Classic USA Road Trip: San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Los Angeles
This is my route and guide to the most classic USA road trip, that we all have either already been on and wants to do again, or dream about doing. I take you through our stops, our budget and our time spent. I will cover the classic and best sightseeing stops, best Instagram spots and must-sees on your road trip.
Please note that we were on this road trip in May, which was out of peak season, which is June-August.
There is so many ways you can do this road trip, but it all has the same stops. Most people either start and stop in LA and do a loop, or start in LA and stop in San Francisco or the other way around. We flew into San Francisco and started our trip from there.
We had decided to take 3 days/2 nights in SF, where we had booked a cute little Airbnb out in Daly City. We chose to stay a bit out of the city centre since it was way cheaper and we had a car anyways, so it was easy to just drive into the city.
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We landed around noon, so we picked up our car from Sixt and drove to our Airbnb, so we could check in. After loading off our luggage we drove into the city and found a parking garage near China Town. We walked a bit around and ended up just going back home short after, as we were tired after the travels.
The next day, we had breakfast at our Airbnb before driving into the city. We found a parking garage by the harbour, that offered all day parking for around 30$ (which is just the price in SF). We strolled along the harbour until we came by Alcatraz Cruises and decided to book a trip to Alcatraz the same day, where we just had to wait 1,5 hours for available spaces. This was extremely lucky - if you travel in peak season during the summer, you have to book tickets in advance! We paid 40$ and it included full access, an audio tour and lets you stay as long as you want! It was really cool and such a good experience!
The second day we parked at the same parking garage, since it was very central and safe. We walked along the harbour again, towards North Beach and Pier 33, which is the famous one with all the sea lions! From here we decided to rent bicycles and bike up to Golden Gate Bridge, which was really fun and such a good route! There's bicycle lanes the whole way, so it's a safe trip for all ages.
Best Instagram spots in San Francisco
The Painted Ladies
These colourful houses are CUTE! And perfectly located, as there is a park just in front of them, which makes it easy to take photos with the houses in the back. We were there just in the late afternoon and there was not too many people.
Golden Gate Bridge
No visit to San Francisco without photos with the Golden Gate Bridge! There's many good spots to catch the bridge from. We biked towards the park and just went to the beach and took a few photos. We also drove across the bridge to the Golden Gate View Vista Point, which was really good. Unfortunately we came just before sunset, so it was a bit too dark, which is why you have not seen me post any photos from here, since they turned out being a bad quality.
Pro tip: when parking on the street in SF, you have to turn your front wheels towards the curb! If not, you will be fined! (we got 3 tickets in 2 days, because we had no idea!)
We left SF and started driving down the coast towards Big Sur National Park. On the way we stopped in Santa Cruz for lunch and took a walk along their cute boardwalk, which has a little carnival too!
We also made a stop to watch the famous elephant seals at San Simeon on our way to Morro Bay where we spent a night at a Motel 6, which was our accommodation of choice on the whole road trip. Motel 6 is located everywhere and the price is decent in all of their locations. Morro Bay was a cute little beach town and we saw otters swimming around while walking along the harbour.
I don't know if this is just a Danish must-see on this roadtrip, but I can recommend the Danish settlement city Solvang to everyone! It's located close to Santa Barbara and it's the cutest little historic place, where there's tons of bakery shops and Danish interior items. I have to admit though - their "Danish" pastry is not real Danish pastry and we don't have half of it in Denmark, haha. I definitely recommend you stopping in this city and just take a little stroll around, eat some pastry or find a place to eat lunch!
No Cali road trip without Santa Barbara! Gosh, I wish I could move there! The whole city has such a cool surfer vibe and so many cute restaurants, cafes and bars. We took a stroll out on the boardwalk called Stearns Wharf, before wandering up State Street and had lunch at Santa Barbara Craft Ramen - which I can really recommend. Santa Barbara was a bit too expensive for us to stay for the night, so we drove a bit further and slept at a Motel 6 in Palmdale, which is just outside of LA so we avoided the crazy LA traffic.
Finally we arrived at Las Vegas baby! Hotels in Vegas are surprisingly cheap, so we spoiled ourselves a little and booked 3 nights at Luxor on The Strip. We were really looking forward to having more of a base and a pool for a couple of days. For these 3 days we did not do much, as we focused on relaxing. Here's some things I can recommend you to check out in Las Vegas, such as where to eat and catch a show - or both!
