Category Archives: Route 66 Holidays

Fourth of July – why all the fuss?

Theresa Wilson is Bon Voyage’s resident Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Here she shares her perspective on the Fourth of July holiday……..

Happy Birthday, America!

I’ve now lived in England for 25 years and have fully embraced my adopted country.  But if there is one time I really do long to be home it’s the first part of July and all of the Fourth celebrations.

 On the whole, Americans are a patriotic bunch – we fly flags from our front porches; we thank our military for their service; we wear eagle and flag embossed clothing year-round, but give us a holiday where the entire point is patriotism and stand back.  Parades, fireworks, family gatherings, BBQs, picnics, baseball – God Bless America! 

It’s a tough one for those of us split between two countries.  On one hand, we’re celebrating the birth of a nation – on the other, we’re celebrating freedom from British rule.  I have a British husband, so you can imagine the jokes that fly around our family!  But I believe that both countries have huge amounts of respect and interest in each other.  Back in 1776, it was time to end the American Revolution and let the original colonies be independent. Although the war went on for another seven years, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from Great Britain’s rule.  The Declaration of Independence was ratified on the fourth.  There is some historical debate on whether that is true, but no alternate theories here – the 4th of July is America’s Independence Day! 

As a child, it represented the first big weekend of summer.  Schools typically break up in the USA between the end of May and mid-June, so summer activities were in full flow, but everything stopped for the 4th of July.  Depending on when it fell, either the weekend before or after would be packed with family fun.  We were always involved with the local parade which included the whole community.  If you weren’t in the parade you lined the street waving flags, hoping to grab a treat that might be thrown from a marcher!  Then it was on to a good old family style BBQ.  Burgers, hotdogs and corn on the cob straight off the grill. I honestly dream about that corn – fresh from Midwest fields, dripping in butter. It’s as much a part of my Fourth of July as waving flags and sparklers!

Fourth of July as waving flags and sparklers

Evening Events

This brings me to evening events.  We’d all gather at the appointed family members’ home for an evening of backyard games, more food and ultimately fireworks.  Invariably, we’d fire a few rounds of our own that an uncle brought from a local stand while all the kids always ran around the garden with lighted sticks actively spewing sparks.  Of course, one of us would either be afraid and drop the ignited stick on the ground or get burned while the adults continued lighting roman candles and keeping fingers crossed that nothing flew over the neighbour’s fence!  It was the 1970s,  so don’t judge!  Then it was time for proper pyrotechnics!  Some years we’d watch local displays from the comfort of our own lounge chairs in the yard.  Other years, we braved traffic and crowds for an amazing vantage point along Lake Michigan.

Family Reunion

Reunion

In my adult years, our family would undertake a huge reunion every other Fourth of July and religiously those of us who no longer resided in Wisconsin would flock home.  Ultimately, the Fourth of July is as much about celebrating family and friends and summer as it is about celebrating America’s birthday.  Don’t get me wrong – there is always a red, white and blue cake, but it’s more than just being American – it’s about the people we love, what we appreciate about living in a democracy and what we are thankful for. That’s Thanksgiving too, but one holiday at a time!  The funny thing is – every American I know loves all things British.  The Queen, Buckingham Palace, the accents, the pomp and circumstance…the list goes on.  The more I think about it, the more I realise – the Fourth of July today has very little to do with celebrating our break from Britain and more to do with bringing a nation together to honour where we came from and think about where we’re going.  Like any country, we’ve got our issues, but hopefully we’ll reflect, regroup and re-emerge stronger than ever.

I know I will be with my family in spirit and chances are I will wear stars and stripes to the office on the 4th. You can take the girl out of America…..

Theresa Wilson Celebrating 4th July
Theresa Wilson

Six Women, Six States, Six Days

Led by our resident American, Theresa Wilson and Sales Manager, Joanna Still, the Bon Voyage Six set off on a 1,000-mile familiarisation trip. 

Individual members of the Bon Voyage sales team travel throughout the year to the US and Canada on visits organised by state and province tourist offices.  But the ‘Big Daddy’ is our own annual blitz to take in as much territory as we can usefully cover.  We flew from London Heathrow to Nashville on the new British Airways non-stop service and were lucky enough to sample the delights of Club Class. This is THE way to start and/or finish a Transatlantic holiday and if you pick the right time to book (we’ll guide you on this) it doesn’t have to break the bank.  We needed a little flat-bed comfort because this was going to be anything but a holiday. Our aims? To site-inspect 29 hotels, check out new attractions, understand local geography and transportation and of course sample the food and entertainment!  (We have a policy that we never recommend a customer to a hotel we wouldn’t stay at ourselves, and to say we have become picky over the years would be an understatement.) 

