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Zimbo Girls Road Trip California

Meet us: Natasha (me), Gail, Jade, Cheryl and another Tash.

After a meet up with us friends we decided to road trip Route 66 but due to time off work being so short, exploring California sounded like a better option.  The purchase of a Lonely Planet guide, connecting the dots of the best places to visit and noting the little towns that would be rest stops along the way was the start of an epic adventure.  Not to forget, the reading of many travel blogs and chatting to friends who had been.

Airline tickets were booked and the dates were set in stone so all we had to do is fill in the blanks and have fun.  As we wanted to be free and not tied to a defined plan in case we veered off the path in sight of an amazing natural wonder, we planned to only book hotels in the main cities being, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  In order to apply for your ESTA (American Visa) you need an American address for when you land so book a hotel for your arrival.  It also gives you piece of mind that you have a bed to go to after a long journey.

We flew with WoW airlines from London Gatwick and I would not recommend them.  Do not book an airline just because they are cheap!  £670 for the flight with one stop off in Iceland but…that is just the price for the flight and does not include your seats, luggage and food.   Seat prices varied depending on where you sit and luggage is £42 per checked in 20kg’s.  You can take on-board a hand luggage and a handbag which is good.  Just an idea of food prices, a ham and cheese baguette was 1000Kroners, a tot of vodka was 1100Kroners and a coffee was 500Kroners.  It was cheaper to purchase food in the airport and take it on board.  Main tip is, do not fly with WoW as they are not wow!  They are the budget airlines of Iceland and they are as budget as can be. Oh, NO on board entertainment either, 3 toilets with a constant queue, cold on board and the seats are hard and uncomfortable. No complementary drinks or snacks at all.  On the plus side, the hostesses are friendly and helpful though.

California is not flat so if you are driving around it, prepare for the winding roads and the steep elevation.  If you plan on drinking, don’t forget your ID wherever you go too.  Fuel is cheap and remember, it’s not petrol, it’s GAS.  Yes, we got looked at funny when we went to fill up.  For starters, you have to pay in the shop beforehand.  You have to guess how much you may need to fill up but if you need change, pop back in and they will give you your change.  Also, the price displayed is per gallon and not litre so you are getting more than you think.

First stop – San Francisco which is very cold and windy so pack warm!

Thursday, August 11th
Landed in San Francisco (SF) and picked up our hire car with Almo from the airport.  We got a great discount as a friend in our group works at the airport and gets a discount…bonus!  As there were 5 of us, not to mention 5 girls, we had a lot of luggage so we chose to take backpacks over suitcases as they are easier to mould into a small space.  We hired a black Dodge SUV and it was a perfect size, automatic, air con, 7 seater and we paid extra for a satnav.  Get a satnav and an automatic at all times.  That way you don’t have to concentrate on changing gears and you are able to just enjoy the beautiful scenery an concentrate on driving on the other side of the road (that is if you normally drive on the left).  Gail had driven in Belgium before so she was nominated first driver to the motel; our first stop.

Arrived at Mission Inn for 2 nights. Not the best of places but it was a bed. Slow Internet, cockroach in room and 1950’s decor. Big rooms though with a TV, bathroom, towels, coffee machine, toiletries and a hair dryer which were all provided so it’s not all bad. The dining room was the size of a shoebox with self-serve tea, coffee, toast, porridge and pastries.  Not a place I’d recommend and the location is not convenient to access San Francisco.  We were later told that Mission is not the safest area to stay in so avoid; there is nothing to see there anyway.

Friday, August 12th
Top Sights: Pier 39, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, AT&T Stadium, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, Bay Bridge, Street Cars (Trams)

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Golden Gate Bridge from Conzelman Viewpoint

Squashed in to have breakfast and coffee.  Caught a taxi to Pier 39 and had a look at the souvenir shops, saw the seals at the pier all lounging in the foggy sun. Alcatraz could be seen from the pier but we didn’t go over as it is over a month’s wait and as we didn’t have a lot of time in SF, we didn’t want to waste hours on the tour. Met our friends who were also travelling, Mandy and Ben and had a drink or two at Fog Harbour on the pier and the

