Where did I go: Los Angeles (CA), Grand Canyon (AZ), Las Vegas (NV), Death Valley (CA), Lake Tahoe (CA), San Francisco (CA)
When did I go: August 2014
This is a trip I did before I started the blog. An 1800 mile road trip on the US West Coast – Los Angeles (LA), Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and back to LA.
I took the trip with my parents and sister. I wrote a series of emails to my other half back home during the trip. This post is adapted from those emails.
Welcome to the first instalment of my US West Coast travel report. Not much to report today as I spent most of it flying (London to Newark, then New York to LA, 13 hours flying in total with United Airlines).
United Airlines are pretty rubbish. The headphones they gave me stopped working halfway over the Atlantic and when I asked for a replacement I got a used pair with someone else’s hair on it! Lunch was pretty poor as well – the choices were: chicken, chicken or chicken. So I had mashed potato. Then closer to the US, they ran out of water, so were unable to serve tea or coffee.
When we got to Newark airport, immigration took about 45 minutes. Transiting on US soil is interesting – you have to collect your luggage, go through customs and re-check your luggage through to the final destination.
The 6 hour flight from Newark to LA – although operated by United Airlines, it was very much in the style of a European budget airline – you had to pay for food, and even the TV entertainment.
I arrived in LA safely and met up with my sister and parents who had arrived earlier. We got the hire car and came to the hotel. There aren’t many pictures to send you today – I attach one I took of the New York skyline from Newark airport.
We went to visit Universal Studios in LA today – lots of shows and rides – including the famous Universal Studio back lot tour where they take you around the full-size movie sets. We saw the city hall from Back to the Future (sans clock), outside of The Bates Motel, a Wild West set, Amity Beach from Jaws (apparently this doubles up as Cabot Cove from “Murder She Wrote” as well), Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives and many more.
There were other shows and rides based on movies such as King Kong, Jurassic Park, Shrek, Despicable Me and Water World. The King Kong and Water World shows were really good.
We also saw a couple of live stage shows as well – one on movie special effects and one about animal actors which was very cute. Given it was a Saturday and madly busy, we did quite well, managing to see all the rides and shows that we wanted to. Didn’t have to wait for too long for the rides – except for Jurassic Park and Transformers which had a wait of 45 and 70 minutes respectively. We also had our photo taken with Marilyn Monroe!
My personal highlight (in addition to the studio tour) was seeing the original Delorean from Back To The Future. The flux capacitor is working and the timer circuits are on and set to Oct 26 1985.
We stayed at the studio from 10am to 8.30pm and then came to the hotel. All in all a very enjoyable day, but ended on a sour note as the dinner order (we had Chinese takeaway) was wrong and apparently it was all my fault!
Today we took a tour bus all around LA. We drove to the centre of LA, and parked under the Dolby Theatre (where they host the Academy Awards). Then we got on the tour bus which took us to see lots of US TV staples. Beverley Hills (with its palm fringed streets), Hollywood Boulevard, Melrose Place, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Plantages Theatre, the Hollywood sign, the Groundlings Theatre – the list goes on… The tour guide pointed out hotels, clubs and juice bars where celebrities hangout, but we didn’t spot anyone famous (that we’ve heard of anyway).
In the afternoon we went to Santa Monica beach. The beach here is enormous, on one side it is lined by many hotels, cafés and bars (many look rather retro) and the Pacific Ocean on the other. We walked across the beach, dipped our toes in the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean and headed on to the pier, where the official end point to the famous Route 66 is located.
It was dark when we got back to the Dolby Theatre to collect the car, but this means that we got the chance to see the bright lights to LA as well.
Today we drove from LA to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It’s a nearly a 500 mile drive and took about 8 hours in total. I like Arizona – petrol is cheap, the roads are straight and you can drive at 75 mph. There’s been a lot of rain recently, so it was quite green too.
The hype about the Grand Canyon is indeed well deserved. It is a magnificent sight and nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of it. We had parked the car and walking to the Canyon view point (Mather Point) which was a 5 minutes walk way. We were bickering about something or other – and then we turn the corner and everyone went quite (it was like a film). The Grand Canyon opened before us. It is a powerful moment when you first see the canyon. It is hard to believe such a thing exists. You can see layer upon layer of colour, where the landscapes has been carved over millennia by the Colorado river that still flows at the bottom today. I think Niagara falls just got knocked off the top spot on my list of Great Natural Wonders.
We got to the Grand Canyon in time to watch the sunset over the canyon. The shadows move across the canyon and then when the sun dips below the furthest reaches of the canyon it goes very dark, very quickly.
We are staying at the Yavapai Lodge, located in the Grand Canyon Village just a stones throw from the canyon.
We got up at 5 a.m. today (Can you believe it – me getting up at 5, whilst on holiday? It was worth it though.), to see the sun rise over the Canyon.
We headed to the Yavapai point for the sunrise, and there were many others who had the same idea. It s extraordinary watching the sun coming up over the East edge of the Canyon and illuminating everything below.
After watching the sunrise we headed to the restaurant for a hearty breakfast of pancakes. After pancakes, we drove down the Desert View drive – a 25 mile drive Eastward road along the edge of the canyon, with a number of view points along the way. My personal favourite is Moran point – it affords a great view of the river and lots of different angles of the canyon and much quieter than the other spots. After the Desert View drive, we returned to the grand canyon village – after a quick stop in the souvenir shop, we were back on the road, heading to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas (or “Vegas” as I like to call it) is ~280 miles from the Grand Canyon and took about 6 hours. We are staying at the Bellagio. After settling into the hotel and a quick dip in the pool we headed out to explore. VEGAS. IS. CRAZY. – no, there’s Crazy, and then there’s Outrageous, and then there’s Vegas. It’s as if each hotel is trying to out do each other on how wacky they can be and it’s all become one big circus. It’s really crowded too. Given that we are here on a week night, and it is not holiday season, I can’t believe how many people there are; I’d hate to be here during the busier times.
