The west coast of the USA is pretty damn awesome. There is so much to do and so much to discover, it should be a part of anyone’s trip to the USA. A little while back Meryl and I ventured there and I have to say it was just as amazing as you expect it to be! Bright lights, big cities, sun, sea and sand, everything you would want from a holiday in the US of A. So we’ve put together a west coast of USA 2 week itinerary taking in all the main sights and a few you might not have heard of. We travelled from Los Angeles north to San Francisco, (in a brand new mustang!), but you could easily do the route the other way.
L.A, Vegas & the Surroundings
Woohoo, you’ve made it to America and for the next 2 weeks, you will be travelling around the west coast in all its glory as part of a USA 2 week itinerary. So where better to start the road trip than the City of Angels itself, Los Angeles!
When we arrived in L.A. we already had our first full day planned. After a potentially long flight, it is always worth planning to do a few things to keep you on American time not where ever you may have flown from. We flew from Fiji so we had gained basically half a day whilst in the air!
After you get climatized and customed to the time its time for your first full day in the USA. So make your first stop the Hollywood sign before the heat of the day kicks in. We trekked through Griffith Park to the observatory for amazing views over the sign before walking back down and hopping on a bus to Hollywood Boulevard to walk the famous Stars. We didn’t realise but there are over 2500 stars! They’re not all easy to find however… If you get up a bit later then do this all backwards so you get up to the Hollywood sign in the evening instead.
Take your time and wander the Hollywood stars, find the celebrities you admire and keep a look-out for the famous lion paw prints. After this take the metro to Venice Beach and walk the palm tree-lined beach boardwalks to Santa Monica Pier, past numerous street performers and of course the famous muscle beach!
So after a jam-packed first full day in America, hop on a Greyhound bus in the evening and head out of the City of Angels to the City of Dreams – that’s right, next stop is Las Vegas!
After getting off the bus at 5am in Vegas whats a better way to explore than to get straight out and about in the city that never sleeps! Head to the Bellagio for breakfast then to hunt down the ‘Welcome to Vegas‘ sign. Seriously do this before the sun gets up, it isn’t along the main strip and the walk back with no shade or air-con is really something you are going to want to avoid.
After finding the sign walk back along the strip through as many casinos/hotels as possible, they all link to one another through over ground or underground aircon routes, so you don’t even have to go outside in the heat. Mandalay Bay to Luxor to Excalibur, New York New York to Monte Carlo to Caesars Palace then Mirage, Palazzo and Venetian. The atmosphere in each one is totally different and being able to walk between them without going out in the desert heat is great!
So after a fun filled day in Vegas exploring the casinos hit the sack, (we stayed at The Flamingo) and get ready for a once in a lifetime opportunity… Camping around the canyons! Leave the hustle and bustle of Vegas for the calm and quiet of nature!
Check out our post on the 7 can’t miss National Parks in Arizona, Utah & California.
The first stop on our epic few days camping around the canyons and valleys was Zion Canyon. This canyon is the perfect start to any canyon road trip, with easily walkable routes, (we walked the Angels Landing trail at 2.4 miles long), and plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy. There are also deep chasms alongside the river called Zion Narrows where you can do a wading hike!
Next stop was Bryce Canyon. This might of been my favourite of all the canyons we visited, (and yes even more so than the Grand Canyon!). The weird and wonderful shapes of the ‘hoodoos‘ and the bright orange stone contrasting against the bright blue sky made it just stunning to be in. We were even lucky enough to come across some of the wild chipmunks that live there whilst we were walking the 2 mile Navajo Loop, one of the many routes through the canyon.
Now for your first-night camping, get the smores out and sit around an open fire, resting your heavy feet from the days exploring.
Lake Powell & Glen Canyon Dam
First stop of the second-day camping, means heading out to Lake Powell then on to Glen Canyon Dam. These two stops are perfect for some incredible views over the valleys in both Utah and Arizona.
Next stop of the day Antelope Canyon! The colours and shapes of this place are truly unimaginable, you can only dream of patterns and symbols created! If you are given the option of going into this canyon with a Navajo guide do it. Our lovely guide made everything so much more special showing us how the colours and the rocks were shaped into animal and Navajo spirits before allowing us to clamber up the steep ladders and gaps out of the canyon. Be warned if you have a fear of heights you will have to go up and down steep ladders into and out of the canyon. There are also strict rules about what to do if there is a flash flood, which happens more often than you think…
The final stop of the day has to be Monument Valley. This bright red sand landscape with numerous stone monuments has to be seen to be believed. The rock formations are stunning and having a traditional Navajo meal cooked for us by the locals whilst watching the sunset has to be one of my most memorable sights of all time.
