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Over three weeks in November and December 2011, we hired a car and did a three week roadtrip across the South West of the United States of America.  Our trip covered four states – Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Here’s the route we took.  

View South West USA Roadtrip in a larger map

We started in Las Vegas, NV and drove to Tusayan, AZ via the Hoover Dam. Tusayan is a good place to spend the night if you’re visiting the Grand Canyon from the South entrance. It’s still expensive for what you get but a lot cheaper than staying within the National Park which is just a few miles up the road. The food options in Tusayan aren’t great – according to TripAdvisor the best place in town to eat dinner is Wendy’s (!!), which we did.

Our Rental Car - 2011 Ford Taurus

Sunset Over the Grand Canyon

Bethaney and Reuben at the Grand Canyon

We drove out the East entrance of the National Park and headed to Albuquerque, NM. This was our biggest driving day and we pretty much spent all day in the car with a lot of stops. In Albuquerque we were staying with family friends and were lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with them. Definitely a quintessential American experience. We took a day trip to Santa Fe, NM from Albuquerque. It was bitterly cold but beautifully sunny the whole time we were in New Mexico.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

There was a little backtracking due to making it to Albuquerque in time for Thanksgiving which meant two trips along the same stretch of the I-40. This wasn’t a bad thing. The scenery was interesting to us – being from New Zealand we aren’t used to desert landscapes and driving for miles with no town in site. On the way there we stopped for lunch at an excellent restaurant in Winslow, AZ serving Southwestern cuisine. You certainly wouldn’t expect it but the food at The Turquoise Room at La Posada was out of this world. On the way back from Albuquerque we drove through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park and stopped for a picnic lunch our hosts in Albuquerque had kindly packed for us.

Painted Desert National Park, Arizona

Picnic in the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

After Albuquerque we stayed in Flagstaff, AZ for two nights. We had a room at the Raddison which had the most comfortable bed in the world – so comfy we stayed an extra night. There really isn’t a lot to do in Flagstaff but we needed a break from driving and it was the perfect little town to decompress, have a massage and sit in the hot tub.

From Flagstaff we drove down through Sedona, AZ and the Red Rock National Park which was beautiful. Flagstaff is at 7000 feet and Sedona is at 4200 feet so the 30 mile drive down through the mountains is pretty spectacular. We headed from Sedona straight through to Scottsdale, AZ and spent a few nights relaxing in the warmth (it was early December and 26 degrees), swimming, shopping and admiring the cacti.


Reading Up on Red Rock Canyon National Park, Arizona

Playing with a Pig at a Petting Zoo, Scottsdale, Arizona

On a bit of a whim, we decided to detour North and stay in Palm Springs, CA so we could visit the Joshua Tree National Park. It was very impressive and definitely worth going the extra mile to reach. Look for wheelchair accessible trails if you’re exploring with a stroller.

Driving into the Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Walking the Stroller through Joshua Tree National Park, California

We drove to San Diego, CA via an expensive trip to an outlet mall on the outskirts of Palm Springs where I got a US$1400 Balenciaga dress for a little over US$100! San Diego is a great city for travelling with kids as there are plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy. We loved the Chimps at the San Diego zoo. It was nice to walk along the beach after spending more than two months in the desert. It was too cold for swimming but we had sunny days and temperatures of 18 degrees. We took a side trip to La Jolla, CA for lunch and some seal spotting. It’s a cute town with a lot of money – lots of exotic cars, much to Lee’s delight.

Sunset Cable Car Ride over San Diego Zoo, California

Up Close and Playful with a Chimp at San Diego Zoo, California

La Jolla, California

Our last stop was Los Angeles, CA. We didn’t do a lot in LA. Driving on the freeway is truly horrible, even with a GPS. We had travel fatigue at this point and had to pack up a whole car load of stuff into our suitcases for the flight back to NZ which took me most of the three days. We did a few touristy things though – lunch in Malibu, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and spent a few afternoons celeb spotting on Robertson Boulevard with no joy.

Tiffany & Co, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, California

By the end of our trip we’d done 2,500 miles, most of it pretty easy going. The interstates are excellent in the US and not at all boring if you’re not used to the scenery of the region. Reuben coped remarkably well – he had a cold for most of the trip so was happy just to read a book, eat crackers and nod off in the back seat. We did try to time it so the bulk of the driving was over nap time as he was still having two naps a day.

Related Posts:

Read my top 10 tips for a US road trip with kids.

Read my tips on how to find cheap accommodation in the US.

For more photos, check out our gallery on Flickr.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Treasure of Travelers

    I’m going in West Coast at the end of this year. So thank for this glimpse! I can’t wait! The weather is very cold in December?

    • Bethaney

      Where on the West Coast will you be?

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