It feels good to finally have the time to write about our USA trip! On Tuesday 4 October 2016 we jetted off on a trip of a lifetime, a trip that could only happen thanks to our amazing family and friends.
Our first stop for three nights was Las Vegas. When looking at flights we found that it was much cheaper to fly in and out of Vegas plus there was plenty of direct flights to choose from! We went with Virgin Atlantic, a fabulous flight filled with celebratory champagne, movies and a constant supply of food!
We arrived early afternoon which gave us plenty of time to check in and explore. We stayed at the Aria Hotel which was perfectly located and we were lucky enough to get an upgrade to the swish Tower Suites! Advice for any honeymooners, mention the fact that you are newlyweds as often as possible, make the most of it. You might not always get an upgrade but it’s worth a try.
We really loved Vegas from the moment we got there, walking up and down the strip and going through the casinos was so much fun. The hotels are really amazing with great restaurants, bars etc. Vegas at night was fun but if you aren’t into gambling, shows or drinking then you soon run out of things to do (in my opinion). It is also pretty expensive to do pretty much anything there so make sure you take plenty of spending money.
If you have the opportunity, try and hire a car and see more than just the strip. A friend of mine lives in Las Vegas so took the time to drive us to Red Rock Canyon. It was great to see the amazing views just a 10 minute drive from central Vegas.
If you want to experience an american breakfast then try out Hash House at The Linq. The portion sizes and food choices are massive, you could well need a nap after you have eaten! We also had breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi which was really nice with a great view of the Bellagio. You do need to book in advance as it is always busy but worth it.
Hiring a car
The only thing we didn’t plan in advance was car hire. It’s very easy to do this when you arrive in the USA. It works out cheaper to hire from the airports so after looking on carrental.com we got a taxi back to the airport (ask the taxi driver to take you to the car rental pickup area). It’s a fairly large building with all the car rental companies under one roof. We went with Alamo after reading reviews online. We had no problems with the company at all so will definitely use them again when we go back.
We hired a Jeep which worked perfectly for the amount of miles we were doing. Petrol in America is so much cheaper in comparison to the UK but depending on how many miles you are doing it can soon add up, especially if you hire a Mustang, Dodge etc. We also hired a Sat Nav which was essential and meant that we didn’t have to use our phones.
With food and drink supplies we made our way to Mammoth Lakes via Death Valley. The distance to Death Valley takes approximately two hours and gets extremely hot once you are within the park so plenty of fluids are essential.
The views once in the park are amazing. If it wasn’t for the heat I could have sat there for hours just staring at the views along the way.
After driving through Death Valley, we had an overnight stop in Mammoth Lakes. This place is mainly used for the skiing season but it’s a great stop off point before driving through Yosemite. We stayed at a lovely little B&B called the Cinnamon Bear Inn. They have happy hour from 5pm with free wine and nibbles. You also get breakfast included, the french toast was so tasty!
If you do stay in Mammoth Lakes you should try out Slocum’s for your evening meal. The food is really good with really friendly staff. A lot of the restaurants were really busy so if you can, try and book in advance.
Yosemite National Park
After our stay at Mammoth Lakes we got up early and made our way to Yosemite National Park. We had seen a lake on the map so decided to stop there prior to gaining entry to Yosemite. Mono Lake is literally two minutes past the sign for Yosemite and well worth a look – it is absolutely beautiful! It was so peaceful there, try and go early morning; we were practically the only people there.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to Yosemite but I was blown away. The views from the moment we entered the park were unbelievable. The park has generous parking spots along the way so that you can stop and take in the views whenever you like. I even shed a little happy tear – it really was the highlight of our honeymoon.
As you get closer to the visitor centre there are plenty of places to stay. Expensive and you definitely need to book well in advance but if you want to see as much of this place as possible then staying within the park is definitely worth the money. This is something we will definitely do next time.
The drive from Yosemite to San Francisco was probably about four hours. We hit a bit of traffic coming into San Francisco, no surprises really after being on quiet roads for most of the day!
For this part of our honeymoon we chose to stay in our own apartment, booked via Airbnb. When it comes to going away we much prefer to stay within the local neighbourhoods, cook our own meals etc. For anyone who hasn’t been to San Francisco before, hotels are expensive and you have to pay an additional charge if you have a car (usually about $50 each day). Thankfully our apartment had free parking and worked out a lot cheaper than a hotel.
