American Road Trip

In 2014, I drove from Vancouver to San Francisco with my best friends

Long Weekend Trip to Las Vegas

I’m taking a departure from all the outdoor adventure stuff I’ve been posting about lately to write about my trip to Las Vegas instead. I went to Vegas with Carolyn for the first time in 2017 to run a half marathon. We had a great time, but because of the race, we felt like we didn’t really get to experience Vegas properly, so we were anxious to go back. At the time, I knew I was probably going to be getting engaged within the following year, so I promised her we’d go back for my Bachelorette.

And we actually did it! We were joined by my sister, Emily, my cousin, Katie, my oldest friend, Karen, and my work bestie, Sarah. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because it was a bit of a mix of friends, but we ended up having the BEST time! I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I’m going to tell you about it anyways, well the PG parts at least, after all, it was a bachelorette party 😉

We decided to take advantage of the Easter long weekend and make a 4 day trip out of it. We went straight to the airport on Thursday after work and stayed until late Monday night on Easter Monday. I flip-flopped a lot on where to stay on the strip, but we eventually decided to stay at the Flamingo, which I have absolutely no regrets about! It was right in the middle of the strip and had an awesome pool party! They were able to give us two adjoining hotel rooms, which also made for a lot of fun.

We took it easy on our first night because we didn’t get in until pretty late and we figured Friday might be our only sober morning, so we got up pretty early on Good Friday and decided to spend the day exploring the strip. Carolyn is bridesmaid extraordinaire and surprised me with matching shirts and sunglasses for everyone, so we wore them out on our first day, which was an excellent decision. Plus, apparently bachelorette parties are in high demand at all the Vegas night clubs, so we got approached by a ton of clubs offering us skip the line and drink for free at their night clubs. Katie lives in San Francisco and was the only one with a working cell phone, so we set her up as our agent and she started texting with all the clubs to get us the best deals. We had a good laugh out of it and loved feeling like a VIP for a night!

We explored the south part of the strip on our first day, walking from the Flamingo down to Excelsior and then heading back up. My favourite hotels were the ones that really commit to their theme. It makes it so much more fun to explore them and see all the cute little themed shops. My personal favs (on day 1), were Paris and New York New York. Surprisingly, I liked Excelsior too – I thought it was going to be kind of childish, but the whole castle theme was cute.

Katie worked her networking magic for us and we decided to spend the night at Marquee Night Club in Cosmopolitan. I was super fun to just show up and skip the line and have a great time on the dance floor! Carolyn and I didn’t do any night clubs our first time in Vegas, although we did have a great time partying at the Piano Bar in NYNY, so it was fun to try out some of the night clubs. They’re all super chic and it was my first time (I think?) going to a club where the DJ didn’t play top 40’s music and actually just played dance beats. It was really different, but fun.

On our second day, we decided to take things easier and had a bit of a sleep-in before going out for brunch and then joining the pool party at the Flamingo. I haven’t really been to any of the other pools on the strip, but I loved the pool at the Flamingo! We strolled in our matching “booty veils” that Carolyn made for us (which were absolutely adorable), and spent the afternoon alternating between relaxing poolside and partying in the pool. I wish I took some photos of the pool, which had these awesome waterfalls and everything, but apparently I was having far too much fun and totally forgot. We all had a good laugh at the “booty dancing competition” hosted in the middle of the pool party. When they announced it, I was like, “We should sign up and dance with our booty veils”, but thank god we didn’t because the competition was the most ridiculous and extra thing I’ve every seen in my life. I loved watching, but I’m glad that’s where our involvement ended!

We decided on a club crawl for our second night. It started off at a Margaritaville, which was a bit lame, but we were really only there for the purpose of cheap drink deals. Mostly we just watched Sarah and Carolyn school everybody at flip cup before moving on to two clubs. The first was Omnia at Caesar’s Palace. Omnia was so cool! Overall, I think I had more fun with the VIP experience at Marquee, but Omnia was definitely the coolest club we went to. In my opinion, it had the best music of everywhere we went, and it had the coolest setup. The dance floor was completely on wheels with the DJ playing the most energetic beats and I had the best time dancing. It has this giant chandelier thing over the dance floor that does all these crazy light tricks and sends out fog – it was really cool, but hard to describe. It’s actually 3 clubs in one, sadly one of them was closed, but the second one was outside on the roof and had this really amazing view of the strip!