The moment you step out, all your senses are assaulted with ways to part you from your money. Don’t like gambling? Try the food. Not a foodie? Try shopping. Not a shopaholic? See a Show.
I think my parents had a bit of a shock too – They’ve never seen anything like it – and they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to build a city devoted to pleasure in the middle of a desert.
We watched the Bellagio’s dancing fountains at 9p.m. Very pretty.
We had a quick go an some of the slot machines. My dad better than the rest of us – he wanted to keep playing but we intervened when he broke even and cashed in.
Really quite tired today, so going to bed now.
Spent the morning exploring the Bellagio green houses – not so much green houses but full-blown tropical paradises.
The Bellagio, like lots of other hotels here is a massive hotel. However they are well catered to deal with crowds, so never have to wait for anything like Check-in/Check-out or Lifts. You have to go through the casino to get anywhere in the hotel.
It’s amazing how busy the casino at 7 a.m.. There are a lot of people who look like they’ve been here all night. Also, you notice the absence of children. They are very strict about not letting anyone under 21 on the casino floor – my sister was asked for ID, twice!
Late morning we left Las Vegas and drove through the Death Valley. This is the lowest point in North America – some 200 feet below sea level. The landscape is barren and desolate as the name implies and very, very hot – it was 45 degrees C at one point. But the scenery is quite fantastic. Photos below. We also saw some low flying military fighter jets.
I was a bit apprehensive about the drive, given the hostile environment, but it was fine. Lots of straight long loads, lots of other vehicles and frequent patrol cars.
Finished off the day in Bishop, a small town on the east of the Sierra-Nevada mountains. Chinese takeaway for dinner again!
Today we drove to Lake Tahoe through the Sierra-Nevada mountains. On the way there were many beautiful peaks, lakes and windy roads. We stopped for a brief rest at Mono lake which is very picturesque. As you get closer to Lake Tahoe in the North Sierra-Nevada range, it’s much like the Scottish highlands.
We are staying at a hotel right on the south beach at Lake Tahoe – the beach is wide and the water is very shallow for at least half a mile into the lake. We went for a swim in the lake and my parents also experienced a Jacuzzi for the first time and they liked it. A lot!
In the evening there was a live Jazz band playing on the beach – I’m listening to them and watching the sunset over the lake – wish you were here.
Arrived in San Francisco today. The journey took about 4 hours from Lake Tahoe, it would have been quicker, but the traffic is pretty bad as you get near San Francisco.
We went to see the Golden Gate Bridge – it’s truly an engineering marvel. Did you know why it’s call the Golden Gate Bridge? I thought it might be something to do with how the bridge shines golden in the sunlight – but apparently it’s because the bridge spans the golden gate straight. Nothing to do with the bridge colour which apparently is officially called “rust”.
On the south side there are photos and pictures on how the bridge was built, starting with the pillars, then the suspension cables were hung and then they built the deck. I think you would have been impressed. There’s also the story of the “half-way to hell” club – which is a group made of men who fell off the bridge during construction, but were saved due to the safety net hung below the bridge. We walked on the bridge about halfway, then decided it was too far to walk to the other side and back – for me the biggest problem was vertigo, so I held on to my mother and she held on to me. Great views of the city from the bridge.
City tour of San Francisco today on an open top bus. This is certainly the most touristy place I’ve been on this trip so far (Vegas is touristy too, but its on a league of its own so I’m not counting that).
The tour bus ticket sellers in Union Square are pushy, to put it mildly. Then once you get the ticket you have to wait for ages to get on the bus. Anyway, we saw lots of US TV staples again, the pretty houses, hilly roads, Lombard Street, China Town etc. My favourite bit was Pier 39. It has so many Seals – just lying there on floating wooden decks, sun bathing.
I also found this really cool world map in one of the shops. It’s a world map, but with little cartoon drawings of all the famous places and cities. Hope you can frame it for me when I get home, then I can put pins on all the paces I’ve been to. Oh, yes and I had a Corn-dog for the first time – or a bite of it anyway. I didn’t know what it was, except I’d seen it on TV – anyway, I found that it was a sausage on a stick, covered in a thick layer of cornmeal batter and deep fried. Its like eating a savoury donut with a sausage inside. I suppose when you know what it is, the name makes complete sense, but I had envisioned something to do with sweet corn.
We spent the afternoon in the Golden Gate Park which is really pretty. Apparently, the San Franciscans wanted something better than the Central Park in New York, (It seems that there’s a big rivalry between the two cities) so they hired the guy who designed Central Park. Only he wasted a year and then said the San Francisco didn’t have the right kind of soil for that type of park and left. Then they got another (less famous) chap, who experimented and found some palm like plants that did really well.
All in all, I don’t like San Francisco. It’s cramped, dirty, lots of people and very expensive. Remember how you told me there we lots of homeless people in San Francisco, that’s all true. And the nice parts and the not so nice parts of the city all mixed in together, there were many streets which I didn’t like the look of.
Not much to write today, except to say we’ve arrived back in LA. The drive from San Francisco to LA (400 miles) was fairly uneventful – except we saw some cats in a car. Not in a cat carrier, but freely wondering around in the car. Maybe we should give it a try.
We went to an I-hop restaurant for dinner on our last night here. It’s a lot like Beefeater back home – only with more cheese. I think you will like it.
Anyway, early flight home tomorrow, so see you soon.