I have always wanted to visit America. As a kid Disneyland was my wish when I blew out my birthday candles. Growing up watching the latest movies, it was the movie stars and the rich and famous that had my attention. More recently it was the landscapes, the diverse cultures, the landmarks, the history and the way of life that captured my interest.
We arrived in to Los Angeles Airport mid-afternoon, excited but groggy. After making our way through Tom Bradley airport we erupted through the crowds into the warm LA air. Traffic was insane, people everywhere wrestling their bags into cars, horns honking and buses coming and going. Chaos. I loved it already.
Driving through LA it dawned on me how huge this place was, it was nearly an hour until we reached our hotel on Sunset Boulevard. The evening was spent exploring Hollywood, we spent hours trying to find our favourite stars on the Hollywood walk of fame and measured our hands against concrete impressions of the famous at the Chinese theatre. Hollywood boulevard was busy and shocking, very interesting. If you like people watching, this is the place to be.
The following morning we visited Universal Studios. We arrived early and the park was already starting to hum. It was a Saturday morning and being summer, a very busy time. As the day wore on there were streams of people coming in. By lunch the park was heaving and queue times from then were around 90 minutes for each ride. However with front of line passes the longest we waited was 10 minutes making a potentially tiring and unfulfilling day beyond enjoyable. Age is no barrier here, there is a 'big kid' in all of us.
Once we had wondered the entire park, we made our way to Universal City (outside the entrance to Universal Studios) where we had a feast at 'Bubba Shrimp'. Much to my delight this is a Forest Gump themed restaurant. Service was great, and the food was just what was wanted. Plenty of shrimp dishes but also other options. We passed the Forest Gump trivia challenge easily. After consuming our mega feed we made our way back to the hotel. We got together at a local Starbucks and with our new G Adventure travelling companions but hit the hay early as yesterday’s gigantic day of travel was starting to take its toll
Day one of our G-adventures tour we climbed aboard our home on wheels for the next week. After a short time on Hollywood Boulevard we made our way to Rodeo drive where we window shopped our way down 3 blocks of high end designer shops. The highlights were the beautiful people and beautiful cars! We saw plenty of Ferraris ,Bentleys, and Maseratis. From here we made our way to Laughlin, Nevada, a desert town packed with hotels and casinos, this is apparently were Vegas residents come to gamble, so we gave it a go. No big win unfortunately, but we were waiting for Vegas for that.
Up early in the 40 degree heat for a quick dip in the pool before heading to the ghost town of Calico. Stepping out of a cool air-conditioned van, the scorching heat just hits you, I have never experienced anything like this before. Calico is full of history and stories. It is built to showcase what life was like in the wild west silver mining days. It is worth a stop, with a small fee to enter and cheap eats, around NZD10 for lunch. A good break if you are travelling between LA to Vegas. You can take the options of gold panning or a train ride. I just enjoyed walking through the township, felt like an old western movie set.
Next stop Grand Canyon! We visited the south rim of the canyon, and what a first impression! Our guide blindfolded us all and we followed each other like a conga to the ledge. Blind folds removed, the view was surreal. This was a childhood dream. I had tears in my eyes or maybe that was the dry dusty air. The canyon for me was overwhelming. Many of my new tour mates were happy to stand on the ledge and smile for selfies. I however felt more at ease to just sit, ponder, and marvel at the view! The land drops almost straight down 3,300 ft into the canyon below. We spent the next 6 hours here just sitting and gazing into one of the natural wonders of the world. This place left me speechless, everyone must try see this spectacle with their own eyes at least once in a lifetime as there is no way a photo will do it justice!
The following morning we were all booked into our helicopter ride through the canyon but due to thunder and lightning it was cancelled. Once we had finished stomping our feet we once again hit the road.
We got on the road mid-morning to Sin City, and stopped at a traditional roadside burger joint along the way. This was where we had our first encounter with Route 66!! It was a brief but outstanding experience with a small part of this iconic road. We spent a couple of hours exploring the quirky, bright, stores selling all the Route 66 souvenirs you could think of. Some shops were tacky, some fun, even amazing if you love the Fifties. The whole area had such an amazing classic American atmosphere. Inspiration for the movie “Cars” was taken from towns like this.
