Julian, just a couple of hours' drive from San Diego is a gem, small and unspoilt and a great place to spend a night or two. The Julian Hotel on the Main Street was originally opened as Robinson's Hotel in 1897 by a former slave and is warm, comfortable and super friendly with great breakfasts. Afternoon tea is an American take on English tea learnt from films of the 30s - indulgent.
The town has plenty of small, independent stores and places to eat and enough to occupy a lazy day, either en route over the mountains to San Diego or heading west to the Joshua Tree National Park and other wonders in Arizona.
Situated on Highway 50, midway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, an ideal stopping off point if en route from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe and its associated ski resorts. There is the archetypal Main Street, complete with Bell Tower, canopies, bars, restaurants and a host of independent stores, including an amazing hardware store, the oldest West of the Mississipi. For breakfast dine outside at Sweetie Pie's, blueberry pancakes and maple syrup. For lunch and dinner, try Cascada, Mexican favourites plus an amazing selection of margeritas, freshly prepared using top quality tequilas and lime juice. Just outside of town, and heading NE is Apple Hill, a wine producing area with several tasting rooms, and for the beer drinker, try the Jack Russell micro brewery. Gold was discovered not far away in 1848 at Coloma, and for aquatic adventures go rafting with one of the commercial companies on the South fork of the American River. A great stopping off point before hitting the slopes at Tahoe, or in summer, lounging by the lake.
577 Main Street Placerville, CA 95667, United States
+1 (530) 642 0128
384 Main Street Placerville, CA 95667, United States
+1 (530) 344 7757
Google map: bit.ly/UKTE7L
Between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon,Prescott is a perfect place for a break. It's charming and historic, with antique shops, good museums, a brewery/restaurant, and the saloons of old Whisky Row. Try to book the comfortable Tom Mix room at the Hotel Vendome, where the cowboy movie star stayed while making his many silent films featuring Tony, The Wonder Horse. Nearby are lakes and trails galore - we wished we'd had longer to explore it all.
The small town of Clarksdale, lies along the Mississippi blues trail and is the former home of the mysterious and legendary blues pioneer Robert Johnson, as well as John Lee Hoooker, Muddy Waters and various others (including Ike Turner). Two miles south of town, the Shack Up Inn offers accommodation in quirky, makeshift cabins among the flat fields of the Hopson cotton plantation. Each cabin is decked out according to a theme, with vintage fridges and appliances, scruffy antique furniture and "reclaimed" objet d'art. It costs just $80 a night per cabin, and the price includes coffee and greasy donuts in the morning. Also, upon checking in, guests are loaned a guitar which they are then obliged to strum as they watch the sun set over the cotton fields from a rocking chair on their cabin porch. All the buildings on the complex are made of rusty corrugated iron and the grounds are littered with old trucks, pumps, tanks and other defunct farming machinery, rusting and overgrown with vines. The staff at reception are also well-informed about which of the towns diners and bars have live music - all blues, of course - on any given night.
This Victorian town, a short drive north of San Francisco, is so quintessentially small town USA that it's been used as the backdrop for nostalgic films like American Graffiti and Pleasantville. The historic town centre, full of buildings which survived the 1906 earthquake that destroyed most of San Francisco, is small and easily walkable, with boutique shops, cafes, antique stores, a Carnegie library (now the town museum) and beautiful 1933 post office. Don't miss Volpi's, a grocery store in business since 1925 with a Prohibition-era "speakeasy" in back, the riverfront and 150 year old mill, and the old bank building now selling heirloom vegetable seeds.
The little town of Volcano, sits in a bowl-shaped valley, in the heart of California's Gold Country, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the mid-1800's, when the town was established, gold miners thought it was the remnant of a volcanic crater. It wasn't, but the colourful name stuck.
Volcano is registered as a California Historical Landmark, with a population of around 115 people. One of the town's most popular attractions is the four acre farm of Daffodil Hill. Every spring 300 varieties of daffodils carpet the farm's rolling hills. People come from miles around to picnic and stroll through hundreds-of-thousands of golden blooms. Though privately owned by the McLaughlin family, there is no charge to visitors.
This part of the world is popular with outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs and wine lovers.
