The final two weeks of our US road trip were spent driving up the sunny west coast of North America. Amazingly, we did not visit any beaches, preferring instead to stay inland and soak up the laid-back culture, food and wine. After spending a few weeks exploring several of America’s beautiful national parks, we were in dire need of some city breaks and that’s exactly what we received.
It all started in Las Vegas – America’s playground, open 24/7. We stayed in an apartment hotel just off The Strip and the apartment we had was larger than our one in Sydney! Everything in Las Vegas was on a grand scale – big, brash, flashy and ostentatious. It was around 40 degrees Celsius during the day time, so we chose to venture out mostly at night. We spent a few evenings exploring the various themed hotels/casinos – including The Luxor, Excalibur, MGM Grand, New York New York, Bellagio, Wynn, Mandalay Bay and The Venetian – to name a few. The enchanting musical fountains at the Bellagio did not disappoint, however the crowds must have been twice the size since the last time I visited in 2008. We also tried to see a show but the only shows on offer were Celine Dion or Circ-Du-Soleil. No matter how much I begged Brooke, she flat-out refused to see Celine Dion with me ;-( and since we’d already seen Circ-Du-Soleil a thousand times, we decided instead to save our money. Interestingly, we picked one of the busiest weeks to visit Las Vagas, as while we were there EDC was on! EDC stands for Electric Daisy Carnival and is one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals in the world, attracting over 135,000 people. Throngs of scantily clad young ravers swarmed over the city booking out all the hotels. Luckily, the life of a raver means they party all night and sleep all day so it didn’t affect us oldies too much.
One day we drove out to Hover Dam to see the famous hydro power plant on the border of Nevada and Arizona. The heat was unbearable – walking only 100m from the car park to the dam was a magnificent feat in itself. The dam was what you would expect a modern dam to be like but it was impressive for the fact that it was built all the way back in 1936. That’s dam old! We also checked out the famous Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Freemont Street has a huge LED canopy which display’s advertisements 90% of the time and then a music themed light show every hour on the hour. But then you realise the light show itself is an advertisement (the one we saw was advertising the band Green Day) so you walk away feeling used and abused rather than entertained and excited. The lights were impressive to see but I’d prefer the Bellagio musical fountains any day of the week.
Off to San Fran we go. The drive from Las Vegas to San Francisco is a long one – anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. We drove it in a day, which in hindsight wasn’t the best of ideas. Once you get close to San Fran the traffic is horrendous. I have never been so frustrated from driving in a city than I was in San Francisco. New York was a nice easy Sunday drive in comparison. Anyway, once you do get there it is a beautiful place where all you need are your walking shoes and an Uber app. Leave your Mirage in the garage. (Mitsubishi Mirage is a car for those who don’t know). The first and main attraction of San Francisco, which is an absolute must see, is Alcatraz. Just remember to book your tickets early – we didn’t and ended up having to change our plans to accommodate our lack of preparation. There are just too many tourists in the world these days (yes, I know we are two of them). In any case, we did get tickets and eventually took the ferry over to The Rock. We did the audio tour and saw the prison cells where Clint Eastwood (a.k.a Frank Lee Morris) fashioned papier-mâché dummy heads to fool the guards and chipped through the weak concrete around the vent to escape. We went out to the recreation yard and saw the beautiful view of the San Francisco bay that the prisoners must have looked out on whilst contemplating their life (or maybe their escape). And we saw a lot of birds… everywhere. It seems they think Alcatraz is their home now.
On the mainland, we had an amazing lunch one day at a burger joint called Gott’s in the Ferry Building Marketplace. I don’t care that it’s a chain! Their egg and avocado burger is magnificent!!! We walked up Powell Street to Union square past throngs of tourists waiting 2 hours+ for a 5 minute ride on a slow and old tram – I seriously don’t know what all the fuss is about. We took a drive down the winding Lombard Street and questioned why property was so expensive there when traffic was terrible and swarms of tourists crowd your front door 24/7. We made it on to Google Street View! We had lunch at Pier 39 and were very disappointed that no seals were out sunbathing. We drove up to twin peaks and took in the breathtaking panoramic views of the city whilst trying not to get blown away by the ferocious coastal winds. And lastly we saw the “Painted Ladies” near Alamo Square – I must admit to being a little disappointed that these were not actual ladies but rather Victorian houses. San Francisco is an interesting place for sure. It’s young and vibrant but not as exciting as we found New York to be. Maybe one day we’ll be back, who knows.
