LA to the Bay with Contiki

In September 2022, I joined LA to the Bay with Contiki. Starting from LA and ending in San Francisco, we spent 11 days exploring some highlights of the Southwest USA. Specifically, the trip stopped at two national parks along the way, as well as three of the USA’s top bucket-list cities. There was also such a diversity of experiences, from beach days to hiking to partying to 4WD tours. This blog post will outline each stop during LA to the Bay with Contiki, and my thoughts and reflections at each one. 

LA to the Bay with Contiki Map


Table of Contents

LA to the Bay

DAY 1: Los Angeles, California

The LA to the Bay with Contiki tour started bright and early at 7am at the meeting point in Downtown Los Angeles. It was certainly a shock to be meeting over 40 new people this early in the morning, but it felt good to be thrown right into the deep end. 

We jumped straight onto the bus and headed down to Venice Beach and Santa Monica for the morning. Walking along the beach to Santa Monica Pier was a great opportunity to get to know new people in the group, especially my roommate who I would be spending a lot of time with throughout the trip!

In the afternoon we drove back to Hollywood Boulevard to explore the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was an incredibly hot LA day, which definitely took some of the fun out of it. But, it was really interesting to learn more about the history of Hollywood from our guide. 

Our first group dinner was the highlight of the LA stop. Although the restaurant was not particularly fancy, it was such a memorable night as I felt like I was really starting to make close friends already, and we were already sharing stories from our first day of adventures. 

However, the first night ended with some late-night partying at a funky pirate bar in Downtown Los Angeles. As someone who rarely drinks or parties, it was overwhelming to see everyone doing so on just the first night. It definitely set the standard for the rest of the trip, as I realised that this group LOVES to party. 

LA Advice

Although we were able to see the highlights of LA, I was certainly glad I had visited before. One day really is not enough to fall in love with LA and I wish we had spent another night here. So, I recommend arriving at least two nights before the trip starts to explore LA at your own pace. This is also a good opportunity to recover from jet lag before the partying kicks in. 

DAY 2: San Diego, California

The second day of LA to the Bay with Contiki remains one of my favourite. Although we started bright and early, it was well worth it. We were actually booked onto the California Zephyr train from Los Angeles to San Diego. This was something I had never done before and I highly recommend. The train follows the SoCal coastline down to San Diego, running right along the edge of the water. Definitely the best train view I have ever seen! 

San Diego is famous for its beaches, and that’s exactly where we headed for the day. Mission Beach was such a fun area, and felt like an old-school American theme park. There were lots of food and shopping options here which were really convenient as well. Mission Beach itself was beautiful, although the water was certainly chilly. I was surprised how strong the waves were, so we spent the afternoon teaching those from the UK how to body surf. Turns out being thrown around in the ocean is a great way to get to know people and share some laughs!

Given the previous night in LA I approached the second night ready to party hard, and that’s exactly what we did. We headed into the Gaslamp Quarter in Downtown San Diego for dinner and drinks. We actually ended up at an awesome karaoke bar and sang the night away. 

Although we did not have the opportunity to explore much of San Diego, this day was still so much fun and a really good bonding opportunity for the group. 

DAY 3: Phoenix, Arizona

The third day was a big drive day, as we headed from San Diego over to Phoenix. Thankfully, I was exhausted from our all-night karaoke so it was an opportunity to catch up on sleep. 

Once again, we did not get to see much of Phoenix. However, we were able to stop in Scottsdale along the way to explore the old Western town here. It felt like a movie set, with the saloons and cowboy stores. The ice creameries were certainly a welcome respite from the sweltering desert heat!

The highlight of our time in Phoenix was certainly the included dinner. We headed to Rustler’s Rooste for a group dinner and it was such a fun experience. Firstly, we had to go down a slide to get into the restaurant. Then, we were served a delicious dinner of American BBQ and I truly felt like I was in the wild west. Afterwards, the staff here even taught us how to line dance in the middle of the restaurant! This dinner absolutely made the stop in Phoenix worth it. 

DAY 4: Grand Canyon National Park via Sedona, Arizona

On the fourth day of LA to the Bay with Contiki we actually started making our way up to the Grand Canyon. However, we stopped at Sedona for a few hours along the way. A small, spiritual town tucked a way in the red rocks, Sedona is certainly one of Arizona’s hidden gems. This is where we got to participate in our first add-on activity. 

The 4X4 Jeep Tour was SO much fun, and I was so glad I put my hand up for this experience. We jumped into some open-top Jeeps and headed out into the desert. The tour lasted around 2 hours, and we were able to drive down a 4X4 track, deep into the red rocks. The drivers were also incredibly knowledgeable about the local landscape, so I was able to learn a lot about the area and its spirituality. It was an incredibly bumpy and sweaty ride, but we were able to share many laughs and screams along the way. 

I loved our time in Sedona. In fact, I actually decided to head back there on another USA trip in 2023 for some hiking, as this is what the area is especially known for. 

In the afternoon, we continued onto Grand Canyon National Park, arriving just in time for sunset. And WOW, what a bucket-list experience! I had visited the Grand Canyon before, but only during the day. The sunset absolutely blew me away and I find myself looking back at videos and photos from this moment every day. We found the best viewing spot to be from Mather’s Point

DAY 5: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The fifth day was spent exploring Grand Canyon National Park. Whilst some people opted to hike down into the canyon itself, I chose the easier Rim Trail. Although I had already walked this trail before, the incredible Grand Canyon views will never get old. It was also a great opportunity to get to know some other people in the group that I had not previously met. Grand Canyon Village is a great spot for lunch, and we collapsed into Arizona Steakhouse at the end of the hike. 

