Lots of people have asked us about our road trip last summer so I thought it would be a good idea to scribble down some recommendations, tips and ideas in case others are planning on doing something similar.
Our road trip went as follows:
3 nights San Francisco
2 nights Monterey
1 night Pismo Beach
3 nights Los Angeles
2 nights Newport Beach
2 nights San Diego
2 nights Palm Springs
1 night Lake Havasu
1 night Grand Canyon South Rim
3 nights Las Vegas
We booked the whole holiday through The American Road Trip Company
, who we can't recommend highly enough and who we've booked another holiday through because we were so impressed. They booked our flights, car and accommodation and sent through a holiday itinerary pack which was so useful when planning the holiday, deciding where to go and driving between destinations. We were recommended The ART Co by a colleague who, in turn, had been recommended it.
Best things to do/see/eat in each place
Alcatraz - book it 90 days in advance, put the booking date in your calendar and book the very first ferry of the day on your first morning. You'll be jet-lagged so you'll be up early and the island is empty when you arrive. It also means you can get on with your day and get other things done in the afternoon.
The Stinking Rose - a restaurant dedicated to garlic (even with ice cream). Book in advance.
Oracle Park - If you can get to a baseball match, do. They are really cheap and this stadium is so picturesque with views across the water.
Take the cable car.
Golden Gate Taproom - great for snacks, sports and drinks.
Lori's diner - classic and cute
Walk: Lombard St, Steiner and Broadway (Mrs Doubtfire house), Pier 39 (to see the sea lions, no need to spend long here), Alamo Park, Haight/Ashbury, Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field.
We did a hop on/hop off tour between some of these places over the 2 days but also walked a lot.
Whale-watching - We booked a morning cruise (to have the rest of the day). We saw quite a few whales but it was very foggy. Later would have been better but would have broken up the day.
Paluca Trattoria - Bar which was dressed as a coffee shop in Big Little Lies. Great spot for a prosecco.
Louis Linguinis - have their Clam Chowder
Dust Bowl Brewery Company - good place for drinks, great playlists!
Cannery Row Brewery Company
Walk: Monterey Fisherman's Wharf to Cannery Row
Wooly's - great spot for drinks and food. Delicious fish tacos.
Walk: Along the beach and on the long pier.
Griffith Observatory - absolutely must do. Get an Uber up here an hour before sunset (it gets expensive and busy around sunset time). Beautiful sunset, lots to see. Great views of the Hollywood sign. The best thing we did in LA.
Warner Brothers Studio Tour - If you like movies, do this. They have Batman, Harry Potter and Aquaman displays.
Universal Studios - Get there early. I have a great itinerary to do the whole park and avoid crowds given to us by our hotel concierge. Leave a comment if you'd like it!
Mel's Diner for Breakfast
We really enjoyed the Hollywood Museum - so cheap and quite interesting, particularly the spooky downstairs.
The Grove - The Fountain for drinks, or Mixology or Bar Verde.
Walk: Dolby theatre and see the Hollywood sign from the sofa at the back, Hollywood Boulevard, Chinese Theater
Corona Del Mar - lovely busy family beach
Balboa Island - We walked around the whole island before getting the ferry to Balboa Peninsula. We then walked from Balboa pier to Newport Pier (an hour walk). We watched sunset from Newport Pier before dinner.
Dory's Deli - I had the best sandwich EVER here for dinner - it was called Pistol Pete's. Go here if you can!
The Zoo - Get there early, save where you parked (we lost the car), we were there until about 2pm and saw most of it.
San Diego Old Town - worth a visit. We found free parking. Nice to walk around for free and we had fish tacos in the square.
Sail San Diego - We did the Sunset Sail and it was one of the highlights of our holiday. Fab staff and a great tour. If you want a special evening, do this.
Walk: The Gaslamp District. We walked all the way from the main city back to Shelter Island (where we were staying) past the airport which was amazing! This meant we saw a few of the ships, airport carriers, lots of the Navy bits and pieces, and the kissing soldier statue.
Aerial Tramway - The best thing to do in Palm Springs. Don't miss this.
Smoking Burger - great place for burgers!
Walk: Do not walk in Palm Springs! Too hot!
Great places to eat and drink: Dry Martini, Barley Brothers' Brewery, Blue Chair (this was one of my favourite bars on the whole trip - great music, quirky atmosphere and a good selection of drinks).
Walk: London Bridge
Grand Canyon South Rim
Sunset - watch from Hopi Point or Mohave Point. Hopi is probably best for sunrise too (although we watched outside Bright Angel Lodges!)
Use the free buses, they're amazing and you can see so much of the canyon in a short space of time.
Get up early for sunrise - it's so worth it!
Check which shows/gigs are on beforehand and book.
Giordanos - Have a deep pan pizza here. Have a small one. They are HUGE and incredible.
Use the Deuce buses - very cheap and you can get everywhere. We went to: Vegas sign, Little White Chapel, Stratosphere. Just go everywhere you can by walking/bus. Go in and out of casinos to stay cool. We also used the monorail for 24 hours but it doesn't go everywhere.
Top of the World - top of the Stratosphere. Expensive but very nice.
Hell's Kitchen - go for a late lunch (before 3pm I think) for a reasonable menu, more tables available. Highly recommend the burger and the sticky toffee pudding. Both were delicious.
|McWay Falls, Big Sur|
Not-to-be-missed stops along the route
San Fran to Monterey - You absolutely must stop at Santa Cruz. A crazy boardwalk town like Brighton on steroids. Allow at least a couple of hours and have lunch there - delicious food out on the front of the boardwalk. We also stopped at 1 Hacker Way (Facebook HQ and a big like sign for a photo) and the Googleplex.
