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There have been probably written many articles about road trips on the west coast of the US, but I wanted to give you my version of our trip we have done in 2018. So let’s check out how did we survive and everything we have seen.

Most of you have probably reserved time during the year for your vacation either you are working, studying, or just passing by. One of the biggest problems isn’t where you want to go, but how to manage time to make it. Well, I guarantee you won’t have time to see everything and if you are traveling with more people you have to find the right balance to satisfy everyone’s expectations. For example, I was traveling with the girls their flight from Los Angeles was a week before mine. So I had enough time to explore LA and its surroundings, but I have done the road trip faster than I actually could have. But you can’t set up everything perfectly, right?

1. DAY  – Vegas! 

If you are traveling from the east coast, most likely you will find flight tickets cheaper to Las Vegas. We flew from Washington D.C. with Frontier Airlines for around $80 with luggage. The flight was approximately five hours long and right after you get off the plane you see many slot machines. When we got to the arrival hall I didn’t know if we are still at the airport or they have already dropped us off at the casino. So we arrived in Vegas around midnight and since we had to pick up our car the next day early in the morning, we saved some money and overslept at the airport. 

Such a great feeling to wake up in the morning at the airport and realized that it wasn’t a dream and you are seriously in Vegas.

So the next morning we got into a car rental where they sent us to pick a car. We decided on the white one because it had a nice color. No, seriously, it was Nissan Versa and if you don’t want to suffer from the lack of space, you should choose another car. We chose this car because of the price, of course. 

Four girls and three big suitcases, whom one was sitting with us on the back seat.

Since we started the day really early, within this day we saw Las Vegas Sign, drove through the Las Vegas strip, checked-in a hotel, took some time at the pool area, went up on the Stratosphere tower, see the fountains in Bellagio hotel, which plays every half an hour for several minutes. 

If you want to keep your trip on a budget, definitely plan your stay in Vegas during the week, when the rooms of the most luxury hotels cost just around $30 compared with a price during the weekend which could be easily around $200. We decided to stay at the Stratosphere hotel. It’s at the end of the strip, but the part of this hotel is also the Stratosphere tower, which is by the way the highest observation deck in the US. If you book a room in this hotel (even during workdays) you get the $5 off. During the day you can ride the rollercoaster or do bungee jumping and at night enjoy a cocktail in the sky lounge. 

To Vegas inevitably belongs chilling in the pool, so if you don’t have one, here are the best in Vegas.

We were waiting for this picture in the strong sun for at least 15 minutes. And, of course, Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas if there wasn’t an imitator of Elvis Presley singing to a just married couple. That’s why that waiting. 

2. DAY – The highest dam in the world and Route 66

If you go from Vegas early in the morning you can see Hoover Dam, the highest dam, which is one hour’s driving from Vegas. For Hover Dam, you will need up to one hour.
By the way, this is a really cool thing which is placed on the other side of the dam. After walking in this strong sun, you will need it.

If you are heading to Grand Canyon, I recommend you to stop in a town called Kingman in Arizona. You can find a museum on Route 66 where are all those old stuff, including cars, related to Route 66. This stop will take you around two hours if you want to eat, too.

Kingman is also called the heart of historic Route 66.

There is also another town, that is a well-known stop on Route 66. In Seligman you will find some museums, old cars and gas stations, buildings, or typical steakhouses and bars. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop in this town, but judging by the photos it looks great. 

From there it’s not so far to the Grand Canyon National Park. Here you can use your Annual pass (if you are planning to go to the other parks too) and the prices for the motels are around $40-$50/night.

When we arrived at the first viewpoint in Grand Canyon, the sun was already beyond the horizon, but the canyon looked still amazing. I really recommend you to enjoy the places of historic Route 66 and stop in Seligman, as well. Those towns have their charm that worth your time and you can hit the road to the Grand Canyon after the sunset, oversleep in the park and enjoy it the next day.

3. DAY – Sunrise over the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley 

Seeing Grand Canyon during the sunrise was one of the best expressions of this road trip. I totally recommend it! If you be at the viewpoint around 6 AM, you will see this amazing and enormous canyon from a different perspective, and you can start your day sooner. We spent around an hour in the canyon and on the way out we had time to stop at the other viewpoints.

