This is the travel diary I’ve taken the longest to write because there's so much to say! We took a year to plan this holiday for my partner’s 30th birthday and although the holiday came and went in January, we still constantly talk about it and really look forward to planning the next one (whenever that is!)
So we had this crazy idea to go to America on a road trip for a couple of weeks, I hadn’t been since I was a child and my boyfriend has never been, we were gonna hire a car and drive 1200 miles across 3 states (never having driven abroad anywhere let alone America) and stay in a string of AirBnB’s along the way and this crazy idea? It went off almost perfectly and we cannot wait to do something like that again!
Word of warning this travel diary will be LONG but I’ll try and include as many photos as possible to keep you entertained and I’m hoping if you’re planning a trip to the U.S. or just want to reminisce about your own travels, that you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!
On day 1 we made our way through the airport (after being searched twice by security!!!) and awaited our 10 hour flight to Los Angeles. On the flight we took full advantage of the free drinks and great movies as well as really good vegetarian food, and we all know how bad airplane food can be but this was surprisingly decent. Our first signs of life were the vast expanse of snowy Greenland and the beautiful mountainous views over Canada, from here we had about another 2-3 hours in the air so we were pretty excited at this point.
Finally we landed and stood in a huge queue for over an hour in U.S. Customs, we then had our pictures and fingerprints taken (as does everyone by the way, we aren’t just dodgy) but then we were through and finally in America!! We went and got the hire car which was pre-booked with our flights, it was a lovely little Ford Fiesta and it ran so smoothly once I had the courage to drive it! I feel I have to tell you all as I’m sure some you have been/will go through this when driving for the first time in a foreign country, I had a massive freak out and began thinking of everything I could do just to not drive the car, after the initial fright and crying I got over it and we attached the sat-nav and drove to our first AirBnB in Pasadena. We decided on AirBnB’s as we thought this would be more exciting than hotels as we would be closer to supermarkets and restaurants and feel like a part of the local community. This AirBnB was so cute (fairly reasonable for the location and quality at £97 a night too) right up on a hill in Pasadena in a beautiful little apartment with great parking and a little fire pit just up the hill from a farmer’s market and a main road taking you straight onto the highway into Downtown L.A. There were also wild peacocks running around and we were encouraged to feed them from the jar of sunflower seeds provided by the amazing hosts Wendy and Joseph, it was a great start to our holiday and such a relaxing place to come home to at night.
We had 4 days in Pasadena and we had already planned everything out so when our first real day rolled around, we were ready! A trip to The Griffith Observatory and then dinner with my boyfriend’s auntie and uncle. The Griffith Observatory is easily one of the most impressive buildings I have been to anywhere on the planet, after walking around the inside, buying an obligatory T-shirt and fridge magnet we had a look at the incredible views of all sides of L.A, we decided to go in the evening as we’d read that the sunset from here was amazing and the reviews don’t lie, we stood for almost an hour with hundreds of people watching and marvelling at the sunset over Downtown and over the Hollywood Sign, it was a day we’ll never forget. Dinner with the family was lovely too, a fancy meal at a cosy Italian restaurant. I had a ricotta cheese and spinach Calzone which was so big I had to take it home with me! We got back to the AirBnB, enjoyed some classic American TV and then fell straight to sleep, so excited to wake up for my boyfriend's birthday the next day.
There was no better plan for the both of us on a special day like this than to go to a museum and then watch a gig in the evening. We had planned these things months before so it was surreal to finally get the tickets and go into these places that we’d spent so long researching. Our first stop was to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History! Anyone who knows me knows I love a good museum (especially natural history) and this place didn’t disappoint with incredible displays on animals as well as a very in depth section on proof of Early Man, we stopped for some lunch in the rose garden right next to the museum before hitting up the gift-shop and buying fridge magnets, mugs and T-shirts. From the museum we drove to a venue called The Wiltern, where we were going to see Elbow play. We had been so lucky to see this, as my boyfriend is from Manchester he has loved Elbow for a very long time and when we were looking for some live music for him to see on his birthday we couldn’t see anything we were that interested in, until he found The Wiltern. Just picture how lucky we were to be in Los Angeles on my boyfriend’s 30th birthday to watch a band all the way from the same home town in Manchester who just happened to be there at the same time…you couldn’t make it up! We had a great night, got some authentic American Mcdonalds and headed back to our cosy AirBnB. My boyfriend was just going to have to deal with his hangover the next day as we had a long 6 hour drive to Death Valley ahead of us!
