If you have to have never met me, followed me on social media or read my blog to know I went on a road trip in October. It’s something I had always wanted to do and I shared some tips from Palm Springs recently. I’m going to write each place in more detail but a few people have asked for my review of The American Road Trip Company and the trip in general so here it is, with some photographs to tease you
I wrote a brief review of the trip before I went here. The booking process was easy. I spoke to Chris on the phone and told him what we wanted to see. He recommended their ‘best of the west’ trip and, with the go ahead, booked our trip of a lifetime.
12 weeks before we got this wonderful pack with maps, the Lonely Planet guide a detailed information pack. I wish I had known this was coming beforehand as both me and my travel pal had bought the Lonely Planet guide, we now had three! The maps had our routes drawn on already so we didn’t need to waste time trying to work out the best route to see the best sights whilst on the road, they’d figured that out for us. The itinerary pack broke these routes down into road numbers and times. There was also an alternative route if we just wanted to get there quicker. The pack also included interesting sights to see en route, things to stop and see as well as stuff to do in each of the places we were staying. If you are after doing no research for your trip this really is for you, it tells you some traditional tourist things but also some interesting different things to do that we hadn’t seen in our planning.
The flight wasn’t pleasant as we were surrounded by a Scottish school trip (is this a new thing? We went to France via ferry in my school days!) who were very loud but we did get to sit ‘upstairs’ on an A380 which was pretty cool. An hour on the runway and then a further hour wait for our hire car and we were on the road. Driving around LA at night when you are not used to being in an automatic car twice the size you are used to and on the wrong side of the road is not pleasant although I think I was more panicky than my travel pal who was driving! She got us to Laguna Beach in one piece and with little fuss where we crashed straight away suffering from lack of sleep and the early signs of jet lag. 2 nights in Laguna Beach was welcomed, if gave us a full day to chill out and relax on the beach whilst sleeping away the jet lag ready for the rest of our trip.
Next stop was Palm Springs which was significantly warmer than Laguna Beach, temperatures in the car hit 96 degrees on the drive and we stopped for a wander around Joshua Tree National Park. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me, I loved the quirkiness of the place.
The drive from Palm Springs to Lake Havasu City was a long one along the most barren road I have ever seen. The temperatures outside went over 100 degrees with worried me considering there was nothing for miles around and we were the only car on the road for long stretches of it! We crossed the border into Arizona and stayed in Lake Havasu City for a night. It was all we needed really as there wasn’t much to do but it was a good point to stop after such a long journey.
The next day was a shorter drive to the place I was looking forward to the most – the Grand Canyon. We had just one night there and when I first saw our itinerary I immediately thought it wouldn’t be enough time. We did the suggested detour down the original route 66 which so fun! The road itself looks the same as every other road but the section in Seligman is so touristy and tacky, in a good way.
The Grand Canyon was just epic. There is no other words to describe its natural beauty and it really does need to be seen to be believed. This trip takes in the South Rim and, having seen images of the other areas I think we got to see just the right areas. One night there was more than enough for us and sunset was incredible. During the day it was really warm and we wandered some of the rim but got the bus to other spots so we could take in as much as possible. Once the sun set it was so cold! We really wish we’d had the warm jackets that were packed in our suitcases! We stayed in Lodge accommodation at Yavapai Lodge which was budget accommodation inside the Park and a 10 minute walk from the bus stop. This felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life due to no lighting and the threat of wild animals! Throw in the cold and it wasn’t pleasant but the day totally made up for it.
The drive to Las Vegas was really fun taking in Hoover Dam (you don’t need to stop and pay for parking, just pull up if you want a quick look and photograph opportunity!) before we hit the bright lights of Las Vegas. The road prior to the Hoover Dam is very lonely with pretty much just wilderness and it’s a long one, over 4 hours to Vegas. As you can imagine the craziness that is Vegas was really overwhelming after such a quiet drive.
At the time I felt 2 days in Las Vegas was enough, I was ready to leave. I think I’d have enjoyed it more had we had more time there or had we gone on a separate trip. We missed a lot of things in hindsight and felt we had to stay up really late for no real reason other than to drink! I’m glad I saw it but I think I’d like to go back and do it properly.
