We completed the most amazing 2,629 mile road trip through California including a hop into Nevada and Arizona. Taking in iconic sites as we drove along the scenic Pacific Highway 1 to Monterey and Carmel, Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas and The Grand Canyon, before heading back to Los Angeles on Route 66.
We’d like to share the journey with you, including all the costs to complete the trip which we hope may inspire you to follow our route or some of it taking in some of the most outstanding natural beauty, iconic sites and scenery the USA has to offer. Please note we took the trip in 2019, so please consider this when looking at our costings as they may well have increased since then, but it should give you a guide at least.
Summary of the all important total cost for the trip (We’ll break these costs down within the blog for each leg of the journey)
Return Flights: £978
Car Hire: £267
Sightseeing Tickets: £144
Total Cost: £3074
Please Note: We have not included travel insurance in the total cost (as we have a worldwide policy because we will be travelling to other countries). Quotes for travel insurance our individual, you can find many companies offering reasonable rates online.
Trip Dates: 31st October to 15th November 2019
A few general tips about our costs:
Flights: These were booked with Norwegian Air who in our view are the best budget long haul flight provider at the moment. We paid £488 Gatwick to Los Angeles and £490 Los Angeles to Gatwick. Latest price for return flights Gatwick/Los Angeles (with 20kg hold luggage) in February as low as £770 return total cost for 2 people. Bargain! *** UPDATED 2022 – Unfortunately Norwegian Air are no longer flying long haul routes since the pandemic. Hopefully another company will take on a budget long haul option for us travellers!
Car Hire: We booked this really early when Car Rentals were offering up to 50% discounts. Great thing we found is that insurance is fully comprehensive and extra driver is free. Worry free car hire as they call it. Keep your eye out for the bargains!
Accommodation: Book as early as possible and always on free cancellation. We couldn’t find better prices than Booking.com and nearly all rooms can be booked and cancelled for free, giving us the opportunity to swap accommodation if a better deal comes up nearer the time, which quite often did. Sign up with them and after booking with them for a while you will gain genius status with regular offers of up to 15% discounts, free breakfast, room upgrades and cool stuff like that! We researched our motel rooms well, wanting the best prices but with good reviews on cleanliness, comfort and good bath/shower room, and decided against shared hostels, although we have nothing against them! All having a fridge, microwave and coffee maker, all had super huge comfy beds/pillows.
Petrol: We estimated we would spend £220 on fuel but ended up spending £310. We under estimated both the amount of miles we would do but more the cost per gallon in different locations (we assumed we would do 2500 miles but we in fact covered 2629) and the price of fuel ranged from $3.40 to $4.65 right up to $7.95 – which we had to pay in the Mojave Dessert when we nearly ran out – we won’t make that mistake again!
Sightseeing Tickets: One of the best purchases we made was the America The Beautiful Annual Pass. Costing us $80 for the year it gives you access to all the National Parks in America including Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Entry for many of the parks can be as much as $35 per car. We visited National Parks on 5 occasions each costing $35 dollars to enter (works out we would have spent $175 on entry fees – we saved $85 and have the pass for the rest of the year if we return). Obviously you’ll have to work out how many parks you are going to visit to see if its better value (Visit more than two and its a saving!).
Tip: Ask for the pass at the first National Park you visit (its not always visible on the charge board when you arrive at the park, so make sure you ask for it).
Our other sightseeing cost was a whale watching trip in Monterey. We paid full price as it was spur of the moment (as blue whales had been spotted earlier in the day) and we weren’t disappointed,we saw 4! You can often find Whale Watching Tickets cheaper bookable in advance on Groupon which we often use for deals.
Food: This deserves a mention as everyone will have different ideas about a food budget. We can only tell you about our needs. Our total food budget for the trip was £1050 and you will see that we only spent £520. Here’s how and why we only spent this much.
How we spent this amount: We purchased a fold up cool bag, bought most of our food from Walmart or other Delis and supermarkets on route and kept food cold with ice readily available from the motels. We also made sure we only booked a motel room that had a fridge and microwave. We only ate in restaurants 3 times, the rest of the time we made use of motel microwaves or made up our own picnic meals and ate overlooking beaches or canyons. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but we have travelled like this before, through Thailand, making our limited funds go further while always eating healthy (Julie saw to that). We can honestly say that we never felt hungry during the 16 days and we even managed to have at least 10 Starbucks coffees within our budget! We did have quite a few rotisserie chickens, quite a few microwaved potatoes, and along with tinned tuna and fish, bread, fruit, salad and yoghurt, we did ok.