For 2 PM we had booked a tour in Upper Antelope Canyon. From Grand Canyon, there are just two hours of driving to a town called Page. Behind this town, you can head straight to Antelope Canyons. There are actually two of them and we wanted to go to Lower Canyon, so we were hoping there is gonna be a free spot. We booked the tour to Upper Canyon two weeks before the road trip through Ken’s tours, because Lower Canyon was already booked. This canyon is more popular, it’s wider, people consider it more beautiful and it’s situated from the east to the west, that’s why it gets more illumination than Upper Canyon. But in general, both canyons are spectacular around midday. To the Upper Canyon, you can book tickets in 5 agencies and to the Lower just through two. 

When you arrive at the place you can still get into the line and wait until they have some free spot, but that’s just about the time and luckiness. We didn’t have any of that so we went to Upper Canyon. At least there were some free spots and we could go one hour earlier. So for one person, you will pay $60, but for Lower Canyon, it’s just $50. At the entrance, you will also pay $8 more as a Navajo National Permit fee. Before you go, take some water, you are gonna spend there around 2 hours and temperatures are high even in mid-September. 

These fancy off-road cars will drive you to the Upper Canyon which takes around 10 minutes.

Be prepared for a “basic course of photography with smartphones” when you go with a tour guide named Juan. But this 50-years old guide knew also something about DSLRs. After his instructions, we have all learned which filter we have to set up on our phones and that we need to turn on the HDR effect on our iPhones. Thanks, Juan! 

The Upper Canyon was really astonishing and in some particular parts quite narrow. The disadvantage is there are more groups at once which might be quite uncomfortable and also the there is a higher concentration of the sand that you will breathe. But it’s still worth it! 

This is the same canyon on the photos you see everywhere and this is how you will see it in reality.

Tip: If you can make it to Monument Valley in the same day and show the receipt from Antelope Canyon, you supposed to have the entrance for free. But before planning make sure this information is still valid and ask your guide in Antelope Canyon.

In Monument Valley, you can be in around 2 hours with a short stop in Page for a lunch. Honestly, this was probably the most difficult day, the places are farther from each other and days are short.

Monument Valley belongs to Navajo Nation, so you can’t use your Annual Pass here. The entrance fee is $20 for a vehicle if you want to drive down in the valley. For us it was a bit late, so we stopped just at the parking lot where you can have a quite nice view. We were actually really close to that iconic place where Forrest Gump was running, but unfortunately, it was getting darker and darker. In the parking lot, we met a group of other travelers we met in Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Since we didn’t have a place to sleep they offered us to stay with them. Once again, thanks for this! 

4. DAY – Horseshoe bend and Bryce Canyon

The next day was also quite tough. We got back to the Page town and after a couple of hours, we appeared to be in Horseshoe bend. It’s right behind the city next to the main road, you can’t miss it. In the parking lot, there are also toilets. 

To see the canyon you will need to walk around 10 minutes, don’t forget to take a bottle of water and something for your head.

So we spent at this place around an hour you don’t have to hike you can just go around take some photos and enjoy the spectacular view. After lunch, we were heading to Bryce Canyon. The journey took us around three hours we finally approached the visitor center of the canyon. The park is a bit farther from other places, but if you think you have time and energy to drive there, you can make it. We made it and don’t regret. 

Bryce Canyon is popular also for its natural tunnels.

We reached the park something about 4 PM which is the perfect time to see the canyon still illuminated. At the entrance to a visitor center, you get the map of the park. Since the park is quite big, like most of the parks in the US, you will need a car to drive around and see something within a few hours. There are many viewpoints and are right next to the road, so it’s just up to where you want to stop and for how long. You can even see wild animals like deers, close to a road.

After around three hours spent in the park (even though it deserves more) we set off in the direction of St. George town, where we booked a motel in advance. We arrived quite late, around 10 PM, like almost every day.