Dick's Last Resort
FUNNIEST restaurant I've ever visited! It's located in the Excalibur Hotel Visit Dick's if you're open to laugh your ass off while you eat or as a good step before going out. They will give you paper hats with fun writing, give guests a lap dance, and be downright rude. And it's HILARIOUS! Keep an open mind and you'll have so much fun!
If you're looking for good Italian food, go here! Eataly located in the MGM Hotel and can give you a real European vibe. We had the pizza and it was probably some of the best pizza we found in the US.
A complete must-see if you're in Vegas. The Bellagio Hotel's fountain is a Vegas legend. The fountain goes off every 15-30 minutes every day to there's plenty of opportunities to see it.
Catch a show!
There's tons of great shows in Las Vegas and it can be hard to choose! Take a stroll around The Strip and into the many hotels and you'll get a good peep of your many options, that stretches from male strip, cabaret, magic, and whatever else you can imagine.
The Las Vegas Sign
This is one of the best Instagram spots in Las Vegas. The sign is located at the end of The Strip and I recommend you to go early. I went at 8 AM and there was already a line. I waited only 10 minutes, but if you go later, I've heard that the line can be hours long.
After Las Vegas we drove towards Grand Canyon National Park. We took the highway going shortly up through Utah, as we made our way to Horseshoe Bend on the way. I'm so so happy that we made our way there, as the view was out of this world. Horseshoe Bend is also a famous Instagram spot, so there is always a lot of people. To get a photo like mine, don't worry - there a small ledge under, so you're not in danger of falling down. But don't under any circumstances risk your life for a photo here!
After stopping at Horseshoe Bend, we continued on and drove into Grand Canyon itself. We stopped at a view point and watched the sunset. Since the accommodation in Grand Canyon is quite expensive, we had chosen not to spend the night there and save money by spending the night in a Motel 6 in Flagstaff, which is just outside the park.
Palm Springs & Joshua Tree
We drove from Flagstaff towards Palm Springs, but did a stop in Joshua Tree National Park on the way. I really wanted a photo with the iconic Joshua Trees, but I had not done my research thoroughly enough, so we drove for a while and could not find our way around, so we ended up giving up. The park is really big, there's no connection and it's easy to get lost. We drove in from the south and we probably should've driven in from the north.
When we came to Palm Springs, we tried finding a nicer motel, but after seeing all the high prices, we ended up at a Motel 6 in the south end of Indian Canyon Drive, which is one of the main streets along with Palm Canyon Drive. We strolled up Palm Canyon Drive to find dinner and we ended up eating at Kalura Trattoria, which was really good.
Palm Springs is still one of my favourite cities in Cali, because the vibes there are just perfect. The city also attracts a lot of Instagrammers, since they have a lot of Instagram spots in Palm Springs!
Best Instagram spots in Palm Springs:
E Sierra Way: the famous Palm Spring houses are a must-see, whether you're an Instagrammer or not. They are serious interior goals! Some are more famous than others, but if you drive down E Sierra Way and down any of the side streets, you'll find many of them. Drive down S Alhambra Dr and S Camino Real and have fun!
Palm Spring Windmills
Another famous spot is the windmill farms just north of Palm Springs. Drive up Indian Canyon Drive and turn left at Garnet Avenue, just before the highway. Drive a bit down the road and just stop when you feel like it for an undisturbed view of the many windmills.
The iconic Cabazon Dinosaurs are not located right in Palm Springs, but it's only a small drive out to Cabazon. They're always open and a must-see if you ask me! They're located just down the street from and In-n-Out Burger, so you can always combine it with a visit to this Instagram famous burger chain.
Instead of going straight to LA from Palm Springs, we decided to drive down to San Diego and spend a night. We found a Motel 6 and walked around Little Italy, which was just so cute. Definitely wish we had more time here and not just one night. We strolled down India Street and found the worlds best ice cream and my new obsession - Salt&Straw! I cannot recommend to go here enough - and don't forget about their homemade waffle cones!
