No trip to Southern California is complete without a trip to a couple of neighboring states – Nevada and Arizona. If you choose not to drive the 330 miles from Irvine to Las Vegas (LV), you may book yourself a tour with one of the many companies that operate the routes everyday.
I suggest you pick a two-day or four-day tour, time permitting of course, starting from Irvine. Make sure you wake up on time. Pick-up timings here are quite early. Sit back and snooze while the bus moves along a pre-designated route to pick up more people.
Pucker up when the bus passes through the Mojave Desert a few hours later. Your tour permitting, you might get a chance to hop out at the Zabriskie Point, an ancient eroded landscape composed of sediments from a lake that dried up five million years ago; and the Bad Water Basin, the lowest point in North America, situated 282 feet below the sea level.
Las Vegas will probably catch you by surprise. It's a wonder how a concrete jungle just cropped up right in the middle of a huge desert! Once you are deposited at the hotel around afternoonish, take a quick nap to recharge yourself again for the night life at the Strip, as the South Boulevard of Las Vegas is called!
Your tour guide will urge you to sign up for a Strip tour and offer to purchase tickets of different shows. If you get your show tickets from them you'll be paying higher, but you won't have to worry about transportation. As for the Strip tour, tagging with your tour group will show you the key highlights but at the expense of following a large crowd. If you happen to be the explorer type, purchase a 24hour bus pass, and hop on the Deuce Bus that plies the Strip. Hop off at different stops and be your own guide on a faux European tour!
Catch the hourly volcano show in front of the Mirage. Walk into Caesar's Palace. Ogle at the manmade sky, take photos in front of the horse drawn chariot, make a wish at the fountain and go crazy at the forum stores. Cross the road and approach the newly inaugurated High Roller which still holds the title of being the highest roller in the world! The night view of twinkling lights at your feet can be quite heady and a witty commentary from a recorded video would probably give you a couple of giggles.
Go to MGM and book a ticket for Ka, by Cirque du Soleil for the following night. Stroll over to the Venetian and watch the Roman structures and take a boat ride in the canals. Go to the Bellagio and stare at the magnificent opulence at the hotel lobbies. If all the walking is tiring you out, grab a Mediterranean chicken Panini at the little sandwich store at the ground level. Walk out to the cool night breeze and stand at the railing that borders the Lake Bellagio. Wait for the water works. They run every fifteen minutes and you won't be disappointed. And oh, don't forget to munch on your Panini while it's still hot.
The following day you'll have to start bright and early. So make sure you put multiple alarms and request wakeup calls from the hotel.
I suggest you opt for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon over the West one. This is simply because the South is more natural while the West is more commercialized. Parking, entrance and even taking photos would be charged.
The five hour trip to the South Rim might get a bit monotonous with nothing to see except for the camel mosses on the scraggy terrain. But at the destination, when you look out at the colorful landscape of overwhelming proportions, you will know that the trip has been well worth your while! Stroll along the trails overlooking the deep gorges that formed millions of years ago. Make sure you stay alert and can weave your way back to the bus on time!
Take a nap as the bus zooms off to LV. At the hotel, keep snoozing. Wake up early enough to reach MGM (provided you're watching Ka) on time. The precious 90 minutes worth of show time should not be wasted. Get mesmerized by Cirque Du Soleil's jaw dropping performance.
The following day your tour might take you to a chocolate factory and Tanger outlets. If you fancied a purse or wallet, chances are you'll get them at a lower price here, so go for it! If you're not too much into brands, then watch your Chinese co-passengers throw away fat wads for that tiny brand tag. It's fascinating really!
Your tour will end in LA. If you have relatives, crash in at their place. If you don't have relatives and you're on a budget, go for the hostel accommodations and meet people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and upbringing, but sharing the same voracious appetite as you to travel.
Spend a couple of days in LA. Sleep for a day if you are tired. But if not, wake up bright and early the next day. Purchase a tap card and hop on a red line train at the Hollywood Vine metro station. Ride to the Universal City stop and grab the frequently running shuttle to the Universal Studios. If the attendants ask 'what's blue and not heavy', make sure you quip loudly, 'Light blue!' You will get a pass to beat the queues!
Plan your day in advance. The Universal Studio Tour is a must! Be amazed at the by-demand flash floods and earthquakes! Check out Krustyland and Despicable Me 2's simulated roller coasters and then the House of Horrors in quick succession. Grab a large slice of pizza before going for the show at the Water World!
At the lower level start your adventure with the Mummy ride. In the afternoon, the crowds thin out and you can actually take the ride multiple times without queuing. Transformer's simulation ride is also a must do and I sincerely hope you make it there multiple times too. If you fancy something more adventurous, go for the Jurassic Park's 100 feet waterfall plunge afterwards.
You should be done by about 7pm. Take the shuttle back to the metro and board the same train with the same day-pass. Step out at the Hollywood Boulevard. Admire the Jacksons and Wolverines strolling the star studded pedestrian walk, and take some snaps of the Hollywood sign from the second or third floor of a nearby mall, if there's still daylight. Walk into Madame Toussude's and hunt out your favorite actor's wax statue to hug and pose with. Grab a frappe and make your own chocolate box from Ghirardelli.
When your feet are giving away, go to the metro station and hop on the red line train again to your accommodation. Sleep well for the night. You probably have a flight to catch the following day and a ride to LAX is over an hour. And you do want to reach there early, the airport is huge, busy and confusing.