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I used to be surprised at how dependent Americans are on their cars, but now I understand it. USA is so vast , and the cities are so spread out, that it is impossible to get by without a reliable vehicle. This is why cars and gas are so cheap, people get their driver’s license at 16, and infrastructure is so good in the States. Good roads are key to keeping this huge country connected and to enable business. No wonder why Americans love their roads and have even created legends around some of them and have raised them to the status of national symbols.
I feel lucky to have traveled the two most famous roads in the States within the same month – Highway One and Route 66. Both of them have the official status of All-American Roads, granted by the US Department of Transportation, which means that they are national scenic, cultural, historic and natural sites.
Historic Route 66, also known as The Mother Road, links Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles through Arizona, Illinois, and New Mexico (3,945m). I travelled along Route 66 roughly between Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, and Los Angeles. The best attraction on Route 66, I think, are the many roadside bars and eateries, such as Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In.
Snow Cap is a popular roadside attraction in Seligman, AZ along Route 66. Juan Delgadillo, the owner of the place, is notorious for his weird sense of humor. The front door had two doorknobs, and of course, the one I held first turned out to be a dummy. When I ordered a bottle of water, Juan Delgadillo, the man behind the counter gave me a baby bottle. Then he squirted fake ketchup on my shirt. Then he asked me if I wanted a straw for my water – and handed me a bunch of dried hay straws. I must say, I was not prepared for the pranks, but I did appreciate them!
The backyard of the Snow Cap is full of vintage automobiles with faces, hand-written signs like “Sorry, we’re open”, a wooden outdoor toilet with a TV and a hula dancing doll inside, and more random craziness. It turns out that Seligman, AZ is the prototype of Radiator Springs from Pixar’s Cars: a small town on a rather abandoned road where a great sense of humor and a few good local stars are the only way to attract tourism.
Taking a road trip along West Coast’s Highway One is one of the quintessential “Bucket List” items that all Americans have. I took that trip twice – once from San Francisco to LA, and, three weeks later, from San Diego to San Francisco.
Some of the highlights of Highway One that I saw were:
Pebble Beach – a peninsula with beautiful bays, lodges, and vista points turned into a ritzy golf resort and gated community. Here is The Lone Cypress, which most Californians will recognize in photos.
Monterey – The two must-see attractions are the Monterey Bay Aquarium (read my previous post) and the shops and restaurants at Canary Row.
Big Sur – the most stunning coastline I have ever seen in the entire world is between Monterey and San Lius Obispo! The sheer walls of the Santa Lucia Mountains vertically drop in the Pacific Ocean to create breathtaking views of the dark blue ocean, waves crashing and foaming into the jagged rocks, the narrow white strip of Highway 1 meandering on the edge of the cliffs, and the green mountain tops almost touching the blue sky. I spent almost the whole ride with my hand outside the window taking photos. You have to be prepared to snap them fast because if you are a moment too late, you could just miss the perfect shot of the Bixby Creek Bridge.
Architectural wonders – Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle (previous post), two eccentric establishments built by America’s richest people of the day.
Beautiful beaches with seals and sea otters – harbor seals around Carmel and elephant seals around San Simeon, as well as interesting human-inhabited beaches such as Muscle Beach and Venice Beach (I took lots of cool pics here).
The desert landscape of Imperial Sand Dunes and the Chocolate Mountains – I did not expect to see this, but yes, California has everything – from lush green sequoia forests and magnificent coasts to sandy deserts south of San Diego.
In conclusion, Highway One and Route 66 have definitely met and exceeded my expectations of the perfect road trips!
Other famous streets I’ve visited in the States: The Las Vegas Strip, Broadway and 5th Avenue in NYC, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard (where I saw Katy Perry) and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, The Freedom Trail in Boston, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami (read about my awesome spring break).
As Shakespeare said, “Two houses both alike in dignity…” and eccentricity.
While traveling on Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I visited two almost equally peculiar “homes”, Hearst Castle and Madonna Inn.
Hearst Castle is the mansion of the notorious American media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Built between 1919 and 1947 near San Simeon by architect Julia Morgan, “La Cuesta Encantada”(the Enchanted Hill), as it is also known, today is a national historic landmark . It is a huge castle build on a hill with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by open fields that used to be orchards and a private zoo for exotic animals.
Yes, exotic animals. Hearst was a millionaire and a very eccentric person. Together with Julia Morgan, he designed an eclectic, flamboyant castle that combines many architectural styles and epochs in one. Inspired by the wonderful cathedrals, castles, palaces, fortresses, chateaus, and villas he had seen while traveling through Europe with his mother as a child, Hearst incorporated everything in his mansion. “The Ranch”, as Hearst himself called it, has an ancient Roman mosaics pool, Medieval tapestry, Gothic hallways, a collection of antique furniture and Mediterranean art, a modern movie theatre, church-like bell towers, painted and wood carved ceilings, marvelous gardens and patios, and much more. It is architectural madness and genius at the same time. It used to be frequented by the political elite and the highlife of Hearst’s time like Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt.
Hearst Castle is magnificent, no doubt about that, and it does feel like something out of a dream about the Mediterranean. Still, I would recommend to anyone, if possible, to visit the European palaces and learn about the Mediterranean cultures that inspired Hearst to build his dream ranch.
The second peculiar mansion I visited in California was the Madonna Inn. It is a hostel on US Route 101 near San Luis Obispo built by construction magnate Alex Madonna. The Madonna Inn is famous because each of its 110 guest rooms is uniquely themed: heaven, whisky factory, desert sands, caveman room, rock bottom, safari, love nest, old mill, Bridal Falls, jungle, flowers, cloud Nine, amusement park, etc. The outside of the Inn looks like a palace-chalet from a Swiss alps fairytale – adorned with decorative rocks, a giant fireplace made up of boulders, stained glass depicting the owner’s businesses with construction, cattle, and limber, hand-carved stairs, a dining room that looks like a hot pink flower cave, and bathrooms resembling an underwater cove.
This time, I only went in for a few minutes, but I bet that staying in this landmark resort hotel is an experience in and of itself.
Hearst Castle and Madonna Inn reminded me a lot of the palace in Cintra, Portugal. Take a look here.