money movies magic & more
101-1-5-215-15-10-66-40-93-160-190-99-41-580-80 is the secret code to the most beautiful scenic drive in the West of the US. It is the key that opens the door to money, movies, magic & more. A combination of roads that guides you to the highlights of the Wild West: San Francisco, the Pacific Coast, LA, San Diego, The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite and fertile vineyards.
Day 1 – 3: San Francisco
The dawn of a new San Francisco day usually starts with fog thanks to the embrace of cold Pacific water and warm Californian air. It gives the city its own micro climate with warm winters and sometimes chilly summers. Another present the fog gives is beautiful vistas. To see the hills of San Francisco, or even better, the Golden Gate, peek out from under the white blanket and kiss the golden sun is a true sight. Its looks, its feel, its warmth, its character is what makes that most people fall in love with San Francisco. It is a city that is best discovered on foot. A city that is reached within 30 minutes coming from the airport by BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Day 4 & 5: Big Sur
The Big Sur is the geographical ink pot one of America’s biggest writers used to dip his pen in. It is fairly less populated area of California that runs from Steinbeck’s place of birth, Salinas, to San Louis Obispo. The Big Sur is bordered by the Pacific and houses beautiful hamlets and sights.
Traveling South from San Francisco over US 1 is one of these beautiful sights, one that lasts for hundreds of kilometers. Along the way you pass cool places like Santa Cruz and Monterey, the former sardine capital of the US. After all the sardine was caught, the canaries were abandoned and Monterey crumbled. But the last decades life once again returned to the town, canaries were renovated and the awesome Monterey Bay Aquarium lets you get acquainted with the underwater world of Monterey’s neighbor: the Pacific.
A few miles South of Monterey you’ll find the 17-mile drive. This picture perfect road lets you meander passed the world famous Pebble Beach golf course, the ‘Lone Cypress Tree’, deer, forest and cliffs. After 17 miles of twisting and turning you arrive in Carmel(-By-the-Sea), Clint Eastwood’s habitat. This small and picturesque village offers tons of galleries, great restaurants and fairy tale houses. It is a welcoming place to spend a night or two, eat some seafood and drink some local wines. The next day you forget about the art of Carmel the moment you set your eyes on the kitsch of Hearst Castle. But before you arrive at this bonfire of the vanities, you can meet and greet with nature represented by sea otters, killer whales and migrating whales in Point Lobos State Reserve.
About 100 miles further South you abandon you car for a couple of hours and hop on the only way to get to Hearst Castle: the bus. Starting point is the parking lot at the base of the hill America’s most famous newspaper mogul (and inspiration for the movie Citizen Kane) William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). The bus takes you through what used to be Hearst’s private game reserve to a ‘house’ that with the help of architect Julia Morgan is a Lego building of original antique parts of European homes. It is hard to describe this extravagance other than it looks like a treasure chest that exploded. Best is to go look for yourself.
Day 6 – 9: Los Angeles
After the glitter of Hearst Castle comes the glamour of LA. For many people LA is a city of fallen angels, with traffic jammed freeways as veins and smog as a soul. But LA is so much more than this. It is more than Disney, Hollywood, Venice and Beverly Hills. It is a city of movies, magic and much more.
Modern architecture is one of the treats LA offers you. And most of it is freely accessible. The Crystal Cathedral (nowadays re-baptized into the Christ Cathedral), Getty Museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall are temples of architecture and cathedrals of (religious) art and culture. Korea town offers wonderful restaurants, Venice lets you gape at muscle (beach) as well as more contemporary architecture. Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are guarded by palm trees where Art Deco Griffith Observatory lets you discover the galaxy with the city at your feet. Universal Studios, Malibu, roller skating along the Pacific, BBQ at the beach, catching a movie at Mann Chinese Theatre, tripping over tramps, hands and feet at Hollywood’s Boulevard Walk of Fame, LA offers high brow, low brow, everything in between and…..Disneyland.
Day 10: The Magic Kingdom
On July 17 1955 Disneyland opened the doors to the Magic Kingdom. The Anaheim park is the one and only Disney that was designed and built by the grandmaster himself. The intimate park still has a bit of that old magic, something which can best be experience on an early morning in February. Disneyland Anaheim is one of the busiest theme parks in the world. It attracted over 16 million visitors in 2013. Some strategic planning might save you a lot of time an enhance the fun. So obviously avoid holidays, weekend and head to the kingdom at the end of the fall or during wintertime. There is no shortage of beds in the 1001 (Disney) hotels, motels, campings, B&B’s, Inns, RV-grounds, pensions and holiday houses in and around the park. Buying you tickets online saves you the first 15 minutes of waiting in line.
