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Over the past year, we’ve been talking about American national parks and some of the USA’s great cities, such as New York, Washington D.C., and Boston. Today we will combine these two to talk about something else that is a very American summer tradition – a road trip. A road trip is usually a long journey made by car, van, or RV to a few or even many different destinations. In the summertime, it’s very popular to pack up the car and hit the open road to see the country. After all, the USA is a very big country with lots to see! Perhaps one of the most popular road trips you can take in America is traveling across the west coast. With many national parks, some of the country’s most famous cities, and plenty of other interesting things along the way, a west coast road trip is one of the best journeys you can take in the US. There are endless possibilities for how you can plan your trip, but here’s an example of an amazing one-month road trip I took across the west coast to give you an idea of what you can do:
Start the trip off in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the US. It’s easy to get here from just about anywhere, so it makes a perfect starting point. There’s a lot to do here to keep you busy for a few days – stroll through Golden Gate Park, check out the bridge, ride the cable cars, eat delicious seafood, or even visit an old prison at Alcatraz. If you’re like me and love live music, then this is a great place to be. There are concerts every night and many festivals throughout the year. We didn’t do it, but you could also consider adding a side trip to Yosemite National Park, as it’s not too far away.
From San Fran, you have many options for getting down to the City of Angels. The most scenic one is to rent a car and drive yourself down Highway 1, which rides along the coast looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Once you’re in LA, you have many options for how to spend your time. Hit the Walk of Fame to find your favorite stars, go for a hike up to the famous Hollywood sign, take in a ballgame, or explore the city’s great nightlife.
Just a 2-hour drive away from the city, you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park. This is different from many American national parks in that it’s located in the desert. It’s a beautiful place to spend a few days, and there are many activities available – camping, hiking, bird-watching, and star-gazing, to name a few. The best way to get here is to rent a car from LA and drive yourself. Bring some camping gear and stay a few nights to really take it all in.
Although it’s technically a part of Los Angeles, Venice Beach deserves its own introduction. It’s not just your average beach vacation in Venice, as there’s much more going on than just sunbathing and swimming. Take a stroll along the boardwalk, which is known as a “sidewalk circus.” You’ll see street performers such as magicians, dancers, jugglers, and much more. It’s also a great place to get fit, as you can ride a bike, hit the skate park, or visit the famous Muscle Beach.
From LA, it’s very easy to get to Las Vegas. A great tip for saving money is to try and book a seat on a Megabus early on – if you book early enough, you can find seats for just $1! While many people think of Las Vegas as Sin City, there’s more to this city than just gambling and drinking. It’s actually very family friendly these days, with many shows, thrill rides, and attractions that are suitable for all ages. We had so much fun exploring the mega-casinos (but not gambling in them), seeing amazing performances, and eating in the great buffets.
There’s no national park more famous in the USA than the Grand Canyon. It is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, 1 mile deep and is also one of the Wonders of the World. Visiting the park can be a bit tricky unless you have your own transportation, so renting a car is probably the best way to get here. There are plenty of campgrounds, so you can stay for a few days to explore the many viewpoints and hiking trails. If you’re feeling very adventurous, you can try the Rim-to-Rim Hike, which is 28-miles long and goes across the canyon.
From the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it’s just a 3-hour drive or so to the stunning Zion National Park in southwest Utah. The name of this park means “promised land,” and you’ll see why once you get here and take in some of the incredible views. There’s a great bus system that will take you around the park, and there are plenty of viewpoints and hiking trails to keep you busy. Try taking a walk in the Narrows, the park’s most famous hike through the Virgin River. Camping is available inside the park, so you should definitely stay a few days to see as much of it as you can.
The next stop on this great west coast road trip is another national park in Utah. Bryce Canyon is a place of amazing natural beauty where you can learn about the interesting hoodoos. If you’ve never heard of hoodoos, don’t worry! They are stone structures formed by melting frost and erosion, and they’re an incredible sight. Unfortunately we only had enough time to spend a few hours here, but there’s camping and a lodge if you can afford to stay a night or two.
Before taking this trip, we had never heard of Moab, Utah. In the end, it was our favorite place we visited and something we recommend to family and friends all the time. This little town is a great place to base yourself for tons of outdoor adventures. In just a few days we: visited two more national parks (Canyonlands and Arches) and a state park (Dead Horse Point), tried canyoneering, white water rafting, and skydiving. There are also many great restaurants, shops, cafes, and even a brewery in town to keep you busy when you’re not out there enjoying the great outdoors.
Although many people will argue and say that Denver is not technically on the west coast, this is a great place to end your road trip for transportation reasons. It’s easy to return a rental car here, and you can fly just about anywhere in the country once you’re all finished. The Mile High City is a great base for exploring the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, and there are many more outdoor activities you can enjoy a short drive from the city. One thing I’ll highly recommend when visiting Denver is seeing a concert at the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater. This is one of the most beautiful concert venues in the entire country, and it’s a great place to see a show.
As I mentioned, we spent one month doing this road trip from San Francisco to Denver. In case you were wondering, we did the entire thing overland – buses, hitching rides with friends, and renting a few cars. Should you do this yourself, make sure you buy the America the Beautiful National Park pass. It will get you into every NP mentioned above and save you a lot of money in the process. To see what this journey looks like, here’s an interactive map: