- "Alexa, play something Under The Bridge." (Photo: Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash)

    An epic US road trip, but it’s basically powered by Alexa

    Seattle to San Diego with an extra virtual passenger doing all the hard work

    1w ago

    129K

    Post sponsored by

    A few years ago, my wife and I undertook an epic road trip across the US of A, from north to south on the West Coast. It was pretty awesome.

    But this was in the olden days, before we all had to wear masks everywhere and before voice assistants were really a thing. So we got to thinking – what if we were to do it again, but we had an extra passenger? An extra passenger called… Alexa.

    Here’s what I think would happen.

    (At this point I should point out, just in case, that Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant, is being installed in increasing numbers of new cars and isn’t a love interest that my wife will be angry about.)

    Seattle, WA

    Photo: Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

    Photo: Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

    We've all had that pre-trip panic – the moment when you're on your way and fully committed, and then you think: "did I lock the doors?" Normally this would result in several weeks of worry or frantic calls to neighbours, but with the advent of smart locks, things are much easier.

    “Alexa, is the front door locked?” Oh, it's locked you say? Well that’s good to know. And now I’m hungry.

    A smart lock. Does what it says on the box.

    A smart lock. Does what it says on the box.

    “Alexa, what are the top restaurants near me?”

    You can’t do a road trip on an empty stomach, as someone probably once said, so it’s important to start things well fuelled. We ate at the excellent Local 360 restaurant in Seattle’s Belltown district, which only uses locally sourced food. But it’s closed down due to Covid. So if we were to do it again, Alexa would be able to recommend a few places nearby. Personally, I’d recommend The Grill from Ipanema steakhouse nearby, not because it’s good (I haven’t been) but because it’s got a puntastic name.

    MoPOP. Look, even the building is awesome. (Photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash)

    MoPOP. Look, even the building is awesome. (Photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash)

    Listing what else there is to do in Seattle would take an entire website, but personal recommendations would be the Museum of Popular Music (MoPOP) and the Seattle Underground Tour, which shows you the bits of the city that used to be at ground level but got buried when the streets were elevated. Very cool.

    But enough of Seattle and its artsy ways. ONWARDS.

    “Alexa, take me to Portland.” Ah cool, directions straight to the GPS system.

    Portland, OR

    Photo is black and white because Portland is hipster. (Photo: Sophia Simoes on Unsplash)

    Photo is black and white because Portland is hipster. (Photo: Sophia Simoes on Unsplash)

    “Keep Portland weird” says the famous sign, right next to Voodoo Doughnut, which coincidentally is the place that Alexa recommends if you want donuts in the Kingdom of the Hipsters. Portland is chock full of interesting things and interesting people. They might not all be your kind of people, but if there’s a niche interest, someone in Portland is totally into it. And that includes donuts. Order a Maple Bacon Bar, and thank me later. Also, microbreweries. So many.

    Maybe the best thing in America. (Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash)

    Maybe the best thing in America. (Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash)

    “Alexa, directions to San Francisco please.” (You don’t need to say please, but hey, politeness costs nothing.)

    But before we get to San Fran, we’ll need some gas. If you’ve got Amazon Pay, you can use Alexa to pay for gas at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations across the US. Just say “Alexa, pay for gas” and once she’s confirmed, you get out and pump away.

    “Alexa, play California Love by 2Pac.”

    San Francisco, CA

    You've got to admit, that's a good-looking bridge (Photo: Umer Sayyam on Unsplash)

    You've got to admit, that's a good-looking bridge (Photo: Umer Sayyam on Unsplash)

    Rolling south, we head via California State Route 1 – the Pacific Coast Highway – to the Bay Area, and lots of song inspiration.

    “Alexa, play (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.”

    Did you know that Otis Redding’s famous hit – recorded just days before he passed away – refers to sitting on a houseboat in the small town of Sausalito? It’s a short bicycle ride away from San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and it’s thoroughly recommended. Although there is a risk of fog, which would limit the view a bit.

    Alcatraz. Uncle Sam's Devil's Island. The Rock. Dwayne Johnson. Wait, no... (Photo: Aldric RIVAT on Unsplash)

    Alcatraz. Uncle Sam's Devil's Island. The Rock. Dwayne Johnson. Wait, no... (Photo: Aldric RIVAT on Unsplash)

    Also, you should go to Alcatraz. Because it’s Alcatraz.

    But after that...

    “Alexa, give me directions to Laguna Seca Raceway.”

