California & Arizona - Small & Friendly Hotels
Every year, millions of people take a grand tour of the West, more than any other trip in the United States. They come to see the majestic Grand Canyon, stand in awe of the waterfalls at Yosemite National Park, descend to the depths of Death Valley and follow the crashing waves along the Pacific Coast Highway.
This tour takes in all the same things, but offers a unique experience staying in smaller hotels, B&Bs and inns. If you aren't one for the big, glitzy resorts and would like to mix more with the locals, this itinerary is for you!
- Small & Friendly accommodation throughout
- The Grand Canyon
Hollywood, Santa Monica and Los Angeles
- Palm Springs & Joshua Tree National Park
- The Sonoran Desert, Tucson and The Saguaro National Park
- Red Rock Country
- Death Valley & Badwater
- Yosemite National Park
- San Francisco- The City On The Bay
The scenic Pacific Coast Highway and the beach towns.
Big Sur region
Price per person includes-
- Return flights from the UK to Los Angeles, California
- Mid-size car hire to include insurances and taxes
- 14 nights accommodation in Small & Friendly B&Bs or Inns, in sought after locations.
- A personalised road book which is a complete guide to travelling within North America and provides bespoke driving instructions for your holiday.
Prices are based on off-season travel. Please call or email for costs for your preferred date of travel.
Other durations are available.
Day 1 Los Angeles
Sunset Boulevard which began as a route between the homes of the stars and Hollywood studios, is a must for first timers. It runs from downtown LA to the ocean, passing through the “Sunset Strip” on the way. Rodeo Drive is packed with exclusive shops. Drive it if only to see the excesses.
Other great and famous drives through this truly unique city include Hollywood Boulevard, Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu gives you a peek at the spectacular California coast. The rest of LA’s best are well known. Disneyland, known as “the happiest place on earth,” is in Anaheim. Universal Studios Hollywood is a theme park that grew out of the famous movie-making studio, and Knott’s Berry Farm from a family oriented resort. The elegant, timeless Queen Mary, once the largest ship afloat, is docked in Long Beach. The ocean walk at Venice Beach is a continuing carnival, as is the Santa Monica Pier.
Accommodation: Marina Del Rey, Oceana or similiar
Day 2 Palm Springs & Joshua Tree National Park
Distance: 110 miles
Palm Springs is a true oasis in the California desert. If you want to have a view over the area, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, or even do their “Ride and Dine.” The rotating tram cars offer a breathtakingly beautiful ride to the mountaintop. Take a light jacket, since it can be 20 to 30 degrees cooler at the top.
Joshua Tree National Park is another of the top attractions in Palm Springs. This immense reserve of nearly 800,000 acres is infinitely variable. Until you understand the special nature of the geography, the Park can seem unwelcoming, even brutal during the heat, when, in fact, it is delicate and extremely fragile. The land forms were and still are shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes.
If time allows we'd urge you to consider a jeep trip along the San Andreas Fault too!
Accommodation: Zoso or similiar
Day 3 The Phoenix Experience
Distance: 264 miles
Phoenix, Arizona is huge, urban and very sophisticated with great resorts, golf courses, and fine dining. Anything you’d expect to find in a world-class city, you’ll find here. Yet Phoenix is so much more than that. There’s a rich cultural element that pervades the city— not Western, not Native American, not desert, but an intriguing blend of all of three, presided over by the craggy, majestic ever-present desert mountains that loom over the Valley of the Sun.
The Phoenix Experience unfolds seamlessly so that you can explore the heritage of the city, delight in the arts and culture and savour the landscape.
Start appreciating the complexity of the desert landscape at the Desert Botanical gardens before moving on to Old Town Scottsdale for more Western lore, coupled with the best arts district in the region.
Accommodation:The Hermosa Inn or similiar
Day 4 Tucson
Distance: 114 miles
Tucson is large enough to have everything you want and small enough for you to get your arms around it, easily find your way around and understand, enjoy and live it while exploring. The Sonoran Desert landscape in Tucson may be greener than you anticipate, yet areas of desert punctuated with Saguaro surround the city. The Arizona state symbol stands proudly in a cactus forest in Saguaro National Park. A drive up the Sky Island Scenic Byway takes you through an even larger forest of Saguaros on your way to Mt. Lemmon’s pine treetops.
Throughout the Tucson region, dark mountains and bouldered landscapes surround remnants of the Old West intertwined with the New West. Tombstone and Bisbee hark back to the legends of wild west while Texas Canyon appears that it could have come in for a crash landing from the moon. Kitt Peak and the Pima Air Museum feature that cutting edge technology that has allowed man to explore the heavens and beyond.
