take a road trip in America
Cable car Museum
San Francisco is one of North America’s most engaging cities and has a character all of its own. We’ll begin our west coast road trip by taking a ride in one of the city’s famous streetcars before heading to the cable car museum to find out more about this iconic form of transport.
Painted Ladies and Lombard street
Making the most of our own transport, we’ll visit the famous Painted Ladies and drive down Lombard Street, thought to be the most crooked street in the USA (if not the world) with eight pronounced zig-zags in one steeply sloping block.
Other sights on today’s agenda include quirky Coit Tower and, with its intriguing alleyways and distinctive architecture, the largest Chinatown to be found outside Asia.
Dinner in Chinatown
For dinner tonight we’d recommend staying in Chinatown and enjoying a typical local meal.
Check into Ritz-Carlton hotel
Just a block away, but in a different world, our hotel in San Francisco will be the elegant Neoclassical Ritz-Carlton for the epitome of luxury and convenience.
Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf
Heading down to Pier 39 this morning, we’ll be able to see (and smell!) the famous sea lion colony that has made its home right on the wharf since just before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. It forms part of the waterfront attractions collectively referred to as Fisherman’s Wharf. We’ll take a stroll exploring the many cafes, shops and museums that crowd this area.
Scenic Seaplane flight
After lunch, we’ll take a scenic seaplane flight over the bay which weather-permitting offers views across 30 magical miles. One landmark that you’re sure to recognise will be the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
After an unforgettable water landing, spend the afternoon on Alcatraz, site of the infamous prison. If you’re brave enough, take a ghost tour and learn about the inmates who still haunt the former Federal Penitentiary’s decaying buildings.
Back on the mainland and before returning to the hotel, enjoy dinner at nearby Gary Danko’s, described by some food critics as an “oasis of excellence”.
Conservatory of Flowers
This morning we’ll begin at Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers, a domed glasshouse which contains something like 2000 species of plants and flowers.
Golden Gate Park Segway tour
A Segway tour of the park will take us along seven miles of trails passing sights such as the Japanese Tea Garden and the Rose, Rhododendron and Dahlia gardens. Full training will be given so there’s no risk of you running over any rare plants.
Golden Gate Bridge
We’ll make our way closer to the Golden Gate Bridge to get some souvenir photographs. Our recommendations would be to visit Crissy Field or Baker Beach – note that the northern part of the latter is clothing optional so take care to check before you press that shutter.
Crossing the bridge, we end up in the artists’ enclave of Sausalito, the perfect place to window shop. Our dining picks would be Scoma’s or The Spinnaker for the best waterfront views before making your way back across the bridge to San Francisco.
Napa Vineyard tour
We’d suggest an organised day trip to Napa, a couple of hours from the city. The vast array of fine vintages on offer in this premier wine-growing region will be too tempting to resist, meaning you won’t want to self-drive today. There are many boutique wineries keen to be your hosts but our pick is the Hall Rutherford Vineyard. Their intimate tour will give you the chance to learn more about the vines’ cultivation as well as the production process. A 90-minute tour of the Sancrashe vineyard gives you plenty of opportunity to sample their best wines, each of which is paired with canapés and nibble-sized artisan cheeses. For those with an exceptionally refined palate, the winery offers an exceptional and highly exclusive Platinum Tasting experience featuring wines from its Platinum Collection. There’ll be the opportunity to purchase wine before we return to San Francisco for dinner at the hotel.
Drive to Yosemite National Park
It’s a four hour drive to Yosemite National Park, but this is one of the USA’s most magnificent areas and well worth the effort of getting there.
Check into the Majestic Yosemite Hotel
You’ll check into the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, conveniently located right at the heart of the Park and freshen up before a tasty lunch.