For the second night camping, do as we did, and watch the millions of stars, satellites and shooting stars appear over the valley, no tent, no worries! Having no tent also means waking up to an incredible sunrise through the valley ‘Mittens‘, and unfortunately in my case a scorpion up my sleeve!
After waking to a gorgeous sunrise in Monument Valley hop on over to where else but the Grand Canyon! The canyon to rival all canyons! The first thing you should do upon arriving is walk up to the edge of the canyon without looking over the canyon, i.e. head down watching where your feet are (safely!). Once at the edge look up and be amazing by what you see before you! Just make sure there isn’t a tree in front of you…
After seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time walk down into it along the Ooh Aah Point trail taking in the sights and sounds that can only be seen here. It gets quite hot in the canyon around midday so be wary of that and make sure you have sensible footwear on as the tracks can get quite dusty and sandy from everyone walking up and down them alongside the donkeys we saw.
After trekking back up and having your fill of the canyon next stop it heading out along Route 66 on the way back to Vegas. Make sure you stop at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap 1950’s rest stop for hot dogs and ice cream floats. They were literally the best thing ever and the restroom there is rather entertaining too!
We did this incredible canyon and valley tour through Bindlestiff Tours. Our driver Marie was awesome and we could not have wished for a better experience during our USA 2 week itinerary!
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So onto the penultimate night in Las Vegas! (And for us a night in the Stratosphere!) Go grab a bite to eat from one of the many many eateries around and off to bed to rest your weary camping head on a fluffy squishy bed. It’s your final day in Vegas tomorrow and it will be one to remember!
After a well-deserved bed for the night its up early doors and over the spring mountains, out past the vast plains and into Death Valley National Park! This park is another place to be seen to be believed, it hit 50 degrees / 122 Fahrenheit whilst we visited, and I was finding sweat glands I never knew I had!
After driving the park for a few hours make your way back to Vegas for one final night. Hit up the strip, and do as we did, eating and drinking our way around the casinos and climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower for an incredible full strip view watching the Bellagio fountain. Trying to watch the fountains from below is near enough impossible unless you queue for hours so we opted to watch from above!
After your final night in Vegas what could be better than picking up a Mustang to drive from Las Vegas up the Pacific Coast Highway? Nothing! So that’s exactly what we did, (we picked up a brand new bright blue Mustang we nicknamed Cindy), then top-down, music playing, sun in our hair, headed out to the Pacific Coast Highway, making sure to stop at the dinosaurs in Palm Springs! Yes, you read that right…
Planning your own trip and a USA 2 week itinerary? Make sure you check out the following for all your guidebooks, phrasebooks, tours and flights! (We’ve done the hard work for you and linked all the things we used to plan our trip!)
Pacific Coast Highway
It takes about 6 hours driving through the dusty desert roads to get to Palm Springs, but believe us the hours will fly by with the incredible surroundings you are driving through. After stopping for a refreshing drink or two here continue on down to Mission Beach in San Diego.
The first stop on this epic coastal drive as part of our USA 2 week itinerary, has to be San Diego. This harbour city on the border between USA and Mexico is a great stop just to sit and relax overlooking a beautiful beach. You may even see the odd sealion or two in the warm Californian waters! After wandering around the coastal roads and cafe’s of San Diego head over to Coronado Island for some incredible views back over the cityscape before heading up to the coast to La Jolla for even more stunning beaches and hip cafes.
Next stop up the coast is of course Malibu. Famous for its beautiful beaches and great surf where better to stop for an ice cream on the pier?!
From Malibu head onto Santa Barbara where we stayed in an awesome and huge yurt! (There was enough room for at least 6 people and there was only the 2 of us!) Here we woke to beautiful views over a nearby lake before grabbing some breakfast and continuing on the trip up the coast!
From Santa Barbara head north through San Luis and on to Morro Bay, a beautiful little harbour know for its ancient Morro Rock, (not the British seaside sweet but an actual rock!). Here you can enjoy the local pelicans diving into the sea and lagoons as well as some noisy sealions.
From the distinctive Morro Bay, next stop is San Simeon a tiny town packed full of incredible beaches! So with the roof down, the sun shining and some awesome coastal views, what could be better? Well, the fact that there are countless pelicans and sealions in the area help to make it even more unique.
