United States

Our US road trip itinerary

Our US road trip (May 2023) was undoubtedly the best trip of our lives (so far). Five amazing weeks exploring the Southwest, from vibrant cities to breathtaking national and state parks, it was all pure magic! We checked off iconic bucket list spots we’d dreamed of for years, and stumbled upon hidden gems we never knew existed. In this blog post, we take you through our unforgettable US road trip itinerary. We uncover all the incredible destinations and cities we explored in the Southwest. Also, by using this itinerary you now know how long you should stay at each location. Gone are the days of doing your own research, just use our experiences. 😉

Before we delve deeper into each destination, here’s an overview of all the destinations and cities we visited (in chronological order):

San Francisco – Santa Cruz – Big Sur – Yosemite NP – Kings Canyon NP – Alabama Hills – Death Valley NP – Las Vegas – Valley of Fire – Grand Canyon NP – Page – Valley of the Gods – Monument Valley – Bryce Canyon NP – Zion NP – Needles – Amboy – Joshua Tree NP – Calico – Pioneertown – Palm Springs – San Diego – Los Angeles – Santa Barbara

Stop 1: San Francisco

Our US road trip itinerary: San Francisco

Our road trip started in San Francisco, where we stayed for 3 nights. Although we were not lucky with the weather (we had rain pretty much every day!), we found San Francisco to be one of our favorite cities. Admiring the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, seeing the beautiful cable cars, visiting the legendary Alcatraz,… There is so much to do in San Fran, and we loved every single one of them. Strolling through Chinatown and eating amazing seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf were definitely one of the highlights, too. Oh, and the sea lions at Pier 39 were soooo cute! 🦭

Where we stayed: Kimpton Alton Hotel

▶️ Read all about the best things to do in San Francisco and discover our food and drink recommendations in San Francisco.

Stop 2: Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

After San Francisco, we continued on to Santa Cruz, where we stayed for one night. This is the only city on our road trip that didn’t blow us away. It was really fun to walk along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and spot the sea lions, but other than that, there wasn’t much to do here, in our personal opinion. The main reason for this was that almost every stall on the Boardwalk was closed. We had high expectations of a night full of games, food, and adventure, but this wasn’t the case at all. What promised to be a fun evening ended sooner than expected! If we had to plan our road trip again, we wouldn’t include Santa Cruz this time.

Where we stayed: Comfort Inn Santa Cruz

Stop 3: Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the world’s most breathtaking stretches of coastline, so obviously we had to drive along here. The views we encountered on the way were so picturesque and seemed straight out of a dream! We literally couldn’t believe our eyes, but we think the drone shots speak for themselves. 😉

Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, we made two stops: one at the Bixby Creek Bridge and one at McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Since we are both big fans of Big Little Lies, we wanted to drive across the bridge while “Cold Little Heart” played in the background. Big Little Lies fans will know what we’re talking about. 😉 It was a moment we’ll never forget, absolute goosebumps. We also really wanted to see the McWay Falls, after pictures of this beautiful waterfall showed up on all our socials. We can tell you: the whole setting is like a scene straight out of a fairy tale! It is such an idyllic and picturesque spot. 🥹 We probably stayed here for an hour or so, just taking in this amazing landscape.

We really regret not exploring more of Big Sur, it is really one of the prettiest places we’ve seen yet. It definitely forces us to come back soon to explore all the beauty Big Sur has to offer!

▶️ Discover more bucket list destinations in the American Southwest.

Stop 4: Yosemite NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Yosemite

The first national park we visited was Yosemite NP, where we stayed for 3 nights. This world-famous national park was amongst the first on our bucket list. We couldn’t wait to visit it! But like we mentioned in our things that went wrong blog post, our visit to Yosemite did not go without a hitch. Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road were closed, so we couldn’t visit famous spots like Glacier Point, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and Half Dome. We could only explore Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. But even with all that bad luck, we managed to make the most of it and have a great time! Nothing beats waking up at 5 in the morning to see the valley “wake up”, or waiting 2 hours to watch the sun set. We also discovered our favorite viewpoint of all national parks here. 🥹

Where we stayed: Cedar Lodge

▶️ Read all about our favorite things to do in Yosemite.

Stop 5: Kings Canyon NP

Kings Canyon

Our original plan was to visit Sequoia NP right after Yosemite NP, but this was also one of the many things that went wrong during our road trip. Fortunately, we discovered this before our road trip, so we still had plenty of time to find alternatives. We chose to visit Kings Canyon NP, where you can also admire giant sequoias. We really wanted to see those giant trees in real life, it’s super fascinating because trees like that don’t even exist in Belgium! Unfortunately, we ended up spending only an hour here. It was too cold and we were really underdressed, just look at our pictures. 😂 Conclusion: we must come back anyway to explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon properly! The trees we did see were magnificent though.

