San Diego and Las Vegas

The next morning we met with the 4 new people who would be joining myself, Kath, Liv and Sarah for the southern half of the tour back to New York. The newbies are all girls – there is a lack of men on this part of the trip which makes for a different group dynamic.

We headed to Beverly Hills, and then onto Hollywood to check out Grauman’s Chinese Theater:

And the handprints and footprints:

We also walked along the walk of fame, and tried to make out the Hollywood sign but it was a little misty.

Then it was time to head out of LA and onto San Diego. I can’t say I was sorry to leave LA. It’s an enormous city that is very difficult to get around, there are lots of dirty-looking areas, and there was no sign of the typical Californian sunshine.

San Diego is only a couple of hours south of LA so we arrived in time for lunch. We went to a great Hawaiian cafe called Leilani’s, which was really nice.

Then we headed to Belmont Park and some of the group went on the rollercoaster there. Not being a fan of rollercoasters, I kept my feet firmly on the ground.

After that it was mid afternoon and time to head to the hostel in the Gaslamp Quarter. I really liked this area, lots of bars, cafes and restaurants, and a good vibe.

After we had eaten we went on a pub crawl organised by the hostel. The first stop was at the Shout House Rock and Roll Duelling Pianos bar. It was awesome. 2 guys, 2 pianos, taking requests from the audience. Everything from Miley Cyrus to Meat Loaf.

We then went to a karaoke bar that also had a bucking bronco….different, but fun to watch (you should know enough about me by now to know that I wouldn’t do either karaoke or get on a bucking bronco!).

We went to a third bar after that but I headed to bed soon after.

The next day was a free day in San Diego. Mike drove us to the Zoo in Balboa Park. Most of the group went to the zoo but I decided to go to the Air and Space Museum instead. Balboa Park has around 15 different museums so plenty to choose from.

As I walked to the museum, I passed a large line of smartly dressed people waiting to go into a building, and a number of TV trucks setting up on the road. Wasn’t sure what this was about, but it would become apparent later. The air and space museum was interesting. They had an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions which was great. That man was a bit of a genius.

As I walked back towards the zoo, it became apparent what the queue of people and TV trucks were for. We are in election season in the States (though to be fair election season goes on for about 2 years), and Hillary Clinton was giving a speech in one of the buildings. There was a large crowd of people outside so I joined them and listened to her speech for a while (didn’t see her, but speakers were set up outside). Kinda interesting to see the people there, including the Bernie Sanders supporters and the odd Trump supporter.

After that we went to Mission Beach for some sunshine. I fell asleep for a bit and could feel myself burning so I went for a walk down the boardwalk. Not a lot there to be honest, but it passed the time.

We went for dinner and then a few of us went to the piano bar again. Slowly everyone drifted away and I was left on my own, but I loved it so much I stayed until 1am.

The next day we headed to Las Vegas. On the way we stopped at a ghost town called Calico. I’ve been to a ghost town before on the northern edge of Death Valley called Rhyolite which was utterly abandoned. Calico, however, has been commercialised. The buildings all house gift shops, cafes and exhibits. I think I preferred Rhyolite as it felt more authentic.

We arrived in Las Vegas in the late afternoon and after driving down the Strip we headed to our hotel in the Downtown area, just off Fremont Street. This area is where Vegas originally developed.


After getting showered and changed we headed out in a ‘party bus’ for a tour of Vegas. We stopped at the Little White Chapel:

The Las Vegas sign:

And the Bellagio fountains:

We hopped off at the Bellagio, and myself, Kath and Maica walked through the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian (I might have fed a few $5 bills into some slot machines…) before heading back to check out Fremont Street at night. A few interesting sights to say the least!

The next day was a free day in Vegas. I headed back to the Strip to wander through some more of the hotels (and feed some more $5 bills into the slots). I went to Treasure Island, the Palazzo, the Venetian, Harrah’s, Paris, Flamingo, New York New York and Excalibur.

I headed back to the hotel in 42C heat, and also got my first Uber. 

In the evening a few of us went to see the Chippendales (ahem…), before heading to the Stratosphere so that some of the girls could go on the rides there. We also had a cocktail in one of the bars at the top. Then we headed back to the hotel and I had a successful spot of late night gambling.

The thing about Vegas is that you lose all concept of time. It was 2am when I rolled into bed (I’d only spent 30 mins on the slots) but I felt wide awake. In the casinos there are no windows, no clocks, people are there gambling 24/7. It’s really easy to see how you’d become addicted to it and lose a lot of money.

After a week or so of cities it was then time to head back to the peace and quiet of the national parks.

San Francisco to LA

We left Yosemite and drove to Sam Francisco. It’s finally starting to get warm and sunny! We approached San Francisco from the north, driving past Sausalito where I’d stayed with my folks in 2013. We walked over the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a couple of miles long and took about 40 minutes. JD dropped us at the north end and picked us up at the southern end. It was a perfect day for it – blue sky and clear. Relatively often the bridge is shrouded in mist so we were pretty fortunate to get a good day.

We then headed to the hostel in the Tender Nob area (make your own jokes…). We arrived mid afternoon and had an hour or so to get ready before we headed out for dinner and a sunset cruise around the bay.

We went around Alcatraz Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The sunset cruise finished at around 8.30pm, and then we went to the Saloon Bar – which I think is the oldest bar in San Francisco, established in 1851. There was a band playing in there, we stayed for a couple of drinks before heading to the Kozy Kar bar. A pretty interesting club to say the least. I had a lot of fun though, drinking and dancing with our group and the camping group. We stumbled back to the hostel at about 2am…

The next day we went to Alcatraz. Our tickets were for 11am so instead of rushing around I had time to walk the couple of miles from the hostel to Pier 33.

