We had a fantastic spring break on the west coast of the USA. We did lots of different things in just 10 days with a nice mixture of visiting nature and big cities. All together we drove 2,700 km through four states (Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California), four national parks (Death Valley, Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon) and four cities (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Monterey and San Francisco). It was an eclectic trip which gave us the perfect mix of the beautiful sight-seeing this part of the USA has to offer.
The trip was carefully planned with all hotel pre booked which worked out well. Each hotel has its own characteristics, all were fun to stay at except for the hotel in Las Vegas. Carefully planned … yes … but not everything. Number 1, it happened to be much colder in the National Parks than we had expected and we only brought clothing for temperatures around 15C. It was so cold in Bryce Canyon (-7 C) that even Toine wanted to buy a wintercoat. Normal temperatures if you know that Bryce Canyon is at an elevation of more than 2,000m, but we had not realized this. The shorts and flip flops didn’t come out of our bags. Maybe we are just too used to the Florida weather?
Number 2, I forgot to take my daily contact lenses.The first three days I used the same lens, but that wouldn’t work for 10 days. It is not so easy to buy contact lenses in the US as you need to have a prescription from an optician. The first day in Las Vegas there was no optician to be found. So we asked our neighbor Phil to send my contact lenses by 24-hrs express delivery to one of the hotels we were booked at. Well, 24-hrs is not possible, but four days would work (it got sent to the hotel in Los Angeles). Fortunately we managed to get an examination at Walmart the next day. The optician gave me enough free trial lenses to last the whole vacation (but the examination itself cost $100).
We arrived in Las Vegas in the middle of the night after a 5.5 hour flight, and got into our beds around 2am local time (it is 3 hours later in Florida and 9 hours later in The Netherlands, the timezone Toine came from). After a few hours of deep sleep and a good breakfast we were ready for a visit to Death Valley National Park, a 2 hour drive from Las Vegas. What desolated and rough but very beautiful nature! Death Valley is the driest, hottest and lowest place in the US. It was 26 C when we were there, but in the summer it can get to 60 C. In the evening we ate at Benihana’s in Las Vegas (off course, and for Toine a familiar place he has been on business trips) and walked around on the Strip. Very impressive, but also very crowded and one needs to be 21 to enter the casinos. Good to have experienced it for a few hours, but that was more than enough for us … our family likes nature better.
Driving so many kilometers was not tiresome at all on deserted roads, with nice surroundings and the varying landscapes we were driving through. We drove from Las Vegas via Zion to Bryce National Park and stopped for a few hours in Zion. We took the shuttle bus into the canyon for two enjoyable hikes, one at the end of the canyon (Riverside Walk) and the other to the waterfalls (Emerald Pools). What overwhelming scenery! Of the four National Parks we probably liked Zion the best. On our way to Bryce Canyon National Park it rained and they even forecasted snow for the night!
When we woke up the next morning everything was covered with a few centimeters of snow and the wind was blowing quit hard. It was -7 C, but it felt much colder because of this wind. So we bought a wintercoat for Toine and thick sweaters for the girls in the souvenirshop at the entrance of the park (I was fine with my jacket). We drove to Rainbow Point at the end of the park and back with stops at several look-out places. The scenery was extremely impressive, more than without snow in our opinion. Lucky us to have this weather 😉. We really enjoyed it, but we made sure not to be out of the warm car for too long.
Our next stop was Lake Powell on our way to the Grand Canyon. Going out boating on the lake was a bit out of season, but the hotel was joyful (it had a hot tub) and we had a delicious dinner while enjoying the great view of the lake.
We were lucky to have a completely sunny day with no clouds and a blue sky when we visited the Grand Canyon. We drove along the South Rim and stopped at several places for the gorgeous look-outs. In the afternoon we took the shuttle bus to the end of the rim (you are not allowed to go there with your own car) and walked a bit along the rim. What a depth (1,600 m) and what terrific views! At night we slept in a very charming hotel (the best one of this week) in Flagstaff and we had dinner at the Outback.
The drive to Los Angeles was the longest one (7 hours), however it was all express way and through attractive landscapes. We saw parts of the old historic route 66 on the way. When we entered Los Angeles we tried to find the house I used to live in during my graduation project in 1990/1991.Things have changed in 27 years; I didn’t recognize the house anymore, so maybe it has been taken down and replaced? We stayed in Venice Breeze Suites, a tastefully decorated little apartment right on Venice Beach. This used to be a more upgrade place years ago, but nowadays filled with homeless people. Amazing how many people live on the street in this area. Why so many in Los Angeles and almost none in Florida? We didn’t feel completely safe walking in the dark on the boulevard from our car to the hotel, but the apartment was very good and that made up for it all.
We had a full day in Los Angeles and it rained the whole day 😅. So we didn’t fully experience what LA has to offer. We visited Santa Monica pier just before the rain started. The rest of the day we drove around and saw the city from the car. We visited UCLA (University California LA) so Marinthe could get an impression of universities in California. And we drove around Beverly Hills and trough the mountains to Hollywood. Too bad … the Hollywood sign was only vaguely to be seen in the clouds. Finally we escaped the weather and went to the movie ‘Love, Simon’, which we all liked very much. We ended the evening with a dinner of french bread, cheese and wine in our apartment.
The next day we still had lots of rain while driving the scenic route 1 along the coast from LA to Monterey. Due to the bad weather driving was tiresome and there was not much to be seen of the nice scenery, being mostly obscured by the rain. So halfway we decided to take highway 101 inland to get to Monterey as easy and fast as possible.
Monterey is a very charming place, with a harbor full with sailboats, lots of restaurants and nice nature. Luckily they also have a Benihana 😎. The next morning we first visited the Aquarium, nicely set up along the coast with use of water from the ocean. It was only a 150 km drive to San Francisco. The weather had cleared up, so we took the scenic route 1 again. We even saw some whales at one of the stops! After entering San Francisco we went to a somewhat secret spot in a park with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge. Toine had found this spot on one of his previous trips to SF. We stayed in a hotel in Downtown, close to China Town and Little Italy. The first evening we ate Chinese (with way too much food as always at Chinese restaurants) and the second evening we enjoyed Italian food.
The last day in San Francisco was another sunny day. We took a tour through the city with our own car, stopping at all the interesting places, such as Nob Hill, Lombard Street (the crookedest street), Pier 39 (Fisherman’s Wharf), the Pacific coast, Twin Peaks and the Painted Ladies. What a beautiful city with all the steep hills and terrific views of the bay!
We flew back to Florida on a 5-hour flight with excellent views of San Francisco after take off. We also got to see the desolated areas in the middle of the USA during the flight.
Now we are back ‘home’ in Florida again and we look back on a wonderful spring break. Maybe a little bit like ’the American way of doing Europe in 5 days’. But most important … we really enjoyed it!