With limited time and mindful of costs, I picked Cosmos’ Western Wonders as my tour to see my bucket list items in LA, Vegas & San Fran.
NOTE: I’ve split this tour in half as we covered so much it was looking overwhelming as a single blog! The balance of this tour can be found on days 8 – 12!
Day 1 – Los Angeles
This day is really an arrival day or in my case as I arrived to LA a few days ago, a free day. I met my tour guide later in the day in the hotel to check the next day’s departure time, introduce myself etc but there was no formal group meeting like other tours.
Hotel: The L.A Hotel Downtown
I took the Hop On, Hop Off bus around to Beverly Hills on this day in case I’d miss anything once the tour started.
Day 2 – Los Angeles
This morning was day one of tour and it started with a sight seeing trip around LA. We went through the main stops such as Hollywood walk of fame, TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard. Whilst I had explored most of this on my own, it was still good that it was included for those who hadn’t visited before.
Our afternoon was free with an option to Universal Studios. Before this trip I had gone back and forth about doing this or a day trip to Disneyland, but I can say I’m really glad I went to Universal Studios and recommend doing this.
Transfers to and from were taken care of, always a good start. We have several hours at the park to explore by ourselves. Based on friends/family input, the studio tour was a must see so one of my new friends and I waited in the long queue and ticked this off the list first. Again I definitely recommend doing this if you’ve made the effort to go to Universal. The queue was long, but it moved and the shade and cool mist helped.
We followed up by some generally exploring of Harry Potter wands and outfits and then did the new ride. I haven’t been on a ride in years, and it showed. Having woken up feeling a little average already, such a ride turned me white and doing controlled breathing so I wasn’t sick. Of the parts I did open my eyes to watch it was an amazing ride – just don’t recommend if you’re feeling off.
Needing some recovery time, we found a spot to sit. My friend tucked into lunch, whilst I attempted fruit salad and sculled water. It was nice sitting down, relaxing to some music and watching the hive of activity that buzzed around us. We also used this time to plan the rest of our attack. We agreed we wanted to do the Transformers ride, so we set off, maps in hand and mission in our steps.
Feeling much better by this stage I decided to brave another ride of being thrown in every direction and accept the feeling of flying through a city. Again, absolutely incredible even as a grown adult and recommend!
After plenty more walking and exploring, a quick donut stop off we met everyone back at the bus parking and were transferred back to our hotel. Tonight we went for a wander to Wholefoods for dinner and general stroll of downtown LA.
Hotel: The L.A Hotel Downtown
Day 3 – LA to Scottsdale via Palm Springs
Today we set off to the Wild West. I hadn’t really experienced desert before, so I was really looking to this aspect of the trip. What I wasn’t prepared for was 47 C weather! In Australia I’m used to warm/hot weather, was this was suffocating and made exploring hard.
Nevertheless we had a stop in Palm Springs. I walked the main strip as best I could without passing out and ducking into shops for air conditioning relief. Perhaps I had envisaged something else. When I hear or read about Palm Springs, I think of luxe hotels built around retro glamour pools, palm trees and the uber rich. I don’t think I found it in my little experience. I would definitely like to go back on my own accord and explore this town further to get the experience I was hoping for.
After some more desert driving we arrived in Scottsdale and to our hotel. My normal approach to a pool and heat, is race to my room, bathers on and swim time. However the scorching sun got the better of me and I hid in my room doing a social media session until it was time to leave again.
Tonight was an optional dinner to one of Arizona’s cowboy steakhouses, of which I said yes, even sans cowboy boots.
Rustlers Rooste is the name of the restaurant (may have changed) and American cowboy, wild west vibes were felt from the moment we set foot on the property. From the live bull upon entry, to the slide to enter the restaurant, I knew this was going to be different from what I’m used too. But that’s why I travel! After nagivating our way through the hay covered floors we were seated and enjoyed a meal. The was a live band playing through the night which helped set the scene. There was plenty of food (we had to pre-select our main meal) and the first time the bulk of us had really spent time together.
In between courses, I strongly recommend going outside to catch the sunset – the view from this restaurant is awesome!
To finish our evening off, we attempted line dancing with some guidance from the waitresses – probably not going to become a professional line dancer, but certainly a good laugh and fun end to the night.
Hotel: Saguaro Scottsdale
Day 4 – Scottsdale
Ready to tackle another day forecast at 47 degrees we began with an including sight seeing tour of downtown and Old Town Scottsdale. We had the option of be dropped off at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Whilst I wouldn’t normally spend my time on holidays walking through malls, the idea of being in air conditioned comfort for a little while was appealing. It is huge and I could easily max out a credit card between luxury fashion houses and Sephora, so when a group of us agreed to meet at a certain time for lunch, I was happy too. From there we simply caught a public bus back to our hotel – very straight forward and the help/information desks at the mall were very friendly and providing clear instructions.
Upon return to Old Town Scottsdale we mustered up some energy to walk the streets for a little, using The Sugar Bowl as a reward from the heat. What a gorgeous place. It reminded me of another era between the interior and the menu. Not the place for someone concerned about calories as they serve milkshakes, spiders, desserts, ice creams and a range of lunch/snack options.
Was it worth? Absolutely, I loved the feel of the place and my strawberry milk shake was delicious! Definitely make time to swing by and try something!
Old Town Scottsdale is a town I really enjoyed. It was a world away from modern day concrete jungles, with a real western/cow boy feel. From the wagon wheels, salon doors and timber work it had a classic yet friendly feel about it.
I went to Bandera for dinner that night and I’m happy I did. Seated in a booth, only added to my experience of the wild west! The service was great and the Macho Salad, wow! If it was acceptable to lick a bowl in public I probably would have. It was a scrumptious meal washed down with a lovely wine – I would happily eat here again.
