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California Life. Pennies on the Dollar!

We have not posted in a while since we were enjoying the hot summer in California last week! We traveled for a total of 8 days, flew a total of 5338 miles, ate a total of 4 hamburgers, and spent less than an average week’s worth of rent in San Francisco.

The first flight we took was to San Francisco with a connection in LAX. All our tickets for this flight were free since we booked them with rewards points. We got to the airport nice and early since the TSA lines took hours the last time we flew. However, this time around, we basically walked right in and it did not take us more than 20 minutes to cross security. We also flew without any checked bags so this drastically sped things up.

Once past security, with about 2 hours before our flight, we took advantage of the perks of travel rewards and enjoyed a Premium Lounge. Had some snacks and drank some 12 years-old scotch while we enjoyed comfy couches all for a total price of $0.00! (Free entry only comes with certain premium cards)

 

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Departing was a pain and our flight stayed on the tarmac a full hour before lifting but we got to LAX safe and sound. The only annoying thing was that this hour delay made us miss the last flight to San Francisco and we were stuck at LAX for the night.

Air Canada arranged a stay for us at Holiday Inn and gave each of us a $30 food voucher for the next morning. It was annoying to go in and out of the airport for a layover like that but at least Air Canada made it slightly less annoying by arranging everything for us on the spot.

At 9 o’clock that morning, we finally flew out to San Francisco. We took the BART train to get from the airport to the financial district for only $9 each instead of using a taxi or Uber that would have cost us roughly $45 to $60. It is as fast as a taxi, clean, the seats are nice, and the BART can take you almost anywhere in the city for less than $10.

On our first day there, we walked the pier, saw the Golden State Bridge, and walked up Lombard street. On our walk to the pier, we followed the heard of tourists (it was a Sunday afternoon after all) and stopped by In-N-Out Burgers.

We had high hopes for this place given our amazing experience we had at Shake Shack in New York, we thought the west-coast equivalent would measure up. Unfortunately, it just was not for us. The fries were worse than the frozen ones you can buy at the grocery store and the burgers were simply ok, nothing fancy. (Sorry In-N-Out fans)

 

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We ended our stroll in the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful park with an amazing theater and art structures. We played with the swans and turtles, then walked back to our hotel in the Embarcadero district.

 

Palace of Fine Arts

 

For the next 3 days, Mrs. Xyz was attending a conference so I walked around the city and explored the ups and downs of San Francisco (literally).

I spent a day around China Town and got a fresh hair cut for a big $6. Pretty good for one of the most expensive cities in America! I have noticed this even back home; you can always get a cheap haircut in China Town. The experience is not exactly as fancy as a $16,000 haircut from Stuart Phillips but you get a pretty good cut for a few bucks.

I then ate lunch in a nice Szechuan restaurant and spent $8 on a shrimp and vegetable dish before walking around the neighborhood a bit.

 

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The following day, I visited the Musée Mécanique on the Pier 45 of Fisherman’s Wharf. If you want a unique experience, this is the place! Old pinball machines, mechanical arcade games, and coin-operated mechanical musical instruments are fascinating to me and I highly recommend visiting this free-entry arcade museum. A few dollars in coins will last you a while since most of the games are only 25¢ or 50¢.

 

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After her conference, me and Mrs. walked to the AT&T Park to catch a Giants vs Cubs baseball game. On our way there, we stopped by Chipotle for a little burrito (actually it was enormous!). This was the first time we tried Chipotle and I know they have a big following but even with the extra guac, we were not impressed. I would not say it was a bad burrito but it was just not extraordinary.

On my last day of solo-adventure, I walked down Main street, stopped in a few malls but did not buy much. I got this great deal on some Banana Republic shorts that were on sale for $12 when they actually sell for $75 back in Canada. One thing that struck me was the Amazon retail store. We have gone full-circle over here! The biggest online retailer who is killing brick and mortar stores and closing malls is now opening stores in malls!

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Amazon store

 

That night, we hopped on our flight to Los Angeles. If you are not flying first-class, a great little trick is to ask if there are any unsold seats available and mention that you are willing to help in case of an emergency. The exit row seats are now sold as Economy Plus since they offer greater leg room but we often get those seats without any extra charge just by asking nicely.

Once landed, we took the shuttle to our car rental company and had to wait almost half an hour for the under-staffed establishment to finally give us our reservation. We cannot really complain since we did get the rental for free with travel rewards. 🙂

Sonata

It was nice to drive a brand new, shiny-red, full-size sedan. It had Sirius XM radio, Sport mode driving, and only 15,000 miles on it… All things we do not have on our own cheap, old, cars.