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Lombard Street – San Francisco

cocktail to try is their Alcatraz Escape.  It is fruity, yummy and moreish. Had lunch at the restaurant below Fog Harbour called Wipeout Bar and Grill which was delicious and we had our first American burger, chips with a side of a cocktail called Shark Bite. As it was getting late, there was no time to do any tours of SF so we decided to do it ourselves via public transport.  You can purchase a day pass for all forms of transport for $20 from Walgreens pharmacy at the Northpoint Shopping Centre.  Then a short walk away we stopped off at the famous Lombard Street, which is one very crooked street.  With just a short walk up Lombard Street, and believe me when I say it is steep and a workout, we found the bus stop number 28 to start our tour.   We missed our bus and as they are meant to be every 20minutes, ours took one hour to arrive.  When it arrived, it was far too full and we had to wait for another 30minutues before the next bus.  By the time it arrived we were frozen, tired and hungry.  Golden Gate view point was the first stop but it was so windy and cod that we just dashed to the souvenir shop to defrost and wait for the next bus.  The fog was so low that it hid the bridge from us.  

 

Next stop was Golden Gate Park which was pretty…walked the rose gardens, around parks and the trees, the statues, fountains and passed the museums as we didn’t have time to wander them.  The Japanese Gardens had just closed when we arrived but I do believe they are amazing so don’t miss them.  There are Segway tours of the park available for US$74 for 3-4hrs.  We found it a bit pricey so gave them a miss.  We caught the bus 28 back to Fisherman’s Warf and wondered the streets in search of a coffee shop to warm up.

If you like chocolate, don’t forget to pass Ghirardelli’s Chocolate shop where you get free chocolate samples and it tastes great too.  There are cheaper souvenir shops around here too so buy your bits and bobs here and not in the main touristy parts.  We then headed to Pier 39’s Boudin Bakery Café for a defrost, a coffee and the famous chowder bun but we had the chilli mince chowder as we were scared to try the popular crab chowder.  It was yum.  Basically, it’s a big sourdough bun with its top cut off and the insides removed then filled with chilli mince.  It’s perfect to warm you up after a cold, windy day in San Francisco.  To finish the night off we nipped to the entrance of Wipeout Bar and Grill for their free Wi-Fi to book an Uber taxi back to our accommodation.  Uber is great and works out cheaper than the general taxi’s do download the app.

San Francisco ⇒ Napa Valley ⇒ Sacramento – 5hrs with stops

Saturday 13th August
Top Sights: Driving Golden Gate Bridge, Wine Tasting, American River

Checked out of the motel and headed on our way to Sacramento with stops planned at one of Golden Gate Bridges view point, Napa Valley wine tasting and then to friends in Sacramento.

As we had a failed viewing of the bridge the day before from Fort Point, we planned to head to Conzelman Road viewpoint which was amazing!  Parking was easy to find, free and many stop off points along the way to get a different angle photo.  There are portaloos at the top too and some great walks if you are feeling adventurous.  Another stop off to get a great view is at the Lonely Sailor at the right off the bridge heading out of SF.

Driving through Napa on route 12, the choices of vineyards to stop off are endless but you can either plan and research before heading off so you don’t pay the earth for a tasting session like we did.  We stopped off at Domaine Carneros wine farm (very posh) and paid US$40 for the Grande Tasting which was a selection of red wines and sparkling wines along with a cheese board for US$19.  We did share this between the 4 of us as the fifth person was our driver.  Be careful driving Sonoma and Napa as I was told by a local resident that the cops wait around every corner, randomly stopping cars and breathalysing you.  I would suggest making more time here as it’s pretty and there are various wine tours you can go on, cycle tours, etc.  5 hours should be a great amount of time to explore loads but I would plan to stay the night so you can all wine taste and enjoy it.

Arrived at our friend’s house and after a quick unpack and catch up, we headed for food and drinks at Crawdads on the American river where jovial boaters were passing and made it a great, happy atmosphere.  Cocktails are great here and the food isn’t too bad either.  Great setting and we were lucky to see a lovely sunset.  That night we went to Parlare Euro Lounge nightclub as our friend manages it and what a top class club it is.  Go there!  It’s over 2 floors with DJ’s on different ones.  Upstairs are the VIP booths and the décor and service is amazing.  They play all kinds of music from remixes, dance, hip hop, top of the charts etc.  We had the greatest VIP treatment with a vast array of drinks.

