub!!

What’s better than a zip line? Oh yeah, a hot tub!!

We also got talking to the neighbours, who were really friendly – one had just had a baby. We really enjoyed chatting and meeting up with them every day – we did feel as though we fitted in and it began to feel like our home by the time the week was up. The neighbours said that we reminded them of the Palmers and that we would really get on with them, which was nice to hear.

We had been left instructions on how to leave the house – and how much to pay for a cleaner who would return the house to the exact state that we had left it in.

At the end of the week, we were really disappointed to be leaving but we had a fun trip to Northern California planned – and we knew that we had another swap waiting for us when we came back down to San Diego.

School report One

The Palmer family from Encinitas, San Diego.

The Palmer family from Encinitas, San Diego.

Emily and Dan Palmer have two boys. Hudson, who’s 8, and Wyatt is 4.

They had taken their two kids and RV up to Canada for an extended trip of their own while we were in Encinitas.

We only had to contact them once while we were out there: San Diego had 100 years of July rainfall in one day when we were out there and there was the tiniest leak (an egg cup of water, at most) which we wanted to make them aware of.

I didn’t want to scare them with a phone-call, so just texted, and they were so relaxed and nice about it all. I was so glad that I told them all about it rather than leaving it until they saw a note, no matter how minor the problem was.

This next bit, I’ve left for the Palmers to write about their experience of having us stay at theirs. Fingers crossed they say nice things!

Emily said: “I felt really comfortable doing the House Swap, especially after we chatted via email.

“Our house is kind of built with an indoor/outdoor feel so it’ very tolerant with lots of people and little ones. I’m from a big family and I’ve always thought the more the merrier with friends and entertaining!

The Palmer family went to Canada with our points.

The Palmer family went to Canada with our points.

“We stayed at a beautiful home on the cliffs, right outside of Vancouver, on an island called Bowen Island. We had one of our best, most memorable trips ever – our boys still keep asking when we can go back.

“From our end, the swap was wonderful – you guys were excellent guests.

“I loved communicating with you, before and after and our home looked perfect when we arrived back. Our neighbors loved you – and you brought us thank you gifts – everything went better than expected!

“I love house swapping and we’re planning on being gone even longer than the 30 days we were gone last summer!”

Phew, I think we got away with it!

The Second Swap

As I mentioned before, the owners of the second home in La Jolla wanted to meet up and show us around their house in person.

If you’re not from the UK and don’t follow Very British Problems on Twitter, you might not know how much Brits hate awkward social situations. The idea of having a stranger show another stranger where they were going to eat, sleep and relax in their own home sounded very cringey on paper but in reality, it was really good.

We were all put at ease within seconds when we all quickly realised that everyone was nice and normal and our kids started playing together straight away.

Bob Ferguson owns a successful Building Contracting business, while his partner, Mary, is a Fitness Instructor. They have two children who were the same age as ours when we were out there, which worked really well.

This was Fergusons’  first swap, so they were – quite rightly – anxious about having strangers live in their home so they asked us to sign up to Love Home Swap Security Deposit scheme, in case of any accidents.

The outside BBQ even had a searer for perfectly cooked steak and salmon. I burnt the fish...but check out Ballast Point Sculpin beer when in San Diego!

The outside BBQ even had a searer for perfectly cooked steak and salmon. I burnt the fish…but check out Ballast Point Sculpin beer when in San Diego!

The home exchange service recommends $100 per night, so we were happy and ready to hand over an $800 refundable deposit for our stay. What we weren’t happy about was Love Home Swap’s 10% fee for the privilege of holding our cash – you know how much I like to save money – which was a good percentage of our annual membership fee!

So, when we arranged  the swap, we also agreed to hand over our deposit via cash or a cheque in person – everyone was happy with the outcome. Bob tried to give the cheque back to us that day when he realised we were normal but I insisted he kept it until we had left, for everyone’s peace of mind.

Our visit finished really well – even after Dylan whacked their daughter in the face with a light sabre just as we were about to leave – and we were given the key and told to invite family round to enjoy their amazing outdoor entertaining area.

Living in La Jolla

There's a different place to watch an amazing sunset every night in La Jolla!

There’s a different place to watch an amazing sunset every night in La Jolla!

La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya, Brits) is just 20 minutes from Downtown San Diego and is home to some of the most expensive homes in the world. It all becomes obvious when you see the Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini showrooms next to each other. This isn’t your normal beach town.

It’s also very special for its wildlife and village style living. It’s one of the rare towns in California that you can walk everywhere and you don’t need a car. From our house we could walk 15 minutes and be at Windansea beach, which has some great rock-pools to explore. If we walk 15 minutes north, we were at La Jolla Cove, famous for its seals and beautiful wildlife.

At the end of our road was La Jolla Village, which had a supermarket, plus lots of coffee houses, diners, restaurants and the famous Comedy Store (the only one outside of Hollywood).

The house was smaller than the previous one in Encinitas but there was much less to break so we felt as though we could relax a tiny bit more there. Their children were a little smaller, so the toys were also harder to break, which was also a plus! I’d definitely recommend trying to swap with people who are the same age as yours.

Outside living is where it's at in San Diego.

Outside living is where it’s at in San Diego.

The outside areas of the house were stunning. The sofa area on the decking area was perfect for reading a book, with a coffee, while the rest of the family pop to the shops.

The outside kitchen had industry-standard appliances, including a searing grill for steaks and fish. There was a Sonos system to make it feel as though you were in a beach bar. The pizza oven looked great and Bob encouraged me to use it, but it looked waaaay too complicated, even after watching a few YouTube videos. (He’s promised a demo and family pizza night with them, the next time we’re in San Diego!)

The outside kitchen in the house in La Jolla is perfect for entertaining.

The outside kitchen in the house in La Jolla is perfect for entertaining.

It was the perfect base for visiting friends and family, who live further north and south of us, but it also gave us our own space to hang out and have “chill days” where we just hung out, grabbed a coffee and walked around La Jolla, before watching the sunset at the cove.

School report Two

The Fergusons on the rollercoaster outside their Home Swap in Colorado! Photo: Bob Ferguson

The Fergusons on the rollercoaster outside their Home Swap in Colorado! Photo: Bob Ferguson

We were Bob and Mary’s first house swappers but they’ve now swapped three times in six months, including San Francisco and an upcoming trip to Mexico.

They basically won House Swapping with the Points they used from our swap. They recently travelled to Colorado where the resort they stayed at would usually cost $10,000 a night and has some very cool perks.

Mary explained: “We had a blast in Colorado. In Breckenridge, we stayed at a place called One Ski Hill Place. It’s located right on the mountain and had a private bowling alley, which we reserved for just the four of us. It also included ski valet and a private movie theatre where we watched Toy Story!

“If that wasn’t enough, it also had a rollercoaster ride, right in front of the hotel, which takes your around the mountain!”

Bob said: “I have to say, I love this house swapping gig. I just wish I didn’t have to work!”

Verdict

So, there you go. It all went a bit too well. We saved so much money on our trip – and had the “living in another country” experience with all of the comforts of home.

We’re up for House Swapping again soon, and we’ll be sure to let you know how we get on in the future!

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog post, click anywhere on this sentence to find our top tips for finding a swap.

 

 

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