An amazing trip and probably the most logistically-challenging but ultimately rewarding trip we've taken. I look back and can honestly say I loved every single day.
We flew into LA and worked our way to our hotel near Hollywood Boulevard. I looked long and hard for the right place to stay and thought this would be the perfect area. It wasn't. It's a pretty sleazy area, well-visited but I think most tourists choose to stay elsewhere. It's kind of fun seeing the superheroes all dressed up at night, but when you see them sleeping on the streets in the morning, it takes the shine off and of course makes you realize that homelessness is a big part of everyday America.
Still, we were well-situated for our assault on Universal Studios the following day. It was a blast and I highly recommend the 'front of the line' pass as a way to maximize your experience. Pretty much straight to the front of every main ride one time only, but by the time you've done the main rides and had your Krusty Burger, the queues are diminishing and you can repeat your favourites. We did The Walking Dead experience three or four times! Worth a visit!
Day three was rental car pick up day and a tentative cruise around LA and up to Griffith Observatory. Fun, but first day in a new car on new roads is always a bit daunting for me!
To be honest, we didn't really warm to Los Angeles. I'm not sure if it was the location we stayed, or that we didn't really explore properly, but I think we were all glad to be getting on the way.
Day four was the start of the road trip and Las Vegas beckoned! Fairly easy drive - I was warned to watch out for over-zealous State Troopers, but I managed to avoid them for the whole trip. Vegas was as expected - amazing and surreal. We stayed at the Mandalay Bay - had a lovely room but alas for only one night. We took in the Bellagio Fountains then walked the streets in the evening and soaked up the atmosphere. Definitely surreal.
Day five was a short road trip to Williams, Arizona - our entrance point to the Grand Canyon. We stayed in a delightful old bordello on Route 66 and loved the small town feeling. We took in a gunfight, saw some real-life Amish people and let our imaginations wander. Our host gave us some tips for our trip into the Grand Canyon for day six, which started with a massive breakfast at the restaurant next door.
The drive took us through Grand Canyon Village - seemingly more convenient, but pretty soulless. Our host told us not to park in the main car park, but instead to park in the Ranger station and head for the Rim Trail. We did just that, and followed a small deserted trail through some woodland. After around 10 minutes, the whole canyon opened up before our eyes - quite breathtaking and virtually no one around. We walked the Rim Trail for a good hour or so, in awe pretty much the whole time. Once in a lifetime #1.
Later that day, we drove back to LasVegas, taking a diversion to drive Route 66. This section was actually nothing special, but one off the list. Driving through the Hualapai Reservation, we stopped for lunch for one of the most and least memorable meals of our trip. Thalia's open meat sandwich resembled the sole of my shoe, my lasagne was edible but the accompanying salad was literally the size of a sprig of parsley, yet Phoebe played it safe and tucked into her Tuna Melt. Vegas was same as ever - we stayed just off the strip, so enjoyed another eye-opening stroll among the weird and wonderful.
Day eight was another amazing one, through Death Valley and out the other side. Hard to describe, but almost out of this world. We walked Badwater basin and despite it being over 50 degrees, it was so dry that we hardly broke sweat. The whole experience was astonishing. Once in a lifetime #2. We stayed the night just outside Death Valley in Beatty, Nevada, a stones throw away from the deserted town of Rhyolite. A quick walk through the town was almost cut short when we encountered a baby rattle snake in the scrub. Great stuff.
Day nine on the road was a long haul to Yosemite National Park, but well worth it. We went from the depths of Death Valley one day, to snow the next. As we climbed through the park, we saw more and more snow on the verges, and found a place to stop for the girls first ever encounter with real snow. Not much to shout about in snow terms, but when you've never seen snow, you take what you can. Yosemite was truly spectacular and awe-inspiring. We drove right through the park and arrived in our campsite just as ash was falling like rain from the surrounding forest fires. Home for two nights was our very own own Yurt - almost back to nature and extremely comfortable to boot. Day ten was a trip back into the park for a drive up to Glacier Point to view the Half Dome and the whole of the valley. No more words. Once in a lifetime #3.
