Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 7: Driving to Las Vegas

This was another long day on the road, from Santa Monica, by the Pacific Ocean to Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. After a light breakfast I drove the first stint through Los Angeles and onto the i15. Leaving Los Angeles on Sunday morning worked well, the traffic on the freeway was flowing nicely and we reached our lunch stop near Barstow in about two and a half hours.

Barstow seemed like one of these forgotten desert towns, but I’d heard that Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner was the best place to stop and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The food was good and it has also turned itself into a tourist attraction in its own right with a diner-saur park and gift shop.

After lunch Jen took over driving duties and got us across the state line to Nevada, where I resumed driving and took us on a detour to see Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam – which meant we also crossed into Arizona, so 3 states in one day!

Driving back from the dam towards Las Vegas we got more and more excited as each of the landmarks became visible on the horizon, but it was only when we turned onto the strip that we got the full effect and realised just how crazy this city is. We checked into our hotel – Paris – and decided to upgrade to a suite, it was expensive but the views over the Eiffel Tower and Bellagio fountains were worth it. I’m slightly concerned that Jen is getting a taste for hotel suites though!

One thing we learned early on is that you need to make a reservation¬†for the popular dinner spots. We ended up doing an impromptu tour of the strip looking for somewhere to have dinner, eventually ending up at Gallagher’s in the New York New York casino. It was worth the walk – we both had huge steaks which were delicious.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 6: Santa Monica

Today was similar to day 4 in Santa Barbara, we had another good breakfast (at Jinky’s) then a wander around the shops. Around lunchtime we hired beach cruiser bikes an cycled the 6km to Venice Beach. We weren’t really taken by Venice beach, it seemed a bit seedier than Santa Monica, Jen compared it to Camden in London, where Santa Monica is more like Covent Garden. We finished the ride off with an ice cream by the old carousel on Santa Monica pier.

We spend the late afternoon on the beach, which was busier than in Santa Barbara, maybe because it was the weekend. Frustratingly the waves were too big for swimming, but breaking too late for surfing – another trip where we failed to go surfing! In the evening we sampled the local nightlife, avoiding the British pub and trying some local beers/ciders in a trendy bar (Misfits), before marking our last night by the beach with more seafood at the Waterfront Grill.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 5: Los Angeles

Santa Monica Ferris wheel selfie

Our last morning in Santa Barbara started with a light breakfast and a walk along the harbour. The reason for the light breakfast was that we had planned to call at In-n-Out burger for lunch. We’d chosen the In-n-Out burger on Sunset Boulevard, but also a diversion along Mulholland Drive. After a few wrong turns we eventually got the right road, which was suitably twisty with great views from between the mansions and our first glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign.

After our Double Double burgers, which were good, but I thought didn’t quite live up to the hype, we drove via Hollywood Boulevard to the Griffith Observatory for more views over Los Angeles, including the Hollywood sign. From this vantage point you can really see just how big the city is – we couldn’t even see the ocean, yet the city stretched out all around us.

By this point it was mid afternoon, and wary of the notorious Los Angeles traffic we set off for Santa Monica and the Georgian Hotel on the sea front. En-route we passed or drove on famous streets such as Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire and Rodeo Drive. Upon checking in we were told that our room had been upgraded to a suite after I’d tweeted the hotel letting them know it is our honeymoon – I will have to try that at other hotels!

We spent the evening hanging out around the hotel, Santa Monica pier is only a couple of blocks away and felt more like the piers I’m used to from the UK with arcades and amusements. We went on the big wheel for a view down the coast to Venice Beach and beyond.

We watched the sunset from the veranda at the hotel, drinking cocktails- a great way to end the day.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 4: Santa Barbara

Beach cruisers

Our day in Santa Barbara started the same was as the previous day in Monterey- with a walk along the beach and a breakfast burrito. We could get used to this! One difference was that Santa Barbara is a lot warmer – even just having breakfast outside my Scottish skin felt like it was crisping up.

After breakfast we hired beach cruiser bikes and cruised along the seafront, it was good to feel the breeze in our faces and allowed us to suss out the best part of the beach to spend our afternoon. We rode 7.4km along the beach, with no elevation change, or mud – very strange for me! We chose the lagoon between Stearns Wharf and the harbour, watching the boats, SUPs and wildlife toing and froing in front of us, with a naval destroyer and oil wells on the horizon. I went for a swim and lazing in the cool water looking back at the mountains towering over the city was very relaxing. As it was so hot, we went for a walk along Stearns Wharf in search of ice cream, the wharf was less tacky than similar piers I’ve visited at Brighton and Llandudno in the UK and gave a great view of the city and mountains.