My birthday was next so we decided to get out of the city, cross the Golden Gate bridge and visit a little wine region called Napa Valley. We booked a wine tasting tour where Brooke and I shared a limo bus with seven other wine-loving ladies who made sure the birthday boy had a good time. (No, not what you’re thinking!) We visited several wineries; Black Stallion, Pestoni Family, and Andretti Winery to name a few. Yes, that is Andretti as in Mario Andretti. His winery wasn’t the highlight though – perhaps he should stick to racing cars.
We continued to drive up north through the Avenue of the Giants – a world-famous scenic drive with 51,222 acres of giant redwood trees. Very impressive indeed – some of the biggest trees we’d ever seen in our lives. There was one where you could even drive your car through – which of course I did. Now I can say that I’ve driven a car through a tree and am still alive to tell the story!
Next stop was Eureka where we visited an Adam’s family style manor house – The Carson Mansion. Unfortunately, you cannot go in as it’s a gentleman’s club and I had no time to apply for a membership, but the outside architecture was great to see anyway. It’s regarded as one of the highest executions of American Queen Anne Style architecture and the house is considered to be the most grand Victorian home in America. I thought the pink house across the street wasn’t too bad either…
After a quick stop in Oregon to see some random water falls / locks, we finally made it up to Washington State. We were staying out near Olympic National Park in order to make our ferry journey to Canada a bit easier later on, but this proved annoying for seeing things in Seattle itself. In any case, we went into Seattle one day via ferry and our first stop was the Boeing factory – where they make commercial airplanes on a production line. This was very cool to see; 767’s in all stages of completion; the new 787 Dreamliner; even the good old 747’s were still being made! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photo’s to protect the evil European Airbus from gaining a competitive edge (Well not really – it’s apparently for security reasons). I would definitely recommend the Boeing tour to anyone who visits Seattle. Next we drove into downtown Seattle and tried to go up the Space Needle. Of course you had to pre-book tickets, so unfortunately we did not get to go up the tower, but we had a nice time walking around the surrounding area. We also drove through Pike Place Market and saw the original Starbucks in all its dilapidated glory with a line bending around the corner. Thank God we don’t like coffee otherwise we’d have to spend half a day queuing.
To Canada we go! – by ferry boat to a little city called Victoria on Vancouver Island. And wouldn’t you know it – we got there just in time for Canada Day: 1st of July! Victoria had a vivacious buzz to it as everyone was getting ready for the Canada Day celebrations. Thousands of people we out on the streets dressed in red and white, waving their flags. A free concert on Legislature Lawn (try say that 10 times fast) was pumping up the crowd and there was a growing anticipation of a breathtaking fireworks display that kept everybody on the edge of their seats. Hmmm… sorry Victoria, there’s no easy way to say this but… your fireworks were cr@p. Maybe Brooke and I have been spoilt by Sydney’s spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks, but it seems you have a lot to learn. You do have a good Museum though. It’s called Miniature World and it displays miniature-themed dioramas & displays representing historical times & fictional worlds. It’s simply amazing and it (plus some delicious Poutine) more than made up for the lacklustre fireworks.
The next day we took another ferry over to mainland Canada and drove to Whistler via the aptly named Sea-to-Sky highway. Whistler for me was a real highlight of our road trip. The scenery was amazing, even in the summer. Whistler village looks like a typical ski village movie set and the outdoor activities are endless. It is however full of Australian’s and Kiwi’s! One waitress asked us where we were from and we said Sydney, and she said ‘me too!’. We did the famous Peak-to-Peak gondola, which holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometres) and highest point above the ground (436 metres). We visited the Top of the World Summit and walked between ice walls of compacted snow. And Brooke finally faced her fear of open-air chair lifts! Yay! Also while we were in Whistler, there was a free concert put on by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra which was rather delightful.
Finally we drove back down to Vancouver, checking out Stanley Park along the way (which was surprisingly forresty) and then we headed for the airport to catch our flight to London. It was a great adventure. The whole 68 day North American road trip was simply amazing. Something that everyone has to do once in their lifetime. And we managed to do it without crashing the car once!!!