Yes Travel: West Coast of America road trip

EmmaBy Emma  •  2 Jan 2017 at 7:00am  •  Places, World Travel
Emma

by Emma

So, we have a confession. In 2016 we spent so much time saying yes to exciting adventures, that we forgot to come back here and tell you all about them. That’s not really helpful in providing you with inspiration for your own yes lists, is it? No.

Well, with that in mind we have resolved to be better bloggers in 2017. Starting right now with a torrent of posts about some of our favourite things that we did last year.

Foremost amongst those for me personally, was a road trip of a lifetime across the West Coast of America. The boy and I went in August, due to annual leave constraints, but Google tells us that May, September or October might be a good time to book a trip for if this review makes road-tripping tickle your fancy…

There’s so much to tell you about the adventure that I am going to focus this post on the trip as a whole and some of our stops along the way, and then do separate posts for you on San Francisco, San Diego, LA and Las Vegas.

Snuggle down lovelies and grab yourself a drink, it’s going to be a long one, but it’s packed full of inspiration to banish your January blues with some adventure booking.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

We booked our trip through Virgin Holidays. They found us some incredible hotels but in hindsight we could probably have got a better deal shopping around. And of course you can go for much more budget options to keep costs lower. It might even be worth costing up booking hotels yourself for comparisons sake.

We had no idea where we wanted to make each stop-off, so we really felt we needed some guidance from the professionals to help us along.

We were away for 15 days in total; covering San Francisco, Pismo Beach, Death Valley, LA, Palm Springs, San Diego and Las Vegas, in that order, with lots of other stops in between.

 

San Francisco (3 nights)

San Francisco, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

As you are getting a separate post for this one, I won’t go into too much detail on how we spent our days but we stayed in San Fracisco for 3 nights in The Handlery Union Square. It was a really fabulous central location to get around everywhere. (Though pretty close to the infamous Tenderloin District where you might not want to spend too much time, don’t worry though – it’s easily avoided).

At the end of our stay in San Fran we picked up a Ford Mustang convertible form the local Alamo (booked through Virgin).

The only thing that I would say on this is that we hung around in the city until about midday before we headed off on the road, and I would recommend getting an earlier start so that you can squeeze as much as possible into your first day on the road.

 

On the road

The Mustang was perfect for our adventures on the road – safe, nippy and it looked good. It was an automatic so pretty easy to drive (or so I am told. I don’t *do* driving abroad so the boy was in charge).

We headed out on Highway 1 to make our way to Pismo Beach, making some strategic stops on the way. There are so many beautiful pull-ins that it was hard not to stop every 10 minutes.

We made some pauses as soon as the beautiful beaches started to appear, pulling in to grab some quick snaps.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Our first proper stop was Santa Cruz where we grabbed a quick, cheap and cheerful lunch. Santa Cruz, I imagine, is the US equivalent of a cheesy seaside town. There’s an amusement arcade, a broadwalk and a cool fun fair, but it was just a quick stop off for us.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Next up was Capitola, one of my fleeting highlights of the trip. This beautifully colourful beach town has walls adorned with decorated tiles and beautiful pastel pink beach houses along the sea. It was absolutely picture perfect. We only wish we could have stayed longer.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Monterery was an even more fleeting stop – we ran down to the beach to be confronted with a charming shoreline, and spent a few moments basking in the fading sun… and then we were off.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Big Sur is often touted as one of the major attractions of the Californian coastline. It’ difficult for us to report back on this because we didn’t *quite* get to see it. Not only were we battling fading light but the week that we were passing through saw some horrendous forest fires that meant everywhere was on shutdown. We saw a snapshot of its beauty from the road but made a promise to return one day so that we could see Big Sur in all its splendor.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

The last stretch to Pismo Beach was long and winding, and we made the journey in the dark so it was particularly tough on my Mr Yes from a driving perspective… hence the advice to start the first stretch of the drive as early as possible, so that you can cram in as much time in daylight hours in as possible.

 

Pismo Beach (1 night)

We only stayed in Pismo for one night and as we arrived in the dark and left early in the morning, we didn’t have much time to explore it.

But our hotel was stunning, just what we needed after a long day driving. Cottage Inn by the Sea is stylishly decorated with a beachside theme, and when we woke in the morning a beautiful sea view greeted us.

We headed out for a morning stroll across the beach before we left and had it practically to ourselves. The skies were grey but we definitely felt the sunshine in ourselves. An idyllic way to start the day!

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

On the road 

The drive to Death Valley is long (over 7 hours), and there aren’t many stops along the way. But the landscape is utterly incredible, and like nothing I had seen before. Although the greenery was in short supply in parts, it didn’t seem sparse but instead awe-inspiring. I can’t quite find the words do describe it so you are going to have to go and see it for yourself…

The main stop-off we made was in Bakersfield for some trashy fast food and a quick snap of the iconic sign. There isn’t too much to see there but it made a convenient rest stop.

We made a couple of additional stops on route just to pull in and take pictures of our surroundings, we even got a few of our epic ride, the Mustang.