We started our evening off with some wine tasting at the Santa Barbara Winery – 2 whites and 4 reds, all very nice but probably wasted on me – Jen liked them though, which is the important thing. We finished off with a walk up State Street, the main road in town and another seafood dinner – scallops for Jen and prawns for me.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 3: Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway was going to be one of our longest days on the road, but a drive I had been looking forward to for a long time. Before we set off we took a stroll along the beach into Monterey and had breakfast on the wharf – a massive breakfast burrito set me up for the day perfectly. The first indication of just how good this road would be was the sign warning of “Hills and curves for next 75 miles” – my idea of heaven!

The first part of the Pacific Coast Highway is through Big Sur, around each of the many corners there was new new vista, with mountains running into the Pacific as far as the eye can see – photos really don’t do it justice. Fortunately there were plenty of areas to stop and enjoy the view, which we did frequently – at one stop we were able to watch a whale surfacing and jumping out of the water. Nearer to Hearst Castle there was also a colony of elephant seals just sunbathing on the beach.

About halfway between Monterey and our first main stop at Hearst Castle Jen swapped into the driving seat, for what turned out to be the best section of road, lots of hairpins and camber changes etc. I’d love to experience an early morning blast down this road in a sports car, but as it was quite busy our Challenger was perfect for cruising along in.

Hearst Castle was really interesting, a castle built as a private house almost 100 years ago, on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean and filled with centuries old European art. The art was also architectural, with some pieces such as the ceiling in the billiard room predating Christopher Columbus setting sail to discover what we now know as America!

We spent a bit longer than planned at Hearst Castle and had a lot of distance still to cover, luckily after San Luis Obispo it was mainly freeway to Santa Barbara so I was able to stretch the Challenger a bit and we made it just as darkness was falling. Our motel is only a few minutes walk from the harbour, so we went for another seafood dinner – both of us choosing fish we’d seen at the aquarium in Monterey the previous day.

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a muscle car with Jen next to me is one of those memories that will stay with me forever – if you like driving, wildlife or even just nice scenery you will love it.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 2: Monterey and Carmel

Challenger

Our first full day in California started with a walk along the seafront. Even though we were in town there was plenty of wildlife to see – black oyster catchers, albatross, Californian sea lions (some lazing on the rocks just feet away from us) and sea otters playing in the kelp.

We spent some time exploring Cannery Row – old sardine canneries which have been turned into shops, galleries, restaurants and an aquarium. We made it to the aquarium just in time to see the sea otter feeding, it was magical seeing these fluffy sea mammals up close – they are much bigger than the fresh water otters I have seen in the UK. My other highlight was the jellyfish exhibition, it looked more like a modern art installation than a conservation project, I could have watched the jellyfish for hours. The aquarium, and general Monterey Bay Area wildlife, star in BBC’s Big Blue Live, which should still be available on iPlayer if you want to see where we’ve been.

After the aquarium we went for a scenic drive around the headland to Carmel, via a picnic at Lover’s Point (had to be done) and the famous 17 mile drive route. Jen did a bit of the driving and did really well considering she’d never driven a left hand drive car, outside the UK or an automatic previously, and our Challenger is twice the size of her Fiat 500!

Carmel was an interesting little town. It didn’t feel like we were in California, it reminded me of Costa Rica, it felt very hippyish. We had a lovely time wandering around and a tasty clam chowder for dinner.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 1: Coventry to Monterey

Jetting off

Jen and I got married on Saturday! Which means as well as spending the rest of my life with the girl I love, we have the perfect excuse to go on an awesome holiday and start our married life as we mean to continue.

Before I get onto the honeymoon, I’d like to say thank you to our friends and family, we have been humbled by their kindness and generosity and were so glad that they were able to share our special day with us.

California is a trip we have talked about for a long time and felt like we could treat ourselves for the honeymoon. We’ve hired a car (Dodge Challenger) and will be driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and back to San Francisco, where we will spend a few days in the city. As we are also hoping to fit in some surfing it is a similar format to our first holiday together- a road trip/city break in the Basque area of France and Spain, when we’d only been together for a matter of months.

We had a long day of travel to get from Coventry to Monterey – 20 hours door to door! My highlight being the decadent breakfast at Heathrow – pancakes, egg, bacon, sausage and a glass of Buck’s Fizz. Well, we are on honeymoon!

We were pretty tired on arrival in Monterey, but found the energy for a walk to Fisherman’s Wharf for a tasty dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants there.