Finally we made our way to Los Angeles, where we had booked a private room at Venice Beach Hostel. It was quite cheap and the hostel couldn't have a more perfect location, as we could literally see the famous Venice Beach sign from our window and it was just next to the beach. It was easy for us to find free parking on the surrounding streets and we could walk to anything. Here's some of the things I would recommend you to do visit, see and do in Los Angeles - as well as some of the best instagram spots around LA:
One of my favourite places in LA no doubt. Take a chill stroll along the beach, rent a bike or a scooter, whatever floats your boat. There's so many cute shops and thing to look at and you'll never be bored.
Remember to take a morning or an afternoon at Venice Beach and rent bikes or scooters! Ride it up and down the beach promenade an around the area - it is without a doubt one of the best activities to do in LA!
Once you've already rented that cute Venice style bike, make your way up to Venice Canals and enjoy the serene waters and cute houses. I wanted to move straight in!
Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Just a short walk up from Venice Beach, you'll find Abbot Kinney Boulevard. On this street there's tons of cute shops, cafes and restaurants - and a Salt&Straw! As soon as we discovered that, we went there every day, haha. We even found a Scandinavian store called Huset (the house in Danish), that sells Scandinavian interior and fashion items, but also "mix-your-own-candy"!
The Hollywood Sign
No trip to Los Angeles is complete without at least seeing the Hollywood Sign. It's probably the biggest icon of LA and also my favourite hike in LA. It's a fairly easy hike, where you just follow a gravel road all the way to the sign and it doesn't take much more than 30 minutes to get up.
How to hike to the Hollywood Sign
To get to the top, there's multiple options. We took the more steep hike (it wasn't steep at all), but you can also park by the Griffith Conservatory and walk around the mountain. We parked at Deronda Drive, as far up as we could. You can see the star on the map, but please note that not all people living there wants cars parked in front of their houses and you can get a fine if you do not park correctly. It might seem confusing while you're driving up there, but trust me and just follow the road. We drove around for a bit because we couldn't find the correct road and we ended up wasting a lot of time.
If you choose to park at Deronda Drive, simply walk up the road till you reach a big gate. To the left of the gate there is a gravel road that could look like the trail head - it is not! You simply need to enter through the gate and continue that way up. Shortly after you'll reach a view point on the left, which is great for photos too. Once you want to continue the hike, just go a bit back and follow the road on the right. Follow the road all the way to the top and always keep left. If you turn right you will walk towards Griffith Conservatory.
Santa Monica Beach
Again, no visit to LA is complete without a visit to Santa Monica Beach. It is my favourite place to stay in Los Angeles, but it's also one of the most expensive (with good reason). It has the luna park on the beach and an amazing pedestrian area for shopping.
Beverly Hills & Beverly Hills Hotel
You might have seen the iconic photos on Instagram with towering palm trees on each side of the roads. Believe it or not, but even though there's palm trees on every single road in Beverly Hills, it was surprisingly hard to find the "perfect" road for photos. I believe we ended up taking photos around North Canon Drive.
We of course also had to stop by the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. It was fun and beautiful to see, but you can only enter the hotel if you are living there. I have also heard that the guard might come out and tell you to leave if you are taking photos, but we were two groups taking photos there at the same time and nothing happened.
So how much did this epic adventure cost? It has been a while since the trip, but I will try to break down the costs for you - except for food and personal expenses. We were travelling for 16 days, where we had rented a car for all 16 days. All of these costs are for 3 people.
Car: 606$ for 16 days (we got a discount because my friend worked there)
390$ for 6 nights in different Motel6s (60-65$ / night)
591$ for 4 nights in Venice Beach Hostel, Los Angeles
211$ for 2 nights in Daly City, San Francisco
449$ for 4 nights in Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas
Parking tickets (lol): 296$
TOTAL: 2925$ / 3 people = 975$ per person
If I had to guess, I'd say I have used around 500$ on food and shopping on the trip. And I didn't shop a whole lot, because I didn't have more space in my suitcase.
WOW! What an epic trip! It's an expensive but epic trip! I started writing this blog post months after coming home (whoops), but writing and reading about this trip again has made me sure, that I need to do it again asap! Maybe I should start looking at flights..
Anyway, I hope that you've enjoyed it and that you can use my tips :-)