I’m sure that I am not the only person alive who since their teens has harboured the dream of an American roadtrip. “Let’s just buy an old heap of a car and drive it across America…”
I was planing stuff like this before I even had a driving license. Times change and dreams fade but this idea always sat there in the back of my mind until one day when discussing holiday plans with my girlfriend Lizzie we decided that this dream should be ticked off the bucket list. Armed with a convertible Mustang, a guide to California and the Hotel Tonight App we set off along the Pacific Coastal Highway for a two week (largely unplanned) American Adventure that would take in San Diego, Palm Springs, L.A and San Francisco.
[ezcol_2third id=”” class=”” style=””]
Now, the eagle eyed amongst you will have already spotted that the Mustang chosen for our Californian cruise wears a Nevada license plate and the reason behind this was a holiday make or break decision. Originally the plan was to start South in San Diego (check the map on slide 2 folks) and then work north on The Pacific Coastal Highway (PCH) all the way up to San Francisco. However, it costs considerably more to fly in to one airport and leave from another and it’s the same story with car hire, it was going to cost the best part of a grand to start in San Diego and finish in San Fran. The solution was to fly in and out of Vegas… We felt that was not too much of a compromise!
Our trip started in March so we planned to go south from Vegas, leaving the north a vital week or so to warm up. California is basically a dessert and the south stays pretty hot most of the time – the north is a little more green and a little more windy. The trip from Vegas to San Diego is over 300 miles so we broke the journey with a stop off in Palm Springs. Think 1960’s Kitsch, Palm trees, Spring Break and a great big statue of Marilyn (check out that pigeon for scale).
San Diego was a fascinating place, we stayed 2 nights but could easily have spent the whole holiday there. The Gaslamp district was super cool, Balboa park was tranquil and the Pizza grotto in Little Italy with a queue outside that stretched for over a block served up one of the best meals of the holiday. If you visit San Diego you must make the trip out to Coronado Island (accessible across a massive road bridge, this is America remember). The whole place is stunning, the beach was like something off Baywatch.
Laguna Beach & L.A
Our next destination was L.A and we broke the journey with a stop off in Laguna Beach, famous for its affluence, it’s all year round perfect climate and of course a certain reality TV show. We sat on a bench and drank a Starbucks as we watched dolphins play just off the shore. It’s the American dream.
We decided to spend two nights in Los Angeles as there was so much to see and do and after driving in to L.A (which was an experience I will never forget… 8 lanes of traffic in each direction, a bridge above you full of cars and another bridge below you full of cars… And you are on a bridge full of cars) we decided to park and ride. I can completely recommend the jump-on jump-off bus tours that operate in LA. They run most of the day so we just used them like a taxi service – to get to places we wanted to go to with the added bonus of running commentary whilst onboard. We had a two day bus pass so did half the tour on day one and hoped off at Santa Monica for the night (where we saw the actual beach off Baywatch) knowing we could continue the tour after a well earned sleep. On L.A day two we worked around the rest of the sites and then arrived back at the car. I wouldn’t usually be the bus tour type but it was such a great move, LA is a vast place and I think without the constraints of the bus route we’d have been a bit lost.
The next few days were real road trip territory. Lots of Mustang driving with a stop in Santa Barbara and then north to Carmel. Driving the PCH is unlike any other road I have ever seen, except in movies. We covered 300 miles of twisty turning coastal track in 48 hours, sometimes wide and flat but more often than not narrow and undulating. We enjoyed staggering views of the ocean, beaches with bathing sea lions and birds of prey flying through perfect Californian skies (definitely get a drop top car).
Every day at around about noon we’d stop at a cafe, jump on the wifi and plan where we needed or wanted to be that night. We’d book a room using the Hotel Tonight App . This App is exclusively for late room deals, really late deals! it comes online at 12pm wherever you happen to be in the world (it works in the UK too) and lists reduced price accommodation for that evening only, ranging from cheap hostels to boutique hotels. This allowed us to be free spirits – the only accommodation pre-booked was our first night in Vegas. The really great thing about Hotel Tonight is that once registered (which is free) you can reserve and pay for hotels directly through the App – meaning that all prices are displayed and paid for in Pounds Sterling. Sounds like a small detail but when in the U.S you are likely to be charged for all cash withdrawals and credit card transactions so it really helps keep your accommodation costs from spiralling.
[ezcol_1third_end id=”” class=”” style=””]
The PCH Top 5
There was so much variety and so many WOW moments as we toured the Pacific Coastal Highway that I thought I’d better give my write up some structure… And what better way than to come up with a top 5! I asked myself the question: What made this Road Trip Unforgettable?
- Renting a convertible Mustang
- The beach on Coronado Island
- Driving into LA
- Visiting Carmel
- The Food In San Francisco
This App was an absolute godsend. It took all of the pressure out of finding a place to stay each night. Over lunch we would get on some wifi, discuss where we wanted to be that evening and then see what the App had to offer us. It never let us down and on occasion changed our travel plans for the better when we spotted a good deal or a hotel that took our fancy. The App is easy to use and looks beautiful too, with most places having nice large image galleries to scroll through.
Check out the Hotel Tonight website for more info.
Carmel to San Francisco
Carmel is a tiny place… It’s not on my map but if you find Monterey it’s pretty much right there. It’s full name is Carmel-by-the-Sea but that makes it sound like a second rate english seaside resort which it most certainly is not. Carmel is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history and it is a little bit ‘crazy’ when it comes to keeping its self looking pretty. No one has a post box (too ugly) and every house has a name rather than a number. If you live there (and only a very select 3000 or so people do) you have to go to the town hall to collect your post. You are not allowed to dig up trees in order to build a home and they are currently looking at each square kilometre of Carmel and planting new trees if it is deemed to contain too few. A bit mad but it makes for a truly idyllic environment. A good friend of mine recommended we visit Carmel and it was a top suggestion and one that I pass on to you.
San Francisco was everything I dreamed it would be. Architecturally stunning with people so friendly that they stop you in the street. The food was exquisite. Apparently San Franciso is famous for its cuisine and every tour guide recounts how if you eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner it will take you three years before you’ve eaten at every restaurant in SF. We spent three days there soaking it all in before heading back through the desert to Las Vegas. It wasn’t enough time. We found an amazing Jazz Cafe on our first evening that served pizza (second best pizza of the holiday) and the atmosphere was amazing. It was hard not to go back the next night and do it the same again, like some kind of San Franciscan Groundhog Day… I think that goes for the whole holiday actually. I could revisit California and drive the PCH and have an entirely different experience because there are so many places to see and so many things to do. We didn’t see any of the Giant Reds, we didn’t go wine tasting in the Napa Valley, we didn’t see Joshua Trees and we didn’t go to Yosemite Park. However, we covered 1,865 miles and we had the holiday of a lifetime.
And we can always go back…