The road tripper’s guide to Los Angeles

Destinations, Guides, Road Trip, USA, USA

The road tripper’s guide to Los Angeles

2 Comments 19 February 2013

More than any other city, people need their own vehicle to tour Los Angeles. Getting around on public transportation is extremely time consuming and can be quite complicated. The city is very spread out and public transportation is, unfortunately, somewhat unpopular here. To make matters worse, because of how large the city is, taxis can be expensive as well.

So by choosing to road trip to Los Angeles, rather than just arrive by plane and spend a few days here, you’re already one step ahead.

Basing your trip on the fact that you will need a car, makes things like picking a campground to stay a lot easier, because location doesn’t matter. On the other side, it makes things like planning nights out a bit more difficult because either someone must volunteer to be designated driver or you need to split the the cab fare. This guide will help you understand the city of LA better, from a road tripper’s point of view.

The view from Malibu Beach RV Park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Sleep

Since Los Angeles is very spread out, finding the perfectly-located accommodation is not as much of a concern. Most of your camping options in Los Angeles are going to be on the coast, which makes for some gorgeous beach locations, slightly out of the city. Dockweiler Beach, a state park close to LAX, is a favourite among campers. Malibu has quite a few camping options, including Malibu Beach RV Park, which is located right on the Pacific Coast Highway with an incredible view of the coast. Plus there are options outside Disney Land in Anaheim.

Staying at a campground or RV will save you a lot of money in LA as they average about $35 for partial hook up per night, whereas you’re looking at spending at least $60 per night on a hotel in the city. But if you choose to stay in a hotel, whether or not they’ll have free outdoor parking depends on their location, so call ahead to find out if they do and if there are any height restrictions.

Go

Those driving in LA should avoid doing so during rush hour. Since almost everyone here drives, the traffic is horrendous. If you can, always have at least one passenger in the car so you can use the carpool lane on the freeways. There are a lot of parking options here, usually affordable ones depending on the area. However, fuel is not. Stay away from wealthy areas like Beverly Hills and Malibu when fueling your car.

A crab cake sandwich from Neptune’s Net, located right on the Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Eat

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods rule this city, as well as a few high-end grocers. I would say Trader Joe’s is the most affordable and plentiful option to choose from. It’s very easy to find grocers with parking inside the city. It might be better to go during the week rather than the weekend to avoid any kind of rush by locals off work.

For meals out, take advantage of having a car by visiting restaurants on the coast with the perfect view of the sunset in beach towns like Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. A lot of these are going to be pricey. A popular option that’s very affordable is Neptune’s Net in Malibu.

Whiskey A Go Go is a major venue in music industry. The Doors were the house band here for a while. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Drink

While there is no one party area in this city, there are plenty of places to party. LA is known for its trendy and unique bars and clubs as well as a few timeless rock venues like Whisky A Go Go on Sunset Blvd. If you want to have a big night out, research LA’s most popular clubs at the moment, choose one then plan your night around getting to and from there whether it be by public transit or sharing a taxi. If using public transit, check to see if your service runs late.

Having a car in LA makes it a lot easier to reach spots up in the hills like Griffith Observatory. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Play

Arrange your trip by accomplishing everything you want to do in one section of the city in one day. For instance, spend a day in Hollywood doing the Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, Hollywood sign and any tours you fancy. Let another day be all about Disney Land. This will avoid you wasting money and time going back and fourth to an area.

Some musts for those with cars include cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway, driving up to the Griffith Observatory and visiting famous homes like the Getty Villa.

Road tripping to San Francisco or Los Angeles? There’s a guide for that!

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

The road tripper’s guide to San Francisco

Destinations, Guides, Road Trip, USA, USA

The road tripper’s guide to San Francisco

8 Comments 14 February 2013

Road tripping to San Francisco is a thrilling experience. Driving around this city, you’ll feel more like you’re on a roller coaster than a street due to the extreme incline of its hills. But other than a few scary moments on the road here, this city is a dream destination for California road trippers.

Find out what your best option is for camping in the city, some much-needed tips to driving around it and a number of the city’s best attractions that you might not be able to visit without a set of wheels.

Sleep

San Francisco only has one centrally-located campground, which is at Rob Hill. Only two sites are available to groups here from April until October. But you will find a lot of options just outside the city. One stunning option is the San Francisco RV Resort in Pacifica, located on the ocean about 15 miles south of the city center.

Those who wish to stay in a hotel instead, as the city has some affordable options centrally-located, make sure to see if the hotel has free and outdoor parking. A lot of hotels in the city do have outdoor parking, so there are no height restrictions, but some have an overhang at the entrance, limiting certain vehicles, so make sure to ask.

Go

Once in the city, getting around is fairly easy and fun. The traffic is not too bad in the city center, it’s highways connecting to areas like Silicon Valley that you really have to worry about. As you would expect, there are some serious hills in San Francisco. Be very careful when switching from your brake to gas pedal at red lights on hills. The incline is so dramatic, you will fall back as soon as you lift from the break. Also remember to turn your wheels towards to curb when parallel parking on hills.

Affordable parking is hit or miss in this city. Sometimes you’ll find free or cheap parking on the street, but you’ll also find lots that cost $5 per hour. Take the car when heading up to Twin Peaks or hitting Baker Beach. Ditch the car when visiting popular tourist attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf. Make sure to try out San Francisco’s famous cable cars at least once. Also, look into whether or not the campground or RV resort you stay offers free or affordable shuttles to and from the city.

My Jucy Champ cruising down from Twin Peaks, San Francisco in the background. Photo by Garret Standrowicz

When not using your own car or public transportation, try out Lyft, which is a ride-sharing application on your phone exclusive to San Francisco. You’ll know these drivers by the big, hot pink moustaches attached to the front of their car. Book your Lyft through the app and pay a suggested donation at the end.

Eat

Some affordable grocers to visit, so you can eat back at the campground, include Safeway and Trader Joe’s. Safeway offers free membership cards which gives its shoppers access to tremendous discounts. Visit this grocer prior to entering the city, where there are more parking options. Those who like to check out local city markets should try the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

San Francisco is definitely a food city. Some places to check out include Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf. Also try North Bay, a local secret, for incredible Italian food.

Drink

Ready to ditch the car and try the wines that this section of the state is known for? Your best bet for drinking in the Bay area is heading to the USA’s most famous wine country, Napa Valley. Several companies offer tours with pick up from wherever its guests are staying in the city. Another option if you have enough people would be to rent a car, limo or shuttle for the day and tour Napa on your own.

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to Napa Valley. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

More of a beer person? Anchor Brewing, San Francisco’s most famous brewery, offers free tours and tastings. This is a very popular activity so register in advance.