Stop 6: Alabama Hills

Our US road trip itinerary: Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills Movie Road had been on our bucket list for years. When we decided to do this road trip, we knew we were going to visit it no matter what! And that’s exactly what we did, we made a detour of about 3 hours just so we could see it in person. 🥹 This iconic road has served as a backdrop for countless movies, series, and commercials. We can tell you, it is even prettier in person! We got goosebumps while driving around here, the whole setting felt so unreal. It is such a unique landscape and the mountains as backdrop are just gorgeous! It also makes for a spectacular camping trip, judging by the campers that were spread across the area. We did not rent a camper ourselves, but if we had we’d definitely stay here for a couple of days! Who wouldn’t want to wake up with such an amazing view?

Stop 7: Death Valley NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Death Valley

After a brief stop at Kings Canyon and Alabama Hills Movie Road, it was time to drive on to our second national park of the trip: Death Valley NP. We had heard so much about it (especially temperature-wise), so we decided to stay here for two nights to explore it all. That way we gave ourselves plenty of time to see and do anything we liked in this huge national park. Death Valley surprised us the most of all the things we visited during our 5 week road trip. The reason for this is that it has such a wide range of diverse landscapes and activities! The extreme temperatures and otherworldly beauty create an atmosphere that almost feels surreal. One moment you’re looking at sand dunes, the next you’re walking over salt flats. We really had the impression of being on another planet! 🪐

Where we stayed: The Ranch at Death Valley

▶️ Read all about the top 5 best things to do in Death Valley.

Stop 8: Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Our next stop was Las Vegas, where we stayed for two nights again. This vibrant city was everything we imagined and so much more. Everything is glitz and glamour, and nothing is too crazy here. We loved it! From the iconic Strip, impressive hotels, and countless casinos, we were amazed by every single thing. The Neon Museum surprised us the most, this was such a unique experience! Seeing all those neon lights light up at night, truly wonderful. We had the time of our lives in Las Vegas, we never thought we would love this city so much! We can’t wait to come back one day. 🤩

Where we stayed: Paris Las Vegas

▶️ Discover everything you need to know about Sin City in our Las Vegas travel guide.

Stop 9: Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Before heading to our next destination, we visited Valley of Fire State Park. It’s about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas and is one of Nevada’s finest state parks. From scenic drives and amazing hikes to stunning red rock formations, it is the perfect outdoor destination! We only spent half a day here, but really wanted to spend more time here. There’s so much to do and see, a full day here would definitely not be a lost day!

▶️ Discover everything you need to know about Valley of Fire in our Las Vegas travel guide.

Stop 10: Grand Canyon NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon NP could not be missed on our road trip, as it’s probably the most iconic and well-known national park in the United States. It is such an incredible feeling to admire the Grand Canyon in person! No matter how many photos and videos you’ve already seen of this geological marvel, seeing it in real life is an experience like no other. There is nothing like standing at the edge of the rim and admiring the spectacular size, breathtaking views, and dramatic colors. Even though we knew what to expect when we visited, the Grand Canyon still managed to amaze us with its magnitude!

As mentioned in our “things that went wrong” blog post, our glamping plans near the Grand Canyon changed last minute. We had booked two nights at Wander Camp, but due to prescribed fires and maintenance we could only stay for one night. Luckily, we found an amazing budget hotel near Williams, so everything turned out okay in the end! We also discovered a great lunch spot thanks to this chance in plans. So if you’re looking for delicious pizzas, be sure to stop by Station 66 in Williams! This tip’s on the house. 😉

Where we stayed: Wander Camp + Hampton Inn

▶️ Read all about the best Grand Canyon views at the South Rim.

Stop 11: Page

Our US road trip itinerary: Page

Our next stop was Page, where we stayed for one night. Page is home to some of the most incredible natural wonders in the US, including Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Our visit to Upper Antelope Canyon was the highlight of our journey, it is is one of the most enchanting and magical experiences we’ve ever had! Just seeing those famous light beams shine in the slot canyon was something otherworldly. As mentioned in our preparation guide, we secured our tickets 6 months in advance to make sure we get to see those amazing light beams! 🥹

Where we stayed: La Quinta by Wyndham Page at Lake Powell

▶️ Read all about the perfect day trip to Page, Arizona.

Stop 12: Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods

During our first two weeks we mainly explored the states of California and Nevada, with a brief stop in Page, Arizona. Now it was time for our fourth state: Utah! We started with a hidden gem: Valley of the Gods. Similar to Monument Valley, this undiscovered treasure offers numerous buttes, rock formations, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. We had the whole place to ourselves (apart from some campers), and it’s completely free to visit! On top of that, it’s completely allowed to drone here, too! Talk about a hidden gem. 😍

▶️ Read all about Valley of the Gods.

