Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A California And Vegas Road Trip

San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, And The Grand Canyon

I love California. The beautiful climate and diverse scenery is a real joy when travelling around. I have been lucky to visit Los Angeles before but this year myself and my husband decided to plan a Pacific Coast Highway road trip to California, rounding the trip off in Las Vegas. This was the plan we decided on below.


Our California And Vegas Road Trip Planner

California stretches from the Mexican border for nearly 900 miles and is home to more than 37 million people. It has dramatic scenery including desert, vineyards, mountains, forests and cliff lined beaches and more coastline than almost any other American state other than Alaska.

We had 15 days to explore California and Vegas and we knew we wanted to take in some of the sights we hadn't visited before such as Napa Valley, the Pacific Coast Highway and San Diego. This is our trip as an overview, for more detailed trip reports check out my blog links at the bottom of this post.

San Francisco

Alcatraz

This iconic city is on most people's bucket list. Take a trip on the ferry to Alcatraz and see where Robert Stroud the 'Birdman of Alcatraz' and Al Capone were incarcerated. The audio tour is free and well worth doing. 

Chinatown was an amazing assault on our senses, you walk under a tunnel and when you come out the other end it feels you are transported to China!  

You must take a photo of the Golden Gate bridge. If you are feeling fit you can take a ferry to Sausalito an then bike over it. Fishermans Wharf is home to Pier 39 with the famous sealions that have taken up base here, and lots of tourist shops and restaurants. 

Union Square is great for shopping, and while you are feeling peckish stop off at The Cheesecake Factory on the top floor of Macy's. For a great tour at your own pace consider the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour.

Where We Stayed 
Tuscan Inn Fisherman's Wharf has a complimentary wine hour and is within walking distance to the main attractions in this area.
Where to Eat
Fog Harbour Fisherman's Wharf is a lovely seafood restaurant. For a fun meal try a meal at Bubba Gump. This chain based on the film Forest Gump is really enjoyable. Be sure to watch the film before you go as they quiz you on the film.
What Not To Miss
Alcatraz, Chinatown and the sealions at Pier 39. 
Top Tip
Book Alcatraz before you go as tickets sell out at least a month in advance in high season.

Napa Valley


Beautiful Scenery in Napa Valley

This beautiful area of California is known for it's many vineyards and wineries and excellent food. 

We took a guided tour of the Robert Mondavi Winery. Our guide was interesting and informative and we learnt about the process of growing grapes through to the picking, and bottling of the wine. The tour finished with a wine tasting. I highly recommend this tour, for little over £20 we had a brilliant time.

Visit Oxbow market for vibrant eateries, and a bustling Farmers market. For a gourmet meal in a beautiful historic train, try the Wine Train for gorgeous views over Napa and Sonoma.

Where We Stayed
Embassy Suites Napa Valley is in a pretty setting. Sit watching the swans and ducks in the ponds whilst drinking complimentary wine and eating snacks at the happy hour every night.
Where to Eat
Celadon, Napa Valley has fabulous California food. 
What Not To Miss
Take a tour of the Vineyards and learn about Napa wine, finish off with a wine tasting.
Top Tip
If you are visiting on the weekend Napa gets busy. Be sure to book any tours in advance.

Monterey


Old Fisherman's Wharf Monterey

This small seaside town was more beautiful than I expected and also more touristy. We walked from Monterey to Cannery Row, made famous in the John Steinbeck books along the sea front. Along our walk we saw a seal in the harbour and it is possible to take a boat trips to watch whales from Monterey as well.

Where We Stayed
The Portola Hotel in Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf is a classy hotel right in the heart of the town.
Where to Eat
One of the many fish shacks or restaurants with a sea view on Old Fishermans Wharf.
What Not To Miss
The mile walk from Monterey to Cannery Row.
Top Tip
The Aquarium in Cannery Row is highly rated if you have time to visit.

The Pacific Coast Highway


Some Of The Scenery On The Pacific Coast Highway

This exhilarating 123 mile drive of the Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Morro Bay is known as one of the most beautiful and dramatic drives you can ever experience. The drive along the cliffs of California has stunning scenery from mountain, cliffs and the redwood forests of The Big Sur to clear blue crystal ocean. 


