Recently two APTMS staff members Jacey Fleming and Cosima Scales embarked on a 2 week Familiarisation to the USA. The journey was an adventurous roadtrip by car and motorhome to the vibrant cities, beautiful National Parks, vast deserts and stunning coastlines of California and Nevada. Read about Jacey and Cosima’s 13 day adventure first hand in their 13 day blog below!

 

Venice Beach

Venice Beach (click to see image slideshow)

Day 1 – 17 January – Sydney – Los Angeles

After a relatively painless direct 14 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, we took a shuttle from outside the terminal to the Los Angeles Alamo Car Rental depot where we picked up our car without a hitch for our road trip to Las Vegas the next day.

From the depot we made a short trip to Venice Beach for a quiet, jet-lagged afternoon strolling on the boardwalk trying to blend in with the locals and lunching on giant pizza slices. Though in the middle of winter, the sun was out for a very warm 25 C day.

The rest of the day was spent checking in to our West Hollywood apartment in a cute village, ‘the Shire’ apparently originally built for film crews by Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s, ending our evening with a relaxed and exhausted dinner on the Santa Monica Blvd strip.

 

 


 

Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve

Day 2 – 18 January – Hollywood – Pasadena – Baker – Mojave National Preserve – Las Vegas

We started the day early, making our way through the Hollywood hills to reach the iconic Hollywood sign – a winding drive through residential streets ending at the foot of the hill the sign is built on. After a few obligatory tourist photographs the drive back gave us sweeping views of the Hollywood Hills, the city and took us past Lake Hollywood Reservoir.

From there it was onto the highway, with a breakfast pit stop near Pasadena on our way towards Las Vegas. A 2 – 3 hour drive past billboards, abandoned houses and desert country brought us to Baker, the last stop for fuel before turning in to the Mojave National Preserve.

Whilst there is a more direct route through to Vegas, a stop at Mojave National Preserve was a highlight on this leg of the trip, which is best known for beautiful, varied desert landscapes. One of these is the Kelso Dunes, over 45 square miles of pale sand dunes rising as tall as 650 feet, or 200 metres.

On our way out of the Mojave National Preserve we caught the last of the sun on the Joshua trees, iconic of southwest North America, along Cima Road, making for a spectacular sunset against the mountains.

From there on we drove into the falling night past outlying towns and an ever growing number of casinos until arriving into the staggering city lights of Las Vegas.


 

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

Day 3 – 19 January – Red Rock Canyon – Death Valley

After a well deserved lie in we checked out of our hotel to head to Red Rock Canyon, a national park featuring a scenic drive past the canyon walls. Along the drive are several rest areas to stop at from which hiking and rock climbing trails begin. We chose to walk through Calico Hills, which stood out to us because of the striking red colouring of the rock face.

We had a quick In-N-Out Burger lunch before going to pick up our El Monte motorhome and return our rental car. The motorhome collection was very smooth at the depot just out of Las Vegas, in Boulder City. We had been provided with a C25 motorhome which was extremely spacious for two people and had all the mod cons.  The convenience and comfort of driving and living in the motorhome for the next 5 days certainly exceeded our expectations and we became quickly attached as though it was our own moving home.

Our late afternoon pick up did mean we lost the last of daylight. After a speedy stop to buy our grocery supplies for the next two days, we began our 2.5 hour drive into the night towards Death Valley.

On a late 9 PM arrival we mustered up our last reserves of energy to hook up the motorhome to all the essentials – electricity, water and sewerage, surprisingly effortless despite the exhaustion. We even tried out the kitchen for a home cooked meal before bed.


 

Death Valley, Badlands

Death Valley, Badlands

Day 4 – 20 January – Death Valley

We are staying at Furnace Creek Ranch for two nights in Death Valley, a motorhome resort inside the national park with a rustic feel but including all the necessary amenities including water, electricity and sewerage. As well as this, there is a general store, saloon, restaurant and post office.

We began the day by driving down to Badwater Basin, an expanse of salt flats covering close to 200 square miles, known to be the lowest point in North America at 282 feet or 86 metres below sea level.

