Boulders & Boardwalks
This 15-day loop highlights the best of California, Arizona, and Nevada. Start and end in the glitzy city of LA and watch the world go by on Venice Beach. Explore palm grove oases near Palm Springs and pungent junipers, creosote bushes, smoke trees at Joshua Tree National Park. Hike under towering sandstone cliffs and explore multi-hued chasms in the Grand Canyon.
Bask in the bright lights of Las Vegas; take in a show and watch choreographed fountains. Feel the heat in Death Valley; walk on shimmering salt flats and shifting sand dunes. Hike stunning trails in Yosemite National Park passing plunging waterfalls and alpine meadows. Ride trams over vertiginous streets in San Francisco and enjoy hands-on museums. Visit arty Monterey, drive the jagged artistry of Big Sur and search for clams and sea caves in Pismo Beach.
This is a trip full of Giant Sequoias and deep thoughts.
- Flights: Flights from UK regional airports to Los Angeles (LAX)
- Transport: Car hire from airport pick-up to airport drop-off
- Accommodation: 15 nights in hotels, apartments and lodges
- Meals: Breakfasts where stated
- Trip Pack: Key family-friendly information about the country you are visiting with recommended activity links, places to eat and fun facts.
- Visit hip and happening Palm Springs with its nature trails and fan palm groves
- Explore desert landscapes and quirky trees in Joshua Tree National Park
- Discover one of the world's most majestic natural wonders at the Grand Canyon
- Enjoy neon lights, dancing fountains and spectacular shows in Las Vegas
- Feel the heat in Death Valley across shimmering salt flats and slot canyons
- Hike under towering granite cliffs, gushing waterfalls and wildflower meadows in Yosemite
- Explore San Francisco and the delights of Pier 39, Union Square, North Beach and Sausalito
- Drive the epic coastal Route 1 through Big Sur and Pismo Beach
- Rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty in LA
- When can we go? April to October
- What type of tour is it? Self-drive
- Who is it suitable for? For families with older children with a huge sense of adventure. For those that appreciate geology, desert landscapes and coastal living. For lovers of glitz & glamour and big city razzmatazz.
- What is the minimum age? We would recommend a minimum age of 10 years due to the distances travelled on this trip. Please be prepared for some long days of driving.
We publish ‘guideline prices’ for both the high and low season to give a reasonable estimate of what you might expect to pay per person based on a family of four (two adults, two children). To get an accurate price based on your estimated departure date and party size please contact us directly.
Guide Price: Apr to Oct - £1,998pp
Arrive on your flight from the UK and head to your accommodation near the beach. Get a good night’s rest - your all-American adventure starts in earnest tomorrow!
Today drive from LA to Palm Springs which will be your base for the night. Palm Springs emerged as a super-mod Hollywood escape in the ’50s. It’s now a little more hipster, a little less swinging ’60s but the awesome dry heat remains. There are film and music festivals, fabulous mid-century architecture, a world class dining scene plus hiking, horse riding and of course plenty of golf!
Just a few minutes from downtown there are desert preserves with a mind-boggling network of hiking trails passing natural springs and Californian fan palm groves. It’s the kind of dune-dotted, windswept landscape where you’d expect Lawrence of Arabia to ride past on a camel. See 50ft waterfalls tucked into the canyons and follow manicured walkways past desert lavender.
If you prefer to stay in town you could ride the aerial tramway, visit the air museum or just enjoy the boutique shops and trendy cafes.
Fun Facts: Old Hollywood's love affair with Palm Springs began when movie studios implemented a rule that actors must remain within two hours of the studio. The oasis was just within the two-hour limit and became a firm favourite for Hollywood celebrities
Optional Activities: Horse riding, aerial tramway, air museum
Boulders and buttresses, craggy mountains, gold mining graveyards, desert plains dotted with the oddball trees, Joshua Tree National Park is one weird place. It lies at an ecological crossroads, where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. The result is amazing desert landscape, including those wild-armed namesake trees which are actually a type of yucca.