Depending on where you are staying you may need to get a MUNI train. The MUNI ride for us took roughly 20 minutes to get to centre. We always stopped at the Embankment station as this gave us a great starting point to explore the city. The tram is $2.50 which covers you for three hours. You need exact change when paying on the tram or you can pay at any main station points.
If you are only in San Fran for a few days then I would suggest hiring a bike for the day and seeing the city that way, it is so much fun and a great workout! Cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge was amazing with fabulous views of the city. There are bike hire spots all over so it is an easy activity to organise. Just be sure to take a jumper, we found that the weather would be glorious one minute and cloudy and cold the next.
We made the most of our bikes and cycled to Lombard Street, possibly not the best idea as the hills are very steep and it was really hot and sunny by this point!
Another must see is to take a tour of Alcatraz Island. You really do need to book this in advance online to guarantee a place, I booked two months in advance and there was only one day available whilst we were there. The trip lasts a few hours but you can come back on any boat you want so there is plenty of flexibility if you would like to stay longer.
You can walk around the island at your leisure which is good, I’m not really a fan of being in huge groups! The audio tour once inside the prison was really interesting and informative, definitely the best part of the tour.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to visit if you love fish! It was extremely busy when we were there but still a great place to be with lots of things going on. The Sea Lions were great!
We absolutely loved San Francisco and can’t wait to go back and explore more.
Pacific Coast Highway
After four days in San Fran we made our way down the coast (highway 1) to Santa Barbara where we would stay for one night before heading to Topanga. If you put the route into a Sat Nav it might take you via highway 101 which isn’t the coast. You really don’t want to miss out this drive so make sure you choose route 1, it makes the long journey so much more memorable with amazing views.
On our way to Santa Barbara we stopped at Santa Cruz for a coffee break. It has a lovely feel to it with quite a few shops etc. A nice stop for an hour or so if you have the time.
Once you hit the coast you will want to stop at every opportunity. The views are breathtaking! Be sure to stop and see the Elephant Seals, when we were there in October that were hundreds – a really lovely experience.
After a seven hour drive we arrived in Santa Barbara. The drive sounds long but it is definitely doable. Before our honeymoon I researched a lot about our planned route and quite a few forums said that doing the route from San Francisco to Santa Barbara wasn’t manageable in one day. As long as you stop for breaks and take in the scenery it is absolutely fine.
I really liked the feel of Santa Barbara as soon as we arrived. It felt very chilled and relaxed, definitely my sort of place! We would have liked to have stayed longer here but with us wanting to see so much in just under three weeks we chose to stay here for one night only. Definitely worth coming back to though.
We stayed at the Lemon Tree Inn which had free parking, swimming pool, a lovely restaurant with great food and cafe’s etc. within a mile radius.
We woke up bright and early and made our way to Malibu before stopping in Topanga for two nights. We didn’t get to see much of Malibu apart from the main road with all the luxury beach houses. There is a nice pier with a lovely looking cafe, would be a perfect spot to watch the surfers and enjoy the sunshine.
I came across this place when searching for places to stay in Los Angeles. After reading quite a few reviews a few people said that staying within LA wasn’t the most ideal spot and that Topanga has more on offer with regards to views, tranquility etc. I am so glad that we stayed here, Topanga is up in the mountains, just passed Malibu and about 20 minutes drive to LA. Again, we booked with Airbnb and it was a lovely stay from start to finish. Just to be up in the mountains in our own little hideaway was perfect. If you carry on going through Topanga you get to the main town centre which is filled with supermarkets, a great place to stop to stock up on food and drink.
Whilst staying in Topanga we took a day trip to Santa Monica. It is only a 10 minute drive from Topanga with plenty of places to park. The pier is nice with a vibrant atmosphere and it’s lovely to walk along the promenade from the pier all the way down to Venice Beach.
Venture further into the centre and there are plenty of shops and restaurants on offer.
Venice Beach was not as amazing as I thought it would be. The sunshine, palm trees and white sandy beaches were perfect but there was an overwhelming tacky sort of vibe. Don’t get me wrong it is well worth a visit but I don’t think I’ll rush to go back!
On our way to San Diego we decided to park close to LA and spend the day walking around. We started off in Beverly Hills and as you can imagine places such as Rodeo Drive were very fancy looking with designer shops and some of the most expensive cars driving around. This area was very pretty, we parked in a residential area so it was nice to look up and down the streets.
