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California & Vegas; Much More Than Hollywood & Casinos

Find out how Mike got on while travelling through Northern Cali and Vegas on his J1.

"To begin with, we visited the small upscale coastal town of Monterey, Northern California. If ever there was a moment where I could be convinced I was royalty, it was taking in the astronomically expensive real estate on 17 Mile Drive, while driving a 2015 Merc. But that didn't stop me observing one of the most famous and beautiful golf courses in the world, Pebble Beach.

Imagine this scene; sunset slowly approaching, sipping on a Sierra Nevada pint just off the 18th hole, while watching some of the wealthiest golf fanatics dine all around us. The views are breathtaking, especially as you depart the grounds and then all the way along the rugged northern Californian coastline where spotting whales is a common occurrence. The beaches are just as beautiful as those in Southern California, yet a lot less busy, allowing for an evening stroll where you will more often than not have the whole beach to yourself.

Now let’s take ourselves inland to wine country. There’s more than just Napa Valley when it comes to one of the most prestigious wineries in all of California. Sonoma Valley stands on the crossroads between sophistication and simplicity. The county's passion for wine is portrayed by their fastidious care of their vineyards, regardless of the states longstanding drought. What made this short trip to Sonoma so special was spending time there during the closing day of 4th of July weekend. The fireworks were nothing like you’d see in New York or Chicago, but the community spirit amongst all the celebrations was second to none.

Attending a typical American style BBQ in a vineyard before heading in to the town plaza for the fireworks display provided a wonderful homely atmosphere. This week, I also really got a glimpse of the lives of a stereotypical American family. My host family this week were incredible. They were very welcoming, almost making me one of their own and completely spoiled me. We went on a road trip to San Fran and they also arranged for me to throw the first pitch at a Sonoma Stompers baseball game; they're by no means the NY Yankees and I certainly wasn't humiliated on ESPN, but it was nice to get a cheer from the "huge" stadium filled with 80 spectators.

Lake Tahoe, for me, was hands down the most #NoFilter place I've ever been to in my life. For those not familiar with the hashtag, a visit to Lake Tahoe feels like you're forever on a postcard. Paddle boarding, jet skiing, kayaking or even just swimming in that crystal clear lake will make you never want to leave. In actual fact, I literally cried like a baby when I did have to leave. Living with 9 friends in a cabin just off the lake gave us great opportunity to awake early and enjoy a day of adventure ahead of us. It gave me great pleasure driving a golf ball into the water and snorkelling to find them again (legal activity, by the way. It's a business). Other highlights included a hike on the famous Rubicon Trail (with the hope of spotting a few Black Bears and Mountain Lions), cliff-jumping into the coldest part of the lake at Sierra Nevada National Park and mountain biking on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Being on the west coast, Vegas could not have been missed. The 8 hour drive from San Jose was justified having just about won the race against the sun. Going from the deserts of Nevada to seeing the colourful lights of Vegas 30 minutes in the distance with a picturesque sunset backdrop, all while blaring Kanye West so we could feel like Alan from The Hangover. It has everything! It's not often you get to walk out of a hotel that's not in France and have the sight of the Eiffel Tower right in front of you. The trendy and somewhat controversial segways are the norm there for the wealthy inhabitants, often making you feel like you're living in the future.

The city is well designed so that to get anywhere, you almost always have to walk through a casino. I can't even begin to describe everything else that can be seen and done outside of the casinos. It's all very overwhelming. For the thrill seekers, we have the rollercoaster in 'New York', SlotZilla Zipline on Fremont Street and the 3 rides atop the Stratosphere.

Shopping and cuisine are plentiful of course. Whether you're walking through the "streets" of Venice, Paris or New York, you'll easily find restaurants matching the appropriate location. How many cities have hotels as tourist attractions alone? Taking in the sight of DeRuyter Butler's beautifully designed Bellagio was immense with its famous Fountains of Bellagio as seen in Ocean's Eleven. It must be said that after 4 or 5 days, Vegas can become a little overwhelming.  Never fear however, the spectacular Grand Canyon is only a daytrip away, along with a little rafting on the Colorado River to max up the adrenalin levels. I rarely say this about any destination but Vegas is a place I firmly believe everyone should experience at least once. I can’t wait to go back again."

Read more blogs: Mike's Chicago J1 Experience5 Tips For Making The Most Of Your J1 ExperienceJulianne's San Diego J1 Experience.

Want to make your own J1 memories? Contact us: SAYIT J1 Cork +353 21 4279 190 or J1visa@sayit.ie. Dublin: +353 1 608 0072 or dublinJ1@sayit.ie.  

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