Hotel: Saguaro Scottsdale
Day 5 – Scottsdale to Williams via Grand Canyon National Park
With today being the day I was going to check off a bucket list item, the Grand Canyon, I was ready to go this morning. Setting off to our first stop in Sedona, I was mesmerized by the redness of the earth. It was so beautiful in colour and it’s raw beauty. Camera ready for the photo stop!
Next up, was the optional helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon – if you can afford to it, book it! The Grand Canyon lived up to its name and hype, although the sheer scale of it was still overwhelming.
From the air it seemed never ending, however I can imagine from ground level in the canyon it might almost feel daunting staring at the height of the canyon.
Whilst the ride is certainly short, it was more than enough for me to be able to see it and take photo’s. Many of my friends and family have done this but from Las Vegas so their pictures certainly have a different landscape to mine. Which is better? Until I do it from another area, I’m not sure. I have no doubt it’s phenomenal from wherever you see it.
After our helicopter ride, we were taken to the canyon rim for some free time. It was packed with tourists, and the blistering sun and heat made the idea of walking for miles less than appealing. I did walk a couple of kilometers to ensure I felt content with what I saw should I never get the opportunity to return – and I did.
After my work out, I indulged in a bowl of ice cream along with the rest of the crowds.
Please be mindful, there are cheeky chip monks everywhere who are more than happy to eat your ice cream should you put your bowl down for a moment and turn your back! Trust me from experience.
Onto our last destination for the day, Williams, Arizona. Let me say up front, I loved this town! Staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, we were only moments away from the main strip.
Having one of the best preserved sections of Route 66, this town ouzed charm and character. From the neon lights, Mustang lined streets, and quirky souvenirs it had a great feel. We walked the main street from one end to the other (by this time it was dusk) and then decided to rest the feet and adrenaline from the days activities over a meal and wine. We couldn’t decide where to eat, every restaurant/pub seemed to be busy, with live bands or music, out door seating and outrageous sized meals!
With their distinct neon lights, memorabilia and outdoor seating, we decided to perch ourselves outside at Cruisers Route 66 Café – it’s hard to miss! Feeling like we should embrace this historic town, we ordered burgers! With soft drink servings rivaling a 1L bottle, we started to be concerned about the size of our incoming burgers. Safe to say, you get your moneys worth. We had a great night here, dining and a couple of drinks and it was buzzing, so I would recommend this place. People from our tour group ate at a range of places in Williams and all were happy with their meals, so enjoy the culture and eat up!
Hotel: Grand Canyon Railway Hotel
Day 6 – Williams to Las Vegas
To be honest this day was really all driving until you reach Las Vegas. Having long wanted to visit Vegas, after hearing years of stories (good and bad), seeing it in movies and TV shows, I was intrigued by it and keen to explore and make my own decision about this world famous playground.
Arriving late afternoon, there wasn’t a huge amount of time between getting into your room and meeting the group again for the optional dinner and show this evening. I choose to do this as I wanted to experience as much as I could given the short time frame I had.
This optional tour started with a buffet dinner in a nearby hotel restaurant. Yes like many people, the idea of a buffet dinner isn’t great, but in fairness they had a huge range of food and it was yummy. The dessert station was a hit!
Next stop was the show. It was no Cirque de Soleil, but it was more a story about the history of Vegas with a range of music covering the years. Once the show had finished we headed to Freemont Street – this was worth the evening!
Seeing the original Vegas, and casinos like the Golden Nugget. It was great to be able to wonder the street, see the lights, music, street performers and the imagery on the ceiling.
Whilst the show didn’t do much for me personally, I enjoyed the dinner and really enjoyed my time in Freemont Street.
Day 7 – Las Vegas
Today was a free day. There were plenty of optional excursion options for today such as Hoover Dam so everyone really did their own thing. I arranged to meet some of them around 6ish in the foyer so we could go out for dinner and walk Vegas at night as we wanted to see the Bellagio fountains, the Volcano and the strip in general.
I decided to spend my day doing the strip – yep walking from end to the other, visiting the hotels. I walked up to the Luxor Hotel and started walking back down the left side visiting New York, The Monte Carlo, the Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, Caesars Palace and the Mirage, then crossed the road. Heading back, it was the Venetian, Flamingo & Planet Hollywood.
Everyone has an opinion on what to do in Vegas, but given my limited time, I really enjoyed exploring the hotels, their foyers and themes as well as some alone time.
Key places I loved and recommend visiting was firstly the flower theme inside the Bellagio foyers. The colours, the theme, the creativity and beauty of it meant for a visually stunning stop, and best of all, its free! Make sure you swing by!
My next favourite was the Venetian. Having been to Venice, it certainly isn’t the real thing, but in it’s own way a fun and exciting hotel. Walking along the canals, with gondalas and the unmissable Italian singers, I loved it.
After a day of walking I reclined to my room for some quick down town and freshen up, then back down to meet some friends for the evening. As mentioned we had a list of items we wanted to see this evening and had researched what times they were all on. First stop however was dinner – more food! We dined in the Venetian at a Mexican restaurant – divine!!! It didn’t feel like we were in this crazy world of Vegas, it felt relaxing, calm and we thoroughly enjoyed our days catch up over some delicious food and wine!
Next stop was the Volcano around dusk. We were fortunate enough to have a jaw dropping sunset at the same time, you couldn’t move without running into a camera lens or selfie stick – myself included! After dark we joined the masses the watch the Bellagio fountains. I’d seen Oceans Eleven a dozen times and always remember the final scene, I had long waited to see this! It was beautiful and romantic, even as a single, and again another free attraction that should be on your Vegas to do list!
Please see days 8-12 of this trip on blog post, Cosmos Tours | Western Wonders | Days 8-12