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Two couples (three Britons and one Canadian) would like to take a classic American road trip - little towns, Americana, stunning scenery - for two weeks on the west coast of the United States (possibly including the Dakotas/Vegas) in June. We're already planning the convertible, sunglasses, scarves and road trip music but would like some advice on must-do places, experiences, routes and meandering sidetrips. We will probably fly in and out of the same city so will need to plan a route accordingly. Any suggestions would be highly appreciated.
This week's question:
Following my marriage to an American girl in the summer of 2005 we drove from Los Angeles to Seattle over three days.
* Day 1 – LA to somewhere in Northern California
We left at around 5am and drove the faster inland route (as opposed to the fashionable coast road) from LA to San Francisco. The coast road would have been more scenic, but the desert route has an atmosphere of its own and meant we were able to reach SF by early afternoon. We were able to park fairly easily and spent a good four hours just strolling along the front. Make sure you eat clam chowder in a sourdough bowl.
We left SF early evening and headed north, this time sticking to the 101 via the Golden Gate Bridge. Northern California is stunning, and there are any number of small towns with hotels (good and bad, cheap and not so cheap) where you can bed down for the night. Pick any one, I really don’t think it matters. Just make sure you stop before you get to the Redwood Forest because this has to be seen in daylight.
* Day 2 – Somewhere in Northern California to Portland, Oregon
Starting off at a more reasonable hour this time we kept to the 101, which runs through Redwood National Park
. You could easily spend a couple of days here camping and hiking, however we had to content ourselves with a couple of stops for food and pictures. As the 101 runs on through Northern California and into Oregon it spends most of its time close to the coast. If you want a sneak preview watch that film The Goonies, which has scenes featuring a couple of large rock formations that you’ll see as you drive past.
I don’t remember how far north we went (we spent some time trying to find a distant relative, and did eventually succeed) before we headed east to pick up the main highway into Portland. At first I was disappointed to leave the coast road but this was soon forgotten after spotting golden eagles and elk as we headed inland. The main freeway up to Portland is nothing to write home about but it gets you there much quicker if you’re pushed for time. Portland is worth a visit because it’s a reasonable size city with plenty of shops - and there is no sales tax in Oregon.
* Day 3 – Portland to Seattle
At some point between Portland and Seattle is Mount St Helens. Almost as soon as you get off the main highway and onto the road that takes you to the volcano you start to see the immense damage caused by the explosion in 1980 - the tree line still has a long way to go before it even begins to look like the swathes of forest you'll have driven past so far. You will get tantalising glimpses of the mountain as the road twists its way to ground zero. The most important thing about mountains like this in Washington is that you can tell that they are mountains. You don’t have to try and identify individual peaks in a vast unending range: it's right there in front of you! The visitors centre that is worth a look, and there are helicopter rides if you’re feeling flush.
Washington has a very different feel to the rest of the US, and I love Seattle. Firstly, nobody has jumped on the environmental bandwagon because they’ve been driving the bandwagon for decades - there is good public transport here. Second, the city feels almost European - the fish and chips are better than those in Grimsby and the weather is remarkably similar! Go and watch the Seattle Mariners
play baseball - they aren’t very good so getting tickets isn’t difficult or expensive.
If you want to include this as part of a bigger trip you can drive from Vegas to LA in about six or seven hours. You’ll go through the Mohave Desert and over the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In fact you can drive from Salt Lake City to LA in about 16 hours if you push it but you may as well stop off at Vegas and spread out the journey over a couple of days. It’s worth it just for the drive from Southern Utah (very high up) down through the canyons as you drive through the corner of Arizona.Grant Dyble
The Salton Sea
, freaky and beautiful.
Also remember the rule "If its not a V8, its not a road trip".Ben
San Diego is only a two hour driver from LA and it's a city that shouldn't be missed - full of life, beautiful sights, beaches and parks. Take in everything that the city has to offer before you head off on your road trip. Stay in Gastown, a hub of entertainment. Then head out on the highway across to Flagstaffvia Phoneix. It will take you about seven hours to get here so stay for the evening in Flagstaff, a quaint town with a very western feel. Start early the following day and beautiful drive up to the Grand Canyon. It will only take you about two hours and then you’ll be in the National Park. From here ensure you see all of the North Rim on the do-it-yourself route, which allows you to set your own route and time frame. Take at least three or four hours taking in the spectacular views of this natural phenomenon, depending on weather conditions (heat/cold etc).
Once you have seen what you came to see, head off on the highway towards Las Vegas. This road trip will take around five hours. Every hour is rush hour on the Las Vegas strip, so there is no best time to arrive. Check in to a hotel on the strip (do this mid-week for the best walk-in rates). Spend two or three days here taking in all that Vegas is famous for and then head onward and enjoy your stay! Amercians are very kind and welcoming.Bel
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