My Notebook of the amazing places I have visited and the memories and experiences I don't want to forget.
During our first trip to the west coast of America back in April-May 2009 our itinerary was very full on, we visited a lot of wonderful places, experienced nature at its best, ate some fantastic food some of which we had never had the pleasure of experiencing before and realised that as soon as we left a place we wanted to go back. This was our itinerary:
24 April – 29 April 2009: San Francisco, California
After checking in to our hotel in the Nob Hill neighbourhood we decided to go out and explore. It was not our best idea to walk all the way to the Mission and try some proper Mexican food. As we were jet lagged the walk seemed to take ages, but it was a good introduction to the city. We had to try a pork burrito in El Farolito (2779 Mission St), the choice of salsas alone was too much. It was really good, but I prefer tacos so we then tried some of the best I’ve ever had at La Taqueria (2889 Mission St). As we were tired due to the long day travelling we returned to out Hotel for an early night.
The following days we spent out time exploring the city, visiting the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and all the shops and stalls inside, walking up and down the many hills in the city, we went to Alcatraz, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and visited Golden Gate Park. We also had time to explore some of the neighbourhoods including those near the Bay (The Presidio, The Marina, Cow Hallow, Pacific Heights and Russian Hill), the central neighbourhoods (North Beach, Chinatown, Financial District, Nob Hill, The Tenderloin, Hayes Valley) and those further south (Missions District, The Castro).
We fell in love with San Francisco from the first day, the city is so beautiful and has so much to offer. On our first visit we didn’t even have time to discover the coffee scene in San Francisco, or try some delicious craft beer or visit any amazing cocktail bars, that would have to wait until our next visit.
See more on our trip to San Francisco in 2009 here.
29 April – 1 May 2009: Yosemite National Park, California
After collecting our rental car we left San Francisco and headed east towards Yosemite, stopping in Oakdale, CA for supplies and lunch, arriving in Yosemite National Park around 3pm.
Yosemite is truly awe-inspiring. We did the usual touristy things like stop at Tunnel View to take pictures, we also walked to Bridalveil Falls and visited Mirror Lake as the sun was setting for some great pictures. After a night at Yosemite Lodge we got up at 6am to see the sun rise. We were also lucky enough to fit in a hike to Vernal Falls returning via the John Muir Trail. The weather was perfect. Driving south out of Yosemite we had time to stop at Mariposa Grove and admire the huge sequoias. Our overnight stop was in Oakhurst, CAand we stopped at what was then Todd’s BBQ (40713 Hwy 41). It was amazing quick, super smoky BBQ and at the end of a long day it was exactly what we needed. This was also the first time we had tried hushpuppies (deep fried corn and cornbread rolls).
See more on Yosemite here.
1 May – 2 May 2009: Lone Pine, California & Death Valley National Park, Nevada
Death Valley was on-route to Las Vegas and it made sense to visit it, I heard great things. We picked Lone Pine, CA as an overnight stop due to it’s location. We didn’t know much about it, but the drive to Lone Pine and the surrounding area was both interesting and beautiful. The drive to the town consisted of a straight road with mountains on one side and desert on the other, no towns for miles and miles. We were not in Lone Pine for long, arriving around 6pm, however we did manage to drive down Whitney Portal Road, an area where Westerns were once filmed. The landscape was like something from the movies, different types of cacti everywhere, dusty rocks, hills with sand everywhere. The next morning we left Lone Pine early and headed towards Death Valley.
Death Valley was so eerie and quiet, there were moments when we stopped, got out of the car and walked when there was no sound at all, just silence. It was amazing how quiet it was, no birds, no insects making noise nothing. We stopped at the Sand Dunes, did a couple of short hikes, one near Golden Canyon and also the Natural Bridge Hike. We visited Badwater, the lowest point below sea level in the US, and it was here that the heat really hit us, and it wasn’t even midday. We then drove via Artists Drive and stopped at Dantes View before heading to Vegas, NV.
2 May – 6 May 2009: Las Vegas, Nevada
We had been to Las Vegas before, we went in 2003 when we had both turned 21 and we really enjoyed it then. It was our first trip to America and Las Vegas was so different to any other place we had seen. It is a city you can get anything at any time if you are prepared to pay for it. It is a city that is open 24hrs a day, always busy, always loud where everything is XXL from casinos to beds and from cars to food. It must also be the travelator capital of the world.
