An American Road Trip, Part Three

by Anna Hilley on 20 November 2015, 17:11PM

One of the longest drives on our itinerary was from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. It took around four hours, but when you get out of the city and towards the park, it is definitely worth it.

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The best way to get your bearings in the park is to do the two hour Valley Floor tour that operates from the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls hotel. This will take you to park highlights such as El Capitan and the Half Dome, with a guide pointing out all the key points of interest. If you still have more exploring to do, there are over 800 miles of trails to cater for all levels of fitness. Unfortunately we were there during the dry season, but you only need to look at the magnificent surroundings to imagine how dramatic Yosemite Falls would be in its full beauty.

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We stayed just outside the park itself at Yosemite View Lodge. Our room had a huge spa bath and a balcony looking out over the river. This was ideal for star gazing and relaxing after a busy day in the park. With an on-site restaurant, take-away and shop, all the essentials were on our doorstep.


After our night in the wilderness we headed back to the ocean with the hope of seeing some whales in Monterey bay - we were not disappointed! The weather when we arrived was a little overcast and grey, so we headed indoors to the Monterey Bay aquarium. We were able to get free entry with our San Francisco city pass, and for anyone in the area, it is definitely worth a visit. We arrived just in time for the penguin feeding and also got to see sea otters being fed too.

As we were heading outside to the viewing deck we noticed some of the staff pointing out to sea. We headed over and, without even the help of binoculars; we saw a huge blue whale pass by right in front of us. I had seen this on a documentary shown only a few weeks before our trip, but could never have dreamed of seeing this with my own two eyes.

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After our afternoon exploring the aquarium, we got back in the car to explore the surrounding area. We headed south along Big Sur and one of the most beautiful coastal road I have seen. I was so thankful not to be driving as the views were far too distracting.

We were headed to what was one of my favourite spots of the whole trip, McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This is an 80 ft waterfall that flows directly into the ocean at high tide and is surrounded by an inaccessible and therefore unspoilt sandy cove. The trail out to the view point is really easy to get to and we were lucky enough to get there just in time to see the sun set over the sea. This is definitely one of the best places to stop off along Big Sur, but you really are spoilt for choice as there are places to stop all the way along.

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After the excitement in the aquarium the day before, the next morning we went straight along to the pier to book ourselves on a whale watching trip. We decided to go on one of the smaller vessels that were available which made it even better as it was less busy. The trip lasted around four hours and although you can never guarantee a sighting, during the peak season, most people are pretty lucky - we certainly were! The ocean in the surrounding area is a playground for a huge variety of whales and we were lucky enough to be surrounded by around twenty on our trip out to sea.

After a day at sea, we headed out for dinner in the nearby Carmel by the Sea -just 15 minutes drive from Monterey. The meal we had at the Flying Fish Grill was by far the best food we had eaten on the whole trip. This family run fusion restaurant in Carmel Plaza had fantastic service and mouth watering food and wine to match. I would highly recommend it for anyone in the area.

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Sad to say goodbye to Monterey, we headed further south to the Riviera of California - Santa Barbara. If you have made it this far in California without wine tasting, Santa Barbara is the place to do it. On our drive to the Mediterranean style town, we drove through vineyard after vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara is ideal for anyone who is short of time and wants to try out the best the region has to offer. With all the tasting sights within the downtown and beach area, you are able to have the experience without having to worry about driving home, best of both worlds!


We spent an afternoon relaxing on the beautiful beach watching the sailboats and soaking up some of that famous Californian sunshine. In the evening we went to The Lark which was a short walk from our hotel. There was a really good atmosphere in this trendy restaurant, where you are encouraged to choose a few dishes and share them. The food was delicious and they had a good selection of local wines. It was a really nice, casual dining experience.


Heading towards Los Angeles meant our trip coming close to its end. We split our time in this huge city, with two nights at the beach in Santa Monica at the Viceroy Hotel and two nights in the glitz and glamour of West Hollywood at the Mondrian Hotel.


In Santa Monica we headed to the world famous pier and original Muscle beach. The pier has many restaurants and shops, is great for people watching and when you make it to the end, a great view of the Pacific Ocean.


The Viceroy Hotel was a great place for our stay in Santa Monica. Just a five minute walk to the beach and the same to Third Street Promenade, for great shopping and restaurants, the hotel was in the perfect location. The pool was a great spot to catch some rays and relax, or for those feeling more energetic, the hotel had bikes you could borrow for free, ideal for the short ride to nearby Venice Beach.


Our last two nights of our unbelievable trip were spent in West Hollywood. The Mondrian hotel was in a perfect location on Sunset Boulevard, easy to get to all the main sights. We made sure to tick all the tourist attractions off our list, with a trip down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a visit to the Chinese Theatre and of course the Hollywood Sign. Having been to LA before, I was still determined to get the perfect shot of the Hollywood sign. On this trip we headed into the hills, along the steep and twisty streets to Lake Hollywood Park. Not only is it a lot quieter than most spots, but you can drive all the way there and it is definitely the best place to get that iconic photo.

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My favourite thing about LA is the variety of things available to do, a lot of them at no cost at all. Although such a huge and built up city, the trails and hikes available in the surrounding area give you a break from the fast paced city. For example Runyon Canyon is easily accessible, not too challenging and often a very good area for a bit of celeb spotting. We also spent time in Malibu, home to the beach houses of the Hollywood Elite.


Nowhere does sporting events quite like America, so whilst we were in LA, we went to a 'soccer' game to soak up the atmosphere. Baseball cap on my head and hot dog in my hand, it was great to watch. The game is more of a production with glitter exploding on t the pitch after a goal and kiss-cams in the audience but it was a really good evening and great to see some international stars on the pitch!

Before we knew it our time in LA was up, bringing an end to this amazing trip. The three weeks we spent in California and Nevada really were the trip of a lifetime. From partying in Vegas, whale watching in Monterey and being on TV in LA, we really couldn't have asked for a better holiday.


Doing this journey as a road trip was definitely the best way to see this huge state. It gave us the freedom to stop off and see beautiful scenery and allowed us to fit more in along the way. We went for three weeks, but I could have easily stayed for three months. With so many activities and such variety, there really is something for everyone.

To book your next trip to Anerica click here.


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