Play

There are a lot of great things to see and experience in this city on foot, but having a car gives visitors an advantage in San Francisco sight seeing. Take a drive up to Twin Peaks for the best view of the city. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and explore Golden Gate National Recreation Area on both sides of the bridge. Legion on Honor can be a pain to reach for those without wheels, but for those with a vehicle it’s a great museum with even better views of the city

Visit Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay to check out the bluff and watch the sun set. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Finally, take a trip to Half Moon Bay, located about 30-minutes outside the city. This is a vacation destination for people who live and work Silicon Valley. Plus, home to Mavericks, a well-known surfing location.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Road tripping to San Francisco or Los Angeles? There’s a guide for that!

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Wish you were here: My Santa Monica Dream

Blog, Destinations, USA, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: My Santa Monica Dream

4 Comments 12 February 2013

Goodbye my Santa Monica dream.

I played that same Angus and Julia Stone song as I wrote my final post from New Zealand in September. Little did I know, five months I would actually be saying goodbye to Santa Monica, the last stop on a world tour that started with that farewell post.

As I write from a bumpy bus en route to San Francisco, that same refrain running through my head.

I didn’t plan to visit California, let alone Santa Monica, on this five-month tour. Really, if everything had gone to plan, I would be writing to you now from New Zealand. But as usual with travel, I didn’t end up quite where I expected, nor have I taken the route I intended.

And what did I get in return for this detour?

I fell in love with a destination, yet again.

Pacific Pier is Santa Monica’s most well-known attraction, but did you know Route 66 ends here? Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When Ric was booking his flights to come and meet me in California, he asked me when to book the return flights. The worst possible question for a pair of one-way travelers like us, but one that had to be answered considering the USA’s strict requirements for visitors. I said book it for the day after our road trip would end. He said why not a few days later so we can enjoy the sun. His mom said why not a week?

And with that suggestion from a woman nicknamed “The Oracle”, that’s exactly what we did.

Why not a week?

Money, as usual, was a worry, but all we’ll be doing next is returning to rainy England for the end of winter. Why not soak up the California sunshine, if only for a few days more?

So we had our extra week in California, but where would we spend it? This was a question left unanswered until the night before I was scheduled to drop off my camper van in LA. I had wanted to head to San Diego. Ric just wanted a beach. We were both sick of moving and couldn’t fathom sorting out public transportation to another city the next day, so we settled on a hotel only 20 minutes away from the campground in Malibu, where we spent the last night of our Jucy tour.

Santa Monica.

It’s weird how at home we both felt in a place we never intended on visiting.

I’ve heard a few stories about people who ended up staying in a place for years, maybe even until their death, after arriving for some random reason, like their car broke down there. If it weren’t for visas and what not, well, this post might have gone something like that.

But for now, our time in Santa Monica was limited to a week and what a week it was. I was meant to work the entire time and Ric meant to catch a tan while lounging next to the Pacific. While we both fulfilled our duties, we also fit in a fair bit of exploring.

Ric and my friend Julia at Cha Cha Chicken on our last day in Santa Monica. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We went to a live taping of Conan, which allowed us to walk through Warner Bros. studios. I spent time with one of my very best friends from NJ who brought me as her plus one to the premiere of Burning Love at Paramount Studios. Ric found a local pub in Ye Olde King’s Head, a bar where we watched England defeat Brazil and made friends with a bunch of people from Michigan. We took in the sights at Venice Beach, toured the town’s canals and even tried the fish tacos from I Love You Man at James Beach. We played at Pacific Pier, learned at the Getty Villa and ate our last meal at Cha Cha Chicken.

Ric and I really got into a regime, visiting OP Cafe every morning for its $3.99 breakfast specials. Photo by Richard John Hackey

There is something very special about Los Angeles. I’m not sure if people start to take it for granted after living there a while, or if its lost on people in the Entertainment industry, because they know all the tricks behind the magic, but it’s a spectacular place to be a newby. You never know what’s going to happen in the city or where your day will lead you. Who will you bump into? What opportunity will arise?

It’s such a special place and while a lot of people say the magic of Hollywood was lost after the Golden Age, I don’t think that’s true. It definitely wasn’t lost on me and I don’t believe it’s lost on the millions of people who arrive each year, hoping all their dreams come true.

I didn’t come to LA with a dream, but I’m leaving with one. And while I may have to say goodbye to my Santa Monica dream, I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting it in a few years time.

The Facts:

We stayed at Ocean Park Hotel on 32nd Street. At $65 per night, this was the most affordable place we could find, but a very clean and quiet place to stay, not far from all the action.

LA is definitely a city that requires a car. I took on the public transportation here a few times, and each journey took me one to two hours, plus multiple buses to complete. Rent a car if you can.

If you want to feel a bit of old Hollywood, visit Culver City. It’s a very clean cut area of LA that seems naturally lost in time and oozing with film history. The Culver Studios has been used in several films including Gone with the Wind. Much of the cast of The Wizard of Oz stayed at Culver Hotel during filming.

My food and drink recommendations are as follows: OP Cafe has breakfast specials for $3.99; hearty and delicious, the fish tacos at James Beach are amazing but very expensive $19 for the dish and the best spot we found was Cha Cha Chicken; authentic Caribbean food, plus its BYO, which will save you some money.

The fish tacos from ‘I Love You Man’ can be found at James Beach in Venice Beach, CA. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Finally, see a live taping while in LA. It’s not only the best, but also the cheapest day out Ric and I had in LA. Tickets are free, but can be competitive. Book ahead for shows like Ellen and Conan. Do more research if you’re not too concerned with what show you see, because there are a million to choose from here and some are crying for audience members to add some laughs in the background.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Las Vegas: Hotel vs. Campground

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Las Vegas: Hotel vs. Campground

3 Comments 09 February 2013

If there is one stop on your road trip around Western USA that you’ll consider hopping out of your van or RV to stay in a hotel room, it’s Las Vegas. Over 140,000 rooms available, Sin City constantly makes the list of US cities with the highest number of hotel rooms in the world. With rates starting as low as $19 a night for a standard room at Circus Circus and soaring up to almost $40,000 a night for the Hugh Hefner Villa at Palms Resort, there’s something here to suite everyone’s budget and interests.

But is a hotel room in Las Vegas right for you or are you more suited to camping out?

I tried both on my recent trip and found both have their perks and limitations. Inevitably one is not better than the other, but more right for the visitor. Before getting swayed by cheap prices or visions of how you’re suppose to spend your time in Vegas, consider these questions when choosing between staying at a hotel or campground on your next trip to Las Vegas.

Head away from the new hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard for funky hotel signs. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Where is it located?

Hotels easily have more options on the Strip, for less too. You can find a few campgrounds in prime locations either on or near Las Vegas Boulevard, such as Circus Circus KOA RV Resort and Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort. Most are located within two miles of the main attractions in Las Vegas. So if you want to be where all the typical Vegas action is taking place, you’ll have more options with hotels.

But this might not be for everyone. Visitors to this city of debauchery might not realize all the natural beauty that surrounds it. When you only see Vegas at night or stay indoors lost in casinos throughout your stay, you might not even realize the mountain scenery that surrounds the desert city.