6. DAY – Zion National Park

Early in the morning, we headed to Zion. The first time a whole day for one place. You can get to Zion either from Bryce Canyon or from St. George town. Another park that is too huge for exploring it during a single day. The most popular tracks are Angles Landing (4-5 hours), Observation Point (2 hours), and Emerald Pools (1 hour). We chose the Observation Point that has an approximately 12 km round trip, it’s a really light track (I made it with torn plates in my back) and within an hour you have an amazing view of Zion valley.

We couldn’t really spend a lot of time in the park. A six-hour long drive was waiting on us to Olancha RV Park, where we booked a tipi, a traditional tent before we started the road trip. The plan was also to stop in Death Valley, but this was the only place we couldn’t make it. We were passing through Dead Valley when it was already dark outside and we arrived in California late at night. 

7. DAY – Sequoia National Park

Woke up at the traditional tent in California nature really worth it! There were three queen size beds and even the electricity. If you are curious about unique places to stay around the west coast of the US, check out this article.

After hearty breakfast, we started heading to Sequoia park. For this park, you will need at least one day. There is no way from Olancha so we had to go around the whole park to reach the entrance the park. This will take you around four hours. 
When we were entering the park we had to wait around half an hour because of construction work on the road. But in the meantime, we spotted a bear with her cubs looking for a food around the bushes. Since they shouldn’t be that close to the people, a ranger scared them away with a gun with blanks. So just count also with a delay like this. 

Once you are in the park don’t forget to walk around General Sherman, the biggest tree in the world, General Grand tree, one of the highest trees, and the Giant forest museum, where you will find everything about sequoias. The next spot is Moro rock Trail, with a stunning view. It’s located 2,000 meters above the sea with 360 stairs. There is also a popular Tunnel Log, a tunnel made in a tree across the road. The way to this park is really long and curvy, so be prepared for some time to get to and from the park. Also, be aware of the wild animals while driving especially behind those curves, I almost hit a wolf in a way back at night.

8. DAY – Yosemite National Park

You can spend the whole next day in Yosemite. There is an amazing view from Gracier Point or Tunnel View. On the parking lots are the information kiosk, so better to ask which waterfalls are accessible and if they are not dry. Yosemite is one of the most iconic parks in the whole US and the best what you can do is to enjoy it for one week. But since we don’t have much time one day is still better than nothing. We could make a two-hour track to one of the three running waterfalls in the park and it was absolutely amazing. And it fits very well after long sitting in a car. 

In the early evening, we started heading to San Francisco. Since the journey from Yosemite lasts around four hours, we overslept in Modesto town that is halfway there. If there are two drivers you would be probably able to make it after a long day straight to San Francisco.

9. DAY – San Francisco

Finally approaching San Francisco. Such a great feeling to reach a viewpoint of Battery Spencer with a breathtaking view of Golden Gate. We were lucky to hit the Indian summer in mid-September and had nice weather. Except for this viewpoint, there are many others, but you will need to have more time. When you will be crossing the Golden Gate bridge, don’t forget to pay a toll 48 hours after crossing here. There are many options, but the most ideal is a One-Time Payment that costs $8.40. You can even pay up to 30 days in advance. 

After arriving at the center, don’t forget to pass by car on Lombard street, the crookedest street in the world with eight hairpin turns. 

The first thing we noticed was there are many homeless people around. Some of them even camp on the sidewalks, that’s why it’s not really safe to leave your rental car parked outside. Instead of that, you can plan your stay in South San Francisco that is one of the safest parts of the city. If you want to go by car around the city it’s better to keep it inside a secured parking lot. You will pay around $30 per day, but it’s safer than let it outside if you are worried. So about the transportation in general, we didn’t use the metro at all, we usually hoped on a bus and checked the transfers in advance. 

It’s really common to see homeless people sleeping outside the stores in a busy center during the day. 

Our hosts on Airbnb left for their guests a list of the most dangerous places in San Francisco to avoid them. 

That’s why rather check the danger zones in the city before booking any place.

So one of our first stops was the Alamo Square. It’s a nice park and I really encourage you to google the pictures, but what you can’t google is an almost naked dancing guy.

