In March 2014 I did a roundtrip which’s route took me some time to plan in advance so I would like to share it with you. It is a route combining the natural beauty, the big city life and the lonesome roads right through desert, woods and mountains in just ten days. Rough routing plan:
Los Angeles, CA
–> Flagstaff, AZ
–> Las Vegas, NV
–> Carson City, NV
–> San Francisco, CA
–> Los Angeles, CA.
Our first stop was Los Angeles as we arrived at the airport here. We flew here on Delta Airlines (which have done a decent job) from Düsseldorf (DUS) through Atlanta (ATL) so that we decided to book a hotel near the airport to just have some sleep quite fast. We stayed at the Holiday Inn. After arrival the evening was quite short, we went to the McDonalds right next to the hotel, had some late night snack and beer at the hotel bar. Our roundtrip was to start the next morning.
After getting up and checking out we collected the car we rented in advance. After all the bureaucracy at the Thrifty desk we were able to choose the car we wanted from our book category by ourselves. We chose a white Dodge Avenger to carry us around.
Right after we left the parking lot we started our long way to Flagstaff, Arizona. 775 km or 481 miles to go. But the long way was worth it. Right after Victorville we took the eastbound Interstate 40 which took us right to Flagstaff. Some parts of the Interstate 40 are parallel to the old Route 66 what made us drive some kilometers on that legendary road as well. But unfortunately big parts of it are not in good condition and lots of houses and stations along the road are abandoned.
After the long road trip we arrived at Flagstaff in the evening. The Best Western Pony Soldier Inn was our home for two nights. Flagstaff actually was planned to be our gateway to the Grand Canyon. So the next day, after breakfast we left early in the morning to drive there. The trip is only about one hour, so we arrived there early to admit the terrific views over the canyons. The Grand Canyon hast been one of the most impressive places I’ve yet been to and I would love to go there again, maybe for some hiking down into the canyons next time.
The way back led us through the Hopi Reservation. The Indians living here offer their goods at parking lots and trading places, most times in connection with a hotel and a petrol station or casinos. But as it was late already we didn’t have a chance to visit one of these.
After arriving back in Flagstaff, we had dinner at the Crown Railroad Café, which was not far from our hotel. The diner was held in the old 50s/60s style and design, nice and nostalgic interior but the food was only average. Nonetheless a visit here can’t harm anybody liking old style diners.
For sure we also checked out the city center of Flagstaff and had some beer at a pub here.
Maybe good to know for anybody planning to stop here: the city is in the desert and so is Grand Canyon but in May we had temperatures below 0°C in the morning and only around 10°C during daytime. That’s due to the high location of Flagstaff.
The next day we took the trip to Las Vegas. We drove back the Interstate 40 again and took the Route 93 in Kingman. Kingman is home to an airport where lots of old aircraft are waiting to be scraped or to be sold to another airline. Hundreds of aircraft are standing in line in the dessert waiting for their fate, a stop here is definitely recommendable.
The next stop on the way was the Hoover Dam. The greatest Dam I’ve ever seen. It’s an impressive concrete structure which also offers you a great view onto the lake behind it.
We went on to Las Vegas where we were checking in at the “The Palms” hotel for only one night. Las Vegas was actually only a waypoint we wanted to visit shortly. We walked down the strip, had some beer at the Hard Rock Café there and went back to the hotel as we had a long trip in front of us the next day.
Early in the morning we started again to drive to Carson City, Nevada’s capital, and to see Death Valley. We took the Route 95 to Amargosa Valley and drove to the entry of the Death Valley National Park from there. Driving through Death Valley is quite impressive as you are in a depressions surrounded by high mountains with snowy peaks. The road took us through salt flats and desert area. We even met some bikers making their way down the kilometers long straight highways through the valley.
Leaving Death Valley was like a really strong contrast. We drove up the Route 190 and 136 to Lone Pine and were passing small towns such as Bishop, which are also gateways to the local skiing areas, all the way through the beautiful mountains until we reached Carson City.
