You’ve got just over 2 weeks off work and a bucketlist full of dreams for your much anticipated Californian road trip. Where the f**k do you start?
San Francisco – Muir Woods – Yosemite – Death Valley – Las Vegas – Arizona – Monument Valley – Palm Springs – Los Angeles
After hunting the internet for the shortest flight duration and of course the cheapest flight for peak season in the USA, I booked direct with Norwegian Air. Norwegian Air is a great budget airline that I have flown with many times to Europe but never long haul but the flights were a steal at £550 each return, almost half the cost of their competitors. I booked separate long haul flights, so London to San Francisco and LA to London and opted for no meals and only 1 checked bag between Andy and I.
Before we went, we listed all the places we would love to see and experience and then mapped out the route we would take – this changed many times! We could’ve driven along the Big Sur coastal route but we really wanted to see the giant redwood trees and Yosemite National Park so we decided to drive inland. USA is enormous as we all know, so then we had to search google for the mileage and time it would take to drive between the places we wanted to see. Some drives were 7-12 hours long! We stayed in a hostel in San Francisco, a hotel in Los Angeles and Palm Springs (accommodation is so expensive in the USA which surprised me) and for everything else we selected super cool listings through Airbnb such as a 1960’s Airstream, a teardrop trailer, a casita and a Hogan! Not only did this give us amazing experiences, we met so many lovely people who we would definitely recommend, but we also saved some dollars! We only booked hotels if we knew we would be spending time in them, but as we were on the road most of the time, we didn’t see the point in wasting money.
Stupidly, we left the most important part of the whole adventure to last minute- booking our American sports car. This was a huge part of the experience and we knew we wanted a convertible Camaro – because in the UK we don’t have much opportunity to put the roof down and feel the wind in your hair. We found most of these cars booked or just crazy money because we wanted to pick up in 1 location and drop off in another location. Eventually we booked through SIXT and settled for a Mustang convertible or similar, which we were still pretty happy about. This set us back about £500 which was just less than £50 a day. After we arrived in SF we went to the car hire park and we saw a few Mustangs and a Camaro SS 6.2 Litre V8 455hp a beautiful red convertible bad boy that looked so beautiful in the sunshine. I knew we were both secretly hoping we would be handed the keys to this car – and we were lucky! The lady gave us the option, for the same price to take this car – Hell Yes! We were ecstatic and usually this costs £1000 to hire. Yes, we took plenty of shameless selfies and photos of our new love and definitely drove it like we stole it.
Day 1 San Francisco: We hired hired bicycles for £25pp for the day, setting off from Fisherman’s Wharf, a great way to energise ourselves after the long flight. We Cycled alongside the bay and up through the gardens to the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. It was super windy up that high but fun none the less. We continued our bicycle ride down to Sausalito, a famous waterfront town and rested our legs whilst we ate fish and chips in the sunshine. Later, we got the boat back to Fisherman’s Wharf with our bikes and then continued to cycle around the city before finding Lombard Street. Lombard Street is famous for its steep, one block section with 8 hairpin turns – the most crookedest street in the world.
Day 2 San Francisco: We grabbed a coffee and went walking in search of the beautiful Painted Ladies – Victorian houses painted in several colours to highlight their architectural details. I am obsessed with colourful doors – SF has colourful houses! One of the most photographed location’s in SF is Alamo Square, also known as Postcard Row. If you don’t fancy walking, take the Muni line #21 westbound from downtown to the corner of Hayes and Steiner streets.
Day 3 San Francisco: We took the car for a drive through the city, which was pretty scary as the car is so wide and we didn’t really know the highway code and even ended up driving down the wrong way down a one way street to face cars coming head onto us! After feeling slightly more at ease behind the wheel, we took it for a drive down Lombard street and then over the Golden Gate bridge out of the city and up into Muir Woods National Monument. This felt so good to get out of the craziness of the city and into fresh air surrounded by nature and of course the towering old growth redwood trees. The redwoods were up to 250 feet high and between 400 and 800 years old which is just incredible! Instantly our shoulders relaxed in the shaded forest with the sun peeping through the trees and the sound of the birds and nearby stream flowing. I literally could’ve slept there.The park is open 365 days a year, usually from 0900-1700 and now you need to reserve in advance, tickets cost $10pp and includes parking fee. If you have the time you can also go on hiking trails too. In the late evening we headed to Mill Valley for our Airbnb accommodation which I was so excited for, the 1960’s Airstream (search “Private retro/modern airstream” and Marsha is the host). Although this was more than what we wanted to pay for a night at £150, it was an amazing experience and totally worth it.