Explore Yosemite National Park
In the afternoon, well rested, you can explore some of Yosemite’s main sights on the hop on, hop off shuttle that circumnavigates the Park in summer; in the low season you’ll need to drive yourself. You’ll visit the pretty Alpines of Tuolumne Meadows, admire the imposing granite rock face of El Capitan and marvel at the view from Glacier Point. The Park has several waterfalls, most famous of which is Bridalveil Falls, which flows year-round. After the sun sets, it’s time for dinner back at the hotel.
Activities in Yosemite National park
There’s more time today to explore Yosemite and it’s up to you how you do so. In summer, you can hire a raft to float down the Merced River or kayak on Tenaya Lake. You can hike the many trails that criss-cross the Park or join a guided ride to enjoy the scenery on horseback. Photographers and artists will be spoilt for choice at the many scenic overlooks and viewpoints.
After dark, having enjoyed dinner at the hotel, why not join one of the regular stargazing tours which take advantage of the dark skies to open up a world above?
Drive to Monterey
Leaving Yosemite, we’ll make our way back towards the coast and our destination for today, Monterey.
Its aquarium is reckoned by many to be the best in the country and visitors are not left disappointed by the tanks of sharks, jellyfish and a plethora of other marine species that dart around in the tanks in front of them. You can enjoy a personal behind the scenes tour or time your visit for feeding time to watch the creatures interact with their human carers.
Just down the road is Cannery Row, its now defunct sardine canning factories made famous by the John Steinbeck novel of the same name. These industrial buildings have been converted into a heritage tourism sight with much to command your attention in the way of shops and restaurants.
Check into The Clement Monterey Hotel
Our overnight base will be the luxurious InterContinental The Clement Monterey Hotel.
Drive to Carmel by the Sea
Continuing south along the Pacific coast, we’ll detour to drive the Carmel by the Sea scenic byway, 17 Mile Drive, looking out for the famous Lone Cypress which stands on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Afterwards, we’ll park up and have morning tea in this quaint coastal town which once elected Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood as mayor.
Explore Big Sur
From Carmel we’ll continue to Big Sur, driving across the impressive Bixby Bridge, one of the longest single span bridges in the world. This rural mountain community has a strong artsy vibe, but it is the stunning natural scenery which will inspire you to stop frequently for the likes of Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Point Sur State Historic Park and Ragged Point.
Check into Tradewinds Carmel
We’ll loop back to stop overnight at Tradewinds Carmel, a luxury boutique hotel. Its glamorous, Zen-inducing decor is sure to be conducive to a good night’s rest.
Begin your drive to Santa Barbara
As we make our way south down California’s State Highway 1, we’ll drive past some of the world’s greatest coastal scenery. The giant rollers of the Pacific Ocean have carved this coastline into the dramatic landscape you see before you.
At San Simeon, we’ll head inland up to the hilltop mansion of Hearst Castle. There, you’ll enjoy a private tour of the former home of media magnate William Randolph Hurst. Continuing south, you can stop to visit the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas before finishing your drive at Santa Barbara.
Check into the Belmond El Canto
Just outside the city is your base: Belmond El Encanto, an enchanting and glamorous retreat up in the hills offering amazing views over the ocean. After checking into the hotel for a two-night stay, we’d recommend you borrow bicycles for the easy ride down to Stearns Wharf, the city’s pleasure pier and its most visited landmark. Chow down on fresh seafood before returning to the hotel.
Historical tour of Santa Barbara Mission and Presidio
Santa Barbara’s history is our focus this morning and after breakfast we’ll tour the Santa Barbara Mission and also the Presidio. There are numerous cafes, boutiques, art galleries and museums to keep you occupied in the centre of town, filling its Spanish colonial buildings to create a charming place to while away the afternoon.
Monarch Butterfly Grove
Alternatively, take a hike in Ellwood Mesa to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove or visit the beautiful botanical gardens. Back at the hotel, enjoy attentive service in elegant surroundings as you dine on California coastal cuisine. This is a foodie’s joy – the hotel even makes its own cheese from resident cow Ellie.
