Thinking of heading to the US?
Here’s the exact itinerary we followed for our 3-week trip - which covered California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. You might want to replicate some or all of it for your own adventure…
Day 1: Melbourne to L.A - The Journey Begins!
Our trip started with an early morning departure from Melbourne. After enjoying breakfast and showers at the Qantas Club, (see this post for how we get free Qantas Club passes) we took a short flight to Brisbane. We had all day to wait until our flight to L.A, so rather than wait at the airport we checked into the conveniently located Pullman Airport Hotel.
For $288, we had a room for the day and access to all the hotel’s facilities. We swam, napped, and enjoyed two hours of included cocktails and canapes, then headed back over to the airport at around 7.30pm.
The journey from Brisbane to L.A was approx. 14 hours and we all managed to get a good few hours sleep from around midnight Aussie time.
Upon landing, we caught a bus to a designated taxi pick-up area, as there are no taxis accessible immediately outside of the airport. We chose to use Lyft over an Uber or Taxi as it was about half the price. We arrived at Hotel Peppertree in Anaheim around 8.30 pm L.A time, and we were all asleep by 10.30 pm.
We chose this boutique hotel because it was under $300 a night and had a kitchenette. It is also only 7 minutes from Disney and has a supermarket right across the street. The room was big and the décor was a fusion of Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean influences that embodies the essence of California’s soul.
Pro Tip: Even if you live in Melbourne or Sydney, consider flying out of Brisbane International Airport as the flight times are often better. Flying through the night and landing at night for us meant that we had almost no jetlag at all. The airport is also smaller, easier to navigate and has fewer traveler's transiting through, which means less time lining up.
Day 2: Disneyland – The Original Park:
After a good night’s sleep, we headed to collect our rental car, which we booked through Turo. We also popped into Walmart to stock up on snacks and easy meals for our hotel room, before we eagerly made our way to the original Disneyland Park and stayed until midnight.
Built in 1955, this was the first of the Disney Parks to exist. It has a nostalgic vibe, with Mickey & Minnie, Goofy, The Lion King, Peter Pan, Snow White and of course it is also home to the iconic Disney Castle.
You can come and go throughout the day, which is handy if you need a rest, plus, it is great to be able to experience the park by both day and night. We watched lots of the older Disney movies in the lead up to our trip, which made it even more special.
Pro Tip: There are two Disney Parks directly opposite each other in California - The Original Park - Disneyland, and California Adventure. While you can purchase tickets that allow you to access both parks on the same day, we decided not to spend the extra here, and instead focus on one park per day.
There is ample to do in each park, without the need to park hop. We did however, spend extra money and purchase Genie Plus as this allowed us to book specific ride times and bypass the queues.
Day 3: Disneyland – The Original Park:
After a lazy morning we headed back to the park around 2pm and stayed until 10pm.
Pro Tip: Not many people know that you can bring your own food and drinks into the Disney parks. We chose to bring our own water and buy food there. There were plenty of water stations to refill drink bottles.
Day 4: Rest and Anaheim Packing District:
After a morning of rest, we spent the afternoon at Anaheim Packing District - a lively social hub where locals and visitors gather to enjoy good food, and live music. From sushi and tacos to Vietnamese and vegan delights, there is something to satisfy everyone’s tastes here.
Pro Tip: Consider arriving mid-afternoon to secure seating. We arrived at 3.00 pm which was perfect.
Day 5: Exploring L.A and Hockey Excitement!
Our fifth day in California started nice and early at 5.30 am so that we could catch the sun rising above L.A from Griffith Observatory - a sight not to be missed. We then hiked through Runyon Canyon, hoping to spot celebrities, and got up close to the iconic Hollywood sign.
After a relaxing lunch and some downtime back at Hotel Peppertree, we then headed to the Honda Centre for an Anaheim Ducks ice hockey game.
Pro Tip: To get an up-close view of the Hollywood sign type 3160 Canyon Lake Drive into your sat nav and travel along this road until it becomes Mulholland Highway. From there, find a park, and follow the "local traffic only” signs, and park where the road ends.
Once parked, walk towards the sign, and stick to the left when you get to the fork in the road.
Day 6: Market Adventures and Lakers Game Thrills!
Today we explored Grand Central Market. There are lots of well-known eateries here and it’s worth a look if you’re a foodie. We savoured mouth-watering dishes from Sticky Rice and treated ourselves to a phenomenal Reuben sandwich at Wexler’s Deli.
