West Coast Road Trip Review

If you’re planning a trip to the West coast, it may be worth looking at what others have done previously when considering places to see on your trip. Below is an account of the Lewis’ West Coast Trip from 2012. Hope you enjoy:

Travel – Flights and Hire Car

We flew with United Airlines from Norfolk to Las Vegas, then from LA back to Norfolk, transiting through JFK on both legs. Timings weren’t the best but for $250 return, who can complain!

Given the 1700 miles and daily travelling time of up to 7 hours in the car, we opted for a SUV with Dollar, booked through Car3000.com in the UK, as this was a far cheaper option and included insurances, etc. Dollar is not the best hire car company and after a bit of a wait and returning the first vehicle for a loose windscreen, the vehicle we eventually got was perfect and we did not incur any additional ‘one-way’ charge for dropping the car at LAX.

Also, on way home, used the USO lounge at LAX. Although it’s not inside the terminal, it was a great facility to spend a few hours waiting for our flight. Any of the free round-robin shuttle buses will take you to the terminal next to the lounge (can’t remember but 2 rings a bell).

Holiday – Hotels/Attractions

Las Vegas, NV – Stayed in the Hampton Inn Tropicana, just ½ mile off the strip. Shuttle bus ran to Excalibur & Tropicana Hotels. Nice pool and rooms. Good complimentary breakfast. Had 3 nights here, a bit too long for the children, who are restricted in where they can walk inside the casinos. Lots of walking, the Treasure Island show is good if a little busy, mind bags and wallets. Lots to see, but we didn’t realise how much the casinos charged for the attractions (top of Stratosphere, Up Eiffel Tower, Rollercoasters) you could easily let things get out of hand. The Freemont Street Experience, with the light show was disappointing after seeing it 10+years ago. The area has become a little rough and and our eldest was a bit put off by all the undesirables hanging around. Vegas is great, but the new hotels are no longer themed, like the Venetian, Excalibur, Ceaser’s Palace, etc which is a shame.

Drove to Williams to see the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam. Parked up and walked over the impressive dam, but didn’t do the tour.

Williams AZ – Stayed at a Quality Inn, nice and clean reception staff told us about Bearazonia which was a fantastic place for the kids, lots of animals.
It took about 1 ½ to 2 hours to drive from here to the Grand Canyon National park. Another complimentary breakfast.

http://www.bearizona.com/

Got up at 3am to make it to the Grand Canyon for sunrise. Buses start running about an hour before then. Wrap up warm and maybe take a torch (rather than an iPhone!). We went out to Yaki point to watch and it was truly amazing. The early start is a must, even if the children did sleep most of the way around the rim on the drive to Zion. Headed out the East entrance. http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

From here we drove to the North rim of the Grand Canyon and onto Zion National Park, somewhere we hadn’t considered, but well worth the visit. We came in from the north and drove down through the caves and tunnels and it was amazing. Lots to do in the park, lots of trails and a river walk depending on the season. Check with the rangers about children’s ages and size before making the trek to the river as it gets deep in places. If you have pre-teen children, they’ll love the Park Ranger challenges/booklets, that once they have completed is exchanged for a Ranger Badge for the specific park.

Springdale UT (outside of Zion National Park) – Terrace Brook lodge DO NOT STAY HERE awful!

Back to Las Vegas for an overnight stop.

Las Vegas NV – Nellis AFB fantastic accommodation. We were in one of the rooms on the annex of Nellis. For the price it was fantastic. Wish we had thought about staying here when we first arrived in Vegas. Although it is about a 30 minute drive away from the main strip.

From Vegas we headed to Death Valley, amazing scenery, just make sure you have air conditioning and water – wouldn’t want to break down. We stayed in a place called Ridgecrest. CA in a Comfort Inn nice place and the pool was just the ticket after the long drive. Not much in Ridgecrest, but Chris had been on several detachments here and wanted to show us where he had been and it was a good stopover point for Sequoia National Park. Children loved the huge trees, there was a trail called Trail of 100 trees, doesn’t take long and shows you many varieties. The downside was the winding roads, which didn’t go well with those in the back of the car – great journey through some lovely landscape.

Onto Fresno CA – Quality Inn. Again another clean place to spend the night. Small but welcome pool. Found an amazing Mexican called Chevys. Food was lovely and server very friendly. Again complimentary breakfast in the morning. After breakfast we made our way to Yosemite National Park. A bit of a trek to get into and anyone with travel sickness issues should plan for the very steep and winding roads. Amazing place when you get there. Sadly the reason we went, to see the Falls, were pretty unspectacular, but that’s our fault for going in the summertime. Someone has said that the Fall or early spring is the best time to see them. Lots of places to stop and picnic in the park by lovely rivers.

Overnighted at Turlock CA in a Comfort Suites. Good clean accommodation with breakfast. From here we made our way over to San Francisco CA – Motel Capri was not one of our better hotels, but it was in our budget. Rooms were not particularly clean but not as bad as the Terrace Brook Lodge. Took about 30-40 mins to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. Okay in the day time, but I didn’t like it so much late at night. There are parking garages (not cheap) by the Wharf but we didn’t want to lose our place at the hotel as it was limited.

Alcatraz, BOOK IN ADVANCE, gets very busy. We decided on the combined tour of Angel Island as well as Alcatraz – Angel Island is the Ellis Island of the West coast, interesting place and they’ve allowed the ruins to decay rather than rebuild them. The Alcatraz tour was fantastic!

Drive down Lombard street. Just don’t look down! Trolley tours. Nice to do but make sure you know which tour you are getting, we ended up being dropped off miles from where we needed to be and had to find a bus to take us back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

We then left San Francisco, we drove along Route 1 which is the coast road down to LA. Along route we took in Seventeen mile drive which was $10 and went through Pebble Beach golf resort. Nice stops along the way, seals and beaches.

San Luis Obispo CA – Rose Garden Inn. Ok room but we had only booked this hotel because it had a nice pool and after being in the car for most of the day we thought the kids would need it. However when we arrived it was being renovated and we had not been informed. Not very happy. Not many places to eat but the diner next door was okay, if a little over-priced. Hotel had a deal for breakfast in their the following day but we decided to move on and stop for breakfast somewhere else.

Continued along Route 1 and our next stop was Santa Monica for lunch. Had a walk along the pier before heading off the find the Hollywood sign, which is easier said than done. Drove past the Kodak Theatre and Rodeo Drive. Got out at the sign lookout but it was a bit far away, but at least the kids could see it.

Onto Disneyland CA – Cortona Inn and Suites. We booked this and our park tickets through the ITT at Nellis. Make sure if you are going to collect tickets there that you check on opening times as I don’t think they are open on weekends. Hotel was nice and clean with free breakfast and a lovely pool area. Lots of places to eat within the Disneyland area and we could walk to and from the parks in about 25 minutes.

The Cars land area within Disney’s California Adventure’s was very busy, so much so that we never made it onto the Cars ride. With a 4hour wait nothing is worth that.

If you decide on a West Coast road trip during your American Tour, I really hope you have a great time and enjoy it as much as we did – experiences and memories are better than material things!