Our 4th and last day in Pasadena we said thanks to Wendy and Joseph for such a relaxing stay and began our long drive to Death Valley. I was amazed when I looked at the sat-nav and it said to carry on driving in a straight line for 300 miles! The landscape on this drive was constantly changing; we went from inner city L.A. to the suburbs then on past some ranches and then we hit Death Valley National Park, just hundreds and hundreds of miles of barren desert and rock and not another car in sight! A few times we pulled over just to get pictures as we couldn’t believe how still and quiet it was and how wide the roads were, they just kept arching through the desert. We stopped at a rest stop for some lunch and snacks and then drove on for another hour until we came to our next little AirBnB in Beatty. We chose this little town as it's so close to Las Vegas and provided a perfect place to stop for the night so I didn’t have to drive too much. We had a tiny tin caravan on a compound just away from the main road out of Beatty, this was our cheapest stay at £24 for the night and we had so much fun! The caravan was cosy and had little string lights up everywhere, there was even a fire pit outside and the owner had provided us with a S’mores kit which we were very excited to use! During our little S’mores evening we were joined by an adorable German Shepard dog who really enjoyed cuddling up to us but was also more than happy to stick his nose into the bag of marshmallows!!
We had such a relaxing stay here and it was just what we needed between L.A. and Las Vegas, so the next morning after watching all the Hares and Jackrabbits that had turned up to eat from the fruit trees outside the caravan, we packed up and began our 2 hour drive to Vegas!
We left early so that we would have plenty of time to explore on the way to Vegas and we came across possibly one of the best moments of the trip…the Area 51 Alien Centre! We had seen this on a map when we were planning our route and this was the reason we left early that morning, what an experience! It’s just a gift shop filled with a load of Area 51 gifts and stuff but it’s so fun and they have a cafe out the back and also…an “alien cat-house”…if you know what I mean. I think I spent about $60 on random bits and pieces for myself and family so we have a lot of both mental and material memories from that day.
When we finally arrived in Las Vegas we were about 2 hours early to check in to the next AirBnB so we stopped for a Burger King (meat-free of course), tried out the sports bar right next to our building and waited to get our room. We stayed in the Palms Place serviced apartments about 10-15 min bus ride or 30 minute walk from The Strip, this apartment was the most expensive place we stayed at about £103 a night but it was worth it! The entire room was marble, it had a bath easily big enough for two people and a rain simulating overhead shower AND a tv in the bathroom so you could watch basketball while having a shower (didn’t even know I needed that), the room also had a huge king size bed and balcony that overlooked the main road going onto The Strip and we were 21 floors up, so high up enough you could make out the “bowl” that Las Vegas sits in, we got some incredible sunrises and sunsets during our 3 days there. On the first night we had to do the obligatory thing and try as many casinos as possible, we aren’t gamblers in the sense of card games so we knew were just gonna stick our dollar bills in the slot machines and see what happens! We walked onto the strip and went into Ceaser’s Palace, this place was amazing and all decked out for Chinese New Year, we had a good walk round and found the bar for a drink ($21 for a single shot of whiskey and coke!) then had a go on the slot machines, after about 20 mins we’d almost burnt through half our money; we had saved an extra $300 between us just to blow in Vegas so we could have a lot of fun and try out a lot of the machines but we were happily trying the slot machines when mine lit up and said “10,000”…I almost cried thinking I’d won $10,000, turns out I’d hit 10,000 points and won $20 but oh well and win’s a win! We moved onto the Bellagio and had a look around the shops in there and then went back to our apartment building because they had a casino downstairs (something you must realise before going is that EVERYWHERE has a casino in it in Vegas even gas stations have slot machines inside) so we had some dinner and went back to the apartment, we had an early night because we were getting up at 5 am the next day to go to The Grand Canyon!