Day 11 – 13: San Diego
Thanks to a mild climate and relaxed vibe, a large part of San Diego life takes place outside. The terraces of the Gaslamp district remind you of New Orleans. The Hillcrest district brings back memories of San Francisco. The long and wide beaches take you back to LA, without the film crews or muscles. San Diego directly borders Mexico and crossing into Tijuana on foot (since you are not allowed to take your rental across the border) is very easy to do. Tijuana is best known for its drugs related crime and as a place to loose yourself as an US student. The LA Times named it ‘Las Vegas with teeth’, an invitation and warming in one. Recently though, Tijuana has started to become a ‘foodie paradise’. Finding a bed for the night, as in most of the US, isn’t a problem in San Diego. Hillcrest is a nice neighborhood and movie fans might want to consider the Hotel del Coronado. This wooden giant goes back to 1888 and has been featured in countless TV-series and films, including Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe (www.hoteldel.com).
Day 14 – 15: The Grand Canyon
Driving from San Diego to the Grand Canyon is a matter of making choices. When you choose to take the Palm Springs route, you choose for the bizarre trees and rocks of Joshua Trees National Monument as well driving as over the legendary 66. From San Diego you first turn onto US 15, which you leave just after Temacula for the 10. At Hemet the road narrows into Highway 74. You’ll see less and less houses and more and more sandy roads guarded by postboxes. The road curves uphill from now on, everything becomes dry until you are spit out by the San Jacinto Mountains into green Palm Springs. After this oasis at the edge of the Mojave you drive past countless Yucca’s over a ‘road to nowhere’ into the horizon.
Two inches on the map, 40 miles for real, you drive through sand and dust, accompanied by tumbling tumbleweed. All of a sudden the horizon changes and you’ll see a church with a wicked cross appear in the distance. A big neon sign welcomes lonely travelers. This is a place where ‘The Hitcher’ was shot, a ghost town called Amboy where the glitter of the past has given way to the dust of the present. Here you head for Route 66, the legend which after about 45 miles you exchange for US 40 towards another legend: The Grand Canyon. With a length of 270 miles, a maximum width of 18 miles and a canyon with a height of 1.15 mile, everything about the Grand Canyon is majestic. This natural wonder can be discovered by foot, bike, car, plane, helicopter, bungee jump, paraglide and, in case you are a real diehard, by walking over a glass floor hanging over the Colorado River: The Skywalk…..
Day 16 – 17: Las Vegas
With a natural miracle slowly diminishing in your rearview mirror, it’s time for miracles made by humanity. The first you drive into is the Hoover Dam. American’s call this one of the eight world wonders and yes, it for sure is overwhelmingly impressive. For almost 80 years the dam has been generating enormous amounts of energy, Energy that is pumped into that other man made miracle about 30 miles further along the road: Las Vegas. ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ and the gambling capital of the States likes to keep it this way. Sin City is a 24/7 piece of machinery. Machinery in which money is won, lost and made….by the casinos. Though Vegas floats on plenty of booze, you really do not need any alcohol to let it blow your brains out. Everything you see is outrageous, fascinating, overwhelming. From the canals of Venice to erupting volcanoes to the hearts of Paris and New York to an Egyptian pyramid and King Arthur’s castle. Imagination has no limits here. Of course you should go and try your luck at one of the tables or machines. While you are at it, also visit a show with one of the world’s greatest (campy) artists. Two days of walking up and down the Strip (and do not forget to visit the ‘old’ Vegas) is enough to numb your senses and yearn for some easy riding down long and lonesome roads.
Day 18 – 20: Yosemite National Park
On route to what is one of America’s most stunning and varied parks, you can choose to drive through what seems to be the opposite of the abundance of Yosemite: Death Valley. Despite its name, not everything here is dead. In fact, the desert can come to life after a few drops of rain or look like a rainbow due to all the variation in rock and sand coloring. This is the officially hottest place in the world with a record temperature of 134 Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913. During summer (April to October in these parts of California), you should always pack some extra food and water in case you run into engine trouble. An airco is also more than welcome.
