United States

6 bucket list destinations in the American Southwest

Our road trip through the Southwest introduced us to a world of bucket list destinations we never expected to find. From those destinations you’ve seen countless times on TV to plenty of lesser-known travel gems, we’ve discovered and visited so many beautiful spots. We collected the most gorgeous bucket list destinations in the American Southwest to add to your next road trip. Get ready to explore the best of the Southwest!

1. Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the world’s most breathtaking stretches of coastline. The views we encountered on the way were so picturesque and seemed straight out of a dream! From crashing waves against dramatic cliffs to magnificent bridges, everything is so magical. It was truly one of the highlights of our road trip! We couldn’t help it and stopped every five minutes to take pictures, videos and fly around with our drone. It is definitely one of the best bucket list destinations in the American Southwest!

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge

Bixby Creek Bridge (aka Bixby Bridge) is one of those places that cannot be missed. It is one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its elegant design and picturesque setting. And we can definitely see why! A great location, and the nature surrounding it is absolutely stunning.

But the real reason we wanted to visit this bridge is because we are both big fans of Big Little Lies. Bixby Bridge is used in the intro of this amazing series! Driving across the bridge while “Cold Little Heart” plays in the background… It literally gave us goosebumps! Happiness really comes from the (big) little things. 🥹 Big Little Lies fans will know what we’re talking about. Like we mentioned in this New York blog post, we are big TV show lovers so visiting this Big Little Lies bridge was a MUST.

Even if you’re not a fan of the series, Bixby Bridge is a true gem. Whether it’s capturing the bridge’s architectural beauty, witnessing the crashing waves below, or simply enjoying a moment of serenity in this mesmerizing setting, Bixby Bridge offers a magnificent experience for everyone!

PS: More a gamer than a TV show fan? This Bixby Bridge was also used in GTA V. 😉

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

Be sure to admire the mesmerizing McWay Falls as well. This stunning waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park can be found after a short and easy walk (800m). The whole setting is like a scene straight out of a fairytale, with the cascading waterfall and the gorgeous beach below it. Such an idyllic and picturesque spot! We spent like half an hour admiring the waterfall, we couldn’t get enough of it. Definitely worth a little “detour” along the Pacific Coast Highway. We say “detour” because, well, it’s the most majestic road anyone could ever take! It shouldn’t be a “detour”, it’s the “main tour”. 😉

2. Antelope Canyon

Number one on our bucket list was undoubtedly Antelope Canyon. In order to explore the magical Antelope Canyon, you will have to take a tour as you cannot visit the canyons on your own. You can choose between Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, and in our case, we opted for Upper Antelope Canyon due to its immense popularity.

Upper Antelope Canyon Tour

We booked our tickets through Antelope Canyon Tours and paid € 190 for the two of us. At first glance, this seems quite expensive, but we found that this experience was well worth this price!

The tour starts at Antelope Canyon Tours office in Page. From there, tour trucks are available to take you to Antelope Canyon. The entire tour lasts an hour and three-quarters, including transportation to the canyon. This means we only spent a little over half an hour in the canyon, which was way too short. 🥺 But since this is such a popular place, we understand that you can’t walk around here for hours. Everyone deserves a chance to visit the stunning Antelope Canyon!

Our tour guide was simply the best in every way. She told plenty of captivating stories along the way, and took countless photos of us and the canyon itself! She showed us the best spots and angles, and chased away people who ruined our photos. We were so lucky to have such a good tour guide!

The most magical part of our experience were undoubtedly the light beams. We had heard, seen, and read so much about this, but experiencing this in real life was so otherworldly! We can both confirm that this was the most magical moment of our road trip, and maybe even of all our trips. You just have to experience this to know what we’re talking about! To experience the iconic light beams, we recommend scheduling your visit between 11 AM and 1:30 PM.

If you want more information regarding the Upper Antelope Canyon Tour, make sure to read our perfect day trip to Page, Arizona.

3. Alabama Hills Movie Road

Bucket list destinations in the American Southwest: Alabama Hills Movie road

One of the most iconic roads we’ve driven on is undoubtedly Alabama Hills Movie Road. Nestled in the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, this scenic route winds its way through the legendary Alabama Hills, a landscape that has served as a backdrop for countless movies, series, and commercials. We got goosebumps while driving around here, the whole setting felt unreal. It is such a unique landscape and the mountains as backdrop are just gorgeous!

What we also really like is that the landscape and setting changes throughout the year. When we did our research, we saw that the mountains in the background could have no snow, a little snow, lots of snow,… and that the roads differ between the seasons, too. This is a great reason to revisit this place every 3 months when the seasons change!

Alabama Hills Movie Road is a legendary destination for film enthusiasts and photographers alike! If you’re looking for a scenic drive with a picture-perfect backdrop, make sure to add Alabama Hills Movie Road to your bucket list.

4. Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a smaller version of Monument Valley and remains a relatively undiscovered treasure. Similar to Monument Valley, this hidden gem offers numerous buttes, rock formations and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. So beautiful!

We visited this beautiful destination in the afternoon. Apart from some campers, we had the whole place to ourselves. It felt like we were the only ones in the world! The road is rather sandy and bumpy, but this added an element of excitement and fun to our journey. We spent around two hours driving around and exploring this special landscape. It is such a peaceful place, we didn’t want to leave! If you want to escape the crowds, Valley of the Gods is definitely worth a visit. It is really magical and peaceful with so much beauty to see. The best part is that are no fees to drive Valley of the Gods, unlike Monument Valley.