After visiting Beverly Hills we got back in the car and made our way to the tourist areas. I mainly wanted to see the Walk of Fame and the Hollywood sign before we went anywhere! To be honest I’m not sure it was worth it. The Walk of Fame, well the part we saw anyway was a massive letdown. I’m not sure what I expected but I didn’t even notice it at first until my husband pointed it out. The streets were littered with tourists and touts which runied the whole experience for me. Still, I took a few photos of the stars, the ones I could see anyway!
We took a quick photo of the Hollywood sign then made our way to San Diego. I’m sure if we had moved away from the tourist areas we would have enjoyed it more but we just felt it wasn’t the place for us.
I think we loved San Diego from the minute we arrived. The neighbourhood we were staying in was called Mission Hills and had such a lovely feel to it. We booked another Airbnb apartment which had to be the best one out of the lot. The Roost was owned by a lovely couple who has a beautiful home and lovely garden space for the apartment at the back. They really looked after the apartment and did everything possible to make your stay comfortable. I’m hoping we can stay there again when we return to San Diego!
Mission Hills is the prefect place to stay if you would like to be away from the centre yet only 5 minutes drive away. Again we had free parking with easy walking access to restaurants, cafe’s, supermarkets etc.
On our first night we drove down to Little Italy which was great! It was a Saturday evening so was busy with locals and tourists with a fabulous atmosphere. Lots of Italian restaurants as you can imagine but also plenty of other eateries to suit all needs.
Whilst in San Diego we also visited the Cabrillo National Monument. It is about a 15 minute drive from central San Diego and $10 per car to enter the national park. The views from the top are really lovely with lots of other things to see so it is worth the money. Try and go on a clear day so that you can appreciate the views!
Depending on when you visit the national park you may be able to spot a whale or two! Sadly it was the wrong time of year for us to see them but it definitely would have been another highlight of San Diego if we had.
Another highlight of our San Diego visit was the Gaslamp Quarter. A great area to visit with plenty of places to eat and drink. We only went for lunch during the day but really enjoyed walking around and taking in the sights, sounds and smells.
We also had a lovely walk along the waterfront which was really lovely!
On the last full day we went to San Diego Zoo. I had high expectations for this place and have always loved zoo’s but I really wish we had given it a miss. The place is huge with a lot to see but unfortunately like a lot of zoo’s these days it was sad to see that a lot of the animals appear to be showing signs of being unhappy. We had to leave in the end as it was too sad to watch.
Although I really wished we had spent the day exploring somewhere else it still didn’t dampen our experience of San Diego, we absolutely loved spending three days in this vibrant yet calming city!
Final stop – Las Vegas
The drive from San Diego to Las Vegas took roughly five hours but it went really quickly. Setting off early just after the work traffic really does help. We had another three nights in Vegas before flying home.
After dropping off the Jeep at the car rental place we immediately picked up a Mustang ready for our drive to the Hoover Dam the next day. It cost roughly $90 to hire the Mustang and Sat Nav for the day and we had to fill it up to full before taking it back. This only cost $30 though!
The Hoover Dam is only an hour maximum from Vegas and an amazing place to visit. Unfortuantely I felt quite ill that day so didn’t get to drive the Mustang much but it was amazing to be in the passenger seat. We stopped to take a few photos and went over the bridge itself then made our way to Grand Canyon West.
The drive to Grand Canyon West was pretty cool but when arriving we were greeted by a huge visitor centre. In order to go on the walkway and see the Grand Canyon you had to take part in a tour that lasted at least three hours and cost roughly $70 per person. We knew we didn’t have the time plus we weren’t interested in taking a tour so decided to leave it. The drive was a good enough experience and maybe once day we can come back and see it properly.
I can see why people pay the money to take a helicopter ride over the canyon. It does look amazing but due to my fear of heights I just couldn’t bring myself to do it – maybe i’ll be brave enough next time??
On our last night in Vegas we wanted to see a show but unfortunately the shows we wanted to see were cancelled. Instead we decided to go on the High Roller which was brilliant and gave fantastic views of Las Vegas as the sun was setting. Advice, it is cheaper if you get on before 6pm. We bought a ticket and jumped on at about 5.45pm, just in time to see the sun setting over the strip – a perfect way to end our fantastic honeymoon!
It really was a trip of a lifetime and we hope to go back some day. For anyone who is planning a trip to the USA, enjoy every minute, I’m so jelaous for anyone who gets to go!
Feel free to leave a comment if you would like any further advice. I think if I’d have written every piece of detail down this post would be miles long – ask away 😊.