Drive to Los Angeles
Today we’ll make an early start for the next leg of our journey to Los Angeles, coming off the 101 to take the coast road via the rugged scenery of Point Mugu State Park and the millionaire mansions of Malibu.
Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign
Arriving in Los Angeles, our first stop will be up at the Griffith Observatory. Its lofty location affords wonderful views across the City of Angels. From there, we’ll get an uninterrupted view of the Hollywood sign over on Mount Lee.
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Our afternoon sightseeing programme will include a visit to Hollywood Boulevard; you’ll be able to search for your favourite star along the Walk of Fame and see the footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Check into the Beverly Hills hotel
Over in Beverly Hills, you’ll be able to shop on Rodeo Drive before checking in to the Beverly Hills Hotel for a two-night stay. Dinner tonight is at the hotel’s exclusive Polo Lounge.
Drive to Santa Monica
This morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we’ll set off for the beach suburb of Santa Monica. Its iconic pier and boardwalk draw visitors in their thousands.
From there, we’ll pass edgy Venice Beach with its huge colourful murals and interesting characters. Further down the coat, we’ll reach Long Beach.
Queen Mary ocean liner tour
There, we’ll board the Queen Mary for a tour of this world-class ocean liner, now converted into a floating hotel. Our tour will take us behind the scenes, to see the Art Deco pool where first-class passengers once swam, the ship’s haunted cabins and even below decks to the engine rooms. Dinner tonight will be at Gwen, one of the hottest restaurants in town, where we’ll be able to sample Curtis Stone’s meat-centric tasting menu.
San Juan Capistrano
Drive south towards San Juan Capistrano
We continue our drive south today, along the coast passing the beach towns of Huntington, Laguna and Newport. Our destination is slightly inland, near the small town of San Clemente. San Juan Capistrano is where we’ll find a 240 year old Mission, the seventh of 21 built in Alta California to expand Spanish territory and convert the locals to Christianity. The historic buildings and carefully tended gardens make this a haven of tranquility. Later, we’ll dine in Adobe, a family-run Mexican restaurant just across the street.
Check into the Monarch Beach Resort
Our base for the night is at the luxury Monarch Beach Resort at Dana Point. It boasts four pools and a championship golf course; treatments are available at the hotel’s spa.
Check into the US Grant
Via San Diego’s suburban beach playground, La Jolla, we’ll amble down to San Diego where we’ll check in to the US Grant, a Luxury Collection hotel situated in the heart of Downtown.
Boat trip around San Diego bay
We’ll begin with a boat trip; whether you want to go whale watching or take a gentle cruise around the bay, there’s a trip to suit.
Old Town San Diego
Back on dry land, we’ll head to Old Town San Diego, where a range of historic buildings have been restored to give a flavour of what life once was like in Southern California. Its bustling market stalls are a reminder of how close we are to the Mexican border.
Dinner in Gaslamp Quarter
Dinner tonight is in the buzzing Gaslamp Quarter. We recommend trying your hand at cooking your own steak over an open flame at the lively Gaslamp Strip Club.
Balboa Park and Museums
Today our focus is on beautiful Balboa Park and its museums. It began life as the 1400 acre City Park, laid out in 1868, but was renamed and redeveloped for the 1915 Panama-California Expo. The architecturally fascinating buildings have now been repurposed as museums, and it’s here you’ll find the city’s Museum of Natural History, Museum of Art and more.
San Diego Zoo
Nearby, San Diego Zoo is one of the most famous zoos in the USA. It began with a few exotic animals that had been exhibited at the Expo and is now one of the largest zoos in the world.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
Later, we’ll take a sunset dinner cruise before retiring for the night back at the US Grant.
Take a scenic drive to Palm Springs
It’s time to head inland and we’ll take the scenic route through the pretty San Jacinto Mountains. The drive will take us to the sleepy mountain town of Idyllwild and past beautiful Lake Fulmor. Along the way there are plenty of scenic overlooks to pause and drink in the view.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Arriving in Palm Springs, we’ll make our way to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for an ascent up the city side of the mountain. At the top, we’ll hike through evergreen forest and enjoy the cool mountain air before returning to the valley floor.