Those three days were a collection of three truly amazing sights - from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley to Yosemite National Park - it doesn't get much better than that.
Day eleven saw us on the road to San Francisco, a wonderful drive with unspoiled views that could have been similar in the old wild west days. We pulled into our hotel ready to relax for five full nights - a luxury.
Our highlights were the Alcatraz and Angel Island tour - touristy but well worth it. I'll always remember the day as we heard about the passing of Chester Bennington as the wifi kicked in when we pulled back onto the mainland. A sad day. We also took a drive out to Napa Valley but didn't last long as we were drawn to an outlet mall we passed on the way out. The middle of the trip was taken over by my running of the San Francisco marathon - a fantastic race from start to finish but more of that in the race blog.
Once done, we headed off down Highway 1 towards LA, with a few scheduled stops on the way. First up was Monterey and our ode to John Steinbeck as we walked Cannery Row. We stayed in our first hostel and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Next up was San Luis Obispo and the delightful Madonna Inn - look it up and stay there if you can. Our final stop was two nights in Santa Barbara, where we spent hours browsing the best bric-a-brac store I've ever seen and soaked up our last rays of Californian sun.
The final day's drive was a frantic dash to drop off the girls close to the airport, then the car in town before heading back to the airport for a 12-hour wait before the flight. A fast and furious finish, but I look back on what was easily my favourite road trip so far and as I said at the start, I loved every single day.
The Lowdown... Where we stayed (LA): Holiday Inn Express - Hollywood Walk of Fame What I said at the time: No review. Would we stay there again: No
Where we stayed (Las Vegas): Mandalay Bay What I said at the time: Good value for Las Vegas! Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (Williams, Arizona): Red Garter Inn What I said at the time: Wonderful stay, wish we could have stayed an extra night, but we had more stuff to see. Delightful little Inn, with a fascinating history. Breakfast was huge and delicious. Our host also gave us great advice before visiting the Grand Canyon. Williams might be my favourite little town in AZ - glad we stayed here instead of Grand Canyon Village, which might be more practical & functional but with zero charm. Would we stay there again: Yes.
Where we stayed (Las Vegas): Travelodge by Wyndham Las Vegas Centre Strip What I said at the time: Superb location right in the heart of the action. Also stayed Mandalay Bay during my trip and this was better for walking the strip. Free parking was a great bonus. Room clean and safe - ideal for Vegas. Breakfast was a bit of a bun fight - very small room and not much decent on offer. Can't complain though, it was free. Would we stay there again: Yes, for location only
Where we stayed (Yosemite): Yosemite Lakes Hillside Yurt No. 8 What I said at the time: Stayed in a charming Yurt, which was a great experience. Convenient store and gas station close by. Just outside the Park boundary, but good location for heading back into Yosemite National Park. Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (San Francisco): Holiday Inn San Francisco - Golden Gateway What I said at the time: Good location - plenty around. Nice (small) Gym & Pool. Decent breakfast. Water machine in Gym offered good water. Nice offer to takeaway drink after your breakfast. Nice big screens in restaurant. Parking expensive at $45 per night (that's SF for you but be ready if staying for several nights - we stayed 5 so $225 all in just to park the car). No bottled water in room and rooms a little small for 4 of us. Breakfast included but was only for two people in my 'package' even though we booked room for 4 (two adults and two teens). Meant a rotation of who went down for breakfast instead of starting the day together. Probably in the small print, but comes over as a little stingy especially given the rate we were paying. Would we stay there again: No
Where we stayed (Monterey): HI Monterey Hostel What I said at the time: All good! Great value! Best hostel I've stayed in! Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (San Luis Obispo): The Madonna Inn What I said at the time: No review. Would we stay there again: Yes
Where we stayed (Santa Barbara): Best Western Beachside Inn What I said at the time: Great location, nice breakfast. Small pool, but enough space to lie out and take a dip. Rooms on the old-side, but were clean and spacious even with 2 adults and 2 teens. Renovation was ongoing but did not disturb us. Parking excellent value at $5 per night. Would we stay there again: Yes