Day 4 Yosemite: We had 190 miles or a 3 hour drive ahead of us to Yosemite National Park, so after a great nights sleep and a yummy breakfast provided by Marsha, we set off at 7am with the roof down and the tunes on! Our supposedly 3 hour drive turned in 7 hours because the roof of our car got stuck down (would only happen to us) and we were getting burnt from the scorching sun. So we pulled over into a McDonalds to use the free WiFi and contacted a garage to fix the problem for us as we were literally burning. OMG you couldn’t make this up! It was hilarious driving down the freeway and slapping on the sunscreen and eventually putting on jumpers. After a few hours wait at the garage and chatting to the locals about Trump being President, we were on our way. By the time we got to Yosemite, we didn’t have enough time to hike to Half Dome so we had to settle for the mini trails and driving our car around the park which was disappointing but what can you do? That’s the thing about travelling, it doesn’t always go to plan. We were blown away at how beautiful and breath taking mother nature is – Yosemite is so perfect and magnificent that it didn’t look real. We will go back again one day I am sure. We drove 1 hour to Mariposa where we were staying the night in a tear drop trailer, found via Airbnb for less than £50 for the night which included breakfast, drinks and a much needed hot shower. This was like glamping and totally off the beaten track. All you could hear was crickets and snakes. We sat and enjoyed a beer or two together before going to sleep.
Day 5 Death Valley: We had an epic day of driving ahead of us again as we headed to Las Vegas via Death Valley. Mariposa to Death Valley was over 300 miles and took us 6 hours as we stopped for photos, drinks and fuel but the drive was so scenic and relaxing. This is where I got to take the wheel as the roads were empty and straight. I had never driven on the “wrong side” of the road or driven a left handed 6.2 litre sports car. What an adrenaline rush! We got to death valley, one of the hottest places on Earth and our temperature gauge reached 53 degrees and my phone switched off due to the heat. Safe to say, we did not have the roof down here, in fear of it getting stuck down again. We jumped outside the car for a quick photo but it was just too hot to breathe. Insane! On our way from Death Valley to Las Vegas we sped past a super cool garage full of vintage American muscle cars and huge trucks, literally in the middle of nowhere. We screeched to a halt and did a U turn to go check them out. We love vintage muscle cars so I went in and asked if I could take some photos (didn’t want to get cut up into tiny pieces). A young woman came out and she was so friendly, telling us about the cars and the stories behind them, allowing us to look and take photos. She then showed us around the owners prize possession – a truck that had done 3 times around the clock and had won many awards. It was a lucky find where we spent 45 minutes in the company of a complete stranger and bonded over cars. 3 hours later, we got to Las Vegas and checked into our hotel for the next 2 nights, The Stratosphere. We chose this hotel as it came with free parking and wasn’t over the top priced at £40 per night. The only downside to huge hotels, is that it take ages to check in. After a shower, we got dressed up and walked down the strip for a while and as much as I pleaded with Andy to renew our vows for just $199, he wasn’t game. By 10pm, we were barely able to stand up as we were so tired from the long drive, lack of food and the heat so we retreated back to the hotel for a good nights rest.
Day 6 Las Vegas: It was our 5th Wedding Anniversary and we kept it classy by starting with a McDonalds breakfast before heading to the the Gun Store – yep, I really wanted to fire some guns (bucketlist moment right there) and what a buzz that was! For $99 we each got to fire 25 rounds in an M16, MP5 and a P226. Watch out Andy, I am pretty good with a gun! In the afternoon we got picked up by a limo and taken to the airport to jump into a helicopter for a sunset tour of the Grand Canyon and finishing off with a night flight of the strip. This was booked through Viatour and was pretty pricey at £400pp but our excuse was it was our wedding anniversary. Once back at our hotel, Andy did a spot of gambling on the slot machines and then we headed to our table at the Top Of the World inside the Stratosphere Hotel, 800 feet above Las Vegas which rotates 360 degrees every 80 minutes. We had a tasting menu with wine flight and it was delicious.
Day 7 Las Vegas: We headed to our tour at Neon Museum. Ah man I loved this place – old rusty colourful neon signs from the yesteryears of Vegas. You cannot come to Vegas and not visit here. This tour lasted 1 hour and cost just $19pp and is full of Insta worthy shots. We then jumped back in to the car and headed to downtown Vegas and went street art hunting with cameras in tow. I much preferred downtown Vegas than the glitzy strip, even the streets beyond our hotel I found more appealing.
Day 8 Arizona: We had a 4 hour or 270 mile drive to Page, Arizona and we arrived in time for the sunset at Horseshoe Bend. Before researching for things to do in Arizona, I had never seen or heard about Horseshoe bend, which overlooks the Colorado River below. Some people say its better to visit it in the late morning or mid-day, others say at or just before the sunset. If you can, go in the morning and at sunset – we did. Horseshoe Bend was a free attraction as was the parking and it was one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen. It really took us by surprise about how beautiful it was, even the feeling there was calming and so awe inspiring – although I did get a few sweaty palm moments when Andy went too close to the edge. This is the kind of place where you want to take a few photos and then put your camera down and soak up the vibes and enjoy the moment. We stayed in a casita for £85 found through Airbnb and the host was super friendly and invited us to use his terrace which overlooked Lake Powell.
