My 8 Day West Coast Road Trip in the USA
Possibly my favourite trip to America was an epic adventure around the west coast. From Las Vegas to LA, and everywhere in between, this was one of the most eye-opening, jaw-dropping weeks I've ever had. In just 8 days, two friends and I road-tripped for over 2,000 miles to see some of America’s most iconic landmarks, leaving our footprints and making memories.
Day 1 - Las Vegas
We caught a red-eye flight from New York to Las Vegas on a budget airline. This was my first time in Vegas, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d prepared myself by watching films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Hangover, and What Happens in Vegas. Basically, I had the impression I was either going to get rich or get killed by a tiger. Of course, neither happened.
We spent the day crawling across the Vegas strip. The city is in the middle of the Nevada desert, so the temperature was around 38 degrees - with no breeze. We checked out iconic shops, cool bars, and the famous casinos. For the safety of our wallets, we decided to the leave betting for another time.
After eating at an all you can eat buffet, we dabbled in some roulette and blackjack. We learned quickly that money evaporates in Vegas, so after a while, we went and checked out the famous Bellagio fountain. We had an early morning, so for the purposes of this blog, I’ll say that we retired at a decent time.
Day 2 - Grand Canyon
The early morning saw us chasing the sunrise across the desert. We had a 4-hour drive, with nothing in front of us but open road and canyon rock. We passed the time by listening to classic American Rock - Bruce Springsteen, Guns & Roses, and Aerosmith, for example. We should have rented motorbikes instead of a car. As soon as we hit the Grand Canyon National Park, our jaws hit the floor. We spent the day gazing into the canyon, just trying to absorb it all in. The pure natural beauty of the canyon is hard to describe, with the stunning contrast of the red rock chasing an endless horizon. We didn’t stick around to catch the sunset, as we had planned to visit The Hoover Dam on the drive back to Vegas. I was turning 23 years old at midnight, and Vegas was calling me.
We made it back to Vegas and spent the evening touring the strip. I won’t go in to detail, but all in all, it was a good start to 23.
We didn't realize we were making memories...we just knew we were having fun.
Day 3 - Arriving at Yosemite
Another sunrise start saw a long road trip from Las Vegas to Yosemite National Park. 9 hours of driving on roads with no sign of life and the volume turned up full blast meant any lingering headache was soon gone, and sheer appreciation for life set in again. One of the most memorable moments of the entire road trip was crossing the state line from Nevada into California for the very first time. That made it 3 bucket list goals checked off in a matter of 24 hours.
Late in the afternoon we reached Yosemite and started to wind our way through the National Park roads to our Campsite. We just missed the summer bush fires and as the sun began to sink into the sky we stopped by a lake to see nature at its best. We ate like kings that night at our glamping site (glamorous camping). I washed down a filthy good Wild Boar burger with some local craft beers. The others went to bed early so I grabbed some more golden nectar and headed to our hammock to spend the last few hours of my birthday watching the Yosemite night sky. I’ve never seen stars as bright in my life.
Day 4 - Touring Yosemite
We had a full day to explore the wonders of Yosemite National Park. We drove for miles, winding our way through the mountains, until we reached the peak opposite to the famous Half Dome - a commonly used Apple computer background. We spent the afternoon hiking some nature trails to see waterfalls, rivers, lakes, wildlife, and generally unbelievable views. After catching another epic sunset, we headed back to our campsite to use the outdoor jacuzzi and chill out under the stars.
Day 5 - Arriving to San Francisco
It’s easier to find Wally than an exit in Yosemite, but we eventually found it, and started our drive to San Francisco. We arrived around mid-day, and soon found that parking in San Francisco is somewhat difficult and expensive. We rented some bikes and cycled The Golden Gate bridge before heading to the beach to chill out. That night, we hung out with some old friends from summer camp in the city. We grabbed some pizza and discovered how cosmopolitan San Fran really was. We were woken up in the middle of the night by severe shaking and car alarms going off. Believe it or not, we actually experienced one of the biggest earthquakes on the West Coast in recent years.
Day 6 - San Francisco
Another early morning start took us down to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. We were early enough to grab some tickets for a tour to Alcatraz prison. The audio-enhanced walking tour tells some seriously epic stories about the history of Alactraz, including Al Capone, the prison guard coup, and the escaped convicts’ breakout plot.
That afternoon, we sampled the seafood on the Wharf, and rode across The Golden Gate bridge to a nearby lighthouse for a view of the bridge and the city. On the way back, we drove down the famous Lombard Street, before catching the old tram system back to the wharf for some drinks and more food.
Day 7 - Route 1 to LA
Looking back, it seems hard to imagine that this road trip could get even better, but I’d say that this day was arguably the best day of my life. I’m not sure that anything I write here can do it justice. We drove from San Francisco to Orange County, along the Route 1 Pacific Coast road.
We set off with the sun shining, the Beach Boys playing on the iPod, and the fresh ocean breeze on our faces as we raced down the coastal road. We stopped off at some quirky towns along the way, and grabbed more fresh seafood. There was an amazing part of the journey, where the music and conversation stopped, and we pulled the car over to get out and take in the view. If you’ve ever seen The Shawshank Redemption (highly recommended), it made me think of a quote from Morgan Freeman’s character, Red.
‘I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams - I hope.’ Well it is blue. It’s indescribable - you just have to see it yourself.
As the sun began to set, we checked into our campsite at Big Sur. We heard about a cool spot (with a hidden entrance) called Pheiffer beach. We found it and followed it down, and caught another outrageous sunset to end the day.
Day 8 - Los Angeles
This day was seriously packed. We covered a lot of distance, but we had time to stop off at Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. In LA, we spent some time walking around the Boulevards of Hollywood. As a film fanatic, I made it my mission to visit Paramount Film Studios and Beverly Hills. As the sun set, we headed to The Griffin Observatory to see the smog lift over LA and reveal the bright lights of the city against the famous Hollywood Sign. We climbed back into the car to finish the final stretch of this trip by visiting more summer camp friends who lived near Huntington Beach in Orange County. This night was also the time I discovered that true love really existed - it was in the form of a burger. If you get a chance, treat yourself to an In-N-Out double double burger with animal style fries.
Before the road trip with friends came to a bittersweet end, I also managed to visit San Diego, Zion National Park, and the Orange County beaches, all of which were pretty incredible.
If I had to say one thing about my trip to the west coast of America, I would say it to the west coast of America. I’d say that I don’t want my heart back, I just want the pleasure of losing it all over again, next time I visit.