10. DAY – San Francisco

So our plan for the next full day in the city was to go to Golden Gate Park that was really beautiful. But If I could decide one more time, I would have visited Alcatraz. We thought we wouldn’t have much time for that, so we didn’t book a tour in advance. If you are interested to go it will take half of your day and make a reservation at least one week in advance. The tour costs $30 and of course, it’s better to avoid crowded weekends. 

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays before 10 AM is the Golden Gate park free of cost. Here you can find the Japanese tea gardens and the entrance is usually $8. The park definitely worth visiting, there is even a small observatory from where is a really nice view on some part of San Francisco. 

Apart from this, don’t forget to take a ride on the legendary Cable Car where one ride would cost you $7 and the tickets are for sale when you get on the car. If you hop on Union Square on the way to Pier 39 you can stop in the Cable car museum. Pier 39 is the final stop. On this pier, you will find many souvenir shops, restaurants and you can spend easily a couple of hours there. Another great place is China town, one of the best in America, and Twin Peaks, a hill with a very nice view of the city. But better go by car because there are no buses going up and Uber might cost you a bit more. 

Of course, don’t forget to enjoy the fresh smell of the sea lions.

11. DAY – Silicon Valley and California beaches

It’s time to leave! A 7-hour long journey was waiting for us and we wanted to get to Los Angeles before midnight. We left San Francisco early in the morning and stopped in Silicon Valley. It’s worth stopping in Googleplexe, so you can try to relax a bit in the Android lounge chairs or Google bikes that are by the way just for the employers. 

In total, we spent there a couple of hours and set off the road one more time. There are two ways to drive from San Francisco down to LA. You can take a coast road that is much slower, but nicer or the Google preferred road that is faster. If you have a bit more time you can enjoy the journey, take the coast road and book oversleep somewhere halfway. 

But if you decide to take a faster road you can still have a stop on a beach. We went to Prismo beach, where you can already see the wide sandy beaches typical of southern California. The journey took us eventually around eight hours and yes, we got to LA before midnight. 

12. DAY – Los Angeles  

This day was the last day together and also the last day we had a car. We found the Airbnb in advance, so we booked a Hollywood room. Our hosts were super nice and inspiring people. They have been offering the house for around eight years to different students from abroad and guests from Airbnb.

We found this map in their living room with the pins on the countries where their previous guests are from. So everyone was asked to write the name and the date they spent in the house. This way they already collected tens of pins from people all around the world and the maps are filled quite well. This 50-year old couple was planning (at the time of our stay) to sell the house and for the money saved, buy an RV and travel around the world to get in touch with the people they lived at their house. And this is just one of many examples of the people you can meet during your travel. 

So once we were in LA we went to Griffith Observatory from where you can have a nice view of a big part of the city and if it’s good visibility, even on the Hollywood sign. The observatory is closed every Monday, so better to choose a different day. If you are in a hurry keep in mind that you might find a parking spot a bit downhill so walking up could take you easily 15 minutes. Half an hour is not enough to see the observatory and go through the museum so try to consider buying two hours parking ticket instead of one hour.

The next stop was the Walk of Fame. If you don’t want to spend time looking for your star, here is the map of the stars. On the sides, you will definitely see people begin for the money, but also a lot of mascots and people doing a street performance. 

And the last stop of our trip was the Santa Monica pier. There is a quite big parking lot and for a couple of dollars, you can leave your car nearby the pier. Basically, it’s a one big pier full of people around and some stores, fast foods, and roller coasters. We had a great burger at the beginning of the pier. Don’t miss the table with the sign of the end of Route 66.

Santa Monica pier before the sunset.

So that’s the end of our road trip, I hope this will help you at least a little bit for planning your road trip. If I would sum up the whole trip, it was exhausting especially the timing, but I think none of us regrets and we were traveling back home with the greatest memories and a lot of experiences. The only thing I regret is we didn’t have time to see Dead Valley and Alcatraz in San Francisco, but unfortunately, there will be always something that won’t work for na any reason. The most important thing is to enjoy it!

PS: If you have any thoughts, questions, or updates, let me know in a comment below.

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