Day 9 Arizona: We headed to our pre-booked tour (Ken’s tours) of Lower Antelope Canyon. We got to walk amongst the slots created by the relentless forces of water and wind over millions of years, slowly carving and sculpting the sandstone into forms, textures and shapes that can be seen today. The views of the canyon change constantly as the sun moves across the sky which allows light to create dazzling displays of colour and shadow. Another breathtaking place created by mother nature – it seems Arizona has plentiful. This tour lasted 1 hour and cost $48pp including the Navajo Park permit fee. We then drove 112 miles or 2 hours to Monument Valley and got there late in the afternoon. Stupidly (and yes, people looked at us like we were stupid) we took the sportscar along part of the 17 mile loop, how it survived without damage I have no idea. Again the view of the sandstone buttes in the Navajo Tribal Park was ever changing due to the setting sun and a delight to sit back and watch. After sunset we went to check into our Airbnb glamping style accommodation which cost us £90. Our Hogan, which is a traditional earth and juniper dwelling set in the outstanding natural beauty of Navajo land, complete with a open air window looking up to the stars. There was just a bucket to wash in and an outside toilet, neither of which we used. After a long hot beautiful day we really fancied an ice cold beer but the ones in the trunk were warm. Little did we know that alcohol is not permitted on Navajo land, either in opened or closed containers, – no wonder why we couldn’t find it in the nearby store.
Day 10 Palm Springs: We couldn’t wait to hit the road as we barely slept in the Hogan as it was so hot, and we were there during a heat wave. We hit the road just as the sun was rising and took a few obligatory photos in the middle of the road with monument valley as our beautiful backdrop. Next up was our epic 560 mile drive to Palm Springs which took us 8 hours – thankfully we had created some great playlists and each took turn of the wheel. Although a lot of our drives between major cities were epic, this is what we came for – that sense of freedom, driving the open roads in a bad ass sports car, music on and just us for company and beautiful views. It was fun and sometimes even stressful but definitely fun when you put the pedal to the floor. Mid afternoon we arrived in Palm Springs and checked into our Insta worthy hotel for the next 3 nights at the The Saguaro – a much needed few nights of luxury and some R n R. As soon as I saw this hotel I had to book it, regardless of the cost as it was just my kinda place – colourful, mid century modern architecture and slightly kitsch. Our room was huge and had a pool and mountain view. I couldn’t wait to hit the pool and grab a cocktail but sunbathing in 45 degree heat was challenging!
Day 11 Palm Springs: My chauffeur (Andy) took me on my very own Palm Springs Door Tour, using an illustrated map I found on Salty Canary’s blog (saltycanary.com). The architecture is to die for. Everything is pristine but fun with the white painted bungalows, colourful doors, cacti and palm trees – house heaven! Just jump in your car or on a bicycle and go for a wander. There are some cool buildings too that you need to check out if you are a fan of mid century modern architecture like the City Hall, the visitor centre and the bank. Palm Springs oozes Insta worthy photos and you cannot fail to miss the thousands of wind turbines against the mountainous back drop. Palm Springs is perfect!
Day 12 Palm Springs: we went for a drive to check out the International Banana Museum. Yes. There really is a banana museum which is home to over 20,000 banana related items but unfortunately it was closed that day – I was so sad. Next up in the middle of nowhere and a 90 minute drive from Palm Springs was Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight’s tribute to God. A folk art masterpiece that is open from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year and is free, but you can show your appreciation by making a donation.
Day 13 Los Angeles: It was time to say goodbye to Palm Springs and head to LA bitches! On our journey to LA we stopped our for our sound bath at Integratron in Landers – it was so therapeutic that I fell into a deep sleep! In just under 2 hours and a little over 100 miles we arrived in Hollywood, LA, the city where everyone wants to be a star. We checked into the super cool Mama’s Shelter, a boutique hotel with so much style and personality. There’s a roof top bar, pinball machines, the best food we ate all holiday and the cocktails.were.amazing. We walked the Hollywood walk of fame as you do, then jumped into a tour bus and did the cliche Hollywood celebrity houses tour and finished up in the stunning art deco building that is home to the Hollywood Museum.
Day 14 Los Angeles: We had our first lie in and later wandered for brunch -avocado on toast (obv’s) with a huge black coffee at Mamas shelter restaurant, which fuelled us for our 3 hour return hike in the sunshine from the Griffith Observatory to the Hollywood sign. All the tourists stay at the Griffith Observatory so we had the trail almost to ourselves – perfect! Afterwards we drove down Rodeo drive and did not dare go into the designer shops in our sweaty gym gear. That evening we enjoyed a meal and cocktails.
Day 15 Los Angeles: Our last full day in California which was spent by Santa Monica and Venice beach dipping our toes in the ocean, people watching, dodging choppers, watching in awe of little kids at the skate park bust some moves and bodybuilders pumping iron at Muscle Beach. We sat with ice creams and reminisced over our incredible 2 week Californian adventure, trying to choose our favourite part and feeling sad it was coming to an end. My favourite part was spending 2 weeks with the man of my dreams, just us two, having fun and creating amazing memories.
And then, Home Sweet Home!