The 2016 trip finally crowned my biggest holiday wish: going to California. It is quite common to mean by "California" all that large western portion of the United States where many of the most famous US natural parks are located and which, on balance, are all in other states. For this reason, the most etymologically correct name of this guide is the one you find in the title, but I'm pretty sure that if we ended up talking about the journey verbally, in front of a beer, saying “California” would certainly be clearer and more immediate.
Useless preambles aside, organizing this trip was a big job and required attention to detail certainly greater than any other trip ever undertaken before, both for the amount of things to see and the vastness of distances to be covered in relation to the days. available, especially because with us there would have been Giorgio, aka Smurf, aka a fifteen month old baby. From this point of view, everything had to be planned really precisely to avoid or at least limit the unexpected as much as possible and I must say that, on balance, we did really well. At the bottom I also add a special section dedicated to tips for those traveling with infants.
Organizing a tour in California: to begin with ...
The first three nodes to roost are soon said: the choice of the flight, the rental of the car and the booking of hotels. Here's how we got away with it:
Flying to Los Angeles: some advice
Once again we flew with the pair British & American Airlines, breaking the section into two portions of 2 and 10 hours respectively. The only economically acceptable alternative when we had to choose one of the various flights to the USA, many months before departure, was to fly with Air Canada, breaking the route roughly in half (Milan-Montreal-Los Angeles). We essentially gave up for three reasons:
- it is impossible to book a ticket with an infant without an assigned seat knowing the exact final price before paying
- we had the doubt that the second leg was considered as an internal flight, which means no entertainment systems for 5 hours
- the hours were more uncomfortable
The final price of the tickets was 2300 euros, because the child under two pays only airport taxes (300 euros). We booked both flights on a Tuesday, making our stay exactly two weeks. Extending - or shortening the vacation by less than 7 days - involved a dramatic increase in the price of tickets, due to some US rule that I did not understand (the same thing happened with other airlines too). Even the hypothesis of differentiating the arrival and departure airports proved not to be economically feasible, which forced us to fly to Los Angeles, the only point compatible with the scheduled tour, to the detriment of San Francisco which at that point is not been possible to include in the itinerary.
Advice on flights to Los Angeles
Car rental: an unexpected low cost solution
As far as car rental is concerned, we turned to Budget who made us an indispensable offer: $ 470 for 15 days of SUV, including the seat for Giorgio, compared to the 720 necessary for the rental of a class car. economy at the same Budget, with even higher price competition. No satellite navigator because installing the maps on my Garmin cost a quarter (albeit with an incalculable number of curses). The staff who work in the US Budget offices are sometimes made up of unsuitable staff, with whom it is impossible to have fruitful discussions, but the savings you get are worth any quarrel you happen to have with them.
Advice on car rental in Los Angeles
Hotel reservations: a tip to avoid surprises
To close, we also booked all the hotels well in advance, always using the usual method: booking through Booking.com with free cancellation. The advice is to do it in any case, especially for the areas close to the parks where finding a place in August can really be complicated, if done at the last moment.
Advice on how to find accommodation in the USA
And finally… the parks card
Other general notes: the annual pass to national parks it can be done at the entrance of any park without difficulty, it costs $ 80 per vehicle and pays off in full since admission to parks costs an average of $ 20 per vehicle.
Useful information on the parks card
Prima tappa: Los Angeles – Sequoia National Park
The first days of the itinerary are those that present the most complex and long journeys, and this is because, forced to cut San Francisco and Yosemite, we absolutely wanted to see the sequoias and we chose Sequoia National Park as the first stop. Did we do well? Ni. To avoid wasting days, as soon as we landed we immediately picked up the car and headed for Bakersfield, which in LA traffic means driving three hours after an intercontinental flight. You do eh, but you have to be prepared for the idea. We were. What we weren't ready for, however, was having to drive more than an hour from the park entrance to the forest where the sequoias are actually found. The second day then turned into an endless pool that saw us depart from Bakersfield, reaching the famous one General Sherman in the center of the park and then head towards Ridgecrest, the second stop on the itinerary chosen with a view to getting closer to Death Valley and reducing the transfers the following day.
Advice on where to sleep at Sequoia
In light of all this, I don't know what I would have had to find in the park to make it really worth it, but what I saw certainly wasn't enough. The sequoias they are really impressive and there are several paths in the park to be able to make some nice excursions, but in an itinerary of this type I would not blame those who simply decide to skip this stage. The point, unfortunately, is that a day of approaching Death Valley from Los Angeles is necessary and in the area I would not say there is anything else that could be worthwhile.