Nashville on a balmy Saturday evening was buzzing.  The senses are assaulted by the neon signs, honky-tonk bars and music clubs of Broadway, the heart and soul of the action between First and Fifth Avenues.  One innovation we saw is the pedal bar which is a moving pub crawl with about a dozen riders enjoying a boozy tour of the neighbourhood.  We took in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a Nashville legend for over 50 years and where Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and a host of others made their names.  By that time our beds were calling us.  

Nashville is known as Music City and really does have a country music style for everyone. Sunday highlights were Studio B, (who can resist sitting at the same piano Elvis once sang at), The Country Music Hall of Fame and of course the world-renowned Grand Ole Opry.  We ate at the legendary Sun Diner, where the walls are lined with photos of stars who went there after a night of recording. We scoffed our ‘Jonny B Good’ egg flatbreads and ‘Love me’ Tenders while wallowing in the nostalgia of a bygone era.

Then we hit the road to visit nearby Franklin.  This cutesy town is lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques and now has quite the reputation for an ‘Off Nashville’ music scene. Just to challenge ourselves some more on the mileage front we drove part of the Scenic Natchez Byway and were treated to lovely countryside views.  We were too early for the Fall colours but it is a spectacular show once an Autumn frost descends upon the route. Then it was on to Tupelo and a visit to Elvis Presley’s birthplace. A very modest two room building, housing some original items, most notably a picture of Elvis and his parents hanging over the fireplace. The birthplace and interpretive centre are definitely worth the stop for any Elvis fan; a true ‘hair on the back of the neck’ experience for some of us.

Day 3 saw an early start to Memphis and check-in at the majestic Peabody Hotel where yes, there really are ducks in the lobby. Whether its music or history that draws you to this city it doesn’t disappoint.   We couldn’t visit Memphis without another ‘Elvis Event’, a tour of his Graceland home. This was my second visit to the mansion, but I was just as teary-eyed this time as last. We were extremely impressed with the new entertainment and exhibition complex opened in 2018 by Priscilla Presley. The mammoth new ‘Elvis Presley’s Memphis’ houses a showcase of cars he owned and used, a soundstage, two restaurants and retail stores, artefacts from Lisa Marie’s childhood and of course those dazzling suits.

A new experience for me was the Arcade restaurant, one of Elvis’s favourite diners. Get there when it opens at 7am and you can sit in Elvis’s booth. The restaurant is just a short walk from the Civil Rights Museum where the Loraine Motel stands. We walked around the site prior to breakfast; the sun was rising as we reflected on the events of 4th April 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated at this very spot.

‘The Six’ all agreed that our favourite activity in Memphis was the Rockabilly Rides tour. Founded by two Beale Street entertainers who really know their Memphis music history, we were taken on a journey into Rock ‘n’ Roll history while exploring the city streets in style.  Our ride was a 1955 Chevy Bel Air while other options include a 1959 Ford Skyliner and a 1956 Chrysler Imperial.  We never felt cooler!

By day four we were on to our 5th state of the visit.  There was Tennessee, of course and Mississippi with Alabama clipped along the way, then the tip of Arkansas before we settled into our journey north and into Missouri on Interstate 55.  St Louis was our destination and as we drove towards the city there was a collective gasp at the first sighting of the Gateway Arch. Opened in 1967 as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States, at 630 feet it’s the tallest man-made monument in the western hemisphere.  You travel by a tram within the arch and if you’re not impressed by this engineering and architectural wonder you will be by the views from the observation platform as you gaze 30-miles across the Mississippi River to the East and the heart of St Louis to the West.

The Gateway Arch, St Louis
The Gateway Arch, St Louis

St Louis is also home to Forest Park, with its 1,400 acres of walking, running and cycling trails.  Steeped in history the beautiful park was opened in 1876 and hosted the Olympic Games of 1904.  As a footnote at those Games 651 athletes competed; 645 men and 6 women.  Six women!  It had to be a sign – a sign that we needed a cocktail at the end of another busy day.

