On the open road, from the Golden State to Sin City

By KH디지털2

Driving through U.S. West Coast promises unforgettable landscapes, priceless memories

  • Published : Oct 23, 2015 - 15:56
  • Updated : Oct 24, 2015 - 19:11
This is a two-part travel series on a weeklong West Coast road trip from the bay side city wonders of San Francisco, California, to the frills and thrills of Las Vegas, Nevada. -- Ed.

SAN FRANCISCO/MONTEREY/CARMEL/BIG SUR/DEATH VALLEY, California -- Can’t decide whether your next big trip should be sightseeing and shopping in a thriving metropolis hot spot, finding tranquility by the crisp sea coast, tackling your intrepid spirits in the scorching desert heat or throwing your inhibitions to the wind to bask in world-class hotels and indulging in a bit of mild depravity? 

Well, there’s no reason why one rip-roaring trip can’t promise travelers all of the above; and nothing spells excitement, adventure and independence better than a good ol’ American road trip. 

One of the best ways to experience the U.S.’ pristine and dynamically varied West Coast is to leave the large tour buses and cliched-guided trips behind, and instead become your own guide by renting a car and heading out on the open road. 

On America’s West Coast, there are no two destinations more iconic than the movie scene-like coasts of California and the glitz and glamour of Sin City -- Las Vegas, Nevada. 

A straight-shot one-way drive from San Francisco to Vegas would take roughly about nine hours. However, stretching out this course over a weeklong driving cruise will boast some of the most breathtaking natural marvels and scenically varied environmental backdrops -- from bustling high-rises and sandy white beaches, to the unearthly dry, yet must-see wonder of Death Valley’s desert terrain. 

A peek at the vibrantly colored badlands of Zabriskie Point at California’s Death Valley National Park. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
One can certainly embark on this road trip for longer than a week, depending on how much time your vacation permits. However, anything less than a week is not recommended as it would restrain the amount of time spent at all stops the scenic drive has to offer. 

Kicking off with two days at the city by the bay, the first stop on almost every tourist’s list to ogle at the staggering artisanship of the 1.6-kilometer stretch of the Golden Gate Bridge, which also happens to be one of the most photographed bridges in the world. 

Deemed as one of the Wonders of the Modern World, and certainly the most iconic symbol of San Francisco, the best way to experience this bridge, as well as its surrounding bayside sights, is actually by bike. 

Adventurers set sail amongst the backdrop of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Although walking is a great way to get acquainted with the Golden Gate area, having a bike on hand will lend travelers the option of continuing their trek across the bridge to the calm, scenic suburban town of Sausalito.

The most popular bike route across the bridge and to Sausalito starts at the city piers. From the tourist hot spot of Pier 39, the ride runs about 18 kilometers one way and takes roughly three hours to complete. Many riders opt to take the ferry back to the San Francisco piers from the Sausalito ferry port station with their bike, as biking the entire course round-trip can pose a bit of a physical challenge, as well as be quite time consuming. (Most of the local bike rental locations have ferry tickets available for purchase in-shop.)

The photo opportunities on this relatively short, yet must-experience bike trip are endless; riders can take photos not only of the Golden Gate, but from the bridge, which promises spectacular panoramic views of the bay and the city skyline. 

Continuing on to Sausalito, this is the perfect opportunity to take a breather. Find a rack to lock up your bike and head out on foot, taking a stroll through Bridge Way and the surrounding neighborhoods of this gorgeous seaside county. 

If all that pedaling worked up an appetite, consider grabbing a quick bite at Hamburgers, right on the main strip Bridge Way. 

This small, independent joint is nothing fancy, and the name of the place says it all -- it serves burgers. You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but this small, three-table cramped venue has a reputation of having some of the most mouth-watering burgers around, leaving hordes of people lining up for a taste of its rotary grilled eats. For those heading in at lunchtime, be prepared for a long wait. 

Unlikely that you’d be able to snag a seat, you can follow the herd and grab your meal to go and find a bench by the pier and munch on lunch with the view before heading out on the ferry back across the bay. 

Following the Golden Gate Bridge, the next stop on most people’s must-experience list is Fisherman’s Wharf -- the perfect place to eat, drink and play. Filled to the brim with tasty restaurants, souvenir shops and more fantastic views of the bay, it’s no wonder why it’s one of the city’s most visited tourist destinations. 

Some other San Francisco musts before embarking on your first outing out on the open road is taking a ride on a piece of history with the city’s famous cable cars. A leisurely pause at Union Street is a great opportunity for some retail therapy before hoofing it to Chinatown for some authentic Chinese-American chow before calling it a night. 

Next stop, Monterey.

A picturesque scene from Carmel City Beach in Carmel, California. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Driving from the San Francisco International Airport to Monterey takes roughly 2 1/2 hours, barring traffic. Heading down south, the small town of Monterey is best known as California’s “first city,” as it was home to the state’s first theater, first public building and library, as well as having the first newspaper and publicly funded school.