Sunday 14th August
Top Sights: Folsom – American River

We all woke up early, fresh faced and surprisingly no heavy heads from the night before.  The plan was to head to Folsom and raft the American River.  This is not a well-known location by tourists but if you get the chance to find it then please go.  Rent a raft, take a cooler box with drinks, food, music with you along with sun cream, bikini (for the girls), hat, cheap sunglasses as you may lose them like I did and towels.  We rented an 8 – 10-person raft for US$170.  The 5-person raft was US$99 from memory.  You carry your raft to the entry point on the river, then grab a drink and float away.  Don’t paddle unless you get into a tricky spot.  Just sit back, relax, enjoy the sunshine and company.   Half way down we stopped off at the sandy bank and socialised with everyone, listened to music from boats passing or stopping and enjoyed the company.  When you reach the end where the houses are along the river on the right, paddle hard, hand your raft in and head on up to the park where a bus awaits to take you to the carpark.  The whole rafting experience took around 4hrs.  After all the sun and drinks, we were shattered and ordered pizza and watched The Boss movie of which I fell asleep to at the start.  Do the rafting…its worth it!

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The Zimbo Girls Left to Right: Cheryl, Tash (Me), Jade, Gail, Sheena (a Zimbo girl but she wasn’t on tour with us), Tash 

Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe – 2hr drive

Monday 15th August
Top Sights: South Lake Tahoe, Gondolas to the top of the mountain

On the day we booked the hotel in South Lake Tahoe, Harveys.  Driving there we stopped off at this bar/restaurant and it was very weird.  We were the only visitors and on the walls were cult-like pictures, animal heads, satanic symbols, chairs in a circle and other ornaments that were strange.  We were desperate for the loo so had no choice to order a drink and use the facilities then move on.  Stunning location though, along a river in the trees.

Harveys is a massive hotel very close to the lake so it was a great location.  When we arrived we dropped off the bags and headed out to explore.  Three of us headed up the gondolas (cable carts) to the top of the mountain for US$46ea.  It stops off at a platform half way up where you get the best view and photos of the lake.  There is a café and loos here.  The carts continue up to the top where there is a whole outdoor experience centre, bar and restaurant.  If you have the time, book the full package of ziplines, rope course and gondolas as it looks amazing!

Returned to flat land and went for a short walk to the lake to dip our toes in.  Any road adjacent to the mountain leads to the lake.  There is paddle boarding, kite surfing, canoeing, swimming, jet skiing and much more to do.  Take money with you as you need to pay US$5 to enter the beach but it’s worth it.  The water is cold as it is ice melt from the winter but its lovely and blue.  Later that night we went for a meal in the restaurant at the top of Harrah’s where we watched the sun set and had a great meal.  The Justin Cabernet Sauvignon is delicious here.   We then headed to Cabos bar in Harveys and be careful, the drinks are strong but nice and the live band wasn’t too bad.  There is a casino here if you wish to gamble.

South Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes – 3hrs drive

Tuesday, 16th August
Top Sights: Emerald Bay viewpoint, Mono Lakes viewpoint, Mammoth Lakes, Twin Lakes 

Started off with a wander down to the lake front and had breakfast at, The Landings restaurant. After filling our bellies, we checked out and went to Emerald Bay viewpoint.  It’s one curvy road so be careful but once you get to the viewpoint the views are stunning.  It’s a great view of the bay but I am sure that if we headed on further along the road the view would have been spectacular but time was not on our side.

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Emerald Bay View Point – South Lake Tahoe

Next stop in Mammoth Lakes.  The reason why we chose to stay here is because it was the closest and cheapest place to stay near Yosemite National Park.  There is accommodation and camping close and in the park or in Lee Vining but book in advance to get a great location.  Mammoth Lakes is gorgeous, so we didn’t mind the backtrack to the park the next day.

On the route to Mammoth Lakes, the roads are very curvy and steep at times but the scenery is stunning.  There is a great stop off at Mono Lake view point.  Take a sticker of some sort to stick on the road railing like the 100’s of others.  The view is stunning and the stop is on the right so do stop here and take in the natural beauty.

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Mono Lake View Point

As the road winds down, there are gorgeous views at every bend.

We arrived at our quaint condo in a beautiful location amongst the trees, remote from any Wi-Fi at Bigwood Condomoniums on Majestic Pines Drive.  After a little evening walk and pausing to admire a deer in the woods we and meet a few residents and were told that bears frequent this area with their local visitor being called Archie.  They hadn’t seen him for a few weeks due to being scared off from the current building work but he would be back.  They told us about Twin Lakes to go and visit and we may be lucky enough to see bears but by the time we arrived, it was too dark but pretty at the same time.  On the way back we stopped off at the Mammoth Eatery and I highly recommend stopping here.  The food and atmosphere is brilliant.  They brew their own beer here and the setting is a massive cosy log cabin.  Do get there early as they don’t open late.  Returned to the condo and we all got together to discuss the next day’s adventures.