So many of our clients want to experience the kicks and kitsch of Route 66 that it was essential to take in just a part of the Mother Road before our final city stay, Chicago.  On the morning of day 6 we took in Springfield and Pontiac. Pontiac is captivating with vibrant murals and reminders of Route 66 of old, whilst Springfield is a history buffs delight, home to an authentic collection of Abraham Lincoln sites that let you ‘step back in time to walk in the legendary president’s footsteps.’

Chicago North Avenue Beach Ariel
Chicago North Avenue Beach Ariel

Chicago is a favourite in the BV office, and a city that you can visit time and time again. Famed for lakes, beaches, culinary delights and theatre shows to rival those of Broadway, Chicago has been voted Americans favourite vacation city.  The upsurge in interest in Route 66 has enabled us to showcase Chicago as the great visitor experience it truly is. 

Whilst in Chicago we were spoilt with a stay at the swanky Viceroy Chicago Hotel in the ritzy Gold Coast neighbourhood. Voted #1 hotel in Chicago by Conde Nast readers in 2018, it is an elegant mix of vintage and contemporary, and the panoramic lake and skyscraper views from the rooftop pool added a touch of magic to our stay.

Talking of city skylines, Chicago is an architectural mecca and home to iconic buildings such as the John Hancock Centre, Willis Tower and Tribune Tower. We were brave enough to take the ‘tilt challenge’ at the 360 John Hancock, suspended on a glass platform over 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile.  It is certainly a novel way to see Chicago and received the thumbs up from us all once we’d done it!

After all that sightseeing Navy Pier, 50-acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants and family attractions, beckoned us for a last Margherita and deep-dish pizza.  Chicago and its residents ooze a self-assured confidence and you don’t need to be in this city for long to understand why its residents are so proud of where they live.

So, there you have it, our BV road trip in a nutshell. Quite frankly the highlights are too many to mention and we loved every second of our adventure.

Top 10 Route 66 Attractions for the Ultimate Road Trip

U.S. Route 66, the Will Rogers Highway or the Mother Road, whatever you choose to call it, it’s the ULTIMATE American road trip. Established in 1926, RT 66 was a major road for people driving between Chicago, California and the many states in between, covering 2448 miles in total.

Whilst the Route 66 no longer serves the same purpose (it has since been replaced as a major route by the U.S. Interstate Highway System), it makes for a fantastic road trip. And some of the original road can be re-traced today, so you can follow in the tyre tracks of those who made the road famous.

At Bon Voyage we have helped many people make this trip unforgettable. Here’s 10 Route 66 attractions you have to do on your fly drive holiday:

 

  1. Enjoy the views across Chicago from the Willis Tower Skydeck. Chicago is a classic place to start your Route 66 adventure. Recover from your 9+ hour from London before hitting the road and enjoy a full day in the buzzing city. Once you’ve seen the views from the ground level, head up the Willis Tower to the look over the city from the 103rd floor. The Skydeck boasts a Ledge which stretches out 4.3 feet from the building, complete with a transparent floor so you can see right down to the street below. Probably not one for those who are scared of heights!Willis Tower Sky Deck
  1. Cross the historic Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge. Next on your RT 66 road trip is a cross into St. Louis, Missouri over the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge. St Louis boasts some super cool diners, and there’s also another chance to view the sights from above by taking a lift to the top of the Gateway Arch, giving you spectacular views of the Mississippi River.Martin Luther King Bridge st louis

 

  1. Get your music fix in “The Live Music Entertainment Capital of the World”. Whilst your journey takes you through Missouri, you may wish to take a pit stop in Branson to catch some live music or a show. You’ll be met with a whole host of theatres, pubs and music halls, plus many attractions, including the Branson Scenic Railway and Branson Zipline.branson live music

 

  1. Cruise in a stylish convertible. If you’re looking to complete the entire Route 66 journey, you’ll need to allow for a full 14+ days, and this will mean driving every day. At Bon Voyage we would recommend a roomy, comfortable car for the trip. However, we can also arrange for you to have a convertible for part of the journey – Las Vegas to Santa Monica, for example. Oklahoma boasts the longest stretch of original Route 66 miles, and here you’ll start to enjoy a beautiful change in landscape, from the rich croplands of the Midwest, to the red, dry and dusty Southwest.couple sitting on car

 