The early start was completely worth it but still super tiring. We had arranged to go with a tour group on a little bus so they picked everyone up from their individual hotels, the tour was small there was only us and about 4 other couples so it wasn’t too busy. Our tour guide was called Dave and he was super knowledgeable about Vegas, The Hoover Dam and The Grand Canyon as well as the surrounding national parks and deserts. We had a great journey there and I was just happy to be sat in the passenger seat for a change, the first place we stopped was The Hoover Dam, this was an incredible structure but also a really peaceful place to watch the sunrise. Dave provided us with a little breakfast as we drove for another couple of hours to The Grand Canyon. We obviously only saw one quarter of the canyon but it was incredible nonetheless, we were given a map and shown towards the shuttle buses that take you between the areas, we began at the visitors centre where we did the Skywalk; this is something you pay extra for but it was definitely worth it! The Skywalk is a huge metal out-crop over the canyon with glass flooring so you are able to walk across the canyon and see all the way down to the bottom, as someone who is scared of heights this was an amazing experience and I wasn’t as petrified as I thought I was gonna be, if you're thinking about doing this then just do it!! After the skywalk and the gift shop we went and had lunch that was part of the price, they served a lovely looking beef stew or the delicious veggie masala with water and some bread. The entire lands of The Grand Canyon are owned by Native Americans and therefore entire families work within the canyon in various roles; be it serving lunch, working in the gift shop or driving the shuttle buses it was really lovely to meet new people like that. Whilst eating lunch we noticed we were being watched…by large groups of huge crows! They would just come and sit next to you and stare at you as you ate until you shooed them away or gave them some food (we weren’t really allowed to do that) but it was so funny to be stalked on your lunch by a group of nosy crows. After lunch we took another shuttle bus to a little ranch near the canyon where they had it set up like a little ghost town with a saloon and a jail as well as a stables where a cowboy would teach you to ride a horse! We didn’t do that but we did go and visit the horses, one in particular was very moody and took a big bite out of the wooden sign that told you to be careful around horses!! After meeting our new, very angry friend we took a walk to truly take in the canyon, I’ve never seen anything so vast and so flat as this was, it just didn’t seem to end and there was so much wildlife thriving around, it was a really special place.
We met back up with our tour group and got the bus back to our apartment, we decided to order the biggest pizza we could find. That turned out to be a 30” half and half which took us all night to get through and we passed out in a food coma until the morning!
The next day was our last full day in Vegas so we decided to take a break from The Strip and instead visited The Mob Museum and Fremont Street. The Mob Museum is a must if you’re ever in Vegas, it’s a huge old courthouse converted into this 3 story museum with a hidden bar in the basement, we just bought the general ticket for the museum but you have to pay extra to go to the bar. We had a great time there, the museum was so interesting and featured a lot of amazing artefacts from the original casinos that opened up in the 30’s, they had one huge section on money laundering and cheating at casino games to win money, as someone who works with money I was super interested in the game they had where you had to guess who was cheating from the CCTV footage (which was all real footage). After that we went to the infamous Fremont Street which is a long street covered by a glass roof, it just mainly holds little casinos, restaurants and gift shops but the street is lined with street performers doing pretty much anything and everything for some loose change, we saw an incredible saxophone player but on the flip side we also saw a guy in questionable (meaning barely any) clothing holding a sign that said “make America naked again” so…I think you can imagine the chaos on this street, if you stopped to look above you would see huge cables where people were zip-lining down the street too! It was absolute chaos but so much fun at the same time, definitely an experience you should be a part of.
We went back to the apartment after this and enjoyed our last night in our fancy AirBnB before a 2 hour drive to Lake Arrowhead the next day.
