Few road trips capture the spirit of America like the journey from Las Vegas to San Francisco. From the ultimate expression of consumerism to the stronghold of the counterculture, via the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, it’s a wild ride through the weird, the wonderful, and the awe-inspiring.
Car hire from Las Vegas is a hassle-free way to kick-start the road trip. It can be said that the city is a destination in its own right, with museums, a zoo, and other attractions, although when most people talk about visiting, they are thinking of the casinos and hotels on the Strip. Here you will find all that is kitschy, ornate, and over the top, whether it’s the dizzy heights of the Stratosphere or the fantasy Rome of Caesar’s Palace.
As an alternative to the interstate, why not take things slower and follow Highway 99, the Golden State Highway, through the San Joaquin Valley? You’ll encounter towns and cities like Modesto, home town of George Lucas and the inspiration for American Graffiti, state capital Sacramento, founded by pioneers and expanded during the Gold Rush, and Yuba City, known as the Prune Capital of the World.
Although this area contains many of the largest cities in California, it is also home to vast and majestic National Parks. Yosemite National Park boasts panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, along with glaciers, waterfalls, and an abundance of plant and animals life. Enter through the Wawona Tunnel with its granite walls for the show-stopping Tunnel View. Sequoia National Park, as the name suggests, is famous for its giant sequoias, including the huge General Sherman tree. Here you can visit the rock formations of the Crystal Cave, and drive through a tunnel carved in the trunk of a fallen tree.
Equally spectacular, although a complete contrast to the greenery of Sequoia and Yosemite, is the desert climate of Death Valley. Names like Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin belie the great beauty of this area. Camp out beneath the starry skies, or simply drive through in an air-conditioned car.
For man-made wonders, try Boron, home of the largest borax mine, and nearby Edwards Air Force Base, the centre for aerospace testing and research. The monthly tours of the base must be booked in advance, and there is also a museum to visit.
Few cities can offer as many famous landmarks as Los Angeles, from the iconic Hollywood sign to the Capitol Records Building. Drive around and you’re sure to recognise buildings galore from the world of film and TV. Take time out to visit Santa Monica, and chill on the beach or go hunting for celebrities.
From LA, it’s a drive along another historic highway, Route 101, to San Francisco. Follow in the footsteps of the Spanish missionaries who trod El Camino Real, and you’ll be rewarded with redwood forests, rugged mountains, and, at last, a drive over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Mellow San Francisco, with its cable cars, steep gradients, and mild climate, is the perfect end to your road trip. Check out the major sights, like Alcatraz, or simply wander through Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the city’s many green spaces.
Hitting the highway from Las Vegas to San Francisco lets you experience small town America, big town America, and all the places in between. Don’t forget to turn the radio on and play some country music.