Joshua Tree is an adventurous kid’s playground. Explore nature trails, go rock climbing, hike among giant boulders, walk among prickly cacti or discover Native American petroglyphs. There are a couple of excellent family-friendly hikes that we would highly recommend. Afterwards kick back to live music in legendary establishments. It is a 2½ hour drive late this afternoon to Lake Havasu, bizarrely home to the original London Bridge. Cool off with a dip in the lake or watch a spectacular desert sunset.
Fun Facts: Robert McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City, won the old London Bridge with a $2,460,000 bid in 1968. It was then transported and rebuilt piece by piece.
Optional Activities: Rock climbing
We would recommend stopping in Seligman on the way to the Grand Canyon to enjoy its famous ice cream stall before arriving at America’s most famous national park. Seeing the canyon for the first time is an astounding experience, its scale and majesty are truly mind-blowing. At more than one mile deep, it’s an inconceivable abyss that is home to towering cliffs, pine forests, gushing waterfalls and snaking rivers.
Strap on your hiking boots and hike to Ooh-Ahh Point for some inner-canyon splendour. Take it easy and let the kids hunt for fossilized marine creatures and animal tracks. Afterwards you could join a ranger’s program to learn about all things geology before visiting Hopi Point, Mohave Point or Powell Point for a sunset shot of the canyon.
The following day is yours to explore at your own pace. Go rafting on the Colorado River or ride a trusty mule into the canyon depths, visit a Native American arts and crafts centre or board a helicopter for truly out of this world views. End your day gazing at the stars and planets above on one of the free astronomy programs.
Fun Facts: Supai Village is located at the base of the Grand Canyon within the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Inaccessible by road and with a population of just 208, it is the most remote community in the lower 48 states, and is the only place where mail is still delivered by pack mule.
Optional Activities: Mule trekking, helicopter tour, white-water rafting
Make the 4-hour journey west this morning to Las Vegas. Las Vegas literally has everything you could ever want and more. From opulent casinos to dazzling circus shows, belt busting all you can eat buffets to perfectly choreographed dancing fountains and dare-devil theme parks to quirky museums. It is a city with a relentless, can-do attitude. It is extravagant and outrageous with absolutely zero kitsch control.
Lined with palatial casino hotels, the neon-soaked Strip is quintessential Las Vegas. Here you'll find Las Vegas' most iconic landmarks, including the Bellagio Fountains and The Venetian's Grand Canal. Away from the Strip, lies the revitalised arts district of Downtown, where neon lights still line the streets, but have a more retro, hipster appeal. For a truly unique view you can zip-line your way above these.
There is also an alternative side to Las Vegas for those looking for an all-together more relaxing experience. Just outside the city lies a technicolour whirl of sandstone bluffs and an array of hiking and horseback trails. Go kayaking on azure blue lakes or wallow in juniper, aspen and ponderosa pine under snow-capped mountains. Las Vegas will be your base for the next two nights.
Fun Facts: Vegas translates in Spanish as 'the meadows', after the natural spring water and wild grasses that used to grow here - both of which have long dried up.
Optional Activities: Vegas shows, zip-lining, kayaking, horse-riding, neon museum
Death Valley is an almost unfathomable place where harsh extremes are pretty much the norm. It is the country’s hottest and driest region, with temperatures rising well above 120 F° in the summer. But despite its ominous name this isn’t a barren and lifeless landscape. Look closely and you will see singing sand dunes, dancing boulders, water-sculpted canyons, lush oases harbouring tiny fish and vast fields of wildflowers.
Admire the vistas from Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point, travel the colourful Artists Drive, ride the shifting sand dunes, walk on shimmering salt flats 200ft below sea level, follow the boardwalks on the interpretive trail and hike through slot canyons with rolling white walls. Get the camera and kids ready to get some great perspective shots. As night falls make sure you glance up at the sky as this is a great place to spot a meteor shower.