I’ve been to Alcatraz before but went again as this was an included activity. The audio tour of the cell block is really good, and they also had an exhibition on current US prison inmates over the age of 50. There is an aging prison population in the US and it was interesting to learn about the issues that this causes. It was also interesting to see that some prisoners showed remorse and some didn’t.

I headed back to shore around 1.30 and had a sushi lunch. Now I’m back near the coast I will easy sushi again! I then went to Haight Ashbury in the afternoon. This involved taking the F streetcar to Castro and then walking up some of San Francisco’s many hills. Haight Ashbury is a pretty cool, hippy, alternative area and I wish I’d got there slightly earlier so I could spend more time there.

My handbag finally died a death while I was out so I *had* to go and buy another one (such a shame…!).

I then headed back to the hostel as JD was going to drive us to the Marin Headlands to watch the sunset. I’ve seen some awesome sunsets while I’ve been away and this one was definitely up there with the best of them.

The next day we left San Fran and headed south to Santa Cruz. As it was the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, the traffic was terrible. It took us quite a long time to get there. We grabbed lunch there and walked down the pier and the boardwalk before heading on south. We stopped off at Pebble Beach Golf Course before driving the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) through Big Sur and onto San Luis Obispo (SLO) for our final night together. We spotted some whales whilst driving down the PCH.

We arrived in SLO pretty late due to the Memorial Weekend traffic so we ordered in pizzas and ate around the hotel pool. The party had to move to one of our rooms though when some weird man joined us. When JD is whatsapping us and telling us to leave, you know something is up.

The next day was the last day of the northern part of the tour. We left SLO and drove to Santa Barbara. I wasn’t impressed with Santa Barbara. The beach wasn’t great and there was a lot of building work going on. For Memorial Day it was extremely quiet.

We drove a little further and I had my first In ‘n’ Out Burger for lunch – a very nice burger. We then headed to Santa Monica Pier to get our pics at the end of Route 66.

We had a couple of hours in Santa Monica before heading to the hotel to say bye to everyone. It was a really weird feeling, kinda anti-climactic, and sad as well. Joe had a flight to catch, Adam and Maica were staying elsewhere and JD was heading to see friends.

It must massively mess with your head being a tour guide. You’re with a bunch of people for 3 weeks and then suddenly you’re on your own again, before meeting another group of people for the next trip.

I’ve done a few trips like this now and JD is easily the best guide I’ve had. His breadth and depth of knowledge is astounding, his enthusiasm for everything is infectious and he is a stand-up guy. Man, if you are reading this – thank you.

I went for dinner with Liz and Sarah and then we met some of the camping group at the hotel (no camping in LA for them!).

The next day was a free day in LA before the southern part of the tour started the following day. Our new tour guide, Mike, drove us to Venice Beach and Manhattan Beach for a bit of beach time. The marine layer was making itself known though. Damn LA weather!

Time for the southern part of the tour and hopefully some warm, sunny weather.


Yellowstone and Yosemite were the 2 things I was most excited about for the northern part of this tour. I’d been to Yosemite before back in September 2013 when I did a Vegas/California road trip with the family. Unfortunately we were there during the Yosemite rim fire, and as we were staying in Mammoth Lakes to the east of the park, we were unable to get to Yosemite Valley. I was absolutely gutted at the time. We did get into the park on the Tioga Road from the eastern part but only as far as Tenaya Lake. The irony this time round was that Tioga Road wasn’t actually open. It is at a high elevation – over 9000ft – and still has snow on it.

We drove into the park from the western side and stopped off to check out some giant sequoia trees. These things are absolutely enormous. Kauri trees in New Zealand are big but sequoias are on a different level.


We then drove into the valley and had an awesome view of El Capitan and Half Dome.

We then drove on to see Bridal Veil Falls – the views kept getting better and better.

We then carried on to see Yosemite Falls – the tallest waterfall in the USA. 

We also stopped at the face of El Capitan and spotted people climbing up it. You have to be well equipped to climb El Capitan as it takes several days to scale it.

The next day was our free day in the park. There were several hikes available and I decided to do the Upper Yosemite Falls hike. It is 3.2miles to the top, with an elevation gain of 2,700ft. Yosemite Valley is already at 4,000ft so it was extra hard work because of the altitude.

It took 3 hours to hike to the top and was really tough going at certain points. I was the only person from my group hiking this route (some of the others hiked the Vernal and Nevada Falls route), but most people from the camping group did the hike. (Side note here – I am doing a lodging tour i.e. staying in hotels and hostels, but there is also another Trek group doing exactly the same route but they are camping instead).

JD, our tour leader, also did the hike and was great at keeping me going. There were some pretty awesome views on the way up:

And also from the top:

Yosemite Valley looked incredible. The photos really don’t do it justice.

After stopping for lunch at the top, and with some ominous weather looming, we headed back down. It only took 1 hour and 50 minutes to get back down, but it seemed to go on and on. My legs weren’t too bad afterwards but my left knee was complaining a bit! I was very proud of myself though and I’m glad I gave myself the challenge of doing this hike. It was tough but easier than the Tongariro Crossing (which I vastly underestimated) and the Inca Trail.

After grabbing a pizza dinner in Half Dome village, we went out to Tunnel View point to catch the last of the sun.


This couple of days definitely made up for the disappointment of not being able to see anything last time. I’m almost glad I missed everything last time because it made this experience so much better. Definitely the highlight of my USA trip so far.