The second club we visited was Chateau, which is located right under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was probably my least favourite of the 3, but still really cool to visit. It was the least crowded though, which I really liked. Omnia was awesome, but towards the end when we were there it got crazy busy on the dance floor, like to the extent that you couldn’t dance anymore because you could barely move, at which point it stopped being as fun, but it never felt like that at Chateau and it was really nice being outside in the open air.

Day 3 marked the beginning of the more chill part of our trip. We had a few more drinks, but we took it easy after that and explored a different side of Vegas. Our third day was our foodie day. We started the day off with lunch at Gordon Ramsey’s Burger restaurant in Planet Hollywood. It’s one of the few places where you can actually order how you would like your burger cooked because they actually grind the meat into burgers right on site. You could also make any burger into the vegan “impossible burger”, which our two vegetarians really appreciated! I can’t even describe how good these burgers were, even the fries and onion rings were to die for with multiple sauces for each. Sarah and I shared a Mediterranean lamb burger and a blue cheese beef burger that were phenomenal! We finished it off sharing Katie’s oreo milkshake which I think I still have dreams about, it was so creamy!

We spent the afternoon in Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. It’s a lot different than what the strip looks like now, but it’s cool to see the old casinos and it has a fun vibe. There are outdoor stages with performers set up along the strip and the entire thing is covered with a huge roof that I’m lead to believe is actually a giant screen? We didn’t spend too long downtown, but we did take the opportunity to get our souvenirs as everything down there was cheaper than the strip.

We postponed supper to take in a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere at Treasure Island. Since Treasure Island is on the north side of the strip, we took the opportunity to explore that end. The Venetian still takes the cake as one of my favourite hotels on the strip. I love the canals and Mark’s Square outside and I love that the theme is continued inside with the canal running through the building and all the shops set to look like you’re walking through Venice. It’s definitely a strong contender for where to stay next time I go back! This was my 4th Cirque show and as usual, it did not disappoint. Katie gets a discount to a bunch of the shows from her job and she was able to get us front row seats for it!! We had a great view and my favourite part was when the clown kicked Sarah and Carolyn out of their seats for a laugh.

We had a late dinner, but it really paid off because we didn’t have to wait in any lines and we got a fantastic table sitting on the patio of this fancy french restaurant in Paris. It’s directly across the street from the Bellagio, so you have an awesome view of the fountain show as you enjoy your meal. The restaurant was called Mon Ami Gabi and it had the best food, it was my second time eating there and I would absolutely eat there again because the food and ambiance are fantastic. We finished the evening with a stroll over to the Bellagio, which I’d never been in before and had the most beautiful garden inside! The Bellagio was classy. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much because I thought it was one of the oldest casinos, but it is lovely in there and I really liked exploring it.

The last day was a bit tricky because we were all preparing to go home and we had to check out of the hotel, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 9pm. We made another great decision though and after we checked out, we picked up a rental car from the hotel and peaced out of Vegas for the day to do a little bit of exploring. Carolyn agreed to be our driver and we had a good laugh when we saw what she would be driving us in all day. There were 6 of us (and luggage), so I had booked a 7-seater SUV, but we ended up getting upgraded to a Suburban, which had 7 seats, plus an enormous trunk that Emily informed me later actually had more seats in it and easily fit 6 pieces of luggage.

We spent the day at Valley of Fire State Park. None of us has really spent any time in the desert, except maybe for Katie who goes to Burning Man every year, so it was a lot of fun to explore. Valley of Fire State Park is all this bright red desert rock that makes you feel like you’re living on mars. It was really hot and we didn’t want to do to anything too strenuous, so we did a short hike on the “white dome trail”, which takes you through some of the landscape and this really cool canyon stretch. We stopped into the visitors centre and had a bit of a photoshoot at the “Seven Sisters” before heading back to Vegas again to drop the car at the airport.

