About once a year, I hop on a plane and head back to the States in search of friends, family and slacks with 36-inch inseams. My girlfriend and I landed in San Francisco, spent a few days sightseeing and then set out to see the Pacific Coast Highway. We picked up a black Ford hire car, dropped a CD into the stereo and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Highway One. The most scenic parts of the Pacific Coast Highway are actually south of San Francisco, but we needed to head north, a lucky thing as most of the summer tourist traffic moves from north to south. Highway One and Route 66 are the two most famous highways in America. Route 66 no longer exists and for all its fame, Highway One is really nothing more than a two-lane county road filled with sharp turns as it winds between fields. The speed limit rarely exceeds 55 kilometres per hour. We headed up through Bodaga Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds, and then inland to the Napa Valley. By the time we arrived in Calastoga late in the afternoon, it was more than 40 degrees Celsius. We had booked a room in a 'historic' hotel which naturally meant no air-conditioning. The heat was too much, so we got back in the car and headed for the nearest winery in search of a cool cellar. The main attraction at the first and only winery we saw was a gondola ride to the top of a hill over manicured lawns with ponds and fountains. On this particular day, the lawns were dead brown and reflected a cruel amount of California sun up at us. The next morning it was back to Highway One which begins to straighten out north of Bodaga Bay and Mendocino, another scenic little town which has been used in more than 50 movies and TV shows including East Of Eden and Murder She Wrote. At Leggett, Highway One ends and becomes Highway 101, turning inland to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants. Redwoods are the biggest trees on Earth and are found only in Northern California. Some are more than 2,000 years old, nearly 130 metres tall and bigger at the base than your average Hong Kong apartment. Pay US$5 (about HK$40) and you can drive your car through a hole in a Redwoods' trunk. It took us a day to reach Eureka, an overly quiet little coastal town on the edge of Northern California's Humboldt Bay. As we walked out of the hotel, a local resident, seeing that we were obviously from out of town, politely volunteered an impromptu introduction to the local attractions. 'It sucks, it sucks, it sucks! I've lived here 20 years, it sucks!' he yelled. About the only two things worth seeing here are the Carson Mansion and the Samoa Cookhouse. The Carson Mansion is an extremely ornate Victorian home which supposedly took 100 men one year to build. It is now a private club, so you'll have to enjoy it from the side of the road. The 105-year-old Samoa Cookhouse, the last real cookhouse in America, was once part of a lumber camp. There is only one all-you-can-eat meal on the menu and everyone sits side by side on benches at long wooden tables. After overnighting in Eureka, we continued up Highway 101 into Oregon. This is the best part of 101 and it really makes the trip worthwhile. The Oregon coast line is rough and rocky, with high cliffs carved by the waves and rock spires peering out from the surf. That night was spent in a tiny town that didn't even appear on the map. We wouldn't have found the little roadside cabin if it hadn't been for a guide book which said the place had a pool. The pool turned out to be a river just behind the back porch - scenic, good for fishing but way too cold for swimming, even in August. The next day we hit Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake was once a volcano which blew its top about 7,700 years ago, forming the deepest lake in the US. The lake stands some 2,130 metres above sea level and the water is so clear, so high up and so deep that its rocky banks frame the bluest water you have ever seen. After leaving Crater Lake, we drove through the forested centre of Oregon towards Mount Hood, one of the numerous volcanic mountains in this part of the western US which are snow-covered year-round. Crater Lake is near the southern border of Oregon and Mount Hood is right on the Northern border with Washington, yet we were not too far out of Crater Lake before we could see Mount Hood clearly. When we finally arrived at the mountain's ski resort, most of the facilities were closed, but there was still skiing. We saw a group of Japanese snowboarders piling into a van after a day on the slopes, complete with wild bleached hair, fluorescent snow suits and small bits of metal in their ears and noses. Beyond Mount Hood, the winding roads stretch out into a freeway which winds along the Columbia River gorge and into Washington. We stayed in the middle of farm country at Umatilla. Tracy came back from the local supermarket with half a cantaloupe. 'Two Hong Kong dollars!' she exclaimed. We never ate that cantaloupe but it was a deal that could hardly be passed up. From Umatilla to Montana it was all freeway, fast but scenic through Spokane, Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Rocky Mountains. We arrived in my hometown late in the evening and took the car back to the rental agency. The next two weeks were spent travelling around Western Montana and visiting Glacier Park, Saint Mary's Mission, Flathead Lake and shopping for slacks with 36-inch inseams. We flew back to San Francisco before catching our flight to Hong Kong. Frisco (use that word while you are there and you are likely to start a fight) is my favourite US city and I can hardly let it go without a mention. Most American cities are built around the car. San Francisco was built around an earthquake. There is a wonderful uniformity to the architecture and it is a refreshingly walkable city. Five things I would recommend. Spend one evening listening to one of the local bands play at Biscuits and Blues. Take a cruise through the bay around sunset. Visit the Marin Headlands just after sunrise. Hit one of the Italian restaurants in Little Italy. And since you're from Hong Kong, visit Chinatown. It looks just like Sheung Wan, the shopkeepers learned how to treat customers from the merchants in TST and you can find every Oriental knick-knack you've ever seen at China Products for half the price.