  1. Enjoy the scenery in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas. You’ll soon cross into Texas, where you can enjoy the best scenery in the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon in America. Here you’ll learn about the Apache, Kiowa and Comanche tribes who took refuge here. Whilst you’re there you can camp for the night, and explore the canyon by foot, mountain bike or even on horseback.palo duro canyon

 

  1. Leave your mark, if only for a few hours. The Cadillac Ranch has become a popular stop when travelling the Mother Road. Made up simply of 10 cars stuck in the dirt and decorated in layers upon layers of graffiti, it’s certainly something you won’t see everyday. Enjoy the sight from the sidelines, or grab a spray can and get involved. But don’t get disheartened if someone comes along and sprays directly over your art, unfortunately it’s inevitable!cadillac ranch

 

  1. Take a classic holiday photo (or 66). There’s no doubt that you’ll fly home with many new memories having crossed through eight states and three time zones. But there’s also a lot of iconic pictures waiting to be snapped. Tucumcari, is a must-do stop photo favourite, with the ’66 neon signs and that historic Tee Pee Trading Post. And it’s not long before you head into New Mexico, known fondly as The Land of Enchantment, with the second longest stretch of original Route 66 highway and perhaps the most unique roadside landscape. Make sure you’ve packed spare camera batteries!tucumcari trading post

 

  1. Meteor Crater. Before you rush off to see the Grand Canyon (that’s next up, we promise), take a pit stop at the fascinating Meteor Crater, approximately 30 miles from Holbrook, Arizona. The 500 foot deep hole was created by a meteorite 22,000 years ago. Not quite as impressive as the Grand Canyon, but certainly an attraction to make time for.meteor crater

 

  1. The Grand Canyon. Told you we’d get there eventually. Also in the state of Arizona and number 9 on our list is possibly our favourite stop en route, and how could it not be? The Grand canyon is an incredible 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep. It’s a natural wonder of the world and an absolute must-see attraction on every Route 66 road trip. Words cannot describe how big, beautiful and truly impressive this sight is. You really need to see it for yourself…Grand Canyon Overlook

 

  1. The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. This one is technically off track, but how could you not make a pitstop in Vegas when you’ve come all that way? Love it or hate it, it’s certainly an experience and the Neon Museum is worth a visit. Quite simply it’s a collection of Las Vegas signs displayed for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment. The Neon Museum is only available for hour-long guided tours, so make sure you book.Las Vegas Neon Museum

Then, before you know it you’ll have passed through the Mojave desert, over mountains and through the lush inland valleys of California, where you will reach the bright lights of Hollywood and the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica. It’s here that your Route 66 trip must come to an end, and you can enjoy a dip in the beautiful Pacific Ocean before getting a flight home.

Would you like to find out more about booking your dream Route 66 trip? We help people plan USA holidays every day!
Contact us to find out more

An Insider’s Guide to California

 

A little about me:-  I’m 49, adore the Iron Man movies, think Dolly Parton rocks (this is me with the Smoky Mountain Song Bird, I was thinking at the time OMG, we’re touching breasts! ), disapprove of parents who pierce babies’ ears and smother mayonnaise all over my chips. Oh and I love, and I do mean LOVE, exploring the USA…..

Dolly and KN

As luck (or years of conniving opportunism) would have it that’s pretty much what my job involves.  I’ve worked at Bon Voyage for 23 years, firstly as part of the sales team then as the manager of the department and now as Product Manager, deciding what it is we sell, who we work with and the terms of our sales agreements.  I have crossed the Atlantic over 150 times and basically it’s a pretty cool job as I get to check out and seek new and original USA and Canada product for our travel consultants to entice you lovely people to venture across the Pond.

I’m often asked which is my favourite state? Or where I could live?  Difficult questions; my heart belongs to Hawaii, but I couldn’t live there.  Those islands sure are beautiful but it’s too remote for me, and there’s no IKEA.  Whereas, California ticks all my boxes – beaches, scenery, mountains, lakes, wineries and those famous cities.  It’s hugely diverse and that’s what draws me back to it time and again.  You can be skiing in the morning (I don’t ski, am too lazy, but you could) and in the afternoon laze by a beach watching the rollerbladers swoosh by and the surfer dudes riding the waves.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to tour the Golden State on countless occasions and I thought I’d share with you some of my personal favourite must-sees-and-must-do’s.

