USA | West Coast Road Trip

To celebrate my 21st birthday my family and I flew to the United Sates of America for 3 weeks to embark on an epic road trip around the West Coast area. We left in the summer of 2016 and covered roughly 2000 miles and entered 4 states (California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada).

 

The Route:

Los Angeles – Calico Ghost Town – Barstow – Grand Canyon – Zion National Park – Las Vegas

– Death Valley – Mammoth – Yosemite National Park – San Francisco – Napa

 

 

Los Angeles (California)

We flew in to LAX on 9th June and rented a Toyota Corolla for our 3 week adventure. First, we spent 3 nights at The Sea Shore Motel in Santa Monica.

 

There is such a good vibe about Los Angeles, especially in an areas by the beach like Santa Monica. During our 3 days we managed to cram quite a lot of stuff in, but at the same time it didn’t feel rushed at all. 

 

  • Warner Bros Studios

$60 Adult ticket. We took a guided tour on golf buggy’s around the film studios, going in and out of insanely full prop rooms, to being in the studio where Ellen Degeneres films her show. We saw props from famous movies, like the rocking chair from The Conjuring 2, and a full scale town centre which was very convincing.

Other things we saw were: Loads of Harry Potter stuff, the ‘Friends’ sofa and a fake jungle where they filmed many parts of Jurassic Park. 

 

  • Venice Canals

We walked around the incredibly picturesque canals and admired the colourful little houses down the edges.

  • Venice Beach

I think the first thing you notice about Venice Beach, other than the smell of weed, is the amount of homeless people there are that are just sprawled along the boardwalk in tents and cardboard homes.

Once you look past that and go onto the beach, it’s quite nice. We wandered along the beach to Santa Monica Pier, passing muscle beach and that skatepark that seems to be in every music video ever along the way

  • Santa Monica Pier

Marking the end of Route 66, Santa Monica pier is a very popular attraction. We people watched from the side rail and watched some magic tricks and other performers before sitting down for a Mexican lunch at the end of the pier.

 

  • Hollywood Boulevard 

Hollywood boulevard is a significant aspect of LA. With the Walk of Fame (gold stars on the pavement featuring names of famous people), the Chinese Theatre and many other things, it attracts thousands of people. I felt it was a bit overrated and the whole street itself was dirty, ugly and just a bit OTT.  

 

  • Griffith Observatory

This drive up to the observatory gave many clues that the view from the top would be epic. It was a long winding road up and we had to park on the side of the road about 1km away and walk up the rest due to the time of day.

From here we got a perfect view of the Hollywood Sign and had a look around the observatory.

 

Calico Ghost Town (Cali)

From LA we drove to Calico. It is a ghost town located in the Mojave Desert and was a former mining town in 1881. It costed $8 for an adult and was interesting but not exactly what I had in mind. Obviously it’s been made into a tourist attraction but I felt about 80% of it was modern or renovated and maybe 20% was untouched. It was informative and pretty quiet, it’s just a pity it has been so affected by tourism.

Barstow (Cali)

After Calico we headed to Barstow for the night. We stayed at the Super 8 Motel and lazed by the pool before another Mexican dinner at a local diner.

 

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

At this time in my life this was probably the place I wanted to go to the most. It was a true bucket list location and it did not disappoint my anticipation.

 

We had 2 night staying in the Grand Canyon Village at Yavapie Lodges and this was definitely enough time to do what we wanted. At its maximum, the canyon is 18 miles wide and 1.1 miles deep, just to put it into perspective. We were located on the south rim and there are a lot of walks available here. There is a free shuttle bus that goes all the way to Hermit’s Rest, stopping at many lookouts along the south rim but there is also a walking track beside the road. We took the bus about half way and walked the rest, stopping for sketchy photos sitting on rock edges, before arriving for lunch at Hermit’s Rest.

 

We also did a walk called the Bright Angel Trail which took up down into the canyon. A narrow trail took you down to a watering hole where you can turn around and head back up or keep going. To this point was a 1.1 miles (all downhill remember) so going back up was strenuous. You can do this on the back of a mule but we felt safer on foot.

 

We watched the sun go down at Yavapie Point and also went to Desert View watchtower on our way out for a different perspective. Watching the sunset behind the enormous red rocks of the Grand Canyon was probably my highlight of 2016.

 

Zion National Park (Utah)

From the Grand Canyon we drove to Zion but first visited Horseshoe Bend on the way. This magnificent natural occurrence is a very popular stop and is only about 200m from the main road. Pictures will never give such an immense thing justice. We took a few photos and mum got nervous if I went within a couple metres of the edge, understandably so, as it was a straight drop for about 1.3km. 

 

In Zion National Park we stayed at the Quality Inn for 3 nights. This gave us plenty of time to go for walks and check out the landscape. In a weird way I remember the town and surrounding scenery feeling a bit like Aviemore in Scotland but 10 times the size.

 

We went on hikes each day but unfortunately I cannot remember the names of most of the walks. We did the upper and lower emerald pools for sure and the riverside walk back to the shuttle bus pick up point. One day we went to a lookout off the beaten track and we were the only ones there with an epic view over the whole region to take in. 

 

Las Vegas (Nevada)

In Vegas we spent 2 nights at the Tropicana Resort located on the strip. Again, in just 2 days we managed to do everything we wanted and I feel that any longer here wouldn’t have been that enjoyable. Nevertheless, other than the extreme summer temperature of around 40-45 degrees celsius daily, I enjoyed it.. 

