San Francisco & Las Vegas 2009
My first time in San Francisco was when I went to visit my friend, Catherine, in 1988 (here). I vowed that that I would “Return to San Francisco” like the Merle Haggard song. I never thought then that it would be another 21 years before I would do so and that Charlie would be with me. After five memorable nights, we then flew on to Las Vegas where we stayed five further nights, taking in a visit to the natural wonder of the amazing Grand Canyon….and the man-made wonder of the Hoover Dam. So my blog this week describes that great trip…. what we saw, where we stayed. We took literally hundreds of photos so the ones below are only some. After all, some of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” Enjoy!
So our holiday began with a direct 11 hour Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to San Francisco. Arriving at around lunch time we took a taxi to our hotel, the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf (now known as the Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman’s Wharf). This is located close to Pier 39, one of the most iconic parts of San Francisco, and it has more than 500 rooms that are equipped with satellite TV, a mini-fridge, coffee machine and air conditioning, and many more amenities.
Day 1: San Francisco Sun 29 Mar 2009
To beat the jetlag we stayed up until a “normal” bedtime instead choosing to explore Pier 39 that first evening. One of my favourite movies is Forrest Gump so we had to visit the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Pier 39. It even has a bench like Forrest sat on outside for you to take photos on. But we were more interested in the food! We enjoyed looking at the fun menu and chose Forrest’s Seafood Feast.
Day 2: San Francisco Mon 30 Mar 2009
Still a bit jet-lagged, we nevertheless threw ourselves into a bit of sightseeing:
Day 3: San Francisco Tuesday 31 Mar 2009
On the Tuesday, we thought a bit of sea-air was in order so headed first for:
Day 4: San Francisco Wednesday 1 April 2009
My buddy, Catherine (who now lives in Oregon) and her husband, Rod, were holidaying in Napa so came down to meet us. I was so excited as I hadn’t seen them in a while and Charlie hadn’t met Rod before. We decided to head north over the Golden Gate and head up to the stunning Muir Woods…revisiting what Catherine and I had done in 1988 so that Charlie could see the Giant Sequoias too. We had a memorable day walking in the woods, admiring the beautiful views.
We finished our evening sitting outside as the sun set over the Bay in a beautiful restaurant then called Horizons (now called The Trident) in Sausalito enjoying calamari and crab cakes followed by steaks, tuna and a seafood brochette. Great food with great friends. With gorgeous views of San Francisco, Angel Island and Alcatraz.
Day 5: San Francisco Thursday 2 April 2009
On our last full day in S.F. we decided to visit the Cable Car Museum which was fascinating….and then headed down to Pier 19 to photograph the sealions:
And of course a visit to any big city has to include some retail therapy….so we bought some trainers and casual clothed. We toasted our last night in this beautiful city with a slap-up meal in Butterfly on The Embarcadero (now closed). And we had one last stroll around the streets of San Francisco.
Day 6: San Francisco to Las Vegas Friday 3 April 2009
We checked out of our SF hotel about quarter to ten, sad to be leaving this gorgeous city but excited to be heading to crazy Las Vegas, a first time for both of us. Our United Airlines flight to McCarran International only took an hour and a half and we arrived shortly after lunchtime.
As a surprise for Charlie for his upcoming birthday I had arranged for us to be picked up by a stretch limo…..actually about the same price as a regular taxi and a common sight in Vegas. His face was priceless as the chauffeur showed us to our car and proceeded to pour champagne for us to enjoy on the short transfer to our hotel, the Bellagio (the one with the stunning Fountains in front).
The hotel was every bit as gorgeous as I had anticipated. I knew the service would be top class as I had been dealing with Lisa, the concierge, to plan the trip and she had been wonderful, giving many helpful tips and suggestions. It’s ideally located on the Strip and nicely maintained. Obviously, one of the biggest attractions at the Bellagio are the fountains. We were thrilled to be upgraded to a fountain view room so that we could enjoy the fountain show at all hours of the day, complete with accompanying music on a special TV channel in the room.
