Our Road Trip Through the Southwest’s Grand Landscapes
Upon our arrival in sunny San Diego, California our crew made fast friends in the Alamo rental car office before hopping in our sweet silver Chevy Camaro convertible and heading to our hotel. In the front seat, with wind-whipped hair and a sun-kissed smile, was our guest Ana Maria, a travel expert with a background in law from São Paulo, Brazil. Her experience as a renowned travel blogger made her a savvy and fun companion as we traveled from San Diego to Arizona.
Our first activity brought us to one of many marinas in the San Diego Bay for a tranquil cruise on the Mai Tai, a 13-meter yacht equipped with beautiful crew, ample drinks and unique marine perspectives of the San Diego skyline. The next day was filled with beach activities, as we started the morning in the small beach town of La Jolla just north of San Diego for a stand-up paddle boarding session. After a hearty and zesty lunch at a new hit Mexican fusion joint called Galaxy Taco, we cruised up to Torrey Pines and took in the beautiful views of unspoiled beaches and incredible landscapes all around. We then made our way to the Torrey Pines Gliderport for some paragliding and the feeling of soaring high above the cliffs and waves with total freedom was unforgettable! It is definitely a must-do! A quick boat ride up the coast as we followed the migrating seabirds on the Patriot Jet Boat got us cooled down and soaked. Afterwards, we cleaned up and headed to the award-winning Ballast Point Brewery, one of San Diego’s many lauded craft breweries, for a sampling of some of the finest craft beers and local seafood.
The next day we had an adventure out at Cabrillo National Monument with sweeping views of the city and, lower down, colorful tide pools teeming with life. Shortly after, we exchanged our convertible for an SUV for a more comfortable drive to SoCal’s wine region Temecula. Arriving just before sunset, we were treated to an amazing meal at the Temecula Creek Inn with views of expansive golf course landscapes and the rugged mountainous desert. The following morning we were treated to an incredible, all-local breakfast at Eat Cafe in downtown Temecula, followed by a tour of downtown’s artisan shops and restaurants. Then we were off to a wine tasting tour at three distinct wineries boasting immaculate flavor profiles for every palate.
Before we knew it we were on the dusty trail toward Joshua Tree National Park. As the climate transitioned to pure desert and the sun began to set, we pulled into our Joshua Tree Motel where legendary country singer Gram Parsons had once stayed. An amazing display of color danced in the sky as we caught the last rays of the day over centuries-old Joshua trees, cholla cactus and monzo granite boulders. Another amazing day was in the books.
The next morning we were off on a tour of the park with our park ranger, George Land, and his many stories and wisdom pertaining to the history of the area. A pizza lunch in town got us on the road toward Las Vegas, where we checked into a swanky new SLS Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard. The next three days and nights were filled with outrageous meals, sweeping views from the High Roller Wheel and Stratosphere, ziplining, and a sunrise helicopter tour and champagne breakfast in the nearby Grand Canyon. Nothing can explain the Las Vegas experience like seeing it for yourself.
As we crossed the Hoover Dam on the way toward the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, we took note of the feat of engineering and significance of the dam’s history and service to the public. Then we hurried to beat the sunset at the rim of the awesomely enormous chasm in northern Arizona. Luckily we caught a few beautiful snaps from the rim before the sun disappeared. It was an incredible sight at one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. A night’s rest at the Yavapai Lodge got us in tune for an early sunrise hike — another must-do — before heading into the mountain town of Flagstaff. Once there, we toured the once booming rail town by bicycle and caught an incredible dinner at the Tinderbox before ending the evening at the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered) for some stargazing.
To end the trip on a high note, we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to drive to Sedona to catch one of the most unique experiences of the trip: a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Nothing can compare to the feeling of floating effortlessly into the air over red rock sandstone mountains with just the sound of the propane burners lifting you high into the sky. We caught our flights out of Flagstaff a few hours later, but not before a big “Saúde!” — a Portuguese toast to health, we learned from Ana Maria — as an acknowledgement of an incredible trip touring the grand landscapes of the American Southwest.