Tours of the West Coast USA are often overpriced, and you end up missing more than you actually see, so decided to see if I could put something together cheaper myself. Before putting my plan into action, I secured cheap flights through Skyscanner. We would fly into San Francisco for four days and will then fly into Vegas for five days. Now the fun part begins, how much can we squeeze into a ten-day adventure?
As we were not planning on spending too much time in our hotel and the City is notoriously expensive, our requirements were quite basic. A clean room in a good location with free Wi-Fi and breakfast were top of the list and Cornell Hotel de France fitted the bill perfectly.
Our perfect base was within walking distance to Powell Street, Chinatown, etc. but my favorite part of the hotel was how it oozes character.
Dylan’s Famous City Tour
As we only had a few days to spare in San Francisco, we didn’t have time to get our bearings so decided to book Dylan’s Famous Tour, and it was probably the best decision we could have made. On one day, we get to see everything the city has to offer and even had a chance to escape the hustle and bustle to spend over an hour in Muir Woods National Park.
The tour covered Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, City Hall, Twin Peaks, The Mission, The Castro, Pacific Heights, Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point and Tenderloin. It was the perfect introduction to San Francisco and enabled us to see where we would like to return to and soak up the vibe.
Although the tour is a little pricey, there was an offer at the time that gave us a discounted bike rental.
Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
High on my bucket list was to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and head down to Sausalito. A little research revealed that it would be a steady 9-mile ride and downhill getting there, but getting back is a little on the steep side.
We were faced with two options.
1. Cycle down to Sausalito and then face the challenging ride back
2. Cycle down and get the ferry back.
We chose an alternative and hired electric bikes, which many will consider cheating, but we loved every minute of it. I must confess that it felt good to glide past people effortlessly while they were swearing and sweating on the big climb back.
If the weather is good, I cannot recommend cycling down to Sausalito enough. Cycling across the iconic Golden Gate bridge not once but twice is a memory that will stay with you forever, and Sausalito is incredibly beautiful too.
San Francisco Movie Sights Tour
As a film buff with strict time constraints, we decided to go on the San Francisco Movie Sights Tour. The 3-hour tour includes clips from over 50 of the most famous movies filmed in San Francisco. Actors-turned-guides lead you on this interactive city tour, as they match clips with locations right outside the bus’ windows and share their wealth of San Francisco and cinema knowledge.
The tour will take you through Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Nob Hill, Union Square, Civic Center, Alamo Square, The Presidio, Fort Point/Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Heights.
Highlights for many will be the spot where Kim Novak jumped into the water, and Jimmy Stewart saved her in Vertigo, the house where Robin Williams’ family lived in Mrs. Doubtfire and various locations from the famous chase scene in Bullitt.
It was a fun way to spend 3 hours before treating ourselves to a well-earned dessert at the Cheesecake Factory. In all honesty, the experience was a little overrated and overpriced. But, it didn’t stop me filling my face with yummy cheesecake goodness.
Remember to book your trip to Alcatraz a few weeks before you go as trips to the Rock book up very quickly. We opted for a night tour to capture the beauty of a sunset silhouetting the Golden Gate Bridge. Hearing fascinating stories about the Island’s history and residents while enjoying the views of the whole Bay Area lit up at night felt a little bit spooky too and added to the experience.
It was time to say goodbye to San Francisco and head to Vegas. Rather than gamble and relaxing we were going to use sin city as a base for our travels so didn’t feel the need for a grandiose hotel.
We opted for the cheap and cheerful Excalibur Hotel. As it was so cheap, we upgraded the room to a Royal Tower King which provided a little extra comfort. It’s worth remembering that no matter where you stay in Vegas, you will be hit with resorts fees when you check out, so don’t forget to factor these charges into your budgets.
My advice to anyone visiting Vegas for the first time don’t try to be a hero and walk the strip. The Deuce Bus is your best friend and will take you to the Vegas sign for your Instagram moment and all the way up to Old Town. You can choose from a 2-hour pass for $6, a 24-hour pass for $8 or a 3-day pass for $20.
The first item to tick off my bucket list was the SlotZilla Zip line which is not as scary as it looks but a whole lot of fun. This ride is the ultimate Fremont Street Experience that you have probably seen on Facebook, but this is your chance to live it rather than just click like. If you are interested flying SlotZilla, remember to book a few days before and choose the highest line for online kudos points on your timeline.
After tracking down a Zoltar machine in the New York Casino, it was time to put the silliness to one side and get back to traveling. Adventure Photo Tours seemed to have an eclectic mix of trips that would satisfy my desire to find something a little different.
As a self-confessed movie geek, the route to Area 51 tour seemed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The trip teaches you all about the secret Janet Airlines which has been hiding in plain sight at the Las Vegas International airport for decades. The route to Area 51, to the north of Las Vegas, is through some of the most desolate, uninhabited and incredibly scenic deserts in the world.
A scenic drive along the “Extraterrestrial Highway” leads you to Little A’le’ Inn. This location has been host to numerous documentaries and movies including “Independence Day.”
I was a little cynical when we arrived at the so-called absolute perimeter of Area 51, and the strange Mutant Joshua Tree forest. But being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by detection devices, listening devices and cameras mounted among the cactus felt incredibly spooky.
In the distance, there is a 4×4 parked on the desert hillside where guards just wait and watch from behind their darkened windows. I assumed that it was merely a dummy vehicle but the tour guide showed us a video of what happens when if anyone did cross the line. An amazing day that will never be forgotten.
The following day we embarked on the Grand Canyon West Rim Tour to five awesome & breathtaking locations including the Joshua Tree Forest, Eagle Point, Guano Point, Hualapai Ranch and the Magnificent Hoover Dam.
One of our crazier ideas was a 600 mile round trip to LA, Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevard. 7 am until 10 pm was an exhausting day that will never be forgotten, but not so sure its something I would do again.
Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame with the stars at your feet, the Chinese & Kodak Theaters (home of the Oscars), the hand prints of the stars in concrete, the iconic “Hollywood Sign” may sound out of this world, but the area is actually very cheap and tacky.
However, Santa Monica beach and pier was stunning, and I wish I had more time there. But, one day I will return.
Finally, my wife became a Dolphin Trainer for a Day at the Mirage’s Dolphin Habitat. This was a life-changing experience for her and an unforgettable day for anyone that doesn’t just want to swim with dolphins but learn about these amazing mammals too.
This once in a lifetime trip was put together for half the price that I have seen many tour operators selling. So remember you don’t have to pay a king’s ransom for an unforgettable trip of a lifetime.