Devils Postpile National Monument is found here. To get to them you have to park up at the ski resort on your way to them where the cable cars/gondolas are then hop on the shuttle into the park.  They are open May to October and admission is Adult – US$7 and Child US$4.  We didn’t go in as we were heading to Death Valley and thought we could drive to them, stop off, take a photo and then head off but the process was not that simple and we wasted the trip there.  Make time and go to them and stop off at the Earthquake Fault on the way there or back.  I hear it’s a sight not to miss….we did L

Wednesday, 17th August
Top Sights: Tioga Peak, Ellery Lake, Tuolumne, Olmstead Point, Mount Watkins, Valley View, Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre, Lower Yosemite Falls, Inspiration Point

Up bright and early, day packs packed and off on our 2hr trip to Yosemite National Park up on route 395.  Filled the tank and off we went. Turn left on route 120 (Closed November to May) and be prepared for the winding roads, not to mention the fluctuation in elevation.  At one point you reach 4000ft then 11 000ft then drop to 2000ft but no one is in a hurry here and they are all taking in the beauty.  If people do tail you then there are plenty of stop off bays to pull into for people to pass.  Do it as the tailing will put pressure on you and you may miss a sight.  There is plenty to do in the park from camping, hiking, climbing to horse riding.  To get the most out of the park, get away from the hustle and bustle, allow for time here.  Lose yourself in the beauty. This is a stop start drive so what would be an hour took us 4hrs.

First stop was the highest peak: Tioga Peak at 11 526ft.  Stop here!

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Tioga Peak

I don’t know what it is about water but we had to stop off at every lake, water body, rivers, streams and what would be waterfalls…will explain about these later.  Ellery Lake is pretty so no doubt you’d stop here for a photo but I personally loved Tioga Lake.  There were benches to picnic, toilets and gorgeous views.  You could see the streams from the mountain meeting the lake and then running off and the colours, depths and stillness was amazing.

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Ellery Lake – Yosemite National Park

After this striking sight, one more bend and climb until you reach the Tioga Pass Entrance which is the admission gate into the park.  For a car we paid US$30 and you have unlimited entrance for 7 days and a free map of the park and what to do.   Just a bit further you will reach Tuolumne where you can camp, horse ride, fuel up, picnic or have a meal.  There is also a visitor centre here with loos and loads of “what to do” with such helpful volunteers.  Aside from my favourite lake stop, the next stop did not feel real, Olmstead Point.  When something is so beautiful it actually looks like a painting, well this is the place.  Here, you get to see views of the lakes and conifers to the left and to the right you see valley…lots of valley.  Frank, the volunteer was there with a telescope and for a donation, you can see the hikers scrambling up Mount Watkins.  They look like ants and to attempt the 12hr hike, I have much respect for them.  Do head down the steps and for a short walk to the bare rock and the views open up. Panoramic views, find a rock to sit there and take life in, admire the beauty and let nature swallow you in its beauty.

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Olmstead Point – Yosemite National Park

After more bends and breath-taking sights, stop offs here and there, petrol looking a little low, we reached the ‘T’ junction of Big Oak Flat Road and Tioga Road.  To our delight there was a petrol station with a shop full of everything you would need.  Time to fill up and stock up.

Next up there is the Valley View stop off point so stop off here and then Bridal Veil Falls.  Sadly, there was a measly spray of water teetering over the edge due to the 5yr drought California has faced.  This was definitely not the time to see the full beauty of the falls but still stunning none the less.  We parked up and did the lovely walk to the base of the falls which you should do as there is something special walking through the trees on the trodden paths and cobbled bridges over the bone dry streams. We clambered the rocks in search of the plunge pool but gave up due to the lack of water.  The rocks are very slippery and shiny so watch your step.  Seems like the rocks have taken many causalities as there are many warning signs.

