My West America road trip : what to see ? what to do ?

17 September 2013, the day I left for the American continent, one of the most beautiful regions of the world : Western America ! If I had to describe this trip in one word it would be “diversity”: large cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, national parks, fantasy villages and Indians territories. In summary, whether you enjoy staying in nature or city escapes you will definitely find happiness over there! A little bit of retrospective on this trip which has been rich in emotion !

  • Day 1 : San Francisco

Arrival in San Francisco and relaxing discovery of the city. Talk a walk to the Ferry Building : this is a really great place, a vast shopping arcade with small shops with things to eat, american cupcakes, mushroom vendors of all kinds, teas, oils, and even more. Go for a cable ride but be careful to choose the correct time as the wait can be sometimes be very long (my own experience ^^).

cable car

The cable car : funny but not the best way to move !

  • Day 2 : San Francisco

After a lovely lunch in a city “diner”, head off in the direction of the Fisherman’s Wharf quarter and more specifically, Pier 39, which is famous for its sea lions drying out in the sun on wooden platforms. Admire the little shops and then visit the Mechanical Museum : this hangar is filled with old gambling machines from another era, it’s really a lot of fun ! When returning to the centre, make a stop in Lombard Street, the most winding street in the world.
In the afternoon, head towards Downtown, San Francisco’s historical district.

diner

Diner 100% from the USA !

jeux

Old game machine in the Mecanical Museum

  • Day 3 : San Francisco

Take a trip in a topless City Bus. This is a cliché but as the city is quite vast, this allows you to see the remote quarters that you would not have had the time to see. On the agenda : cross the Golden Gate, the hippie quarter, and do a brief tour of the city’s horizon. The afternoon will be dedicated to discovering Chinatown.

golden gate

The Golden Gate, the symbol of San Francisco

chinatown

The gate of Chinatown

  • Day 4 : San Francisco

Visit to Alcatraz (it is essential to book your visit in advance on their site web as if you book on the day it will probably be full!). Get your audio guides and enjoy yourself for a good hour visiting the old high security penitentiary, all while following the story of a fictitious prisoner who describes to you his living conditions. You will also discover famous prisoners like Al Capone. This is a visit not to miss ! For lunch, you must definitely taste the local speciality “chowder bread bowls” (the famous crab soup served in a bowl of bread) at Boudin which is one of the must-see places to try this local recipe.
In the afternoon, visit the hippie quarter, Haight Ashbury, a very colorful area filled with totally wacky shops.

alcatraz

An old cell to show us the living conditions of prisoners

quartier hippie

The hippy neighborhood with a lot of colors

  • Day 5 : Yosemite

It is time fetch your rental car and leave the city for some, let’s say, less urban areas. You have 4 hours on the road to connect your second step, Yosemite National Park. The road trip begins, a gulp of coffee in one hand and the other on the steering wheel in the direction of your first park. Take advantage of this short afternoon to discover the points of interest not too far from the park’s Visitor Center and then reach your hotel.

animal

We met a lot of wild animals in Yosemite !

  • Day 6 : Yosemite

The day will be dedicated to visiting Yosemite : begin with Glacier Point, an outlook point situated at 2200m altitude which dominates the valley 1000 meters lower. Think about covering up because you will descend around a ten degrees in the valley at 0°C height where you may even have a few snowflakes ! But the view is fantastic ! About thirty photos further on, you will be back on the road in the direction of Mariposa Grove, the giant sequoias forest.

Next direction is Yosemite Falls, a waterfall ten minutes walking distance away. However, there are many things to see here, it is really up to you to choose what you like and the time you have to spend there. Night in your hotel.

glacier point

Glacier Point : a gorgeous point of view on the valley 1000 meters down !

sequoia

A huge sequoia (yes it’s me the little girl, you can imagine the size of the trunk !!!)

  • Day 7 : Mammoth Lake

Leave in the direction of Mammoth Lake. Cross the park to come out on the East side, the countryside changes quickly, this park is so huge that one can see completely different things on one side from the other. You will spend amongst others the front of lake Tenaya which is situated in the park, the backdrop is magnificent. The snow is still normal for this road which winds between snowy peaks.

A definite stop is in the fantasy city named Bodie. This is one of my most beautiful souvenirs of this stay ! We could think we were back in time in this western-themed village ! Night at Mammoth Lake with view of the ski slopes.

lac

The landscapes are so different in Yosemite !

bodie

Bodie : an amazing ghost town not to miss !

bodie

Inside a house with its old furnitures !

  • Day 8 : Death Valley

300km separates you from your next step, and it’s no mean feat : the valley of death ! You progressively travel from 11° to 38°C in a few hours ! We stop at the Sand Dunes and you could think that you were in the desert with these sand dunes. Night in the middle of Death Valley for a complete immersion !

sand dunes

Sand Dunes : seems like desert, don’t you ?

  • Day 9 : Las Vegas

Discovering the valley of death is over ! While you drive, you you will see colors in full view while Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater are large expanses of salt ! We are 86 meters below sea level: impressive ! Zabriskie Point will be your last stop in Death Valley and will leave you with a wonderful memory.

artiste drive

Artiste drive : a delicious drive here !

badwater

In Badwater, we are 86 meters above sea level !

