West Coast, USA – April/May 2017

Here it is y’all, what you’ve all been waiting for – the write up of the mega, 3000 mile road trip I did by myself, around the west coast of America in the age of Trump! It’s taken a while to sit down and write this – in all honesty because, over the past week, I’ve been at the mercy of the jetlag gods for possibly one of the first times in my life. (Does this mean I’m getting old?). I’ve also had a ridiculously busy week at work, which I shan’t bore you about, but I’ve now got a nice cup of tea, some homemade shortbread, and I’m ready to fill you in on one of the longest two weeks of my life. Sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

The Plan

I had already been to 24 states prior to this trip, thanks to my unabashed love of the USA and my bucket-list thirst to visit all 50. What I hadn’t done, however, was visit the West Coast. In a rare moment of boredom one lunchtime at work last year, I had a look at the plausibility of renting a car and driving in a loop to tick off 7 more states, and I came up with the below plan…

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As you can see, it’s borderline insane, because I have no clear sense of time or space, and somehow in a moment of madness I thought that 2608 miles around 7 states was “probably doable”.

So I booked it.

I booked a return flight from LHR to LAX with Virgin Atlantic (only £550 which was pretty bloody fantastic if you ask me), hired a car (a midsize SUV, because ain’t nobody gon’ mess with a girl in an SUV, I thought), and booked a few hotels along the way. Full itenirary below, if you’re as insane as I was last August and think that this sounds like fun:

LA > San Diego > Phoenix > Albuquerque > Denver > Salt Lake City > Las Vegas > LA

28th April – 12th May 2017 – 2 weeks

Friday 28th April – 3.45pm flight to LA from Heathrow – land in LA at 7pm.
Saturday 29th April – LA > San Diego (2.5 hour drive)
Sunday 30th April – San Diego > Phoenix (5.5 hour drive)
Monday 1st May – Stay in Phoenix
Tuesday 2nd May – Phoenix > Albuquerque (6.5 hour drive)
Wednesday 3rd May – Albuquerque > Denver (6.5 hour drive – the second one in two days, ouch)
Thursday 4th May – Stay in Denver
Friday 5th May – Denver > Rock Springs WY (5 hour drive)
Saturday 6th May – Rock Springs WY > Salt Lake City (3 hour drive)
Sunday 7th May – Stay in Salt Lake City
Monday 8th May – Salt Lake City > Las Vegas (6 hour drive)
Tuesday 9th May – Stay in Las Vegas – go to Grand Canyon
Wednesday 10th May – Las Vegas > Los Angeles (4 hour drive)
Thursday 11th May – Stay in Los Angeles
Friday 12th May – Go back home – 8.55pm flight from LA to Heathrow – land in London at 4pm Saturday

Of course, like most things I tend to organise, things changed ever so slightly and I ended up not staying in Denver or Rock Springs (for reasons I shall explain below) and crossing Wyoming in a day (0/10, would not recommend to a friend). Ready for the breakdown, as well as some pro tips in case you do decide to replicate this absolutely ridiculous trip? Leggo.

Friday 28th April – 3.45pm flight to LA from Heathrow – land in LA at 7pm.

As mentioned, I took a flight from Heathrow to LAX at 3.45pm on Friday 28th April. As is tradition, I took full advantage of my Priority Pass and lounged for a good 2 hours in the No 1 Traveller lounge at Terminal 3 beforehand (I’ll write up a review of this lounge in my *brand new* lounge review series, coming soon!), before making my way to the gate and onto the plane.

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I hadn’t flown Virgin Atlantic before, somehow amazingly, and I’m a convert after that first flight. Excellent entertainment system, attentive staff, chairs that swung back like a hammock much to my exhausted amusement… the fact that they gave me a mini Fab ice lolly while I was flying over Greenland gave them major brownie points too…

I landed at LAX at around 5pm Los Angeles time – 2 hours early, for some reason – glided through security in about five minutes (surprisingly, considering all of the recent news… #whitegirlprivilege), picked up my suitcase, and made my way to the car rental place where I picked up this bad boy:

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Pro tip alert: make sure you select that you’d like GPS in the car. If you leave it until you reach the car hire desk, they’ll bump the cost up by £300+ – not ideal. If this does happen, be aware that you can always buy a GPS system from the Walmart/Best Buy nearby for $100, taking good care of it, and returning it at the end within the 15 day return policy for a full refund… but don’t say I told you so, ahem…