After getting our kicks on route 66 we continued on to explore the 'city of lights'. What can I say? Vegas was everything I dreamed of and more. From the moment we hit the strip it was pure excitement. Huge hotels and casinos flashed before my eyes. Highlights were The Bellagio, The Venetian, Trump hotel, and Caesars Palace. With less than 24 hours in this adult playground no time was to be wasted! Our first stop was Hard Rock Cafe where we admired all of the amazing music memorabilia on the walls. A few cocktails later we even bumped into Elvis!! As night rolled around too quickly we made our way back to our hotel where we’d all opted for an excursion. A way to familiarise our self with Vegas in style, not a bus nor a train… you guessed it a Hummer Limo. You couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces! Glammed up, we were driving around in style while our bubbles cooled in ice buckets! We sat back on leather seats, surrounded by neon lights and disco balls. We had what felt like the loudest of music, booming bass in the biggest limo I had ever seen. All 13 of us had plenty of room to spare. One of the stops was Fremont Street ... 'old school Vegas'. Fremont Street is the "old" strip and it gives you a taste of how Vegas was in the beginning before the big hotels. Not a place for kids (at night anyway), great carnival atmosphere, perfect spot for people watching! Old dirty smoky casinos, sparkly lights, a huge light show, strange dancing, live music and crazy characters. My favourite place.
After our short but incredible visit to Fremont Street we were taken along to the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, where unfortunately we just couldn’t get a group photo! There were just hundreds of people lining up, we couldn’t stick around as our limo had to carry on to pick up its next eager bunch.
All in all it was just what i expected and more, just no time for a show, and we didn’t hang with the rich or famous. I did however manage to wake up to a rather empty bank account. No trip to Vegas is complete without betting large on red or black!
Next morning we were off again! Now to the famous, mysterious Death Vally. It is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. After an amazing drive past desert dunes through the rolling dry valley we hit the salt flats in Badwater Basin. Now this is just an incredible place, desolate and beautiful. Hellish hot though, you could fry an egg on the van. After sweating up a storm in Death Valley we made our way to Bishop a cute wee mountain village. I’m sure there’s plenty to do here but we only had time for Taco-Bell and sleep.
Awaking early again we travelled via Tioga Pass and enjoyed amazing views of Mono Lake and the Tufa Towers. We arrived in Yosemite where we were treated to this incredible national park. We spent the day here hiking down to view the giant sequoias, looking out for wildlife and swimming in fresh water lakes flowing from the some of the many majestic waterfalls.
Next, and sadly the last stop on our tour was San Francisco. Arriving into the city over the Bay Bridge was a sight for sore eyes. The city welcomed us with gleaming buildings, we could clearly see Alcatraz with the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the distance. It was a vibrant blue, clear day, and we couldn’t wait to start exploring. We spent the next 3 days packing in as much as we could possibly see. Definite highlights include milling around Fisherman’s Wharf, chomping down on San Fran’s classic clam chowder, and a visit to Alcatraz.
We opted for a night cruise to Alcatraz Island, we arrived as the sun was setting and left in darkness. Spooky and exciting! I had heard the Alcatraz audio tour was amazing and wasn’t disappointed. Narrated by former inmates and guards it was a gripping commentary. I noticed a sign while queuing to board the Alcatraz ferry that tickets weren’t available for the next 3 weeks so book in advance or be disappointed!
The San Francisco Hop On Hop Off bus here was great, climbing aboard a classic red double decker on the first morning helped us get our bearings and was fully narrated by a guide. The tour was full of relevant history and corny jokes and took us to all the hotspots including Union Square, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park, the Financial District, Chinatown and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Value for money if you are only here for a few days.
All in all San Francisco is friendly, has amazing architecture, amazing iconic landscapes but what it really has is unique personality – I easily fell in love with this city, we were sad to say goodbye. Time to move on to the next part of the trip - a cruise to Mexico! But you’ll have to wait for my next blog for that! Stay tuned…!