Small in size, Monterey is a perfect pit stop to stretch out legs. The city’s Cannery Row -- which can be thought of as its main street -- has a healthy strip of tasty restaurants, shops and its claim to fame, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At the top-notch aquarium, visitors can be engulfed in a sea of rich blue and schools of exotic sea creatures, such as its stunning floor-to-ceiling tanks filled with everything from terrifying sharks to vividly colored jellyfish.  

Just a short 20-minute drive from Monterey is the rustic countryside town of Carmel and its unexpectedly alluring beach scenes of Carmel City Beach. Another chill-town, the city is a great destination to end the day for some relaxation and winding down on the white sandy beach.  

A picturesque scene from Carmel City Beach in Carmel, California. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Often referred to as one of the world’s most picturesque drives, the next stop on the itinerary is the famous 17-Mile Drive.

The long, winding road is a scenic stretch through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula. The two-hour drive hugs the Pacific coastline and passes some of the most unfathomably beautiful and pricey oceanfront mansions, as well as some eye-catching views of nature at its best, including Lone Cypress. 

The Lone Cypress, one of the most iconic emblem’s of California’s scenic 17-mile drive on Pebble Beach. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Continue south and you will eventually reach Big Sur. To say the area highlights breathtaking mountainside views of California’s marble blue coast would be a shameful understatement. Driving through Big Sur’s Highway One, it is almost guaranteed you will find yourself pulling the car over every few miles to take pictures and bask in the clean air.

For a quick lunch, the famous Nepen the Restaurant has had its doors open since 1949. Offering an array of burgers and sandwiches, it’s actually more the view that’s the restaurant’s biggest selling point, offering its guests mountain shots of the coast. 

Past Paso Robles, it’s then about a five-hour drive to reach Bakersfield -- the rest stop for the day. 

A scenic view of the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Next stop, the thirst-inducing, desolate land on the opposite extreme -- Death Valley National Park. 

From Bakersfield, it is about a four-hour drive to reach the hillside dunes and colorful canyons of Death Valley -- where pleasantly cool and tolerable weather comes to die. It’s everything you would imagine when you think of middle of nowhere, barren and water, please. 

A word of caution, it is imperative that travelers have plenty of sunscreen, an endless supply of water and the unwavering will to live, as Death Valley has its name for a reason. So be prepared for scorching temperatures that can soar well over 38 degrees Celsius.

Hikers trudge through rocky passages of Death Valley’s Golden Canyon. (Julie Jackson/The Korea Herald)
Throughout your venture you will see warning signs at most of the valley’s popular attractions warning visitors of the extreme heat and strongly advising folks to not talk long walks in the afternoon unprepared. In 2013, the valley reached its hottest recorded temperature at a whopping 56.7 degrees Celsius. 

However, a name like Death Valley shouldn’t scare people off, for the scenes you witness here are well worth the hellish heat. Stepping out of your car for the first time will feel like you have just stepped onto the film set of a John Wayne Western, minus the gun-slinging cowboys and Indians. It’s a rare and one-of-a-kind experience, which is why driving through this heated valley of death is one of the most highlighted features of Southern California. 

Despite the extreme heat and vast landscape void of any hint of plant life, select scenes of Death Valley may come as an unexpected surprise. No beaches or beach-bum coastlines here. Instead, you can find Badwater Basin -- the lowest point in North America at 86 meters below sea level -- as well as the unreal watercolor-canvas-like badlands of Zabriskie Point and the jagged rock salt erosions of the comically named Devil’s Golf Course.  

For those who can handle more heat, other worthwhile destinations in the Valley include Artist’s Drive and the Golden Canyon in Furnace Creek Area. 

Once you have gotten your fill of the scorching sun, continue on to Interstate 95 and in about two hours you will arrive at the next destination -- it’s Vegas, baby. 

Still to come in part two of this West Coast road trip series are tales of the casino promise land and fine-dining mecca of the city of sin, and the awe-inspiring majestic views of the one and only Grand Canyon National Park. 

How to get there:

To reach the road trip’s starting point, Delta Airlines offers regular flights from Seoul to Seattle with connections to San Francisco, taking roughly 12 1/2 hours each way (not including layover waits). For pricing and scheduling details, visit

For car rentals, Hertz offers economy cars at discounted rates with options for drivers to pick up their car in San Francisco and drop it off in Las Vegas.  

Helpful links:

Visit California

Discover America

Hertz (car rental)

Recommended stays:

Hotel Zephyr
250 Beach St., San Francisco, California

Hilton Garden Inn Monterey
1000 Aguajito Rd, Monterey, California

Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center
801 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, California

By Julie Jackson (, Korea Herald correspondent