If you’re looking for a calmer, naturally pretty place to stay not far from Vegas, you would be best off camping in national parks like Red Rock Canyon or Lake Mead. Both these places offer an array of camping options, surrounded by stunning scenery, no more than 20 minutes from the centre of Las Vegas.

Circus Circus has an adorable dog park and k-9 washing facilities. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What does it include?

That depends how much you’re willing to pay.

Las Vegas boasts some of the most luxurious and expensive hotel rooms in the world. Suites with their own personal concierge and hot tubs, even pools. So if you’re looking to go that high end, there really is no competition, but if your tossing up between camping out or staying in a budget to average priced hotel, here are the things you should consider.

Overall you can easily find campgrounds and hotels at the same price that come with free wifi, access to pools and spas, concierge services, shuttles and security. That said, really look into what is included with both options. Hotel rooms in Vegas don’t cost $20 for no reason. Some literally only come with a bed and there is a wide range of campgrounds, so do your research.

Some perks of staying in a campground include dog walking and washing facilities (most hotels will not allow you to have a dog) and easy parking (most parking at hotels is in a garage, which have height restrictions usually lower than the height of RVs and camper vans, if you have either, call the hotel of your choice ahead to find out if they have any outdoor parking options). Some perks of staying in a hotel room, I’m going to be blunt and say it’s really nice to have AC and a bathroom that doesn’t require a code when you’re hungover and feeling awful.

The Bellagio is one of Las Vegas most expensive casinos to stay in. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

How much is it going to cost me?

It depends.

If you’re staying near the strip you will almost always find staying at a hotel is your cheapest option. The amount of competition allows for really affordable rooms, ranging from $20-$60 for a budget or average room depending on the time of year. It depends on the time of year you visit and the size of your camper, but expect to pay anywhere from $40-$90 at a an RV park, most containing similar amenities and services as a hotel.

When staying off the strip, hotel rooms usually will not go much lower than the rate mentioned above. but campsites will. At Lake Mead National Park, camp rates start at $10, on top of a $10 entrance fee which is good for seven days.

Now there are some other things to think about when it comes to cost. Guests usually cannot cook in basic hotel rooms, whereas people can in campgrounds. The cost of eating out in Vegas will be much higher than cooking for yourself. Some hotel rooms require guests pay a resort fee on top of how much they pay per night. A lot of campgrounds and hotels come with shuttles, but if they don’t, you need to think about the costs of public transportation, fuel, parking or taxis. Finally, think about the extras, such as internet. Does the place you wish to stay include the extras you want? If not, how much more is it going to cost?

This is the adorable set up at Circus Circus KOA RV Resort. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What’s the major difference?

The great outdoors or the neon lights of the casino floor.

It’s possible to never go outside during your stay in Vegas. The major hotels and casinos have a wide range of food options, means of gambling, shows, bars, spas, rooms and people can smoke inside. This is an actual nightmare for some. While some casinos do things in style, a lot are  dimly lit, noisy, and lost in time (meaning there are no clocks). It can often take a half hour just to find a door to the outside world.

Staying in a campground, you get to breathe real air, whether it be in a national park or just in a parking lot outside. You’re forced to see the sun and there’s a certain level of genuine hospitality that is lost in some hotels in Las Vegas. Everyone at the campground I stayed at were very friendly and helpful in a way in which I wasn’t being forced to pay more or sign up for a casino card. At the average hotel, I was pretty much shuffled around, three counters at check-in, which felt like a method they took to get the most out of their guests. It took at least an hour.

But this was an average hotel. High-end hotels and casinos are known for the caliber of their hospitality.

Ric didn’t really care where we slept in the end. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

So where should I stay? (Final thoughts)

It really depends on what you want, who you’re traveling with and how much money you have to burn in Las Vegas. If all you need is a cheap bed to rest your hangover, go for a hotel. If you’re on a budget with a family and/or dog, a campground would probably be best for everyone. If money isn’t an option, well it really comes down to what you prefer.

There are so many things to do in this city and so many ways to see it. Your trip may center around camping or staying in a particular hotel, but if you get lucky (i.e. on a roll or, well, I don’t need to explain…), a bed might not even matter.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Forget green fairies, Absinthe is the best thing I’ve seen in Vegas

Destinations, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret, USA

Forget green fairies, Absinthe is the best thing I’ve seen in Vegas

2 Comments 08 February 2013

If Absinthe were a woman, she’d be perfect.

Fun, sexy, silly, beautiful, flexible and a tad raunchy!

The good news is, Absinthe is not a girl, but one of the very best shows in Las Vegas at the moment, which means we can all have a go.

When Abby Tegnelia recommended me to this show, I said yes immediately. Not only because it sounded amazing, but also I’ve had my experience with Australian companies trying their hand at circus cabaret before. I fell in love with the concept with Cantina at the Brisbane Festival in 2010. I thought nothing could top that performance.

I was wrong.

Not only does Spiegelworld’s Absinthe, a no-hold-back parody of Cirque du Soleil, include half-naked acts accomplishing the impossible with flexibility and strength, but it’s also hysterical.

The Gazillionaire sets the night up to be hysterical for the start. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

In between each acrobatic act, show host, The Gazillionaire, and his assistant, Penny Pibbetts, relieve the crowd with some very on-point and limitless comedy.

Race, sex, religion, politics; there is absolutely nothing they won’t have a go at.

The Gazillionaire’s raspy-voiced rants are perfectly balanced by Pibbetts’ squeaky-voiced, school-girl tangents. It’s these characters and their massive disregard for political correctness that allow the pair to not just get away with absolutely anything, but do it with roaring applause and laughter from the entire crowd.

Full of characters, the cast taking a bow at the end of the show and Penny, not too sure what she’s doing. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

As for the circus performances, well that is in no laughing matter. I tried really hard to pick my favorite or most difficult-looking act of the show, but I just couldn’t. They were all incredible, but I’ll only highlight a few to leave some element of surprise for those who see this show.

A very intimate trapeze act at the start of the show. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

There’s Vladimir Malachkin who, after a drink of Absinthe, goes into a wild balancing act on six or so chairs stacked to make an unstable mountain. Then comes Duo Vector, two male body builders as well as the Gazillionaire’s body guards, who manage to make their strength-dependent act look soft and beautiful.

Vladimir balancing on a mountain of wooden chairs. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Vector Duo effortlessly balancing two bodies on one leg. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Sven and Roma perform a high-paced roller-skate act that includes Roma only attaching herself to Sven’s neck by a leather strap around her head and being spun around so fast by him you can’t even make out her body. The Esteemed Gentlemen of the Highwire finish the show with two of them balancing on a high wire while sharing the weight of a keg hoisted on two bars across their shoulders, the third does a free standing keg stand between them.

