Ian Belcher climbs into the convertible for his very own coast-to-coast journey to the heart of the American dream
It’s the big one, perhaps the greatest road trip on earth: NY to LA. You’ll need some decent shuteye, but you don’t want any old chain motel bed. Instead your nights deserve a little variety, some local flavour and a dollop of history. Very occasionally you’re happy to splash the cash for a hit of luxury. Sound the sort of thing? Then give these a go …
Take a first and last hit of Big Apple cool at the shamelessly hip but also fun and seriously professional Dream Downtown, just a smashed avocado on sourdough toss from Chelsea Market and the High Line. As befits its ocean liner-inspired steel façade – you’re crashing in the former HQ of the National Maritime Union – its rooms have portholes, retro chic furniture and indecently comfortable beds.
Not that you’re having an early night given Dream’s Bodega Negra, a hot ticket eaterie with disco ball, antique tequila barrels and high-end Mexican menu; the rooftop bar with gobsmacking views, and the subterranean wood-panelled den dripping with Cool Britannia. Oh yes, there’s also the beach: a decent deck with imported sand swaddling a glass-bottomed swimming pool over the lobby. You’re a long way from Nebraska.
Doubles from £237 room only, dreamhotels.com/downtown
Cleveland At The Arcade
You’re shot, bleary-eyed from a long haul on the I-80 but hey, smile, it’s about to get better with a night directly inside Cleveland’s historic heart. Yes, it’s a Hyatt Regency but the chain keeps it local on the top three levels of Cleveland’s Crystal Palace; the historic landmark whose glass roof, iron balconies and elegant wood shop fronts were modelled on Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11. In fact Hyatt were a key player in the £45m facelift of the arcade – America’s first indoor shopping centre originally financed by the likes of John D. Rockefeller – and some of the spacious rooms, along with the restaurant, gym and bar overlook the light-washed interiors. Got any spare energy? You’re in pole position for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and East 4th Street Entertainment District.
Doubles from £103 room only, cleveland.regency.hyatt.com
Another day, another few hundred miles, another splendid slice of Midwest history. Rising from the spot where North Michigan Avenue meets Wacker Drive – the tip of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile of shops, museums and restaurants – the recently-opened London House occupies one of the ‘Big Four’ skyscrapers: Alfred S Alschuler’s beaux art masterpiece built in 1923. The hotel name harks from the legendary ground-floor jazz club that ran from the 1950s to the 1970s with stellar acts including Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock. Now the historic landmark and new glass tower boast 452 rooms and suites: a tasteful riot of contemporary monochrome interiors and linear light-washed public areas whose striking design flourishes include chandeliers and ‘apostrophe’ chairs. But what you’ll remember on next day’s push towards Iowa are the epic views – particularly from the cupola-tipped rooftop bar – of one of the world’s most majestic city centres.
Doubles from £131 room only, londonhousechicago.com
Rogers House Inn
You’re approaching half way; time to downsize, time for something a little more intimate. In Nebraska’s state capital, that means Rogers House B&B in the historic Near South District. The small but perfectly formed red brick warren of accommodation was built in 1914 by a 70-year-old banker as a red brick retirement mansion complete with mahogany-panelled dining room, library, third-floor ballroom and maid’s quarters. It later became a University of Nebraska fraternity house (no, it’s not acceptable to behave like John Belushi) before emerging as a boutique B&B complete with original wood floors and fireplaces, garnished with tasty antique furniture. In the early 1990s it expanded with the addition of the arts and crafts influenced neighbouring property. It can creak a little – my room had a shower in the cupboard – but it’s a wonderfully atmospheric contrast to the huge chains, the grounds are lovely, the breakfasts justifiably famous.
B&B doubles from £67, rogershouseinn.com
Keep on rolling. You’ve reached the stage of the trip where mid-19th century pioneers would look up, groan and trudge north to try a Rockies’ crossing at South Pass. You, however, won’t change direction. You’ve treated yourself to a night among the tastefully neutral contemporary elegance of downtown’s Ritz-Carlton. Cue epic views of the Mile-High City surrendering to the barrier of mountains and a perfectly aged, hand-cut prime slab of beef in Elways, the lobby steakhouse named after the Denver Bronco’s favourite son, John Elway – it’s had seven Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator.
Right, you’re fed, you’re watered, you’re rested. Time to cross those mountains.
Doubles from £163, ritzcarlton.com
Cougar Ridge Lodge
You’ve entered the deep red heart of some of the world’s most dramatic wilderness. How can glorious isolation be quite this comfortable? Cougar Ridge, a self-proclaimed ‘sandstone masterpiece’ perched on a ridge within a 42-acre estate, close to the mind-bending scenery of Capital Reef National Park.
The lodge’s seven suites (it also has lovely casitas) are a hearty but classy blend of rock and wood – two with hot tubs – but that’s just the kip. There’s also a cracking bar with roaring fire, bowling alley, games room and a simulator for golf, driving and shooting, as well as winery with tasting room, alongside a spa with steam room and sauna. Cougar Ridge offers guided hunting, hiking, riding and first-rate fly fishing, and classes in everything from winemaking to rock carving. Of course, you could just kick back next to the rooftop fire pit and raise a glass to the journey and the savagely beautiful landscape.
Doubles from £207 including continental breakfast, cougarridgelodge.com
You’re dropped down from the lunar topography of the Colorado Plateau and crossed the burning desert. The reward? Vegas. It’s time for some manufactured fun. The Aria is a palace of hedonism with 16, yes sixteen restaurants – from the Bardot Brasserie’s Parisian recreations to Tetsu’s Michelin-starred Japanese – 4,000 rooms, three pools and a $1,000,000 wall of wine, as well as, natch, a sprawling casino, nightclub with top draw DJs and fine art collection with works by the likes of Henry Moore and James Turrell. Oh yes, the fabulously equipped rooms have hypnotic views of The Strip. Vegas will fry your mind and bleed your wallet, but you’ve earned it, baby.
Doubles from £139 room-only, mgmresorts.com
Yucca Valley, California
With the neon glitz receding in your rearview mirror and a return to the desert’s warm embrace, it’s time for a fabulously remote slice of Hollywood history nuzzling the Joshua Tree National Park. Built by Roy Rodgers in 1946 for stars on location on the neighbouring Wild West movie set (a backdrop for Gunsmoke and The Cisco Kid) Pioneertown Motel shares the same wooden frontier town vibe. A recent facelift, which took two years and left 19 supremely comfortable rooms with local weaves, cowhide rugs and decent bathroom smellies, has seen it attract a hip Orange County and Hollywood weekend crowd. A major draw, just yards away, is Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace offering acclaimed food and big names (like Paul McCartney, Lorde and the Arctic Monkeys) playing small desert gigs. Hot location, chilled place, and you’re now sensing the pull of the Pacific.
Doubles from £127 www.pioneertown-motel.com/
It’s over: you’ve made it from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach. Celebrate with a second hit of coastal cool, this time on the western seaboard. The Belamar offers a chic contemporary take on the vibe of a classic 1960s motel, just a few blocks back from the palm-lined sand. Its 120 rooms and seven suites, many of them overlooking the sun-soaked courtyard with its pool and cabanas, are a masterclass in clean, linear design, stylish earth hues and all mod cons. The Belamar’s lauded Second Story Restaurant takes a creative twist on Cali cuisine – I celebrated journey’s end with the best burger of the week: hormone-free beef, screamingly tasty bacon-onion jam and home-made pickle.
Adieu Hotel California. You can check out, you can leave; but after this road trip, trust me, you really won’t want to.
Doubles from £125 room only, thebelamar.com