You know what else we have never had; car loans. 🙂 The average American borrowers finance their new car purchases with loans over $28,000. Not only is this number super scary high but the car loan industry seems to be in a frenzy to give out loans to anyone in America. The good debt is less and less accessible with the new mortgage regulations that were elected after the 2008 crash but the car loan industry is still very flexible and is giving out shiny new cars to people that really cannot afford it.

 

Loan typesSource: FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax

 

We spent a day visiting Malibu, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood or in other words, we played in traffic all day. Gosh, there is a lot of traffic in L.A.! We had never seen such wide highways with so many cars. According to INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard, Angelinos spent an average of 104 hours stuck in traffic jams last year or about 12.7% of their total drive time. The city was the 2016 global leader when it comes to traffic and even surpassed New York by 15 hours per year.

traffic data LASource: INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard

 

There are plenty of cool tech solutions to reduce traffic like Uber pool, Chariot, or Waze Carpool that minimizes single-user cars on the road but the biggest changes will probably come from the recent Measure M, a new sales tax measure L.A. voted in to fund as much as $120 billion in subway, light rail and bus system improvements over the next 30 years.

After our fun day in traffic, we drove some more but this time, along much nicer scenery. We drove along the Highway One north up to the Hearst Castle.

 

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The tour was $25 and lasted about 30 minutes, not something I particularly enjoyed. It is not a castle and is it not historic, it is more like a very large themed house that a guy with too much money built. This eclectic showcase of tremendous wealth reminded me a bit like visiting the Trump Tower on our last trip; too much ego and too much gold.

We then stayed in a nice Airbnb in Los Osos and hiked in the Montaña de Oro State Park the next morning. This beach front park was breathtaking. Walking by the cliff-side and looking down to the amazing ocean down below is something we highly recommend.

 

Montaña de Oro State Park

 

That same day, we drove back south on the 1 back towards L.A. On the drive, we stopped in Santa Barbara to grab a bite to eat and were very impressed with this small city of almost 100,000 residents. It has this charm and beach feel to it. The main street has great little restaurants and all the shops you could ever need. It would be a great place to retire, too bad the median home value is a whopping $1,050,800 according to Zillow.

We stayed at Le Méridien Delfina in Santa Monica that we booked for free with SPG points. Even though this was not the priciest hotel we have ever stayed at ($360US/night), it was certainly offered the best services we have seen in a while.

Your stay starts with complimentary valet service, while most hotels in L.A. charge anywhere from $60 to $90, and they even allow you in and out privileges during your stay. Last time we were in New York the hotel was charging $85 per day for valet parking and if you took your car out that day, you had to pay again!

Next, we got a warm welcome with Champaign glasses and got upgraded to a premium room and late check-out since we are Preferred Guests. Later that evening, the hotel offered us a complimentary chauffeur service to drive us to our restaurant but we took the free city shuttle to drop us off instead. That was a neat service offered by the city of Santa Monica and runs on small electric cars.

 

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That night, we ate at Mao’s Kitchen in Venice. The $8 onion pancake we had to start was just ok but the $1 Beijing Spring roll was exellent. We then ordered the Dan Dan Mian for $12 and that was a let down but Mrs.’s rice and shrimp dish was excellent. The portions are huge but they charged us a few hidden extras which should have been disclosed at ordering so we would give this restaurant a 3-star review.

The next morning, we used the hotel’s free bikes to ride along Venice Beach before sipping drinks by the pool (complimentary of course).

 

venice beach

 

After a fun and extremely cheap trip, we flew back home and took a cool new transport service that runs on an all-electric fleet of vehicles. We got the chance to ride in the brand-new Tesla Model X from the airport and it was awesome! We hope you the best travels, Mrs. and Mr. Xyz. 😀

 

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6 Comments

  1. Gosh, that sounds like an amazing trip. We were in San Francisco 10 years ago. It is a great city. We want to visit Southern California next.

    • Xyz

      August 21, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      We enjoyed it very much! We are thinking of going back to California again next year, Southern Cali sounds great.

  2. Sounds like a great time! I’ve not been to San Fran or LA, but I’ve gotten to Southern California a few times for work and I absolutely love it. Thanks for sharing your trip. Nice work on all the travel deals!

  3. Sounds like a great trip. We took a road trip up the California, Oregon and Washington coast recently and loved it.

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