We’ve talked about New York City, now we’re going on a two week road trip!
My husband and I got married on October 29th 2011 and we first thought of a honeymoon to some exotic and sunny location, but figured we’d much rather go to the States again. My dream trip was one to the Northeast but since our honeymoon would take place in November, we thought warm California might be a little better.
Brace yourselves, this might be a long one…
A road trip like this takes quite a bit of planning, you could wing it and just go with the flow there, but that’s not really our style. How I managed to do this (I do the planning for these trips and my husband does the driving: dream team, much?) while also planning our wedding, I honestly can’t remember, but it all worked out perfectly!
We were set to leave from Brussels on November 1st, departing with American Airlines at 9am. This meant we had to be at the airport at 6am, thus having to leave by train in Ghent, well, way too early. Plus, because it was a holiday, train service was not working in our favour. So the decision to head to Brussels Airport on Halloween and to stay at the Sheraton Brussels Airport was a very easy one to make.
Not only does this give you more time to sleep, it avoids the stress of trains that might be delayed and running around frantically checking if you have everything at 4am. I just ran around frantically the night before and got a good night’s sleep afterwards.
It couldn’t be more convenient: you check out, cross the street en check in your luggage. See, I told you this would be a long one, we’re still in Brussels and we’re already several paragraphs along…
Our plane took us from Brussels to JFK and there we got on an LAX-bound plane. We weren’t too impressed with American Airlines, maybe because Jet Airways had been such a treat, who knows? The food and inflight entertainment weren’t anywhere near as good, especially on the domestic flight from JFK to LAX.
After arriving at LAX we went straight to Alamo to pick up our rental. A Chevy Impala would be our vehicle for this trip.
We made our way to our first hotel: the Beverly Garland Hollywood. We chose this hotel because it offered a shuttle service to Universal Studios. We had dinner at the hotel where I almost fell asleep in my plate, barely powering through the jet lag!
November 2nd was the real start of the trip, and also my birthday, and we spent it at Universal Studios.
Definitely not a shabby way to spend a birthday. The weather was absolutely gorgeous that day and we had a great time. The Jurassic Park ride was a bit more intense than I expected (but I did enjoy it), I loved the Simpsons Ride and of course the Studios Tour, narrated by Jimmy Fallon. We also went to the Waterworld stunt show with was very cool.
Later that day we got in the Chevy and went up to Griffith Park Observatory to take a look at the Hollywood Sign and drove to the Walk of Fame and Kodak Theatre to see what all the fuss was about. If you’re ever in LA you should go to the Walk of Fame, but really, this area is not where you wanna hang out because of its lovely vibe.
We left Hollywood behind and went to The Grove that evening for some window shopping and frozen yoghurt, so LA.
The next day we thought we’d give Beverly Hills a try.
We walked around Rodeo Drive and marvelled at the stores and cars and we went by The Beverly Wilshire Hotel for a quick peek.
LA has many beaches, we went to Venice Beach and later that evening we also went to Santa Monica to check out the pier, but unfortunately we were too late, everything has just closed down…
I can’t say I love or even like LA, it’s definitely a place you should go to if you’re in the area, but I really wouldn’t go back. You can’t do anything on foot, it’s so big and all the different areas just make it a confusing place to visit.
So time to leave the City of Angels behind and get this road trip started. We were heading north along the beautiful coastline, on our way to our next hotel.
We stopped in Santa Barbara for some lunch and a little walk by the water. Our next place to stay was the Best Western Plus Shore Cliff Lodge in Pismo Beach. I had never heard of this place before, it was recommended to us by the USA specialists at Thomas Cook. They offer pre made self drive trips, but you can customize the whole thing which is what we did.
Okay, back to Pismo Beach, what a charming place.
The hotel was stunning, especially its location. We wanted beautiful coastal views, and boy, do you get them here. There was a cute gazebo on the property, I could just imagine getting married there all over again.
We shopped a bit at Premium Outlets, it’s really small, but no crowds either, so a winner in my book. We had some great food at Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ, I loved my Pulled Pork Sandwich and there were some Garlic Fries involved that looked awful (déjà mangé vibes) but tasted great!
We continued our coastal journey north the next day and headed to Monterey, passing through Big Sur along the way.
In Monterey, we stayed at Casa Munras which was ok: nothing more, nothing less. We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, great place, especially for kids, it’s very educational and interactive.
After breakfast at Denny’s (oh yeah) it was time for a little city trip within the road trip: next up was San Francisco.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway Hotel, not the prettiest but perfectly located for us.
We went to Union Square Park, Chinatown and thought we’d take a little stroll to Coit Tower. Man, that was a tough walk. Do not underestimate the hills of San Fran…
The day after our introduction to this cool city we went to the Fisherman’s Wharf and got on a boat to visit Alcatraz.
Our admission ticket to Alcatraz included 48 hours of HoHo access. That is the Hop On Hop Off bus, and as touristy as it may be, we were really happy we took a few tours on these. You just get to see so much without too much effort. We actually went on 3 on the City Sightseeing tours to make the most of it and because those hills were killing us!
The first one was the Golden Gate Bridge Tour with Sausalito, great if you want to see the Golden Gate Bridge up close and explore Marin County.
The next day we hopped on the bus for a tour that took us to Golden Gate Park, where we visited the California Academy of Sciences, Alamo Square, Haight Ashbury,..
The last one we did was the Night Tour, which didn’t take us to any new places (I think), but it was fun to see the city at night. We had beautiful weather here, blue skies with plenty of sunshine, but it was so cold! That’s what I remember from that Night Tour: the cold.