The Danish Town Of Solvang

We started at Monterey then stopped in Carmel for lunch on the first day, with an overnight stop in Pismo Beach, then Solvang on the second day, on our way to Los Angeles. Carmel is a pretty quaint little town, known for it's ex governor Clint Eastwood, whilst Solvang is an interesting and surreal Danish village. Don't forget to stop off at Piedras Blancas Beach, this is otherwise known as Elephant Seal Beach, just look below to see why!


Elephant Seal Beach

Pismo Beach


Pismo Beach

We decided to stop off at Pismo Beach on our way to LA to break up our journey.This classic beach town is approximately half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We took it easy on our overnight stop here, and enjoyed simply strolling the boardwalk and visiting the little pier along the beach. 

Where We Stayed
Seaventure, Pismo Beach is right on the beach. Push the boat out with a sea view and a hot tub on the balcony.
Where to Eat
We ate in the hotel, the bar upstairs has sea views and a great atmosphere.
What Not To Miss
The white sand beach, perfect to sunbathe and relax whilst you have a chance.
Top Tip
The Seaventure has a great happy hour, try the cocktails and tapas style snacks on the roof top bar.

Los Angeles


The Hollywood Sign

Los Angeles is spread out. We stayed in Hollywood this time but Santa Monica is also a lovely base. 

Visit Hollywood and follow the stars on the floor of the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, walk in the shoes of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and shop in Rodeo Drive, and visit the Hollywood Museum for some old school glamour.

A film tour is highly recommended. Warner Brothers was amazing, you get to see a working studio and visit the museum which houses a collection of Harry Potter memorabilia as well as costumes from many of top Hollywood films. They also have a collection of cars such as those from Batman films, The Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, and even the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard.

For theme parks you can't beat Universal Studios, whilst Disneyland California is here too. See all human life at Venice Beach, a cool place to go people watching, and see the end of Route 66 at Santa Monica pier, before stopping to shop at the Third Street Promenade.

Where We Stayed
Loews Hollywood is an oasis of calm right in the heart of the action, next to Mann's Chinese theatre.
Where to Eat
Katsuya Hollywood is a trendy Japanese restaurant, with great food. Watch out for a Hollywood star - Mark Wahlberg has been spotted here amongst others.
What Not To Miss
A tour of a film studio such as Warner Bros or Paramount Studios. Go in the week to see the studio in a working environment.  
Top Top
Research star spotting before you go. Stars hang out at The Ivy, Spago Beverly Hills, Bar Marmont and The Grove.

San Diego

 USS Midway

San Diego is a city at the Southern most part of California, only a few miles from Mexico. It is a pretty and interesting city.

To be in the heart of the action, the Gaslamp area has lots of restaurants and nightlife whilst Balboa Park is home to a large number of museums and the World renowned San Diego Zoo.

Take a stroll along the beautiful Seaport area with lots to see and do such as the USS Midway, The Bob Hope monument and the statue of a marine and his girlfriend having their last kiss called 'Unconditional Surrender'. If you have more time a trip to La Jolla for its beaches and Coronado Island with its boutique shops is a must.

Where We Stayed
Marriott Courtyard San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, is a historic hotel in an old bank. Go to the vault in the bottom of the hotel, we felt like spies in a James Bond film:) 
Where to Eat
Seasons 52 in Seaport is part of the healthy eating chain. Have one of the shot glass desserts for a naughty but calorie counted end to a meal.
What Not To Miss
Take a boat trip. We went on a Seal Tour and saw sealions and dolphins in Shelter Island, which was amazing.

Las Vegas

New York New York Las Vegas From A Helicopter

Las Vegas is one of those places you will never forget. The hotels have to be seen to be believed and many are complete resorts in their own right. You don't have to gamble to have fun in Vegas but many of the hotels have casinos. 

The Venetian and Pallazzo hotel is the biggest hotel in the World and has over 7000 rooms and suites but you would never guess as the service was excellent throughout. Take a walk to a replica of St Marks Square, Venice, complete with pretend sky and clouds, a trip in a gondola complete with operatic singers and shop and eat in the many hotels and restaurants all under cover. 

Take a ride up The Eiffel Tower in the Paris hotel, or eat in Mon Ami Gabi, one of its restaurants for a view of The Bellagio fountain water show.

If you have time you must visit the Grand Canyon by car or helicopter. We took a helicopter tour with Sundance Helicopters and couldn't fault the trip, including a champagne picnic in the Grand Canyon.