Balancing another person, while balancing yourself on a tightrope, that’s talent from The Esteemed Gentlemen of the Highwire. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

And sexy…

Well if the muscles and definition on the bodies of the acts above doesn’t do it for you, then Melody Sweets and Angel Porrino will. The Ava Gardner-looking Sweets, who plays the “Green Fairy” sings and dances her way around the stage and audience in sequined and feathered costumes a few times throughout the show. The blonde Porrino, doused in coconut oil, wears a bikini as she performs an adorable act which includes her getting inside a bubble.

As the Green Fairy, Melody Sweets will have members of the Absinthe audience seeing visions. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Angel Porrino from inside her bubble. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Everything about the show is perfect. The scenery, cast and crew and costumes will have you entertained at all times and transported from a white spiegeltent outside Caesars Palace in 2013 to a traveling circus tent somewhere out in the Midwest in 1943. We even stayed a short time after the show ended to see that not only were the performers still practicing and perfecting their act, but also chatting with fans. We had a chance to speak with the Gazillionaire, who stayed in character and on his toes, but was really kind and appreciative.

Everything about the Absinthe experience is different, even the look of the theater. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

There are very few shows as special as this, as different as this, as enjoyed by both men and women alike as much as this one. Spiegelworld fits perfectly in with the wild and wacky Vegas strip, but still manages to stand out. If there is one show you see in Sin City, make it this one.

Thanks to Spiegelworld for welcoming me out to see Absinthe in Las Vegas. Visit their site for more information on the show or to purchase tickets. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Jucy Wheels Out West: Las Vegas to LA

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Jucy Wheels Out West: Las Vegas to LA

5 Comments 06 February 2013

Laying in bed inside my Jucy camper van, Santa Monica Mountains in front of me, the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean behind me as well as my favorite chef cooking away back there, I can’t help but get sentimental about the last three weeks. I’m spending the last night of my Jucy Wheels Out West tour in Malibu, California. Probably the only night I’ll ever be able to afford in Malibu, but definitely not the last night I’ll ever spend in a Jucy.

It was here that I really started my trip. I saw this RV Park one day short of three weeks ago when I hit the Pacific Coast Highway from LA en route to Santa Barbara. It’s hard to believe tomorrow I’ll be giving my Jucy wheels back. There’s still so much left to say about this trip and my experience out West. That will all come in the next few weeks. For now, here is how I spent my third and final week out West.

I ended the last post in the Grand Canyon. I had just seen one of America’s most epic sights at the last hours of the day. It’s a good thing I saw it then too, because the next day it disappeared.

Behind that layer of fog is the Grand Canyon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We woke up at about 6 a.m. last Monday hoping to see the sun rise behind the Grand Canyon, but the National Park had been hit with so much snow, we could barely see anything. Between snow and fog, you could only make out bits of the 1,218,375.54-acre canyon. It was like David Copperfield had thrown us a treat before we even arrived in Vegas.

After playing in the snow, we hit the roads as soon as possible, because the weather report was not getting any better.

You know what one of my favorite things about the Southwest is? You can go from freezing in the snowy mountains in the morning to wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt in the desert by early afternoon. This area of the world really does have it all.

We arrived at Las Vegas KOA at Circus Circus, an RV park located right on the Strip, just in time for a quick dinner and bottle of wine before hitting the town. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so I’ll just go over some quick points.

You don’t often see photos of Las Vegas during the day. Here’s the Las Vegas Strip from the top of the Stratosphere. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ric and I did just about everything a person is expected to do in Sin City: drink, gamble, eat, see a show, visit a strip club and get hitched…

Just kidding!

Our first night was an interesting one and both nights that followed just got better.

Night two I met up with Abby Tegnelia, The Neon Jungle Princess, for dinner at D.O.C.G. at The Cosmopolitan. She’s one of those Twitter friends I’ve been talking to for almost three years and knew I would like right away. So glad we could finally meet, drink wine and share my first truffle experience together. Try “The D.O.C.G. Pizza”, which comes with fonduta, egg and truffles, but make sure they don’t lose the egg on your pizza.

It was Abby’s suggestions that made night three in Las Vegas so incredible. First stop was Yellowtail at the Bellagio for a “Big Eye Tuna Pizza”. Everyone raves about this menu item. It’s really different (tuna, truffle oil and micro shiso on a crispy base), but it works.

Next, we went to see Absinthe, located in the white circus tent outside Caesars Palace. I’ll go more into this circus/cabaret spoof on Thursday, but for now I’m just going to say that it was one of the best and most unique shows I’ve ever been to. We ended the night at BURGR, Gordon Ramsay’s gourmet burger joint at Planet Hollywood. I had truffles yet again. Truffle fries with truffle aioli, how do you say no to that? Amazing, yet very affordable restaurant on Las Vegas Boulevard.

This is only a preview of Absinthe. Come back Thursday to read about the show and see more photos from it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

We left Vegas Thursday with only a tiny hangover, but empty pockets. A quick stop at Downtown Vegas then to the “Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas sign” for a photo with Elvis and we were off to Joshua Tree National Park.

The towns surrounding this park, seem very strange, since they literally pop up right out of the desert and are all home to some interesting characters. We stayed in the town of Joshua Tree and I kind of fell in love with it. It doesn’t have many shops, bars or cafes, but what it does have are independently-owned and quality. Visit bulletin boards located near Grateful Desert to find out about drum circles and parties at random locations in the desert.

Me, acting like a Joshua Tree. Photo by Richard John Hackey

I’ve wanted to visit Joshua Tree since college, when a professor showed us photos from a family vacation there in a media class. Then there was the Entourage episode in Joshua Tree, and well…

There is something about deserts that intrigues me, but this one especially. The National Park is one of the most interesting places you’ll ever see. Desert with random rock formations and yucca trees (Joshua Trees) that look like people waving their arms like they’re at a concert. To top off what is already an incredible place, all of a sudden a guy with a decked out bike and funky hat would drive by us waving, or-boom-a drummer on the side of the road.

They definitely do in Joshua Tree. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This is my favorite of all the National Parks we visited on this trip. It’s one of those places you hear about, but think, “No that couldn’t exist.”. We visited Wonderland of Rocks (rock formations area), Keys View (where you can see the San Andreas Fault) and Barker Dam (where you can see Native American Petroglyphs) in the Park, then made our way to Huntington Beach, but not without first stopping at Pioneertown for a chilli burger at Pappy and Harrietsand impromptu Western photo shoot in the old Hollywood film set.

Ric doing his best John Wayne at Pioneertown, California. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It was nice to see the beach again in Huntington, which is the ideal California beach town to spend a few days. We saw bonfires as we entered and took photos with surfers the following day while doing Jucy promotions.

After two nights in Huntington, we made our way back to Los Angeles, visiting Venice Beach along the way. Sorry to say, but this was the first place on this entire trip that disappointed me. There is a lot going on in Venice Beach. In fact, there’s too much going on there. Yet all we really wanted to do was find a nice affordable restaurant and we couldn’t do that. And muscle beach-I saw no muscles there :(

But if that was the only thing that disappointed me in three weeks of touring Western America, well that’s pretty good I think.