Accommodation: Lodge on the Desert
Day 5 Flagstaff and Red Rock Country
Distance: 239 miles
Today as you move north through “red rock” country, don’t be surprised by the twisted, craggy shapes jutting straight out of the earth. Some of the West’s most beautiful scenery surrounds Flagstaff, from the alpine forests of San Francisco Peaks to the rugged deserts of nearby Native American nations. Flagstaff also boasts Lowell Observatory, the Museum of Northern Arizona, the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, Pioneer Historical Museum, Riordan Mansion, and genuine Route 66 nostalgia. Nearby too, you can discover the fascinating Meteor Crater.
Accommodation: Little America, Conifer House B&B in Flagstaff or similar
Day 6 Grand Canyon National Park
Distance: 75 miles
Imagine standing at the edge of a crevasse so huge you cannot see the end and so deep that you could stack up ten 40 story buildings and they would not reach the top. At 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep, the Grand Canyon, a World Heritage site, is the granddaddy of natural wonders encompassing over 1.2 million acres.
An easy way to familiarise yourself with Grand Canyon Village is on one of the free shuttle buses that operate on 4 routes. The 60 minute village route runs between Canyon View Information Plaza through the village on a 60 minute round trip. The 30 minute scenic Kaibab Trail Route runs between the South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point. It is the only access to Yaki Point. The 75 minute round trip on Hermit Rest Route provides transportation on the 7 mile historic and scenic Hermit Road with stops at 9 canyon overlooks. During peak seasons, the shuttle bus is the only way to see this area. Don’t miss it. The 40 minute Tusayan Route serves as a “park and ride” shuttle between Tusayan and Canyon View Plaza. Catch this bus after you check in to begin your Grand Canyon visit immediately.
At some point, you’ll want to take Desert View Scenic Drive, a 25 mile stretch of Arizona 64 that parallels the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Along the drive, Lipan Point delivers some of the most breathtaking views of the canyon as does Moran Point, illustrating the massive layers of multicolored rock.
Accommodation: Historic El Tovar, Thunderbird Lodge (canyonside room).
Day 7 Grand Canyon National Park
While you are enjoying the beauty of the Grand Canyon, you can also enhance your visit with details about its geology, history and natural environment. It’s best to begin with the South Rim Visitor Center and Canyon View Information Center. Outdoor exhibits provide good information about the park and what to do when you arrive. Other visitor centers accessible from the South Rim include the Yavapai Observation Station, with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon, the Desert View Information Center, and the Tusayan Museum, on Desert View Drive. A visit to the museum provides a glimpse of Pueblo Indian life near the Grand Canyon some 800 years ago. The Kolb Studio, located in the Grand Canyon Village Historic District, was the home of the pioneering Kolb brothers who first photographed the Canyon. Verkamp’s Visitor Center has been recently established in another of the canyon’s historic buildings to illustrate the experiences of the people who pioneered settlement in the region and what it was like to work and live on the brink of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Day 8 Death Valley
Distance: 349 miles
Today you’re headed for the lowest elevation in the United States, at 282 feet below sea level! Death Valley may sound forbidding and gloomy, yet in reality it is a montage of colourful badlands, snow-covered peaks, beautiful sand dunes and rugged canyons. More than 1,000 kinds of plants live within the Park and in true desert style, once the sun sets and the temperature falls, the vast empty landscape teems with the comings and goings of innumerable small animals.
One of the highlights of Death Valley National Park is Scotty’s Castle, a fantasy house that “Death Valley Scotty” told everyone he built, when really it was constructed by Chicago millionaire Albert Mussey Johnson. A 50-minute guided living history tour of the interior of the home tells the story of Mr. Johnson’s Death Valley Ranch in Grapevine Canyon and Scotty, his cowboy mining partner.
Accommodation: Furnace Creek Ranch
Optional stopover in Las Vegas is available en route to Death Valley - call Bon Voyage for details.
Day 9 Yosemite National Park
Distance: 320 miles
Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, massive 1,200-square-mile Yosemite National Park is internationally recognised for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, thousands of lakes, 1,600 miles of clear streams, giant sequoia groves, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads.
You’ll want to start your visit in Yosemite Valley, which is the center of most visitor activity. The Merced River flows across the Valley's flat floor at an elevation 4,000 feet above sea level. The Valley is surrounded by steep, almost vertical, granite cliffs, including the unmistakeable El Capitan monolith, Glacier Point, and Half Dome. Major waterfalls tumble into the Valley, the most prominent of which are Yosemite, Bridalveil, and, less easily seen from below, Vernal, Nevada, and Silhouette. These locations are all reached from the El Portal entrance of Yosemite.
The Tioga Road/Big Oak Flat Road National Scenic Byway, which is also California 120, begins at the Big Oak Flat Entrance to the park and continues across Yosemite to the Tioga Pass. From a scenery standpoint it doesn’t get much better than this.