We are almost at the end of the holiday now but we still had a couple of great places to stay. The next one was a beautiful A-frame log cabin high up in the woods in San Bernardino, California. Much like Beatty we decided to stay here as a stop off in between the long drive from Vegas back to L.A. but we really lucked out here, staying at somewhere called Toad Haven, this beautiful cabin was the restful place we needed after the madness of Vegas. The drive was easy until we got there, the roads became incredibly narrow and steep (especially higher up where they were doing road works and had actually cut off half the road!) there was still snow on the sides of the road towards the top but despite a slight panic from me, we made it in one piece. The cabin had a balcony with some furniture to sit out in during the warm mornings and we also had some bluejays and squirrels that came by to eat from the bowl of peanuts the owner had left for us, one squirrel just stood at the patio door and stared at us until my boyfriend gave him a peanut from his hand! We found a little supermarket right near the place that made it so easy to grab some groceries for the night, we actually bought way too much stuff and ended up eating it in the car on the way to L.A but that night we had a feast on the BBQ! I made scrambled egg and roasted pepper burritos with some cheese and my boyfriend had a huge steak with some roasted peppers on the side, the cabin also had Netflix so after dinner we snuggled up on the couch and watched a couple of films before going to the bed.
Our final AirBnB for the holiday was closer to LAX and right near Compton back in L.A. We left the cabin early that morning as we wanted to have some time to see Lake Arrowhead for ourselves, it was only about 11 minutes away in the car from the cabin and was on the route down from the forest back onto the highway so we stopped there for an hour. The lake is stunning, with clear blue water and an adorable paddle steamer (that we didn't have time to go on) but we did get a drink and go and look at some fossils and gems in a gift shop before getting back in the car and heading back to L.A.
Once we got to L.A. and found our AirBnB we started to think about dinner, there were a few options but in the end I settled on a packed veggie pizza and my boyfriend got some fried chicken, when we parked at the chicken place we found an entire family of stray cats living behind the car park! There must have been at least 30 of them all ranging from adults down to tiny kittens, they looked healthy enough and I’m sure are given lots of chicken from the shop. We went back to our AirBnB, this one was an annexe at the back of the owners garden, separated by a fence for privacy for everyone but you still felt part of the neighbourhood being able to park on the driveway like everyone else, the room was really nicely decorated and again, had Netflix so we had another night of movie watching and takeaways.
The next day was our final full day of the holiday before we flew home the next day. We decided to make the most of it and took a drive to Long Beach and then all the way down the highway to Santa Monica. We didn’t have any plan in Long Beach but we were so excited when we found out they had an aquarium! This place was insane! They had all kinds of species and everything looked so happy and healthy, they had a petting bit where all these friendly sting rays were vying for everyone’s attention and they even had information on the environment and climate change within L.A. and how everyone could help to slow it which was really interesting. After an amazing couple of hours there we drove to Santa Monica to spend the late afternoon on the pier. Let me tell you one thing, the entire beach and pier looks just like the movies! Everyone was rollerblading, cycling and running on the beach, the pier was all lit up and looked so fun! We got a huge bag of popcorn and my boyfriend got an ice cream to walk around with, we went all the way to the back to the seating area and watched people fish for a while and really just made the most of it and remembered how lucky we’d been to have this incredible holiday. After a great day we drove back to our AirBnB and very sadly, packed everything back into the cases ready to go to the airport tomorrow morning.
Our final day we were tired but so sad to leave, we felt we’d only scratched the surface of L.A. but seen enough to satisfy us for now, we have so many incredible memories that we won’t ever forget and I’m so happy that I was able to plan and save enough in time for us to have a holiday where we didn't have to worry about money or what we were spending it on. I took my polaroid camera with us, I’ve it for about 5 years but thought this would be the perfect time to start using it and we’ve got some amazing pictures that I’ll try and show down below, the camera was such a fun thing to have to take those spontaneous moments where you weren’t looking for the perfect shot just one good enough to sum up that single moment, if you're looking for something to make your holiday extra special I recommend a Polaroid.
We had already planned out our next trip to the U.S. we were supposed to go to New York in March 2021 but due to the virus and rioting in the states we’re thinking it might be best to hold off until October 2021 instead, we will definitely go as we have saved up and started to look at hotels and AirBnB’s again so hopefully I’ll be back writing another America travel diary in a year’s time!
In the meantime I really hoped you enjoyed this and if you got this far, thank you for sticking around! I know it was really long but I hope you found it fun to read and it got your travel mind whirring!
Please let me know if you have any good tips for New York around Halloween!