Second stop: Ridgecrest - Death Valley - Las Vegas
Helped by jet-lag, the following morning we left well before dawn with the aim of reaching Death Valley when the temperatures still allow us to visit it. This time the plan worked great and so between 7 and 10 in the morning, with the thermometer well below 30 ° C, we were able to tour different points of the park in peace, closing our stay at the Forty Niner Cafe in Furnace Creek , where we indulged in a breakfast that really made a lot of lunch, before leaving for Las Vegas. The valley of death in my opinion it is one of the places to see at all costs when you decide to take a tour of this type: the show is really worth a lot and I don't think there are other similar places in the world.
Also Las Vegas it is definitely a place out of the ordinary, but I would say anything but positive. It is a comfortable pit-stop and, honestly, not going through it would even leave a morbid curiosity that it is good to satisfy instead. However it is a rather sad sight, oozing fiction and trash beyond digestible limits. In the evening it improves a bit, when the lights shine, but I think it's impossible not to be disappointed even if you arrive with very low expectations. It must be said, however, that we ate the best burger of the holiday there.
Advice on where to sleep in Las Vegas
Third stop: Las Vegas - Zion National Park - Panguitch
From Las Vegas at this point we moved towards Panguitch, a convenient stop to stay before visiting Bryce Canyon. With one day dedicated to moving, we thought we'd make a stop in Zion and visit the first canyon of the vacation. Once again the choice paid off. Zion is perhaps the least peculiar of the parks seen, but it allows several walking tours immersed in nature and spending a day walking inside it was very satisfying for us.
The only precaution to consider is the time zone, since the passage from Nevada to Utah involves bringing the clock forward one hour and therefore leaves an hour less available for the visit. In the evening, as mentioned, we spent the night in Panguitch where we had dinner at Cowboy's Smokehouse Cafe. If this happens to you, do it too.
Fourth stage: Panguitch - Bryce Canyon - Kanab
Bryce Canyon turned out the most beautiful park of the whole tour. With one day at our disposal also in this case we were able to make several excursions, being able to appreciate the view both from the top and from the bottom of the tunnels and, really, every minute spent inside is worth it. Organizing yourself so that you can stay there from morning to evening is therefore a suggestion to take into consideration. Visited the Bryce Canyon, we slept in Kanab, from where we left with the aim of entering the Navajo reservation and reaching Monument Valley.
Advice on where to sleep at Bryce Canyon
Quinta tappa: Kanab – Page – Monument Valley – Kayenta
To avoid interminable transfers we broke the journey by stopping at Page, first atUpper Antelope Canyon and then on the shores of Lake Powell. Organizing a visit to the former was not easy because there are very few places available and it is need to book well in advance, which we discovered too late and therefore we did not. The best time to appreciate the magic of this very narrow tunnel colored by the rays of the sun is 11:30, but we have only found a place for the 9 am tour which in any case can give really beautiful images. Unfortunately little Giorgio did not like being in a dark tunnel full of people and forced his mother to leave the canyon well in advance, but I was able to complete the visit. The place deserves nothing to say, but it is really very crowded and having to walk crowded in line kills the atmosphere a lot.
Different speech for Lake Powell, which offers a truly evocative landscape and spectacular colors. We entered the entrance first Lone rock and then take some photos from the top of Wahweap. There would be many other points from which to see it, but they are off the itinerary and for this we had to give them up, but we are still happy with what we saw.
Thanks to the above steps we have arrived at the Monument Valley in its best moment, which is at sunset. What can I say, it is another of those places not to be missed. By car we did the whole tour inside, being able to go around the whole valley, but the ideal, on balance, would be to do one of the many horseback excursions available on site.
We slept in Kayenta, a few miles away from the park. In these areas it is possible to drive for miles without finding even the shadow of a human settlement. Which, if you ask me, is fantastic.
Advice on where to sleep in Monument Valley
Sixth stage: Kayenta - Grand Canyon - Valley
The following day, starting once again early and taking advantage of the favorable time this time, we arrived at the Grand Canyon, which we visited from the side of the South rim. What can I say, the show presented to those who look out over that panorama for the first time is grandiose and takes your breath away. Unfortunately, the park doesn't offer much more. The hikes along the rim are often on paved paths completely in the sun and for long stretches are located well away from the edge of the canyon, therefore not offering even a decent view of the landscape. Crossing the entire South Rim requires a journey of 32 miles and offers several panoramic points, but in the long run it will seem to always look at the same landscape and therefore the advice is to stop only at the most significant points of view (my favorite is the desert view).
On the other hand, one thing that may really be worth doing is going down the Bright Angel Trail, which leads up to inside the canyon. It is a very long walk and, above all, having to face the descent first makes it psychologically difficult since you always proceed with the anxiety of how hard it will be to go up. We only covered the first part of it, defeated by fear and the sun, but in hindsight it would have been better to do just that, but do it well. A nice peculiarity of the park is the presence of many moose, deer and fawns, which you can often see up close. We stopped in Valle for the night.
