It’s been almost a year since Adam and I have been able to take time off together and we’d been looking forward to our West Coast trip for quite some time. We flew out of Indy on April 7th and spent the next nine days exploring Nevada and California. During this trip, California marked my 48th state visited and I now have been to all of the lower 48. Here’s a re-cap of our adventures from the last few days.
Neither of us had been to Las Vegas before but it was somewhere we’d both wanted to see even though we don’t gamble. Our first stop after picking up the rental car was the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign then we headed out to take a look at the Hoover Dam. We didn’t take the dam tour but walked over it and up to the bridge that takes the interstate next to it. The dam is definitely worth a visit and a marvel of modern architecture.
That evening we walked up and down the Las Vegas strip, rode the roller coaster at New York, New York and went up in the Eiffel Tower observation deck. The city really looks stunning at night.
Our second day began at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. I’d never been to a Madame Tussaud’s before (it was on my itinerary for London but we ran out of time) and it was amazing how real some of the wax figures looked. After we left the wax museum, we had lunch at Shake Shack then hit up most of the famous hotels on the strip.
Joshua Tree National Park
Our third day of the trip was spent at Joshua Tree National Park. We got there mid-afternoon and it was cloudy and a little chilly but the park was still beautiful. We stopped at most of the major attractions: the Cholla Cactus Garden, Key’s View (where you can see the San Andres Fault), Skull Rock and saw a couple guys doing a tightrope walk across some really large boulders in the Hall of Horrors. I was a little disappointed there was no sun for sunset photos, but still really glad to have visited the park. We headed for Los Angeles after leaving Joshua Tree.
The next four days were jam packed with activities in and around the Los Angeles area. Our hotel was in Pasadena, which was a lovely little city on the outskirts of LA. For fans of the TV show Parks and Recreation, Pasadena’s city hall also doubles as the exterior of Pawnee City Hall on the show. We made a quick stop there, then braved the crazy freeways to get to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park. This was probably one of Adam’s favorite stops – visiting the landmark has been on his bucket list his entire life.
After some pictures with the sign in the background, we headed up to the Griffith Park Observatory for fabulous views of the LA area. We also attempted a hike up behind the Hollywood sign but somehow got off on the wrong path and had to turn back in order to make it to our next destination: the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.
Another highlight of the trip, this nearly three hour tour in Burbank, CA took us behind the scenes of some of the most famous movies and TV shows. I got to see the exteriors for my favorite TV show, Gilmore Girls and we were able to see the actual set the Big Bang Theory is filmed on. We sat where the audience sits and saw Penny’s apartment, Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment and parts of the comic book store owned by Stuart. They also took us to the set of Pretty Little Liars and let us see many of the sets from the show. No pictures were allowed during this portion of the tour as it’s considered “top secret” 🙁
Day two began at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library in Simi Valley, CA. We spent several hours at the museum and really enjoyed journeying through Reagan’s life. No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, visiting any former president’s library/museum is a must and extremely educational. As lifelong Republicans, we probably enjoyed it more than most and I left wishing we had more presidents like Ronald Reagan.
From there, we headed to downtown LA where we had lunch at Smashburger and took a quick trip through the Grammy Museum. I was a little underwhelmed there after having visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Following the Grammy Museum, we drove down to Torrence so I could take a photo in front of Buffy Summer’s house from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Our day ended at the beautiful Santa Monica Pier, also the end of Route 66. The sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean and even though the water was chilly, I still stuck my feet in.
Day three in LA took us to ritzy Beverly Hills where I popped in their library to check out their teen area. We also walked up and down Rodeo Drive to window shop and gawk at the Bentley’s parked along the street. From there we went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and walked up and down the street taking photos of our favorite stars. The Captain America: Civil War red carpet premier was also taking place at the same time and we had to go through metal detectors just to walk on the street in front of the Chinese Theater. Originally, the Game of Thrones premier was scheduled for that day but it got bumped to another day because of Captain America. We thought about staying to watch the actors arrive but there were already so many people that we decided to skip sticking around for three more hours when the stars would arrive. We did get to walk across part of the red carpet though.
For our final day in LA, we managed to get priority tickets to a live taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. Before heading back down to the heart of Hollywood, I swung by the famous murder house from the first season of American Horror Story. The house is now privately owned and fenced in with large “KEEP OUT” signs but I got a picture through the chain link fence anyway. Other shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and Supernatural have filmed at the mansion as well.