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point is a lovely view point on this rock formation

However, the ambiance is going to very quickly change : you arrive in Las Vegas, the gaming and excess capital. I advise you to spend the night in the Aria Hotel with a room overlooking the strip. Once settled in, head off to the various mythical casinos : the Bellagio and the Venetian. In summary, this is complete superficiality ! Although opinions on this city are very mixed, I have amazing memories because it is unique and in keeping with what it is ! Why not read my article on the 10 things to do in Las Vegas !

las vegas

Las Vegas et its crazy casinos !!

aria

My room in the Aria Hotel with the view on the strip !

  • Day 10 : Las Vegas

The day begins with the discovery of the casinos that you have not yet seen the day before as well as a stroll on the strip. For those who like poker, this is the ideal place to play ! And for the others, there is shopping ! To admire the sunset, head to the Mandarin Oriental bar which offers a magnificent panorama over the city.

paris paris

We are not in Paris but in a casino which choose our capital for theme !

Day 11 : Zion Canyon

Leave the hustle of Las Vegas in the direction of Utah and specifically, Zion Canyon. You will visit unforgettable national park and then it will be back on the road towards Zion Montain Ranch where you will spend the night. This immersion amongst bisons, horses and canyons is fantastic ! On the program of this late afternoon: relax, read on the terrace with a view of these animals and then dine in the hotel restaurant !

zion canyon

Zion Canyon

zion mountain ranch

The Zion Mountain Ranch : the perfect place to stay !

zion mountain ranch

Inside our lodge with its chic and rustic style !

  • Day 12 : Bryce Canyon

Early morning horse ride (activity offered by the ranch)! In the late morning, it is already time to leave in the direction of Bryce Canyon 120 km from here. Next enter the park which actually forms a loop around the canyon. 20 km further on, we are at the end of this route in a place called Rainbow Point. It’s time for an improvised picnic with a view to take your breath away ! After lunch, get back into the car to climb back onto the loop stopping at each outlook point. Night in a bungalow near the park.

bryce canyon

The perfect place for a lunch isn’t it ?

bryce canyon

Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite parks with its amazing view points !

  • Day 13 : Bryce Canyon

Leave at 7h30 in the morning in the direction of Bryce City to have an excursion, a horse ride in this enviable post code area. After 3h in Red Canyon, you get off enchanted ! Even if you are a novice, do not miss this activity. After a quick lunch, return to Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon to go on a hike in the Navajo Trail (we have chosen this among several but this seemed to be not too difficult for us, if you are more sporty there are others which would be more suited for you !) The view over the canyon from the top is very different, more immersive and it is a great experience ! Night in the bungalow.

cheval

A 3 hours horse ride in Red Canyon : so nice !

navajo loop

Navajo Loop is one of the moderate trails and we understood why when we saw the elevation …

  • Day 14 : Capitol Reef

Head towards Capitol Reef taking the famous Scenic Drive 12, one of the most beautiful roads in the United States. The countryside changes gradually and you pass an arid landscape for an countryside covered in trees. The useable part of the Capitol Reef park is actually very small, only one road or around 15 kilometers where you can do a round trip to observe the natural red and white mural. It is very beautiful to see, but the trip goes by very quickly. Night close by to the park.

navajo loop

Capitol Reef

  • Day 15 : Moab

250 km separates you from your next national park, Arches Park. Explore the various spots and then head towards your ranch where you will spend 3 nights having a break. 3 days without a car, just the superb natural spaces close to the small city of Moab. The Sorrel River Ranch is splendid and I will allow you to discover it here in my article.

arches-national-park-slide

Arches National Park

  • Day 16 : Moab

Day at the ranch. On the agenda, relax next to the pool, a few lengths, read, horses: in summary, life made in USA. This break is welcome because you have already covered 2700km.

ranch

My ranch in Moab for a few days break

colorado river

The Colorado river with a lot of water activities !

  • Day 17 : Moab

Today on the program, an excursion in a 4*4 as you leave Moab. You will discover the Canyolands park via the small trails. You will also see plenty of small wild animals, arches carved in the rock, drawings left by pre-historic Indians, traces from dinosaures on rocks, and a really full program ! And because the best is often left for the last, you arrive at Dead Horse Point . So as not to spoil this, it is the most beautiful outlook point that we have seen since the beginning of our stay ! Night at the ranch.

canyoland

Day tour in Canyonland

dead horse point

Dead horse point : I have no word to describe what I felt at this moment !

  • Day 18 : Mesa Verde

180km from Moab the Mesa Verde site is found. Famous for its troglodytic homes which were built into the cliff. Night close to the park.

mesa verde

Mesa Verde (©utah.com)

  • Day 19 : Monument Valley

Leave for one of the most mythical sites on your route : Monument Valley ! The natural structures have already been gradually visibles as you have been approaching. In the afternoon, you will leave for an group excursion in a mini bus ! If you are like me, the “group” does not enchant you too much, but you will soon understand that your car will have great difficulty traveling on the park’s gravel roads (except if you have rented a 4*4).

