I’ve lost count of all the instances when I’ve felt like jumping on a plane to California and living there. I blame all the gorgeous pictures on social media and other places. It had become a much coveted destination for us. After skipping it for other destinations twice, we flew to California this time. They say third time’s the charm! 🙂Now that I’ve seen what Californians brag about, I feel its still underrated (if that’s even possible!). And I seriously envy Californians. I wish I could live within driving distance of all the super cool National Parks and the Pacific Coast. We have tried to capture almost every moment on this trip which was a visual treat to us and hope the pictures sum up all the fun we had.
If you intend to plan a road trip through almost any part of the world, here are some tips to do it seamlessly.
Renting a car is the best and only option of transportation if you’re anything like us, making impromptu pit-stops, photo stops in the middle of nowhere and food halts at godforsaken hours. Fortunately, we didn’t have to get into any rental agreement this time because we drove with our friends in their comfortable car. However, fuel, tolls and parking will cost you around US$ 400.
As always, we relied heavily on Airbnb except for a couple of places where we couldn’t find a suitable one. Holiday Inn and Best Western to the rescue! Fortunately, our friends reside just outside of San Francisco and we can’t thank them enough to let us stay with them.
In big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, you will encounter countless novelty food joints. We tucked into a whole pile of macaroons at Republic of Pie in North Hollywood, feasted on one of the best Mediterranean foods ever at a tiny joint outside Joshua Park named Palm Kabobs in Twenty Nine Palms town. Chowed down the biggest portion of pasta ever seen at The Garlic Clove in Kingman, Arizona. Recommend trying the food at the Malibu Farm Cafe on Malibu Beach Pier. Other must-try places are Gracias Madre for vegan food, Mel’s Drive-in for shakes and In & Out Burgers for Hamburgers. You absolutely can search for many more hidden gems on the route you follow.
Day 0 : Fly from NY to SFO
We took a flight from NYC to SFO and spent the night at our friends’ place. Since we were going to loop back to SFO and explore it at the end, we didn’t have to carry all of our luggage around. Packing smartly helped massively on this roadtrip. I had already segregated clothes needed for SFO apart from the rest of my clothes.
Day 1 : Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica Pier
We started super early and drove all along the Pacific Coast Highway, every now and then stopping for pictures. A quick halt at San Luis Obispo for Thai lunch, which was the only place open due to the fact that it was Christmas day. This offbeat town has definitely retained its old-world California charm.
Charging ahead at full speed (not literally!), we stopped directly at Santa Monica Pier. thought we’d give it a dekko. The vibrant Pacific Park was teeming with exuberant crowd. I’d say watch for your valuables and go crazy on the Ferris wheel. The Christmas decorations brought along festive spirit in every nook. We stretched out and hit the sack at an Airbnb that night.
Options: Solvang, Venice Beach, Marina Del Ray
Day 2 : Universal Studios
The highlight of our trip was this entire day out at Universal Studios. So glad to have had prebooked passes. We kept tab on deals and hit a great offer. The nerd in me rejoiced boundlessly upon stepping in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Gosh! During the 10 hours spent in the park, I spent 5 hours wandering in The Wizarding World alone. Reliving my fantasies. I’ve read the books a zillion times and every single reading had me whisked away into a fascinating world that I could only enter in my imagination. Actually walking into Hogsmeade village was a dream come true. Look at me all nerdy! Ha!
Options: If you’re not so much into theme parks, explore Los Angeles and the area around. Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Lacma LA county Museum of Art, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Drive
Day 3 : Hollywood
Another big day for us because we walked around LA like crazy! We started at the crack of dawn to beat the crowd at Griffith Park/Observatory, which turned out to be a smart decision. For uninterrupted skyline views and best possible pictures from every angle, I suggest you do the same.
I was happy watching the Hollywood sign from there so we decided not to hike towards it. We couldn’t have missed a stroll on the Hollywood Boulevard, squeaking in excitement every time we came across our favorite stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. From there it was a long drive (LA traffic!!) along the Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu beach, but it was worth it. The water was too nippy to take a dip so instead we basked in the sunshine on the pier eating some yummies. To catch up on some work, we lounged at Republic of Pie and stuffed our faces with all the macarons there. Ha! Its a great cafe to work for digital nomads and coffee/pastry lovers. Resuming our roadtrip, we began our drive towards Joshua Tree National Park. It was well past sunset when we reached so we decided to get capture the beautiful starry night sky before dinner. The park wasn’t too far from our hotel stay in the town of TwentyNine Palms. Dinner was one tasty affair at Palm Kabob House in TwentyNine Palms.
Day 4 Joshua Tree National Park
While it was still dark outside, we set out to explore Joshua Tree NP. I’m a sunset lover to be honest, but after having witnessed a magical sunrise here, I’m tied in a dilemma. Once the sun was out we drove through the rest of the park watching the skull rock, jumbo rocks and another stunning landscape from Keys View point. The Joshua trees look weird and some might say grotesque, but in my opinion they were unique and gorgeous in their own way. After a quick lunch, we hit the road again, only to stop at Williams, AZ. Williams is a charming little town that falls on the historic Route 66. We dined at the Historic Brewing Barrel + Bottle House – Williams and I recommend so should you. Stayed at Tusayan, AZ for the night.
