There is one thing about working life that is starkly different to university – holiday allowance. Where I now receive 25 precious days, I used to enjoy over 25 lengthy weeks holiday a year whilst I was studying at Durham. For me that meant that one thing; in the 4-month transition period before my graduate job started…I had to make the most of it.
G and I had been dreaming of a USA road trip, so that’s exactly what we did.
I’ll admit it took a lot of planning and before we organised anything, we thought and re-thought our route about 20 times. Eventually however, we did it and we decided upon a 12-stop loop from LA.
Being the organisation freak that I am, I wanted to make sure that the majority of our trip was booked before we left the UK, at least then I knew we had somewhere to sleep if things went slightly off-plan. Hotels, car rental, ESTA and a few excursions sorted, we were well on our way.
We arrived at LAX after a long flight at half past midnight and having never driven in another country, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, we decided to wait until after a good night’s sleep before we picked up the car.
Morning came and we headed to Sixt Rentals to pick up ‘Tina’, our little black Toyota Yaris. Sixt were great, especially for us, as both G and I were 21 and had to pay a ‘Young Driver Fee’ – they were a lot cheaper than other rentals and we were lucky that we were both able to drive for such a reasonable price. We picked up our car within no time and we also got a Sat Nav, which was our absolute saviour.
Once we were on the road the trip began and without going into too much detail and boring you reckless, here is our trip in a nutshell…
Nobody can quite prepare you for the ‘weirdness’ that is LA. From homeless men cleaning the graffitied Donald Trump star on the Walk of Fame daily, to the many people you want to avoid on the streets who are clearly taking advantage of the relaxed Marijuana laws – it was definitely an experience. With the city being far too big to take in in a mere 3 nights, we stayed in Hollywood, the most popular location for tourists. Here, we hiked up the Hollywood Hills (regrettable!) to Lake Hollywood Park so that we could get fab views of the famous sign and, of course, get that all important selfie. We also hit Universal Studios, where we ate a giant Simpson style doughnut, went on a studio tour seeing insights into some of the biggest Hollywood masterpieces, tasted Butter Beer in Harry Potter World, and got soaked (literally…we sat in the ‘soak zone’) in the Water World Stunt Show. It was incredible and well worth the expensive entrance fee. Venice Beach was the end of our time in LA and we rode along the seafront on hired bikes – a must!
Picked out randomly on a map to break up our journey between two big cities, Morro Bay was probably our biggest surprise of the trip. It was a beautiful coastal town, with Morro Rock protruding out of the water set against a stunning sunset and old fishing boats. There was a strip of buzzing seafood restaurants along the front, with a walkway all the way along to view the sun go down and watch the sea otters play in the water. Not somewhere to spend a few days, but if you need a stop-off location for the night, I would highly recommend!
San Fran was one of my top picks of our journey. It had the big city vibes of London or New York, but was a far more relaxed with a lot less people. We stayed here for 3 nights in an unexpected gem of a place that was set right in the centre of everything (Union Square Plaza Hotel). In the few days we had here we went on the Big Bus Tour, saw the Golden Gate Bridge, spent the morning in Fisherman’s Wharf on Pier 39, had cocktails in ‘The View’ skyline bar on the 39th floor of the Marriott, drove to Skates on the Bay to dine and watch the sun set, shopped till we dropped, ate cheesecake on the rooftop bar of Macy’s Cheesecake Factory and watched the San Francisco Giants lose to the San Diego Padres in an all-American baseball game (we even got caps!)
There really was so much to do and it was the most packed 3 days of our trip.
Sacramento is a funny place; 40°C + heat, the capital of California, a Western-style downtown and not much to do! The reason for our stay was that we were visiting a family friend and I am glad we were, as without him we probably would not have known what to do. We visited the Railroad Museum, he took us for brunch in the old town with unlimited mimosas, swam in his pool and even joined him at his ‘pop concert’ church service on Sunday! It was definitely an experience, but probably something to be missed if you have no connections there.