Fun Facts: Death Valley was given its forbidding name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849-1850.
Optional Activities: Horse-riding
Today is a 3½ hour drive with epic mountain vistas towards Mammoth Lakes. This is one of the best drives in the whole of the U.S. skirting Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park and passing through the charming towns of Lone Pine, Independence and Bishop. Lone Pine has been the setting for many classic American Western movies plus newer films like Django. Head to the movie museum in town to browse the archives. We also would recommend a stop at the famous bakery in Bishop for some fabulous pastries!
Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the west, Mammoth Lakes is a mecca for serious outdoorsy folk. Hike and mountain bike through wildflowers in high alpine meadows, ride the gondola up the mountain and dip into natural hot springs. Mammoth Lakes has one of the top ranked bike parks in the U.S. Enjoy a craft beer and listen to bluegrass music during a summertime festival. You might also want to check out the 60ft basalt columns just outside town. Enjoy your overnight stay in the mountains.
Fun Facts: The Lone Pine Film Festival is held every October with real and faux cowboys, film stars, extras, and Western movie experts
Optional Activities: Mountain biking, movie museum
Yosemite is a tonic for the soul. It is in-your-face natural beauty; towering granite domes, plunging waterfalls, wildflower-filled meadows and snow-capped mountains. Drive into the heart of Yosemite National Park over the scenically spectacular Tioga Pass. Stop to hike in upland meadows framed by mountains or get out on the water for a swim or kayak across beautiful alpine lakes.
Once in the valley bottom, there are hiking options galore for all ages and abilities. Yosemite Valley with its vertical granite walls cocooned by emerald-green forest is where the parks ‘big guns’ are located. Enjoy the classic proportions of Half Dome, the epic monolith of El Capitan and the soaking mists of Yosemite Falls. Also keep an eye out for black bears, coyotes and chipmunks. For more adventure you could rent bikes and cycle through the valley or go rafting in the Merced River canyon. Stay overnight close to the park.
Fun Facts: El Capitan was named by Spanish soldiers after Ahwahneechee Chief Tenaya who was ultimately captured here. It is said to be the single largest piece of granite in the world.
Optional Activities: Mountain biking, rafting
Spend the majority of your day catching up with any activities you didn’t get the chance to experience yesterday. You could stare up in bewilderment at giant sequoias catapulting into the air in a one-square-mile grove that is home to over 500 trees, most famously the Grizzly Giant which stands at nearly 210ft. We would also highly recommend zip-lining in the Sierra National Forest for any families that would like to fly through the tree tops like Tarzan.
In the afternoon drive over to San Francisco which is around a 3-hour drive. After settling into your accommodation, we would recommend heading to the vibrant, lantern-bedecked streets of Chinatown for a delicious dim sum dinner. Alternatively treat yourselves to tickets for a San Francisco Giants baseball match and try your luck getting on the big screen.
Fun Facts: San Francisco has one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the U.S with a bustling maze of streets and alleys brimming with dim sum joints, herbalists, bakeries, souvenir shops and ornate temples.
Optional Activities: Zip-lining, Mariposa Grove
San Francisco is an eclectic mix of colourful neighbourhoods and one of the most family-friendly cities in the world. Start your day in Union Square, grab an iconic cable car and rattle over Nob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf, follow your ears (and nose) to the barking sea lions belly-flopping off Pier 39, take a memorable boat tour to notorious Alcatraz (aka The Rock), check out the otters in the aquarium then stop by the food trucks on Jones Street for fresh seafood chowder.
In the afternoon, rent bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge down to Sausalito with its colourful houseboats bobbing in the bay or let younger kids tinker in the Exploratorium, an ode to all things science. Head to the charmingly retro Musée Mecanique at Pier 45 then take a well-earned break for dinner at the Ferry Building Marketplace with its delicious downtown eats before taking a cling-clang back home. A perfect, action packed ‘city by the bay’ day.
Fun Facts: Alcatraz was once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al ‘Scarface’ Capone and the ‘Birdman’ Robert Stroud.
