Our California road trip adventure holiday

California Adventure

California Adventure

There is a proverb in Setswana language that says ‘Go tsamaya ke go bona’ which, when directly translated means ‘to go is to see’ and which means that travelling and getting out of your comfort zone, opens your mind and expands your horizon.

I didn’t realise when I was planning our California road trip that it would have such an impact on my life. When I was planning our family holiday to California, I was focused on the logistics and bookings and making sure we had a fun itinerary and I was both looking forward and a little anxious about what was in store for us.

Here is what we did:

1. Cycle the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge is very common in San Francisco; the amount of cycle hire companies at Fisherman’s Wharf is proof of that. What made it an adventure for me is that I am not a confident cyclist; especially if the road has pedestrians, bicycles and cars – and that’s all the roads everywhere in the world, to be honest!

The cycle hire shop gave us a map and we took a self-guided tour to Sausalito from Fisherman’s Wharf. PJ and Neo rode together on a bicycle fitted with a child seat and I rode solo.

The tour which takes about an hour and a half to two hours (according to the cycle hire shop) took us three hours! Luckily we had the whole day to do this because I stopped a lot! Every time I stopped Neo would shout ‘Mom, let’s ride!’ At some point, I was so tempted to throw in the towel, to just give up and go walk back – damn the bike – but I kept thinking of how one day I would tell Neo about this experience; or about how I would relate the story back to my friends and family. I don’t want to be that guy… The one that gives up when things get rough or uncomfortable.

I am so proud of myself that I did something that scared me, and loved it in the end. Mostly, I am proud that I can say I cycled on the Golden Gate Bridge; not many people can say that!

We cycled to Sausalito and took the (last!) ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf but not before grabbing some food from the Napa Valley Burger. Sausalito is a charming little town; it’s a less touristy version of Fisherman’s Wharf and I wish we had spent more time there.

We had a picnic at Fisherman’s Wharf and some people watching at the same time and  then rode the last block to return the bicycles.

I think the hire place were both relieved and surprised that I had made it back considering how nervous I looked when we cycled out. We got there just before they closed too!

Cycling San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

Cycling San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

Steadily making our way there

Steadily making our way there

2. Riding the cable cars in San Francisco
I loved that the cable cars are old and quaint and was taken by their vintage quality and the authenticity. Everything about them is done so manually I was in awe. In a time when just about everything is automated and things can happen with just the touch of a button, I loved how old school these cable cars are. They are operated the same way they have been since the mid1800s.

We went there in the afternoon and it was a bit of a wait but the ride was worth it. To be honest, when I was reading about it, I thought it would be faster than it actually was but liked that it was sedate enough for Neo to enjoy it. The ride was thrilling and it ended too soon.

Ready to ride the cable cars

Ready to ride the cable cars

3. Whale watching at Monterey
When I was telling Neo about going to California, I kept telling him that we would see whales and dolphins. I reckon even as an almost four year old, he is bound to remember seeing the whales more than anything else. I had to do a lot of research finding a cruise company that would allow a three year old on board. Most places online had a minimum age of six years old. We finally found Chris’ Whale Watching and they were more than happy for Neo to come on board.

The cruise was lovely and we spotted some dolphins and a few whales plus a lot of seals. Neo was happy and so were we.

Monterey Whale and Dolphin Watching

Monterey Whale and Dolphin Watching

4. Surfing at Santa Barbara

This is possibly the highlight for the whole trip for us. I found Santa Barbara Surf School and they teach all ages. When I was planning this, I had initially only signed up PJ to surf and then a few weeks later when the surf school emailed to confirm, I decided to sign me and Neo up as well. I told them that Neo is confident in water and they agreed to teach him and that he is possibly the youngest student they have ever had. Most surf schools have a minimum age of 12.

The day of the lesson was lovely and hot with clear blue skies – no chance of the lesson being cancelled due to bad weather. I was excited and nervous. I am not a confident swimmer and I honestly imagined being swept away by the Pacific Ocean. Even with all this, I still wanted to go ahead with it; I didn’t just want to sit on the side and wave as the boys have all the fun.

We drove to Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara while listening and singing along to loud music to calm our nerves. The surf school booked the three of us into a private lesson with two instructors: one for Neo and one for PJ and me. We got kitted out in wetsuits (the water can get cold and they would rather we focused less on how cold the water is and concentrate on having fun surfing) and the two instructors did a quick demo on the beach of how to stand up on the board. Then I was up! I put on a brave smile, negotiated the rocks in the ocean and then lay down on the board. The first wave was massive, toppled me over and washed away whatever confidence I had managed to build up. Hardly a minute in the water and I wanted a time-out. So I came out the water looking a little bit defeated and wanting to gather my thoughts and thinking of a solid reason of what I’m going to tell the guys about not going back in the water. Then something else happened: I sat on the beach, could literally hear PJ screaming with ecstasy because he stood on the board for the first time. Then I looked at Neo so brave and fearless, surfing or, as he would say later ‘catching a wave!’. I sat there and thought ‘I want to be able to look back on this day and smile at how much fun we all had as a family’. As I was sitting there, I was greeted by two lovely ladies who had seen us earlier and asked how Neo was doing. They had seen us earlier when we were wearing the wetsuits and marvelled at how young Neo was and how keen he was on surfing and more importantly, how he was enjoying it so much.


Neo waiting to 'catch a wave!'

Neo waiting to ‘catch a wave!’




I think that’s what it took for me to want to go back in.

The rest of the surfing lesson was amazing. Brilliant! Incredible! Exhilarating! When I went back in the second time around, fear was the very last thing I was feeling. I felt free and I felt like I was on top of the world. It is a feeling I will never forget and I hope to feel like that again someday. I stood on the board and screamed so loud, I’m sure my mother in South Africa heard me.

Paddling - even looking at this picture has me smiling.

Paddling – even looking at this picture has me smiling.

I will never forget Santa Barbara and I will never forget surfing and how it made me feel – from being a bunch of nerves to feeling on top of the world. And, of yes, I will most definitely do it again.

More than just another trip, our road trip forced me to confront my fears, look at them in the eye and tell them to go bother someone else. I came back from this trip reenergised and refreshed and ready to take on the world. I think fear is normal but I don’t want it to rule my life. I want to be a positive role model to my son; I want to make my family proud and I want to constantly challenge and surprise myself.

It is amazing what travelling does to a person, doesn’t it? The things that we did, that had me saying ‘…I am not confident…’ are the ones that stand out in my mind, the ones that I enjoyed the most. I am trying to imagine just how much fun I would have had if I had decided not to do any of them…

Thanks for stopping by

Kgomotso xx