One of the nicest features of the room are the large floor-to-ceilings windows that provide wonderful views of the Strip, the fountains and the mountains. The Paris hotel is across the way so we had a great view of the Vegas version of the Eiffel Tower. I probably stared out the windows for several hours during our stay to take in the beautiful views.
Days 7-11: Las Vegas Saturday 4 – Wednesday 8 April 2009
Well, if you get a chance I think everyone should visit Las Vegas once in their life… it’s Disneyworld for adults even if like me you’re not a big gambler. Las Vegas is the epitome of over the top, and is definitely an adult only destination in my opinion. That said, NOTHING could prepare me for the sheer size and scale of the place. When you see pictures of it on CSI, and other TV programmes, you know it’s big, but it far out-stripped my expectations (pardon the pun). I lost my sense of scale as it took us the best part of an hour to walk the space of 3 or so large hotels along the Strip. Definitely bring your most comfortable walking shoes and keep the stilettoes for indoors.
The Strip is currently 7 miles long, (though it is growing and growing all the time, as new hotels are added) and it houses a staggeringly high percentage of the world’s largest and best reviewed hotels. Not only are the hotels enormous, housing buffet restaurants the size of supermarkets, huge windowless casinos with no natural light, entire shopping malls with artificial skies and impressive theatre houses with crazy rigging, but they are also wacky beyond your wildest imagination, with some housing circuses, a 50% scale Eiffel Tower (at Paris), a replica of the great pyramid, the sphynx and Cleopatra’s needle (at the Luxor), an erupting volcano, theme parks, a massive fountain show, and sidewalk shows including pirate ship battles on water, numerous wackily dressed people in fancy dress costume inviting you to have your picture taken with them for money etc (the most common of which were numerous Elvis impersonators)… Some of the hotel/casinos also have moving sidewalks (like you see at airports) running up the long driveways to try and entice you into the entrances. It’s literally mind-blowing!!
So what did we do in Vegas?? Well here are a few of the things we did:
8 Things We Did in Vegas
1. Restaurants. Vegas is well-known for its huge buffets and every hotel there pretty much has one. We did partake in a couple during our stay. But the most memorable meal for us was in Olive's (now Spago) in the Bellagio that I had booked for the first night of our stay as a birthday treat for Charlie. The food was class and the service was impeccable. They even gave him a complimentary “Happy Birthday” dessert (above). The top-class dining experience was topped-off with top-class views of the Bellagio fountain. Definitely a memorable destination.
2. Eiffel Tower Experience. Straight across the road from the Bellagio, we went here the first night after dining in Olive’s. For anyone who has seen the real one in Paris, this is a half-size replica of the world-famous French landmark. It’s a great vantage point to photograph the Strip at night as this high-altitude attraction is located 46 stories up.
3. Hotels. As I’ve said above, they all have something unique. We saw tigers, lions and panthers plus bottlenose dolphins in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage. We also visited the Big Apple Roller Coaster ride at the New York New York Hotel. One of the most beautiful was the Venetian Hotel with its gondola ride (above).
4. Helicopter Ride over the Grand Canyon and Vegas Strip. On the evening of Saturday 4 April 2009, we had the most magical experience with Sundance Helicopters which, besides meeting Catherine and Rod, was the highlight of the whole holiday for me. We escaped the madness of Sin City to visit the Grand Canyon on an exciting 3.5-hour sightseeing adventure. Having a limo transfer round trip, we then enjoyed a scenic 45-minute helicopter flight from Las Vegas to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon, flying over Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Black Mountains, Grapevine Mesa Joshua Trees Forest, and Grand Wash Cliffs Wilderness along the way.
We then dramatically descended 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) below the rim of the Grand Canyon to a landing spot at the base. My first time setting foot in Arizona! There we enjoyed a Champagne picnic, and soaked up the breath-taking views as the sun sank lower in the sky creating atmospheric shadows. This is a short video of another group doing the same trip which captures the moment you fly over the edge of the canyon and the ground falls away; as well as the picnic experience:
The Canyon is stunning in real-life and you feel insignificant against its vastness. In a country where the term “awesome” is often over-used, the Grand Canyon is genuinely “awesome”. The Grand Canyon National Park is rightly included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. On our return helicopter flight to Las Vegas, we were flying over the Strip just as the lights were coming on. Magical ... and something we both still talk about all those years later. Sure, it’s a bit of a pricey treat but worth every last penny.
