From the epic vistas of the Big Sur to the bright lights of Vegas, Jon Perks is living the American Dream.
The road trip is as American as apple pie, baseball and the Statue of Liberty.
Easy Rider, Little Miss Sunshine, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the new big screen adaptation of Kerouac’s On The Road all take place on the sweeping, open highways of the US.
Nowhere evokes this nomadic spirit better than the West Coast – be it the epic vistas of the Big Sur, the desolate beauty of Death Valley or the big city bustle of LA or San Francisco.
Plan wisely and a two or three-week road trip can encompass a huge variety of experiences, without the need for any exhausting days behind the wheel.
Our road trip ‘loop’ would take us north from Los Angeles via Santa Barbara, Carmel and the Big Sur to San Francisco; from there on to the vineyards of Sonoma to Yosemite National Park and Death Valley; two nights in Las Vegas and then the long drive back to LA and home.
No day featured more than five hours’ driving which, even on America’s spacious interstates and highways, is more than enough.
Los Angeles, as Dionne Warwick noted, is “a great big freeway”; an urban sprawl punctuated by the odd landmark that seems so familiar through movies or the media.
Universal Studios Hollywood (www.universalstudioshollywood.com), The Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard; the Walk of Stars on Hollywood Boulevard and the Hollywood sign itself, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive... all worth a visit to tick off the list, but the city itself lacks soul, perhaps because it’s so vast and spread out.
We stayed at The Chamberlain West Hollywood and the Thompson Beverly Hills – both smart, contemporary bases with rooftop pools where all the beautiful people hang out and sip cocktails.
Head along the palm-fringed Santa Monica Boulevard and funnily enough you arrive at, er, Santa Monica, a pleasant seaside resort with vast beaches, a pier and a good selection of shops and cafes.
From there, take ‘the 1’ up the coastal road to the wonderfully relaxed town of Santa Barbara.
Stay in one of the suites at Las Brisas del Mar, a five-minute walk from the sea front, and stroll into town to enjoy the harbour and pier, State Street for shopping and its arterial roads for the wineries and artisan stores. There are free bikes to use from the hotel if you’d prefer – Santa Barbara is compact and pretty flat, so very bike friendly.
For food, there is a myriad of great seafood restaurants, none surely better than Brophy Brothers Restaurant & Clam Bar in the harbour (www.brophybros.com).
Since 1986 they’ve been delighting diners with their oyster shooters, swordfish, maki maki and one of those buzzy atmospheres they could bottle and sell.
One of the longest drives of the trip is the six hours to Carmel, along Route 101 and then branching off onto the 1 once more.
Take your time with regular stops along the famous stretch of the Big Sur from San Simeon to just south of Carmel.
What with the winding road, a constant need to pull over to take photos of the coast or basking seals and other distractions such as Hearst Castle (former home to the newspaper magnate Randolph), you’ll enjoy taking your time to get to Carmel.
The town itself, which once had Clint Eastwood as its mayor, is a quaint, sleepy-feel resort with plenty of wineries to visit, souvenirs to shop for and a great beach to boot.
Stay at The Lamplighter Inn, whose smart clapperboard suites look into the central courtyard where you can enjoy a lazy breakfast chatting to fellow visitors.
From Carmel, you can take the 17 Mile Drive – a tolled road which skirts the coast and passes such landmarks as Point Joe, Spanish Bay and the famous Pebble Beach Golf Club. There’s no need to do the whole distance, however; come off at one of the toll gates and head up to Monterey, Carmel’s more touristy neighbour, whose attractions include Cannery Row (inspiration for the Steinbeck novel) and a fabulous aquarium.
Next up is perhaps the highlight of your road trip – San Francisco.
It’s for good reason that this city is regularly in the Top 5 cities of the world list.
Visit the infamous Alcatraz prison (www.alcatrazcruises.com), cycle the Golden Gate Bridge (www.bikeandroll.com), shop ‘til you drop around Union Square, or just take one of their historic cable cars along the famous undulating streets. The latter is one of many ‘must-dos’.
Three or four nights is not enough in this great bustling and compact city, but with plenty more of enticements ahead, you’ll soon have to head north over the bridge to wine country.