In March and April we spent 3 weeks in the USA. Starting in Los Angeles we travelled to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and many other places along the way. We knew that being on the road for 21 days with 5 kids would be hard, but we still managed to have a fantastic time. If you have been following the story and thought that everything went perfectly, it didn’t. We had to make many changes to the original plan.
So, if you are interested to see the story of our plan vs our reality then read on…
Los Angeles, California
Our first hotel was Springhill Suites in Pasadena. It was an expensive area, so we got one room we could all squeeze into – 2 double beds and a double sofa bed. There wasn’t a lot of room to move around, we had to move the TV to pull out the sofa bed and then we all had to climb over it to get from one side of the room to the other. Buffet breakfast was included which was a bonus. Everyone slept well because they were exhausted from the travel, but when one person woke up in the morning… we all woke up.
When we arrived in Los Angeles we were keen to hit the beaches – Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Muscle Beach. We woke up early, went for a walk at Monrovia Falls which was near our hotel, and then routed to Santa Monica. 45 minute drive seemed reasonable, but we hadn’t experienced LA traffic yet. The route took us right past downtown LA and traffic was awful. We stopped for lunch and decided we wouldn’t go to the beaches today. Nearby was the temple of our faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and even though it was closed on Mondays we enjoyed a walk around the gardens. We decided we would go to the beaches when we return to LA at the end of the holiday.
On the way back to our hotel we rerouted to avoid the traffic, and it took us through the Hollywood hills and we inadvertently found the viewpoint at Mulholland Drive, with spectacular views of the city.
When I was sat at home planning and making bookings in advance I mistakenly thought to myself “it’s holiday… let’s have an easy morning and I’ll book everything for the afternoon”. But I did not take jet lag into account! We were waking up at 5am for the first few days of the holiday. We had planned to spend the whole day in Hollywood, but because we were up so early we had loads of time to go to Descanso Gardens for the morning before we headed into Hollywood.
We went to California Science Center. Again, our booking for the IMAX movie was for the afternoon but we were there at the gates early. The lady at the ticket office kindly changed the ticket for us for an earlier show but we had to change what we wanted to see.
We were hoping to see the King Tut exhibit which I couldn’t book online and when we got there it was sold out. It’s ok that we didn’t get to go in the end because it was so busy at the Science Center we could hardly move with the pushchair.
I am glad we saw Endeavour and the Hubble 3D IMAX movie, but we left as even more school trips were arriving so it was beneficial to get there early and leave early. There are other museums in the area, but we decided to go for an early dinner and a swim in the hotel pool.
Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada
We left early to go to Las Vegas – our first day on the road. We tried to find a particular McDonalds en route (built inside train cars at the side of a railway), but our Sat Nav sent us on a crazy drive down long, dusty roads. It reminded us of Disney’s Cars so we listened to the soundtrack while we drove. I think I’ve watched that movie more than anyone in the world! After our wasted detour we went to Calico Ghost Town.
Our friends had driven this way a few days before us and we saw that they went to Hoover Dam. I actually had no idea that it was in this area and I told Ben that it was an hour out of our way if he wanted to see it, of course he did, so we made the trip.
My main concern during that detour is that we were going to miss our reservation at Buddy V’s, and then wouldn’t be able to spend much time in Vegas. We should have allowed an extra day in Vegas, but I was excited about moving along to see my family in Utah.
After dinner we spent the evening watching the Bellagio Fountains. We got to the hotel very late, we stayed at The Tuscany Suites and the rooms were enormous. We had two rooms, each with two double beds, so we split up – Ben with the older boys, and me with Isabel and the younger boys.
Las Vegas, Nevada to Utah
We left Las Vegas after a generous couple paid for our breakfast at the Blueberry Hill diner, and started our drive towards Utah.
We spent the day at Zion National Park, but again we needed to spend more time there. We should have dressed more appropriately for the desert (shorts and t-shirts), taken more water, and would have been beneficial to arrive earlier in the day.
We stayed at the SpringHill Suites in Lehi where we were given a free room upgrade to a two bedroom suite. We put the kids in the room with two double beds and then Ben and I had a room to ourselves! Perfect after a long drive.
After a busy couple of days on the road we needed to take it easy. We had breakfast included at the hotel – it was buffet style so we let the kids do what they wanted. We set a couple of rules: must include a portion of fruit, and a bowl of cereal (it was usually fruit loops though). This particular morning they had trays of donuts for breakfast, as well as waffle and pancakes. We spent the morning swimming at the hotel, and then went to my brother’s house to meet the family.
Easter Sunday, Ben’s birthday, and also we had tickets to General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We were so excited that we had the opportunity to take our older children to the conference, usually we watch it on our TV at home so it was brilliant to be able to be there in person. But George was poorly so he stayed at home at my brother’s house.