We then drove back up through Artist Drive, a 30 minute one-way drive through the mountains famous for the distinct colours in the mountain face created by the

oxidation of metals in the soil.

A turn to the right led us to Zabriskie Point, a look out area over Badland formations, made up of sediments from the former Furnace Creek Lake, dried up over 5 million

years ago. We drove back to the Ranch through the Sunset to enjoy a meal at the Furnace Creek Ranch restaurant.

 


 

El Monte RV, Death Valley

El Monte RV, Death Valley

Day 5 – 21 January – Death Valley – Bakersfield – Paso Robles

At sunrise we left Furnace Creek Ranch towards our next destination Paso Robles – this was an estimated 7 hour drive beginning on HWY 190. The drive slowly turned into a 12 hour marathon including a major stop at Scotty’s Castle, a two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style villa located in the Grapevine Mountains of northern Death Valley. Underestimating the length of the drive to Scotty’s Castle, we had left Furnace Creek with just under half a tank of fuel, leading to a mildly panicked drive to Stovepipe Wells the next fuel stop, passing through the points of interest Devil’s Cornfield and Mesquite Dunes. We continued along the windy and very scenic HWY 190, enjoying the views from the cliff side road with some reservations before continuing left onto HWY 395 around the spectacular foothills of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. Our trip took us through Bakersfield before reaching Paso Robles in the California Wine Country. We arrived into Paso Robles, pulling up into The Wine Country RV resort for the night.

 

 


 

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

Day 6 – 22 January – HWY 1  San Simeon -> McWay Falls -> Big Sur

Another early start led us to our next destination was HWY 1, not without a much needed coffee and grocery stop. HWY 1 is reputed to be one of the most scenic coastal drives in USA. Our first stop was in San Simeon for a tour of Hearst Castle, a 165-room historical mansion built by the newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. The structure was completed in 1947, after 30 years of building, and sits a the top of a windy, hilly drive with a stunning view of the coast. After leaving Hearst Castle we continued a few miles north along HWY 1 before reaching Piedras Blancas rookery where hundreds of Elephant Seals had migrated for the birthing and breeding season. The Elephant Seals were very vocal, the females vocalising to their pups to bond and the males fighting for dominance. HWY 1 becomes a thrilling drive with narrow winding roads either inches to cliff faces down to the sea or inches from the mountain face depending on which direction you are driving. The views out to the Pacific Ocean are amazing and the weather was perfect, clear sunny blue skies. Between San Simeon and Big Sur we made a stop at McWay Falls, an 80ft waterfall which flows directly into the ocean. We made it to Fernwood Campground at Big Sur just before dark with enough time to wander under the redwoods around the campground. A hearty meal was cooked in the motorhome before turning in for the night.

 


 

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Day 7 – 23 January – HWY 1 – San Francisco

Another early start allowed us to drive over and stop at the iconic Bixby Bridge in the morning mist. The drive from Big Sur to the San Francisco depot took approximately 2.5 hours and we arrived around midday to sunny blue skies and temperatures around the mid 20s which is apparently very strange weather for this time of year in San Francisco. We dropped off motorhome back to the El Monte SFO depot and we took the free shuttle service back to the city centre. Once we arrived at Union Square we checked into Handlery Hotel and went to the Alamo Union Square depot to collect our rental car which was conveniently metres away from the hotel. By 3pm we still hadn’t eaten lunch yet so no sooner than we had checked into the hotel we were back on the road again on our way to Mission District for some lunch at Atlas Cafe. After a late lunch we drove to Alamo Square and saw the iconic Painted Ladies.  As the sun was setting we took a little detour through Golden Gate Park before exploring Union Square for dinner options in the evening.