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Bridalveil Falls – Yosemite National Park

Then there is the Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre.  There’s a huge souvenir shop, supermarket, toilets, shuttle bus stops and an information office.  Parking is scarce but you are sure to find a space. Try and leave here before 4pm as it was hard for us to leave after 5pm with the traffic queues.   Here you can hike to Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.  We didn’t as no doubt they would be dry at this time of year.  Stop off at the Yosemite Falls Hotel parking and cross over the main road towards Lower Yosemite Falls to the right.  If you go to the Higher Yosemite Falls, you will spend hours hiking to the top of them but do so if you have the time and are feeling adventurous.  The walk amongst the redwoods dwarfs you.  Such huge trees ruling the landscape and yes, I had this urge to hug one.  It took four of us holding hands to wrap around the tree.  Again, when we reached the falls, it was just dry rock.  Not a drop of water flowing over nor in the carved out ground where a river would run.  The squirrels were entertaining as they come to great you but all they really want is food and boy are they a little on the tubby side.

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Little overweight squirrel at Lower Yosemite Falls
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Lower Yosemite Falls – No water

This was our last stop in the park before we headed home as we had a long journey ahead of us.  Don’t forget to make time for the hikes and there are other falls and viewpoints to see too.  There is a free shuttle bus that takes you around the park which is great so use it to see the main points.
Don’t miss Dewey Point Lookout, Inspiration Point and Tunnel View.  All amazing sights that you wouldn’t think are real.    You can also head to Mariposa and the Sequoia National Park from here.

When we hit Mammoth Lakes, we stopped off at a tiny restaurant for a meal called Burgers Restaurant.  If you are going to order a salad, you will get one big enough to feed 4.  They are huge and are served in a serving bowl.  They have the most awards I have ever seen for their chilli and beans and I highly recommend it if you are not vegetarian.  It was the best tasting chilli that I have ever had and worth stopping there even if you are just passing through.

Mammoth Lakes to Pharump via Death Valley – 9hr drive with stops.

Thursday, 18th August
Top Sights:  Lone Pine Town, Padre Crowley Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, Badlands

Death Valley, here we come.  Fuel – check, food – check, drinks – check.

There are a few towns that you pass through along route 395 so plenty of opportunities to top up so don’t worry.  We stopped at Lone Pine and had a drink stop at Jakes Saloon and loved it here as the town looked like you were walking into a western movie.  Jake’s had the wooden look exterior and the swing doors, the shops all looked like the cowboy movies and what would have finished it off was if a handsome cowboy were to ride his stallion down the street.  The whole street had free Wi-Fi which was a first as no other towns had this.  We bought alcohol and snack for Vegas at the shop here as it was very cheap and we were told to stock up before Vegas as you will be paying a lot for drinks there.

After Lone Pine, we took route 136 towards Panamint Springs and then followed route 190 towards Death Valley Junction.  Along the route 190 there are various amazing sights to stop off at but don’t once think that DV is a flat sandy desert with long straight roads as it is not.  It’s like everywhere else with curving roads and steep elevation so watch your breaks.  At one point we had to stop off half way down miles worth of downhill to cool the breaks only for a kind British guy come and show us how to put our automatic car into manual mode and stay in a lower gear on descent.  It worked and we were so happy as it was scary at one point.  Stop off at Padre Crowley Point as it’s a mini Grand Canyon but very windy then the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  These are the only sand dunes you will really see along the way and the temperature here was 46.5 and the sand is very hot so closed shoes may be advisable.  There are great dry trees to take photos of.

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Mesquite Sand Dunes

 Be sure to read all the signs as they are very helpful.  They tell you to turn off your air-conditioning for 10miles as the car will over heat, when you cross into Arizona, where the next petrol station is and the next sight to see.  Furnace creek was a dry desert town but just on top of a hill was this green oasis.  It was a hotel surrounded by palm trees and greenery and I’m sure it was called, Inn at Furnace Creek.  Here the road splits and if you go right, there are two sights to see, 1. Artists Pallet along Artists Drive and 2. Dante’s View.   Both looked good but we went left towards Zabriskie Point and oh my it was stunning.  Go and see it!  Park up and walk up the small slope and the rolling formations from river erosion open up for you with different tones of browns, oranges and blacks – The Badlands.  The heat hits you but I adapted to it quite quick.