The conference was good, I especially enjoyed listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing. We spent the afternoon with family, and I contributed to dinner by making banoffee pie (kind of my signature dish). Another relaxing day, and was very much needed to recharge the batteries.
We wanted to do something fun with the children, but some of them weren’t feeling very well and it looked like it was going to rain. We decided that the Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point was a great indoor place to go.
We realised that by the time you have got 10 children to have breakfast, get dressed, cleaned up, and packed lunch for them all… it is already lunch time. My sister in law Megan did a great job of taking care of everybody and we did our best to help get out of the house every morning!
Salt Lake City, Utah
We went into Salt Lake City. Our plan was to visit Temple Square and the Conference Center (which we did), and afterwards Ben had planned a hike into the hills with views of the city. But I was so poorly that day, I knew I shouldn’t have even gone out, so we skipped the hike and had an afternoon at home making s’mores and playing in the garden. That’s me with my Mum-face on, supervising boys aged 3-5 with red hot pokers by the way. Max’s marshmallows were literally on fire!
We had dinner at an American diner with a good friend of ours, and we met his wife and children.
We took the children to the Jordan River temple. Usually children under the age of 12 can’t go into the temple, but this one was not dedicated yet for church business so we were allowed to take the children for a tour. I’m grateful that James and his family were there to share the experience with us. Megan bumped into someone I knew from my teenage years! Totally random.
Afterwards we took the children to Coldstone’s for ice cream to give James, Megan and the children a small break from the extra craziness we added to their house.
In the evening we had a couples date at the Cheesecake Factory.
Today we went to a private mountain resort where Megan’s family own a cabin. We had loads of fun with the kids playing on the swings and zip wire, and climbing around. Afterwards we met a friend and her family at Bridal Veil Falls for a short hike. Some of the children climbed to the top of the waterfall with Ben.Our plan for the afternoon/evening was to meet my brother Joshua so he could show us what he was doing at BYU. He had arranged a prospective student tour for Isabel who says she wants to go there to study art. Unfortunately Sam hadn’t slept for over a day and I was starting to get really worried about him. He was looking gaunt and had big red circles around his eyes. I don’t know what it was – the altitude? Desert air? Dehydration? Unfortunately we didn’t meet up with Josh and Lindsay, because I wanted to try and settle Sam and give him extra attention. We arranged to meet them both at the iHop for breakfast the next morning before we left for San Francisco.
Utah to Reno, Nevada
We left Utah a day earlier than planned so that we could add an overnight stay at Reno to break up the 10 hour drive. By the time we had met Josh and Lindsay for breakfast and packed everything away we got on the road late.
It takes us longer than expected to get anywhere, so a 5 hour drive often turns into a 7 hour drive because of all the food and toilet stops. We usually stopped at fast food restaurants when we were hungry.
There was nowhere of note to stop on the way to Reno without a detour that would add hours onto the drive. Sam caught up on sleep along the way, but also developed a nappy rash which I started treating with a cream. We found out a few days later that this was the wrong thing to do.
When we got to Reno we stayed at Circus Circus, and again we had interconnecting rooms. Each room with two double beds. Another opportunity to spend some time away from the children!
Reno, Nevada to San Francisco, California
Back on the road for another 5 hours. We hadn’t planned anywhere to stop because we had things we wanted to do in San Francisco. Sarah’s flight wasn’t arriving until 4 so we worked out we could have a short break at Sacramento, and still get to Baker Beach on time.
We beat Sarah and her family to Baker Beach, and my kids were already a sandy mess when their cousins arrived.
We stayed at the Tilden Hotel in San Francisco. There wasn’t any parking so Ben dropped me and the sandy children at the door to check in while he found parking. We had two rooms, each with 2 double beds, and only one person could walk around at a time, they were so small. So we split up again for the night.
San Francisco, California
We had the whole day to spend in San Francisco. This was the busiest, most exhausting day of the holiday and we still didn’t manage to fit in everything we wanted to do. One of the big things we missed out on was riding on the street cars up and down the hills. But we did get to see Alcatraz, Pier 39, Coit Tower, Ghirardelli Square, and Chinatown.
Yosemite National Park, California
We were undecided whether we should spend one or two days in Yosemite, because a lot of things we closed for the season, but we ended up staying for 2. Our hotel was an hours drive out of the park, the roads were twisting with no opportunities for overtaking, so the trip to the hotel was slow. We were leaving at dinner time and the kids were hungry so we pulled over and I made them a bowl of cereal to eat in the field (I had bought milk and cereal that morning and kept it in a cooler all day). We stayed in a Best Western Plus, which was decorated like a hunting lodge. The room had 3 double beds so we all stayed together in the same room.
Arriving at Yosemite in the morning was frustrating because we had no phone signal to get in touch with Sarah so we could meet up, but we managed to eventually.