Where We Stayed
The Venetian - the suites are huge, opulent and a bargain mid week. We paid £130 a night.
Where to Eat
For a special occasion you can't beat the revolving restaurant at the top of The Stratosphere Hotel. Amazing food and a tremendous view, go at sunset for stunning vistas. After your meal, stand in awe of those mad people on one of the three rides at the top of the 350 metre high hotel.
What Not To Miss
Vegas is known for it's shows. From the Cirque Du Soleil shows, to big name stars such as Elton John, to small intimate lounge bar shows, it's all here in Vegas. 
Top Tip
Hotels are cheap in Vegas, as hoteliers want to encourage you to gamble. Prices for hotels are also cheaper midweek than on the weekend.

You can do the trip DIY or check out one of the many multi centre holidays to the USA. So this is a snippet of our Californian and Vegas road trip. As you can see we covered a lot in 15 days. It was one of those holidays I will never forget and if you do get the chance I urge you to go - you won't regret it. 

The Grand Canyon And Hoover Dam

You can read more about my road trip here:

My friends at eShores have been a great help in putting this together, all words and opinions are my own 
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35 comments

  1. Love love love all of this! Not sure my girls would handle a road trip sadly, so will have to wait til they're older!

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    1. Hope you get the chance to do it one day Steph.

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  2. Oh wow what a trip, it sounds absolutely amazing and I love the photos. I'd love to do a road trip through california when POD is a bit bigger, it's certainly on the bucket list ;)

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    1. It's a trip I can cross off my bucket list now :)

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  3. Wow this is something of love to do one day. Will book mark this for then

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    1. It's one of those road trips that everyone wants to do. I can understand why as the scenery is so beautiful and varied, and the cities so interesting.

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  4. 37 million people?! Wow, I never knew that! Your photos certainly illustrate the diversity of the area!

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    1. I tried to use photos that show how diverse the area is.

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  5. This looks like a fantastic holiday. I love all the photos, they look amazing.

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  6. Oh wow this sounds amazing - what a fantastic road trip i wish I could have hidden in your suitcase. x

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    1. If I could squeeze you in Sarah-Louise, I would have :D

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    2. Aww thank you - perhaps I can come next time haha ;) xx

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  7. We did a bit of a road trip in California when my dad did a tour of the states in a campervan. Now I am an adult I would love to do it again

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    1. Hope you get the chance to do it one day Kara.

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  8. What an amazing road trip. I've never been to that part of the States. It looks fabulous. I had no idea it was so variable.

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    1. Yes California is, there is even mountains with snow on!

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  9. I'd love to go to California, I have family who live just outside San Francisco so I have no excuse not to go. Your photos are lovely!

    Georgia

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    1. Thank you Georgia. If you don't know where to start an organised tour is good.

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  10. Looks like you had a lovely trip. You reminded me of my visit there years ago we were amazed by the seals! Thanks for linking to out and about

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    1. I had an amazing trip, thank you Alison.

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  11. Sounds like a fantastic trip. So many things to discover and explore. Personally I prefer the east coast and the old colonies, but of course California is a dream destination for many people.

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    1. I have yet to go to the east coast. I really want to go to New England.

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  12. Did the California road trip in 2009, seeing the same things you did! Great memories! But Vegas we did some other time...in 2013.

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  13. I"m not a huge road tripper but you definitely hit some of my favorite places. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. Very useful and informative piece for anyone doing this epic road trip. Many Brits fantasise about that route. Love the look out in Pismo Beach, tres cute!

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    1. Glad you thought my post was informative :)

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  15. What a great road trip! We live in San Diego and have done many of these things. It's so beautiful driving up the coast of California.

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    1. The coastline of California is really beautful especially the Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway.

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  16. We did a similar road trip last summer. Most of California was great. Napa in particular was somewhere I really loved but man, expensive!! Monterey was probably my least favourite place. It just seemed super touristy and run down to me.

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    1. Napa is so green and beautiful, I really enjoyed this area, and of course the wine tasting!

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  17. I can't wait to go to California. It's my dream to do a road trip with my fiance (when I find him), end up in Las Vegas and get married there!

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    1. I was thinking of getting married in Vegas at one point. We saw couples gettng married in the replica of St Mark's Square in The Venetian hotel. Of course there are many wedding chapels too. You can even get married with Elvis singing ;)

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  18. Great road trip itinerary! I've done this trip a few times but that was years ago. I've never been to Solvang before - that looks like a trip within a trip!

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    1. Solvang was kitsch but I loved it there. You must have a Danish pastry in one of the little cafes and visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.

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