Why we spent this amount: Simple really, to save money – which you get to spend on other things. As a result of the saving, we were able to pay for a further 7 nights accommodation in San Diego! From where I am presently writing this blog. It’s the only part of our budget where we could actually save money and our view is that if we have to go without a few treats of big meals in restaurants and breakfasts in Diners to allow us to see another city or location then its well worth it!
It won’t be everyone’s view and some people couldn’t manage it, but we are more than happy to give you advice or share our tips on this in greater detail. Just get in touch.
This is the route we took with accommodation at Camarillo, San Simeon, Monterey, Mariposa, Visalia, Ridgecrest, Las Vegas, Flagstaff and Barstow.
On route visiting Santa Barbara, Solvang, Cayucos, Elephant Seal View Point, Big Sur, Carmel by the Sea, Monterey Fishermans Wharf and Cannery Row, Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Suquoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, The Grand Canyon and Route 66.
We arrived at Los Angeles Airport at 4.30pm after a ten and a half hour flight from London with Norwegian Air costing £488 one way for 2 tickets.
Tip: We found seats 11E and 11F were good giving us more leg room at no extra cost!
Be prepared for 2 to 3 hours to get through security. We collected the hire car costing £267 for 15 days and headed off to our first nights accommodation at Camarillo, 55 minutes from Los Angeles Airport (Take the 405 North and 101 West).
1 night stay at Days Inn Camarillo priced at $58
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi
Left Days Inn Camarillo via Walmart Supermarket a couple of minutes way, stocked up with food provisions for next 2/3 days ($30).
Continued our journey towards San Simeon on route 101 North.
1st stop Santa Barbara for a picnic lunch (nice beach, long walkways, free parking, picnic areas and BBQ’s).
2nd stop Solvang (pretty Danish village).
At Los Alamos we took Route 135 and then shortly after Highway 1 North
3rd Stop Cayucos – a pretty beach side village, nice shops, restaurants and cafes. Coffee from Cayucos Gas Mini Mart (2 coffees a bargain at $4) we watched the sunset on the pier
Arrived San Simeon at 6.30pm
2 night stay at Courtesy Inn San Simeon priced at $101
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Directly across the road from the beach, a Restaurant Next Door
Day exploring the San Simeon area on Highway 1.
1st stop Elephant Seal Beach view point.
2nd stop San Simeon William R. Hearst state beach for picnic lunch (nice beach and picnic area overlooking the ocean).
3rd stop spotted the elusive roaming Zebras grazing in a field close to San Simeon.
4th stop Cambria (Moonstone beach boardwalk) and then into town for good coffee at Cambria Coffee Roasting Company ($4) and food provisions at Cookie Crock Supermarket on the edge of town ($6)
Back to San Simeon to watch an awesome sunset.
Tip: Walk across Highway 1 from the motel and down to the beach to the left is a small park area with fire pits and seating in front of Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, the fire pits were all lit at night while we were there, a great place to sit and watch the sunset!
Left Courtesy Inn San Simeon at 8.30am taking Highway 1 North.
Lots of stunning scenery and view points all the way along the route (including Big Sur and Bixby Creek Bridge). Filled up with fuel on route at Gorda ($40).
Arrived Monterey at 2.30pm
2 hours free parking on some sidewalks Monday to Saturday. Free parking on most sidewalks all day Sunday!
Walked to Fishermans Wharf.
Tip: Make sure you take advantage of some of the endless little pots of Clam Chowder restaurants give away along the pier.
Took the boardwalk to Cannery Row for Starbucks Coffee ($8).
Drove to Wholefoods Supermarket at Del Monte Center for provisions ($8).
Checked in to motel.
2 night stay at Pelican Inn Monterey priced at $110
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Good location for Highway 1 and downtown (1 mile from Fishermans Wharf and 500 metres from Wholefoods Supermarket
Day exploring the Monterey and Carmel area.
1st stop Carmel by the Sea (beautiful beach with views of Pebble Beach Golf Resort and the village centre is lined with boutique shops and cafes).
