3 girls // 3 weeks // 3377 miles
When myself and two uni friends first decided to do an American road trip, I anticipated something much smaller. I was thinking, maybe a few hundred miles up the Californian coast. Perhaps from LA to San Francisco. Something like that.
But as with all these things, the plan grew and grew until we were looking at 3 weeks covering most of the western American states and a little dash of Canada thrown into the bargain. Not exactly small-scale!
I will say, we probably tried to do too much. By the end of it, we were all shattered. In fact, we spent our first day back just sleeping, eating ice cream and getting a much-needed pedicure. (Seriously – our feet were in awful shape after all we put them through!)
But it was definitely worth it. 3 weeks, covering 5 American states and 1 Canadian province, cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, as well as iconic sites like the Grand Canyon, Alcatraz, Big Sur and the redwood forests.
There are so many places I would love to go back to, and it was a whirlwind tour through some of them – but with the mileage and the change in landscape, it definitely felt like an epic adventure!
Here’s how we did it:
DAYS 1-3: LAS VEGAS TO FLAGSTAFF
The 3 week-trip started in Vegas after a beautiful flight down from Portland, landing just in time to catch the sunset and take a limo to our hotel. Might as well start the trip in style!
The next 24 hours were a whirlwind of the crazy, gaudy and wonderful. One of my favourite things to do in Vegas is to just wander through the hotels, enjoying the excessively themed decor and the fake-outside spaces inside, be that a Roman piazza or a Venetian canal. We ate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, watched the fountains at the Bellagio, and even won a bit of money in a casino. Evening came with a swim in the hotel’s rooftop pool, followed by food and wine in our hotel suite.
We picked up the hire car as we left Vegas on Day 3, driving towards Flagstaff over the Hoover Dam and past Lake Mead. Getting caught in storms & flash floods put a stop to our plan to watch a Grand Canyon sunset, so instead we opted for dinner at a traditional American Route 66 diner.
Highlights // a limo ride along the Strip / the Bellagio fountains / burgers at the Galaxy Diner
Lowlights // expensive Vegas groceries / dangerous storms
DAY 4: GRAND CANYON & LAKE HAVASU
After a few hours of constantly interrupted sleep, we were woken at 3:15am by a car alarm that went off for 45 minutes – but that’s another story. Thankfully, this was almost exactly the time we had to get up anyway, to race to the Grand Canyon in time for the sunrise. We arrived just as the first rays were peeking over the North Rim. We spent a few hours hiking along the South Rim, met a very friendly squirrel, and sat soaking up this breathtaking marvel of the natural world.
Coffee break in Williams, which was like a town from an old western film. It was full of painted wooden buildings, and bars & coffee shops that made me think of saloons – not to mention the steam engine parked up just opposite the main street.
It’s a 3 hour drive to Lake Havasu, but one of the benefits of leaving by 4am was that we arrived mid afternoon, with plenty of time to cool off from the 107 degree heat with a swim in the lake. At least, until the stormclouds rolled in and the lightning started up, when we figured a lake probably wasn’t the safest place to be… So we took refuge in Denny’s (classic American staple!) to watch the monsoon storm through the window.
Highlights // sunrise at the Grand Canyon / Denny’s milkshakes / cooling off in the lake
Lowlights // noisy neighbours in the motel
DAYS 5-7: SANTA BARBARA TO SAN FRANCISCO
An early morning drive towards Santa Barbara, which left an afternoon for sunbathing on the beach and relaxing from all of the driving. This was the first section of our California trip, and the beginning of a long journey up the west coast of America.
We spent a full day at Hearst Castle, former home of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Resembling a cross between a Spanish hacienda, an Italian church, and a Tibetan monastery from the outside, the grounds and inside contain thousands of pieces of art and historic artefacts. I think it would take a lifetime to properly explore, and we only had one day, which let us look around the grounds and take the Grand Rooms Tour & Upstairs Suites Tour.
A trip to see the elephant seals, a bowl of clam chowder & a sunset on the beach made the day complete.
The long push north to San Francisco took us along the Big Sur: the famous coastal region of California. Rocky cliffs plunging away into the deep blue of the Pacific. Roads winding around the bays and inlets, clinging to the hillside. The sun sparkling on the sea.
Hiking was limited because of a forest fire, so we spent some time exploring the 17 Mile Drive at Carmel-by-the-Sea instead, before the final push north into San Francisco.
Highlights // Hearst Castle / elephant seals / Big Sur
Lowlights // overpriced hotels
DAYS 8-10: SAN FRANCISCO
3 days exploring San Francisco: our little rest in the middle of a hectic trip.
