When I was younger I traveled a lot with my parents, but we always stayed within Europe. In 2014 my little sister spent a year in Alabama, USA & she traveled around the country and loved it so much. When she got back, she convinced my mother to book a roadtrip on the West Coast of the USA. My stepfather has aerophobia, so he stayed at home with the cat, but instead we invited my mom’s best friend & her daughter to join our girls roadtrip. In only 16 days we’ve visited 4 states and drove more than 3.000 kilometers.
This was our itinarary for our roadtrip:
It all started pretty bad… We booked our flight from Düsseldorf, Germany, because it was way cheaper then leaving from Brussels and not too far from our home. We had to drive during the night so the streets were nearly empty, but suddenly the traffic stopped due to a horrible accent a few meters in front of us… We stood still on the highway for almost 4 hours, before the police managed to get us off the road. Therefore we missed our flight to London and also our connecting flight to Los Angeles. Appartently this was not a circumstance beyond our control, so we needed to book new tickets, because the airline couldn’t do anything for us. Lucky for us, we managed to find reasonably cheap new tickets to fly to Los Angeles after all. Unfortunately we needed to skip one of our stops along the way as we arrived a day later then planned. YES, we finaly made it to Los Angeles!!!
In Los Angeles we picked up our car, which we named ‘Jack’, and drove immediately to the Grand Canyon. Meet Jack:
STOP 1: Grand Canyon (1 night)
We started our trip immediately with one of the highlights and a must-see for everyone. The only bad thing… it rained and was stormy when we were there, but then again, it is still a natural wonder. No words needed…
STOP 2: Page (1 night)
On our way to Page, we stopped a few times to witness the beautiful nature along the way. The whole time I had the feeling that I was on the moon or somehting. I had never seen such nature before.
A place where you definitly need to stop when driving is the famous Horeshoe Bend. I was amazed by this place and I’m still impressed by it.
Once in Page we checked in in our hotel for that night and went to Lake Powell, which is an artificial lake on the boarder of Arizona & Utah. There we took a boat trip on the lake and whatched the stunning scenery along the way.
The next day we wanted to visit the Antelope Canyon. For me as an amateur photographer it was one of the things I really wanted to see. Too bad for me, the weather put a stop to it. It was raining and the storm was coming, therefore they closed the canyon because it was too dangerous as it could get filled with water. We waited for a few hours hoping it would stop raining, but luck wasn’t on our side. Off to Las Vegas then!
STOP 3: Las Vegas (3 nights)
A city that fires imagination of a lot of people and is a city that everyone needs to experience once in their lives. The best way to do that is with people over 21 years old (because that is the only way you get into the fun stuff) and your friends, not parents. When we were there, I was the only one over 21 and okay my mom and her best friend was there too… but not really the party crowd you want in Las Vegas. So I saw it, but I didn’t get to experience it the right way.
Walk on the strip and be amazing by all the crazy americans there and by the huge hotels they created. Really every hotel has a casino… how much money is going around there, seriously?! Then again, they imitated Venice, Paris, New York,… but if you have seen the real thing, it is not really impressive anymore. Everything is over the top there, and I mean, really over the top.
The place I liked the most in Las Vegas, was the old city center. The best Las Vegas experience you will get is on Fremont Street. It is covered with huge screenplays where you can watch videos and performances while you are walking. It is full of bars, restaurants and crazy people. You like to do something cool? Zipline over Fremont Street.
STOP 4: Death Valley National Park (1 night)
After visiting the Grand Canyon & Lake Powell, Death Valley was again something totally different. We were so surprised that the nature and the environment could change so much. So again we were really impressed about this place, which is also one of the hottest places in the world. Lucky for us, it didn’t get too hot that day (only 40°C). There are a few spots you really need to see in the park:
- Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point (855m below sea level) in Death Valley. This place is peaceful and something you have probably never seen before! White salt flats as far as you can see.
- Zabriskie Point, where you have a beautiful lookout over the breathtaking landscape.
- Artists Drive. This is a road full of loops along the beautiful rock formations of the Black Mountains. It is a unique trip through the rocks because it is so colorful. The rocks aren’t only orange and brown, but also green/blue due to oxidation, so it is all natural.
- Mesquite Sand Dunes. Before coming to the USA I had never seen a desert.. but okay it is just sand, a lot of sand…. To be honest, I was really impressed by the sand dunes. We had a lot of fun there playing around like kids in the sand.
- Ghost town. Before entering Death Valley you pass a ghost town (I forgot the name, I’m sorry). We stopped the car and looked around in the empty town. It is a pretty weird experience walking around in a death town…
STOP 5: Yosemite National Park (2 nights)
Before entering Yosemite National Park we stopped at the famous Mono Lake. According to our travel guide, the lake arises more than 1 million yeas ago and is one of the oldest lakes in North America. The special thing about it are the towers of limestones, called tufa’s.
Only two days in Yosemite National Park is definitely not enough to see the whole park, but we got a very nice glimpse of the park.
We entered the park in the East at the Tioga Pass Entrance (which is only open from June till November). Taking this road leads you to some beautiful places and viewpoints along the way to the valley.
- We didn’t have the time to go to the Sequoia National Forest, which must be very impressive, but along the way to Yosemite Valley there are some of these giants to admire (Tuolomne Grove Loop Trail). After a walk of half an hour bumped into one of these Sequoia’s. People told me they were huge, but seeing them myself, it was even bigger then I imagined… To give you an idea; they grow up to 83 meters and have a diameter of 31 meters at the bottom.
- There are a few beautiful lakes next to the road to the valley. Always nice to stop there for a picknick or just to relax for a bit.
- The drive to the valley is so gorgeous and you get treated with some breathtaking views.