Optional Activities: Bike riding, Alcatraz tour, Exploratorium, aquarium, Musée Mecanique
Head two hours down the coast towards Monterey with its expertly restored adobe buildings. Monterey is all about fresh salty air, seafood and magnificent sunsets. It is the epitome of American can-do enthusiasm tempered with laid-back Californian charm. The rugged coastline is dotted with rocky outcrops, ghostly cypress trees and sandy beaches. Take an optional tour of the world-renowned aquarium. See stingray, jellyfish, sea otter, seals, sea lion and dolphins. Kids aged 8-13 can also join a scuba diving session.
Later in the day you could head out on an optional kayaking adventure across the bay. This is sure to be one of the highlights of the trip. If you’re lucky you will see sea lions and otters, and maybe a whale far off in the distance. Afterwards enjoy the top-notch restaurants, boutique wineries and fabulous shops in Monterey and nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Fun Facts: Carmel-by-the-Sea's one-square mile village is pretty unique. It boasts a ‘no high heels’ law and has no street addresses. Clint Eastwood was also once mayor.
Optional Activities: Monterey Bay aquarium, sea kayaking
It is a 3-hour drive from Monterey to Pismo Beach but be prepared to stop – many times! The road weaves through 235km of hill-hugging, redwood-shaded, lookout-etched, breathless scenery. Stop at Point Lobos State Reserve, see the colony of elephant seals or take a tour of an eclectic castle. Eventually the coastal hills open up to reveal the shimmering turquoise waters around Pismo Beach.
Pismo Beach is a town with a lot of history (mainly to do with clams!). Don’t miss the historic 1,200-foot-long Pismo Beach Pier. If you fancy a little more adventure then saddle up for horse riding through the dunes or go kayaking through dramatic sea caves tucked into the craggy coastline. You could also rent a “dune buggy” to ride the dunes.
Fun Facts: The Pismo Clam is one of the largest types found along the California Coast with the largest on record at almost 8 inches long. 150,000 people once sought out these clams in a single weekend, however due to hungry sea otters and over-fishing the numbers are now vastly reduced.
Optional Activities: Hearst Castle, dune buggie tour, beach horse-riding, sea cave kayaking
It is a 3 hour drive down the coast to Los Angeles. Take a break in the charming city of Santa Barbara nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains before arriving in the ‘City of Angels’. LA is quite literally bursting with creativity and fecundity. It’s museums and art galleries have an experimental edge; its neighbourhoods are vibrant and quirky and its beaches are full of eccentric boardwalk characters.
Our recommendations for this afternoon are to take a tour of the Sony Picture Studios to see where iconic films such as The Wizard of Oz were filmed before visiting Exposition Park with its giant museums such as the California Science Center, home to the retired Space Shuttle Endeavour or the Natural History Museum with its jaw-dropping Dinosaur Hall. Alternatively, head to the Griffith Park observatory for a close inspection of the Hollywood sign.
In the evening, head to Venice Beach for a dose of sea, sand and skateboarders before visiting the historic Santa Monica Pier to enjoy some “Riptide Ring Toss” and maybe a seafood dinner.
Fun Facts: Pacific Park, on the venerable Santa Monica Pier, re-creates the amusement parks once dotting the ocean areas along the Pacific Coast. Featured are 11 amusement rides including the 1910-vintage hand-carved merry-go-round appearing in the movie "The Sting."
Optional Activities: Studios tour, California Science Center, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Getty art museum, Griffith Park observatory
Depending on your flight time home you may be able to stroll down the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame or visit the Grauman's Chinese Theater before reluctantly heading to the airport for your flight back to the UK.
Optional Activities: Grauman's Chinese Theater
Wandering Tribe has travelled to all of the destinations that we feature and we like nothing better than talking about them. If you would like further information about these tours or a tailor-made quote then please contact us on 07392 742333. Alternatively you can fill in the contact form and we will endeavour to get back to you as soon as possible.