It’s probably on every family’s wish list to take a road trip in the USA, stopping in motels on the way. Oh that mythical Route 66… However, many of us wonder where to start, where to stop, what to plan ahead. Photographer Natalie Jeffcott – who also runs a little gem of an e-shop, Arthur’s Circus , filled with collectable treasures and toys – shares the family’s recent 6-weeks road trip from LA to San Francisco via Las Vegas, Yosemite and many more stop points. That’s the ultimate American Dream Trip! Follow Natalie, Nick and their son Arthur (7) on the road, far away from their hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
MEET NATALIE JEFFCOTT’s FAMILY
We are Natalie Jeffcott, Nicholas Fitzgerald and Arthur (age 7). We live in Melbourne, Australia. In 2007 we opened a shop called Arthur’s Circus specialising in quirky vintage toys and artwork. We closed our shopfront almost 2 years ago, undertaking another renovation project (for Nick) and Natalie heading back to her photographic career. We still operate a small online shop and Natalie’s photography can be found here.
We first flew in to Los Angeles from Melbourne. We found it easier to have 3-4 nights in one place, though that is not always possible. It took us around 4 days to really get over jetlag and adjust to the different time zone. Travelling with a child opens up a new side of activities, which are somewhat touristy at times. Before we left I spent time booking accomodation and researching things to do (thanks to the internet!!) so that when we arrived in LA we had a rough idea of what we would like to see in each city or town.
1ST STOP, LOS ANGELES
We spent 4 nights in LA, booked our accomodation through airbnb staying in a home in West Adams. We relied on public transport, which isn’t the most time efficient mode to get around in LA, but the bus gave us a great insight into different areas and everyday life. LA is huge!! Arthur loves water so we headed to Venice beach for great people watching, eating and wading (a little too cold for swimming for us ).
We walked to Santa Monica, along the way stopping to play in some giant sand dunes and eat ice cream.
We also headed to Hollywood for Amoeba records, then wandered through a farmers market and onto Hollywood Blvd where we suprised ourselves by going on a small bus tour through the Hollywood hills, with a few celebrity homes thrown in. Great views and an opportunity to see a small piece of LA without the stress of a GPS / Map / driving.. also good for tired little legs. And lastly we took Arthur to Universal Studios.
We next caught a train to Anaheim (Orange County) for our Disneyland experience. I bought a pass for UniversalStudios, Disneyland and Sea World (we didn’t go there) before we left online, which was cheaper. We spent 3 days/nights at Disneyland .
2ND STOP: PALM SPRINGS
From Anaheim, we picked up a hire car and drove to Palm Springs for 3 nights staying at the Ace Hotel… Unfortunately it was a weekend (and exceptionally hot) and it wasn’t a great experience as a family. It’s a great hotel, the design etc but the main pool is open to the public at weekends for a fee and it was full of 20-35 year olds, drinking and smoking in the pool. The smaller pool was closed on the Friday and Saturday for private functions and it was only until Sunday when we had that pool to ourselves and maybe 4 other people did we enjoy it.
In Palm Springs we loved the aerial tramway up to San Jacinto National Park and also did 2 early morning hikes (one ranger led) in Palm Canyon which were great.
3RD STOP ON ROUTE 66
We drove to San Bernadino to pick up Route 66 and visit the first McDonalds – now a museum, which was filled with some great memoribilia.
Then onto the Wigwam Motel in Rialto for the night.
We spent 2 full days driving Route 66.
Arthur did amazingly well for such a long time in the car – having an Ipad helped), with my constant requests for Nick to stop the car so I could take photographs. We stayed one night in Seligman, AZ and one night in Williams, AZ. We visited the Grand Canyon, but more important and fun for us was visiting Bedrock City, which is approx halfway between Williams and the Grand Canyon.
It is a campground and playground based on the Flinstones. Arthur loved it here. It is a little run down but that is part of it’s charm.
4TH STOP LAS VEGAS
We then drove to Las Vegas via the Hoover Dam. We stayed downtown on Fremont Street at the Golden Nugget. Las Vegas is what it is (!), the hotel had a great swimming pool with a 3 storey water slide through a fish/shark water tank – perfect for 7 year old boys. Our main reason for visiting Las Vegas was a photo shoot booked at the Neon Museum (sorry no photos). It can also be visited on a public tour. It is a fantastic collection of old neon signs from around Las Vegas, with money funding the restoration of signs.
Through our visit here we found out about the Pinball Museum which is well worth a visit. Hundreds of old pinball machines that can be played for only 20 cents each. All profits from here go to the Salvation Army.
Our other family fun stop in Las Vegas was KISS glow in the dark mini golf.
5TH STOP YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
From Las Vegas we drove to Yosemite, via the Death Valley. The temperature peaked at 48 C and the drive and landscape was amazing.
In Yosemite we stayed one night in Tuolumne Meadows on the eastern entrance to the park. This area and eastern entrance to the park is only open for a few months every year, so accommodation books out quickly. We were lucky to book just one night here in a canvas tent / cabin. Facilities are limited but the scenery and area is beautiful with easy hiking for children.
We then spent 2 nights in Yosemite West, which is a 30 minute drive into Yosemite Valley but we found it nice to be away from the many people in the village. Whilst there we hired a raft and did a relaxing trip that took us 3-4 hours with swimming stops along the way. We also had a lovely lunch at the Awahnee Hotel.
6TH STOP SONOMA VALLEY
We then travelled further north to Arnold and the Calaveras big trees for one night before heading to a wedding in Occidental in the Sonoma Valley. Beautiful wine country where we also spent a day lazing about the pool at Francis Ford Coppola’s Vineyard.
7TH STOP SAN FRANCISCO & AROUND
In San Francisco we enjoyed riding bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and catching the ferry back. Also making a trip to the huge Alemeda flea market, full of amazing stuff. It’s a little awkward to get to without a car, but catching the ferry is easier than the train / bus / walk option. We also stayed 2 nights in a tree house just south of San Francisco and drove along the coastal highway on a day trip to Santa Cruz.
LAST STOP NEW YORK CITY
Lastly we flew to New York and spent our last 8 nights in an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Highlights as a family were the Natural History Museum, MOMA, Brooklyn Flea, Brooklyn Bowl, Top of the Rock and NBC tour at the Rockefeller Centre as well as general wanderings around Manhattan and Brooklyn.