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Zabriskie Point – Death Valley

Aircon on and we head for our last stop before Las Vegas – Pharump.  Well, we didn’t know what to expect here but after a quick re-fuel and a chat to a few local residents we decided to stop off at Saddle West Resort and see if they had any room and they did.  Two good sized rooms booked next to each other, changed into our bikinis and into the pool for a cooling off and we certainly needed that.  Had food in the hotel’s restaurant which wasn’t that great but, it was food.  Was strange that we had to walk through the casino to get to the hotels reception and it was interesting to see all the people gambling were there for many hours and again early hours the following morning.  I mean, did they even go home!?

Pharump to Las Vegas – 2hr drive.

Friday, 19th August
Top Sights: Las Vegas – The Strip….need I say more! Ballys, Bellagio, Treasure Island, The Wynn etc…

Drove to Vegas and checked into Ballys Hotel right on the strip.  It wasn’t too bad driving the strip in the day and we only had to go about a quarter of a mile and then turn off to the parking.  Checked in, unloaded our bags, bought a crazy cocktail from Evening Call with a refill cup (of which we never went back due to being all over exploring).  We were meeting friends in Vegas who were staying at the same hotel so off to say hi to them.  We were too excited to stay in the hotel so went to walk the streets and find our bearings.  It’s not impressive in the day so maybe lounge by the pool in the day and save the energy to walk The Strip at night.  We went to the Parisian Street under our hotel, the Bellagio, in and out various hotels and shops then back to the hotel for a wash, change and head out again when the sun sank.  Treasure Island Hotel had an amazing volcano light and fire display on at 9pm which is a must see and after that we went for a drink in the hotel then just walked the streets stopping at the Wynn (stunning inside), Flamingos, the Venetian, and then the Bellagio to watch the final famous fountain display of the day at midnight.  They are every half an hour but the best time to watch them is at night.  Last stop was Ballys for a spot of gambling.  I was a high flyer on the 1c machines with a massive winning of 20c.  I played US$4 and won US$4.20.  The slot machines take notes so no need to queue for tickets or chips.  Whichever casino you gamble in, you get free drinks and all you have to do is tip the waitress/waiter which is far cheaper than hanging out at the bar but far less social and not so lucky if you are on a losing streak.

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Las Vegas – The Strip

Saturday, 20th August
Top Sights:  Parisian Street, Ballys pool party, Nepoleons

Spent the whole day at the Hotels pool which had a bar nearby and a DJ until 7pm.  It’s one of the few pools that have a DJ but there are of course others.  I heard that the Bellagios pool is very quiet and civilised.  The atmosphere here was amazing and as soon as a ball was introduced to the pool, we all joined in playing a fun version of piggy in the middle with a Coors Lite in hand.  We were here from 11am till around 6pm and time just flew.  Oh what fun.  Another friend arrived at lunch from Minnesota so our gang grew.  We then had a snooze, freshened up and headed for a French buffet meal on the Parisian street.  The selection of food from starters to desert was phenomenal.  So many options and so well presented and cooked.  Hungry? Go here!  You can’t miss it as it’s the only buffet.  With our full bellies we headed across the way to Napoleons to watch the pianists but then headed to bed as we had an early start the next day – Our Grand Canyon West Rim adventure.fhd0256

Sunday, 21st August
Top Sights:  Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon – Hualapai Ranch, Eagle Point, Sky Walk, Guano Point, Joshua Tree, Hemenway Park

Up at 6am and ready for our coach trip for 7am start with Grand Canyon Tour and Travel.  Picked up at the hotel and taken to the check in depo where we signed in and collected a free coffee and breakfast snacks.   The coach was comfortable with free Wi-Fi, lunch which was a roll, chocolate and crisps.

First stop was at Hoover Dam.  This was only a quick 20min stop but it was enough to walk up the 200 or odd steps, brave the wind and heights and take a photo of the huge dam wall.  Hoover Dam wall is on Lake Mead and due to all the droughts, you can clearly see the water level drop by the distinct white line above the low water level.  What an amazing sight to see.

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Hoover Dam

Drove through Joshua trees which were all over until we arrived at the Grand Canyon.   The coach drops you off, hands you your tickets and off you go.  There is a shuttle service that transports you around the park with the first stop at Hualapai Ranch.  It’s a little tourist made western town where you can shoot a pistol, rope a fake cow, watch a real magic show, have a bite to eat and walk around to see what the little towns used to be like.

Next stop was Eagle Point where the Sky Walk is – the glass bridge above the canyon with a 4000m high.  We had booked to go on here.  No cameras allowed just so they can make money from us as they have professional photographers on there.  You have to queue for ages to get a photo but it is worth it.  US$16/photo…eek!