5. Hoover Dam On Monday 6 April 2009, we did the Ultimate Dam VIP Tour which was a comedy trip. Strange I know, but we really enjoyed this in-depth mini-bus tour to the famous Hoover Dam. Our on-board tour guide filled our trip with comical and informative entertainment throughout the entire ride. We all wore funny spectacles.
We also experienced a fully guided “Walk on Top” 45-minute excursion across the top of Hoover Dam. During this walk we learned about the concrete, the high-scalers, artwork, electricity, spillways, intake towers, outlet works, earthquakes, rumours and more. I’ve always been fascinated by huge engineering feats and this Dam is truly fascinating.
The tour also included the interior tour to view the generators. We didn’t get to capture the incredible panoramic scene from the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge as it was still under construction at that time and only opened the following year in October 2010.
On our journey back home, our driver made a stop for a hot made-to-order lunch at the historic Boulder Dam Hotel. We also visited Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge in Henderson and stocked up on Raspberry, Mint and Caramel Chocolate Bars. Mmmmm! I can taste them now as I write.
6. Gamble! While I'm not encouraging anyone to go off and lose their shirt, it can still be fun if you’re careful! I had a go at the slots in the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio….and lost. I had a bit more luck at the Blackjack tables where I quit while I was ahead. If you’d like to know how to play Blackjack in a casino, click here.
Vegas casinos serve free booze to all gamblers. You don't have to sit down at a $100 blackjack table; they'll bring you cocktails at the penny slots. So, if you're planning to get plastered, do it before you hit the clubs. It'll save you $75 a night 😂. You'll find the best complimentary casino drinks at the Wynn, as it offers gamblers free mojitos and brand name tequila. Just remember to tip your waitress a dollar a drink.
7. Shows! One thing that I think most people agree is a MUST in Vegas, if you have the budget is seeing one of the shows. There are a huge number usually from which to choose from Cirque du Soleil to “O” at The Bellagio, where we were staying. However, as Charlie is a big Elvis fan we chose the Legends in Concert (then at Harrah’s nowadays at the Tropicana), the famous tribute show with impersonators. We had front row seats with Charlie sitting in the aisle seat. During the “Garth Brooks” performance, Charlie leaned out to his right to get an eyeful of the pretty cowgirls behind “Garth” when the latter stopped playing and asked “Am I standing in your way, sir?” When Charlie nodded his head with a big grin, "Garth" moved away to the centre of the stage and didn’t return for the rest of his performance. The audience all laughed.
The performances were absolutely brilliant! And of course we had to meet "Elvis" afterwards (above). Sorry for the photo quality but Charlie now has it framed behind glass on his livingroom wall! 🤣🤣
8. Stratosphere Tower: We really wanted to see all the rides at the top of The Stratosphere tower, which comprise of 3 extreme adrenaline-pumping thrill rides (no good if you have a fear of heights). Just to see them; not to do them ……as I think you need to be slightly mad…but it was fun to see the faces on the others doing them.
With the greatest views of the Las Vegas Strip and the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States, we both really enjoyed our time on the 1,149-foot-tall Observation Deck.
On Wednesday 8 April 2009, we checked out of the Bellagio….but not before rescuing “Sad Dolly” that we had seen every day in the shop window in the Bellagio beside the lift lobby:
We took a morning US Airways flight to San Francisco where we had a 4 hour stopover before our 10 hour 15 minute mid-afternoon flight direct to Dublin where we landed after 9:15 am the following morning.
So would I visit San Francisco again? ABSOLUTELY. Vegas? YES, great for a visit but I couldn’t live there. 😜
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 52
Number 5 - Adventure - Land in a Helicopter in the Grand Canyon (USA - Arizona)
Number 38 - Memorable Restaurant
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever visited these places? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!