Jerome is a small town some 20 miles out of Sedona between Prescott and Flagstaff, and a real hidden gem. The town is what is left of the 4th largest city in Arizona, now there are only about 450 people living here, many of them artists and musicians. It is known as "Americas Most Vertical City" as well as "the largest ghost town in America". We didn't happen to see any ghosts but can vouch for the fact that there are some steep hills. We ate the best burger we had ever had at a place called the Haunted Hamburger, which is so much more than a burger joint and had us grinning with delight!
Fort Peck is a small town in north east Montana which is the best place for a relaxing summertime break in 'real' America.
You can take a boat out on the beautiful lake, watch the breattaking sunsets that "Big Sky Country" is known for then see a show at the incredibly famous (and extremely stunning) Fort Peck Theatre, which is sold out every night during the summer.
Great people, great atmosphere, great way to spend a few days.
Cooperstown is a picture perfect small town in upstate New York. A world away from Manhattan but only a couple of hours by car. Cooperstown is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame - you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy the displays. The main street is like something from a Norman Rockwell painting, especially in the fall (autumn) with the leaves turning orange, red and gold and pumpkins in front of the clapboard houses. Other nearby attractions include Glimmerlgass, with its summer music festival, and the Fenimore Art Museum, for American folk and decorative art.
The Greenporter is an old-style US motel, just two hours from central Manhattan. The difference with this motel is that the central parking lot has been replaced by a beautiful swimming pool and hot tub (complimentary towels and loungers) and this motel has fine dining in the shape of La Cuvee Bar and Bistro, which offers locally-sourced food and a selection from the local Long Island vineyards (wine tours available).
Greenport, a historic seaport on the North Fork of Long Island, provides an excellent contrast to the hustle and bustle of NYC. You can drive (or better, hire a bike from Bike Stop on Front Street) and take the short ferry to Shelter Island, home to deer and secluded bays, then another short ferry to Sag Harbor on the South Fork, with its artsy shops and eateries.
Two minutes walk from the station or the bus station (the 'Hampton Jitney' takes you from Penn Station in air-conditioned comfort, with charming hostesses who provide complimentary drinks and snacks). Ample parking by the motel too.
326 Front Street
Greenport, NY 11944
phone: (631) 477-0066
fax: (631) 477-2317
Even though Montauk is part of the stylish (and absurdly expensive) Hamptons, the town is more Campbell's dry goods than Calvin Klein. Montauk is full of retro motels - 1950s mock-Tudor and Polynesian designs with whimsical names like Daunt's Albatross and Kenny's Tipperary.
But the most famous motel of all is the Memory Motel, which Mick Jagger immortalised in the 1976 Black and Blue album. The Stones often visited resident Andy Warhol, and they would hang out at the bar. The Memory was the only place around with a pool table and a piano. It seems that the owners weren’t pleased; they hated the Stones!
Still a little seedy, the Memory is only a block from the beach. Diners and a pizza place are only a short walk away. Today fans regularly pay homage, and it’s not unusual to spot a stretch limo parked in front.
692 Montauk Highway, Montauk, New York 11954 USA
(001) 631 668 2702
The Madonna Inn is on Route 1, the spectacular Californian coastal highway, and is the most unusual wacky motel we found on it.
It has themed rooms that have to be seen to be believed and which are not sparing on detail, public toilets that are like waterfalls and staff who are dressed as if they have escaped from a Disney cartoon film.
The food in the restaurant is equally over the top and fantastic, and the next day you can travel up to Hearst castle for more surreal experiences.
If Dali had run a motel this would have been it!
100 Madonna Road
San Luis Obispo
805 543 3000
Situated on a bluff overlooking a lovely bay, The Castaway is the most westerly motel in the continental US. All the rooms have excellent seaviews, some with sun porches. Next door is a lodge, owned by the same people, that can accomodate 2-10 people, on over 7 acres of grounds.
The historic Cape Blanco Lighthouse is nearby, with one of several cedar-framed beaches to walk for miles on with only your own footprints to keep you company. The Sixes and Elk Rivers are known for their trout and salmon fishing. Shops, charming art galleries, and excellent restaurants are within walking distance of the hotel
The Austin Motel has quirky themed rooms - for instance we stayed in the Mexican Room with kitschy cactus plants and colourful walls. It's a fabulous location so once you park up you can walk to most places - ideal as Austin has a great bar scene with live music on every night. It has a 50's style kidney shaped pool if you are there in the summer to cool down in. For breakfast I recommend El Sol y La Luna
This 1950s-style motel near Palm Springs is an oasis of kitsch in a desert of indulgence. Whichever hot tub you choose - warm, hot, natural mineral, indoor or outdoor - you'll be mesmerised by palm trees and snow-capped mountains, not to mention the vibrant carpet of AstroTurf.