Last stop was Guano Point which is just AMAZING.  Here is where you feel the true enormity

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Guano Point View

of the canyon.  This used to be the point where bad faeces was mined in one of the cliffs caves which was used as a fertiliser so the original mining structures still stand and the point that was influenced by humans to make a platform for the mining equipment.  Guano means bat faeces in the Native American language.  There is a restaurant here where you can refuel and gaze upon the enormity of the canyon accompanied by the many crows and tourists taking selfies so close to the edge making your stomach flip a few times.

On the way back on the coach, the driver was kind enough to stop off at Hemenway Park by Lake Mead were we were lucky enough to get close to the national animal of Nevada – the Big Horn Sheep.

Last night in Las Vegas so we went for a meal at BLT Steak restaurant managed by Gordon 20160821_224223Ramsey in Ballys.  It was pricey but a great treat.  Hopped in a taxi and went to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign then last stop, Fremont street.  The Original Vegas were we watched live bands and did the Slotzilla Zoomline zipline above the street and under the light display.  You have to go to Fremont Street when visiting Vegas as this is where it all began.  Watch the light show and have a drink on the street as the atmosphere is so different to the strip.  There is a restaurant here called Heart Attack Grill and they have a huge scale outside.  If you weigh over 350lbs then you eat for free.  The waiters and waitresses are dressed as nurses and if you don’t finish your food they whip you.  Crazy.

Las Vegas to Los Angeles – 4 hours

Monday, 22nd August
Top Sights:  Walk of Fame, Chinese Theatre

Check out day.  We had Breakfast at Serendipitea 3.  Portions were huge so if you ever go here then share.  The French toast was the actual size of a brick.

Said our byes to friends and we headed to Los Angeles.  Checked into the Hollywood Roosevelt early evening which was right in Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard.  Apparently Marilyn Monroe lived in this hotel briefly.  It was opposite the Chinese Theatre so we couldn’t have asked for any closer.  We went straight out to walk the walk of fame taking photos of every star of the star we love.  The Chinese Theatre was blocked off as they do at night so we went to have dinner at Hard Rock Café and people watch on the streets as there are so many lookalikes trying to make a living.  A lot of Spidermen and Johnny Depps in all characters but mainly Jack Sparrow.

Tuesday, 23rd August
Top Sights:  Warner Brothers, Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach/Muscle Beach

We booked tickets for the hop on hop off bus for $44 each for 24hrs.  Headed out onimg_20160829_235345-1 the blue route which takes you to Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Warner Brothers but we didn’t explore any due to time but we can say that we have been there.  The red route took us to Santa Monica pier where the Route 66 starts or ends.  Walked the pier but then headed to Venice beach where we saw Muscle Beach, walked the shops and then dug our feet into the beach sand, found a spot and watched the sunset on the beach.  One of the best sunsets I had seen the whole trip.  Sadly, we ended the day having a very bad meal at The Beach Café.  Definitely a no go from me.

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HOLLYWOOD sign – Taken from the viewpoint from the walk of stars

Los Angeles to Morro Bay – 4 hours

Wednesday, 24th August
Top Sights:  LA Ink, Malibu Pier, 

Before check out we had a lovely healthy breakfast at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf then went for a walk to see LA Ink but it was closed.  They only open from 12 – 5pm so I guess they make enough money to have such short opening hours.  To be honest, we thought it had closed and moved as the street and shop looked so deserted.  Checked out and drove up hills to the Observatory to get close to the Hollywood sign but not a parking in sight after circulating for ages so we gave up and started our journey north for Morro Bay.  Stopped at Malibu on Malibu Drive near all the Celebrity beach homes unbeknown to us.  We just saw a beach road, saw a stop, pulled up and walked the beach and just to the left, in front of the homes there was a sign saying “Private Land, do not cross.”  We didn’t but when we returned to the car, there was a cop car lurking behind us.  They must always be present to protect the residents.  Popped the address for a café in the satnav and off we went.  It took us the long way and when I say long, rather than just turning right, it took us left, up this hill where there were these mansions of which I’m convinced are inhabited by celebrities and millionaires…Jaw dropping views and homes.  We eventually arrived at Malibu Pier where we ate lunch at Malibu Farm at the end of the pier. This is where we met Michelle Tuthill, a small time singer and actor with a lovely spirit who was happy to chat to us, have a photo with us, sing for us and share tips of where to go on the rest of our trip.  She gave us her contact details and wanted to keep in touch…I lost them…I’m very sad.  What a lovely lady!