The next day and it was my turn to take on a long drive, this time through Death Valley National Park. It saw soaring temperatures like those in Arizona and I had wrongly believed that Death Valley was pretty much one long and straight road. It wasn’t. It is windy, twisty and with some scary drops without railings. Not great for someone with a fear of heights! The long drive saw us fall straight into bed in Lone Pine and we left early the next morning after a complimentary breakfast. This was perfect as Lone Pine is very quiet with nothing to do so we weren’t tempted to go out exploring and the breakfast meant we were set up for the lengthy drive to Yosemite National Park.
The temperatures dropped as we arrived in Yosemite for our 2 night stay. Another place of incredible natural beauty we spent the next day exploring the rocky waterfalls (there was no water in them we were actually gutted and spent the rest of the trip trying to find a waterfall with water) and the following morning marvelling at the gigantic sequoia trees.
We cheated a little and took an open trolley tour around the sequoia trees. This was quite pricey but well worth it if you don’t have time to walk around all day to get to the specific trees of interest. I believe this tour is ending soon which is a real shame as the guide is fascinating and gives the history of the trees within Yosemite.
A shorter but very hairy drive around some open cliff edges saw us in Lake Tahoe for the night. This is the only part of the trip I didn’t think was worthwhile. Lake Tahoe was quite out of the way considering the route we were taking on our trip. The weather was also an issue as it wasn’t warm enough to sunbathe but then it wasn’t cold enough for the ski resorts and activities to be open so, as you can imagine, it was really quiet. The Lake was pretty but I’d have liked to go when there was more activity and buzz about the place. The Lake is also straddled on the California/Nevada border and I was expecting some impressive signage to that effect. I was disappointed not to see any!
The journey to Napa was fairly straight forward and short compared to the few days before which was welcome! Napa is one of the prettiest places we visited and I wrote about the wine tasting in Pride Wines caves here. We stayed at a really nice hotel in American Canyon which, for us, was just a bit too far out. I’m guessing this is because Napa is expensive, we could tell that by the menu prices at the majority of the restaurants! We felt we missed out on quite a lot especially being in wine country and having to drive to get everywhere. Beautiful though and somewhere I really hope to return to some day.
A quick drive over the Golden Gate Bridge (as you do) and we were in San Francisco where we stayed for 2 nights. Once again I didn’t think this would be enough but we fitted in everything we wanted to see (I’ll write about that another time) and were ready to go to our next stop. The hotel was in the Tenderloin area next to a homeless shelter and the area was rough to say the least. We got the hotel’s free shuttle when we could but this didn’t run very late and we were quite out of the way from the Fisherman’s Wharf area where I would want to stay if I get the chance to visit again.
A 2 hour drive and we were in beautiful Monterey for 2 nights. I thought another night here would have been good as there was a lot to see in the surrounding towns and we met some of the most amazing people including an older man who used to be in the army. Turns out he was 2nd off the highest rank possible during his time! Such a lovely guy. As with San Francisco I’ll write about what to do in Monterey another time.
The 5 hour drive from Monterey to Santa Barbara was the hardest mainly because there was so much to see on the way and we wanted to spend some time in Santa Barbara too before having to leave the next day for LA. Highway 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway) is an amazing stretch of road where we saw the most beautiful beaches and the most surreal site of all – these elephant seals catching a few winks in the sun. Just amazing, the highlight of the trip for me.
One night in Santa Barbara wasn’t really enough but we had a wander around the shops before heading off for the last leg of our trip to LA LA land.
The last leg of our journey was a short 95 miles so we stopped at Santa Monica pier, the end of Route 66, for an ice cream whilst stretching our legs on the beach. Little did we know the traffic through LA to Hollywood would be mental!! It took an hour longer than it should have done but we were THERE!
3 nights in LA was needed as there is so much to do but you really do need to drive everywhere which is a bit of a pain. LA really needs its own post so I’ll share our secrets on how to make the most of your time there soon.
Sorry for the ridiculously long post, and that is just an overview! Overall I was really impressed with the price and planning that had gone into our road trip. We really didn’t need to do anything, The American Road Trip Company did all that for us. The parking fees were hefty in some places (especially LA where it was $30 a night just to park the car) and some hotels addd random admin fees once you checked out but The American Road Trip Company worked all these out for me in advance so we knew exactly how much money we needed to take. If you are thinking of road tripping in America give them a shot, now who is doing the East Coast with me?
Paid for in full