Monterey to Pismo Beach - So many beautiful places to stop. Musts are: Bixby Creek Bridge (Big Little Lies), McWay Falls, San Simeon Seals (find a guide there, they know so much about the elephant seals). We had lunch at the Big Sur Bakery - great views over the mountains. Just allow all day to drive Big Sur. We left at 10am and arrived in Pismo around 6pm. We stopped whenever it looked beautiful.
Pismo Beach to Los Angeles - another great day of driving. We did all the piers in this day and again left at 10am and arrived in our LA hotel at 7pm! We stopped in Santa Barbara (did the pier), Malibu (parked an hour's walk from the pier and walked along the beach - so nice. We had a late lunch on the end of the pier - would recommend) and Santa Monica (for an ice cream and ride as the sun was setting).
Los Angeles to Newport Beach - My favourite pier was Redondo. This is where a lot of The O.C. was filmed. We had a late lunch in the diner they go to a lot in the series - it was so cheap, very understated and so delicious (I had the fish sandwich). Recently, we saw Redondo Pier in season 2 of You! It looked like a good place to stay if you want to be near but not in LA.
San Diego to Palm Springs - We took a slight detour to Pioneertown - an abandoned wild west set built by some directors decades ago. A cute little place but not sure it was worth the detour, unless you're interested in those places! We also stopped at a few Route 66 shops - crazy and cool but a bit pointless!
Grand Canyon (on the way in and out) - We stopped in Williams and would highly recommend Brewed Awakenings coffee shop for coffee and an epic bagel!
Grand Canyon to Las Vegas - Definitely worth stopping at the Hoover Dam. We drove all the way in and paid to park to walk over the dam. Then we drove up to the Boulder Dam Bridge Parking (for the walkway to the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge for a view of the dam (and the Arizona/Nevada sign).
On most of the other drives we just went from A to B, without stopping anywhere of note.
Do NOT stop at the Route 66 diner. We had a horrible breakfast there - worst meal of the holiday. Go to McDonald's instead!
|Oracle Park, San Francisco|
3 nights was ideal for San Fran. If you're a parkrunner, try and be there on a Saturday to do the Crissy Field park run with views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the fog - stunning. We could have done one more night here.
We'd recommend 2 or 3 nights in Monterey. 2 was just ok but we could have easily stayed another night.
Pismo Beach was a really cute town but was so, so foggy when we were there. In fact, we only saw Pismo in the fog. It has a lovely pier and we ate great food there but we drove past Morro Bay which isn't far from Pismo but was beautifully sunny. We could have stayed there and wonder if we may have had a better sunset if we had.
Our least favourite stop was Los Angeles. 3 nights was perfect to do the tourist-y stuff but apart from that it wasn't worth going. We're glad we did but we definitely won't go back.
Newport Beach was our favourite stop. We loved exploring Balboa Island, Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. We will definitely be back to Newport, probably for a fortnight and we'd bring children here. It's also easy enough to do a day trip to San Diego from Newport so worth keeping that in mind.
2 nights was perfect for San Diego unless you want to spend a whole day in the Zoo or go to Mexico (you can't take the car into Mexico).
Palm Springs was a stopover for a pool day in the desert on the way inland. It was so, so hot. Only worth going if you need to stop.
Again, Lake Havasu was a stopover. I preferred it to Palm Springs and could have spent another night there exploring the town and walking up and down the river. Again, only really worth stopping here if you need to.
The Grand Canyon South Rim was magical. If you want to go there, go. It's an hour road in and out so it's quite a detour if you're not too fussed. We were fussed and we're so glad we stayed the night there and saw afternoon, sunset, evening, the stars at night, sunrise (05:00) and the morning. Beautiful.
Las Vegas was the surprise of the holiday. So much more enjoyable that expected. Like New York on drugs! If you're up for the craziness, go!
|The Grand Canyon South Rim|
Driving was much easier than expected.
All cars are automatic (I was used to this with a Hybrid).
We hired a sat nav - do this. It was almost perfect and only had two errors: it once took us off the highway to come straight back on and it wasn't updated with the new roads on the way into Vegas by the Hoover Dam.
Highways go up to 9 lanes. Providing you have 2 or more people in the car you can use any lane.
I much prefer crossroads to roundabouts. First come, first served.
You can turn right at a red light unless it tells you otherwise.
Just read ALL the signs and do what it says.
Once you arrive on a highway, you often have to get straight over otherwise you could end up going off again.
Lanes don't quite work like in the UK: there isn't really a fast/slow lane. You seem to line up according to when you're leaving the highway.
Driving into LA around 6pm wasn't the best idea but it was fine. We just took it slow and steady.
Filling up the car with gas was interesting: it took us ages to work out how. Park at the pump, go in and pay what you think you're going to need, fill up and then they refund what you don't spend.
|The Mirage, Vegas|
Plan where you're going to park. There's nothing worse than driving around aimlessly for a space. I used Google Maps to "save" car parks and we put those addresses into the sat nav. This made parking and getting around so much easier.
Check out your parking and resort fees. Budget for this amount. Ours really added up so we made sure we saved for them.
Upgrade your car - go big. Our Nissan Altima was ideal. You want all your bags out of sight as you're leaving your car in random car parks full of bags a lot.
Whenever we're going somewhere, I follow accounts and hashtags linked to the place on Instagram and then "save" places to visit on Google Maps.