Phoenix to San Diego
Phoenix-Sedona-Grand Canyon-Route 66-Lake Havasu-Joshua Tree National Park-Palm Springs- San Jacinto/Laguna Mountains-San Diego
This road trip was done on Harleys, at the beginning of April, so cold weather gear was a good thing while on the high desert plateau around Grand Canyon. The trip is a good combination of great riding roads, scenery and some of the most popular sights in western USA.
We landed in Phoenix in the later afternoon, and after the longest wait in line for immigration ever (over 3 hours in line) we took a taxi to a motel we had booked, not far from Eagleriders location in Phoenix.
Day 1: Phoenix-Sedona
As usual the checkout of the bikes and paperwork was seamless, so little time was needed to get our nice brand spanking new Ultras. We packed the bikes and set off in warm weather from Phoenix and headed north on Hwy 60 towards Wittman, Morristown and Wickenburg. From Wickenburg still going north on Hwy 93 until this splits off to the right and becomes the 89 towards Congress. In Congress you need to head east and continue on the 89 and head into the mountains. Just before you get to Yarnell there is a great place to stop for some lunch, at the Ranch House on the right side of the road. It’s hard to miss, a very colourful building, and a favourite stop for bikers and weekend people getting out of Phoenix. Mum got served the world’s most gigantic portion of chef’s salad – incredibly tasty, but it could easily have fed all four of us. Continue on great roads towards Prescott. In Prescott it gets a bit complicated with many roads splitting into different directions, but head for the 89a to Jerome. From the valley you climb into sublime roads, going into canyons, around bends and giving you breath-taking vistas around every corner. Jerome is a very cool stop on the route.
Also called “the wickedest town in the west” Jerome is an old copper mining town. Founded in 1876, it was once the fourth largest city in Arizona. After the last copper mine closed in 1953, the remaining inhabitants of the city (between 50-100 people, in its heyday there were around 15 000 living in town) promoted the town as a living ghost town. It is since 1967 a designated National Historic District. It is considered the largest ghost town in America, even though around 450 people call Jerome home. The town has a great many old houses, saloons, hotels and of course souvenir shops since Jerome now is a major destination. We found the town very cool, lots of colourful buildings, people and animals roaming the streets. A great stop in the mountains.
From Jerome you once more dive into a valley, at Cottonwood you follow the 89a towards Sedona. On the approach to Sedona you see the stunning red buttes and monoliths that surround the city – making Sedona a very special place indeed. We arrived late afternoon, so after a quick wash and some clean clothes, we explored downtown Sedona with its many bars, restaurants and shops. And when the sun was setting behind the mountains, the colours of the red sandstone all around town were beaming like maroon emeralds all around.
Day 2: Sedona-Grand Canyon
Sedona is best known for the landscape surrounding the city. It is a geological wonderland. It is also a wonderland for those who seek alternative living, a new-age centre in America. Sedona has long been regarded as a place both sacred and powerful. Cosmic forces are said to be at play here, and people come to search for vortexes that are said to occur in the land around Sedona. A vortex is believed to be swirling centres of energy that are conductive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. So, no wonder the alternative crowd flock to Sedona. There is plenty to do and see in and around the city. We wish we had more time, but we opted for a jeep tour of the surrounding areas. We had not been smart enough to prebook any tour, so we did not have too many options. We wanted to see more of the red rock spires and countryside, but we had to settle for a more sedate option with the Diamondback Gulch tour with Pink Adventure Tours It was a nice enough tour, but it was more countryside and less buttes, so not what we really had imagined. So, book well in advance if you want to tour the buttes of Sedona.
Heading out on the road again there is a spectacular highway out of Sedona and north. You see it in the intro video for Sedona, the 89a north towards Flagstaff starts off into Oak Creek Canyon. It is stunning riding. When the canyon ends, there is no other way than up. Through a series of switchbacks, the road winds itself up on the desert plateau. At the top there is a lookout over the canyon on the right hand side, and the stop here is a must, just to see the road you just came up.
When approaching Flagstaff, keep on the 89a, and do not merge onto the I17 unless you are deviating from this itinerary. Ride the road into the historic centre of Flagstaff and have a break. Take a right after you have gone under the railroad tracks, and you will now be riding east on Route 66. Find an old school diner along the road and have a burger and some fries. Continue east on the 180/89 until the 89 turns north towards Page. You will now climb some more until you get onto the high desert plain. On this stretch of road, the sidewinds are notorious, we had terrible sidewind and had to lean into the wind on our motorbikes for more that an hour. That was hard driving. In the middle of nowhere you will get to a huge roundabout (a rare thing in the US) with a turtle on it, there are some gas stations here, so as we have said before, fill up when you can. Take a small break, it’s always good to do so. In the roundabout you do a left, west towards Grand Canyon. You will drive along the Little Colorado River canyon on your right-hand side, stop and take a look, but this is nothing compared to what you will see 20 minutes down the road. You will get to the eastern entrance of Grand Canyon and from here it’s about 40 km (25 miles) of epic stunning fantastic enormous stupendous view after view of the Grand Canyon. The first points you should stop at is Navajo Point and Lipan Point, then Grandview Point is very cool. Check out the map at the NPS page, and plan your stops.