Pro tip: If sports aren't your cup of tea or you're looking for a grown-up date night, consider heading to the 73rd floor of The Intercontinental Hotel. Here, you can sip cocktails while enjoying breath-taking rooftop views of Los Angeles.
Day 7: Retail Therapy and Sweet Treats!
Today was about outlet shopping and we ventured to two of the most renowned destinations: The Outlets at Orange and Citadel Outlets. Even if shopping is not your cup of tea, these vibrant venues offer a nice atmosphere for strolling and people-watching.
After our shopping spree, we took the opportunity to catch up on some laundry, eat some more tacos from the street vendor opposite Hotel Peppertree, and tick off another must-try food place - M&M Donuts.
Pro Tip: Go to M&M Donuts at 9.00 pm when it opens for fresh blueberry donuts!
Day 8: Malibu, Santa Monica Pier and The Grove Farmers Market.
Today we embarked on a coastal drive around Malibu, then made our way to Santa Monica Pier and ate at The Farmers Market. We had planned to stop at Venice Beach also, but the kids were tired so we skipped it. I’ve heard it’s brilliant for people-watching and trendy cafes.
Pro tip: Don't park near Santa Monica Pier. Park in the car park off Arizona Avenue, as the first 90 minutes is free, which is more than enough time to walk the pier and go on a few rides. It’s not a big place, but it’s just so iconic that it’s worth a visit.
Day 9: California Adventure!
Today we dedicated the afternoon and evening to exploring Disney’s other park - California Adventure. While this is more of a thrill seeker park and has rides themed around Star Wars and The Avengers - it also hosts Cars Land, which is great fun for all ages.
Pro Tip: For an optimal viewing experience of the spectacular World of Colour show, we recommend catching the second show at 10.00 pm when the crowd has thinned. This will allow you to secure a prime spot at the front of the viewing area effortlessly.
Day 10: A Drive to Temecula, San Diego, and Enchanting La Jolla!
Today the first stop was a lovely little town called Temecula. Nestled between the mountains, there is lots of antique shops, cafes, and wineries to explore.
From there, we drove on to San Diego, which we honestly would not visit again. Then the breathtaking La Jolla, a quaint beachside town where you can watch the mesmerizing seal colonies lounging on the pristine beach.
Pro Tip: Skip San Diego and prioritise Temecula and La Jolla.
Day 11: Anaheim 1 and Preparing for our National Park Road Trip!
Today the boys spent the day at Anaheim 1 and I took the opportunity to rest and stock up on supplies for our upcoming road trip, knowing national park areas tend to have higher prices.
I also returned our smaller hire car and replaced it with a bigger 4WD. A small car had served us well for getting around cities, but we wanted a bigger car for safety and comfort as we headed off on our big road trip. Again, I booked this through Turo.
Pro tip: Don’t hire a brand-new car for Anaheim/LA. Every second car is banged up so a little old buzz box will do fine. Upgrade when you leave the city.
Day 12: From Anaheim to Las Vegas - A Road Trip Adventure!
Today we left Anaheim behind and embarked on a scenic journey to Las Vegas. The drive took 6-hours as we took the scenic route, and stopped in Death Valley which is a stunning national park and great place to stretch everybody’s legs.
The other highlight was lunch at Molly Browns Roadhouse in Helensdale – a classic diner that will remind you of old TV shows you watched as a kid.
Upon arrival in Las Vegas, we checked into the vibrant Flamingo Hotel, an older establishment and one of the few remaining original ‘gangster’ hotels, which gave a cool sense of history to our stay.
Pro Tip: Before heading to Las Vegas, make sure to withdraw cash as most ATM’s charge a $7USD withdrawal fee.
Day 13: Exploring Iconic Las Vegas and Culinary Delights!
Today was all about capturing photos in the iconic spots that define Las Vegas, including the Eiffel Tower, the Bellagio fountains and the Mirage Volcano.
When it came to dining, we had a fantastic breakfast at Margaritaville. For lunch, we headed to Ocean One Bar & Grill, a hidden gem offering unbeatable deals like $2 beers and three cocktails for $10, and in the evening, we indulged in a memorable dinner at Carmines Italian Restaurant.
While the price tag for a single main at Carmines might seem steep at $60 AUD, the portions were incredibly generous, and one meal and a side served our whole family, and our friends. Plus, it allowed us to experience authentic Italian flavours in a shared dining experience, and you could not fault the service.
