California road trippin'

September 2015

san francisco - yosemite - death valley - las vegas - los angeles - west coast

In September 2015 we embarked on our first solo trip to America. During this trip we stayed at both luxurious hotels and more affordable accommodation to balance the budget - this only added to the experience as we got a taste for both.


Our first port of call was San Francisco, although we did not explore the city until the end of this trip. Instead we picked up our car rental with Alamo and headed straight to Yosemite National Park, where we arrived at 2am. We were greeted in Yosemite by the most mesmerising stars lighting up the sky - definitely worth the 3.5 hour midnight drive. Hotels at the centre of Yosemite Village are few and far between and come with a hefty price tag, so instead we checked into a hotel on the outskirts and would drive into the village the next day. We stayed at Yosemite for one night (would have definitely stayed longer in hindsight) and spent this time exploring the park.

Conditions were not as we had expected, the skies were hazy as there had been recent forest fires. Lesson learnt from this very rookie mistake - always check the weather forecast! 

Tioga Road (the only road east of Yosemite towards Nevada) which is closed during the winter, was thankfully open! A drive down this wonderful course through the vast landscapes is a must do, for Evey and I it was as stunning as Tunnel View.

After a night in Lone Pine, CA, where we discovered “Fat Tyre” which became Bret’s go-to drink, we set out on a mission to drive through Death Valley. This had long been on our bucket list and as we had not developed our love for photography back in 2015, these photos are courtesy of Apple’s iPhone camera. The straight roads that span further than the eye can see, coupled with winding roads traversing through the mountains make this a drive like no other.

After hours of cruising around and getting extremely dehydrated walking around the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes trying to reach the highest peak, we came across Oasis at Death Valley. This was a welcome break from the dust and we couldn’t help but grab a shower.

Las Vegas was our next port of call. This was our base whilst we took daily drives to explore nearby locations including the Grand Canyon.


The view of Vegas at night as we were driving down Highway 95 over the Mountains, was another jaw dropping moment. As soon as we pulled up to The Palazzo we knew we had made a great choice and we highly recommend this hotel. We learnt that Vegas is whatever you make it, as the possibilities are endless. It can be a drunken weekend escape, bustling business hub, shotgun wedding, or a luxurious and relaxing break in a place like no other.

Next up – LA. The City of Angels. Here we stayed at boutique hotel Chamberlain West Hollywood. This would be our base to explore all that LA had to offer. Our highlight from here was the Griffith Observatory where we spend a couple of evening watching the sun set over the downtown skyline.

Our first stop after LA on our West Coast drive, was Santa Barbara, a beautiful coastal city full of red-tiled roofs and surrounded either side by the sparkling Pacific ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains. Here we stayed at Belmond El Encanto, located at the top of the steep streets with a stunning view.

From here we continued towards San Francisco via Big Sur, stopping at Pismo Beach and Monterey. Had we have known about the Oceano Dunes we would have definitely spent some time here, but we did not know it existed. Driving over Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur was something we had always wanted to do and was a great experience. In Monterey we drove a 17-mile drive, a privately managed road from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. On this drive nature treated us to some stunning displays of whales playing in the sea.

All in all, we vastly underestimated the beauty of the Califronia West Coast and hence time we allowed to explore this stretch of beautiful landscape. We've promised ourselves we will return one day and spend more time here!