 

 


 

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Day 8 – 24 January – San Francisco   

Today began with a delicious breakfast at Sears Fine Food, not long after we were on a Muni and on our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge. We got off the Muni near Fishermans Wharf and hired a couple of bikes to ride the rest of the way along the promenade to the Golden Gate Bridge, it was another unusually warm and sunny day so we were lucky to have great views of the bridge. We were particularly impressed by the surfers catching very decent waves right under the Gold Gate Bridge! After a couple of hours of sightseeing and bike riding we rode back toward Fishermans Wharf for lunch –  delicious clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, it’s hard to go wrong!

After spending a couple of hours at Fishermans Wharf we joined the line for the Powell/Hyde historic cable car back to Union Square this was a lot of fun and our cable car driver was hilarious!

Once we hopped off the cable car we embarked on a spontaneous (but not so spontaneous) shopping spree at Macy’s until our legs could not take any more. After a little rest at the hotel we got ready to hit the town and went for a late dinner at Chow in the Castro District. By this time we were so exhausted, wanting to see it all the best we could manage was a few laps around the neighbourhood in the car.

 

 


 

El Dorado National Forest

El Dorado National Forest

Day 9 – 25 January – San Francisco –  Lake Tahoe

The day began with a leisurely breakfast at Luques located in the Chancellor Hotel in Union Square, the breakfast burrito is highly recommended! We checked out of the hotel, squeezed in a drive down Lombard Street known to be the most crooked street in San Francisco with 8 sharp hairpin turns down a steep hill. Our next destination was a 3 hour drive to Lake Tahoe, we took the quickest and most direct route on HWY 80 via Sacramento. The last hour of the drive is a dramatic change in scenery through the El Dorado National Forest with the road lined with giant pine trees, whilst there was not as much snow as there would normally be at this time of year it was a very scenic drive. We arrived into Lake Tahoe just before dark and checked into Aston Lakeland Village a luxurious condominium resort with a tranquil lakefront setting and endless hotel amenities. Like many others at we were keen to hit up the nearby ski resorts and were happy to hear about a free shuttle service to and from our door to Heavenly Ski Resort.

 

 


 

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

Day 10 & 11 – 26 January – 27 January – Heavenly Ski Resort

Both of us being keen snowboarders were excited to spend a few days of this trip at Heavenly Ski Resort and the best part was that it was only a 5 minute drive to the closest chairlift/gondola. Heavenly Ski Resort is California’s largest ski resort with 4800 acres of skiable terrain, unfortunately Lake Tahoe was experiencing an unusual lack of snow but we were more than happy with the few hundred acres of terrain at our disposal. The views over Lake Tahoe from the ski resort are like no other and the other unique point is that half of the resort is in California while the other half is in Nevada so you can ski in both states at once! It’s very rare that Lake Tahoe has much bad weather with over 300 days of sun per year so we were blessed with clear blue sunny skies most of the time. At the end of our full days on the mountain the spa at Aston Lakeland Village was very welcome!

 

 

 


 

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Day 12 – 28 January – Lake Tahoe – Yosemite National Park

Nearing the end of our trip it was time to make the trip back toward Los Angeles where our departing flight would be. Even though it was going to be a bit of a squeeze for time we were desperate to see Yosemite National Park before we left so we made the 4 hour drive to Yosemite to stop overnight at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. The peaceful resort is nestled along a stream into the mountain 26 miles from Yosemite Valley and they offer a range of accommodation options to suit any traveller’s needs. The owner Douglas Shaw and his staff were extremely friendly and helpful, it didn’t take us long to slip into relaxation mode at the spa where we enjoyed the sauna and hot tub. We dined at the main lodge and the food was delicious, the lodge also features a fireplace and very comfortable lounges to read a book, play a game or have a night cap.

 

 

 


 

Yosemite National Park, Tunnel View

Yosemite National Park, Tunnel View

Day 13 – 29 January – Yosemite National Park – Los Angeles

We woke up at sunrise and did the scenic drive into Yosemite Valley unfortunately we had very little time but we were able to see some of the highlights including Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and Tunnel View and what a spectacular view it is! We wish we had an extra day or two to explore Yosemite Valley as it is truly remarkable. From here we took a straight shot back to Los Angeles to catch our evening flight.