We started, coffee in hand, exploring street art in the Mission District where we were staying. But we couldn’t stay away from the water for long, so we had lunch and watched the sea lions on Pier 39, then walked along to Fisherman’s Wharf. We finished off the day shopping in Ghirardelli Square and breathing in the rich scent of the chocolate.
The next day involved wandering around Alamo Square and enjoying the brightly coloured Painted Ladies, taking a vintage cable car to Lombard Street, then braving the freezing winds on the Golden Gate Bridge. (Cue a much-needed coffee to warm us up in the Roundhouse Cafe, overlooking the bridge.) We shopped for local organic produce in the Mission District, ready to rustle up some homecooked fare back in our studio apartment.
Our final day in the city had an early start, with a tour of Alcatraz, before heading back to Ghirardelli Square for coffee & lunch. In the afternoon, we wandered through Chinatown and bought a few last-minute souvenirs.
Highlights // Alcatraz / fish & chips on Pier 39 / street art in the Mission District
Lowlights // confusing public transport systems
DAYS 11-14: NORTHERN CALIFORNIA & OREGON COAST
We left San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge, pushing north through sequoia forests. The trees got taller and taller as we headed towards the ancient redwoods. We drove through the drive-thru Chandelier Tree, then spent the night in the seaside town of Trinidad. After a morning watching seals in the bay, we continued with our redwood theme, hiking around the aptly named Big Tree, and driving through wiggly windy Stout Grove. After sunset on the beach, we stayed the night in Reedsport, breakfast at the Donut Hole, then carried on up the coast, via Florence and the Churn. A liesurely afternoon strolling along Roads End Beach in Lincoln City before camping overnight.
After a nice relaxed campside breakfast, we took a short jaunt to Newport to try out saltwater taffee and watch the sea lions jostling for space on the docks. Another stop at Tillamook Cheese Factory (for free samples and ice cream) before arriving in Astoria at night.
Highlights // redwoods / organic local produce in Trinidad, California / Oregon beaches
Lowlights // being ill in a tent
DAY 15-16: ASTORIA TO SEATTLE
The day started with pastries & artisan coffee at the Blue Scorcher, before climbing the Astoria Column to throw a plywood aeroplane from the top. Then we crossed the border in Washington, stopping to take in the Kite Festival on Long Beach, before pushing north to Seattle, to check into the yurt which was our accommodation for the next two nights.
Seattle was all about the public spaces: we crossed the Sound on an early ferry to get to have breakfast in the city before heading to Pike Place Public Market for the morning. We bought lunch from iconic Piroshky Piroshky, which we ate overlooking the water in the Olympic Sculpture Park. We then wandered to the Space Needle Park and International Fountain to relax and cool off. Relaxation was a bit broken by Westlake Park (got a bit too competitive at foosball!) before heading back across the Sound to Alki Beach for dinner and a spectacular sunset.
Highlights // Astoria Column / sleeping in a Yurt / crossing the Sound / Piroshky Piroshky
Lowlights // long queue meant not enough time to go up the Space Needle
DAYS 17-19: PEMBERTON, CANADA
Our trip into Canada was only a brief one, but it was one of the highlights. After crossing the border, we stopped off at Granville Island Market to eat lunch and pick up groceries for the evening. Then we took the Sea To Sky Highway from Vancouver towards Whistler, with spectacular views of Howe Sound. A brief pit-stop in Whistler, before continuing to our cabin in the mountains about half an hour beyond Pemberton. (Unfortunately, we spent too long eating at Granville Island Market, and then got very lost as the sat-nav led us a merry dance around Pemberton, so arrived late. Oops!)
Days 18 & 19 were our most relaxing days of the trip: coffee & cake at the little cafe in Pemberton, swimming in Birken Lake and Anderson Lake, and sunbathing in the hammock outside our cabin. Early evenings cooking and chatting, watching films & playing games.
Highlights // swimming in lakes / sunbathing on the deck / maple iced lattes
Lowlights // getting lost & arriving late / overheating
DAY 20: VANCOUVER, BC
An early morning drive from Pemberton back to Vancouver, checking into our hostel and then heading downtown. Another trip to Granville Island Market was a must, then an Aquabus ride back across False Creek. A walk along English Beach, through Stanley Park & past Lost Lagoon Lake, then back along the harbour. A chance to watch the seaplanes landing and see the Olympic Monument. The day finished with dinner and a sunset at the Top of Vancouver revolving restaurant. Perfect end to the trip!
Highlights // Granville Island Market / sunset from the Top of Vancouver restaurant
Lowlights // dodgy hostel
So there you have it: an epic American adventure, and a whirlwind of a trip! Comments in the box below 🙂