Advice on where to sleep in the Grand Canyon
Seventh stage: Valley - Oatman - Kingman
At this point, our itinerary planned to reach San Diego, but the distance is really considerable so we decided to break the journey into three sections. The first was dedicated to a taste of the infamous Route 66, which we traveled to Oatman crossing the Black Mountains in that section called “Bloody 66”, precisely because of the dangerousness of the road. Oatman is very nice, with its free mules in the city and that old west atmosphere, for those in the area I think this tiny town is much more worth visiting than other places connected to the famous route in Arizona, such as Williams, Seligman or the same Kingman, where we stayed overnight.
Ottava tappa: Kingman – Joshua Tree National Park – Palm Springs
The second section takes us from Kingman to Palm Springs, with a stop and a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. Another nice taste of the desert and its desolation. Visiting the park is not easy, partly because of the heat and partly because of the terrorism of the rangers who, as soon as they saw the child, began to rattle off rivers of recommendations to protect him from possible and unfortunate encounters with the feared rattlesnake.
With these assumptions we decided to stay on site as little as possible, but enough to be able to visit all the most suggestive areas by actually crossing the park from south to north. Joshua Tree it is the last natural park we visited and to celebrate the end of the first part of the trip we indulged in some crazy joy in Palm Springs where the very cheap Caliente Tropics Resort allowed us to relax by the pool and the Fisherman's Market restaurant & Grill refreshed us with some great fish.
Ninth stage: Palm Springs - San Diego
After a first part of a holiday dedicated to travel and the boundless and uncontaminated landscapes of the United States, here we are in the first big city: San Diego. Personally, I really had a lot of expectations for this stage and they have all paid off: to date, it is the only city in the USA (continental) where I would live. The city, the ocean, the people, the fish tacos (Lucha Libre is a must for anyone passing by): it's really all to my measure. Whether you're in Downtown, La Jolla or Coronado, you always feel like you're fine. Here you are, San Diego and the city of well-being.
There isn't much to see, we used the days available to visit the different beaches (La Jolla Cove and Coronado Beach the best), the US Midway museum and the zoo, which if I understand correctly is one of the largest. of the United States. We boycotted Seaworld for ideological reasons (even if the Zoo, vabbeh). Nothing else to report.
Advice on where to sleep in San Diego
Stage XNUMX: San Diego - Los Angeles
The last stop took us to Los Angeles, according to anyone who has done this tour a useless and very avoidable place. All in all I confirm. We went to Beverly Hills, but quoting Polly: “… in the end Rodeo Drive is a Monte Napoleone without Cova…”! We went to Hollywood and we could have done without it. Even the hustle and bustle of going to see the sunset from the Griffith observatory is not worth the queue and delirium it takes to get there.
In short, the city of angels doesn't go much further than continuing to look around and say “Hey, this movie was shot here!”. It must be said that we have not been to Universal Studios, perhaps the only thing to really do when you are here, but at the end of the holiday, with little time available and a 15 month old baby we preferred to dedicate the last day to Venice Beach. We rented bikes and spent the whole day out and about with them, from the promenade leading to Santa Monica, to the artificial canals of Venice, passing through Muscle Beach. I don't regret the choice.
Advice on where to sleep in Los Angeles
Fifteen days are perhaps few for the lap we did, the short time forced us to a really fast pace, but in my opinion the result was largely beyond expectations and, apart from the final fatigue, we have not suffered from it.
Traveling with a child: some targeted advice
As I said at the beginning, given the circumstances in which we traveled, it seems useful to be able to give some indications to those who are preparing to undertake the same itinerary in the company of a small child.
- Air travel: no one can tell you if 10 hours of flying with your child in your arms are feasible or not. Only you know it (and you too could easily have the wrong idea). It went better for us than we thought.
- Traveling by car: there are many and they need to be organized well if you don't want the child to go crazy, but with a bit of criterion and taking advantage of his naps it is not impossible to move peacefully. The only advice I would give is to bring your own car seat, as it is boarded for free by all the airlines I have examined; it is certainly better than what they will rent you, in terms of baby's comfort, and this helps him to stay in the car happily.
- Time zone: children absorb it better than us, on balance.
- Food: friends who live in San Diego (and whom we thank for all the tips) have recommended baby food and juices from Gerber and Enfamil milk powder. We enjoyed it. Especially with fruit and vegetable mixes to drink. Giorgio went out of his mind for apple and broccoli, so to speak.
- .: we have stayed almost only in motels and chains, nothing luxurious, but it was often possible to have a camping cot at no additional cost. Sometimes, however, without sheets, so on balance it is better to keep him in the bed. The really important thing is to always try to have a microwave to heat breakfast and meals, a good thermos and a good cooler.
- Other needs: Walmart has EVERYTHING.