With my newly acquired TomTom in tow (;)), I made my way to the Hollywood Hotel, a block from Sunset Boulevard, and the location for my first night. The hotel was exceptional for the cost – parking was excessive ($26 a night!) but secure – and the rooms were clean, comfortable and well decorated, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the breakfast was plentiful (if not a little carb-heavy, but, y’know, ‘murica). All in all, pretty good! I stayed at this hotel later on in the trip too, where I’ll gab on about how useful the location is, as well as discussing the metro system and how to get to various places in LA. Bet you can’t wait, can you?

Saturday 29th April – LA > San Diego (2.5 hour drive)

I drove down to San Diego early on Saturday morning, after a thoroughly sleepless night (#jetlag). The drive was a little dull, I won’t lie – think a nice mix of traffic and deserty fields – but it only took around 2.5 hours and I was soon in San Diego (which is German for ‘a whale’s vagina’, apparently). I stayed at Hotel Vyvant which has now somehow changed names since I stayed there two weeks ago, but was a really nice little boutique hotel in the middle of Little Italy. Bear in mind – no parking, and a fairly basic breakfast, but great location, super friendly staff and incredibly comfortable beds (plus my en-suite totes had a jacuzzi). I’d highly recommend!

I didn’t do too much in San Diego, bar from walking a considerable amount, sitting by the docks, eating delicious Italian food, and watching the amazing street performances that were going on downtown. Have a few pictures of Little Italy!

 

All in all I really loved San Diego. There was such a warm, friendly vibe there, and the beautiful scenery didn’t hurt! I’m definitely be going back there at some point…

Sunday 30th April – San Diego > Phoenix (5.5 hour drive)

Another early start (and case of jetlag, bleurgh), this time from San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona – an estimated 5.5 hour drive. I actually quite enjoyed this drive – Interstate 8 has lots of amazing scenery, especially when leaving CA, and it was nice to blast music and not really pay attention to anything for five hours or so… 😉

Pro tip alert: be aware that there is a border patrol checkpoint on I-8 East where it’s mandatory to stop. They may just wave you through like they did for me (despite my highly British stutter while repeating “do you want me to pull over?”) but be aware that you will need to stop!

Once I got to Arizona, I settled into my last minute hotel, the Red Roof Inn Phoenix North on Bell Road. I really wouldn’t recommend this hotel – it was run-down, very unfriendly, and located in the arse-end of nowhere, but it was very much a last-minute choice so I’m going to give myself a little bit of credit here 😉 there’s an Applebees within a five minute walk, as well as a Denny’s across the highway and a slightly battered Italian restaurant next door to the hotel, but other than that there’s really not too much going for the place. Maybe choose somewhere else 😉

Monday 1st May – Stay in Phoenix

I spent the ‘rest’ day in Phoenix hanging out with my lovely friend Aaron (of Aaron Markus Media, check out his site!), who took me to an awesome coffee place where they basically served rocket fuel in espresso cups, and then onto the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park…

This was honestly incredible – I’d never seen anything like this scenery, including CACTI SAY WHAT, and it was a beautiful place to see the rest of Phoenix, as well as all of the glorious nature surrounding it. Brilliant. I would, however, recommend not wearing Primark ballet pumps whilst you’re hiking up there. Take it from me.

After some time spent in the Arizonan sun (far too strong for this pasty-ass Brit), we stopped off at a microbrewery and restaurant called Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company in Gilbert AZ, where I drank delicious local beer and ate something called Belgian waffle-battered onion rings served with a sriracha-maple ketchup. I just can’t. IT WAS SO GOOD.

Phoenix was one of those cities I don’t feel I saw enough of, unfortunately – there was far more to see there then the small amount I managed to experience, but time wasn’t my friend here, and it was onto the next destination 24 hours later…

Tuesday 2nd May – Phoenix > Albuquerque (6.5 hour drive)

I’m not going to lie to you, dear readers, this drive was a chore. Desert after desert, dry field after dry field, with barely any respite. Listening to old Now! compilations and witty British podcasters like Adam Buxton was the only way to get over the incessant dullness. It may be worth breaking this drive up into chunks if you decide to replicate this trip – maybe to Gallup, NM if you go via I-40E, where there looks to be a lot of gorgeous red rock formations and nice little hotels.