Carson City and the City Center Motel were our new home for three nights. We wanted to use the city as basis to visit the Yosemite National Park but unfortunately the only route to enter the park from the eastern site was closed due to snowfall. Anyways this town is a good basis to explore the region. The first day brought us to Lake Tahoe. A beautiful mountain lake with incredibly clear water.
Also the former Winter Olympics site Squaw Valley was easy to reach from here. To end that small trip around Lake Tahoe we visited Reno for its Casinos and to have lunch. Reno offers a few different Casinos to gamble and dine but nothing for real sightseeing. Anyways the city is liked as it’s a Las Vegas in the Mountains where you can gamble and have fun after skiing.
After return to Carson City in the evening we had some really good Thai lunch at the “Basil” restaurant. Very friendly owner and excellent food!
The next day was meant to be our local sightseeing day in and around Carson City. As Carson City is the capital of Nevada the State Capitol is an important and nice sight. It is surrounded by a park with plants and trees that where blossoming in all its splendor during march. But the old town of Carson City also offers a lot of old buildings that are renewed nicely.
After walking around a little we decided to visit the Nevada State Railroad Museum which gave us a great insight into the development of railways, trains and locomotives in the USA and especially the importance of this mean of transportation to the local economy. The museum is definitely a must when you are in town. It’s not big, but has a lot of interesting exhibits and really friendly stuff that is passionately guiding you around and telling you stories about any sample in them museum.
As the day was sunny, we decided to drive to Virginia City, a rebuilt former ghost town. Actually this city is only a tourist magnet today and there’s not really much to see. The main street has been rebuild in its old style as it was looking in the so called “Wild West” times but as it’s only this one street it is crowded by cars, motorbikes and tourists. Most of the stores there are souvenir shops or offering fast food. Anyways having a look at this small town is no fault if you have time.
As the next day would mean a long ride in the car, we decided to end the day at this point, had diner at “Garibaldi’s Ristorante Italiano” in Carson City, a really good place to eat, and some beer in the hotel and went to bed.
The next day after breakfast (by the way, you get the best breakfast in town at Carson City Nugget Casino café and it’s served all day long!) we got on the car to drive all the way to San Francisco.
Passing through the beautiful nature of the Tahoe National Forest we reached Sacramento, the state capital of California quite soon. We stoped here for some sightseeing, but there was not much going on here. Anyways the state capitol is a really nice building which is also surrounded by a great park, perfect to have a relaxing break.
After another kilometers on the car we reached San Francisco. It has already been indicating itseld by traffic jams before we reached the bridges.
Our home here was the Majestic Hotel, which was a nice but not perfect boutique hotel in the heart of the city. After walking around the city in the evening we had dinner in China Town. The Chinese part of the town offers great restaurants with authentic Asian food.
Important sights we visited during out two day stay in the city: Golden Gate Bridge and Park, Twin Peaks, Fisherman’s Warf, Lombard Street and lots more. Strolling through the city of cable cars is great but if you are exploring the city by foot as we did, you should bring some good walking shoes 😉
On our way back to Los Angeles we decided to take the scenic route of the Cabrillo Highway 1. We followed its route down the rough Pacific coast, passing only one or two towns on a way of 400 kilometers but a colony of elephant seals. If you are choosing to take this route or the one down the Interstate 5: take the Highway 1!
After passing Santa Barbara during a cloud-burst we reached the Tarzana Inn, our home at the outskirts of Los Angeles, not far from Malibu.
The next day we went to Malibu, visited the Pier of Santa Monica, took a ride through Venice Beach and walked down the Hollywood Boulevard with the walk of fame. For sure we also saw the Hollywood sign in the Hollywood hills.
As this was the last full day of our roundtrip, we were going to Los Angeles International Airport the next day, returning our rental card and checking in for our flight back home on Delta Airlines and KLM. Both did a great job on all three legs of the journey (routing was LAX-JFK-AMS-DUS) and I would fly both of them again, any time.
All in all this route should be an example of what place one could and should visit when in this area. The routing was made up by ourselves and we tried to see most possible within less than two weeks and tried to make the most of it. All of the hotels have been really good and the people have always been friendly. If possible, me myself I would try to avoid Los Angeles next time as it was the least beautiful and interesting city on this tour, but our start and last destination.
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