You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Los Angeles. After our early evening arrival, we transfer to the nearby four-star Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel for one night.
LA, the city of glitz, glamour, the stars and miles of pristine beaches – it’s all here! This morning we see the best it has to offer – the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Sunset Strip and Santa Monica. During the afternoon we head south, following the coast, to charming San Diego, staying two nights with breakfast at the three-star Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, close to the waterfront and the city’s ‘Little Italy’ quarter with its many restaurants and cafés.
With over 260 days of sunshine a year, San Diego is the classic Southern California city, set around a sweeping bay and numerous sparkling white sand beaches with its beautifully restored Gaslamp Quarter. After an included morning city tour, you are free to experience San Diego’s numerous attractions. A great favourite is the Maritime Museum with its many historical ships, including the Star of India, the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th-century frigate which was used in the film Master & Commander’ as well as a Soviet-era submarine. A visit to the USS Midway Museum is particularly fascinating and includes a tour of three decks, 35 types of aircraft and even the option of trying out your own flying skills in a high-tech flight simulator! During the afternoon, why not dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean? Take the ferry across the bay to Coronado and the Victorian Del Coronado Hotel, used in the film ‘Some Like It Hot’ and host to a multitude of famous names such as Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and even Edward VIII. Whale watching cruises (February to March is the best time of year) or Harbour cruises to view the US Pacific Fleet are also very popular. Next to the world-famous San Diego Zoo are the 1,200 acres of Balboa Park, the largest cultural complex west of the Mississippi with 15 museums and numerous other attractions, all set amidst wonderful sub-tropical gardens and fountains.
Today we leave the coast driving towards Kingman in Arizona, climbing to 4000 ft passing through the Cleveland National forest, descending towards the wide plains of the Sonoran Desert. Heading north, we cross the Colorado River through Moabi regional Park into Arizona. We then continue on to Lake Havasu, where you’ll see the London Bridge on our way to Kingman, where we stay one night at the Best Western Plus King’s Inn with breakfast.
We take a drive from Kingman to Seligman, on the longest section of the original and historic route 66, on our way to the Grand Canyon. When you first experience this great chasm, the grandeur is truly overwhelming, almost beyond the grasp of human imagination and one of the few sights in the world that mere words can never, ever describe! Photographs or mere statistics just cannot prepare you for such gigantean scale: over a mile deep, with rocks as old as the earth itself. Its mind-boggling series of shapes, colours and glaring desert light; contrast with jet black shadows, formed by pinnacles of rock interspersed by stark promontories. The south rim extends for 14 miles and we visit some of the best viewing points, each one providing a different perspective over the constantly changing panorama. Our hotel is the three-star Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn, just outside the National Park.
This morning you have the option of taking a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter flight for the ultimate panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, a truly magical display of natural beauty! As the light gradually grows ever stronger, the crisp shadows rapidly shorten and the greys and blues change to reds, yellows and ochres in a kaleidoscope of intensive colour. It is at moments such as these that you truly feel the might of Mother Nature! From the Desert View Watchtower we have our final, lingering look over the canyon with the meandering Colorado River visible in the distance, before crossing the Painted Desert, through the vast 16 million-acre Navajo Indian Reservation, towards Monument Valley. Arriving a few hours before sunset, this is the best time to view the incredible flat-topped towers of red sandstone that rise so dramatically from the surrounding barren desert, with the softer light affording ideal photographic conditions. Here, the bustle of civilization seems so far away and as the sun sets there is an amazing and almost magical stillness in the air. For those wishing to see the Valley from a different perspective and gain a greater understanding of its historical significance we have the option of a guided 4x4 tour by a local Navajo Indian. Tonight we stay at the three-star Monument Valley Inn in the nearby small community of Kayenta.
