America on road

The best way to experience USA is by road, says Salomi Pakvasa Shah

There’s something really special about going on a road trip. It’s every traveller’s dream to travel in your own vehicle, drive where you want to and pull over when you want to.

For me, a road trip meant adventure, camaraderie and having the windows down with the wind blowing in my hair and the open road in front of me. So that’s what I decided to do in the summer of 2008—a budget road trip over three weeks, across the states of California and Arizona, starting from San Francisco right up to Los Angeles.

Gliding on Golden Gate bridge

A friend and I flew into San Francisco from India, where we were joined by others from Austria. We stayed at a quaint youth hostel called Fort Mason in the Golden Gate area, which is in the midst of everything. Parking rates in SF are exorbitant and with an excellent public transportation service, it was silly to rent a car while visiting the city. We took a three-day Cable Car Pass and were off to discover this liberal city. Visiting the touristy hotspots, such as the security prison of Alcatraz and Lombard Street, was on the agenda but it was the city’s quirkier districts such as Chinatown and Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf that brought SF to life for us. A nine-mile bicycle ride from Fisherman’s Wharf Pier to Sausalito takes about 2 – 3 hours and we caught breathtaking views on the way as we rode on the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. The ride ended with chocolate sundaes at Ghirardelli square which made us feel like children all over again!

Kayaking in Lake Tahoe

After spending five wonderful days in San Francisco, we rented a mid-SUV and headed to Lake Tahoe in a scenic four-hour drive on interstate Highway 180, passing Sacramento [the Capital city of California] and Napa Valley. I can never forget the first views of the waters of Lake Tahoe glistening in the sun. We stayed at the Best Western in South Lake Tahoe over the North, as the South has the best restaurants and bars along with the Heavenly Ski Village. We headed up to Emerald Bay to catch the best views of the lake, followed by a perfect lakeside picnic lunch at Vikingsholm. The next three days had us involved in a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and jet skiing. But the highlight of Lake Tahoe is kayaking—it was a magical experience, renting a kayak for two and gliding across the crystal clear waters of the lake at dusk, watching the colours change from emerald green to pink and purple.

Waterfalls, valleys, meadows and more…

Three blissful days at Lake Tahoe, and we were back on the road once again cutting westward on Highway 120 and heading up on the Tioga Pass for about 185 miles into Yosemite, one of America’s most famous National Parks. We entered into Curry Village, where once you’ve paid your $20 entrance fee, you can get all the hiking and driving information you need. The national park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows and ancient giant sequoias. We wished to climb the Half Dome—the famous mountain peak rising 8800 ft above sea level but the 10 – 12 hours steep hike is a day trip suited more to the experienced mountain climber. Instead, we settled for the easier and shorter trails that lead up to the Yosemite Falls.

Our accommodation in Curry Village was a small tent for four at Camp Curry, where travellers are warned about the bears that live within the park and hence everything edible is locked up in a large iron locker located outside your tent. This whole experience kept us up all night as we anxiously tried to listen to the sounds of bears at a distance!

After an overnight stay in Yosemite, we got on to Highway 101, the fabled American highway offering the most scenic views of the Pacific coast. We made it a point to drive through Solvang—a charming city in Santa Barbara reflecting traditional Danish architecture with quaint windmills everywhere. After a long tiring day of driving for over eight hours, we decided to make an overnight stop at a roadside motel owned by an Indian family in lovely San Louis Obispo, a town which prides itself on having the world’s first motel!

Hello Hollywood

The next day, we had an early and quick breakfast and were off to Los Angeles—to say hello to Hollywood and some of the most beautiful homes in Beverly Hills. On our must-do list of LA was the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and the Kodak Theatre, which hosts the Academy Awards every year. We later headed to Venice beach, which has a wonderful vibe to it, with outdoor cafes, live music and dance performances, ending our day with a delicious Mexican meal at one of the ocean-side restaurants watching people pass by.

Breathtaking Las Vegas

Finishing off all the tourist attractions of LA in four days, we drove 250 miles to Sin City and the entertainment capital of the world—Las Vegas. Everything you may have heard about Vegas is true. It is glitzy, larger-than-life, occasionally outrageous, oozing with casinos and night clubs. We stayed at New York, New York, one of the cheaper hotels on the Strip as compared to the more famous ones like the Venetian and Bellagio. Through the day, we spent hours walking on the Strip, hopping from one hotel to another and getting awed by the sheer grandeur and theme of each. We managed to catch free live shows at the Treasure Island and Caesar Palace but the musical fountains outside the Bellagio simply took our breath away. The fountain show occurs every half an hour between 3pm to 8pm and then every 15 minutes right up till midnight with spritzers shooting water up to 469 feet in the air. It is truly a sight to behold.

The Grand Canyon is indeed grand

After a couple of days, the lights and glitz of this man-made wonder can get to you and our heart ached once again for the natural outdoors. We headed to our final destination and one of the seven natural wonders of the world—the Grand Canyon. It is a six-hour drive from Las Vegas to the South rim of the Canyon passing by Hoover Dam on the way. We chose to stay at the Bright Angel Lodge, which is located just a few feet from the canyon rim and has a natural rustic character to it. The Grand Canyon, cleaving a mile deep into the earth and averaging 10 miles across, compelled us to drop our jaws! It was everything that I had imagined and more, with its deep valleys and colourful landscape that seemed to change colours with dawn and dusk.

Returning home

With a heavy heart, we drove back to Los Angeles to return our rental SUV and catch a flight back to our respective countries. There really is so much to experience on a road trip and a well planned one makes all the difference.

In the 3 weeks of our road trip, we passed dozens of small and not-so-small cities having a great variety of food and drinks; staying in places ranging from youth hostels to tents and glamorous hotels. Sheer drop cliffs; gushing rivers; listening to bears at night; discovering art and vintage shops; trying our luck with slot machines; guzzling down cocktails while walking on the Las Vegas Strip; jaw dropping views of the canyon, kayaking in emerald waters... this was one holiday that had it all.

A well planned road trip makes all the difference

  • Make sure you have your international driving license on you at all times
  • Drive within the speed limits as they vary from state to state
  • Invest in a pre paid mobile card for emergencies
  • Ensure you have a GPS to avoid getting lost on the highway for hours
  • Make sure you have good music with you and a variety of genres. But don’t listen to music individually on your ipod. It will break the fun for all in the group.

This was first published in the June 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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1 COMMENT

  1. For a complete trip report and more pics please feel free to check out our blog http://bobbyandmaura.com/snowshoeing/skyline-lake This was a tough trail to chose as the location for our inaugural snowshoe for the season, we are pretty out of shape! But it was a fun and challenging trek! Sadly, low cloud coverage moved in as we hiked, making the views at the lake impossible to see. There was one group of snowshoers ahead of us who were tasked with blazing the trail. Skiers had already gone before, making a trail, but we were the first snowshoers on site. The going was slow, as the snow was fluffy and deep. We weren’t sure if the trail we were on was actually leading to the lake or not. We checked our GPS at a point when we felt as if we should’ve been reaching the lake and discovered that we were pretty far off course. It’s possible that those going before us were headed to the ridge line. That goal was a little too lofty for us on this trip so we ended up heading into the trees and forging a new trail that led us to the lake in no time. As we descended, snow started to fall and we encountered several other groups along the trail so hopefully the trail is getting a little bit more trodden and direct to the lake.

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