An epic West Coast & Western USA road trip
As lockdown continues around the world, this road trip is high on our list of recommendations for when we can all be travelling again. Get the map out and plot your next adventure…
We’ve enjoyed a long love affair with the west coast and western United States of America. From the first glimpse of the wild Pacific Ocean to strolling the sunny streets of San Francisco or heading into the ochre-hued Nevada desert. Through numerous adventures, from coastal Oregon and California to the mountains and national parks of Utah. A relationship that has been fed by countless movies and TV shows.
There's nowhere more appealing than the lure of the open road. The wide, open highways, the vast vistas, endless horizons… even the everyday truck stops and diners are a reminder of a scene straight from the silver screen.
Here’s our guide to the ultimate west coast and western USA road trip. This epic adventure can be tackled in one go or, like us, in a few bitesize chunks. Who’s with us?
San Francisco and Highway 1
If you have the time and inclination for a road trip along one of the most scenic coastal routes in the world, then San Francisco to San Diego in a Mustang convertible along California Highway 1 has to go top of the pile.
Starting with the best clam chowder ever at Boudin Bakery at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf – whose sensational sourdough provides the bowl – through to hiking at Big Sur, this route is packed with memories to last a lifetime.
Our favourite stretch was along 17 Mile Drive, the main route through the gated community of Pebble Beach. With pristine, powder-white beaches, mystical forests and exotically named stopping off points like Spanish Bay and Fanshell Overlook, it’s little wonder that this attractive loop is one of the most famous scenic drives in the world.
Continue all the way down to LA and San Diego or take a little detour… Los Angeles is the gateway to plenty of alternative adventures, including a trip inland to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, Brian Head and Zion National Park
Vegas may not be immediately to everyone’s taste, but we loved the downright unexpected randomness of it all. Yes, of course, people come here to party but that’s just the tip of the flamboyant iceberg. Where else can you walk cobbled streets indoors below a perfect blue sky, see a Venetian gondola and the Eiffel Tower, watch a magic show, and select from some of the world’s best cuisine, all in one day?
Visiting the week leading up to the Christmas holidays meant discovering a slightly softer underbelly to the beast. Morning dips in the hotel pool were fresh and solitary, afternoons and evenings exploring the Strip and malls were leisurely. Once we’d had our fill, we packed up the car and headed northeast on Interstate 15 towards the Utah border.
Stopping only for a stack of pancakes and coffee, we were at Brian Head early afternoon and ready to hit the slopes. This chilled resort boasts Utah's highest base elevation (2,926m), covering over 650 acres and featuring 71 runs across two connected mountains, Giant Steps and Navajo. And it was blissfully quiet in the lull before the holidays.
Following a couple of days playing here, we headed back down the 15 and then travelled east towards Zion National Park and the little town of Springdale. The timing of our trip meant that once again we avoided the usual seasonal crowds and instead encountered a surprisingly tranquil winter landscape. Rather than dusty, sun-baked cliffs and canyons, we were met with snow-capped vistas and frozen waterways. There was something secretive and mystical about the transformed setting.
From here we headed back south towards Las Vegas, before striking out west for Los Angeles and Christmas in San Clemente, Orange County.
San Clemente and Catalina Island, Orange County
We couldn’t tell you where the idea of spending Christmas in San Clemente originated from, we have no friends or family here and it’s not the most obvious spot, overshadowed by the more famous resorts of Huntington and Newport Beaches as well as Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort. But here the west coast surf vibe blends with Spanish Colonial-style architecture and Mediterranean climate for the perfect ‘So Cal’ experience.
Aside from heading to the beach and enjoying the local dining scene, one thing high on the agenda was catching the ferry from Dana Point to Santa Catalina island. Dubbed “one of California’s Channel Islands”, Catalina has welcomed everyone from presidents to film stars to its picturesque shores. And who wouldn’t want to arrive by boat into somewhere named Avalon Bay? This is the perfect seaside spot to enjoy a leisurely amble and then while away an afternoon with a seafood lunch and cocktail or two.
From San Clemente, it’s a short hop down to San Diego. We recommend making a stop at the funky beachside community of Leucadia (ranking as one of Candace’s top surfs of all time). Then finish the trip at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for a final bit of ocean gazing, before packing up the truck and heading home.