Stop 13: Monument Valley

Monument Valley

After exploring Valley of the Gods we drove on to Monument Valley, where we stayed for one night. We had dinner at Stagecoach, the restaurant of our hotel, where we tried some local specialties. We ordered the Navajo burger and the vegetarian Navajo tacos. Both dishes were served with traditional Navajo fry bread. We are glad we tried this, but have to admit that it’s not completely our thing. The cauliflower wings were delicious though. 😋 And we really loved the view of Monument Valley that this restaurant offers, truly incredible!

Of course, the food during our time in Monument Valley wasn’t the (only) reason we wanted to visit it. The next morning we explored Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, probably one of the most iconic destinations in the American Southwest. We started our day at sunrise at the famous Forrest Gump Point, just outside of Monument Valley. After sunrise, we drove on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to do the scenic loop drive. We encountered a heavenly collection of buttes, rock creations, and untouched desert landscape. It was incredible driving around here, we felt like we were driving through a postcard landscape! We stopped like every 5 minutes to admire the cinematic landscapes and to take a lot of photos. So amazing!

Where we stayed: Goulding’s Lodge

▶️ Read all about Monument Valley.

Stop 14: Bryce Canyon NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Bryce Canyon

Our next stop was Bryce Canyon NP. We stayed in Tropic for two nights, our cozy hotel was just a 15-minute drive to the entrance of Bryce Canyon. We really looooved Bryce Canyon, it offers views you can’t find anywhere else. Its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks! Bryce Canyon surprised us with stunning orange and red hoodoos, breathtaking viewpoints, and unforgettable hikes. We also feel that this national park is often overlooked, which is a shame. The park has so much to offer! So take this as your sign to visit Bryce Canyon as soon as possible. 😉

Where we stayed: Bryce Pioneer Village

▶️ Read all about Bryce Canyon.

Stop 15: Zion NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Zion

After Bryce Canyon, we drove on to Zion NP. We stayed in Hurricane for two nights, just under 30 minutes away from Zion. In terms of hikes, Zion certainly tops the list of places we visited during our time in the US. We really had so much fun during our hikes here! Our original plan was to hike the Narrows, but we couldn’t hike the Narrows due to high runoff. Luckily, we found some other breathtaking hikes with sweeping overlooks and majestic waterfalls. The hikes were so rewarding at the end, but the trails themselves were so much fun along the way, too! We created unforgettable memories here, and can’t wait to come back one day to explore the rest of the park. There’s so much stuff we haven’t done yet, so we’ll surely be back soon! 😍

Where we stayed: Guestroom

▶️ Read all about our unforgettable Zion hiking adventures.

Stop 16: Needles

Needles

A US road trip without the legendary Route 66 is not a successful road trip! Before visiting our next stop of the trip, Joshua Tree, we decided to first pass by some iconic Route 66 gems. Our first stop was Needles, situated in the desert, and known for its extreme high temperatures! When we were there it was even warmer in Needles than in Death Valley. To us, that says it all. 🥵 So make sure to bring water with you if you decide to explore Needles on foot like we did, and wear hats! We really liked Needles, and not only for all the Route 66 references. Those references are amazing indeed, but there also are countless cool photo spots here. Some with, and others without Route 66 references! The whole town just gives off an incredible vibe. Also, make sure to look for the historic Route 66 road signs. We just love them!

Stop 17: Amboy

Amboy

Our next stop was Amboy, a ghost town that was once a thriving pit stop along the iconic Route 66. Amboy is rather small, but the vintage neon sign of the Roy’s Motel and Cafe sure catches the eye. This sign makes it highly unlikely that you’ll just drive by here without making a quick stop. There are some abandoned buildings where you can just walk in and take a look. We found this so cool (and a bit creepy)! It was a really fun way to set yourself back in time and try to imagine what life was like here back then. We loved strolling around here, and highly recommend adding a stop at Amboy to your US road trip itinerary!

Stop 18: Joshua Tree NP

Our US road trip itinerary: Joshua Tree

We stayed for 3 nights in Joshua Tree, but wished we had stayed here much longer! There are two main reasons for this: our magical Airbnb in the desert and the fiery sunsets in Joshua Tree NP. We dedicated an entire blog post to our Airbnb in Joshua Tree. Whether or not you’re planning a trip to Joshua Tree soon, it’s still worth a read! You’ll see why this Airbnb captured our hearts. 🥹 For the other reason (the amazing sunsets), we’ll let our photos do the talking. 😉

Where we stayed: Casa Lenta

▶️ Read all about the best things to do in Joshua Tree.