We had dinner at The Stinking Rose, a garlic restaurant. It’s bit of a gimmick, but it wasn’t bad, maybe a little overpriced.
We also had our first Cheesecake Factory experience here, at Union Square Park. “We’ll just share a slice. Oh, milkshakes! … Let’s not share a slice though, that way we can try at least 2 kinds of cheesecake, you know?”. Result: no appetite for dinner.
We even went to Hooters, all I can say about that is that the burger was ok.
After all the HoHo action, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to continue our road trip. Next stop? College, baby!
On our way to Napa Valley we stopped by Berkeley to see what campus life is all about. We saw a group of students getting French class outside, in the sunshine. Yes, loved it! We walked around and it was everything you think it’ll be from watching movies and tv series.
In Napa we stayed at The Meritage Resort, words cannot describe how amazing this place is. There was a little sign at the reception desk congratulating us (and some other guests) on our recent wedding, which was the best!
The room was breathtaking and they had a dvd library, very cool.
The concierge gave us little route to follow for the vineyards.
Tasting was not gonna happen, I don’t drink wine and my husband was driving, but it was a beautiful route around Napa Valley. You don’t have to be into wine to appreciate the stunning sights here.
I would love to come back here for a longer stay and lunch or dinner at The French Laundry. Yountville is the cutest place, definitely stop by here if you get the chance.
The next day we had breakfast at Denny’s again (an absolute disgrace in a place like Napa, I know, I know) and were ready for Yosemite.
After a beautiful ride we arrived in Yosemite National Park where we stayed at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. We would have loved to stay at The Ahwahnee, but for a reason I can’t recall now it wasn’t possible at that time.
Our Chevy Impala took us along the major vista points of the park to see the valley, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall,… We took a little walk, but no actual hiking or anything. It’s beautiful park, you can’t help but be in awe of everything you see there.
Death Valley National Park was our next destination, we made stop at Bakersfield where we stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton just because it was a very long drive.
After that we made it to Death Valley National Park, quite a change in scenery from the green, tree filled Yosemite where there was even a bit of snow. We weren’t able to check in yet, so we had lunch at the golf course there. All that bright green grass in Death Valley was a strange sight.
After that we checked into our room at Furnace Creek Ranch and got in the car again to see the park. Of course not without buying plenty of water to take with us, even if you’re not hiking, you should always take water with you. The park is so big, we underestimated it. We left from the hotel, thinking we could drive around and head to Scotty’s Castle, even if it wasn’t open anymore, we would see it on the outside.
It started getting dark and we realised trying to make it to Scotty’s Castle was useless so we went up to Rhyolite, one of the ghost towns across the border in Nevada. We also quickly pumped some gas, because we felt like we had very much underestimated this place and the distances to get anywhere.
The next day we did a little tour in the vicinity of the hotel, which took us to Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette.
We then made our way out of the park and made a final stop at Badwater Basin.
Death Valley is one of the most impressive, surreal and beautiful places I have ever been to. It’s unlike any other place I had ever seen then and it is a must see!
An even bigger change of scenery was upon us, we were on our way to our final stop: Las Vegas!
Las Vegas is one of those places you have to see to believe. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, so if you think you’re gonna find it tacky, you will. If you think you’re gonna love the glitz, you will. I loved it for the short duration of our stay, embrace the tacky kitsch!
To end our honeymoon in (Vegas) style, we stayed at The Venetian, an all suite hotel.
We said goodbye to our Chevy Impala after our arrival.
We did some outlet shopping again and checked out not only our huge hotel, but also the other hotels on the Strip. The roller coaster at New York, New York, the fountains at The Bellagio, The Mirage Volcano,… My husband also went on those crazy Stratosphere-rides, I don’t regret not doing that!
Las Vegas is one of a kind, like it or not.
We had one more National Park on to check off the list: Grand Canyon National Park. Because it was our honeymoon we had decided to just go all out and take a helicopter tour. Yes, I am afraid of flying, but for me this was better than flying in a plane.
We had booked the Papillon Grand Celebration tour, like all the other pre booked activities, with Thomas Cook.
We were picked up at the hotel and the bus took us to Boulder City where we took off in the helicopter. We were joined by another couple and saw the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead before flying over the Grand Canyon.
You don’t just fly over it, you actually land in it as well. Our helicopter, along with a few others, landed on a beautiful spot with a great view of the Colorado River.
Even more, we were having lunch there as well. Champagne (which I don’t drink, but it’s the thought that counts!), sandwiches, a cupcake, and the most amazing view, what more can you want?
We took off again to go back to Boulder and got some great views of the Grand Canyon. The bus dropped us off at the hotel again, great service.
This tour is not cheap, it’s quite expensive.
Is it a must? No way, I’m sure there are other ways to enjoy the majestic Grand Canyon. That river trip on the Colorado looks awesome too, for example.
But do I regret it? Again: No way, this was a special occasion and I’m glad we did it, it was absolutely breathtaking.
There were a few more very Vegas things we couldn’t not do: room service and an all you can eat buffet.
Breakfast was not included at The Venetian so one morning we went to the Bellagio for an all you can eat breakfast buffet. I don’t think I even managed to see all the food, let alone eat it.
You can’t stay in a suite and not have room service, right? (says the expert who has stayed in a suite once in her life). So on our last night we did exactly that.
This was an amazing trip, and one that many people start their USA trips with. It takes you to a lot of well-known places and is a good mixture of city and nature. It’s very tourist friendly, so the West coast is a great area to do your first road trip.
Have any of you done this route, or a similar one?
Come back next month for another road trip!