So there you go, that covers about 90% of our trip – you’ll just have to use your imagination for what we got up to on the rest! I really had the best time and we’ve already started to pressure Karen about where she’s going to take us on her bachelorette next year! For someone who thought she wouldn’t like Vegas, it’s become a favourite and I would definitely go back again!

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A Foggy Visit To San Francisco

If you’re still with me (I don’t think I’ve ever covered a trip in as much detail), you’ve finally made it to the last post! Our final destination, the shining gem of California’s Golden Coast – San Francisco. Unfortunately for us though, there wasn’t really anything shiny about it. After the beautiful weather in Oregon, the sun deserted us and we spent three days on San Francisco’s foggy shore.

In hopes that the sun would peak its way out, we made the mistake of wearing shorts and t-shirt on our first day in the city and experienced a windy, cold tour of the city and crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge. But we’re all troopers and after a quick stop back to our hostel to change into some warmer clothes, we made the most of our short time in San Francisco. We took a whirlwind bus tour of the city, jumping off at San Francisco’s more popular attractions: the ever busy Fisherman’s Wharf, the steep, winding Lombard Street, and of course, Pier 39, home to hundreds of noisy and entertaining sea lions! We also stopped at the Golden Gate Vista in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bright arches of one of the world’s most famous suspension bridges, but they were sadly hidden in the fog and we had to settle for just a glimpse of the bottom.

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While there’s lots to see in the city, the highlight of our time in San Francisco ended up being a visit to the infamous Alcatraz prison (surely this place must have been JK Rowlings inspiration for Azkaban?). In case you don’t know, Alcatraz is a former federal prison located on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Often referred to as “The Rock”, it was open from 1933 to 1963 and housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. Due to the harsh environment in which the prison was located and the high operating costs, it was eventually closed and now operates as a tourist attraction and national park. We took a boat across the windy bay and did an audio tour of the Alcatraz cell house.

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I have to give props to the makers of the audio tour because it was one of the best audio tours I’ve ever taken. The tour featured testimonies from several previous guards and inmates and provided a detailed history of the cellhouse and its famous prisoners and escapes. Our favourite tale of escape was that of several inmates who collected various tools (mostly spoons) and over the course of who knows how long, chipped away at the concrete around the air vent in their cells until they were large enough to crawl through. They made makeshift vents out of cardboard and other materials to hide the damage to the wall, and they created fake heads out of clay to put in their beds during the night of their escape to fools the guards. The inmates eventually escaped from their cells to a long utility corridor between the walls, where they climbed up the pipes and onto the roof. From there, they escaped on a life raft they made out of rain jackets! The prisoners were never found – it’s very unlikely that the raft or their bodies would not have been found if they had drowned – so it’s pretty likely that they successfully escaped!

To our surprise, when we finished the tour and were perusing the bookstore, we discovered that an actual former inmate of Alcatraz, William Baker, was on site promoting and signing his new book on his time in Alcatraz! Gill and Mel both purchased a copy and had the somewhat surreal experience of smiling and posing for a picture with Mr. Baker. I didn’t read the book myself, but if you’re wondering, I’ve been informed by Gill that Mr. Baker originally went to prison for car theft. If he’d done the time he was sentenced for, he would have been out of prison in 4 years, but after multiple escape attempts he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz and ended up spending the majority of his life (he was only released in 2011 and is in his 80’s) in prison.

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Lucky for us, our visit to Alcatraz ended up being a huge pick-me-up after a slightly disappointing, and very cold morning. I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re ever in San Francisco, just make sure to get your tickets a few months in advance or you’ll have no hope of going. Since you have to take a boat there, there’s only a limited number of tickets.

Sadly, Mel was only able to spend one day with us in San Francisco and then had to jet off to attend a wedding. We were sad to see her go, but enjoyed a beautiful trip to Napa Valley on our second day! It was another foggy start to the day, but as soon as we left the Bay area behind us, the sun came out and the day quickly brightened up! Napa Valley is California’s premier wine region and was incredibly beautiful. We started off with a drive through the Sonoma Region and over the course of the day visited three wineries. The first two were small boutique wineries that produce a few thousand bottles of wine per year, which are only sold at their winery. The last winery produces several million bottles per year and we thought it was nice to have the contrast of visiting both types. We had an enjoyable afternoon tasting the different wines and being taught much more than I ever needed to know about how to properly open and drink wine!