ABQ was really just a stop gap for me – I’m not going to lie and tell you it was amazing, because I really only saw a tiny part of it (although the Quality Inn & Suites on West Iliff Road does serve a delicious breakfast). However, I will say that seeing Heisenberg’s residence in the flesh was a personal highlight – as was talking to the adorable elderly lady who lives there, who told me all about meeting Bryan Cranston and the swoonworthy Aaron Paul (bitch!). If you want to go and see the property, it’s located at 3828 Piermont Dr NE Albuquerque, NM 87111 – although please be respectful and courteous as there are actual residents there. AKA, don’t throw a pizza on the roof.

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Wednesday 3rd May – Albuquerque > Denver (6.5 hour drive – the second one in two days, ouch)

The second 6.5 hour drive in 48 hours. Again, would not recommend – but at least this time I’d have a few days in one place before the next stretch of drive. I was looking forward to Colorado – a few friends live/had lived there, and I’d heard great things about Denver, possibly the most liberal city in the States (aside from Portland, which sounds like a hipster paradise thanks to Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen). I’d booked in to stay at the Ramada Denver Downtown, which, on Hotels.com, looked like a delightful rustic mountain lodge, slap bang in a relatively dodgy area of Denver (although I didn’t know this at the time…). However, it turned into easily one of the worst hotels I’d ever stayed at. Shabby decor, really unhygienic room, terrible customer service (outwardly rude and hostile), and borderline inedible breakfast. The cherry on the shit sundae was the fact that the Wifi was down, as well as the phone in my room – so when a man nearly broke down my door at 3am by punching it repeatedly, I couldn’t actually contact anyone, so had to keep myself to myself, having an anxiety attack under the duvet and quietly sobbing so he didn’t hear me. Possibly the worst day of the trip.

Pro tip alert: if you want to change your trip at all, please remember that you can. You’re not under any obligation to do the exact route you planned out, and you have nothing to prove to anyone. Things change – be flexible and open-minded in order to fully enjoy your trip.

Thursday 4th May – Stay in Denver Superior

7am, I was out of the shitty hotel in my Jeep, headed northwards towards Boulder, and booked into a brilliant La Quinta Inn in Superior CO, near a plethora of excellent shops, beautiful mountain scenery and incredibly friendly people. I was so relieved to get out of the absolute shithole that was the Ramada, that I decided to change my plans, stay an extra night in the La Quinta, and forego my trip to Rock Springs – instead, choosing to drive across Wyoming in a day, which I’m glad I did.

The afternoon was spent shopping and eating Caesar salads, because #stressrelief. Also because I found a huge ULTA next to a Super Target. Natch.

Friday 5th May – Denver > Rock Springs WY (5 hour drive) Friday 5th May – Stay in Superior and hang around Boulder pretending to be back at university

On the Friday, instead of driving to Rock Springs in Wyoming, I decided to go and hang out with my friend Tom at his college campus in Boulder, CO – about a fifteen minute drive from my lifesaver of a hotel in Superior. Boulder was absolutely gorgeous – amazing scenery, lovely weather, friendly people. I also managed to get a tan for the first time all trip as Tom made me walk all over the damn campus which was HUGE. Goddammit, Tom.

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We stopped off at an awesome little independent pizza place called Boss Lady Pizza, which was 100% female owned and ran (hence the name). Tom knows his feminist audience, that’s for sure! I ate the biggest pizza slice I’ve ever had, which was roughly the size of my head (I can highly recommend the Veggie Hawaiian, paired with Bossy Sauce to dip), and, ignoring the gradual stomach aches from ingesting so much gluten at once, we did a final lap of the campus, and then drove up through and around the Flatirons.