 

Best Beaches

With over 1,200 miles of beaches along the California coastline, this is a tough one.  Let’s take two contrasting examples and you can decide which sounds your sort of place.  The first is Manhattan Beach in south west Los Angeles County.  Here we have a beautiful wide beach within the LA commuter belt.  This is upscale California with attitude; where leggy blondes (male and female!) play energetic beach volleyball before heading for a sports or dive bar with names like Sharkeez and Simmzy’s .   You really will love this place but hopefully not too much since with this beach and this location homes can easily change hands for $25million and if we’re talking waterfront then the sky’s the limit.  Since Hollywood is just 40 minutes up Interstate 110 you might also indulge in a little celebrity-spotting although there are probably more sports than movie stars in the area.  People- watching is naturally an important activity here and the aforementioned Simmzy’s fits the bill perfectly.  It’s a great burger joint with that beach shack feel, famed for its selection of beers and right on the boulevard two blocks from the pier.

 

But if Manhattan Beach sounds a little contrived and you yearn to get back to beach basics then let’s travel 150 miles north to an unpretentious area a little to the south of San Luis Obispo: Avila Beach.

A glance at the map will show you that it’s nestled within San Luis Bay, south facing and only half a mile in length.  Sheltered from the prevailing north westerly winds, Avila is usually warmer than the other beaches of California’s Central Coast and boasts three piers.  Avila Beach Pier is the star turn being some 600 yards long and perfect for tourist strolling and recreational fishing.  With a total population of about 1,700, none of whom paid $25million for their homes, the main occupations are in commercial fishing, apple orchards and tourism.   If your idea of the perfect beach day is fine moist sand just right for sandcastles, calm waters for swimming, a small and cute setting where you can grab an ice cream or a beer and just hang out then…. ’Viva Avila’ as the locals would never, ever say.

Surfer on beach CA

Other notable days out include pulling up a sun lounger by the skate/bike path at Venice Beach (Greater LA, south of Santa Monica).  You’ll see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly whizz past you. Great for families is endless Mission Beach, San Diego or Huntington Beach (Orange County, 30 minutes from Disneyland). The latter is known as Surf City; it’s a cool place to hang out with a lively main street and has a really wholesome vibe to it.  Fancy a little beach romance? Enjoy a glass of wine and toasted marshmallows around a cosy fire pit at sunset on Aptos Beach (near Santa Cruz an hour and a half south of San Francisco).  Here, you can hire beefy Beach Butlers who will cater to your every whim.

Malibue beach & houses CAIf you’re a fan of old films and the tear-jerking, shoulder-sobbing movie, Beaches, head to Crystal Cove (a few miles south of Huntingdon Beach) where countless big screen blockbusters were shot.  Oh and I mustn’t forget another big favourite of mine, Carmel Beach in pretty Carmel by the Sea.  We’re on the hopelessly idyllic Monterey Peninsula; hardly ever crowded, gorgeous white sand and crashing waves. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Point Lobos State Park close to the beach and was so inspired by the landscape he used it as the setting for his novel  Treasure Island.

 

Best Hidden Gems

Capitola-By-The-Sea is where San Franciscans escape to at the weekends; it’s fun to watch the hunky surfers, dine in the seafood restaurants that line the beach and stroll around the eclectic boutiques. En route to Santa Barbara head inland to charming Los Olivos, a cutesy village with great wine tasting opportunities and the setting for the movie, Sideways.

CA Capitola

Ojai is nestled in the valley of Los Padres National Forest just outside Los Angeles. It’s the secret rustic weekend retreat for many a Hollywood celeb.  Here you can experience the legendary ‘Pink Moment’ at sunset and it’s one of only two places in the US that has a vortex (places of spiritual energy, apparently!)  You’ll also adore charming Julian in the mountains above San Diego; set in acres of orchards and in this quintessential California small town you’ll find THE best apple pie ever at the Julian Pie Company on Main Street. The Old West mining town of Calico, now a Ghost Town is an interesting place to pass time en route to Death Valley. Pop into the Lucy Lane Museum here to view photographs of the town in its prime, the 1880s.

Route 66 diner retro

Fancy a trip down memory lane? Then you’ll love Barstow. Route 66 runs right through Main Street here. The downtown is a mecca for Route 66 enthusiasts. Pop into Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner and eat-to-the-beat with great music and wholesome food.  Talking of which…………

 

Best Place to Eat

Kono’s Café in San Diego by the beach on trendy Pacific Beach; The Waterbar in ‘Frisco, has great views across the Bay.  Ditto Gary Danko’s.  Feel the sand between your toes in the Paradise Cove Beach Café in Malibu (20 miles north of Santa Monica); check out the movies that have been filmed here too.  Mel’s Drive In at Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles – featured in the George Lucas film American Graffiti is a cool place to chill out with a burger and a shake. Any Cheesecake Factory anywhere in the USA is a must; BIG portions, an endless menu and great value for money. The queue is worth the wait.

mels drive in letterbox

Nepenthe Restaurant is perched 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, the views along the rugged coast are incredible, and there’s usually live jazz to accompany your meal – great for brunch..  And lastly, just to show I do have a fine-dining side The French Laundry in Yountville (Napa Valley).  Good luck getting a reservation, they’re as scarce as hens’ teeth but the trick is to call precisely two months in advance and…..be patient.

Best Drives

There are countless scenic drives but for me you just can’t beat Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles – the Pacific Coast Highway. Take your time and if you’re travelling as a couple ask us for a classic Ford Mustang convertible.  Go for the red one if they have it – it really shows off your tan! The views out to the Pacific are jaw-dropping as the road hugs the dramatic coastline. Since you’ll be driving on the right hand side of the road it’s important to travel from north to south.  I don’t just throw this stuff together, you know!  Another must-do is the scenic loop around Lake Tahoe.

 

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe

Known as The Big Blue, Lake Tahoe has the clearest water I’ve ever seen. The alpine trees and snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this 60-mile drive. Stay at the Hyatt at Lake Tahoe; it has its own beach and in the evening you can sip wine around the fire pits as you gaze at the stars and dab Calamine Lotion on your sunburn.

Lake Tahoe

 

Best Viewing Points

Enjoy the San Diego skyline from the rooftop bar at the swanky Andaz Hotel;  or the shimmering Pacific Ocean at sunset from gloriously over-the-top Hearst Castle at San Simeon. A peaceful place for an interesting overview of Hollywood is from the fascinating Getty Museum. In 2010, a $12.5 million fundraising goal was met and the area around the Hollywood Sign was saved from developers. The 138-acre parcel became a part of Griffith Park, preventing any construction that would affect the world famous view. So it’s only fitting that from here, you can see the sign a short distance from the parking lot of the historic Griffith Observatory.  Just walk along the railing on the right side of the lot for a great view.  You might recognise the Observatory from James Dean’s iconic movie, Rebel without a Cause.

Griffith Observatory CA

Going north again, check out the panoramic vista from the Twin Peaks in San Francisco; it’s in the geographic centre of the city and you can get there from downtown by way of the F-Streetcar to Castro then the MUNI Corbett-37 bus route to Twin Peaks.  Now tell me, where else are you getting this sort of detail?! For our next lovely lookout we’re heading for the desert city of Palm Springs

 

PSP aerial tram (2)Here, the Aerial Tramway takes you on a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon.  You begin the 10-minute ride at the Valley Station – elevation 2,643 feet and end at the Mountain Station – elevation 8,516 feet. If you time it right you can enjoy dinner at Peak’s restaurant at sunset.  It’s quite a view.

The view from the Heavenly Gondola which cruises high above Lake Tahoe is a must-do anytime of the year, but extra magical in winter.

My personal favourite though has to be from the restaurant at Skates on the Bay on Berkeley Marina, San Francisco Bay. I’ll happily sip my Cosmopolitan and watch the sun melt into the horizon behind the Golden Gate Bridge.  Priceless!

Best Places to Keep The Kids Happy.

Did you know that California has more theme parks than Florida? These are my current favourites for family fun:- Universal Studios HOLLYWOOD; we can obtain ‘front of line’ tickets which will save you loads of queuing time.  Next comes good old Disneyland, the granddaddy of American theme parks dating right back to 1955 now incorporating a relatively recent second park, Disney California Adventure Park which is themed on the Golden state with a Pacific wharf, Hollywood Land and the relatively new Pixar Cars Land.  Knott’s Berry Farm actually pre-dates Disneyland and is great for thrill rides and therefore less suitable for under 10s. Big attractions in the San Diego area are SeaWorld, ‘wet ‘n’ wonderful’ and world-renowned San Diego Zoo.  The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is a special place; it’s one of the largest eco-friendly natural history museums anywhere. You and your family could easily spend a day here; the Planetarium is out of this world.

sfo cyclists by Golden gate bridge.jpg

Many cities in California offer bike tours which are great for families; my favourites are Bike The Golden Gate Bridge and the super-scenic bike route from Monterey to Pebble Beach. Huntington Beach offers great Segway tours and biking trails along its seven mile expanse and the famous Corky Carroll’s Surf School will take youngsters from four years old.

Best Local Delicacies to Try

With its wide variety of soils, elevations and seasonal climates, California can grow or rear just about anything you might wish to eat.  Offshore, the state’s Pacific waters are blessed with an amazing variety of fish and shellfish from Spiny Lobster to Yellowfin Tuna.  Add to this a desire amongst many native Californians to follow a healthy and sustainable way of life and you have all the ingredients (pun intended) for culinary delight.

Food, Dining out couple

The fruit and vegetables are legendary and you should visit one of the Farmers’ markets that appear in most towns at the weekend.  Rich, succulent California strawberries, super-sized avocados and   albacore tuna provided the perfect roadside picnic on my last trip.  When in San Francisco, head into Chinatown (the biggest outside Asia) for a culinary walking tour with www.allaboutchinatown.com. The history and culture are fascinating and as a bonus you finish the two hour ramble with an authentic dim sum lunch.  Equally authentic are the Mexican restaurants of Old Town and southern San Diego – hardly surprising, I guess, since you’re less than half an hour from the border.  You might want to wash it down with a frozen margarita with plenty of lime juice and easy on the salt.  But, beware they do slip down rather too easily before the tequila kicks in!

Burger

You can’t talk about food and America without mentioning burgers and I mean REAL burgers.  If you’ve not already met, let me introduce you to In-N-Out-Burger founded 65 years ago in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park.  There are 213 outlets in California and I would definitely plan to find out for yourself why their company slogan is ‘quality is everything.’  It really is quite difficult to salivate and type at the same time, isn’t it?!

Best Bucket List Stuff In California

This is a biggy, there are so many.  I’ve attempted to make these affordable and do-able rather than those lists where you hire a private jet, trek to the top of Mount Kill-Me-With-the-Effort with a one-legged guide and eat beluga caviar off the back of a unicorn, type thing.

All of these can be booked and included as part of your Bon Voyage holiday.  Be fair I haven’t put in too many plugs for America’s no.1 tailor-made holiday specialist.

Firstly, and my MD, Alan, would never forgive me if I didn’t include it (he’s a golf nut): a 2-night stay at Spanish Bay on the heavenly Monterey Peninsula and two rounds of golf including 18 holes on the (apparently) legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links.  He road-tested it for you last year (so selfless) and we can book the whole thing including tee times and state-of-the-art club hire.

istock couple sitting on car

As you cruise along that most scenic drive, the Pacific Coast Highway, on a sunny day with the roof flipped back in your Mustang convertible (see ‘Best Drives’)  aim to stay overnight in the terribly exclusive Post Ranch Inn perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Be prepared to rub shoulders with the great and the good.  No Primark here, all Gucci, sweetie.

Post Ranch Inn

A day hiking with an ecologist in breathtaking Yosemite National Park and overnight in the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the El Dorado Diggins Suite which offers unparalleled views over Yosemite Valley.  It has the only Jacuzzi bath in the whole of Yosemite too, perfect for soothing your aching limbs after your hike with California’s answer to Bill Oddie.

Yosemite hiking

Shark cage diving in the Farallon Islands 26 miles off the coast of San Francisco. When I say shark cage diving I have every intention myself of taking part in this but from the safety of the deck. My current husband can do the cage bit.

How about this little distraction in California’s stunning wine country?  A hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley;  a private stretch limo wine tasting tour of the valley, a picnic lunch amongst the vines and finally overnight accommodation at 5-diamond Meadowood Resort.  Oh and we should include spa treatments and dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant on site.

Hire a luxury houseboat (preferably with a group of friends or family) on Lake Shasta in beautiful northern California. When you’re not sunning yourself on the deck of your deluxe craft, spend time exploring the lake’s rugged shoreline wilderness where you might spot California’s very own Big Foot!

Well that’s got me in the mood for my next visit to the Golden State.  I hope it had the same effect on you.