The Ma Ha Yah Lodge is ideally situated to provide sanctuary for visitors of Palm Springs, the incredible Joshua Tree National Park, and in particular, the Coachella Music and Arts festival hosted in the near by polo fields.
68111 Calle Las Tiendas, CA 92240
I toured around the US with a bunch of my friends and to make bill paying easier we set up a weekly kitty to pay for hotels, petrol (sorry, gas) bottled water and chocolate.
This seems obvious but lots of people divide as they're going along. We were putting 350 dollars a week into the kitty and then just paid for the bills out of that. No adding or dividing to do. No "I owe you" dramas. Hotel clerks loved us.
Keep the money in an envelope in the glove compartment. When you're not in the car, whoever was sitting in the front passenger seat last is responsible for safeguarding the envelope.
Recycle the envelope at the end of the trip.
Get a convertible! Travelled in this area to visit Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches and Monument Valley. Hiking around these areas is unforgettable, but so are the journey's between them. A convertible may be the old US cliche but it is so worth it to get a sense of the vast landscape you are travelling through and to feel the wind in your hair....
You can’t have a proper road trip without authentic road trip food. In America road trip food means a fifties-style diner on the east coast, and a fifties-style drive in on the west coast. Driving some 900 miles between the two Californias (Southern and Northern) we stumbled on Ricks Drive In & Out in downtown Whittier, California. The menu is huge. The food cheap and tasty.
Order up a basket of chili cheese fries with a turkey burger; breakfast burrito, taquitos and fried zucchini with a side of ranch dressing, or a pastrami sandwich, with a stack of onion rings and strawberry shake.
Viva La Vida!
Ricks Drive In & Out
Whittier, California 90602
7254 Greenleaf Ave
If you've ever looked at films like The Doors and Woodstock, wondering why you can't just hop on one of those ancient Bluebird school buses and just go on a wild trip coast to coast...
...you still can. Green Tortoise buses have been going coast to coast from Boston to San Francisco and back since god knows when, but these days they've got full-on, air-conned sleeper coaches that a rock star wouldn't sneeze at rather than converted bench buses. Around $700+food/parks allowance gets you coast to coast in 14 days - maybe slightly more, or slightly less, depending on which way the driver wants to go - and a whole bunch of new experiences. If you're lucky, new friends too (still emailing mine 10 years later).
Pieces of advice, though:
- bring far more shower gel, soap, and deodorant than you'd ever actually need, and don't be too fussy about where you use it. Or who borrows it.
- use electronic devices sparingly, as there's plenty of places to see - and few places to charge up.
- Much as you'd love to trust the free peace and love vibe, keep absolutely everything somewhere you know it should be and lock the important stuff (passport, med insurance, etc) at the bottom of your bag.
- learn to love veggie food if you can. Really. You can get great steaks in San Fran if you need them (and by the end, boy did I need them).
- be open-minded about everything you see and everyone you travel with, and open to new experiences...
- ...just not any mind-altering ones (bear in mind that in some states, if someone is caught possessing drugs on a road vehicle, and can't prove exactly whose it is, they will bust EVERY SINGLE OCCUPANT. Bad karma, dude.)
Green Tortoise Adventure Travel:
A friend and I planned to hire a car to travel from the West to East coast, but were put off by the high cost of hire and the penalties involved when you do not return the car to the same location. We found autodriveaway on the net. They deliver customer's cars across the US. To sign up as a driver takes no time, so long as you're over 23 and have the necessary licences (it took us 30mins to get all paper work sorted at the office - we had called the night before to say we wanted to take one of their cars). Check their website for offices near your starting location, and they list the cars, their destination and when available. You pay a small deposit, and receive the majority of it back on delivery of the car - everything else except fuel is covered. They work out the mileage, then give you an extra 10-15% for excursions, and expect you to travel about 250 miles per day. It does mean some long days at the wheel, but when you consider that we drove from San Francisco to Connecticut (2 hrs by bus from NY) via Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon, Glenwood Springs, Denver, Chicago, Cedar Point and many other fantastic locations in between, for 10 bucks plus fuel... you can't really complain!
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