At the beginning of 2016, my husband and I had a severe case of "wanderlust" so we packed up a rental car and drove from St. Louis to Disneyland. We broke up the 24 hour drive by making several stops, including: Denver, Arches National Park, Las Vegas, Disneyland, San Diego, Imperial Beach, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Neither of us had traveled past Kansas City so this was an exciting adventure for both of us (except for Kansas - that was the longest drive of my life).
DAY 1: DENVER/BOULDER, CO. One of my childhood friends lives in Denver and she took us hiking in Boulder. I’d never been a big fan of snow, but I honestly teared up as I looked over the snow-caped pine trees. As we climbed the mountain, snow was lightly falling and all you could hear was the sound of the flakes touching the ground. It was absolute serenity, and it certainly changed how I feel about snow (at least outside of Missouri).
DAY 2-3: MOAB, UT/ LAS VEGAS, NV. After conquering mountain climbing, we left Denver and headed for Arches National Park in Moab, UT and Las Vegas, NV. The scenery along this drive was absolutely breathtaking. Both of us were worried the drive would be a little boring, but our mouths were gapping open as we cut through the Rocky Mountains. The pictures just don’t do it justice.
Arches National Park was also one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and we were so excited to be there during the National Park's 100th Anniversary! We originally thought this would be a quick stop on the highway so we didn’t set aside much time to visit. Boy, were we wrong. I couldn’t believe all of the rock formations throughout the park. If you’ve never been, you have to go and plan (at least) an entire day to enjoy it. Also, be sure to have tons of water with you and shoes meant for hiking (not Sperry's!). There's a lot of walking and climbing involved with this destination so pack accordingly.
Next stop, Viva Las Vegas! We loved Vegas, but we were so exhausted by the time we got to our hotel at MGM Grand that we only bought one drink, walked halfway down the strip and then turned around to go to bed. What a wild night! In the morning we hit the town and had breakfast at “Mon Ami Gabi”. The food/Mimosas/Bloody Mary's were fantastic; we loved sitting on the outdoor patio under the Eiffel Tower at Paris Resort. It has a great view of the "Fountains of Bellagio" show throughout the day as it's right across the street, so be sure to grab a seat.
DAY 4-5: DISNEYLAND. We were lucky enough to be at Disneyland for the Diamond Celebration in honor of its 60th anniversary. Every last inch of the park was decorated with diamonds and blue banners. Both of us felt so star-struck as we walked down the original Main Street U.S.A. and saw Walt’s apartment above the firehouse. Not to mention we got to ride all of the original classic Disney rides, like: It's A Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo and so much more. Spending two days at Disneyland was nothing short of magical (who saw that coming?). The look of pure joy on our faces the entire time was absolutely priceless.
Many people have asked me since I visited what's the difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The biggest difference is certainly the size. There's only Magic Kingdom and Disney's California Adventure, but honestly, we liked this a little more than the Florida parks. It's much more intimate because of it's size and we had the chance to actually do every last thing at both parks with time to spare (which has never happened to us on a Disney vacation). When visiting Walt Disney World, there's so much to see that it can be overwhelming. If you're a first time Disney park goer, I say start with Disneyland/California Adventure before making your way to Florida. It's a great introduction to the world of Disney vacationing!
DAY 6-7: SAN DIEGO/IMPERIAL BEACH/SANTA MONICA/LOS ANGELES, CA: On our last full day we were pleasantly surprised to find out my grandfather was in San Diego from New York! We spent the day eating lunch in San Diego and then drove down to the “Most South-Westerly City” – Imperial Beach. It was a quintessential surfer town that we fell in love with. Walking down the beach with my husband and grandfather quickly turned into one of the best days of my life.
Although I don't have pictures of this part, we drove from San Diego up to Santa Monica to visit one of our friends from high school. He showed us around the area and took us to a small brewery for gourmet burgers and craft beer. After dinner we viewed some of the most expensive houses in California and walked along the cool, Santa Monica beach at night.
Hours before our flight home the next day (there was no way we could make the drive back to St. Louis), we stopped by the infamous Hollywood sign and took a stroll down the Walk of Fame. I wish we had more time in this area to really explore, but the trip had to sadly come to an end.
Even though it’s a long drive of over 2,000 miles, I would recommend it to anyone. When you’re flying, all you care about is getting to your destination as quickly as possible – you have no idea what wonders are right beneath you. Yet when you drive, you can experience the plains, mountains, snow, deserts, cityscapes and beaches all in one trip. Start up your car and turn on the GPS – “adventure is out there”.
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