Check into the L’Horizon Resort and Spa
You’ll stay at the L’Horizon Resort and Spa which epitomises luxury; perhaps you’ll choose to stay at the Fireplace Suite once occupied by Marilyn Monroe. Like her, shower al-fresco under the night stars or cosy up in front of the copper fireplace. Dinner tonight will be arranged at the hotel.
Joshua Tree National Park
Today, we’ll spend the day touring nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Watch out for the Cholla cacti, nicknamed the jumping cacti as their spines attach to passing clothing or skin with alarming ease. Less dangerous, but equally pretty, are the spindly ocotillo cacti with their crimson flowers (despite their name, actually a shrub rather than a species of cactus), and the trees that give the Park its name – actually yuccas. The rock formations of Skull Rock, Keys View and Hidden Valley are all perfect for short hikes, so take plenty of water and wear your walking shoes. Back in Palm Springs, we’ll enjoy a delicious dinner at Workshop Kitchen and Bar where the food is as visually stimulating as the restaurant’s design and contemporary decor.
Breakfast by the pool
This morning, we’d recommend enjoying a leisurely breakfast and some down time by the pool before your lunchtime checkout from L’Horizon Resort and Spa.
Drive to Las Vegas
From Palm Springs, it’s a four-hour drive to Las Vegas, but a memorable one. You’ll want to stop at the ghost town of Kelso and to explore the spectacular scenery of the Mojave National Preserve.
Las Vegas Strip
It’s well worth taking your time to ensure you arrive in Las Vegas as the lights illuminate the Strip. This larger than life city demands that you make a dramatic entrance. After you’ve soaked up the atmosphere, it’s time to check in.
Check into the Bellagio
The Bellagio is our pick from a large selection of luxury hotels. Its 67 acres house an indoor botanical garden, huge lake, designer boutiques and of course the dancing water fountains that are a must-see whether you’re staying at the Bellagio or not. Their central location is convenient for taking a walk along the Strip, but dine first at the hotel’s Prime Steakhouse. Then hit the casino and see if Lady Luck is on your side.
It’s time to see a different side to Las Vegas and we’ll start at the city’s Neon Boneyard. This is the final resting place for the many neon signs that graced hotels and casinos on the Strip and beyond.
Next, we’ll see a seedier side to the city in the riveting displays at the Mob Museum. There, you’ll learn about some of the shadier characters that have walked the streets of Sin City, explore a world of organised crime and find out what it was like here under Prohibition.
Las Vegas show
After time to relax back at the hotel and grab a bite to eat, this evening, you’ll have the best seats in the house at your preferred show. Perhaps you’ll opt for the thrills of the circus at Cirque du Soleil, be wowed by ultimate showman Elton John or be entertained by the unique blend of performance art of the acclaimed Blue Man Group.
Today we’ll get out of the city and take a comprehensive tour to see some of the incredible natural wonders on Sin City’s doorstep.
Grand Canyon Helicopter flight
Our tour will begin with a photo stop at the Hoover Dam before continuing on to the breathtaking Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
No matter how many photographs you’ve seen of this immense river gorge, nothing can prepare you for the sight in real life. You’ll have the opportunity to absorb the view from the West Rim, where you can take a tentative step out over the canyon on the glass-floored Skywalk suspended high above the ground.
Colorado River Boat ride
A helicopter ride down to the canyon floor and a leisurely boat trip on the Colorado River will complete this once in a lifetime experience. At the end of the day, we’ll return to Las Vegas, where the casinos await if you still have the energy.
Before you leave for your flight home, there’s one last chance to win big at the casino or shop for souvenirs to take home.
Check out and drive to the Airport
After you’ve checked out, our driver will be waiting to take you to the airport for your flight home.