In the end, the drive is very pleasant, the guide will explain to you many things regarding the Indians who still live here. Cherry on the cake, you may come across a pack of wild horses ! In the late afternoon, don’t miss the sunset, it is quite simply splendid !

chevaux

Wild horses in Monument Valley

  • Day 20 : Lake Powel

Leave early in the morning in the direction of Page in Arizona. The afternoon will be dedicated to Lake Powel ! The best way to discover it is to rent a boat ! Night in Page.

bateau

Boating is the perfect way to enjoy the lake (©arizona-dream.com)

  • Day 21 : Lake Powel

A more peaceful morning where you can go on a drive and take your time admiring Lake Powel while taking dozens of photos. At the beginning of the afternoon, go to the meeting point of your excursion for Antelope Canyon. Obligatory guided visit as there are many many people and the site in itself is quite vast. Rather be psychologically prepared for the influx of tourists !! You will embark in your enormous truck in the direction of the canyon. Once you are inside, your Indian guide will show you the things to see and the good photos to take. You will advance, one behind the other, and this is the only way to see this exceptional natural site ! Night in Page.

antelop canyon

When I explained to you, Antelop Canyon is really narrow and they need a good organisation !

antelop canyon

It is so magical !

  • Day 22 : Grand Canyon

Back on the road in the direction of Tusayan, a city situated next to the Grand Canyon (south bank) from where the majority of helicopter flights leave. After a quick lunch, you arrive at the aerodrome for your 25min flight (or more). This is without a doubt the best way to discover this canyon. You can find out more in my article which is all about it ! Night in Tusayan.

helico

Our helico already leaving !

grand canyon

The flight !

  • Day 23 : Grand Canyon

Today you will discover the Grand Canyon’s west bank ! It is here that the famous Skywalk, an enormous horse shoe above which is a glass walkway : guaranteed sensations ! Obviously, it is unnecessary to specify that it is very touristy! Back on the road for another 200km to reach Las Vegas to spend the night there. On the road, stop at Hoover dam.

skywalk

The Skywalk in mid air !! Avoid it if you feel dizzy !

barrage

The Hoover dam : a nice stop before Vegas

  • Day 24 : Los Angeles

You have reached your last step : Los Angeles ! This mythical city has surely been your dream since forever and now you can finally discover it ! On your arrival, don’t do what we did and explore your hotel surroundings on foot. Clearly this is not a city for pedestrians ! Having a car here is essential !

  • Day 25 : Los Angeles

In the direction of Santa Monica to walk along the seaside ! The Santa Monica Pier, the famous fun fair zone created in 1904 installed on pier and even the beach, you you can spend an hour and then head towards Venice Beach, one of the places you should definitely not miss in LA. The promenade bordered with various shops, clothes, and decor, but the theme is very original !

santa monica pier

Santa Monica Pier

venice beach

Venice Beach : totally crazy !!!

  • Day 26 : Los Angeles

Morning at the automobile museum, really great for those who are interested in cars. In the afternoon it’s the famous Hollywood Boulevard and its Walk of Fame where you will do a quick tour before climbing up the Griffith observatory situated high up with a very clear view over the entire city and on the famous HOLLYWOOD sign.

auto

An old american car

walk

The famous Walk of Fame

  • Day 27 : Los Angeles

Begin the day with a small tour in Downtown, the historical district of the city. This is the oldest quarter of the city with its hispano-mexican roots. If, like us, you are there at the end of October, it will soon be Saints’ Day (or Dia de los Muertos) and the Mexican shops have decorated their signs with the famous death tare!
It is impossible to leave LA without going down Rodeo Drive, a mythical avenue with its luxury boutiques, for a shopping spree reminiscent of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” !

downtown

Downtown neighbourhood and its small mexican shops

rodeo drive

Rodeo Drive

  • Day 28

Return flight to France with your head full of memories !!

good bye

Practical informations

  • I have given you our one month itinerary but it can easily be reduced to 3 weeks. We wanted to take our time but if you take out the pause of a few days at Moab (around day 15) and shorten the stays in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it is quite feasible.
  • Do not estimate the distances, a large part of the days is devoted to traveling but the roads are really beautiful and quite pleasant.
  • Regarding the hotels for the national parks, there are in general 3 possibilities : either sleep in the handful of hotels which are found in the parks (they are very expensive and often full several months in advance which was the case with us), at the entrance to the parks (in general between 5 and 20 km from the entrance), or in cities which are more further away, offering more affordable rates.
  • The national parks often offer a wide range of outlook points, walks and activities. It is crucial to choose ! At the entrance of the park, you will be given a map and a small leaflet which summarizes the main points of interest. Take 15 minutes on your arrival to select what interests you before beginning !
  • Valid question: we have had temperatures close to 0 just as we have had 38° for on the warmest days. You need to foresee bringing warm clothes as well as lighter garments.

Have you already discovered this area of the world ? Which itinerary did you do ? Do not hesitate to share your comments or questions with me in the comments section or on social networks.

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