Down on the West Coast • Part one
I've been a fan of Lana Del Rey for years. I feel close not only to her music, but also to her unique aesthetic, best shown in clips such as "Ride" and "West Coast". The freedom of the open road, Los Angeles, palm trees, the coast... So many things I used to fantasize about. Which is why this vacation across Western USA together with my boyfriend felt like a dream come true. Over two weeks, we drove more than 4500 km, stayed at charming Airbnb's and saw the most amazing and diverse landscapes.
Day 1 | Los Angeles
We landed in Los Angeles around 13:00 on April 16th and immediately I was struck by the elements that characterize California: warmth, blue sky, palm trees, tropical plants, big roads, big distances, advertising signs, fast food, ... We took the bus shuttle to the Budget car rental near the airport to pick up the car we booked in advance and drove to the supermarket Superior Grocers to buy some breakfast and lunch for the next day, before arriving at our Airbnb in Mount Washington. It was a small house with a lovely porch overlooking the hills. We took some time to get changed and then drove to Downtown Los Angeles. We had a walk in El Pueblos, the Latino neighborhood and one of the oldest ones of the city (not that special in the end), before heading to the Arts District (which felt a little like New York). We had dinner at Nickel Diner and returned to the Airbnb at a descent hour to get some well needed rest.
Day 2 | Grand Canyon, Flagstaff
We had breakfast at dawn on our porch and left Los Angeles for a 7 hours drive (without the stops) to the Grand Canyon. After crossing some big highways, we drove on the historic Route 66, surrounded by nothing but desert fields. This drive in the middle of nowhere gave me an incredible sense of freedom and carelessness. We picnicked on the way and arrived at the Grand Canyon South Rim around 17:30. We took the shuttle bus departing from the parking lot on the South Kaibab route and got off at the Yaki Point for an epic sunset. We then left the park to drive to Flagstaff where our next Airbnb was located (this took another 1h20 of driving which was more than we expected) and had dinner at Northern Pines (another typical American diner). It was quickly clear for us that we were no longer in California and found ourselves in deep America with the local accent, the pine forests and surrounding mountains with snowy tops.
Day 3 | Grand Canyon, Flagstaff
We returned to the Grand Canyon for a full day of exploration, but before that we did some grocery shopping at Whole Foods Market (my kind of supermarket with plenty of healthy and fresh food) and we had breakfast at Horsemen Lodge (think huge American plates). Once we arrived at the park with a backpack full of water and food, we had a walk along the Rim Trail going from East to West. It is one of the most popular and easiest trails with amazing views. We did half of it (around 10 km) and then took a shuttle bus back to South Kaibab route to descend into the canyon towards Cedar Ridge. We never made it to this point but we did enjoy some new, incredible panoramic views. Back in Flagstaff, we explored the San Francisco street and had dinner at Red Curry Vegan Kitchen.
Day 4 | Page
After breakfast at the Airbnb, we left Flagstaff for Page (approximately 2 hours drive). Here we visited Upper Antelope Canyon with Roger Ekis' Tour (book well in advance online). We booked at 11:30 which was perfect because it meant we were in the canyon at noon and the light penetrating the canyon was sublime. The hour inside in the canyon is dedicated purely to taking photos and listening a little to the guide. It's very crowded but the surprising colors make it worth it. We had lunch at River's End Cafe and then had a walk to the Horseshoe Bend, an impressive meander of the Colorado River. We arrived at the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel somewhere in the afternoon and decided to get some rest and enjoy the pool of the hotel. In the evening, we went to Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge for dinner.
Day 5 | Page, Monument Valley
We had some mediocre breakfast at the hotel (your average crowded buffet) and then discovered the highlights of Page in the morning: the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, the Hanging Garden Trail, the Wahweap Overlook and the Lone Rock Beach, going from one point to another by car. We wanted to have lunch at Latitude 37 but it only opened in May so we ate at the Lake Powell Resort instead. Around 13:00, we hit the road towards Monument Valley. It's a 2 hours drive but keep in mind that it's 1 hour later there and that last admission into the park is at 16:30 in the off season. You can complete the tour of the park in your car at your own rhythm. Depending on the number of stops for photographs, it will take you between 2 and 3 hours. Needless to say the landscapes are breathtaking and instantly give you a Western movie feeling. We had dinner near the Visitor Center at The View Restaurant which is supposed to be reserved for residents of the hotel only but we got lucky (it was a calm evening and I suspect the waitress couldn't resist my begging eyes). We enjoyed the sunset over the Mittens and Merrick Butte from our seat at the window and drove back after our Navajo dinner.
Day 6 | Las Vegas
We left Page around 8:30 in order to arrive at Las Vegas around 13:00 (approximately 4 hours driving). The contrast with the natural landscapes we saw up to this point couldn't have been greater. Las Vegas is over the top, noisy, luminescent, too much... A sort of Disneyland for drinking and smoking adults. We dropped our luggage at The Mirage, a famous hotel that's all about palm trees, and had margaritas and tacos at El Segundo Sol, North of The Strip. We then walked South along the famous boulevard to discover the many themed hotels: The Venetian with its incredible ceilings, Caesars Palace and its blue sky shopping streets, Flamingo boasting a garden with actual pink flamingos and floral themed Bellagio. At sunset, we took the car to downtown Las Vegas for a walk on Freemont Street, a pedestrian area with a thousand neon lights and many freaks. Back in the center, we discovered The Strip at nighttime and headed to Caesars Palace for a romantic Italian dinner at Trevi, sitting in front of the "Fountain of the Gods".
Day 7 | Las Vegas, Mojave Desert, Fresno
Before leaving Las Vegas, we had breakfast downtown at Eat, a spot with an industrial interior and excellent food. A 6 hours drive would take us to Fresno for our next Airbnb experience, but not without crossing the Mojave Desert first along the way. Endless arid fields featuring nothing but joshua trees and cactuses give you a real "middle of nowhere" feeling. We walked the trail to Teutonia Peak to get an even greater sense of solitude and enjoy panoramic views of the desert (other sights include Cima Dome and the Kelso Depot & Dunes). We picnicked on the road and arrived at Fresno in the evening. We did some grocery shopping for breakfast and lunch the next day at Whole Foods market (it quickly became our favorite supermarket chain) and headed to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner.
The western journal continues right here.