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I really loved Boulder – so much so that I regret not going to university there, that campus was amazing! – but it was time to move onto the next destination…

Saturday 6th May – Rock Springs WY Superior CO > Salt Lake City (8 hour drive)

This drive was literally a field. I don’t even have any pictures because it was so insanely dull. You’ll just have to trust me that I did this drive across the whole of Wyoming – all 8 hours of it – and hated every minute because of the distinct lack of anything remotely interesting. Anyway, I got to SLC at around 6pm, checked into my hotel, the Ramada Salt Lake City North Temple (yes, another Ramada, and yes, it was a similar state to the previous one… suffice it to say I won’t be staying in another Ramada for a long time), and slept, because I was knackered after an entire day of driving through the world’s biggest field. The next day was slightly more interesting, though…

Sunday 7th May – Stay in Salt Lake City

When I was in the depths of despair during #denvergate at 3 in the morning, I put a call out on a Facebook group called ‘Girls Love Travel’ to see if anyone was in SLC/the surrounding area and fancied hanging out when I was there. Fortunately, a lovely lady called Kristin replied and asked if I wanted to join her and some of her friends for brunch, to which I sent a very enthusiastic message back (brunch and good company? Hell yeah!).

Kristin picked me up from my hotel, and took me on a little driving tour of SLC, including stopping off at an adorable urban flea market  where I picked up some dirt cheap vintage goodies, including a 1920s camera in its original leather casing (!!). We met up with a friend of hers, and spent a good few hours pacing the market (seriously, why can’t we have things like that in the UK? Decent markets, rather than naff markets which sell bowls of clothes pegs and pirated Peter Andre CDs). After sufficient pacing, we went to Current Fish & Oyster for brunch, where I chowed down on a pear mimosa and some Crab Benedict which was exceptional and made me feel super classy all day.

We then headed up to the University of Utah to see the Winter Olympic village and stadium, as well as a gorgeous little park called Red Butte Garden where I pretended to be a nature photographer, as evidenced below:

Last stop on the tour of Salt Lake City was the Salt Lake Temple, in Temple Square – the largest LDS (Mormon) temple by floor area, and a personal highlight of SLC for me. I’ve been interested in Mormonism for a while now (as I am with most “subcultures” of society), so I was really looking forward to seeing this. And it did not disappoint:

Those Mormons know how to build a church and plant a garden! I’ve never seen a more spotless park in my entire life!

All in all, it was an amazing day, and I have to give a massive thanks to Kristin for being my SLC tour guide and showing me the sights – another example of the Internet working wonders! There’s always space at mine if you want to roam around the UK, girl 🙂

Monday 8th May – Salt Lake City > Las Vegas (6 hour drive)

Another relatively long drive, this time to Vegas! I took the I-15S down to Sin City, throughout Southern Utah (which was beautiful, by the way – it’s definitely one of my favourite states in terms of epic scenery!), and arrived in Vegas a casual 6 hours later.

Pro tip alert: don’t drive in Vegas. Ever. Trust me on this – park outside and take a taxi or Uber in, or something. That is not a car-friendly city. Plus you’ll want to run over all of the tourists after driving 6 hours in desert heat, and it’ll only be the realization of how awful prison is that will stop you from doing so.

I know this will disappoint all of my fellow twenty-somethings, and it’s proof that I am a grandma of the highest order, but I mostly used Vegas as a stop-gap and somewhere to explore the Grand Canyon from. By this, I mean I didn’t partyI know. In a way, I’m glad of this – how sad would it be for me to party by myself? – but Vegas is most definitely a party city, and somewhere to go in a big group so you can all take advantage of the excess. It is ridiculously expensive, so bear that in mind, but if you’re smart you can get some great offers and maximise the crap out of the city.

I stayed at the Linq, a convenient hotel owned by Caesars on the strip (as most Caesars hotels are). The hotel itself was absolutely ridiculous – the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel was outside my room, standing at 550ft tall. Maths fans, that’s 544ft taller than me – and there were a number of insane-looking restaurants, bars, shops (including a tattoo parlour) and amenities inside the place. It wasn’t that expensive – I paid £75 a night, not including resort fees, and got a continental breakfast and a very decent room for that price. Not too shabby.

Pro tip alert: a large percentage of Vegas hotels charge a resort fee – anywhere up to $35 a night on top of the hotel room price. This was a shock to me – I ended up paying $60 additional for Wifi which should be free anyway, and a fitness centre I didn’t even use, which I naturally kicked up a fuss about (really? The fitness centre? In VEGAS?). Be aware of this, and try and choose a hotel that won’t charge you on top of the room rate – there’s quite a good list here with all fees and fee-free hotels listed.