After Death Valley you can, depending on the season, choose from three different options to get to Yosemite. From least to most beautiful they are: the West side, the East side or straight through the Sierra Nevada (not possible during winter). Besides ranked in beauty, these route are also ranked in the time it takes to travel them. Time is beauty here. Once you arrive at Yosemite National Park, you will immediately forget all the miles you have traveled to get here. The prehistoric wilderness is magical. Sun and shadow just like the seasons give the park a continuously changing appearance. This is where nature lives and you’re its guest. Since many, many Americans and foreign tourists know how to find their way to Yosemite it is key to reserve your sleeping quarters in time. You can check out the park’s site for all sorts of accommodation and other news and developments like snow and fire that might influence the accessibility of the park: www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm. You also got to be ‘bear aware’. Meaning that you store your food and drinks in a way they won’t attract these giant hairballs.
Day 21-23: Sonoma Valley
Coming from Yosemite it takes about 3 hours to reach the wine county of California. Here you can enjoy some luxury after the wilderness. Napa Valley is the most touristy part of the area so when you are looking for something less commercialized and crowded, head for Sonoma or Russian Valley. The town of Sonoma is a nice place to get a great bite (try The Girl & the Fig – www.thegirlandthefig.com – best is to make a reservation) and go see a movie at the historical Art Deco Sebastiani Theatre (www.sebastianitheatre.com) or visit the incredibly beautiful estate of another Great American Novelist: Jack London (www.jacklondonpark.com). From Sonoma to San Francisco airport is less than a two hours drive and another great opportunity to cross the Golden Gate once more.
➢ More into nature than into the urban jungle? Skip San Diego and include Zion, North of the Grand Canyon, into your schedule.
➢ San Francisco, LA and Vegas are connected with the world via direct flights so they can be perfect starting points for your trip. Just pick the cheapest ticket, then your starting point.
➢ Instead of going ‘full-circle’ you can also choose to make a one-way. Pick up your car in San Francisco and drop it of and fly out of LA. In California and Nevada, one-way drop offs are usually free.
➢ As always, try to avoid the high season to save on money and avoid the crowds. Also pay attention to national holidays like Memorial (May) and Labor Day (September). Some holidays like the 4th of July and Christmas might give you a good cultural impression though, so including them into your itinerary can be worth it.
➢ Rent-a-wreck (www.rentawreck.com), Hotwire.com and Priceline.com offer great deals on rental cars.
Depending on the season you as easily spend the night camping in a National Park as in design loft at Venice Beach. For everything in between you’ll have plenty of choice in size, price and comfort. On the National Park Service site (www.nps.gov) you’ll find and reserve camping spots. For those who prefer a bed over an air mattress, you’ll already find a double for 50 bucks a night at one of the national motel chains like Motel 6 (www.motel6.com).
In case you rather have the place to yourself or more luxury, why not rent your own house, apartment, cottage or cabin. Sites like AirBnB (www.airbnb.com), Wimdu (www.wimdu.com) and VRBO (www.vrbo.com) offer you anything from a simple B&B room with shared bathroom to city lofts and Malibu Beach houses. When you like to travel without a schedule and still want some luxury without paying too much, check the last-minute deals offered on sites like Hotwire.com and Priceline.com with savings up to 70%.
Best time to go
This route changes with the seasons. Regarding the part between San Francisco and San Diego, the difference between the seasons is mostly some (slight) variation in precipitation and variation in temperature. From Vegas to Yosemite, differences are more extreme. In fall Yosemite is ablaze with the fire of foliage while in winter a large part of the park is inaccessible. The Grand Canyon (and Death Valley) can be smoking hot in summer, whereas in the winter it can be freezing cold. In spring California’s flora comes to life and colors the state in fifty shades of rainbow. In fall it’s harvest time and all good things that grow migrate from the land onto your plate or into your glass…..
Last minute hotel & rental car deals: www.hotwire.com & www.priceline.com
Houses, cabins, apartments, B&B’s: www.airbnb.com
More private properties: www.wimdu.com
Even more private properties: www.vrbo.com
Site California: www.ca.gov
Site Arizona: www.az.gov Site Nevada: www.nv.gov
Site Utah: www.utah.gov National Parks: www.nps.gov
Joshua Tree National Park: www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm
Grand Canyon National Park: www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Grand Canyon Skywalk: www.grandcanyonskywalk.com
Zion National Park: www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
Death Valley National Park: www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm
Yosemite National Park: www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm