My Solo West Coast Road Trip 2016
January 30, 2017 , Travel
Last year, I wanted to take some time for myself. I’m not the most comfortable with traveling solo, so I planned a two week road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix. My dad’s side of the family is in LA, and my mom’s side is in Phoenix, so when I decided to see family for Thanksgiving, it was the perfect opportunity. It was an exercise in expectations vs. reality, but I’m still glad I did it. Instead of a long, drawn out, emotional (probably) write-up, scroll to the bottom for a list of my favorite things I did, saw, and ate.
Torrance: a suburb of LA where I grew up, with not-so-crowded beaches.
Cabazon Dinosaur Museum: cool for a photo op, but I probably spent less than 5 minutes there.
Tramway Gas Station & Visitor’s Center: great view of Mt. San Jacinto with interesting architecture and access to some great open desert.
Moorten Botanical Garden: $5 admission to small, but charming grounds. Famous for its greenhouse “cactarium,” and many huge & rare varieties of desert plants.
Saguaro Hotel: a technicolor version of a hotel. El Jefe had some decent tacos, but overall, I was kind of disappointed by everything but the decor. The room was okay, the food was okay, the walls were really thin, but it did its job.
Architecture: I spent most of my free time in Palm Springs wandering through different neighborhoods and admiring the mid-century modern architecture that the city is known for. I saw the Kaufmann Desert House, Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway, and various cool homes with every color door (like the famous pink door!). The palette of the homes in the city were mostly white and green with pops of color. Not to mention bougainvillea (my favorite plant) on every street. Swooooooon.
Wind Farms: I know, you probably think they’re calm and beautiful, like I did, but when your car is practically being blown off the road while chasing sunset, just embrace it. I still haven’t figured out where people go to get up close and personal with the turbines, but I got close enough to get some good wider photos.
Palm Springs Art Museum: I went on a whim, and I was so glad I did! I saw so much incredible art, especially modern, which tends to be my favorite. The entire top floor was modern installations – things like hand-woven “melted” rugs, horses made of driftwood, and a glass project called “Golden Rain,” where the artist made 100 golden glass rain drops and filled each one with something from another artist. My personal favorite was an LED piece by Jim Campbell called “Exploded View (Birds) – Condensed,” which was both about information in the human brain, and silhouettes of birds flying around within the bulbs.
Ace Hotel & Swim Club: the dream. I can’t even express how much I loved this hotel. The clean, midcentury modern decor was perfect for the city. My hotel room had concrete floors (always a miracle to not have carpet under my feet), the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in, and thoughtful details, like a black hand towel with “makeup” embroidered on it. Also, the sprawling layout of the grounds was perfect for privacy & a lack of noise. Maybe it’s because I was there in winter, but I didn’t hear a thing, and slept like a champ. Plus, the lobby photo booth is great for classic vintage strips of film. I did it by myself and felt like a movie star.
King’s Highway: so good, I ate there twice. Friendly service, quick food, awesome ambience, and tasty. One of the best breakfasts I’ve had was the sweet corn fritters meal: corn cakes with eggs, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and an herb cream. To die for.
Integratron: I kept hearing about this place, so I booked a spot in one of the group sound baths. It was weird, but cool, but I didn’t necessarily feel more relaxed afterwards.
Bailey’s Auto Repair: saved my ass. When I got into Joshua Tree a couple hours before sunset, I heard a hissing noise, and discovered a large screw sticking out of my rental car’s tire. Alone, in the middle of a pretty empty national park, I almost panicked, but a friendly park ranger recommended Bailey’s, where the staff fixed my tire immediately, for cheap, and gave me plenty of great recommendations for the area. I was in and out so quickly that I was still able to get back into the park to climb and see the sunset. Crisis averted.
Joshua Tree National Park: I’m already dying to go back and explore more of this Mars-like place. It probably helps that I also saw one of the best sunsets while I was there. Pink, orange, and breathtaking.
Horseshoe Bend: sure, it took me 9 hours to get from Joshua Tree to Page, Arizona, but for all the gorgeousness that I found in Page, it was well worth it. I was definitely not prepared for how terrifying it is to get a decent photo of Horseshoe Bend, and I was on edge (pun intended) the entire time. If I were to go back, I’d probably try to see it at sunrise or sunset, but the sunrise temperature was about 15 degrees when I was in town, so I chickened out.
Lake Powell: I didn’t get to explore this as much as I wanted – I just saw it from a few viewpoints along the edges. It kind of reminded me of a mini, flooded Grand Canyon.
Antelope Canyon: oh my. Tied for favorite place on my trip, alongside Joshua Tree. I went to the lower canyon. Since it was November, the angle of the sun was too low to get any light beams, which meant that it was empty, but just as beautiful. My Navajo guide was awesome, pointing out names of different formations, and helping my group (me and two Austrians) spot the shapes and faces among the rocks. I felt really, really small being down in the canyon, but if I could, I’d go down there every day. I can’t stress enough just how stunning it is, and photos don’t do it justice to show the vastness.
Sedona: the drive from Page to Sedona was pretty hairy, especially around Flagstaff. A big snowstorm had hit the area a few days before, and driving along 89 south meant snowy mountains and cliffs all around me, and ice on the road in front of me. Not to mention fighting the last of the day’s light. By the time I got to my hotel in Sedona, I was pretty well shaken, and thankful to be alive. I’m probably being dramatic, but it was really scary. I kept making mental notes of every building I passed that had lights on, just in case. The main area of town is pretty touristy, but there are still hidden gems to be found everywhere.
The Hudson: best meal I’ve had outside of Pennsylvania. I got a bruschetta sampler, featuring a brie fig jam and apple bite that inspired me to start consuming figs regularly, the butternut squash ravioli, which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and of course, dessert. A deconstructed banana cream pie, which I finished for breakfast the next morning. Three courses and a drink cost me less than $50, which blew my mind for how incredible the food was.
Pink Jeep Tours: call me a tourist, whatever. The thought of hiking alone in freezing temps, in an area known for rock slides and crazy wildlife wasn’t too appealing to me, so I signed up for a pink jeep tour. It was a lot of fun – we got up to some spots on the rocks that I never would have been able to hike to otherwise, and it’s how I got most of my photos of the red rocks.
Airport Mesa: an easy climb up to awesome views, near the Sedona Airport. It took me about 10 minutes to hike to the top.
Chapel of the Holy Cross: worth a trip. The church is built into the rocks, which makes for some stunning views and impressive architecture. It can be crowded, and tourists will probably ask you to take their photo, but go anyway.
New River: home of the best Arizona sunsets you ever did see.