Mariposa Grove, the most famous grove of giant redwoods in the park, is accessible from the South Entrance of the park near Wawona. Two smaller groves, Tuolumne and Merced are near Crane Flat. All of these areas are worth taking the time to visit.
Accommodation: Wawona,Yosemite Sierra View B&B, Mariposa Inn or similiar
Day 10 Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is best explored on foot, hiking and taking in the natural beauty. If you’d like to leave the car behind for a couple of days, a shuttle bus runs between Yosemite Village, Curry Village, the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge. The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center has a new exhibit hall that illustrates how Yosemite’s spectacular landscape was formed. Next door, the Yosemite Museum interprets the cultural history of the native peoples who originally inhabited the valley.
Several vantage points provide the best views of Yosemite features. Glacier Point is the most spectacular viewpoint of the high country with breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and three waterfalls. Washburn Point, just south of Glacier Point, has similar views, though the views of Vernal and Nevada Falls are a bit better. Tunnel View provides one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background. This viewpoint is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel along the Wawona Road, Highway 41. O'Shaugnessy Dam, at the west end of Hetch Hetchy Valley, provides a view of the Valley's waterfalls, rock formations, and reservoir.
Day 11 San Francisco
Distance: 196 miles
Plan to get out and experience San Francisco, walk on the beach, ride a cable car, run through Golden Gate Park, stroll on Fisherman’s Wharf, eat at interesting restaurants and explore narrow winding streets. Incredible views await at the top of Nob Hill.
To familiarise yourself with the heart of San Francisco, you may want to explore the Barbary Coast Trail, a 3.8 mile stroll (or drive) following bronze medallions set in the sidewalks that connect 20 of the city’s most important locations. To maximize your time, consider a San Francisco Go Card, which includes a Golden Gate Bay Cruise, Gray Line Trolley Tour around the city, a cable car ride, the Exploratorium, Six Flags Theme Park, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Botanical Garden, the Aquarium of the Bay, National Liberty Ship, Conservatory of Flowers, wine tasting in Napa Valley and more!
Accommodation:Washington Square Inn, The Carlton, White Swan or similiar
Day 12 San Francisco
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, encompassing the entire area north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge, is one of the highlights of San Francisco. You could take an entire day to explore it completely.
Alcatraz, the island prison made famous in the movies, and Muir Woods National Monument, commemorating the father of the environmental movement in the US, are all units of the Golden Gate. In fact, the collection of parks that make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are a microcosm of the region, revealing the true natural beauty of the area as well as 200 years of history.
The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, located at Hyde Pier, is also a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A portion of the park is “water-born,” with historic ships available for touring. To visit Alcatraz, head down to the ferry from Pier 33. During less busy seasons, you can likely walk to the ticket office and obtain tickets for the particular day. During busy times, the ferry can be sold out for weeks in advance and we highly recommend that you obtain tickets in advance. Call Bon Voyage for further details.
One of our favourite attractions in 'Frisco is the mind blowing California Academy Of Sciences.
Day 13 San Simeon
Distance: 290 miles
Most of the day will be spent making your way along the official scenic byway portions of the Pacific Coast Highway. Plan to savour the trip. You’ll marvel at the rocky windswept cliffs as the land falls off directly into the water. It’s scenery at its best and hard to describe in words. There are several California State Parks along the way, including Julia Pfeiffer State Park, the Andrew Molera State Park and the Point Sur State Historic Park. There are also several beaches along the Big Sur. The southern end of the road is the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway. It’s only an hour from the Big Sur to San Simeon and another hour up to Pismo Beach. Some consider this the most scenic road in America. One of the must see stops along the highway is the Hearst Castle, officially the San Simeon National Historic State Park. This is where William Randolph Hurst built his 158 room “camp.” Make time to stop in Monterey, with its quintessential California coast, and Carmel By The Sea, one of the best, if not the best “art town” in America.
Accommodation: Fogcatcher Inn or similiar
Day 14 Solvang
Distance: 109 miles
Your next stop along the scenic California coast is the unique town of Solvang. Settled in 1911 by a group of Danish educators (the flat rolling hills reminded them of home!) this charming town is full of half timber buildings and windmills. You'll love exploring this town and its eclectic shops, check out the excellent bakeries with delicious pastries, take a horse drawn carriage ride or visit one of the many wine-tasting rooms...
Accommodation:Hadsten House Inn or similiar
Day 15 Fly Home
From Solvang to Los Angeles airport is about a 4 hour drive. Rise early and pop into nearby moorish Santa Barbara for breakfast, or enjoy lunch on one of the many beachside cafes on Santa Monica beach before hopping back on your flight to the UK.
Please note that this fly-drive holiday can be tailor-made to suit your exact requirements. Please call Bon Voyage to discuss your holiday to this incredible part of the USA.