The sun came out strong on our last day of this trip and we got to see Malibu at it’s best, though I’m not sure this place really has a bad side. Tomorrow I go from Jucy Wheels to Homeless Heels. Though after touring California for almost two weeks, I can think of worse places to make the transition.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A special thanks to Spiegelworld for welcoming me out to see Absinthe.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Wine, nature, design and burgers (what!) in Napa Valley

Destinations, Favorite Things, Road Trip, USA, USA, Wine and Coffee

Wine, nature, design and burgers (what!) in Napa Valley

7 Comments 01 February 2013

While wine is definitely Napa Valley’s claim to fame with almost 950 wineries, about 450 of which you can visit. That isn’t all the Northern California destination has to offer.

For instance, did you know that Yountville, a town in the Valley, has the most Michelin Star restaurants per capita in North America? Did you also know that Napa is a geothermal area, home to one of three Old Faithful geysers? Finally, were you aware that there is an actual castle in this wine region?

From food to nature to architecture, and obviously to wine, Napa Valley surprised me on every level, and this is after only one day of visiting the area.

Since, I only spent a day here, I’m not writing a full guide about it, nor am I writing a piece highlighting Napa’s must sees. For that, I recommend visiting The Napa Wine Project or yTravel Blog. I’m merely going to explain why I chose the stops I did, and why I think you should consider them too.

Before I begin let me just make one thing clear, my day with Ric in Napa was extremely random. We started out only planning to visit, tour and taste at three wineries, some of which are located over a 30-minute drive from Downtown Napa, where we spent the night at Skyline Wilderness Park.

I chose to do this, because I wanted to actually be in the places where wines I had heard so much about are being made. I knew this meant I would be spitting out my tastings, which just feels wrong, because I was driving. But I’ve discovered that there are a million ways to see Napa and on my first time there, this is how I wanted to do it.

So I got to see a lot of the Valley and Ric…well he got pissed, as he was drinking for two, which would explain the last visit on this list.

Ric watching Old Faithful erupt in Napa Valley. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Nature in Napa

It’s impossible to miss this. Venture out of downtown Napa and you’ll start to follow roads lined with California Oak Trees, catch your ears popping as you drive higher and higher into the hills and maybe even spot steam coming out of the ground.

This area is home to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where visitors can see indigenous trees, such as coastal redwoods, Douglas-Fir and Tanoak. Those who are lucky might also spot deer, foxes and bobcats.

Napa is also a geothermal area. Ric spotted Old Faithful Geyser on the way out to our first stop on the agenda. We were really confused as we both thought it was in Yellow Stone National Park.

We found out there are actually three Old Faithfuls. If you’ve seen the one in Yellowstone, don’t bother with the one in Napa as you will be very disappointed, but if you’ve never seen a geyser before and you’re not on too tight a budget (this attraction is $14 per adult) it’s worth a stop and you’re guaranteed to see it erupt as it does so every five to ten minutes. Plus, they have a petting farm there with lambs. Need I say more?

Chateau Montelena winery was built in 1886 and French-inspired. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Chateau Montelena

This is the winery that put Napa on the wine world’s map. In 1976 Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay won a blind taste test held in Paris that put French wines against Californian wines. This tasting was huge. Not only did it prove that France was no longer the only place capable of making great wines, but it also proved that the vintners in California knew what they were doing.

A basic tasting here costs $20 per person. Visitors can see a bottle of the winning Chardonnay from 1973. They can also check out the winery’s old-world architecture and a very unexpected Japanese garden.

I felt like a princess as Ric photographed me on the steps of this Napa Valley castle. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Castello di Amorosa

Driving up a small road, lined with Italian Cypress Trees, vineyards to both sides and forests separating the property from the outside world, a building begins to appear.

“That’s an actual castle,” were my words to be exact, and I’m sure the words of many who visit Castello di Amorosa.

This 121,000-square-foot castle was a dream to create for owner Dario Sattui, who also owns V. Sattui Winery. His Italian heritage, fascination with Tuscan and medieval design and determination to create something spectacular have made this a dream come true for visitors to Napa as well.

Enter the castle up stone steps and across a drawbridge. A small information office will be to your right, where you can purchase tickets to tour the castle and taste its wines. Otherwise, visitors are allowed to roam certain areas of the castle on their own and sample the wines for a general admission price of $18.

It was easy to see how much our guide Jeff loved coming to work at the castle every day and be in the California sun. I think touring the castle would have been wonderful no matter how we did it, but Jeff made the experience incredible.

Jeff led our group of eight through the castle’s main dining area, courtyard, caves where barrels of wine are kept and even a torture chamber, all while talking about the history of the place, how it was made and characteristics about the wine making process. Everything in the castle is hand made and designed after medieval times. The wine is even made in a traditional Italian method, fermented in barrels, residue scraped out, instead of being filtered.

The wine at this boutique winery is wonderful, but most people visit to see the castle. Luckily, with Castello di Amorosa’s castle tour, visitors can tour the grounds and try ten different wines from their collection for $33.

There are so many ways to see this winery. It’s a given that any visitor to Napa should tour the grounds their first time. After that, look into the castle’s many parties throughout the year.

It’s incredible how much thought was put into the design at Darioush and continues to be put into the vineyard’s wine and hospitality. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Darioush

Walking into this winery, which is actually based off a castle as well, I had mixed emotions. Everything about the open room visitors walk into is perfect. A nice mixture of modern pieces and ancient design, all somehow mixed together in a way that just works.

Though in other places I might have, I didn’t get that museum, do-not-touch feeling, nor did I feel like I didn’t belong. Maybe it was the warm lighting in the room or the smiling faces all around, but walking into the classiest winery I’ve ever been to, I immediately felt right at home.

I felt the warmth in Darioush’s welcome within seconds of entering the winery. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This is one of the many details proprietor Darioush Khaledi thought about when he found his winery in 1997. Hospitality is one of the most important aspects of Persian culture, and Khaledi, who emigrated to the USA from Iran in the 1970s definitely made sure to highlight this at his vineyard, as well as several other characteristics of Persian culture.

The design of the cellar door at Darioush is actually based off Apadana Palace constructed by King Darius in Persia’s ancient capital city, Persepolis, which is near modern-day Shiraz, Iran where Khaledi grew up. Pomegranate trees welcome visitors as the front entrance. There is an amphitheater in the back. A collection of Khaledi’s maps of the Persian empire line the hallway to the bathroom. Plus they serve Persian-roasted pistachios, made with lime and salt.

This attention to detail carries over to the wine at Darioush. Khaledi plays a strong part in the wine making process, which is led by Steve M. Devitt. Our hostess, Michelle Romaine, who is extremely knowledgeable about the wine and history at Darioush, guided us through a tasting of their Signature Flight, which includes five different wines for $35.