However on this second visit we really didn’t enjoy Vegas as much; maybe because it was extremely busy as it was the weekend of the Hatton-Pacquiao boxing fight (2nd May 2009), but also since we weren’t really into gambling or into any of the music/performance shows there was little that appealed. But as we had a car this time we were able to visit the Outlet Centres and Freemont Street, where we had nice steak but we were the youngest people in the restaurant by a mile. We were also lucky enough to do a short helicopter flight over the strip at night and this was amazing. We also enjoyed the Bellagio lunchtime buffet and ate so much we had to go back to our room for a nap. These buffets are incredible you can get anything from hamburgers to prime rib, from pizza to sushi and everything in between.
Sure Vegas is unapologetically loud, brash, colourful and over the top but it is definitely a place everyone should experience once.
6 May – 7 May 2009: Flagstaff, Arizona and The Grand Canyon
We left Las Vegas and headed to the Hoover Dam via breakfast at the Coffee Cup in Boulder City, NV. This was the first time I had pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, before I never understood how you can have something sweet with meat, however now I love it!
The Dam was very interesting and a great feat of engineering. We crossed the state border into Arizona and then drove a little portion of Route 66 stopping at Seligman, AZ and having a little look around all the touristy shops with the Route 66 memorabilia. Of course we had time to get a malt milkshake in the famous and so over the top Snow Cap Drive In (301 Route 66).
After a night in Flagstaff, AZ we drove towards the Grand Canyon leaving at 7am and entering via the eastern end around 9am. We managed to cram a lot in; driving the Desert Drive, stopping at various view points like the Watchtower and Lipan view points along the way, and did some short hikes like the hike from Shoshone Point which was nice and quiet with not many people around and the views were fantastic. We also stopped at Marther Point, Yavapai Point and Yaki Point where we walked part of the Ceder Ridge Trail. I know that those people that have seen the Grand Canyon with their own eyes will agree its indescribable and totally out of this world. No picture does this justice, it is the perfect illustration of the grandness and beauty of nature. After watching the sunset at Hopi Point we left the park and headed towards Kingman, AZ for our overnight stay. On the way we stopped for our first In-N-Out Burger. One word….life-changing! (why can’t we have them in the UK!!! Why!!!)
8 May – 9 May 2009: Santa Barbara, California
We left Kingman, AZ and headed towards Santa Barbara via a stop at Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner in Yermo, CA and the Route 66 museum in Victorville, CA. The food was good, not amazing but good and both the diner and the museum was good fun with all the kitsch americana memorabilia.
When we arrived at Santa Barbara, CA we discovered that our room had been upgraded to an ocean view suite. The highlight of the room, apart from the sea view was the huge bathroom with a massive bath. We found out that we had been upgraded because of the wildfires in the hills surrounding Santa Barbara meant that people had been evacuated. And those people were given temporary accommodation in the nearby hotels, including ours. We could see the smoke in the distance in the hills and at night we saw embers and fire debris in the sky.
We loved Santa Barbara, as it is a University town there are great places to eat and drink, and the beach is on side and the mountains on the other. It is definitely a place where I could and would love to live. And this is why we went back in 2013, see more on Santa Barabara here.
9 May -13 May 2009: The Big Sur Coast, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
After leaving Santa Barbara we headed north back towards San Francisco, but via Route 1 and the Big Sur. The drive was amazing because of the the constant sea views. We visited the Julia Pheiffer State Park, Pheiffer Beach, Andrew Molero State Park where we saw a most breathtaking sun set with nothing but the ocean and the coast between us and the sun. We spent the night in a motel just off Highway 1 in The Big Sur.
The following day we witnessed the famous morning mist rolling from the sea towards the hills, and stopped at the famous Bixby Bridge. We then drove on towards Santa Cruz, we stopped here for a few hours and walked along the Boardwalk with the famous amusements. Then we drove on towards Monterey where we were staying for 3 nights.
Whilst in Monterey we visited Point Lobos Nature Reserve was which was stunning, and also went to the Monterey Aquarium which both informative and enchanting. We loved Monterey it is in a wonderful location and has a lot of natural beauty in close proximity. We also visited Carmel-by-the-Sea which was a very pretty village with a lovely beach and Pacific Grove which had fantastic views our over the Atlantic Ocean.
See more on The Big Sur and Beyond here.
We also returned to Monterey and the Californian coast in 2013, see more on that trip here.
We then left Monterey behind us and headed toward San Francisco Airport for our flight home.