Once in the Yosemite Valley we visited of course the famous Yosemite Falls, which is the fifth biggest waterfall in the world. A little disappointment for us there, because it was summer and during the summer, the waterfall is rather dry… so it wasn’t as spectacular as I hoped it to be. Also, there are numerous of tourists there in the water of the waterfall… so it didn’t do the scenery much good to be honest.
After that, we hiked up to another waterfall, called Vernal Fall. It is a hike of around 4,8km of even further if you also want to go to Nevada Fall (11km). This trail is also called the Mist Trail and is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so expect a crowd here. The hike itself is not to difficult, but the views going up are spectacular! The waterfall wasn’t too impressive, but again it was rather dry during that period in the summer.
Because we had some time left before leaving the park, we also did the Happy Isles trail, which is very easy, but it is also nice for a short walk as it is only 1 kilometer.
STOP 6: San Francisco (3 nights)
After the nature in Death Valley & Yosemite Nation Park, we headed towards San Francisco. The city known for the free spirits, beautiful architecture and lot of diversity. What I remembered the most is the poverty here… on every corned of the street there were beggars, asking for money, food, drinks,… anything they could get their hands on. Automatically I started eating a bit less and asked for a doggybag, so I could give it to one of the poor people on the streets.
These are a few things we did during our days in the city:
- Pier 39. One of the most fun things we did was stroll at Pier 39 and Fishermans wharf. Cosy streets, little shops, cute restaurants with delicious seafood. At the end of the pier there are some seals (if you are lucky!). During our visit there were only two of them sunbathing on the docks.
- Alcatraz. I’ve never visited a former prison before, so this was a somehow weird experience. Shut down in the 1970’s but it used to be the place where they locked up the worst criminals in the US. When we were there we had the weird opportunity to meet an ex offender who had been locked up in Alcatraz for several years… Together with an audioguide you can walk around the jail and the island and you’ll be provided with a lot of historical information and stories. From the island you also have a stunning view over the skyline of San Fransisco.
- Golden Gate Bridge & Golden Gate Park. As this is the landmark of San Francisco, you cannot skip a short visit close to the gate to take some pictures. The bridge itself is actually huge (2,7km long, 27,4m wide and 227m high). Golden Gate Park is a huge park (don’t underestimate the distances in the park like we did), but beautiful and a nice place to hang out on a sunny day.
- Lombard Street is something you’ve probably heard of before. It is a street with so many curves, you will get sick watching it, haha :D.
STOP 7: Pacific Coast Highway (1 night)
From San Francisco to Monterey and then to Santa Maria. The road next to the coast is super beautiful and there are several places where you can stop to enjoy the views and the nature.
The first thing we did was the 17 mile drive, a scenic drive through Pacific Grove and Pebble beach close to Monterey. The road leads through some fancy neighborhoods with big and expensive houses and that is probably why you will need to pay a fee to start the 17 mile drive. Unfortunately it was rather cloudy and cold that day, so our pictures are a bit grey, but it was still a beautiful drive along the coast. These are few stops along the way
- Spanish Bay which is just a nice beach where you can rest for a while or you can have a picknick.
- Bird Rock. Obviously this is a rock, with a lot of bird on it… If you are lucky there might be some seals or seal lions laying on the rock.
- The lone Cypress. A rare cypress standing alone on the rock… it is perfectly placed for a beautiful picture.
- Ghost tree is another cypress tree… also not too special, but it is also perfect picture material.
After the 17 mile drive we drove further on the Pacific Coast Highway towards Santa Marta where we booked to stay the night. Along the way we stopped at some amazing viewpoints.
Another great stop are the sea elephants at San Simeon. Never before have I seen such a funny animal… really it is huge, silly, they stink very very badly and they make some weird noises. We watched them laying on the beach and there were hundreds of them.
STOP 8: Santa Barbara (1 night)
Time for the sunny city Santa Barbara. To me this city felt very Spanish in some way. It is the city where the rich elder people and some famous people live. We didn’t do anything special there… we walked around town, did some shopping and sat on the beach for a while. It was quite a relaxing day after the last two weeks driving.
STOP 9: Los Angeles (4 nights)
And then… Los Angeles, the second largest city of the USA. Either you hate it, or you love it… I guess I disliked it actually. It is a vibrant city full of actors, models, singers, musicians, surfers and a lot of fake people. I really didn’t get the fuss about LA… I just think I don’t fit there 🙂
The only place I liked there was Venice beach and Santa Monica, because it has that holiday vibe. Here are some things we did there:
- Walk of Fame. Of course when in LA, you need to see the walk of fame with all the names and stars.
- Farmers Market is actually a big food market, where you can buy fruits, vegetables, bread and there a several food trucks so you can taste all this delicious food.
- Hollywood sign. We couldn’t leave LA without a picture close to the Hollywood sign on the hills.
- Venice beach. It is nice to spend a day here, because there is so much to see. There are the skaters, basketball players, fitness guys showing off, street performers,… There is also a market with several stalls where you can buy some nice souvenirs for the home front.
- Santa Monica is most famous for its pier, which is full of old fairground attractions.
- Old city. We took a hop-on hop-off pass for a couple of days, because the city is huge and it was for us the easiest way to get around. One of the tours is through the old city of LA.
So this was it… I’m so sad that Gilles has not experienced this trip with me. We were only a few months together at that time, so he wasn’t able to come with me. Now I’ve seen a glimpse of the beauty of the USA, I definitely want to go back there in the future, because there is so much more to see.
Hope you enjoyed reading about my fantastic trip in the USA. If you have any questions, please let us know, maybe we can help you!
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And many more stories will come… so stay tuned!
Inne & Gilles