Wow, time flies. It’s already been over a year since me and my boyfriend made our first big trip abroad together! By that time, we were not even together for a year, but quickly decided that we wanted to travel somewhere awesome during our Christmas holidays! We did not really have an idea of where to go – even though the USA always appealed to me a lot for doing a road trip. We decided to spend some time finding destinations where we could book a ticket for a reasonable price at that time of year. You can read more on tips to planning your holiday here: How to travel more often and find good deals – 5 tips!
We’d loved to go to South-Africa, however, it seemed that the prices were incredibly high that time, as it was peak season then (and we were actually lucky to already go half a year later to S-A). We found extremely cheap tickets from Dusseldorf – San Francisco for 385EUR! Still a very cool destination to us, with lots of sights to see and nice weather for wintertime. As we flew both ways to San Francisco, we decided to travel in a circle. Spending the first days in San Francisco (which was actually during Christmas time) and spending the last days very closeby for our return flight. It was an amazing holiday and we couldn’t be happier to spend this time together there. I’ll talk you through the stops we made and the experiences we’ve had – of course, including lots of photos!
On this interactive map, you can see the stops we’ve made, a great itinerary for 2-weeks of traveling with doable distances to drive.
1. San Francisco
We started our journey in San Francisco, where we arrived on Christmas eve, slightly jetlagged ;) We stayed right in the city center at Hotel Stratford, which was simple but affordable. We briefly explored the city and went to bed, to wake up on my birthday, 1st day of Christmas! On our list were Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, some more city exploring and we took a classic old-school tram ride over the steep San Fran hills.
Quick tip: Don’t wait at the long lines at the first Tram Stops, but get up somewhere else down the line – they often leave a little room for people hopping up later on! :)
Quick tip: If you want to visit Alcatraz, you’ll have to book this way in advance, as slots fill up quickly, especially during the holidays.
Quick tip: We found Lombard Road & the Painted Ladies highly overrated, don’t have too high expectations of these city highlights
The next day, we decided to get the bus to the Golden Gate Park. From there, we rented bikes (yeah, we’re true Dutchies I know ;)) and cycled a wonderful tour: We cycled through the park towards the coast, to Land’s end (unfortunately foggy) and then to Baker’s beach. Luckily, the fog dissapeared and it gave us a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge! Then, we cycled further and crossed the bridge towards Sausalito – where we had some dinner and took the ferry back to the Fisherman’s wharf where we could return our bikes. A wonderful experience!
2. Yosemite National Park
We rented an awesome, huge car, a GMC, for the full American experience ;) At least, we thought it was big, but as soon as we got on the road, there were even more massive cars out there! I was happy not to drive a small car in between all that madness. We drove up to Yosemite National Park, to a small lodge (Red Bud) close to the edge of the park. We collected all information we could about the park and decided on a hike for the next day. It was a beautiful, sunny day, first time for me to do a real hike through the mountains.
Hiking map is available here: Yosemite Hiking Valley Map
Quick Tip: Make sure to check for closed routes and roads in wintertime. Not all areas in the National Parks are accesible then!
We went up the Panorama trail, towards the Navada Falls, it was a bit touristy, but the views were amazing! In the end, the hike took us 6 hours and 21KM, a great achievement I would say!
3. Sequoia National Park
The next day, we continued our journey to the next National Park – Sequoia. We stayed in a town closeby: Three Rivers (in the Lazy J Ranch), which has plenty of restaurants and accomodations. Honestly, after Yosemite, my expectations weren’t too high. We drove into the park the day after and were amazed by the huge Sequoia trees rising up around us. We saw the general Sherman Tree (the biggest), but the best thing was our small hike up to Moro rock.
Quick tip: Make sure to visit Moro rock during sunset, it will guarantee the best views!
The views from there were incredible and something I’ve never seen before in my life. Snowy mountains on one side and the sun setting over the beautiful valley on the other side. This really made the experience complete, cause even though the trees were impressive, you’ll get used to them super quickly ;)
Park map available here: Sequoia National Park Map
I would say, both parks were really wonderful to visit for a day, spending some more time would be nice as well if you’re really into hiking or camping :)
4. Los Angeles
However, we wanted to be in Los Angeles before New Year’s Eve. I guess that’s always more fun to celebrate in a city than in the middle of nowhere ;) So the next day, we continued our journey over desolate lands and arrived in the big city in our lovely AirBnB in Venice. I think it’s a lovely area to stay when visiting Los Angeles, cause you’re very close to the beach and a lovely area with shops, cafe’s and restaurants (Abbot Kinney Boulevard). On New Year’s Eve, we went to a really nice restaurant for dinner, which we can really recommend: https://goo.gl/maps/S9eFRTfAJ9H2
However, we were surprised that actually, they don’t seem to celebrate it really in a big way over there! In the Netherlands, we’re used to fireworks throughout the whole country, everyone going into the streets to wish each other a happy new year, and parties till early in the morning. Unfortunately, we were a bit dissappointed that we couldn’t find this in L.A.. We did find a nice bar, and celebrated it there with some champagne. I guess everyone was just celebrating at home or other parties that we couldn’t find!
For the rest, we had a lovely time in L.A. – went to Hollywood, Beverly Hils, cycled along the beach to the Santa Monica Pier and browsed around. Every neighbourhood is so different in the city, it has a lot to offer – but again, you’ll have to search for it ;)
Quick Tip: Parking can be hard sometimes in L.A., be prepared and book an accomodation with parking space. For visiting Hollywood we can recommend the parking garage at Hollywood & Highland Shopping Mall.
Our fifth and last stop was Monterey, we took our time driving from L.A. to Monterey (haha this rhymes ;)) and explored the beached and cities along the way. Malibu, Santa Barbara and Pismo beach were a few stops on the way, where we enjoyed some quick breaks in the sun. In the evening, we arrived in Monterey, and the next day we had a whale watching tour booked! This was such an exciting experience, being on the boat, staring into the distance until the first whale would be spotted. We did see quite a bunch of them and it was very cool to see and learn about them, such huge creatures! For the rest, Monterey is cozy and fun – we had some drinks at a local brewery and we embarased ourselves with karaoke in a pub (apparently, Americans take karaoke really seriously;))! We also drove around the wild coastline and visited the cute and artsy town & beach of Carmel.
Quick tip: Do a beer tasting at the local brewery: Alvarado Street Brewery
Quick tip: Book your whale watching tour in advance online, to secure your seat!
This concluded our holiday and it was a great and super diverse trip! We enjoyed every single bit of it and I would definitely return to see more of the States (Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Yellowstone are still on our list). I can really recommend this trip to people who want to see the major highlights of California, there’s so much talk about these cities and national parks that it was great to see and experience them in real-life.