Road Trip #4, 5 & 6: Carlsbad, Palm Springs, a change of plan and Las Vegas

This is where things get interesting and my well designed plans had to change at the last minute. When I designed the itinerary it all looked hunky dory on paper but in reality maybe not so much.

First of all after sitting in heavy traffic around LA we finally made it to the Four Seasons Aviara Resort, located north of San Diego and just outside the centre of Carlsbad. This proved to be a lovely resort and just what we needed for some chill out time in the sun. I have to be honest, I wasn't taken with Carlsbad, maybe it just wasn't what I was expecting. I had in my mind a quaint little beach town but instead this is a busy spot with a main road running through it. The beach we visited didn't live up to expectations either. The Four Seasons Aviara sits next to the Park Hyatt Aviara which  was impressive and we very much enjoyed a bite to eat from the bar menu. Pizza Port was a novel place to eat in Carlsbad. You order a pizza and then pick up your beer separately from the bar before finding a seat on the communal wooden tables. No shortage of atmosphere here, it was absolutely buzzing! Spending the time mostly relaxing in resort, after four nights it was time to move on to Palm Springs.

Hilarious, the curse strikes again. How can it rain in the desert in the middle of the summer. Well it can and it did. Arriving at the newly opened Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage (see my review here) the heavens opened and we literally sat on our terrace in disbelief. Time to make a trip to the Outlet Village. Thank goodness the next day this stunning resort was once again bathed in glorious desert sunlight and a day by the pool was in order. I can definitely recommend Aloha Hour at Roy's in Rancho Mirage, great value drinks and delicious bar snacks. Palm Springs is another place that surprised me. It was much bigger than I had anticipated and split into various desert cities of which Rancho Mirage was one. I wish we had stayed longer here but after two nights it was time to leave.

Setting off early to head up to the Grand Canyon we hit a huge traffic jam. This part of the journey was always going to be dubious. It was a long drive to stay over for one night. Sitting on the interstate it had to be a quick decision, would we make it in time for sunset? Deciding we wouldn't, it was a quick turnaround and off to Vegas instead. I was very impressed with the Mandarin Oriental (review to come) who immediately rearranged our reservation and added on an extra night. With the power of the internet I then cancelled the hotel we were supposed to be staying in at the Grand Canyon. 

I think it would be true to say I have never seen anything like Vegas. My husband warned me beforehand that I might not like the madness of it but it just made me laugh. I mean where else do you see a couple in full superman outfits with no one batting an eyelid. Only in Vegas! I did enjoy the serenity of the Mandarin Oriental which offered a calm oasis in the middle of all the chaos. Love by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel is definitely worth a visit. Great music, dance and acrobatics add up to a stunning show. Obviously restaurants in Vegas are plentiful, Julian Serrano at the Aria had my vote although the air conditioning was harsh. 

And so the road trip ends. It was a shame not to see the Grand Canyon, maybe we should have taken a helicopter flight from Vegas. No regrets. But even after changing plans, it certainly provided a memorable trip. Now just a few nights in New York before the flight home but that's another story...

 

Road Trip #3: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park was definitely one of the highlights of this road trip. We chose to stay in a bed and breakfast, Little Ahwahnee Inn rather than one of the bigger lodges. We did visit both Tenaya Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel for food and both felt very busy compared to the peace and quiet of the B&B. Grant and Beth were delightful hosts and the breakfast delicious. Beth has always lived around this area so can give very helpful advice on where to go. They also check on any fire threats and road closures of which there were both on this visit. You could actually smell the smoke in the air and realise how easily things can change in Yosemite. There is plenty to do here and we easily filled our two days. 

Little Ahwahnee Inn was a short drive from the South Gate entrance to the Park so provided easy access. A $20 ticket for the car (and occupants) lasts for seven days, you just need to keep the receipt. From this gate it is also only a short distance to Mariposa Grove, home of the giant sequoias which is definitely worth a visit. You have to see Grizzly Giant and stand (get a photo) in the California Tunnel Tree. Apparently they are about to pull the car park up here so it might be difficult to visit in the next twelve months.

The hike up to Vernal Falls was also worth it, although it is very hot in the summer so make sure you take enough water. I must confess I thought it would be easier than it was- you have been warned. Other highlights included stunning views from Taft Point, Tunnel View, Glacier Point and the imposing easily accessible Sentinel Dome. We decided to just look at Half Dome rather than climb it, the idea of getting a pass to climb it put us off not to mention the fact you have to pull yourself with ropes to get to the top of it!

The Ahwahnee Hotel proved a lovely stop for lunch. I can't believe this hotel had once been attacked by fire and has been rebuilt with faux wood. Sitting on a table outside surrounded by the beauty of Yosemite National Park will live in my memory. For dinner, we chose to eat at the Bar & Grill at Tenaya Lodge and Narrow Gauge Inn which were both close by. I preferred Narrow Gauge which served delicious food in a candlelit atmosphere transporting you back in time.

Yosemite provided a very enjoyable couple of days but it was time to move on....

Road Trip: #2 Sausalito, San Francisco

Instead of staying in San Francisco we decided to stay in Sausalito, a waterfront community reached by a quick ferry ride across the bay or by car via the Golden Gate Bridge. And am I glad we did. The delightful Inn Above Tide (review to come) was a perfect home for two nights and Sausalito, the perfect base. A lively town with the ferry on our doorstep and a mini heatwave...definitely my kind of place. With more time it would have been easy to rent bikes or kayaks...definitely no shortage of things to do.

I think San Francisco reminded me just how important it is to check details. I'm usually thorough but on this occasion I missed the fact that Marlowe restaurant closed on a Saturday lunchtime. Let's just say it took a decent walk to find it after which my husband was none too pleased. On the upside we did find the baseball stadium and a different part of town to look at.

I would recommend La Mar, a Peruvian restaurant, for a bite to eat in San Francisco. I have to confess this was a tip from @PandoraSkies via Twitter and it did indeed prove excellent advice. Happy Hour at the bar was also easy on the wallet!

In Sausalito, we ate at Poggio, an Italian restaurant which to be honest doesn't stick in my mind. Decent enough but I wish instead I had tried Barrel House, one of the newer additions to the Sausalito scene.

 

Road Trip: #1 California Wine Country

It's really difficult choosing where to stay when you're just reading from a guidebook. So after much deliberation I decided on Healdsburg and couldn't have chosen better. Healdsburg is a small pretty town, north of Napa, where you can wander around the shops, stop at the numerous wine tasting rooms or take a seat in the square and people watch to your heart's content.

We stayed at the H2 hotel (review to come) which proved to be a an excellent option. The hotel had complimentary bikes and after cycling around the vineyards in the sizzling temperatures,  it was a treat to cool off in the small swimming pool.

Of course Healdsburg is all about wine and it's good fun to visit the tasting rooms. We visited two, Williamson and La Crema. I would definitely recommend Williamson, complimentary wine tasting with cheese and a delightful host in the name of Tyler. 

It is impossible to try all the dining options available in a couple of days, I would have liked to have tried Spoonbar in our hotel but didn't have time. We opted for Scopa and Barndiva. Both were good, Scopa is a small lively Italian and Barndiva provided excellent food in a lovely setting, think outside tables and twinkly lights.

On leaving Healdsburg we headed down to San Francisco calling off at Yountville and Napa on the way. Yountville (Keller Town!), home of The French Laundry  is also pleasant in a manicured kind of way and Napa is much bigger and more commercial. This made me realise Healdsburg was definitely the right choice for me!