Stop 19: Calico

Calico

In addition to visiting Joshua Tree NP, we also planned a day trip to Calico and Pioneertown. Calico is a former mining town that is nowadays one of the most popular ghost towns on Route 66. After having such an amazing time in Amboy, our expectations were high. Unfortunately, we have to admit that we were quite disappointed with our visit. There is almost nothing authentic about Calico, it is more a touristy and commercial place. In addition to an entrance fee (about € 7 per person), you have to pay additional fees for most of the things, like Maggie’s Mine and Mystery Shack. This was such a disappointment, we ended up spending only an hour here! We were looking for an authentic experience, but ended up in an amusement park.

Peggy Sues 50's Diner

Fortunately, our visit to Calico was not in vain. As we drove on from Calico to Pioneertown, we came across the cutest diner ever: Peggy Sues 50’s Diner. If you read some of our previous posts, you know that we loooove those authentic diners. Peggy Sues was no different, the interior was so vibrant and adorable, the waitresses wore cute outfits, and we ate delicious and affordable food here! Without our visit to Calico, we never would have passed by Peggy Sues 50’s Diner, but we’re so glad we did! Visiting Calico was a blessing in disguise. 😉

Stop 20: Pioneertown

Pioneertown

After a great lunch break at Peggy Sues 50’s Diner, we drove on to Pioneertown. This town was built in 1946 and was used as an old west movie set, but nowadays it’s a real town! There are a few houses, restaurants, and all the remains of movie sets that you can visit. We really liked Pioneertown because it’s something you’d never see in Belgium: an 1880s inspired town, created to be used as a movie set! Admission is free, it’s so much fun walking around here! It almost feels like being in an old west movie yourself. 🤠

Stop 21: Palm Springs

Our US road trip itinerary: Palm Springs

We stayed in Palm Springs for one night, which is way too short in our opinion. We did not expect to fall in love with Palm Springs, so that’s why we (unfortunately) only planned one full day here. Shame on us, because we really loved our time here! It is the perfect combination of relaxation and exploration, with some lovely weather on top. We discovered wonderful restaurants here, and stayed in an amazing hotel. Literally everything about our trip to Palm Springs exceeded our wildest expectations! As the cool kids say, “Palm Springs was a vibe”. 😉

Where we stayed: Skylark Hotel

▶️ Discover everything you need to know about Palm Springs in our Palm Springs travel guide.

Stop 22: San Diego

Our US road trip itinerary: San Diego

After Palm Springs, we drove on to San Diego. We stayed here for 3 nights in a guest room that we booked through Airbnb. San Diego pleasantly surprised us, we had no idea this bustling city had so much to offer! Although the weather was (surprise surprise) not in our favor, we managed to make the most of it and more. If we had to choose one highlight, it would undoubtedly be our movie night at Rooftop Cinema Club. This was such a unique and romantic experience, we have never had such an original date night! But also Balboa Park, La Jolla, or Little Italy made San Diego a destination we’d never forget.

Where we stayed: Guestroom

▶️ Read all about the best things to do in San Diego and discover our favorite places to eat in San Diego.

Stop 23: Los Angeles

Our US road trip itinerary: Los Angeles

Our last full week we stayed in Los Angeles. We reserved one full week because we had lots of things planned in LA. From Universal Studios Hollywood and Warner Bros. Studio Tour to various museums and parks, we had the time of our lives! Best of all, most of what we did in LA was free, even the museums! The only shame is that we didn’t spot any celebrities during our 7 full days in LA. 😞

▶️ Discover the best free activities to do in LA and our favorite restaurants in LA.

We also made a day trip to Malibu. During our visit to the Getty Villa Museum, a supervisor recommended going to Malibu as the weather was great and it was only a short drive away. Gullible as we are, we decided to give Malibu a try. The first thing we loved during our time on the road were the views on our way up north. It’s such an amazing and “freeing” feeling to drive what feels like inches away from the ocean. Other than that, we really loved spotting the beautiful houses that Malibu is famous for. But that’s about it, Malibu is rather small so apart from some “housespotting”, grabbing a drink and going to the beach, there’s not much else to do. But that’s okay, after a pretty busy week in LA we loved the fact that we could unwind here!

Where we stayed: Sonder Beverly Terrace

Stop 24: Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

On our last day, we decided to drive all the way to Santa Barbara to soak up the atmosphere. We didn’t do much here, because we didn’t have that much time left. We were looking to do a wine tasting experience, but all places that offered one either just closed, or didn’t offer an “exciting wine menu”. We’re both not big fans of red wines, so when the majority of the choices are red wines, we wouldn’t really enjoy it. We walked around the town and the beach, and ate some ice cream. Santa Barbara looked like a cozy town to us, we can’t wait to come back to see some more of the city!

Looking for more road trip adventures?

Things that went wrong during our US road trip
5 week US road trip: Budget Breakdown
Money-saving hacks for your US road trip
Q&A on our US road trip

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