MR2 Roadtrip Day 7: Home

MR2 back homeAfter enjoying the party in Scarborough our last stop was York, where we spend a lovely few hours catching up with friends, before pointing the MR2 back down the M1 towards Coventry.

Whilst the MR2 isn’t the best GT car, and in Jen’s opinion has nowhere near enough luggage space, I feel like it was worth the compromise. Driving wise I enjoyed this trip more than our previous trips to Scotland in my mk3.5 MX-5, the MR2 really came alive on the Scottish roads. It is now tucked up in its garage, waiting for the next road trip, or at least a blat round the local lane.

Total milage: 1,376.

 

 

MR2 Roadtrip Day 6: To Scarborough

MR2 on the North York Moors

Before we loaded up the MR2 for the first leg of our journey south, Jen wanted to take part in the Perth park run, a timed 5km race around the North Inch park, next to the River Tay. I went along to watch, and Jen put in a decent time.

After all that running (and watching) a treat was required, so our first stop was at S Luca’s ice cream parlour in Musselburgh- a favourite of my Dad from his youth, which is still great today! As ever, the detour was worth it!

Jen drive the second stint from Musselburgh, down the east coast on the A1 and across the border to England. This part of the country is often skipped by more direct routes, but looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine. I then took over for a double stint to get us to Scarborough, via the Tyne Tunnel, Teeside and the North York Moors, where the photo above was taken. Although not quite as impressive as the Scottish Moors, it was great to see the moors in the glorious weather we had yesterday. Much better than our previous visit in the MR2, where we could just about see the end of the bonnet. It was slightly disconcerting to see the sheer drop to the side of the road, which we hadn’t been able to see in the fog last time!

In Scarborough we met up with Jen’s family and celebrated her cousin’s 50th birthday at the local cricket club.

Distance so far: 1182 miles.

MR2 Roadtrip days 4 and 5: Back to Perth

Falkirk Wheel

After breakfast on day four we packed up the MR2 to return to Perth, on our way out of Wester Ross we stopped at Plockton, which despite being on the west of Scotland faces east, the sheltered location actually means that palm trees can grow and there were quite a few dotted around the village.

From Plockton we joined the A87 then A82, which we followed down to the Nevis Range near Fort William, the only Scottish ski hill I’d not previously visited. I was very impressed with the mountain bike facilities they offer, the lift served, red graded XC trail sounded particularly interesting – I need to bring my bike to Scotland in the future!

Next we met one of Jen’s friends for lunch before hitting the so called Scotsburgring around Loch Leven. The road around the loch used to be the main road, but has now been bypassed by a bridge, so I practically had the twisty road to myself. I was enjoying the road so much I didn’t get a chance to stop for a photo, somehow Jen managed to sleep through most of the lap too. If you’re even on the A82 between Glencoe and Fort William it is well worth taking the old road around the loch, if you enjoy driving you won’t be disappointed!

The traffic gods were on our side for the next bit of road, up Glencoe and over Rannoch Moor, we had a clear road and stunning views in front of us. We seemed to have used up all our luck with the traffic on the prettiest bit of road, as when we turned onto the A85 towards Perth we got stuck behind a succession of slow moving vehicles all the way to Perth, which was especially agonising as we knew there was a haggis supper waiting for us on arrival! It had been a long day on the road, and I’d even managed to get sunburnt, in Scotland, in April, but the haggis supper, washed down with a can of Irn Bru was a perfect end to the day!

Day five was a rest day in Perth, to spend time with my parents. The morning was pretty chilled out, we had a mooch around town, with tea and cakes at a new cafe in a furniture shop – much better than it sounds. After lunch, which was smoked salmon we’d brought back from Shieldaig, we all got into my Dad’s Mercedes convertible and went to a trip to the Falkirk Wheel. At least the MR2 was having a rest! The Falkirk Wheel was worth the journey, it is a rotating boat lift, linking two canals, which were previously linked with a flight of eleven locks. The structure itself is an impressive feat of engineering, standing 35m tall, meeting an aqueduct jutting out from the hillside. The land around the basin at the bottom of the lift has also benefited from redevelopment and was full of people enjoying the sunshine. Of course, they were offering boat trips to experience the lift and as we’d gone all the way there it would have been rude not to go on one! Going up the lift was good, but on the return journey it was surreal to be going along the aqueduct into what looked like thin air! Fortunately we didn’t sail over the edge and the lift deposited us safely back in the lower basin.

Total (MR2) distance: 920 miles.