Selected departures from March to October 2019
Please note some hotels will differ for 2018 itineraries - see details in itinerary or accommodation section below. Explore the world’s most famous National Parks, intriguing Native American culture, amazing desert landscapes, the lush forests and lofty peaks of Yosemite and the vibrant, pulsating cities.
There are few places in the world that generate more iconic imagery than California and the western USA, and even fewer live up to it in reality! The sights and amazing natural wonders just roll off the tongue, with probably nothing more aptly named than the Grand Canyon. Then there’s Monument Valley, whose towering sandstone pillars are immortalised in countless Westerns, the Painted Desert, Yosemite, home to the highest waterfall in the USA, the lofty snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. The natural splendours of this huge region are quite simply astonishing. Combine these with the allure of such genuinely unique cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas and you have a destination that simply cannot be matched. Our tour visits all these and more besides!
Inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans, California and Arizona were then visited by Spanish explorers searching, as always, for gold. They found none, but founded Missions all along the California coast. During the 19th century, California, Nevada, Utah and most of Arizona, were ceded to the USA for just $15 million and by a twist of fate, barely a year later gold was finally discovered and the Californian Gold Rush began. Prospectors flooded in and within just a year San Francisco’s population rocketed from just 600 to 25,000. They were soon followed by the trans-continental railroad and the ‘Golden State’ was born.
The names of the cities, some of the most famous in the world, still display their Spanish heritage: San Francisco, charmingly eccentric with a topography few cities in the world can match. Its centre is row upon row of lovingly restored Victorian houses, easily explored using the iconic wooden cable cars that trundle up and down the steep hills and valleys. The magnificent brick-red Golden Gate Bridge beautifully completes the picture. In contrast, Los Angeles is the archetypal US mega-city: criss-crossed by 6-lane freeways. Nevertheless, it is home to some very attractive and exciting neighbourhoods like Santa Monica. No visit would be complete without a stroll down the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame!
Then it’s off to San Diego, which has the laid-back atmosphere so typical of Southern California – its surfing beaches, cultural attractions and the balmy climate have made it one of America’s most popular cities. Finally there’s Las Vegas, originally an isolated oasis in the Mojave Desert and now a vibrant, exciting and genuinely fascinating manmade wonder that attracts over 40 million visitors a year and boasts 15 of the world’s largest hotels.
For many, however, the real attraction will be America’s most famous National Parks. The Grand Canyon is such an astonishing natural wonder that the sheer scale of it is almost too much to comprehend. Over a mile deep and 14 miles across, this geological masterpiece offers a glimpse of the enormous complexity and beauty of the normally hidden rocks beneath our feet. There is simply nowhere like it on earth! Subject to weather conditions, there is the option of a spectacular helicopter flight over the canyon. Much of Arizona is occupied by the Navajo Reservation – one of the few Indian tribes that has rejected the commercialism of gambling in favour of heritage tourism. We visit their most famous treasure, Monument Valley. This instantly recognisable landscape, with its fiery-red spindles of rock is even more spectacular when you find yourself within it!
In nearby Utah we visit Bryce Canyon, an enormous amphitheatre created by thousands of spires, pinnacles and towers of eroded pink-hued rocks that have produced an intricate labyrinth of deep gullies. Finally, high in California’s Sierra Nevada we visit Yosemite and some of the world’s most pristine and awe-inspiring wilderness. Dominated by the huge mass of the Half Dome rising to almost 9,000ft, its vertical granite wall is so huge and smooth that until 50 years ago it was thought to be un-climbable. The wildlife is as varied as the landscapes. There are the black bears of Yosemite, mule deer and chipmunks at Bryce and rare mountain lions at even higher altitudes, whilst coyotes still roam the deserts and vultures soar over the canyons. From the highest plateau to the deepest gorge, from LA to San Francisco, this tour showcases the very best of western USA’s natural and manmade wonders and you will return home with some truly amazing memories.
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Los Angeles. After our early evening arrival, we transfer to the nearby four-star Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel for one night.
LA, the city of glitz, glamour, the stars and miles of pristine beaches – it’s all here! This morning we see the best it has to offer – the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Sunset Strip and Santa Monica.
During the afternoon we head south, following the coast, to charming San Diego, staying two nights with breakfast at the three-star Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, close to the waterfront and the city’s ‘Little Italy’ quarter with its many restaurants and cafés.
With over 260 days of sunshine a year, San Diego is the classic Southern California city, set around a sweeping bay and numerous sparkling white sand beaches with its beautifully restored Gaslamp Quarter. After an included morning city tour, you are free to experience San Diego’s numerous attractions.
