This “guest post” is written by Rosie Allen, a Bon Voyage customer, for whom we arranged a honeymoon aboard The Coast Starlight.
Who doesn’t dream of America’s near-mythical West Coast? The swaying palm trees set against a glorious sunset; the iconic Hollywood sign nestled in the Los Angeles hills; the fragrant redwood trees of Yosemite. Oh yeah, and sunshine. Lots of it.
And you know what? It’s all true. The Best Coast, as all west-dwellers will tell you, provides a glorious diversity of landscapes and some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery; from the lush lake-lands of Washington, the undeniable hipness of Portland and of course California, land of golden beaches and alarmingly white teeth.
Days 1 – 3: Seattle
Arriving in Seattle, prepare to be stunned by that skyline. The Space Needle looms majestically over the city (take a trip to the top for the most spectacular scenery), rivalled only by the magnificent Olympic mountain range, which slumbers on the horizon in a halo of mist.
Our hotel, The Mayflower, not only offered an incredible view of Seattle’s glittering city lights, but it’s in-house bar happens to be Seattle institution Oliver’s Lounge. It serves up Americas finest martini and a truly sophisticated slice of Seattle night life. We half expected to see Frasier and Niles propping up the bar while we sipped on our Silver Belles.
A perfect morning comprised of rising early with the city and making our way towards the waterfront to grab breakfast-to-go at Russian bakery Piroshky Piroshky (seriously AMAZING pastries), before wandering round Pike Place market to breathe in some early-morning city life. You’ll see stalls bejewelled with coloured chilli peppers and fruits, fishmongers displaying their still fresh and glistening wares and intimate coffee shops trading in Seattle’s best-loved vice – caffeine. Wander along the promenade by Seattle’s stunning water to breathe in the deliciously salty air of the Puget Sound while the city comes to life around you.
The bustle of the city isn’t just reserved for lively mornings either – the plethora of amazing bars, restaurants (try The Pink Door for the best Italian food outside of the Old Country itself) and venues mean that Seattle keeps rocking way past your bedtime – which is lucky when jetlag is well and truly kicking in.
Days 4 – 5: Portland, Oregon
A short but scenic train ride took us to Portland, the city which famously features the oft-photographed graffiti slogan ‘Keep Portland Weird’. The locals certainly take this manifesto seriously. Portland is a glorious mix of the weird and wonderful, where you’ll find colourful array of kooky-hat-and-no-shoes clad eccentrics jostle along the streets with the young tech professionals that all call Portland home.
Surprisingly beautiful in its stark urbanity, the Rose City feels truly ‘bohemian’ – expect to see Art Festivals and street performers whilst winding your way around the supremely hip boutique shops and craft bars. Don’t leave without a stop at Powell’s independent bookshop, where you can fritter away hours and dollars on the carefully curated literature on offer. Cross the majestic Willamette river and venture further into the suburbs for breakfast at Pine State Biscuits, where fried chicken and soul food are the order of the day.
Also, the beer. The Pacific Northwest is blessed with particularly pure and delicious water, and combined with the literal thirst for hop knowledge that pervades the city, the result is wonderful for craft-beer connoisseurs: 58 small breweries, most with their own independently-owned bars attached means there are plenty of places to slake your craft beer cravings. Take a brewery tour with Brewvana, and let their knowledgeably and, frankly, wonderfully bonkers staff while making some new friends along the way.
Your visit won’t be complete without visiting the rose test garden which sits in the gorgeous lush greenery of Washington State Park – you’ll probably smell it before you see it. The Rose Garden boasts specimens of every rose in existence today (earning Portland its Rose City moniker, of which it is rightfully proud) and makes a fragrant end to your Portland adventure.
The overnight train from Portland to San Francisco is an experience not to be missed. You’ll see twilight drift gently into view from your window, silhouetting the beautiful mountainous landscape of Oregon against a starlit sky.
Days 6 – 8: San Francisco
San Francisco’s most iconic landmark, the Golden Gate bridge, bids you welcome as you pull into the city, but it’s hurtling over those famously undulating streets in your cab that will let you know that you are finally in the City by the Bay.
San Fran’s diverse neighbourhoods make it a perfect adventure destination; there’s upmarket Hayes Valley; the old hippy quarter of the Haight (if you really do insist in wearing a flower in your hair, here is the place to do it. Just don’t be surprised to see the locals rolling their eyes); or venture into The Mission, which is packed full of awesome bars and incredible Mexican food; we still dream of Lolo’s cocktails and short-rib gorditas.
Make the most of a sunny day by hiring some bikes and feeling the (considerable) wind in your hair as you fly past manicured lawns, waterfalls and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. It’s a steep hill ride to the bridge itself but the view will truly take your breath away.
Take a trip over the Golden Gate to visit the quaint island town of Sausalito, which oozes retro beach-resort charm. Now inhale the most enormous Ice-cream you can find – hey, you’ve just cycled 16 miles. You’ve earned it.
The ferry takes you back to the mainland, careering around the famous island prison of Alcatraz and offering incredible views of the bay bridge on the (usually fog-embellished) horizon.
San Francisco is also perfectly located to visit Yosemite National Park and marvel at the ancient sequoias and El Capitan, the crowning glory of the park’s enormous granite cliffs, or to take a wine tour in the nearby Napa Valley.
Days 9 – 10: Santa Monica
If you are looking for quintessential California then Santa Monica has got it. Fitness freaks sprinting across the beach first thing? Check. Lithe limbed young things in denim cut-offs, sipping green smoothies? You got it.
It’s a reassuringly familiar place, one we’ve all seen on reality TV shows and Hollywood teen movies. But it’s what makes LA’s relaxed sister-city great. You can stroll along the miles of idyllic beaches, watching surfers take on cresting waves while a Beach Boys soundtrack plays in your head. And at night there are a plethora of great seafood restaurants to choose from – The Lobster specialises in incredible fish fresh from the Pacific, and provides a glorious view of the ocean.
Finish your evening with a walk along the pier, where you’ll find the iconic Ferris wheel, fortune tellers and arcade games. Yep, it will basically feel like you are in the fairground scene from Grease (but with more added sea).
Days 11 – 12: San Diego
So finally we make our way to San Diego, the sun-soaked jewel of the So-Cal coast. The city combines Mexican heritage- visit the Old Town where colourful and lamp lit houses jostle with characterful street markets – with modern architecture to spectacularly stylish effect.
The Gaslamp Quarter boasts majestic skyscrapers and some seriously amazing nightlife while Seaport Village is as quaint as can be, with souvenir shops and a stellar view over the glittering Pacific. San Diego also boasts miles glorious coast to explore. If you are feeling adventurous try scuba diving with leopard sharks at La Jolla cove or, if you don’t want to even chance getting eaten, relax on the sunny shores of Mission beach.
The Coast Starlight really does have something for everyone, whether you are a culture vulture or simply looking to soak up some rays with the beautiful people. We’re already planning our next trip.
To learn even more about taking this amazing holiday please view the itinerary on the Bon Voyage website or call us on 0800 316 3012