For it, Ric and I sat down on leather chairs in our own personal tasting area in the main room. Each wine was clean and tasty, but my favorites were Duel, a cabernet/shiraz blend, and Capataz, which is a Malbec made from the Argentinian grapes.

I think it’s the traveler in me that is so drawn to Darioush, stepping onto this vineyard, feels like stepping out into another world, another time. Khaledi’s global influences, his interest in history from his homeland and wine from around the world, makes this winery a very special place to visit in Napa Valley.

Big D Burgers

Anyone who follows this blog or me on other networks, knows Ric has a thing for American burgers. Unless he is in Philadelphia, in which case he only orders cheese steaks, he will order a burger for almost every meal at almost every restaurant we visit. So for him to say Big D Burgers is his favorite in America. That means something, even if he was a few wines deep.

The burger shack looks like it hasn’t changed since the 50s, nor has its prices. He bought one quarter-pounder with cheese, curly fries and a drink and got another quarter-pounder free. You can bet I stole quite a few bites and sips of everything and-wow. The burgers are pretty standard, but made to perfection.

There are so many places in Napa known for culinary excellency that you should definitely take advantage of, but when you want to save money on a good meal during your stay, this is the best place we found to do it.

If you don’t want to worry about driving, some good options include, hiring a designated driver, booking a tour, purchasing a wine tasting card and sampling at various wine houses all in walking distance from each other in downtown Napa, taking the wine train or paying $1 for a single journey to various wineries on the Calistoga Shuttle.

All of my stops might already be included in the options above. Otherwise, I highly recommend making an effort to see each on their own or to convince one person in your group to take one for the team and follow this one day itinerary. Thank them with a burger, you’re going to get one for free any way.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A special thanks to Castello di Amorosa and Darioush for sponsoring my visit to Napa Valley.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Touring Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

Destinations, USA

Touring Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

No Comments 01 February 2013

Alcatraz was once the place where America sent the worst of the worst. Among some of its most famous prisoners, Al Capone, convicted of tax evasion, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, convicted of murder. Alcatraz saw murderers, thieves and more, but for some reason I almost felt bad for some of these men, touring their former holding place.

Upon arrival to Alcatraz, visitors aren’t shuffled into tour groups led by park rangers. Rather they’re directed to the jail at the top of the island and given their own personal audio tour headset. Putting on those headphones made me forget about the swarms of people surrounding the are and listen solely to the those speaking to me.

And those are the people you want to talk to about what life was like in the prison.

The audio tour is composed of interviews with former officers and prisoners from Alcatraz. You see their photos at the beginning of the tour.

Following the words of people who came here under very different circumstance, visitors are led around the entire jailhouse as well as some of its surrounding areas, while hearing some interesting stories about it along the way.

Like prisoners, visitors first walk down the main walkway, otherwise known as Broadway, between B and C blocks. Before being shown to their cell, new arrivals would walk down this strip and be “introduced” to the their new housemates. Listening to screaming men and banging on the cell bars as I walked down Broadway myself, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous for what awaited me on this tour.

I think it was the personal stories that got to me the most. In the solitary confinement area, D block, a former prisoner  talks about what he would do to keep his sanity while spending days in one of the pitch black cells. His game to make the hours go by was to throw a button somewhere in the cell and try to find it in the dark. Can you imagine that being your only form of entertainment for hours, even days?

Solitary confinement was a dark experience on Alcatraz Island. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The other comments in my audio tour that really got to me were about how the prisoners could not only see across the bay, but also hear what they were missing out on. One prisoner said on New Years he could actually hear people laughing. All that separated these men from joining in on the fun was water and walls.

How’s that for a constant reminder that you made a mistake?

Freedom is just across the bay. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

For some men, the laughter and the look of the outside world got to be to much to ignore. The tour includes two stories about prison escapes, one successful, the other an actual disaster.

The first was made on June 11, 1962 by two brothers, Clarence and John Aglin, and one fellow prisoner, Frank Morris, who, like in Shawshank Redemption, chipped their way through the prison’s concrete walls with a spoon, then escaped through the pipes of the prison. No one knew the three were gone until finding dummy heads made up of soap and toilet paper in their beds the following day. Allen West was the fourth conspirator in this attempt, but he discovered a metal bar blocking him through the chipped away piece of the wall he worked on. The other three left him.

The second attempt mentioned on the tours was not nearly as organized or quiet. Known as the “Battle of Alcatraz”, six prisoners overpowered cell house officers on May 2, 1946. They took the officers’ guns and a set of keys in an attempt to open the door to the recreational area and make a run for it. Only problem was none of the keys would work. Officers outside the prison found out and a war broke out between the armed prisoners and prison officers lasting two days. Eventually the US Marines were called out to actually bombing the prison to end the feud.

The prison floors still have marks from bombings during the “Battle of Alcatraz”. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

During the 36 years the prison was in operation, 36 prisoners attempted escape. All but five were recaptured or accounted for.

Robert F. Kennedy closed the prison on June 11, 1962, because of its deterioration and high cost to maintain.

Starting in 1964 Native Americans took over the island to protest federal policies relating to Indians. Remnants from this time in the island’s history can still be seen on the water tower and a sign at the entrance to the prison. Alcatraz Island was made a national recreation area in 1972. Today the National Park Service looks after the island, welcoming over one million visitors per year.

Writing from the Native American Reservation period of Alcatraz Island’s history. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Any Alcatraz tour starts at Alcatraz Cruises on Pier 33 on Fisherman’s Wharf. Day tours cost $28 per adult and fill up very quick, so purchase your tickets in advance at all times of year. I was there on a Saturday and they were booked until Monday. This price includes the boat ride to and from Alcatraz Island as well as the self-guided tour.The cruise is something special in its own right. On the way out to Alcatraz passengers will see sea lions, a great view of the Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you can try to get to a point on the tour when you’re alone-no crowds, no visitors. It’s a lot easier than you would think at such a huge tourists’ attraction. In that moment, I was finally on my own in cell block C, I got only a glimpse of the loneliness prisoners here felt over years and years, making up for their crimes. I’m not saying these people didn’t deserve their punishment, but I couldn’t help but sympathize with some of the men at certain points of the tour.

A moment of loneliness on cell block C. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Thanks to Alcatraz Cruises for sponsoring my tour of Alcatraz Island. Visit their website to book your tickets early. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

A special thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Jucy Wheels Out West: Napa Valley to Grand Canyon

Destinations, Road Trip, USA, USA

Jucy Wheels Out West: Napa Valley to Grand Canyon

6 Comments 29 January 2013

In week two of my Jucy Wheels Out West tour, I traded beaches for forest, sunshine for snow and the Pacific Coast Highway for Route 66. Yes, this week I stretched from Napa Valley, California, down the Sierra Nevada, hitting Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, through Nevada, all the way to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

In one week I racked up over one thousand miles and while all the long drives, curvy roads and harsh driving conditions were worth it to watch the last hours of sun light up the Grand Canyon, this was not an easy journey.