The Jimmy Kimmel taping was one of the most unique experiences in Hollywood. After waiting a few hours in a line, we were taken in to a taping of Shinedown’s performance for the Monday show. We were then put in another line until they seated us in the studio. In addition to the Team Iron Man guests that included Robert Downey Jr., Emily VanCamp and Don Cheedle, we got to see Emily Blunt’s interview that’s also airing on Monday’s show. The stars did not interact with the audience much and it felt more like we were on the outside watching a conversation take place between Jimmy and his guests who didn’t know we were there. It went really fast and the last part of the show was an outdoor concert by Mayor Hawthorne. They picked Adam and I out to be on camera right next to Jimmy as he was introducing the band, but I’m not sure if you could see us in the camera frame or not – we tried to watch it that night from our hotel but the TV was old and not a widescreen so it appeared we got cut out. Immediately after the taping, we hopped in the car and made the three hour drive to Tulare which is right outside of Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia National Park & Death Valley National Park
Our final two days before flying home were supposed to be spent in these two vastly different national parks. Things went a bit south after Sequoia, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
The road in Sequoia was VERY curvy and we could only drive 25 mph up in to the mountains. It took about an hour just to get to General Sherman. Some of the park roads were still closed due to snow and we didn’t get to go the rest of the way to Grant Grove and in to King’s Canyon, but that was OK. After stopping at the General Sherman, we made our way back down the mountain and stopped at Moro Rock, the Tunnel Log and Crescent Meadow. Once we left the park, the GPS decided that the shortest distance to our hotel outside Death Valley was through more mountains in the Sequoia National Forest.
I had a paper map but assumed the GPS would take us the same way since it started us out on the same route and for a while things went fine. When we started off on a road that didn’t look quite right, I thought maybe since most national parks are sometimes off the beaten path that we’d soon hit an Interstate. Boy was I wrong. We kept going up into the mountains and soon there weren’t any towns around at all. The gas level kept getting lower and I started getting really nervous that we’d need gas so I located the nearest fuel station using the GPS. It told us we had about 17 miles to go and I started toward it.
We went even further up and about six miles before our destination, the low fuel light started flashing zero. By this point, I was nearly in panic mode. I didn’t know the car and didn’t know if we’d have enough to get down an incline another six miles to get gas. So we stopped at the Sequoia National Forrest Summit station and knocked on the door to the ranger station. No answer even though there was a car out front. I tried the private residence. Only a cat meowed. It was getting dark and cold by this point. Thankfully, we had cell signal so I dialed 911 and they transferred me to California Highway Patrol who sent a tow truck with some gas. We followed the tow truck down the mountain and filled up the rest of the way in the town at the bottom of the summit. The lesson here: don’t always assume the GPS will take you the best route!!
It was still another hour and a half to our hotel and I let Adam take over driving through even more mountains until we got to Ridgecrest. The wind started picking up by this point and didn’t let up until we were back in Vegas the next evening.
The next morning we had another two hour drive to Death Valley. We were both kind of over the trip after the previous day’s events, but decided to go anyway since it was on the way back to Vegas. Once we got to the park and stopped to take a photo next to the entrance sign, more car problems started. The tire pressure light came on. Thankfully, we were near a gas station, so I pulled in to check the tire out and found it was nearly flat. In Death Valley though, there is no cell service AT ALL. And there’s no one for almost 50 miles to fix a tire either. The gas station only had a satellite phone and when I asked about using it to call AAA, the attendant said it would be very expensive to use plus AAA would take 4 to 6 hours to get out there. Not what we wanted to hear. So Adam and I (with the help of a man who walked by and another police man) took the bad tire off, put the donut on and drove 35 mph for 50 miles in the opposite direction we needed to go to get the tire fixed.
They got us in right away but we found out even more bad news: the tire was completely worn down to the threads and we’d have to buy a new one. The rental car company had sent us out with a tire that was shot.
I had cell service by this point and tried to call the rental company and no one ever picked up. We had to make it out, so we had them put a new tire on and hoped the rental company would reimburse us the $112 it cost for a tire and labor (they say they will but I haven’t seen the money yet). The GPS tried to take us back through mountains again but we followed the directions of the tire place and drove straight through the park to get back to Vegas. The wind was horrible by this point and sand was blowing everywhere so even if we hadn’t had the tire issue, we wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway 🙁
We arrived in Vegas around 7 p.m., checked in to our hotel and found a huge buffet and pigged out on our last night of vacation. I tried the rental company again from our room and got put on hold for an hour then hung up on. We won’t rent from Fox Rental Car ever again.
So that’s basically the trip. Even with the bad last couple days, it was a lot of fun and California was so diverse. I hope we can go back to see San Francisco some day!