Last but not least: you are allowed to drone here! In most national and state parks, this is not allowed, so we were so happy to finally get to bring out our beloved drone once again! Make sure to charge your drone’s batteries, though. We didn’t expect that the Valley of the Gods would be so amazing, so we only brought 2 half-charged batteries. Well, let’s just say we will never make that same mistake again!

Side note
Although Valley of the Gods is a beautiful place, it does not compare to Monument Valley. So we do not recommend replacing Monument Valley with Valley of the Gods, but rather see it as a great extra stop.

5. Valley of Fire

We already mentioned Valley of Fire in our Las Vegas travel guide, but thought it was worth mentioning here as well. This gorgeous state park is about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas and the perfect day trip if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. Especially if you’re into outdoor adventures such as hiking and camping. We heard from so many friends that they didn’t include it in their itinerary, so by including it here we want to make sure you do!

Fire Wave

Valley of Fire: Fire Wave

One of our favorite hikes was the Fire Wave. This 2,4 km round trip hike leads you to some stunning waves, known as the Fire Wave. Although this is an “easy” hike, when we did it in the glaring sun it was quite the effort. So make sure to bring some water! The unique patterns and colors of the rocks create a visual spectacle that is incredible to see. It is definitely one of the most wonderful things to see in Valley of Fire.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also go for a combination trail called the Seven Wonders Loop. This trail adds about 800m to the Fire Wave trail, and adds some spectacular views to your hike like the Thunderstorm Arch and the Fire Cave.

Mouse’s Tank road

Valley of Fire: Mouse's Tank road

If you’re looking for incredible views, make sure to stop at Mouse’s Tank road. Along the road you will find all kinds of rocks, for the best views we recommend climbing one of them. There are countless rocks available for climbing, ranging from easy to hard climbs. You’ll be amazed by this breathtaking view and the photos you can take!

Mouse’s Tank trail

Valley of Fire: Mouse's Tank trail

Nearby you also have the Mouse’s Tank trail (1 km/0,6 mi), but we found this one quite underwhelming. Along the way you spot some rock art (petroglpyhs) which was really fun, but the “end” of the trail was just not worth it to us. The end is, as the name suggests, Mouse’s Tank. When we visited, the tank was almost empty with little water in it. That being said, we’re not quite sure if the hike would have been better if the tank were full. It was just a big tank to us, nothing more. The signs on the rocks along the way were cool, though!

We only spent half a day here, but would have liked to explore so much more! Valley of Fire State Park is an otherworldly nature paradise, offering an escape into nature’s wonders and breathtaking landscapes. The entrance fee is € 14 per vehicle, or € 9 if you are a Nevada resident.

6. Route 66

Amboy Ghost Town

Bucket list destinations in the American Southwest: Amboy

Amboy is a ghost town that was once a thriving pit stop along the iconic Route 66. Nowadays, this abandoned town offers a captivating glimpse into a bygone era.

After driving several kilometers through the Mojave Desert, we came upon Amboy and were greeted by the iconic Roy’s Motel and Cafe sign and a baby blue vintage car. Amboy is rather small, but the vintage neon sign catches the eye, making it unlikely you’ll just drive by here.

Roy’s Motel and Cafe is the main attraction of Amboy. Besides the iconic sign and vintage car, there are some abandoned buildings where you can just walk in and take a look. So cool (and a bit creepy)! We imagined the vibrant life that once pulsed through its now-abandoned buildings. There’s also an abandoned school right next to Roy’s Motel and Cafe, but unfortunately you can’t go in there. Across the street you’ll also find a lot of abandoned buildings, including a church. The church isn’t accessible either, but there are some houses that you can visit. We highly recommend doing so whilst trying to imagine what life was like there so many years ago.

Bucket list destinations in the American Southwest: Amboy

We totally loved the neon sign and vintage car, it is the perfect photo spot. You can also take some pictures on the iconic highway, but be careful for cars! Believe it or not, more cars than you think will pass. When we were there, at least one car every 5 minutes passed!



Another iconic stop on Route 66 is Needles. This town is situated in the desert and known for its extreme high temperatures! When we were there it was even hotter in Needles than in Death Valley, and that says it all.

Bucket list destinations in the American Southwest: Needles

We walked around here for an hour and came across countless cool photo spots! Make sure to stop by one of the “Historic Route 66”-signs. There are plenty of them, but the best one (according to us) can be found on the intersection of Palm Way and W Broadway St (Historic US 66). There you have a sign in good conditions, with some amazing palm trees in the background. Another really cool thing to do was visiting the El Garces Hotel. It has an iconic Route 66 bench, and at the beginning of the street you can find the “Needles – Route 66” statue. Two birds with one stone!

Don’t forget to bring a bottle of water with you. We didn’t bring water, and found nothing nearby to buy anything! We ended up taking the car to find a cafe a little further away. It gets really hot here, with temperatures in the summer months around 43 °C/110 °F. 

Looking for more US inspiration?

The perfect day trip to Page, Arizona
The ultimate Bryce Canyon guide
Palm Springs travel guide
Our favorite things to do in Yosemite

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