We took a day trip to Hoover Dam where we got a guided tour of the dam and it’s history. A fun fact I remember from this tour is that from all the concrete used to build the dam, a 3m pavement could be built that would go round the entire world. It was once the tallest dam in the world, measuring in at 222m.

 

We went to the Hard Rock Café and obviously I added to my collection of cocktail glasses. As we explored the memorabilia after our meal we found an entirely empty floor upstairs with a balcony that overlooked the whole trip. We had this view all to ourselves. 

 

Something mum didn’t like but I definitely did was the gun range. Myself, dad and Christopher got to a handgun and a semi automatic rifle and we got 2 magazines for each to shoot at a target. I failed badly with the handgun but did pretty well with the M16 assault rifle. We got to keep our targets and mine is still on the back of my bedroom door.

 

A main attraction in Las Vegas are The Fountains of Bellagio. This display happens every 30 minutes, I think, and the largest jets shoot the water up to 460ft whilst shooting off in time with music. We had some cocktails in the Bellagio Casino and had a look around. 

 

Death Valley (Cali)

Now this part of the trip was changed when we arrived in Death Valley. We had planned to stay for 2 nights although when we got out of the car the heat was literally unbearable. This area got its name after the hottest temperature ever recorded was measured here in 1913 at 56.7 degrees celsius. When we were here in the same month as the record it got up to 48 which is just stupidly hot. It felt like you were walking in a sauna and even at nighttime it was in the high 30’s. 

 

So, we stayed in Furnace Creek ranch (a fitting name) for just one night and luckily so because we discovered once we arrived that there wasn’t really much to see. Although it is the biggest national park located south of Alaska, there really wasn’t much in it. On our 1 full day here we went to Badwater basin which is the lowest point in North America at 282ft below sea level. We got out of the car, walked out onto the basin for a photo and then ran back to the car for air-con.

 

Mammoth Lakes (Cali)

To make up for lost time in Death Valley and not having enough time to make it to Yosemite on the same day we decided to stop at Mammoth Lakes for a night. A ski resort in the winter and a popular destination in summer too, there was lots to do. In this very mountainous region the scenery was awesome and I would actually really like to experience skiing here one day.

 

We did a full day walk, getting the shuttle bus to the start. I can’t remember how far the whole walk is but it must be about 5 miles return. Near the start we admired the Devil’s Postpile Monument which is a collection of basalt columns formed together, almost vertically in the dense forest. It was quite impressive. 2 more miles along the woodland track we came across Rainbow Falls where we stopped for a picnic. We were lucky enough to witness a rainbow. 

 

Whilst returning from dinner that night we saw a small bear run out of the woods, across the road and off into the darkness. It was really small but hey, we saw one! 

 

 

Yosemite National Park (Cali)

With 3 nights in Yosemite we had plenty of time. We stayed in Curry village in a “tent” which was more of a small cabin which looked like a tent from the outside. This was a pretty cool experience being surrounded by giant ancient sequoia trees and hearing all the sounds of the forest around. 

 

Whilst here, regretfully, I didn’t go to visit the Yosemite falls, but I did get to see them from Sentinel Dome. This mountain is 4150ft high and the walk was a pretty easy 1 mile from the car park. The only tough part was getting up the dome at the end. From the top we could see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. You truly do feel on top of the world with this 360 degree view. 

 

We went to the viewpoint at Glacier Point too which was a different perspective but still a great view of Half Dome. The drive up was long and winding and I wish I'd stopped for photos.

 

San Fransisco (Cali)

In San Francisco we stayed for 3 nights at The Petite Auberge. It was evident from very early on that there was a very large homeless population in the city and it seemed that every corner you went round there was people living at them. I love this city, though, and it gets in my top 5 cities for sure.

 

Here is a list of what we did.

 

  • Baseball Match

We went to the AT&T stadium to watch the San Francisco Giants take on the Oakland Athletics. 

 

  • Golden Gate Bridge

We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge on a very foggy day (apparently it always is) and my brother and I headed for Battery Spencer lookout. We had to wait a while to actually be able to see the bridge but after a while we got pretty good photos.

 

  • Hop on Hop off

Something we usually do in large cities is take the open top bus tour. You can get out and back on at any of the stops all day so other than getting to see the sights you could always use it as public transport too I guess. 

 

  • Alcatraz Island

Probably the best tour I’ve ever had and it wasn’t even by a person! The 30min ferry took us to “The Rock” from pier 33 and we paid for an audio tour. It featured the voices and experiences of actual inmates of Alcatraz who told you about what you were looking at. You could pause, skip, rewind etc and other than that you could get really good views over the city from here too.

 

  • Pier 39

This area hosts shops and cafes alongside loads of street entertainment. We had lunch at fisherman’s ward and did some souvenir shopping. There are also a lot of sea lions that come here to sunbathe which is a funny watch.  

 

  • Exploratorium 

Museum of science, art and human perception. It is largely aimed at kids but we still found it pretty interesting. Featuring hands-on exhibitions and eye catching displays, I think we stayed for an hour or so.

 

  • Haight-Ashbury

Renowned for being the home of hipsters, Haight-Ashbury hosts retro record stores, alternative bars and interesting street art and much more. 

 

Napa (Cali)

Our final destination was in the Napa Valley, about 2 hours north of San Francisco. Mum’s friend Anne lives here after she moved from Stonehaven so we went to visit her and see wine country. In these 2 days we mainly just chilled out and maybe drove around some of the small towns and poked our heads in some shops. 

We then headed back to San Fran to the airport and that was it! 

 

This was one of the best holidays I have been on and we went to so many places that I’ve always wanted to go to.

I am truly grateful to my parents for this one,

© James Lilley 2018