At the end of the day we had a long drive out of the park and towards our murder motel in Manteca.
We stayed in the Rodeway Inn, and it was an absolute dive. There were no facilities to boil water to make bottles for Sam, there wasn’t even a cot! So we had two rooms, with two double beds in each room so Ben and I split up again. Sam had to sleep in my bed but I could not get him to sleep. Creaky floorboards above, next to a main road AND a railway. It was one of the worst nights of my life. It makes it even harder to know that when you wake up you’ve got to be ready to get back on the road with all the kids for another day.
So here’s the lesson (and my sister already pre-warned me): don’t stay in a town where there is only a choice of 2 hotels. Find a bigger town, and a better hotel. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in one of those motels that looks like it could be the scene of a shoot-out in a movie… where no one makes it out alive. A murder motel.
Yes, ok, this picture is Alcatraz. It seemed like an appropriate point in the story to share it.
Actually, it doesn’t matter if we didn’t get any sleep – we were desperate to move on to the next destination, and really looking forward to spending the day at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After Monterey we went to Carmel-by-The-Sea for a walk along the beach, and we had dinner in a gorgeous little seafood restaurant.
We wanted to stop at another beach on the way to our next hotel, but last year there was a landslide on the coast road, so we couldn’t get to it and we had to drive miles out of our way to get to our next hotel in San Simeon.
We stayed in the Quality Inn at San Simeon, and had two rooms next door to each other, except one hadn’t been cleaned and Ben had to move further away. Another night with no cot because they couldn’t seem to find one. The staff were friendly though which made it easier to cope with the disappointment that I had to share a bed with Sam again, and spent the night making sure he wasn’t going to roll out.
San Simeon, California
For once we stayed right where we needed to be so there was only a 5 minute drive to Hearst Castle. Afterwards we drove down the coast and visited 3 beaches.
The first one was also in San Simeon, and its where the Elephant Seals hang out on the beach. You’re not allowed on the beach because it belongs to them, but we went to have a look. It was very windy!
The next beach was Moonstone beach, and the kids went to find and collect beautiful stones. Oliver found a large rock of Jade green and it was beautiful. I stayed in the car while Sam had a nap.
The last beach of the day was Pismo Beach. This was great, we walked along and found a play area where we just let the kids play for as long as they wanted.
We stayed at the Quality Inn at Santa Barbara and again had two rooms, each room with two double beds… and a cot! After 2 nights without a cot it was a relief. When we settled in the room I was going to make sure my crew had a bath and there was a movie about to start on one of the kids channels. The night was fairly young, and we were going to enjoy some down time. When I took Sams nappy off, the nappy rash had dramatically worsened, it was enough to warrant a trip to the doctor. So my brother in law Dean drove us to the ER to get it checked out and that’s how Sam, Dean, and I spent our evening.
Apparently the cream I was using was adding moisture, and the doctor prescribed a medicated baby powder which cleared up the area within a few days. Poor poor kid.
Santa Monica, California
We made it back to Los Angeles. It was a huge relief to know that we didn’t have to do any more big drives. We were starting to get tired of being in the car. Santa Monica Pier had a lot of hype, but I thought it was very similar to an English pier. Arcades, buskers, and rides. The children wanted to go on a ride but it was so expensive! The one they wanted to go on the most was $10 EACH! We played in the arcades and went to Bubba Gump for lunch. We then decided we didn’t want to do any more touring and we went to our hotel for a swim.
We were meant to be staying in another Rodeway Inn at Pasadena (remember the murder motel? I will never. Ever. Forget. *shudder). I just couldn’t do it. So last minute I booked us into a Marriott hotel in Anaheim for the last 2 nights. I wanted us all to be well rested before the flight and the jet lag. We had one large suite which had a bedroom with 2 double beds and a lounge area with a sofa bed. It also had a large floor space which was great when it came to repacking the suitcases for the fight home.
Newport Beach, California
We were going to spend the day at Griffith Park, but because we were now in Anaheim and not Pasadena it would have taken us too long to get there with the LA traffic. Also hiking to the Hollywood sign would have taken a lot of strength while carrying a baby in a sling, and I wasn’t sure I had any strength left.Sarah and Dean had stayed in a nice resort at Newport Beach and had invited us over to meet them for a swim. We also met up with my Aunty, her husband, and my cousin, who live in California. When we got there though Sarah and Dean had packed for their flight home and had decided not to swim. We spent the morning hanging out until they all had to leave, and then we went back to our hotel and swam there. There was nothing else we wanted to do, except get ready to go home.
LAX to LHR – Flying Home
21 days, 2 adults, 5 children, 3,000 miles, 4 states, and 11 hotels later… it was time to go home.
We had a fantastic time, and it didn’t matter how sleep deprived we were, how exhausted, how poor we now were… we can’t wait to go back and do it all again in the future!