Detour: Mojave National Preserve
Day 5 Grand Canyon National Park
My second favorite highlight of this trip – Grand Canyon NP. If you’re like me, smitten by sunrises now, you must stay in Tusayan because trust me, you wont be the only one to watch sunrise at the Canyons. We got to the Mathar point at 5:30am and held a spot to photograph the sunrise. You can also catch the sunrise from Yavapai point. The first glimpse of the majestic Canyons was breathtaking and when the initial few rays of the sun hit the opposite side of Canyons, our jaws were dropped. The sky transformed into a gorgeous shade of fushia and we were left speechless by mother nature! Hungry for more, we explored the Kaibab Trail for a couple of hours and the magnificent Canyons stunned us at every turn. I didn’t want to leave but we had the next destination scheduled in our plan.
Drove to Kingman, AZ that day and spent the night there after a fun casual dinner at The Garlic Clove. I never expected a huge heap of pasta to taste that good in Kingman.
Options: Camp at the base of Kaibab Trail
Detour: Head to the West rim and hike all the way to Havasupai Falls.
Day 6 Las Vegas
We planned our itinerary such that we would be in Las Vegas just in time to join New Years Eve festivities there. Four sleepy-heads drove to Las Vegas via Hoover Dam. First things first, a photo stop at the ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign. The crowd had queued up to get the perfect picture at the sign, but we couldn’t be bothered with that. A quick shot from the side and we were driving past it in no time. After checking in at our Airbnb, we hit the Strip.
We simply couldn’t skip having an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Vegas style buffet while in Vegas so we joined the crowd at Caesar’s for an utterly delicious and wide spread of brunch at Bacchanal. Coupled with bottomless Mimosas, this was one unforgettable brunch experience. There was simply no eating another bite of anything until the next day.
For the evening, we had reserved tickets to see a Cirque Du Soleil show ‘Mystere’. A 90-minute show that completely had us gripped and laughing hysterically every now and then, it was totally worth the time and money. I cannot emphasize enough how convenient it is to have prebooked tickets. You don’t want to waste time in long queues.
Casinos on the Strip are not to be missed. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in gambling unlike my better-half. I just really admire well-designed places. Especially the Bellagio fountain show. It was a long night with music, dancing and unending fun. Somehow we managed to trudge back to our Airbnb at 4 AM and plop ourselves onto comfortable beds.
Day 7 Las Vegas
After the late brunch on the previous day, we directly headed for an Indian lunch buffet at India Mahal in Henderson. Some New Year prep and a quick photo stop at Seven Magic Mountains and we were back at the Strip for New Year’s Eve celebration. Another night spent partying, swaying to live music and watching fireworks at midnight with at least a hundred thousand people out on the Strip.
Day 8 Death Valley National Park
An epic start to the New Year involved driving to Death Valley NP. Not a tree in sight but what a gorgeous place on earth this is! Beauty of raw Earth. We drove all around the park stopping at points like Artist’s Drive, Badwater Basin and Devil’s Golf Course, stopping every few minutes for pictures.
The drive we dreaed the most was from here to San Francisco because we were exhausted. Only halting at Bakersfield for dinner, we continued driving in turns. Our friends were kind enough to let us lodge at their beautiful house in Livermore for a week.
The drive we dreaded the most was from here to San Francisco because we were exhausted. Only halting at Bakersfield for dinner, we continued driving in turns. Our friends were kind enough to let us lodge at their beautiful house in Livermore for a week.
Day 9 Napa Valley
Coming to California and not visiting Napa is like a crime in my opinion. Just kidding! We rented a car and drove to Napa Valley, with me bouncing up and down on my seat. I could barely wait to taste some of the finest wines in the country. We hopped through some wineries that make few of our favorite wines – Beringer, Robert Mondavi and Castello Di Amoroso. Fell in love with the last one and for a good reason.
It was a stunning Tuscan-style fortress right in the middle of California. I highly recommend visiting this winery at least once, I’m sure you will love it just as much. It whisked us away to Italy in an instant and we just never wanted to turn around and come back out. Just to clarify all the doubts, we didn’t dare drive while intoxicated. The wineries close at 5pm so there was no way we could explore the other wineries. Fortunately, we got to see the famous Napa Valley Wine Train. Imagine what a romantic getaway would it be to spend a day on the train whilst sipping fine wines and gaping at the lush green vineyards passing by. A must try, the Il Passito reserve wine with a chunk of sea salt dark chocolate. You will appreciate this recommendation. Ha!
Day 10 San Francisco
You would think after being n the road constantly we would be tired, but there was no time to lay around lazily while there were places to be explored. We would be crazy to not visit the Golden Gate bridge while in the Golden State. Got the best views from Battery Spencer and Vista Point or Crissy Field. Its crowded but you can’t really avoid it. We zoomed around the town stopping to see the Painted Ladies, Lombard Street and other famous city spots.
Options: We didn’t have the time but if you do, I highly recommend visiting Museum of Ice Cream, Coit Tower and Mystery Spot. Grab a bite at Mel’s Drive-In.
Day 11 San Francisco
On our last day here, we took another look at the entire city from Twin Peaks. Later during the evening, we met up with a couple more friends before leaving California. Walked around Fisherman’s wharf and explored the Piers.
Day 12 Back to New York
Early this day, we bid good bye to our friends and California and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to New York.
I wish we had the time to drive north into Oregon and Washington. That will happen soon though, preferably in summer. Next trip to the California will also include Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.