 

For holidays to California contact the amazing team of USA Tailor-Made Experts at Bon Voyage.

 


Hey! Harleys Aren’t Just for the boys!

Eagle Rider bikes in Monument ValleyShe’s an adventurous lady. That’s for sure. But not an adrenaline junkie. Not a barmy thrill-seeking, middle-aged woman who is rebelling against the inexorable slide towards chutney making at the Women’s Institute. It’s just that she’s reached a time in her life when she wants to experience “stuff”. And according to research there are countless women who feel the same and are embarking on great travel experiences as their lives at home start to simplify – and according to some research it it the girls who are more adventurous than the boys! Fair enough, I say. Macchu Picchu, The Great Wall of China, Cambodia – adventurous without being unreasonably reckless. The travel trade, rather patronisingly in my view, dubbed this sort of thing “soft adventure” some years ago.

So there we were the other evening talking about some of the things that Bon Voyage offers to its clients. A glass of chilled Sauvignon blanc may have been involved.

“Hey, I’ve done that, and it was great fun,” she squealed, rather animatedly, when I mentioned Harley adventures across America (click here for info), and in particular the iconic Route 66.

It turns out that she was a pillion passenger on a Harley and did part of Route 66, up to the Grand Canyon and then on to Las Vegas.

“Really?” said I, just a touch too sceptically. “Wasn’t it a bit boring just sitting on the back of the bike for hours at a time, with nothing but desert and tumbleweed to look at? Oh, and the back of somebody’s head?”

“No more so than riding the bike” she replied “but at least those bikes are built for comfortable cruising. And the amazing, breath-taking scenery is constantly changing. But it was sooo much more exciting than that” she gushed. “Riding without a helmet and the strange feeling of vulnerability, yet freedom, chasing a mile-long freight train , joining a group of hairy bikers for part of the trip , eating at the Road Kill Café and experiencing some parts of the Grand Canyon that we might never have seen. Not just for the boysThe exhilarating sweeps and twists of Red Rock Canyon to Sedona and wanting to exchange the bike for a horse, chaps and a cowboy hat! The ferocious sun burning through my jeans, and even the taste of the dust after a day on the road, and the sweet ecstasy of washing it away with an ice-cold beer. But it can get really hot coming down through the high plains at the Canyon and down into the desert as you approach Las Vegas. What with the sweltering desert temperatures and the heat coming off the Harley, I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and into the pool! Oh and to the shops at Caesars…erm, for the air conditioning, of course”. Of course.

So I guess at Bon Voyage we might have been guilty of thinking that Harley holidays would only appeal to the boys. Maybe living the Harley dream – the open road and bugs-in-your-teeth cruising on a throbbing, classic motorcycle – appeals to a wider demographic that includes the girls too!

If you like the sound of a Harley Davidson holiday in America click here.

About the author: Phil Newcombe is a director of Bon Voyage.

Born to be Wild! Travelling Route 66 on a Harley

Since Billy Connolly and his greasy pony tail cruised along Route 66 on the popular ITV series in 2010, the bike- riding British public simply cannot get enough of Harley Holidays . We recently arranged a Route 66 Harley Holiday for a terrific group of guys from the UK and Phil Colman did a great job of blogging about the trip: He’s kindly agreed to let us publish his account of the adventure. Over to you Phil……(far right)

Santa Monica Pier – the end of Route 66.

Day 1: May 2012. Getting there.

OK, so the day had finally come – all packed and ready, say goodbye (and happy birthday to Melanie my wife) with lots of ‘be carefuls’ being offered. Continue reading Born to be Wild! Travelling Route 66 on a Harley

Route 66 – Escorted Harley Tour

Born To Be Wild! Travelling Route 66 On A Harley

Since Billy Connolly and his greasy pony tail cruised along Route 66 on the popular ITV series in 2010, the bike- riding British public simply cannot get enough of Harley Holidays . We recently arranged a Route 66 Harley Holiday for a terrific group of guys from the UK and Phil Colman did a great job of blogging about the trip: He’s kindly agreed to let us publish his account of the adventure. Over to you Phil……(far right)

Santa Monica Pier – the end of Route 66.

Day 1: May 2012. Getting there.

OK, so the day had finally come – all packed and ready, say goodbye (and happy birthday to Melanie my wife) with lots of ‘be carefuls’ being offered. Continue reading Route 66 – Escorted Harley Tour