As mentioned, my week started in Napa Valley, where the struggle began. Ric and I arrived in wine country very late and the RV Park we planned to spend the night (RV Expo Center) didn’t accept vehicles without toilets. We ended up in a hotel, because we were just too exhausted to keep looking around, if only we would have searched a few miles forward we would have found Skyline Wilderness Park one of the very best campgrounds I’ve visited yet.

The night’s drama didn’t matter though, as we woke up the next day with a full list of vineyards to visit in Napa Valley, but we also left room for a few surprises along the way. We started the day driving 45 minutes out to our furthest point in the Valley, Chateau Montelena. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in the downtown Napa area, as most of what I saw was made up of highways and strip malls, but venturing further out, these things gave way to two lane highways lined with California Oak Trees, nothing on the horizon but vineyards and forest. On the way to Chateau Monetelena, we stopped at one of three “old faithful” geysers in the world.

I felt like a princess sitting on the steps of Castello di Amorosa, a real castle in Napa Valley. Photo by Richard John Hackey

From Montelena, we visited Castello di Amorosa to tour a real Medieval castle in Napa Valley. The castle even has a torture chamber. After the castle we made our way to Darioush, which has its own royal influence. The “cellar door” here is based off the Apadana Palace constructed by King Darius during the Persian Empire. The wines at both vineyards were even better than the scenery, if you can imagine.

It’s a good thing we had a day of relaxation in wine country, because the next four days included very heavy driving.

I think I bit off more than I could chew with this trip. Four national parks and three states in four days, if you’d have told me I would have accomplished this last week, I would have said you were dreaming.

From Napa, we made a three-hour journey to Yosemite Pines RV Resort, which is located about 2o-miles outside Yosemite National Park. While the scenery up to about two hours after Napa wasn’t that impressive, the last bit of our journey as well as the entire drive through the park was incredible. We even saw a coyote on the way in.

Massive rock formations, towering trees and the highest waterfall in North America? You can’t help but be impressed by Yosemite National Park. Here we played in the snow, went photo mad at certain lookout points and hiked to Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. We spent a good four hours in the park, which costs $20 per vehicle to enter. (This fee, as well as all other entrance fees mentioned in this piece allows visitors to stay or come in and out of the specific park for up to seven days.)

From the village area, it’s only a twenty-minute walk to Yosemite Falls. There are two options on the walk, one way will take you to a viewing point to see both Upper and Lower Falls, the other will just get you up close to Lower Falls. This photo is from the first walk mentioned, though you can only see Upper Falls. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s extremely important to look into road conditions at Yosemite and all national state parks during the winter. Expect several road closures during the winter months, so either go with it or plan ahead.

We planned ahead and just stuck to the Western side of the Sierra Nevada, doing a loop through Yosemite then making our way south to Lakeridge Campground, about ten miles outside of Kings Canyon National Park. It’s at least a three hour drive from Yosemite to Kings Canyon.

The following day I woke up and hit the road to find out just how unforgiving roadways near the Sierra Nevada can be.

We entered Kings Canyon from the Highway 180 entrance and drove through the park to connecting Sequoia National Park then exited much further south to continue our journey onwards. Since these two parks have a road through them that covers quite a bit of ground I would plan to go through the park in one go, then continue your journey onwards, instead of backtracking through the park to stay at the same place you spent the previous night.

The drive from Lakeridge to the entrance of Kings Canyon was winding and at one point so foggy, I could only see 10-15 feet ahead. Once the clouds disappeared, we found ourselves on top of them looking out to mountain points peaking through.

If there is a heaven, I’m pretty sure it looks something like this. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks cost one fee of $20 to enter both. Along the way we saw the Big Stump, General Sherman Tree and ended up in the middle of a serious snowball fight. I’m not sure how we did it, but we missed the General Grant Tree. Everything happens for a reason though and missing that tree meant catching a wild bobcat hunting for prey near Hospital Rock.

I spotted this bobcat in the distance at Hospital Rock in Sequoia National Park. Pretty sure the little guys had his eyes on some deer, which we also got up close to. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Any drive through this park, must be at a cruise. Otherwise you will go nuts. At around 3 p.m. we started to wonder where we would spend the night. We made it our goal to get to the Mojave Desert, which is three hours south. Even if I wanted to rush it, I couldn’t. The roads in Sequoia National Park wind, bend and wrap around, all with a massive drop to one side. This is not a place to speed.

But things could have been worse. We made a quick stop at Jerky This to buy 1/2 a pound of teriyaki beef jerky (obviously) and the owner of the shop was astonished that we actually made it through the park without snow chains. You really must look into weather conditions and park regulations when planning a visit to these places in the winter. We were very lucky everything worked out in our favor.

The road woes didn’t end there.

A bit of traffic, rain, winding roads, were nothing compared to what I experienced on Highway 58 in the Mojave Desert. Everything was perfect and then…white.

Thick fog to the point where all I could see was white and maybe two of the yellow lines that separate lanes ahead. I would hit traffic, then all the cars would disappear, so I would to speed up and all of a sudden-boom-red brake lights in front of me. No idea how far they were away, but I would slam on my breaks just the same. I came very close to just pulling over on this major highway and waiting for something to change.

I only mention all these things, so people interested in road tripping this area know how unforgiving the weather and the roads out here can be. I was warned before my trip, but I didn’t give my plans a second guess. I want to say I would have planned it differently, but to be where I am as I write this post, I’m not sure I would.

After a night at Sierra Trails RV Park in the Mojave Desert, we headed further east through Las Vegas to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where we spent the night. I thought nothing could top the sights in Big Sur, but I have to admit the scenery starting in Lake Mead wowed me just as much. Large red-and-purple-colored cliffs that look like they’ve been chipped away at by the gods, a sculpture in progress.

This is the view we got to wake up to in Lake Mead. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next day we made one last long-haul drive out to Grand Canyon, stopping at the Hoover Dam along the way. You will be amazed at what human beings are capable of after seeing Hoover Dam in person. It’s huge! We drove over it and even walked on the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in front of it, where I actually felt myself getting sick the vertigo is that bad and I’m not even afraid of heights.

A view of the Hoover Dam from the Memorial Bridge that runs over it. This bridge will give you serious vertigo. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Now we thought the journey to the Grand Canyon would only take two hours from Lake Mead as we had our GPS set to Gran Canyon West. Turns out the journey is four hours at the least to reach Grand Canyon South, the National Park entrance that is open all year. I felt a bit defeated when I my GPS announced that I’d reached Grand Canyon West and all I saw was sand and bushes.

But I couldn’t feel bad for a second, because I was driving along America’s world famous Route 66 and only two hours away from seeing the Grand Canyon, which is in my opinion, America’s most sought after attraction.

