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Road Trip Itinerary – Southwest USA

September saw us head off on our road trip to America’s South West. I’ve written a little bit about what we did in our starting city of San Francisco, but here I’m going to share our road trip itinerary and how we planned it.

Death Valley National Park

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We went with friends, coincidentally another Mr and Mrs Jones, so there were four of us and four different wish lists. We started with a map and wine. Wine is always a good place to start.

After agreeing on a do-able radius we all pitched in with an orange marker pen and circled our ‘must sees’. From there it was just a case of joining up the dots. Well, sort of.

Planning a US Road Trip

All four of us work full-time so we had just two weeks for our trip and we decided to travel the middle two weeks in September. The weather wouldn’t be too hot and the kids would be back at school so hotel availability would be good.

So with our dates agreed we booked our flights – flying into San Francisco and out through Phoenix two weeks later.  We booked our car through a car hire comparison site to get the best deal.

>>> Click here to compare prices for car hire

After booking our flights we booked a hotel in San Francisco for our three nights in the city. That was a good move because there was a convention on when we arrived and room costs rocketed as availability was tight. Despite booking well ahead, these were the most expensive rooms of our trip. The views from the 46th floor of San Francisco Hilton Union Square made up for the cost a little bit.

>>>Check hotel rates and availability in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge from Presidio
The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

And that was it. That was all we had booked in advance. Flights, car hire and our first three nights accommodation. We also had a rough idea of where we wanted to go.

The rest of our accommodation was booked en route or on arrival. Isn’t that what road trips are all about? The freedom to stay a little longer if we really liked somewhere or to take off if we didn’t. It worked perfectly.

We didn’t use Sat Nav – we took our good old-fashioned map, which was covered in even more scribbles by the end of the trip and actually makes a great souvenir.

Our Road Trip Itinerary – South West USA

Days 1 – 3 (3 nights) – San Francisco

We flew into San Francisco and spent three days in the city. Sightseeing included Alcatraz, Biking the Bridge with Blazing Saddles Bike Co and exploring the city’s neighbourhoods of North Beach, China Town and Fisherman’s Wharf.

On day three we picked up our hire car for the first driving leg of our trip. The 133-mile drive to Monterey Bay along the Pacific Coast Highway taking in some stunning coastal views en route.

Pacific Coast Highway, California
Views along the Pacific Coast Highway

Days 3 – 6 (3 nights) – Monterey Bay

We arrived in Monterey Bay around 16:30 pm and didn’t have to look too far for a hotel. Hotel Abrego is just ten minutes walk from Fisherman’s Wharf with a small pool and hot tub. Walk-in rates were $119 per room night plus tax – worth noting this was much cheaper than the online cost.

>>>Check rates and availability for Hotel Abrego

We checked out Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the harbour seals and wildlife in the bay but it was in Monterey Bay that I experienced the highlight of our whole road trip. Monterey Bay Whale Watching was just epic.

More to come on that shortly. We also took the 17-mile drive through the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course with it’s gorgeous coastal views carrying on the drive through Carmel-by-the-Sea, over Bixby Bridge down to Big Sur. Next we headed inland to Oakhurst…

Humpback Whale Tail Fin
Whale watching in Monterey Bay

Day 6 – 8 (2 nights) Oakhurst

Oakhurst was our base for our visit to Yosemite and we booked this over the phone on our last night in Monterey. There’s not a lot to see in Oakhurst – although there was a fabulous bar (or dive bar as the locals referred to it) right next door to our rooms called the Dirty Donkey.

Mel, the barmaid, with her cigarettes and rum accent was the most ‘to the point’ person I’ve ever met. We had huge fun in that bar and more than a few games of pool. We arrived late and spent the next day at Yosemite and set off again the next day en route to Death Valley which is one of the best places to see in California

Day 8 – 9 (1 night) Lone Pine

After a day’s driving through some beautiful countryside, we arrived at Lone Pine, on the edge of Death Valley, at around 5 pm. There’s no shortage of motels and a nice looking Art Deco hotel in the town but needing two rooms meant we didn’t get our first choice here.

Lone Pine is a bit of a cowboy town with a few restaurants and a saloon bar or two (with proper swinging saloon bar doors). We had some great food here and an amazing breakfast which set us up perfectly for our drive through Death Valley.

>>>Check hotel rates and availability in Lone Pine

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park

Day 9 -12 (3 nights) Las Vegas

Would we still be alive at the end of the day after driving through Death Valley en route to Las Vegas? We’d heard stories – “check your tire pressure – they might explode in the heat”. “Turn your AC off – the engine will overheat”.

We were actually a little nervous – but no need to be because we emerged on the other side unscathed. Temperatures reached a high of 108 degrees. We took a fairly direct route through the Valley and stopped off at a couple of sights as we wanted to be in Vegas before nightfall.

>>>Check hotel rates and availability in Las Vegas

Las Vegas at Night
Las Vegas – The Strip

In Vegas we wanted to relax and have a bit of pool time which we did at the Monte Carlo hotel for three nights.