Whilst the Grand Canyon itself was incredible, my favourite part of this stop was actually the accommodation. We were booked into Under Canvas Grand Canyon for two nights of glamping. It was the most cozy accommodation hidden away in the desert, and is still one of my favourite stays in the whole USA. The group was able to share hiking stories and roast s’mores over the bonfire each night. The tents were also super comfortable and I enjoyed the thrill of falling asleep to the sounds of the desert wildlife. 

DAYS 6-7: Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas was the most anticipated destination of the whole LA to the Bay with Contiki trip. In fact, it is the reason why most people booked onto this trip in the first place. And, given the group’s reputation for a good party, I knew we were in for a fun time! This was also the first time I had visited Las Vegas since turning 21, so I was finally able to experience the city’s famous nightlife to the fullest.

We actually drove to Las Vegas via Seligman, Arizona. This is a small but proud town lying along the Historic Route 66. We were able to explore some of the local businesses and learn about the history of this route. Definitely an opportunity for some fun Instagram snaps here!

Arriving in Las Vegas via the Las Vegas Sign, we checked into Tropicana to get ready for a big night ahead. We had another group dinner included, this time at a family-run Italian restaurant which was delicious. Then, we headed straight to the Fremont Street Experience. For me, this was the highlight of our time in Las Vegas. Fremont Street is a dazzling, neon-lit attraction located in Downtown Las Vegas. You will actually find the oldest casinos in the city here, as well as many bars, live music and even a zip line! I definitely recommend this experience, and it was actually something I had never heard of before.

I am sure that the only reason we were able to party so hard two nights in a row was our visit to Bellagio Buffet on the second day. We ate to our heart’s content for nearly two hours before exploring the rest of Bellagio and the Las Vegas Strip 

Las Vegas Nightlife

Our tour leader actually had some incredible connections in Las Vegas that she shared with us. The first night we were able to party the night away at Encore Beach Club for only USD$12* entry, as well as an open bar. The second night we ventured down to Resorts World for USD$12* entry into Zouk Nightclub where DJ Tiësto was playing. We danced, we sang, we swam, we drank and we partied the night away. In fact, these nights were so much fun that the hangover was definitely worth it. 

One of the best ways to visit Las Vegas is actually with a group tour. Not only was I able to enjoy the nightlife with a big group of friends, but we were also able to gain much cheaper entry thanks to our amazing tour guide. Visiting Las Vegas on your own definitely makes it harder and more expensive to experience the city’s nightlife.

DAYS 8-9: Yosemite National Park, California

A week into the LA to the Bay with Contiki tour, we ventured back into California. Most of the day was spent driving, which again, I was thankful for after two massive nights of partying. 

During this stop we actually stayed just outside the national park at Bass Lake. The accommodation was incredibly convenient, with a general store, pool and patio on site. We even got to share our own cabins with two other friends from the trip which was super cozy. Despite having lived in Canada for two years, Bass Lake was actually my first time spotting a black bear! So, we also had the inevitable bear safety briefing here. 

The next morning, we rose bright and early ready for a day of hiking. This day spent in Yosemite National Park was definitely my favourite of the whole trip. Yosemite itself is incredibly beautiful, so much so that it made me fall in love with hiking and actually inspired me to visit more national parks in 2023. Despite the wildfire haze, we set off on the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail for the day in search of more black bears and rattlesnakes.

I really loved exploring Yosemite National Park, and I wish that we could have spent another day hiking here. However, the time of year made it difficult for those with asthma due to the wildfire smoke in the air. Some group members were certainly glad to only stay one day!

The second night in Bass Lake we threw a MASSIVE house party. Total old school, 2000s house party vibes. By this time, we had bonded so much as a group and it was nice to be able to celebrate the end of the trip altogether, despite the noise complaints. 

DAYS 10-11: San Francisco, California

A feeling of sadness hung in the air as we pulled into our final stop of the LA to the Bay with Contiki trip. We were all so excited to be in beautiful San Francisco, but it was bittersweet knowing we would soon be saying goodbye to each other. 

We headed straight for the Golden Gate Bridge via a bay cruise for incredible views of the San Francisco Bay. It would have been great to come back here at sunset, however we were instead headed to our final group dinner in Chinatown. We celebrated the end of the trip early into the morning, drinking saké, eating noodles and singing karaoke. 

Most people ended up staying in San Francisco at least one extra night. Like the start of the trip in LA, one day here really was not enough to see what the city had to offer. I certainly fell in love with San Francisco instantly and felt like the trip really skimmed over it. So, I definitely recommend staying at least an extra two nights here to explore more. It was really fun to be able to explore Alcatraz Island, Pier 39, Haight-Ashbury and even catch a baseball game with friends from the trip. 


As with any road trip, there were many long days spend sleeping the time away on the bus. However, visiting Yosemite National Park and San Francisco for the first time was justification. Making lifelong friends who pushed me out of my comfort zone was also a highlight of the trip. However, I do wish that the trip spent an extra night or two in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So, I recommend extending that start and end of your trip to explore these cities in more depth. 

When I travelled in September 2022, I paid AUD$4,071* for this tour. Whilst I had an amazing group of friends to travel with, I would also recommend looking at some other options if you are interested in exploring the Southwest on a smaller budget. I do feel like this was a high price to pay, especially given that we only spent one night in Los Angeles and San Francisco. I also did not opt in for the more expensive add-on experiences, including hot air ballooning and a helicopter ride. The tipping culture in the USA also pushed the budget even higher. Despite this, we were definitely able to save a large amount of money in Las Vegas thanks to our tour guide’s awesome connections here. 

*Please note that all prices are current as of the publication date of this post.

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