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Drove passed Santa Barbara as time was ticking and stayed at Morro Bay Inn for the night which was lovely.

Morro Bay to San Francisco

Thursday, 25th August
Top Sights:  Elephant Seals, Bixby Bridge, Big Sur (But it was closed)

Dress warmer as from now on the weather starts to get cooler.  Breakfast in San Simeon at Cavalier Restaurant and not far passed here there was a stop off to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery.  Stop here, view for free and do give a donation.  The squirrels come out and beg for food and are so cheeky.  The seals are here year round but the best time to see them in large number is January to June as this is when the mother are on the beach with their pups in large numbers.  There are many seal stops on the coast but this is the best on.

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Bixby Bridge on Route 1

Saw Bixby Bridge that was built by prisoners in the 1930’s and is the most photographed

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Fox cub at Bixby Bridge

bridge in California.  The stop just before the bridge has some stunning coast and cliff views but with an added bonus, there were two very confident fox cubs of some sort come and visit us.  Like all the wild animals at tourist stops, all they want is food.  They were great little posers for the camera.

Big Sur national parks were all closed due to fires so we didn’t get to see the natural beauty everyone spoke about so do go when it is not fire season so you don’t miss out like us.  Apparently the forest meets the beach and there is a gorgeous waterfall that runs into the sea.   Stopped in Monterey for a coffee and saw more seals as well as red crabs swimming in the harbour.  They are not normally up this far north as they are indigenous to San Diago.   Apparently, near one of the piers you can see harbour seals with the large round eyes.  We couldn’t find them.  You can go whale watching, shark diving and dolphin watching in Monterey so if that’s what you want to do, make a day of it and do it here as it’s the best place to do so.  There is also scuba diving here in the kelp forests and apparently there are no sharks where they dive.

Arrived at our hotel, La Quinta Inn, near San Francisco airport in the evening, checked in and then nipped over to Denny’s Diner across the way for a meal.  Our last American dining experience.  Managed to do a load of laundry too which was a relief to not do it all upon our return. When doing your laundry, make sure you have lots of quarters and washing liquid.

Friday, 26th August – Last full day in USA so what better to do than go shopping for the first time.  We headed to an outlet mall and was surprised how quiet the mall was and no crowd fighting.  What a peaceful shopping experience.  We were heading to watch a baseball match on our last night so bought the gear to fit in as a massive San Francisco Giants fan.  After some retail therapy, got the car valeted then did our final drive to the airport to drop it off. We drove a total of 1747miles for the whole trip…wow. We conquered driving on the right side of the road and found it pretty easy to adapt to. Know the rules of the road and you will be fine.

At the hotel we dressed into our Giants gear and headed to the AT&T stadium to watch them play the Atlanta Braves. As we were first timers, we were told to go to the guest services and were each given certificates for attending our first match and you can also go and see all the trophies.  A beer and a traditional hot dog was our meal with candy floss for desert whilst enjoying the atmosphere. If you ever go to a game, dress warm as the stadium is a wind trap.  The Giants are at the top of the league and won 7 – 0.

Left slightly early to avoid the crowd and caught an uber taxi back to the hotel and packed our bags.

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American Baseball at the AT&T Park in San Francisco – SF Giants vs Atlanta Braves

Saturday, 27th August – Caught the free airport shuttle at 9am to the airport, checked in, had breakfast at the cafe and bought loads of food for the flight on WoW Air. It was the same as the flight there with queues for the loo, no entertainment and 32hours of travelling to get back to Manchester with a a total of 2hrs sleep. We were zombies and had major jetlag.

TIP 1: Stock up on Imodium as we struggled adapting to the food for the first week of the holiday.
TIP 2: Drive North to South on Route 1/101 as there are easier stop offs along the coast.
TIP 3: Remember, you have to adapt to the time change so allow to get over jet lag and plan in chill days.
TIP 4: When turning right, even though the light may be red, you are allowed to still turn right as long as there is no oncoming traffic and signs stipulating otherwise.
Tip 5: Motels generally have FREE Wi-Fi and breakfasts unlike the main hotels so check before you book.  They may say Wi-Fi but they need to state FREE otherwise you have to pay. 

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Venice Beach sunset – LA

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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