A great favourite is the Maritime Museum with its many historical ships, including the Star of India, the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th-century frigate which was used in the film Master & Commander’ as well as a Soviet-era submarine. A visit to the USS Midway Museum is particularly fascinating and includes a tour of three decks, 35 types of aircraft and even the option of trying out your own flying skills in a high-tech flight simulator!
During the afternoon, why not dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean? Take the ferry across the bay to Coronado and the Victorian Del Coronado Hotel, used in the film ‘Some Like It Hot’ and host to a multitude of famous names such as Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart and even Edward VIII. Whale watching cruises (February to March is the best time of year) or Harbour cruises to view the US Pacific Fleet are also very popular. Next to the world-famous San Diego Zoo are the 1,200 acres of Balboa Park, the largest cultural complex west of the Mississippi with 15 museums and numerous other attractions, all set amidst wonderful sub-tropical gardens and fountains.
Today we leave the coast driving towards Kingman in Arizona, climbing to 4000 ft passing through the Cleveland National forest, descending towards the wide plains of the Sonoran Desert. Heading north, we cross the Colorado River through Moabi regional Park into Arizona.
We then continue on to Lake Havasu, where you’ll see the London Bridge on our way to Kingman, where we stay one night at the Best Western Plus King’s Inn with breakfast.
We take a drive from Kingman to Seligman, on the longest section of the original and historic route 66, on our way to the Grand Canyon. When you first experience this great chasm, the grandeur is truly overwhelming, almost beyond the grasp of human imagination and one of the few sights in the world that mere words can never, ever describe!
Photographs or mere statistics just cannot prepare you for such gigantean scale: over a mile deep, with rocks as old as the earth itself. Its mind-boggling series of shapes, colours and glaring desert light; contrast with jet black shadows, formed by pinnacles of rock interspersed by stark promontories.
The south rim extends for 14 miles and we visit some of the best viewing points, each one providing a different perspective over the constantly changing panorama.
Our hotel is the three-star Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn, just outside the National Park.
This morning you have the option of taking a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter flight for the ultimate panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, a truly magical display of natural beauty! As the light gradually grows ever stronger, the crisp shadows rapidly shorten and the greys and blues change to reds, yellows and ochres in a kaleidoscope of intensive colour. It is at moments such as these that you truly feel the might of Mother Nature!
From the Desert View Watchtower we have our final, lingering look over the canyon with the meandering Colorado River visible in the distance, before crossing the Painted Desert, through the vast 16 million-acre Navajo Indian Reservation, towards Monument Valley. Arriving a few hours before sunset, this is the best time to view the incredible flat-topped towers of red sandstone that rise so dramatically from the surrounding barren desert, with the softer light affording ideal photographic conditions.
Here, the bustle of civilization seems so far away and as the sun sets there is an amazing and almost magical stillness in the air. For those wishing to see the Valley from a different perspective and gain a greater understanding of its historical significance we have the option of a guided 4x4 tour by a local Navajo Indian.
Tonight we stay at the three-star Monument Valley Inn in the nearby small community of Kayenta.
After an early start we arrive at the town of Page just next to the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River and whose building created the vast Lake Powell. We then cross into the Mormon state of Utah and climb to almost 8,000ft as we arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park. Created by thousands of years of erosion, Bryce Canyon presents an almost surreal landscape of multi-hued and delicate rock pinnacles – a quite exceptional, strange and exotic topography with a uniquely fragile quality.
We stay in the three-star Best Western Ruby’s Inn, a mile outside the park.
This morning we continue to Zion National Park where the scenery is made up of layers of petrified sand dunes, hundreds of feet thick as well as huge sheer cliffs and gorges. Unlike the Grand Canyon and Bryce, we reach the bottom of the main canyon experiencing a completely new perspective.
Leaving Zion in the afternoon we drive towards the glittering bright lights of Las Vegas, the glow of which can be seen from thirty miles. Our hotel for two nights is the stylish four–star Tropicana Resort & Casino superbly situated in the vibrant heart of the Vegas ‘strip’.
Tonight we have the option of a ‘Vegas by Night’ tour, probably the best time to appreciate its unique atmosphere with everything bathed in a glow of all-encapsulating neon, so brash it’s almost an art form.
Today we have a full day at leisure to explore the self-styled ‘entertainment capital of the world’ which really is everything you expect it to be. It’s an almost surreal apparition growing out of the desert! It’s where the world’s most renowned sights and cities such as Venice, Paris, New York and even the Pyramids have been recreated in such detail. This evening why not take in a show? Always amongst the most impressive in the world, you are assured of a memorable night whichever one you choose.