Back to Monterey and parked at Downtown East Parking Lot (Great price – $7 for the day)
2nd stop Fishermans Wharf – Whale watching trip with Monterey Whale Watching ($100 for two tickets + $2 coffee on board).
Review: Brilliant! Big Boats, Really Friendly Knowledgeable Staff, Snack Bar On Board, Free Trip if No Whale Sightings (We saw Blue Whales and Humpbacks!).
Tip: If you are travelling out of season as we were, consider booking on the day and doing the midday trip (if you head down to the Wharf an hour before around 11am you can check if they have seen whales in the morning) also be aware that out of season they sometimes don’t have a trip in the late afternoon due to lack of customers.
3rd stop Fishermans Wharf for lunch at Scales Takeaway – Clam Chowder and Burgers ($27), Good food, seating outside, great place to people watch too!
4th stop Along Sunset Drive – Take the beach front drive from the top of Cannery Row down to Asilomar State Beach (Great sunset!).
Tip: We considered doing 17 mile drive, but after researching it seemed like we’d just see views available on Sunset Drive and Highway 1. Saving us the $10 fee too which paid for our next Starbucks!
Left Pelican Inn Monterey at 8.30am heading for Yosemite National Park taking Highway 1 to Watsonville, 129 to River Oaks, 101 to Gilroy, 152 towards Fairmead, 59 to Merced and the 140 to Mariposa.
1st stop Gilroy to fill up with fuel ($37) and Walmart Superstore for provisions ($30).
2nd stop Yosemite National Park Entrance arrived at 2pm.
Purchased an America The Beautiful Pass ($80). Giving access to all National Parks in America for 12 months including Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Grand Canyon.
Took in the stunning scenery, lovely walks and watched the sunset before heading out of the park to our motel at Mariposa (1 hour drive from the park entrance).
2 night stay at Miners Inn Mariposa priced at $182
Review: Breakfast Included, Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi, Well Priced Accommodation For The Area
A full day in Yosemite National Park (free entry due to purchasing the annual pass).
Walked the El Capitan trail and the hike up to Vernal and Nevada waterfalls at the other end of the park.
Picnic lunch at one of the most scenic part of the valley (along Ahwahnee Drive).
Left the valley at 2pm for the 1 hour drive up to Glacier Point to watch the sunset.
Stopped back down in the valley at El Capitan to watch the climbers on the wall at night (a very unusual experience).
Back to Mariposa and headed to the best Taco Truck in town for supper ($15)
Left Miners Inn Mariposa at 9am heading for Kings Canyon National Park taking the 49 South to Oakhurst, 41 South to Fresno and the 180 to Kings Canyon.
1st stop Mariposa town to fill up with fuel ($45) and Pioneer supermarket for provisions ($11).
2nd stop Kings Canyon National Park (free entry due to purchasing the annual pass) arrived at 1pm.
Tip: Make sure you have plenty of fuel for the trips in to the National Parks as there are no fuel stations in the park and the roads are slow, long and elevated.
Took the 180 around to Junction View for great views down to the Canyon and then drove to the car park at Kings Canyon Visitor Centre and took the footpath walk to The General Grant Tree (3rd largest tree in the world). Coffee back at the visitor centre ($3).
Headed to our motel in Visalia (great sunset drive on the way out of the park).
2 night stay at Lamp Liter Inn Visalia priced at $172
Review: Comfortable Bed, Nice and Clean, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi
Took the 45 minute drive from Visalia taking the 198 West to Sequoia National Park (free entry due to purchasing the annual pass).
Visited the Giant Forest.
Walked the Congress Trail to see the largest tree in the world (General Sherman).
Walked the Moro Rock Trail.
Walked the Big Trees Trail.
Fantastic sunset views on the drive back down Highway 198.
Back to Visalia and headed to Walmart for provisions ($23)
Left Lamp Liter Inn Visalia at 10am heading for Ridgecrest taking the 99 South to Bakersfield, 58 to Mojave and the 14 North to Ridgecrest passing Red Rock Canyon State Park.
1st stop Visalia town to fill up with fuel ($50).
2nd stop Red Rock Canyon State Park – location for many famous films including The Mummy, Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park and many westerns including The Outlaw.
Continued on to Ridgecrest for Starbucks coffee ($8) and then to our motel.