Pro Tip: Wear comfortable shoes, as you will clock lots of kms walking up and down the strip. Also, head to the Mirage parking lot before sunset for a breath-taking view that’s free!
Day 14: Horseshoe Bend Adventure!
Today, we embarked on a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas to Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. This place is nothing short of breathtaking. We stayed at the Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel, which offered clean rooms and a stunning view, although, the service left a lot to be desired.
Pro Tip: Do not leave either of these two landmarks off your itinerary! I would even suggest to prioritise these over the Grand Canyon as they are far less crowded, and IMO – more stunning!
Day 15: Lower Antelope Canyon, Big Johns Texas BBQ and Zion National Park!
We started the day with a guided walk through the Lower Antelope Canyon, led by fantastic Native American guides. Words cannot describe the magic of this place. It’s a must for any nature lover, and a great adventure for kids (though you might want to skip it if you’re claustrophobic).
We ate lunch at Big John’s Texas BBQ directly across the road from the tour office, and then took the scenic 2-hour drive to Zion National Park. The afternoon was filled with awe-inspiring sights of snow-capped mountains, striking red rocks, and native deer.
Pro Tip: We chose to stay at Zion Lodge because it is the only place to stay inside the national park. It's also important to mention that over summer, if you don't stay inside the park, you'll need to use a shuttle bus to enter and exit the park since private cars aren't allowed, except for guests staying at Zion Lodge.
Day 16: More Zion!
Today, we hiked the Emerald Pools trail, which took us three hours at a leisurely pace. There is some slippery terrain, though it is fine for newbie hikers, and kids over 8.
If you have younger kids, there are other walks you can do, or you could bring a carrier for babies and toddlers. After the walk, we relaxed some more in the cozy cabins, soaked in the scenery, and rested before dinner.
Pro Tip: Eat at Oscars, in Springdale (the closest town). It’s the best restaurant in the area and prices are on par with other venues.
Day 17: Zion & Springdale!
Today we wandered around the charming Springdale and enjoyed the local ambiance. It was a perfect opportunity to unwind, recharge, and simply embrace the tranquility of this beautiful destination. We also did more laundry!
Day 18: Back to California via Barstow!
Today, we made our way back to California and spent the night in Barstow. There’s not much to do in Barstow, it was simply a good halfway point to stop and sleep.
Along the journey, we stopped at Chevron station, one of the largest gas stations in the world, and The Frozen Coke wall and millions of flavours made our son very happy.
Pro Tip: Eat at DeNapoli's Firehouse in Barstow.
Day 19: Marina Del Rey, Walmart, and Plane Spotting!
Today we completed our journey back to Los Angeles, where we checked into the Hyatt Place Los Angeles LAX El Segundo, conveniently located near the airport. We explored Marina Del Rey (not a must-see, but nice to visit if you’ve got some time to kill) and ate at the iconic In-N-Out Burger, at LAX.
Pro Tip: Make sure to set aside time to experience the exhilaration of plane spotting at LAX - it's an absolute thrill to feel the planes flying right over your head! We stood on the grass between In-N-Out Burger and 7/11.
Day 20: Homeward Bound!
As our 3-week holiday drew to a close, we embarked on the first part of our journey back home. I prebooked meals for our Qantas flight, and this is worth doing, especially if you have picky eaters.
Our son was happy to have mac and cheese, and pancakes rather than having to choose from typical grown-up meals. And pre-booking meals, means you get to eat first!
Upon landing in Brisbane, we checked into the IBIS budget hotel and then made the most of our layover by catching up with family who had recently moved to Brisbane. We explored the vibrant South Bank area, swam in the manmade lagoons, and relaxed in the park lands.
Day 21: Brisbane to Melbourne!
On the final day of our journey, we flew from Brisbane to Melbourne.
Thanks to being Amex Credit card holders, we again enjoyed the comforts of the Qantas Club, indulging in food and drinks before take-off. The tranquil ambiance of the lounge provided a relaxing contrast to the bustling airport environment, making our final travel day enjoyable!
Pro Tip: Book a click-and-collect grocery order for the day you get back, and make sure you have some meals in the freezer you can easily pop in the oven as it’s much nicer coming home to food in the house!
For lots more travel tips, make sure you check out some of our other blog posts. You can read them here.
Kirstin and the My Big Adventure crew xo