Elephant Seal Rookery
When passing through San Simeon make sure you check out the Elephant Seal Rookery. You will hear them before you see them that’s for sure! Walking along the beach to be suddenly faced with the noisy bellows of the local elephant seals, (who are huge may I add!), is a once in a lifetime experience and one I wouldn’t have thought you could do in California!
Sand Dollar Beach
Another beach you must stop at is Sand Dollar Beach along the Big Sur coastline. Follow a small trail down the sand dunes to the beach to be greeted with a massive expanse of open beach and ocean. If you’re particularly brave you could head out for a surf amongst the waves or, like me, just dabble your feet in the shallows!
Big Sur’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge and the most photographic stop along this stretch of coast has to be Bixby Bridge. This famous bridge is a must-see if you are driving in California and luckily with this route you even get to drive right over the top of it! Be sure to stop in pullovers on the way to the bridge and just afterwards to get the picture-perfect shot.
From Bixby Bridge, head up the coast to Carmel-By-The-Sea the quaint little town that feels like you’ve just stepped into the world of the elite and country clubs for a spot to eat before heading on to Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz, the last stop before hitting the big city of San Francisco! This small coastal city is best known for its cultural youthful vibe so make sure you hit up the beach boardwalk for a ride on the sky glider, to play some arcade games and for a banana split! Then from Santa Cruz its time for the final push up the coast to San Francisco!
San Francisco & the Surroundings
It may be the last instalment of our USA 2 week itinerary, but this will turn out to be your earliest morning yet to get to the centre of San Francisco avoiding all the commuter traffic to drop the beloved Mustang off. We were seriously sad to see this wonderful car go!
Driving in from Santa Cruz to San Francisco only take 1.5 hours but you should get up early not only to avoid rush hour but to also get to all the typical tourist sightseeing spots you can’t miss if you’re in San Francisco.
Sight stop 1 – Lombard Street
Where better to start off your whirlwind day of San Francisco than at the famous Lombard Street? It is utter madness up there! The crazy most crooked road in the world is up the top of a really steep hill, (as is most of San Fran!) with loads of people and cars trying to go down it. Make sure you walk up it too for that full-on Lombard Street experience plus the views from the top are beautiful!
Sight stop 2 – Piers at the bay to see the Pier 39 seals
Now the piers in San Francisco are all well known for having masses of food and amusement arcades, but little did we know they are also known for there seals! Even on a slightly overcast day like we had, they can be seen lounging about on the pontoons with the seagulls. Seriously cute!
Sight stop 3 – Alcatraz
You can’t come to San Francisco and not go to Alcatraz. This prison on an island in the bay is a must-stop on every tourist’s list and I can see why! It has awesome views back to the main shore as well as some really interesting, if not somewhat creepy at times, history behind it. It’s like you can feel the history of the place seeping into you!
‘Break the rules you go to prison, break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz’.
Sight stop 4 – Sunset cruise around the bay
For the final stop of the day on our USA 2 week itinerary, hop on board a ferry out for a sunset cruise around the bay and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Unluckily for us, it was super foggy and pretty rainy by the time our boat left so we didn’t actually see much of the bay… but we did get a great buffet dinner!
Redwood City & Pescadero Creek Park
A little way outside of San Francisco is a town called Redwood City, where we stayed with local family. They kindly took us out along a couple of hiking trails nearby for some amazing views down the valleys to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, over the golden grass-covered hills! I would seriously recommend taking some time out of the main city of San Francisco to walk some local trails in the surrounding countryside. It made our visit to San Fran that much more rewarding as we could relax away from the hustle and bustle.
Now don’t get me wrong this park is beautiful, but I wasn’t as enthralled by it as I hoped I would be! The sheer numbers of tourists there made it feel like you weren’t there by yourself, unlike many of the other national parks we visited. But it is still a great place to explore even in the smokey hot times of the year, so don’t let me put you off!
San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
Where better to end your time along the west coast than at the Golden Gate Bridge back in San Francisco? It is such a beautiful bridge, framing the cloudy landscape with its tall red posts. Make sure you check back here a couple of times purely to get the most of the bridge in all its glory, with no fog!
‘Divine nature gave us the fields, human art built us the cities’.
And there you have it, the entire west coast USA 2 week itinerary! Make sure you check out our other USA posts if you’re planning on visiting other states or if you’re planning your own American road trip!
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Gemma (i.e The Travelling Tedaldi)
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