We did some sightseeing too – The Stratosphere, The Mob Museum, The Strip and the Freemont Experience in downtown Vegas as well as checking out some of the hotels. We also saw a show Cirque du Soleil ‘Love’ the Beatles themed show which was fab.

Day 12 – 13 (1 night) Seligman and Route 66

We left Vegas early morning and stopped off at The Hoover Dam, just a 45-minute drive away. Our next stop was the West Rim of the Grand Canyon and after that we wanted to get to Sedona and spend our final three nights there and possibly one night in Phoenix.

Things don’t always go to plan and we spent a lot longer than planned at The Hoover Dam as it was so interesting and then the drive to the Grand Canyon took longer than anticipated.

We realised that we weren’t going to make it to Sedona before nightfall and decided to stop in the next small town – Seligman. What a stroke of luck!

The whole trip had started with the idea of driving a bit of Route 66 (because the other Mrs Jones was born in 1966) and it turned out that Seligman was located on a stretch of the original Mother Road.

It’s also the town where Billy Connolly stayed when he filmed his Route 66 trip and Radiator Springs, the town in the Pixar film ‘Cars’, was based on Seligman.

We pulled up at the first motel we saw at around 6 pm and got two rooms without any trouble for $68 plus tax per night including breakfast. Ours was the John Wayne themed room and our friends got the Vegas honeymoon suite! This also turned out to be the motel where Connolly stayed on his trip. The quirkiest stop on our road trip by far with kicks and kitsch on Route 66.

>>> Check hotel rates and availability in Seligman

Seligman on Route 66
Seligman, Arizona

Day 13 – 14 (1 night) Sedona

Our final night was spent in Sedona, land of red rocks, spirituality and vortexes. We stopped at tourist information on the way into town who directed us to Cedars Resort where we negotiated rates and got rooms with fantastic views.

We found throughout our trip that we could get better rates by turning up or phoning and negotiating directly with the hotel/motel but some people might not be comfortable with this.

We spent our first afternoon in Sedona relaxing by the pool and the second day explored the red rocks and vortexes of the area before driving down to Phoenix for our flight home.

>>>Check hotel rates and availability in Sedona

Red Rocks Sedona
The red rocks of Sedona

So, that’s our American road trip South West itinerary. Have you been on a US road trip? How did you plan your route – did you wing it like us in true road trip style or did you plan meticulously? Either way, let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear your advice.

Read more about our South West USA Road Trips stops:

What to see and do in San Francisco

San Francisco Highs at Coit Tower

Biking the Golden Gate Bridge

Whale Watching in Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay in a Day

How to get the most out of a day in Yosemite

Driving Death Valley

What to do in Las Vegas if you’re just not into Gambling

Beyond Vegas – Visit to Hoover Dam

Beyond Vegas – A Visit to the Valley of Fire

Vegas Kitsch and the Neon Boneyard

Grand Canyon West Rim Views

Seligman Kitsch and Kicks on Route 66 

Sedona – Red Hued Views and Vortexes


Road Trip Itinerary through South West America


Tuesday 19th of January 2016

Pics like this only reinforce why I love the western portion of North America … wide open spaces are heaven to me!

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

The landscape is incredible - I love this part of the world too

Asmita Kale

Wednesday 25th of November 2015

Fabulous itinerary I must say, dear Suzanne Jones. The places in your list along with the splendid pictures depicts the beauty of it. Anybody planning a similar trip can benefit a lot from your plan. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 25th of November 2015

thank you Asmita, I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

Johanna Bradley

Saturday 14th of November 2015

I love your wine, a map and a pen planning method, Suze :) it all sounds fabulous! Who doesn't want to drive that coast, and visit Yosemite? Sigh! :) :)

Suzanne Jones

Saturday 14th of November 2015

It's a no fail Jo - that map was never going to run out of battery or lose it's signal!!

Bridget @ A Traveling B

Thursday 12th of November 2015

Amazing itinerary, Suzanne! The Southwest part of the country is one of the prettiest areas. I did the Arizona circuit with my family years ago and fell in love with Sedona! I cannot wait to read your future posts on it. It is embarassing to admit, but I have never been to San Francisco and Yosemite - TOP of my US list at the moment! Can't wait to read more!

Suzanne Jones

Thursday 12th of November 2015

Thanks Bridget - I want to go back and see it all over again already! I hope you get to both very soon...


Tuesday 10th of November 2015

Sounds fabulous (and makes me desperate to go back and visit Yosemite!) – I'm a bit more of a planner, I like the idea of winging it but also like searching out some really amazing places to stay, might have to combine booking a few things and winging the rest as a bit of a halfway house next time!

Suzanne Jones

Wednesday 11th of November 2015

Yosemite was so beautiful - I need to go back! It's all down to personal preference in the end - it was good to have the freedom to move on when we wanted but at times it's good to know where you'll be staying each night :)

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