My FAVOURITE place by a long way, I wish I’d spent longer in Yosemite. Glittering waterfalls, natural swimming pools and camping under the stars, it was a unanimous thumbs up from us and our number one recommendation for anyone heading to California. We stayed at Evergreen Lodge, just 45 minutes drive from Yosemite Village, right in the centre of forest life. The lodge had a saltwater pool and Jacuzzi, a sunset viewing platform, complimentary s’mores every night and a variety of daily activities that ranged from white water rafting, bike hire or crafts! There are so many different trails in Yosemite, so don’t be put off if you’re not the ‘hiking’ type – there is something for everyone, including wheelchair access!
I have a biased view of Las Vegas, so I would not be heading back any time soon. Our little car, Tina, had a malfunction and had to be exchanged for Bess, a white Chevrolet Malibu; my GoPro was stolen; we spent the morning in a Police Station; our first hotel, ‘The Flamingo’ was not what we expected (in a bad way!); it was hot, very hot; AND we lost some money gambling. But it has to be said that it was an experience. Bright lights, huge water features and hundreds of restaurants, bars and shops, we enjoyed a couple of days in the city, spending money and living the high life (particularly up the Stratosphere Tower!) It has to be said there are some incredible places to eat – some of our top picks were ‘Roxy’s Diner’ (voted best diner in Vegas), Gordon Ramsay Burger and ‘Morimoto’ in the MGM Grand.
Zion National Park
Zion was really beautiful and only took a few hours to drive through the entire park (there and back!) We stopped with a picnic half way through the park and ate overlooking scenic views in bearable heat. If you are passing that way you should definitely visit, however if it is out of your way, you are probably better off visiting Grand Canyon.
Our ‘loop’ route meant that we were passing both the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although you have to pay $30 entrance fee to the National Parks, you have to hold onto your receipt as it will give you access for 7 days to both entrances. The views were simply spectacular – photos, videos and descriptions do not give this natural phenomenon justice. As one of the Natural Wonders of the World, go along the trails, ride a mule or if you can spare the extra pennies hire a helicopter to take in the views, it is just incredible. For our 2 days, we stayed in Flagstaff, a small nearby town with restaurants and shops, probably the best place to stay if you can’t get into the Canyon villages.
“There’s nothing to do here”, said the receptionist at our hotel…a few hours later we’d rearranged our trip so that we didn’t have to stay the extra night that we’d originally booked. Thank goodness for ‘free cancellations’ of Booking.com.
Lake Havasu City
Other than feeling like I was going to melt into the tarmac, Lake Havasu was a really awesome place. The historic London Bridge has been erected in this town, so G and I felt patriotic as we walked across the bridge, union jacks flying high! We only stayed one night here, but the one thing you have to do is hire a speed boat/jet ski. In the USA you don’t need a boat license, so as long as you’ve driven a boat before you’ll be able to take one out for the morning or day. We had ours for a few hours and it was just incredible. No speed limit on the lake meant that we whizzed along the water, taking in the views and luckily had most of the water to ourselves due to the huge storm the night before.
Another hot, hot, hot town. When in Palm Springs, do as the celebs do, right? So, we brunched, we shopped, oh…and we had dead bugs on the floor of our hotel room because we were on a budget. Aside from the hotel, this city was great, especially the food – we went to ‘Spencer’s’ and ‘Wilma and Frieda’s’ for brunch which I would highly recommend, went up the Aerial Tramway with the 360° moving floor and went to the weekly Thursday night street market.
Being the last stop on our trip, it was comforting to feel some cooler weather before we headed home to the UK. San Diego does not have the reputation that LA or Las Vegas does, but I do not know why. It was another firm favourite of mine and actually better that it wasn’t swarming with tourists. We stayed a stone’s throw away from the harbour, so on the evening we saw beautiful sunsets painted with palm tree silhouettes. We visited the world famous San Diego Zoo, a non-profit organisation that donates all its money to funding projects to help preserve and care for the large range of animals that they look after. The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier was another of our excursions, my dad would have been so jealous! The Gaslamp Quarter was a buzzing area of the city with bars and restaurants galore! I didn’t want to leave…
…and back to LAX to fly home so that we could avoid the ‘one-way’ car rental fee!
It really was a one-of-a-lifetime trip and I made memories that will last forever. If you are thinking about planning a road trip yourself and need some advice, please comment below or message me and I’ll be more than happy to help!