After an early start we arrive at the town of Page just next to the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River and whose building created the vast Lake Powell. We then cross into the Mormon state of Utah and climb to almost 8,000ft as we arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park. Created by thousands of years of erosion, Bryce Canyon presents an almost surreal landscape of multi-hued and delicate rock pinnacles – a quite exceptional, strange and exotic topography with a uniquely fragile quality. We stay in the three-star Best Western Ruby’s Inn, a mile outside the park.
This morning we continue to Zion National Park where the scenery is made up of layers of petrified sand dunes, hundreds of feet thick as well as huge sheer cliffs and gorges. Unlike the Grand Canyon and Bryce, we reach the bottom of the main canyon experiencing a completely new perspective. Leaving Zion in the afternoon we drive towards the glittering bright lights of Las Vegas, the glow of which can be seen from thirty miles. Our hotel for two nights is the stylish four–star Tropicana Resort & Casino superbly situated in the vibrant heart of the Vegas ‘strip’. Tonight we have the option of a ‘Vegas by Night’ tour, probably the best time to appreciate its unique atmosphere with everything bathed in a glow of all-encapsulating neon, so brash it’s almost an art form.
Today we have a full day at leisure to explore the self-styled ‘entertainment capital of the world’ which really is everything you expect it to be. It’s an almost surreal apparition growing out of the desert! It’s where the world’s most renowned sights and cities such as Venice, Paris, New York and even the Pyramids have been recreated in such detail. This evening why not take in a show? Always amongst the most impressive in the world, you are assured of a memorable night whichever one you choose.
Today we leave Las Vegas driving through the barren Mojave Desert. Our route skirts the famous Edwards Air Force base, before climbing even higher through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. On reaching the peak, literally from one minute to the next the climate changes from the burning heat of the desert to temperate grasslands and forest as we cross the Tehachapi Pass and travel through the vast fertile plains of the San Joaquin Valley. This evening we stay just outside Yosemite National Park in Oakhurst at the three-star Yosemite Southgate Hotel with continental breakfast.
This morning we enter the park and drive through incredible scenery to Yosemite Valley itself where we are confronted by one of the most staggering views in the USA: a deep, lushly forested valley encircled by the steely grey vastness of sheer granite cliffs and domes rising by over 4,000ft on all sides, bisected by some of the highest waterfalls in North America. Dominated by the granite monolith of El Capitan on one side and the instantly recognisable Half Dome on the other, it is impossible not to find your heart touched by this overwhelming natural grandeur. We then continue to Sonora staying overnight in the Best Western Plus Sonora Oaks for one night with breakfast.
We travel to San Francisco this morning and stay at the four-star Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel for two nights. For many, San Francisco will be one of the highlights of the tour. From its beginnings as a 19th century mining boomtown to the sophisticated metropolis you see today, it is simply one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world. Nestling on a bay astride the blue Pacific Ocean, dominated by the instantly recognisable Golden Gate Bridge, the city spreads out over forty-three steep hills on one side and a vibrant green carpet of forests on the other. This afternoon we have a guided tour of the city, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Golden Gate Park and enjoy splendid city views from Twin Peaks. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Our final full day and there’s still so much to do! Perhaps take a stroll down to the renovated Ferry Plaza Building on the waterfront, converted into a huge alfresco Farmers’ Market every Saturday. Try the once predominantly Italian North Beach, still home to innumerable bistros, delis and bakeries, which during the 50’s attracted the bohemian writers and avant-garde artists of the Beatnik movement. And don’t forget the Haight-Ashbury district and the ‘Summer of Love’ for which San Francisco is still famous today. Alternatively, there’s an optional trip to visit Muir Woods, a US National Monument, which contains a unique 560-acre stand of giant 300-foot high Coast Redwoods. The trip also visits the quaint artists’ colony of Sausalito.
Our flights depart in the late afternoon, so why not use your final morning for some last minute shopping – Macy’s department store is always popular and is centrally located on nearby Union Square.
We arrive back in the UK after a very special tour, the memories of which will last a lifetime.