1 night stay at Hotel Europa Ridgecrest priced at $48
Review: Please avoid this motel as it is very poorly maintained and we would NOT recommend it! Only good thing about it was that it had a washing machine and dryer – laundry done ($4)
Left Hotel Europa Ridgecrest at 9.30am heading for Las Vegas taking the 395 South, 58 West to Barstow and the 15 to Las Vegas.
1st stop Barstow to fill up with fuel ($25) and for Starbucks Coffee ($8).
2nd stop Las Vegas – arrived at 2.30pm – Took the iconic drive up and down the length of the strip and parked up for the all important photo at the “Welcome to Vegas” sign before checking in to our hotel. Walked from the hotel to the Bellagio Fountains and central strip area (just a 10/15 minute walk from the hotel).
Returned to the Ellis Hotel Casino and Bar for our complimentary beer, followed by fabulous steaks at the Ellis Island Restaurant ($47)
2 night stay at Ellis Island Hotel Las Vegas priced at $139
Review: Excellent hotel and highly recommended, great price, very central (less than 15 minutes walk to the Belagio Fountains), great restaurant serving really well priced and great food, really friendly little casino, free beer on arrival, free hot drinks in reception, really well maintained clean rooms, lots of free parking and free good wifi
Spent the full day in Las Vegas.
Walked to All The Main Themed Hotels including New York New York, The Bellagio, Caesars Palace, The Venetian and Paris.
Stopped for expensive Starbucks Coffee overlooking the Bellagio fountains ($11)
Watched the Volcano Erupting at The Mirage and the Fountains at the Bellagio after dark.
Walked back to Ellis Island Restaurant for fabulous salmon and burgers ($35)
Left Ellis Island Hotel Las Vegas at 10.30am heading for Flagstaff taking the 93 South via the Hoover Dam, at Kingman taking Route 66 to Ash Fork and the 40 to Flagstaff.
1st stop the Hoover Dam and Boulder Dam Bridge.
Tip: As you enter the Hoover Dam there is a multi story car park charging $10, if you don’t mind a few minutes walk continue driving across the dam and follow the road up the hill and you will find 3 or 4 FREE car parks.
At Kingman we had Starbucks Coffee ($8) before taking a slight detour off Route 40 on to Route 66.
Arriving at Flagstaff at 8.15pm. Filled up with petrol ($30) and provisions at Walmart ($34)
2 night stay at Budget Inn Flagstaff priced at $91
Review: Comfortable Bed, Clean, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Good Wifi
Left Flagstaff at 8.45am for the Grand Canyon National Park taking the 180 North and the 64 North, beautiful drive! Arrived at the Grand Canyon Village at 10.30am. (free entry due to purchasing the annual pass).
Spent the full day at the Grand Canyon South Rim. Coffee ($9)
Walked the South Rim Trail and watched the sunset at the Canyon.
Back to Flagstaff and headed for Taco Bell takeaway which was an extremely poor meal ($10)
Left Flagstaff at 8.45am for Barstow taking Route 66 and Route 40 West (350 mile drive!)
Took the iconic drive along Route 66 for 100 miles (Ash Fork to Kingman). Stopped for Starbucks Coffee at Kingman ($9)
Tip: Make sure you have plenty of fuel when you leave Kingman. As the fuel stations from Kingman to Barstow are really expensive (double the price!) We found out the hard way! ($35) for less than half a tank.
Arrived at Barstow at 4pm. Checked in to our motel for the night.
1 night stay at Economy Inn Barstow priced at $45
Review: In Need Of Refurbishment, Comfortable Bed, Coffee in Reception, Free Parking, Free Wifi. Wouldn’t really recommend it unless it was much cheaper than anything else in Barstow.
Left Barstow at 9am for the Los Angeles Observatory taking Route 15 South, Route 10 West and Route 5 North arriving at 11.30am.
As we were a little short of time as we had to get the hire car back to the airport we paid ($10) to park in the Observatory Car Park.
Tip: If you have time and don’t mind a 20 minute up hill walk you can park for free at the Greek Theatre car park, the car park will be closed though if there is a show on.
Left for the airport at 2pm taking Route 5 South, Route 10 West and the 405 South to the Airport, dropping the hire car off at 3.30pm.
Total Miles Driven: 2629
Total Cost of Trip: £3074 ($3843 USD)
Trip Highlights: Highway 1, Solvang, Elephant Seal Beach, Big Sur, Monterey and Carmel, Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Route 66
Trip Dates: 31st October to 15th November 2019
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