Today we leave Las Vegas driving through the barren Mojave Desert. Our route skirts the famous Edwards Air Force base, before climbing even higher through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. On reaching the peak, literally from one minute to the next the climate changes from the burning heat of the desert to temperate grasslands and forest as we cross the Tehachapi Pass and travel through the vast fertile plains of the San Joaquin Valley.
This evening we stay just outside Yosemite National Park in Oakhurst at the three-star Yosemite Southgate Hotel with continental breakfast.
This morning we enter the park and drive through incredible scenery to Yosemite Valley itself where we are confronted by one of the most staggering views in the USA: a deep, lushly forested valley encircled by the steely grey vastness of sheer granite cliffs and domes rising by over 4,000ft on all sides, bisected by some of the highest waterfalls in North America. Dominated by the granite monolith of El Capitan on one side and the instantly recognisable Half Dome on the other, it is impossible not to find your heart touched by this overwhelming natural grandeur.
We then continue to Sonora staying overnight in the Best Western Plus Sonora Oaks for one night with breakfast.
We travel to San Francisco this morning and stay at the four-star Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf Hotel for two nights. For many, San Francisco will be one of the highlights of the tour. From its beginnings as a 19th century mining boomtown to the sophisticated metropolis you see today, it is simply one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world.
Nestling on a bay astride the blue Pacific Ocean, dominated by the instantly recognisable Golden Gate Bridge, the city spreads out over forty-three steep hills on one side and a vibrant green carpet of forests on the other.
This afternoon we have a guided tour of the city, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Golden Gate Park and enjoy splendid city views from Twin Peaks. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure.
Our final full day and there’s still so much to do! Perhaps take a stroll down to the renovated Ferry Plaza Building on the waterfront, converted into a huge alfresco Farmers’ Market every Saturday. Try the once predominantly Italian North Beach, still home to innumerable bistros, delis and bakeries, which during the 50’s attracted the bohemian writers and avant-garde artists of the Beatnik movement.
And don’t forget the Haight-Ashbury district and the ‘Summer of Love’ for which San Francisco is still famous today. Alternatively, there’s an optional trip to visit Muir Woods, a US National Monument, which contains a unique 560-acre stand of giant 300-foot high Coast Redwoods. The trip also visits the quaint artists’ colony of Sausalito.
Our flights depart in the late afternoon, so why not use your final morning for some last minute shopping – Macy’s department store is always popular and is centrally located on nearby Union Square.
We arrive back in the UK after a very special tour, the memories of which will last a lifetime.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room with single rooms available at the relevant supplement. Price includes return travel to Los Angeles and returning from San Francisco; all transfers; thirteen nights’ accommodation on room only basis in three and four-star hotels and four continental breakfasts; all tours and National Park entrance fees as mentioned; all touring as mentioned; hotel porterage of one item of luggage per person; the services of a Rivera Travel tour manager.
Included excursions are: guided city tours of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Visits to Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion Park and Yosemite National Park and Las Vegas.
Not included: There are several optional excursions available during this tour which are to be arranged with the tour manager in resort. You will be advised of these and the relevant prices within your final travel documents.
Visa/ESTA for USA
Under the USA Visa Waiver Programme, most British passport holders do not require a visa to travel to the United States if travelling as a tourist for up to 90 days.
Those qualifying for the Visa Waiver Programme must apply online for authorisation to enter the USA, for which there is an administration fee of $14 per person. This is called an ESTA.
This may only be obtained online by visiting the official website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov and registering at least 72 hours prior to travel.
Those who do not qualify for the VWP will be required to apply for a visa. Please contact the relevant embassy for any additional information. Without authorisation prior to travel, admission may be denied at a US port of entry.
Whilst care has been taken to ensure that the information provided relating to visa requirements is true and correct at time of publication, changes in requirements after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information. Therefore, whilst we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, we strongly suggest that you re-confirm requirements with the relevant embassy prior to application.
There are no current health requirements for travel to the USA, however, whilst the travelling schedule shall pose no problems for people of any age in normal physical health, we would point out that we often enjoy walking tours (sometimes over unmade paths) so this holiday may not be suitable for clients of greatly impaired mobility. Please bear this in mind when considering this holiday.
Perhaps the most exciting way to experience the Grand Canyon is by helicopter. You’ll be treated to spectacular views of one of the USA’s greatest wonders.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitabilty of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|Los Angeles International Airport||Los Angeles||10 mins||San Francisco||San Francisco International Airport||1 hr|
Just returned from California and the Golden West Tour. We have had a wonderful time. This was due to excellent itinerary and the selection of hotels which were near the sights. The enjoyment was increased even more by the tour gu...
David & Ruth Howell
We had a wonderful holiday on the California and the Golden West tour. Our super tour manager Patricia was really excellent.Her vast knowledge of the area was truly impressive, and made the tour all the more interesting and enjoya...