    Monterey, CA

    Elevation not accurately reflected. It's super hilly

    Elevation not accurately reflected. It's super hilly

    No trip down the West Coast is complete without a trip to one of America’s best race circuits. I mean, unless you’re not into cars. But that seems unlikely if you’re reading this. Nestled in hills along the road between Monterey and Salinas is a properly dynamic circuit built on a dried-out lake bed. It’s almost a literal rollercoaster and even has corkscrew; turn eight is so named because it plunges down left and then right, and has been the site of some tremendous racing over the years.

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    When we visited there was no specific event on, but a lot of vintage single seaters testing. You can just drive up and wander around, and if you’re feeling energetic, a hike up to the top of the hill to check out the Corkscrew is well worth it.

    Yet more strong bridge work on the PCH (Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash)

    Yet more strong bridge work on the PCH (Photo by mana5280 on Unsplash)

    “Alexa, directions to Los Angeles.”

    Continue heading south on Route 1, pop in to Pebble Beach on the way (it's where they have a big week of awesome car stuff every year) and marvel at the views. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever driven on. Not so much because you can boot it – it’s probably too busy for that even if you wanted to – but because it’s interesting to drive on, with lots of twists and, crucially, incredible scenery out over the Pacific.

    Make sure you stop at regular intervals soak up the sights: Bixby Creek Bridge, a soaring 1930s concrete structure over towering cliffs; the Big Sur mountains (I recommend a beverage at the Nepenthe restaurant, with its incredible views); and Hearst Castle, a great example of what a splendid edifice you can build if you’re the founder of a media empire and have a massive stack of cash.

    Los Angeles, CA

    Dude. Rad (Photo by Ádám Berkecz on Unsplash)

    Dude. Rad (Photo by Ádám Berkecz on Unsplash)

    Where to start with Los Angeles? It’s a big ol’ city, that’s for sure. And there’s much to see. From personal experience, Santa Monica and Venice Beach are worth checking out, just because they’ve been in so many movies. Go try some muscle ups, or bring your skateboard. Check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame, visit Disney World. The classics.

    Fairly everyday stuff at the Petersen (Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash)

    Fairly everyday stuff at the Petersen (Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash)

    But for something more car-nutty, head to the very bright Petersen Automotive Museum in Wilshire Boulevard. I’ve been here a couple of times and it’s always brilliant, with ever-changing exhibitions looking at the history of the automobile, its impact on the world, America and particularly Los Angeles. Oh, and there’s room after room of incredible cars. If you can, get the behind-the-scenes tour, where a guide will take you down into the bowels of the building and show you the stash of cars not currently on display. Epic.

    Literally the quietest an LA freeway has ever been (Photo: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)

    Literally the quietest an LA freeway has ever been (Photo: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)

    Wherever you go in LA though, make sure you get directions, because traffic can be a nightmare. Alexa uses up-to-date traffic information and will route you accordingly. LA gets a bad rap sometimes, which is a shame as it’s got a lot to offer. But it’s not a great place to be stationary on a freeway.

    “Alexa, directions to San Diego please, thank you.”

    San Diego, CA

    "You can't park that here" (Photo: Johanna Zender on Unsplash)

    "You can't park that here" (Photo: Johanna Zender on Unsplash)

    End of the line. San Diego, which as we all know is German for a whale’s… well anyway, it’s about as close to Mexico as you can get – and you’re gonna love it. And it’s got lots going for it. My big recommendations are a visit to the USS Midway aircraft carrier, and a Segway tour of the city. Sure, you look like an ass, but they’re damn good fun to zip around on.

    All this hypothesising has made me want to do the trip all over again. It’s just as well you can’t book flights through Alexa, or it would be far too easy. Oh wait

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    Comments (8)

    • Can Alexa please shut the fuck up why would I pay to bug my car

        10 days ago
    • That bit about the front door locks spoke to me. I would do this in a heart beat.

        10 days ago
    • Done a couple drives up to seattle and back down to the bay again with my family but definitely by the amount of times I’ve been on PCH1 past Monterey and into Big Sur, it is easily my favorite stretch of road in the world. And for car spots year round, not just Car Week, Monterey is perfect 👌

        10 days ago
    • *Post sponsored by Amazon Alexa.*

        10 days ago
    • Here are a few reasons why voice assistants or (Alexa in this case) haven’t taken over humanity:

      General problems:

      They don’t get context of the conversation, they are good for one sentence commands.

      They have a hard time understanding various accents.

      Alexa problems:

      It’s hard to integrate with music platforms unless your platform is Spotify or Amazon Music.

      Alexa still feels like a beta-product. The setup and integration with Alexa skills isn’t exactly smooth.

        10 days ago

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