On a previous trip The Las Vegas Loop, we were lucky to get rooms at the Kachina Lodge at the rim of the canyon. Maybe one of the most spectacular views from a hotel room ever. This time we had no luck in getting a room at Grand Canyon Village, this being one of the most popular parks in the US, you need to book very, very early. We had a great walk on the rim by the village but we had to drive south out of the park to where the airport is. There are more hotels here, but they don’t give you that special feeling it is to wake up to a sunrise on the Grand Canyon rim. We had a nice dinner and a good nights sleep after a long day at the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn.
Day 3: Grand Canyon to Lake Havasu
After a hearty breakfast, an early start gave us frost on our bikes, and cold hands all the way south to Williams. The 64 south from Grand Canyon is nothing spectacular, but more of a transport road down to more epic roads. When you get to Williams, you meet Route 66, stop in Williams town centre to soak in some of that old Route 66 vibe. From here and west to Oatman, please read our Route 66 section for details. After visiting the donkeys and town originals of Oatman, it’s less than an hour drive downhill Hwy 10 to Topoc and then a slight backtrack east on I 40 to the exit to Lake Havasu on Hwy 95. Lake Havasu is a large reservoir formed by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River, it sits on the border between California and Arizona. Lake Havasu is well known for its recreational fishing and boating, which bring around 750 000 visitors a year.
We had booked rooms at Heat Hotel next to London Bridge, a bridge that used to span the Thames river in London. It was dismantled in 1967 and moved to Arizona and Lake Havasu. Only the cladding is from the London bridge, the skeleton of the bridge is concrete. We headed for the nearest bar and had more than one cold margarita overlooking the lake. This stretch also proved how important it is to bring enough clothes – we started out with 7 layers of clothing in the morning in Grand Canyon and were still quite cold, then one layer after the other came off the closer we got to Lake Havasu, and it felt quite strange to change into t-shirts and singlets when arriving at the hotel in Lake Havasu.
Day 4: Lake Havasu to Palm Springs
The desert awaits! Remember to fill your gas tank. Continue on Hwy 95 past Lake Havasu towards Parker, in Parker you continue west on Hwy 62. This will probably be one of the more “in the middle of nowhere” roads you will ever drive. Miles and miles of endless desert roads, straight as an arrow. You will be startled by the smallest deviation to the right or to the left in the road, it’s that straight for that long. You will pass some small convenience stores on the way, some old cool abandoned RV parks with faded ragged old neon signs showing past glories. This is a stretch of road we consider one of the most spectacular we have ever ridden on a Harley, the true American outback desert road with tumbleweeds and roadrunners galore.
The next sign of any civilisation will be Twentynine Palms. We would recommend you to drive into “town” and have lunch here before heading into the Joshua Tree National Park. The reason for this is that the park is big, and there are no amenities there, so if you feel hungry, you should eat here before entering the park. Twentynine Palms is so called because the legend has it that there were 29 palm trees surrounding the oasis in that area. If you are like us, a music buff, drive by or stay at The Joshua Tree Inn. Music legend Gram Parsons died in one of the rooms at the Inn, and the room can still be rented to stay in, if you are into that kind of thing. The body of Gram Parson was also brought into the park itself, and friends tried to make a funeral pyre for Gram, not quite succeeding at doing so.
Entering Joshua Tree National Park from the north entrance there is a natural loop in the park that we would recommend to take. Driving into the park on park boulevard, there will be a fork in the road. Left will take you on a road to the south entrance and Cottonwood visitors centre, but then you must backtrack all the way back to the fork again. You should take the road to the right and you will come to Jumbo Rocks and the famous Skull rock.
After Jumbo rocks take the drive up to Keys View, at 1581 metres (5185 feet) above sea level, you see down the basin towards Palm Springs. The drive and the view is spectacular, as are all the roads in the park. Continue back to Hidden Valley and Quail Springs and end up at west entrance station. You will join the 62 again and head west. It’s about an hour driving to Palm Springs along the Twentynine Palms Highway.
Palm Springs is a place that owes its existence to celebrities wanting to escape the travails of Los Angeles. It became the place to live and be seen from the early 1920s, now it’s known for the Coachella festival and still being a place to escape to. It is strange to know that you are in the middle of bone-dry desert when you enter the city, suddenly it is green, lush and streets that have outdoor air conditioning. You can feel and see that this is where the rich and infamous gather at the weekends for golf and orgies. We had booked room at Best Western Las Brisas great location, and a great hotel. Beers and steaks downtown was all we could have after such an epic day.
