Planning our road trip around California was a really exciting part of this holiday - apart from a brief stopover years earlier in Los Angeles, I had not spent any time in the USA at all. My own preference might have been to hire a campervan and drive up the Pacific coast, but this was to be daughter Kate's last major adventure before settling down to a lifetime of work (???) so we included Las Vegas and Hollywood in the itinerary. We were both very disappointed that our planned few days at a lodge at Yosemite was cancelled because of heavy snow causing access problems, but we gained additional time in San Francisco - which was probably my favourite American city.
Arrival in Los Angeles - luckily we were able to time our arrivals from Sydney and London pretty well, allowing us to sort out car hire and drive to Santa Monica where we found a small apartment near the sea. During our time in LA we visited Hollywood, Universal Studios, watched the surfers, gymnasts and roller bladers at Venice Beach and gradually got accustomed to driving in the US - and the size of the meals!
By the time we set off on the long drive to Las Vegas, I was feeling more confident on the road, and the car ate up the miles across the desert while we sang along to the CD player. We stopped at a touristy place called Calico where we watched a 'gun fight' and got into the spirit of the Wild West in the dressing up room - great fun.
Nothing could have prepared me for Las Vegas ... we drove up and down the main strip in sheer bewilderment as we tried to decide where to stay - we ended up choosing New York, New York because the roller coaster wrapped round the outside of the hotel looked such fun. Surprisingly when we checked in, we were given a huge corner suite with views all over Las Vegas, for a quarter of the price we had paid in Santa Monica for a tiny room ... it seems the hotels make their profits from the people sitting at fruit machines and on the gaming tables all night. Our main entertainment was visiting all the theme hotels - Venice was particularly spectacular.
Our big treat was a helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon - this truly goes down in my book as a 'must visit' wonder of the world.
Next stop was San Francisco - and because of the snowy conditions in the mountains, we opted to drive up Highway 99 via Fresno, so we could see more American towns. We arrived in San Francisco in a torrential rain storm, but managed to find our hotel and park the car in the basement for the duration of our stay in the city!
We rode the streetcars up and down the hills, visited the waterfront and the seals, took a boat trip to Alcatraz (very atmospheric tour, and how hard it must have been for the prisoners to be able to see freedom just across the bay), spent a day at the Palace of Fine Arts, and ate some wonderful meals.
Eventually it was time to get back on the road for our drive down Pacific Highway One ....
we joined Highway 1 at Santa Cruz and drove through Monterey (where we ate Bubba Gump shrimp and visited the excellent Aquarium), bought a golf shirt for my husband at Pebble Beach and continued to Carmel, where we stayed the night at Doris Day's 'Cypress Inn'. We were probably the only guests NOT to have a little dog with pink ribbons in a basket!
Disappointingly, Big Sur was very misty, so no photo opportunities at all and we continued driving - right into a landslide on the road where we had tohave an emergency service escort to drive past on a VERY narrow strip of road right next to the sheer drop into the ocean (with lumps of clay falling on us as we went!).
William Randolph Hearst's estate at San Simeon was astonishing - packed full with treasures collected from around the world by the famous newspaper publisher (the inspiration for Citizen Kane).
Eventually we made it back to LA for our flight to New York.
It was bitterly cold in New York, with snow piled up on the pavements, but we enjoyed watching the skaters in Central Park, travelling on the subway, ascending the Empire State Building, the lights in Times Square, shopping, the grumpy taxi drivers, the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, all the Art Deco buildings - and on our last night I tap-danced my way back to the hotel after watching '42nd Street' on Broadway. A brilliant end to a fabulous holiday.