San Francisco had been a fantastic city in which to start our family RV holiday, but now I was excited to start our road trip travelling in the Western United States. For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, the automobile has been the dominant form of transportation in the United States. Equally, travelling on a road to the West has for a long time been synonymous for many with the American Dream: freedom; adventure; and diverse, enticing and grand landscapes. Therefore, the road and the car both hold a revered place in the American consciousness. It was our first time in the Western United States, and we looked forward to travelling across a variety of Western cities and landscapes.
Our RV trip didn’t start that well. In the first minute of the trip, plates fell from a cupboard and shattered on the floor. But that was soon forgotten after we left San Francisco and ventured further south. I was struck by the enormity, the variety and the beauty that surrounded the highway. The enormous trucks that rumbled along the five-lane highway, the road that swerved through the mountains was a privilege to witness.
The next stop was San Simeon, California. San Simeon is about halfway down the West Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the expansive beach and imposing cliffs are worth a visit, as is Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle’s origins can be traced back to 1865, when George Hearst bought 40,000 acres of land in San Simeon, where the modern attraction is located. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited a vast amount of that land after his mother died and afterwards accumulated 250,000 acres. Alongside architect Julia Morgan, Hearst planned the construction of “La Cuesta Encantada” (Spanish for ‘Enchanted Hill’). Hearst Castle in the mid-twentieth century had 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Hearst Castle’s admission fees are $25 for adults and $12 for children and there are a variety of tours (such as grand room tours and upstairs suite tours) that are available to take around the attraction. It is worth a visit to see the Greco-Roman architecture that looks fantastic in the San Simeon sunshine and perfectly complements the San Simeon hilltop landscape.
After we had left San Simeon, we headed to Santa Barbara, an appealing beachside city which is 95 miles from Los Angeles. Santa Barbara was once part of the Spanish Empire, before it became incorporated into Mexico and eventually the United States. Santa Barbara’s 18th century Spanish Catholic missions, numerous parks, nature reserves and beaches lined by palm trees, make it an ideal place to explore and relax. The expansive West Beach, our favourite part of Santa Barbara, with its breathtaking views and extended pier, is where the city’s New Year’s and 4th July fireworks celebrations take place.
Then we headed to Los Angeles. Since the mid-20th century, LA has been a socio-cultural magnet for actors determined to become the next Hollywood or music sensation. Due to the stature of LA in the United States and across the world, its population and tourist industry is booming. Among LA’s attractions is Universal Studios Hollywood, which during the summer holidays is $116 admission for adults and $110 for children, though these prices decline slightly during term time. LA also has the iconic Hollywood sign and the Hollywood walk of fame. For events, the Hollywood Bowl is a fantastic outdoor arena where live music and events are held, including the 4th July fireworks show. Ticket prices range from $7 to $266 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Dodger Stadium, where the LA Dodgers baseball team plays, is a big attraction, especially as the Dodgers are currently the second best team in the United States’ Western National league. Tickets to see the Dodgers range from $26 to $900. Venice Beach is also worth a visit, where there are a vast number of souvenir shops lining the beach as well as beachside gyms. Around Venice Beach, tourists are spoiled for choice with beachside restaurants and cafes. We ended up getting a snack in Menotti’s Coffee stop, which had reasonably-priced pastries and coffee. I would also recommend going to Disneyland, which is in Anaheim, a city southeast of LA. A one-day ticket varies in price by date, but the cheapest two-day admission tickets for ten-year-olds and above are $99.50 and five-day admission prices begin at $60.
After leaving LA we cruised west, leaving California and eventually found the historic Route 66 road that is ingrained in the American consciousness as the iconic route to the West. On Route 66, I felt mesmerised by the high mountains that stood either side of the road and the vast open landscape. As we stopped halfway down Route 66 and got out of our RV, we were hit by a wave of heat so intense that we could only bear to stay outside the vehicle for a couple of minutes while we appreciated our surroundings and took pictures as mementos. Shortly afterwards we stopped at the Cruiser’s Route 66 cafe, which was very pleasant and a welcome rest.
After we had finished eating, we got back in the RV and headed for the Grand Canyon where we admired the spectacular view and, amongst the vast numbers of tourists, looked out to the iconic red rocks below. We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where the Colorado River arches around the Canyon, in four hours and hiked back up to the top in five hours, which my parents agreed to do as it was an overcast day. Please note, however, that the Park strongly advises against doing this hike in one day. It is also possible to go down the Grand Canyon on a mule (North Rim Grand Canyon tours cost $40-$80 for one hour to half day mule tours) and in a plane (the Grand Canyon South Rim tour lasts forty five minutes to fifty minutes and prices start at $124). You can also raft in the Colorado River (half day raft trips for four hours cost $92 for twelve-years-olds and older and $82 for four- to eleven-year-olds).
The beachside towns and cities we had visited, as well as the road we had travelled on in California and Arizona, allowed us to see great stretches of the United States’ western landscape. The Western United States has enticed numerous Americans in pursuit of the American Dream and tourists who want a glimpse of such iconic scenery, cities and attractions. It is well worth hiring or buying a car and travelling through the Western United States to appreciate the historical, cultural and socio-economic value of the region in the American and global imagination.