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Our last day in San Francisco was a bit of a freebie. We were originally going to spend our last day in Santa Cruz, but because we had to switch up the order of the trip when we missed Yosemite, we ended up having an extra day. We started the morning off right with a delicious Sunday brunch from the Cheesecake Factory, did a little shopping, and then split up for the afternoon. Karen spent the afternoon doing some shopping and exploring around Union Square, Gill made a visit to a childhood icon of hers, the ‘Full House’ house, and I walked through the city up to Coit Tower where I finally caught a full view of the Golden Gate Bridge! It was a more relaxing day and the sun finally came out for our last few hours in the city.

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That pretty much sums up our trip of America’s West Coast. We returned to Vancouver just over a week ago and Gill stuck around for a few extra days. Karen won’t be going back to Newfoundland at all though as she’s been accepted to study law at UBC, so you might be hearing more about her in my future exploits! I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with us – it was the trip of a lifetime for us and I loved sharing it!

Much Love,
Maria

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California Dreamin’

We crossed the border into California last Tuesday morning – unfortunately it was around this point that we hit a few bits of bad luck. It seems you can’t win with weather in California and it switched from sweltering (35+) to cold and thunderstorms. We drove down the eastern side of California, passing briefly into the sunny desert landscapes of Nevada. After passing through Reno we swung back into California to visit South Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is a huge alpine lake, in the summer it’s a popular beach destination and in the winter it’s popular for skiing! Our morning in Tahoe started off promising; we got up early to enjoy the sun and myself and Melissa rented a paddle boat while Gill and Karen lounged on the beach. The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is so clear and beautiful. We couldn’t help but hop out of the boat for a dip! We managed to fit in a fantastic brunch at IHOP as well, but after that things started to turn sour.

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The clouds and thunderstorms rolled in and we discovered that our next destination, the beautiful Yosemite National Park, was being ravaged by wildfires. We spent a good part of the afternoon trying to get a hold of our hotel to find out what was going on – it turns out we could still make it down to Yosemite Valley, but a lot of highways were closed and the extra time added to the journey in and out of the park meant that we would barely have any time there (it was also very smoky in the valley). So we decided to skip Yosemite. This was a hard hit for me since it was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to, but things can’t always go as planned and I think we made the right decision to skip it.

In lieu of Yosemite, we went to Santa Cruz! We decided to leave the rainy weather in Tahoe behind and took off for the sunny west coast. Santa Cruz is a beach town about an hour outside of San Francisco. The main attraction is the beach and boardwalk, which if you ask me, is a brilliant combination! You can lounge on the golden sand and swim in the pacific, or you can take in all of the thrill rides along the boardwalk at the back of the beach! On windy days, you’ll find the town crawling with surfers.

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Mel and Karen opted to soak in the sun on the beach, but Gill and I broke up the day with several rides on the boardwalk! Our favorites were a wooden roller coast, this drop ride called double shot that threw you up in the air and let you freefall back down, and of course, a theme park classic, the swings! The view from the air was fantastic and we had a great afternoon trying different rides, going for a dip in the ocean, and sampling different treats from the boardwalk (dippin dots was a popular one). We finished the visit with a little shopping on the boardwalk, grabbed some slushies, and then took off for our final destination, San Francisco.

Unfortunately, we had another bit of bad luck when we arrived in San Francisco – our hostel lost our reservation and we were forced to split up one night and then double bunk another. But we ended up getting one night free, which made up for our loss by skipping Yosemite (gotta look on the bright side). We’ve actually finished the trip now (I’m writing to you from back in Vancouver), but I’ve got one more post coming for you about the three days we spent in San Francisco. So stick around for one last entry! Gill’s vlog for this portion of the trip isn’t ready yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post it at the bottom of this blog!

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