Redwoods and EASTWOOD; California road trip in Clint country.
LONG before Clint Eastwood became mayor of Carmel, California, in 1986, he starred in the film Play Misty For Me, which was set in Carmel and the Monterey peninsula.
Clint portrayed a cool radio DJ whose one-night stand with a woman listener spins out of control.
The actor's links with Carmel are still strong. Being a fan, a visit to his Mission Ranch hotel was top of the list on our California road trip.
After a superb dinner in the barrestaurant, guests congregate around the piano and sometimes even Clint tinkles the ivories.
No such luck for us but our highlight was when a voluptuous chanteuse treated us to a rousing rendition of California Dreaming. The place rocked as 100 guests belted out the chorus - fantastic.
self dy e When you can drag yourself away from Carmel's white sandy beach and posh shops, the stretch of coast known as Big Sur lies just out of town.
Travel The Pacific Highway hugs the coast as you drive between the Santa Lucia mountains and the pounding Pacific on one of the world's most spectacular roads.
the he he s. the here f the orld's Our road trip had begun in the extreme north of the state where we experienced the majesty of the Redwood National Park. The world's tallest redwoods grow on the Avenue of the Giants, a winding 33-mile journey where trees top 360ft.
There are several drive-thru trees and they carry the scars of overly optimistic drivers.
For a different perspective take the Sky Trail Gondola, which gives you a bird's eye view.
Next we headed south to the Sonoma Valley wine region for a two-night stay at the Best Western which is ideally situated to take advantage of Sonoma town.
Although Sonoma lacks the cachet of the neighbouring Napa Valley it exudes a gentle air of wellbeing and is far less pretentious.
Its picture-postcard central plaza is a leafy and lined with meticulously preserved historical sights. The old Spanish Mission, a legacy of Mexican rule, and atmospheric barracks are well worth a visit.
Sonoma has more than 30 wineries but we concentrated on the Russian River Valley which is easy driving and low on tourist hordes.
Iron Horse and Hartford are both excellent wineries specialising in pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. There is nothing finer than sipping your wine whilst taking in the view of rolling vine-covered hills.
pin Th you of rO On leaving Sonoma we stumbled upon Sutter Creek in the heart of gold rush territory.
upo go Here we stayed at the Sutter Creek Inn. The Way family are wonderful hosts who have the knack of making guests feel like old friends. The friendly atmosphere is built on at breakfast - residents from the 17 rooms sit together at long tables. It was a great opportunity to get to know our colonial cousins.
Sutter Creek is one of the prettiest gold rush towns with a main street lined with balconied shops. It is just off the main Highway 49 that links all the gold rush towns in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
If you fancy panning for precious yellow dust check out Hangtown's Gold Bug Mine or take the selfguided audio tour through the shaft to gain an insight into what the golddigging 49ers had to endure. Other gold rush towns are within easy reach. In Jamestown you can hop aboard a steam train, while the Living Museum at Columbia offers stage coach rides.
Our final nights were spent in Monterey, our Best Western being five minutes from the centre.
The top sights are Cannery Row, immortalised by John Steinbeck's novel of the same name. Today the sardine canneries have almost gone, replaced by quirky shops, restaurants and art galleries.
California is immense and in ten days we barely scratched the surface. But a return to Clint country is high on our agenda.
FACTFILE: BA flies daily to San Francisco from PS650pp return. www.ba.com. Hayes & Jarvis offers beach and touring holidays to the West Coast. 01293 735140 www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk. For Sutter Creek Inn see www.suttercreekinn.com.
in California are hot on speeding. If they don't catch you from one of their roadside patrols they will get you from the air.
BEWARE | of mule deer when driving early in the morning. They have very poor road sense.
| you plan to visit California's wineries there are shuttle excursions to various vineyards.
That means you can leave the car behind, properly enjoy the wine and stay the right side of the law.
COASTING: Our Bert at Big Sur
LEGEND: Clint Eastwood
SUNSET: Vineyard in Sonoma California