Welcome to the San Francisco of Wales

Simon Calder stretches his imagination in Llandudno

The Real Mr Llandudno is wearing an unseasonably warm maroon pullover. He perspires over the pedals of his Hammond organ, thumping out a tune as the crowds chatter and clatter past his booth ("stage" would be too generous a term), perched on the boardwalk leading to Llandudno pier. A series of parp-pa-pa-parps heralds "New York, New York" My objection is not so much to Mr Ll's sub-Sinatran rendition, but to his choice of material. Llandudno has little to do with the US East Coast. But it is North Wales' answer to California.

Welcome to the hotels of the principality's largest resort. About 700 establishments cater for the influx of tourists. Top of the range are the handsome four-storey Edwardian terraces, forming a shoulder-to-shoulder sweep of spruce frontages around the broad sweep of a bay that would not look out of place on the Pacific coast. The shoreline forms a kind of hammock, anchored at each end by a chunk of prehistoric granite. The Great Orme and its slightly downsized partner Little Orme are gigantic casualties of the events that shaped Snowdonia. Now they serve as geographic exclamation marks for Llandudno.

Behind them and the town, the mountains darken with altitude. Snowdonia shifts from tree green to barren black as the range rises into the clouds. The Sierra Nevada never looked this moody. Furthermore, the Welsh go one better than the Californians in that old West Coast trick of skiing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon. In Llandudno, you can ski at noon and be splashing around in the surf of the Irish Sea by five past. True, the ski slope is as dry as a daiquiri. It is, in fact, a go-faster carpet anchored to a slope of the Great Orme. But in midsummer 1996, the winter sports enthusiasts were queueing for the ski-lifts while a few hundred feet below, bathers were acclimatising to the still-chill waters.

A road runs right around the foot of the Great Orme, threading nervously between sheer rockface and steely seas. Comparisons with Highway One, the dramatic coastal route between Los Angeles and San Francisco, are entirely apt. The Welsh circuit is frequently used as a location for the sort of car advertisements that feature Clint Eastwood pose-alikes. So if you find the road barred when you arrive, the closure is probably due to a posse of film crews working at Wales' Hollywood.

If one Californian city deserves to be twinned with Llandudno, it is San Francisco. The similarities are extraordinary. For example, each operates cable cars to cope with sharp inclines. The main difference between the Great Orme Tramway and the Powell-Mason line is that Llandudno's is the more expensive. But your pounds 3.40 ticket buys a ride on a system whose steel cable hoists your rickety old wagon up the sort of gradients that would deter Steve McQueen. Only a proclamation that "Man United R Shite", etched in 20-foot high letters on the hillside, reminds you that Liverpool is closer than Los Angeles.

With no Pacific mists to obscure the view, you need neither binoculars nor imagination to spot the Isle of Man, 50 miles north. And on the way down, you get to see the site of Llandudno's version of the Gold Rush of 1849: the Copper Rush of 2000 BC. Ancient Britons were extracting the metal from the tangled veins of the Great Orme long before the Romans arrived. Every wave of occupants dug deeper, with the Victorians extending shafts out under the sea.

San Francisco has Fisherman's Wharf; Llandudno boasts one of Britain's finest piers. In either location, you can dine on good seafood (cockles, 99p) and mingle with millions of fellow tourists. In these excitable June days, Llandudno gets the edge thanks to the wide-screen television in the Pier Head Bar. Last Sunday Germany slugged it out with Croatia while visitors slugged down lager.

The closest you can get to Malibu is a bottle of the sweet cocktail of rum and pineapple in the Carlton, a shambling old pub that drapes itself around Llandudno's main street corner. Follow the gnarls of Victorian ironwork, and you eventually stumble upon a handsome, ruddy-faced row of civic buildings culminating in the railway station. These days, the main destination is Llandudno Junction, just three miles inland. San Francisco's train station has slipped into similar ignominy.

As you walk, scour the streets for evidence of a fake Mr (or Messrs) Llandudno; some skulduggery must have persuaded the seaside organist to add the definition "Real" to his title. Back on the boardwalk, he tootles away to a somnolent audience of people who are of sufficient age to have enjoyed the '68 Summer of Love to the full.

God only knows why he doesn't play something by the Beach Boys.

Llandudno tourist information: 01492 876413

To book the Real Mr Llandudno, call 01492 573557

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn