EMILY Fox discovers the diamonds of America's West Coast.
When my partner Matthew and I decided we wanted to go to on an American holiday, it wasn’t hard to decide a shortlist of destinations.
Lined with some of the best sea views and scattered with some of the hottest destinations America has to offer – the west coast was the choice for us.
The city to leave your heart in – San Francisco was our first stop. Famous for its cosmopolitan mix of people, its once inescapable prison and its iconic cable cars San Francisco offered an eclectic mix. Landing at San Francisco International Airport we took the cheap and relatively comfortable BART (San Francisco’s mini version of our very own underground) for a 15-minute ride to the centre of the city.
The 1880 cable cars, the ‘world’s most crooked street’ and the lazy sunbathing seals on Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf were the must-visit tourist hot spots of the city. We stayed at the elegant and spacious Hilton San Francisco Union Square, which offered a great central point from where to explore the city.
Union Square, the Oxford Street, of San Francisco was its shopping mecca offering all the American favourites including Macys, Bloomingdales and Saks and don’t miss a visit to Levis flagship store – Frisco is after all the home of the classic brand.
When it comes to food San Francisco offers enough to wet any appetite but an easy and affordable option came just next door to our hotel at the Urban Tavern - where options for breakfast, lunch and dinner are on offer.
One of our most memorable days came when we cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge to the pretty little harbour town of Sausalito. If you’re brave enough you can even try it – as we did- on a tandem. Sausalito was a quaint rest-stop for those weary calf-muscles and a real contrast from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, with little boutiques and cafes. You can ride back over the bridge but we chose to take the ferry across the sea to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was great for us as we hadn’t had a chance to see Alcatraz - the former home of legendary mobster Al Capone and the ferry took you within near touching distance -making the trip extra special.
The cables cars are well worth a ride but can get costly when riding all day so the buses which follow similar routes are more cost effective at $2 (£1.20) instead of a pricey $6 (£4.50) per ride. But do make sure you take the right amount of cash on board as the drivers don’t carry change.
The last day in San Francisco took us to the Golden Gate Park where the 4.5miles of parkland is not for the faint hearted. You can hire a mini-car, which takes you through the park but we decided to go for the active option having stuffed ourselves with the famous and very tasty Boudin’s clam chowder in a soar dough basket for the past three days. Just like Central Park in New York there is much to see - with The Conservatory Of Flowers, San Francisco Botanical Gardens, a Japanese Tea Garden and the Bison Paddock to name but a few of the hotspots. For us the Botanical Gardens really were lovely and a great learning experience for kids of the country’s flora and fauna.
The edge of the park leads you to the sea. The Cliff House restaurant offers fantastic views of the coast and beach and is a perfect end to a great day.
Our next stop took us to The Grand Canyon – one of the seven wonders and what a wonder it was! Being short on time, we decided that instead of trailing the usual path along route 1 we caught a zippy flight to Las Vegas and picked up a car to drive through the Arizona desert along Route 66.
We stayed in the little town of Tusayan at the Best Western Grand Squire Inn
just 7 miles from the Grand Canyon National Park. From the hotel there is a regular shuttle every 15 minutes, which takes you into the Canyon during peak season, (mid-May-September). Otherwise entry to drive into the National Park is just $25, which is a comparative steal, considering it lasts a week. A number of trails are on offer for trekking enthusiasts, we chose the medium difficulty Bright Angel Trail.
The trail took you along winding terrain at steep gradients but the vistas of the Canyon were well worth every step. One piece of advice would be to avoid walking in the mid-day sun – the trek can seem doubly difficult in the heat.
On returning to our hotel we took advantage of the hotel buffet, which offered a healthy feast for those hungry from the trek. Nearby Sophie’s Mexican Kitchen also had some of the tastiest burritos, enchiladas and fajitas we had ever had.
Sunset at the Canyon and a drive along the rim to some of the best and less busy viewpoints are also a must.
Following the Canyon, Las Vegas was a real shock to the system. An adrenaline rush for the body and mind. Overloaded with all the food, drink, gambling and entertainment you can imagine – Las Vegas certainly lives up to its Sin City reputation.
We decided to stay at the luxurious Hilton Elara Grand Vacations Club. For us this was perfect - not huge fans of gambling - it was one of the few hotels not to have a casino inside meaning it wasn’t a thoroughfare for those looking for the Black Jack tables but close enough to Planet Hollywood’s casino to have a play on the slots. With its opulent décor and beautiful pool, it was the perfect spot the kick back and relax in the sun after our previously ‘active’ adventures.
Las Vegas really is made for self-indulgence, even finding your way out of the hotel and to the roadside isn’t the easiest of tasks, as you have to walk through shops, restaurants and casinos before even spotting daylight and don’t be fooled by the faux sky ceilings.
The water fountains at the Bellagio are a definite must although don’t worry if you miss it as they happen on the hour and every 15 minutes thereafter in the evenings. Also a bus trip to Fremont Street is also worth it as the video ceilings and ‘supersized’ heart attack café are a great night out.
Overall, the trip wasn’t one for the faint hearted with the cliff-hanging views at the Grand Canyon, the high-speed entertainment in Las Vegas and the cosmopolitan mix in San Francisco. But it gave us some of our best memories and ones that we will take with us wherever we go next.
• Hilton Elara room rate from £76.50 per night plus tax, room only
• Hilton Union Square room rate £223 per night plus tax, room only