I wish I could say I had a crazy night and ended up marrying an Elvis impersonator at the Little White Chapel, but in all honesty, I had the world’s most insane Caesar salad and a delicious Dirty Martini at Hash House A Go Go, wandered around the strip, gambled an entire $20, and then went to bed. In my defence, I had to be up at 5.30am for…

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Well, not an insane salad, but…

Tuesday 9th May – Stay in Las Vegas – go to Grand Canyon

I’ve been wanting to visit the Grand Canyon for years. The sheer size and beauty of it didn’t really come across on TV or in the movies, and my bucket list was aching at the thought of being able to experience it and tick it off while I was actually in the area. During #denvergate, I decided to have something to look forward to, and found the absolutely brilliant GC Tours offering Grand Canyon coach trips for $79 for the day including breakfast and lunch. I opted for the South Rim tour, which included a visit to the Hoover Dam, a photo stop on Route 66, and a whole 3 hours at the Grand Canyon, as well as picking me up and dropping me off at my hotel. I won’t lie, the thought of not driving again in Vegas was another huge reason I decided to go for this coach trip.

I woke up super early – the coach picked us up at 6.15am outside the Linq in the tour lobby – and was greeted by a really friendly driver. We then shifted onto a luxury coach, were given a breakfast, and were soon on our way. I can’t for the life of me remember the tour driver’s name, but she was Hawaiian, very sweet and knowledgeable about the entire route and attractions, and unbelievably patient, as my fellow passengers were incredibly irritating.

We stopped off first at the Hoover Dam, where I took loads of pictures and tried to pick my jaw up off the ground:

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Absolutely ridiculous, no?

We then headed up to the Canyon, via a few little towns which I’ve forgotten the names of #toptraveller. And here’s where the problems begin…

Bearing in mind, Vegas is situated in a desert. It was roughly 32 degrees when I left in the morning, so I was dressed appropriately (strappy top, jeans, ballet pumps) and imagined the Grand Canyon would be similarly hot.

I imagined wrong.

It was foggy, rainy, snowing somehow, and as a result I barely got to see any of the canyon. A colossal disappointment all round. Have some pictures anyway!

 

 

Wednesday 10th May – Las Vegas > Los Angeles (4 hour drive)

Another long drive through desert, but – and this is important! – I videoed some of it using my generic Go Pro and some duct tape! Link to be up shortly, I know you can’t wait 😉
Thursday 11th May – Stay in Los Angeles

I decided to use my penultimate day to bum around Los Angeles – namely ticking things off my bucket list like “see the Hollywood sign” and “put my handprints in Marilyn Monroe’s at the Chinese Theatre” (both of which I did!).

I stayed at the Hollywood Hotel again (one of my favourite hotels all trip – seriously, such a good deal!), which was conveniently located 5 minutes from the Metro stations Vermont/Santa Monica, and Vermont/Sunset. I enjoyed a long lie in, a massive breakfast in true Rosi fashion (the logic here being that if a hotel offers a free breakfast, max it out so you don’t have to pay for lunch. It’s pretty efficient!), and sauntered on down to the Metro to hop on the red line and go to Hollywood Boulevard.

The Metro in LA isn’t half bad actually. I come from the school of thought that the London Underground is the best public transit system in the world (and I will fight anyone who disagrees), but the Metro wasn’t too shabby, if you ignore the fact that the trains seem to come once every ten minutes. I took the red line from Vermont/Santa Monica to Hollywood/Highland (towards North Hollywood) and stopped off to catch a film at the TCL Chinese Theater (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, if you were interested, which was very good). After this, I grabbed some food, and headed outside to see the foot/handprints and stars:

 

Did a little bit of shopping, last minute souvenirs, etc. and headed on back to the hotel in order to pack (see also: sit on my suitcase until it closes) and gather everything up ready to fly back to the UK on the Friday.

 

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If you made it this far, congratulations! WordPress is telling me I’ve written 4200 words, which even for me is ridiculous, so I’ll leave it here I think. All in all, it was an amazing trip – I learnt a lot about myself, my tolerance and complete lack of patience for long car journeys, ate too much, drank too much, laughed a lot, was bored out of my mind a lot (I never want to see the inside of a Jeep ever again), and had a bloody great time.

If you have any questions about the trip, or are interested in taking a trip yourself, please feel free to email me or comment on this ‘ere post – more than happy to help!

Until next time…!

R x

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