Day 5: Palm Springs to San Diego
This day ended up as being just as epic as the other days. We had researched a way to get to San Diego without going on the Interstates, and we found some fantastic roads in the mountains between the desert and the sea. From Palm Springs you need to get onto the I 40 west towards Los Angeles. Approaching Banning you need to exit the Interstate at the sign saying Hargrave St/Idyllwild to the right. Next intersection take a left, the sign will say Idyllwild 26. Follow the signs for 243 and Idyllwild. You will do a right and then a left, and then you will start climbing into the mountains on epic twists and turns. Idyllwild is a popular weekend tourist attraction, for the folks who want to escape the heat of the desert and experience the high alpine feel of the area. Popular among rock climbers and trekkers, it is a nice place to stop.
Continue on Hwy 243 until you get to a roadhouse on the intersection of 243 and 74. Hwy 74 is also known as Pines to Palms Scenic Byway and is popular among the car and motorbike crowd of the coast. You need to head west towards Hemet. At Green Acres there is a small sign that states Winchester and San Diego Hwy 79 south to the left, take this road. If you miss it, you can continue and take the 215 to Temecula, they both end up at the same intersection. From Temecula you continue on the 79 to Aguanga and Warner Springs. From there it’s a short drive to Julian, an old gold mining town with quaint old-west charm.
Julian is less than an hour drive from San Diego, and now famous for its apples and superb apple pie. Lots of old houses, antique shops and plenty of cafes and restaurants. A great last stop on our Harleys. From Julian there are a few more miles of green lush farmland, horse farms and apple farms along the road. Approaching San Diego, we had to get on to the Interstate 8, a very busy road, and a stressful few miles before we could deliver our bikes again to Eaglerider in San Diego. Riding the busy Interstates, especially when entering big cities, it is important to know your place in traffic. Motorbikes are at the bottom of the food chain on the Interstate. Stay in your lane, keep close if you are more than one bike on tour, and keep a close eye on the traffic around you. Cars will pass at speed on both your sides at any time. So be careful.
After delivering our bikes, we took a cab to our excellent hotel in San Diego at The Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina after such an ordeal, you need to sleep well, right?
We spent 3 days in San Diego, and we loved the city, a very cool place indeed. The first thing we did was a Segway tour of downtown. Another Side of San Diego gave us a good first impression of what is where in the downtown area.
The Gaslamp quarter/district of San Diego is the natural place to go for drinks, food and shopping in town. It is a 16 ½ block historical neighbourhood in downtown San Diego, and the site of everything tasty and cool in town. It hosts Mardi Gras, Street Scene Music Festival and of course Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres baseball team.
We were so lucky that there was a game on one of the evenings of our visit, and nothing is more American than going to the ballgame. The game was between the Padres and the San Francisco Giants. We expected a manly night, but were surprised by the gayness of it all. Gay singers singing the national anthem, all around us rainbow boas and queens galore. So we had to ask, and it turned out that this was a very gay day for baseball, since both San Francisco and San Diego has a big gay scene (or LGBTQ scene since everyone was representin`) so this game was a good excuse for a good party.
We had many great meals in the Gaslamp district, and beers, wine and cocktails. You will be spoilt for choice. Since mom and dad was with us on this trip, and mom had her birthday, we rented a cool Camaro convertible and took her to San Diego Zoo. She thought she was going to see the animals, but we had booked the zipline experience for her and us. 130 feet above the rhino and giraffe enclosure you soar like a screaming sitting bald eagle, the flight is 2/3 of a mile.
After visiting the very cool zoo we headed for the coast, and had a wonderful lunch by the sea in Carlsbad at the Harbor Fish Café. We drove down to La Jolla and Seal rock, and we found the Crystal Pier, were we will stay the next time we are in San Diego.
We needed as usual to get some shopping done, so we took the tram (nearly) to Mexico. At the border (you can see the border wall in the backyard of the Mall, and see the Mexican flag in Tijuana) there is the outlet mall of Las Americas. Taking the tram to almost Mexico and shopping on the way, this was a very different experience indeed.
The airport of San Diego is more or less in the middle of town, so taking a cab there is no problem and almost no money.
A most excellent adventure, this roadtrip truly combined the desert with alpine roads and ending up in a nice big city like San Diego. You can just as well do this whole trip, and instead of heading into San Diego, take the freeway up to Los Angeles and stay there if you wish. We chose San Diego since we had not been there before and wanted something different from LA this time. Or you could just drive directly from Palm Springs to LA. Enjoy the adventure.