The Grand Canyon in the last hours of the day. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Open roads, straight highways and pretty remarkable scenery along the way made the trip fly by. We made it to Mather Lookout Point to watch the sun light up the red in the Grand Canyon from the opposite direction. Tomorrow, we’ll see the sun rise just behind that same spot.

Pretty sure this is the best jump shot I’ve ever done, at Route 66 heading east. Photo by Richard John Hackey

No matter how hard or long the drive, you can’t have a single complaint seeing things like this.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A special thanks to Castello di Amorosa and Darioush for sponsoring my visit to Napa Valley.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

The first day of the rest of your life in Big Sur, California

Destinations, Guides, Road Trip, USA, USA

The first day of the rest of your life in Big Sur, California

4 Comments 24 January 2013

Big Sur is one of those places that people bond over the mention of. Before I planned my visit to this 90-mile stretch of California, I didn’t think I knew anyone who had ever been. As soon as I spoke about my trip out loud, so many people came out with advice to offer or just wanted to tell me how much they loved it.

Make sure to go to the Henry Miller Library and check out the view at Nepenthe. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must and make sure to visit McWay Falls while you’re there.

I’ve never had such direct advice from so many people about one place. I didn’t quite understand what people were talking about through the recommendation process, but after spending two days in Big Sur, I know exactly what they meant, how unbelievably gorgeous this place is and how often I’ll think about it for the rest of my life.

Big Sur has been written about over and over. It’s beauty attempted to be explained and the many stories of how locals come to end up staying forever still inciting questions by visitors. The best of all things nature: forest, beach, the sea, as well as the other world: unique shops, restaurants and lodging, you might not be able to see yourself ever living in Big Sur, but a piece of you wants so badly to never leave.

So like the many before me, I’ve tried to explain this mysterious section of California and will pass on the ‘musts’ in this reclusive piece of Highway 1 in what I think is the best order to do them.

This is the view of the Bixby Canyon Bridge from a vista point before it to the north. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

First stop: Bixby Canyon Bridge

Driving south on Highway 1, my first ‘must see’ in this patch of Big Sur is an architectural marvel. The bridge was built in 1932 and made it a lot easier for visitors to enter and leave Big Sur, as well as for locals to travel from the area in the winter months, which was almost impossible before.

It is one of the tallest single span bridges in the world and has been the object of many photographs as well as films and songs. Death Cab for Cutie produced a song about the bridge you might want to download to make the crossing even more special. A white bridge snugged between two cliffs, rocky hills behind it and a tiny beach below, it’s located right on the water. Stop at a vista point before crossing it from the north for the best photo opportunity. Time your visit here for late morning or early afternoon when the sun is high.

 

The walk to McWay Falls is short and easy. It’s basically across the street from the entrance to the park, but there is a tunnel under Highway 1 to walk through when parking across the street. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Second stop: Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park

The trip from Bixby to this State Park is going to take at least 40 minutes. During the trip feel free to stop at shops along the way and grab something to eat. This is going to be the furthest south we venture. Get to the State Park, by 3 or 4 p.m. if you only want to visit McWay Falls, earlier if you want to see more of the park.

Named after a rancher who lived in Big Sur in the early 20th century, the six-square miles of this park includes forests, beach, several hiking trails, 300-foot tall redwoods and McWay Falls. Another photogenic road stop, McWay Falls drops from an 80-foot cliff directly onto the beach and into the Pacific. This waterfall is very easy to reach. Located right on the side of Highway 1, it’s only about a ten-minute walk from the parking lot at Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park.

The reason I recommend getting here by 3 or 4 p.m. is because the sun falls really nicely on McWay Falls at this time of day, whereas any earlier it might be blackened by the shade of mountains to the east. Also, our next stop is best at sunset and only a short drive from the Falls.

This is one of many incredible views from Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur, California. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Third stop: Nepenthe Restaurant

Drive about ten minutes north on Highway 1 to reach our next stop: Nepenthe Restaurant. The modern, yet still rugged wooden building located on a cliff looking out to the Pacific has a massive deck that is the perfect place to spend the entire day in Big Sur, but especially sunset.

From this restaurant, people have an unobstructed view of Big Sur’s forest, jagged cliffs and dramatic drops to beaches on the coast and of course, the sun setting on nothing but ocean. I didn’t even attempt to eat here as every guide book I read and person I spoke to said it is very expensive, but the restaurant was very busy, so if you do want a nice meal in Big Sur, this is an option to think about.

If you just want an incredible view, walk along the deck at Nepenthe to the very back and give yourself some time to take in Big Sur in its last moments of light.

It’s easy to spend hours at Henry Miller Memorial Library just looking through the shop. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Fourth stop: Henry Miller Memorial Library

Depending on what day of the week it is, you might need to set off for this next stop immediately after watching the sun set as it usually closes around 6 p.m. Only a few miles north of Highway 1 is the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a non-profit organization that features works of art and literature by the late writer and Big Sur resident, Henry Miller, as well as others. A hippy haven in the woods, the quaint wooden house is no-frills on the outside but an eye full of color and design inside.

The Library is worth a trip on its own, but it often has live music acts on the weekend by local independent artists, as well as well-known performers like Patti Smith. Spend as much time as you can looking through everything this place has to offer. Make sure to give a donation outside in exchange for tea, coffee or just the joy you get from visiting a place like this. The Library has free wi-fi and the most incredible cat called Theo.

Fernwood Resort is one of many ideal places to stay in Big Sur and a definite stop for a few drinks with locals. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Final stop: Redwood Grill and Restaurant at Fernwood Resort

I’m going to finish this list of ‘musts’ in Big Sur with my own personal recommendation. I camped at Fernwood Resort in the most adorable spot right on the Big Sur River, next to a wooden bridge with colored lights. I thought the campground was amazing as soon as I parked my camper van there, natural, quiet, the staff friendly and fun.

Then a local guy who works at Henry Miller Memorial Library recommended a friend and I visit the restaurant attached, Redwood Grill, as he said it was ‘basically [his] living room’. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my travels, it’s that when you get a recommendation like that by someone who lives in the place you’re visiting, you follow it.

Inside, the restaurant has a small bar with lots of wines, beers and spirits. The restaurant includes several rooms set up like a house: one with leather couches, a TV, board games and a few tables. I spent a good few hours there chatting to locals and finding out what brought them to Big Sur. I couldn’t quite fathom where all these people live as I saw maybe two houses on the entire stretch.

What I got from my conversations with people who live in Big Sur, during my last night there, is that it just keeps getting better and better. The five things I mention in this post only scratch the surface. The longer you stay in Big Sur, you’ll notice tiny private streets coming off Highway 1, natural wonders that have yet to be photographed and people who came to this area for a visit, but still haven’t left.

I was perplexed about how people come to live in Big Sur, but I guess the longer you stay, the more it just makes sense.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

As always all opinions are my own.

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