Death Valley, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

We also had a quick pause at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. A great place to experience both the heat and beauty of the dessert. Not a great place to use the conveniences though, trust me on that one. It ranks as my least pleasant toilet experience ever. You have been warned…

Sand Dunes, Death Valley, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

 

Death Valley (1 night)

Obviously, being in the desert, there isn’t much accommodation choice in Death Valley. We stayed at Furnace Creek. It was a bit more basic than many of the other places we stayed, but perfect for our one night stay.

A dip in the pool in the sweltering heat after we arrived was heavenly. I will never forget gazing up from the pool to the desert peaks surrounding us.

One thing to bear in mind, as you can’t really venture out in the evenings, as the resort has a pretty captive audience and the meals are quite expensive. We had a steak at one of the onsite restaurants and it was ok but a tad on the pricy side compared to our other meals out.

 

On the road

Writing about our trip of a lifetime is so therapeutic because I keep remembering the best memories (and some of the most incredible are still to come in the separate posts). I’m really conscious that I keep saying everywhere was one of my favourite places to visit, but it is because there were so many of them.

Bad Water Basin certainly comes high up on that list. We left Death Valley really early in the morning (at about 7) stopping off at Bad Water Basin on our way through. And we were basically the only people there. Walking on the salt flats as the sun rose was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

Bad Water Basin, Death Valley, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

As it was early, we were able to wander out pretty far and soak up the atmosphere at what is the lowest point in North America, without getting too hot.

We hopped in the Mustang and headed off to Palm Springs, via Los Angeles. More on that in LA’s dedicated post though…

 

Palm Springs (2 nights)

I should probably say that we made a conscious decision not to stay in LA on our road trip. We wanted to visit, but it didn’t have huge appeal for us and there were other areas of LA we wanted to explore more than Hollywood itself.

Our Palm Springs hotel, The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa, was out of this world on the luxury levels, but it was a bit out of the way and we weren’t really there enough to appreciate the luxuries. So it might be worth looking into places closer to LA if exploring is higher on your list than relaxing.

It was an incredible place to stay though. We only ate in the hotel restaurants while we were there but it was utterly delicious AND they gave us the cutest congratulations dessert to celebrate our engagement earlier on in the trip (more on that in the San Francisco post).

Palm Springs, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

 

On the road

On our way out of Palm Springs we passed by Mission San Antonio de Pala – the only Californian mission still serving a Native American tribe. We stopped by and admired the church buildings, though we didn’t go in. It was interesting to see the contrast in architecture from our traditional British places of worship.

Mission San Antonio de Pala, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

Next stop was another beach (we LOVE the beach, can you tell)? Oceanside has beautiful white sands and was a great place to dip our toes in the water.

Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

La Jolla was our final stop before we hit San Diego, and the host of one of our best adventures – kayaking to the La Jolla caves! This seaside community once boasted the richest zip code in America, but now it’s a haven to a more relaxed way of life. It felt like true Californian living.

We went on our kayaking trip to the La Jolla caves with La Jolla Kayak. It was so much fun! The waves were high when we were heading out and I swear I nearly broke my coccyx when one flung me clean off the Kayak and back down, but it didn’t stop the buzz. We went out with two guides who talked us through the history and surrounding of La Jolla, and then we had the chance to explore the caves and even saw some seals that popped up to say hello.

Such an incredible experience and great to add another dimension of ‘doing’ to our sight-seeing trip.

 

San Diego (2 nights)

Unexpectedly one of our favourite cities of the trip (there I go with the more delightful of the f-words again).

San Diego, California, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling in California, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

I will save the juicy bits for the separate post, but we stayed in the super cool Hard Rock Hotel in the even cooler Gaslamp District.

 

On the road

We were meeting friends in Las Vegas, so we wanted to get there as quickly as possible and didn’t make many stops on the way (though I confess, I don’t think there was too much to see) but we did stop off at the Hoover dam.

Hoover Dam, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

I felt a bit ill on the day (the heat was getting too much for me) but despite that I have to confess that this truly was an epic site to behold. Your eyes can barely believe the scale of it.

 

Las Vegas (5 nights)

We ended up in Vegas for a good friend’s 30th birthday celebration, but if you have no stipulations on your timing you are probably better off slotting in Vegas after Death Valley, to make the best use of your time.

If we hadn’t been meeting friends in Vegas, we would also have been tempted to reduce our nights in the bright light city to 2 or 3 nights, and chuck in a few more stops further up the West Coast so that we could explore more.

That said, we did cram all of the key sites into our time there – as well as some relaxation – all of which I will report back in a Vegas exclusive post.

Las Vegas, Planning a West Coast of America road trip, travelling, trip of a lifetime, via Year of the Yes

So that’s your lot lovelies, our American road trip adventure! I hope you will join me over the next few posts as I delve into our time in San Francisco, LA, San Diego and Las Vegas to fill you in on the best things to see, the places to eat and the things to do….

 

{If you are planning a West Coast of America trip, you will want to check out the other posts in this series: San Francisco city guide, Los Angeles city guide, San Diego city guide, Las Vegas city guide}

About the Author

Emma loves sunshine and flip flops, prosecco, chocolatey treats, things that sparkle, trips to the beach, reading and blogging.

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