The fastest route from A to B isn’t always the best. That’s why when we take you from San Fran to LA, we go the long way round. A detour taking in seven National Parks.
It also takes in gold rush country: leaving San Francisco’s fog-draped hills, you’ll follow the old prospector trails to ‘gold rush capital’ Sacramento, Old West infused Virginia City, and the once rough and tumble railroad town Elko; and track the pioneer’s route along Humboldt River.
By going ‘off road’ you get to see America’s contrasts, from scorched Mojave Desert to lush Lakes Tahoe and Powell, and from Route 66’s ageless Seligman to eternally evolving Las Vegas. And you get to stop off in whimsically named spots like Snake River Outlook, a prairieland of wild buffalo and moose, and Craters of the Moon National Monument, with lunar landscapes so realistic the first men on the moon trained there.
But it’s seeing seven national parks that make a detour so worthwhile: the geyser-packed Yellowstone, the snow-dusted peaks of Grand Teton, the boundless sandstone curves of Arches, the Colorado-carved ravines of Canyonlands, the ‘wrinkle on the earth’ of Capitol Reef, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, and the eye-defying depth of Grand Canyon. And all before arriving in LA.
Getting off the beaten track isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. As some head in search of the world’s best-kept secrets, others know there’s a reason some places aren’t secret at all. The highlights of San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas and San Diego* (optional) take you on a delightfully well-trodden path; with their iconic sights and nearby national parks drawing in the West’s best dining, shopping, and nightlife.
Stomping ground of the rich and famous, LA’s filled with photo opportunities: the finish line of Route 66, those legendary ‘Baywatch’ lifeguard towers, the white letters of the Hollywood sign, your favourite Walk of Fame star, maybe even an Instagram-worthy shot of your dinner with the Queen Mary’s Captain.
That’s if you’ve any memory left after snapping the landmarks lining the West’s shoreline, from San Francisco, where the piers of Fisherman’s Wharf and boutiques of Union Square vie for attention, and the chance to visit Monterey and Carmel adds photo finds, down to San Diego, California’s second largest city.
Of course, you’ll need a large lens to capture the towering height of Yosemite’s Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, the scale of the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, the mountain backdrop of Palm Springs, and the megamonoliths to extravagance in Las Vegas.
Canny travellers have been flocking to NorCal for decades — swapping the USA’s cookie-cutter cities for the dazzling nature and small-town feel of this picture-perfect patch of America. This little slice of California manages to squeeze in a national park, a vast lake, swanky vineyards, and one of the most-loved cities in the States. And this trip lets you explore them all; with its slow pace and long stopovers giving you time to truly immerse yourself in NorCal’s sights and spirit.
It all starts with three nights in San Francisco, a blissfully free-thinking city thanks to the swinging sixties’ hippies and today’s dotcom generation. With 24-hour bike rental included, you could cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, the beaches, and Muir Woods – or brave the hills and zigzagging Lombard Street. With so much to squeeze in, it’s lucky you return for an extra day at the end of your trip.
Some head to Sonoma County for the wineries and tasting rooms of Napa and Sonoma, others for the fabulous things the vineyards attract – like exquisite restaurants, chic galleries, and stunning vine-striped scenery for hiking and biking. Of course, with three nights here you can fit in the sightseeing and the wine tasting.
Blessed by Mother Nature, NorCal’s beauty comes into full view at Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. With two nights in each, you’ll have time to bike or hike your way through forests, past beaches, and along the shore of Lake Tahoe; and to snap Yosemite’s jaw-droppingly photogenic monuments like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan.