Southwest road trip report
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Aug 23, 2012 8:56 AM Last Post By: zeldasdad
Aug 22, 2012 1:58 PM
Southwest road trip reportThis is a summary of my recent southwest road trip, with my wife and our nine-year-old son. It went more or less as planned, and we all had a wonderful time. I'm posting this for anybody who's planning a similar trip -- it looks like there are a lot of you out there.
We had 20 days to play with, flying into San Francisco and flying out of Los Angeles. We started with a rough outline:
4 nights in San Francisco
4 nights in Los Angeles
2 nights in Las Vegas
2 nights at the Grand Canyon
3 nights in San Diego
That left us five days spare, which ended up like this:
2 nights on the Pacific Coast highway from SF to LA
1 night at Barstow between LA and Las Vegas
1 night at Needles between Grand Canyon and San Diego
1 night at LA before the flight home
We didn't want to spend a fortune on accommodation, so we decided on staying in B&B in the cities, camping out in the countryside, and only using hotels when the price was right. For the camping, we brought a small tent and three sleeping bags over from Europe, and bought pillows and mats at WalMart, which we abandoned at the end of the trip.
After asking for advice on this forum, we decided to use public transport in San Francisco, and to rent a car for the rest of the trip, This turned out well, except that we were screwed by Alamo: we booked (and paid for) a compact car, but when we went to pick it up, all they had in the compact category was a hatchback without a luggage-area cover. So all our luggage would be visible to the world. They claimed that their standard practice with hatchbacks was to remove the luggage-area cover, because otherwise it would just get stolen. Logic anybody? Anyway, I said I would take the car because I didn't have a choice, but I wasn't happy. So they offered me a $50 discount on an upgrade to a standard car, and I took this because -- to be honest -- I'd wanted a standard car all along. Perhaps I should have haggled.
Accommodation: a "Bed & Breakfast San Francisco" apartment (link) for $105 per night. This apartment is close to the BART station. But SF has two separate public transport networks: BART (the subway) and Muni (everything else), and after we figured out the buses, we were able to get around using Muni all-day passes (which aren't valid for BART). We bought 3-day Go San Francisco cards (link, adult price $89.24), and we got our money's worth out of them without having to try too hard: Wax museum, Aquarium of the Bay, Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise, Museum of Modern Art, California Academy of Sciences.
PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
This is a beautiful route, and well worth the two nights we spent on it. The elephant seals alone would have been enough. We stayed the first night in Big Sur, which is horribly expensive: the campsite at Fernwood Resort (link) was bare earth with no lighting and spartan facilities, but it cost us $50 for a tent and car. A hotel would have been ruinous. We spent the second night at the Holland Inn in Morro Bay (link), for $70 + 13% tax.
Accommodation: a room in a private apartment in Gardena, booked through airbnb.com (link) for $50 per night plus a one-off $35 service fee. We shared the apartment with an assortment of long- and short-term guests.
We took things easy: spent a day on the beach at Santa Monica; visited an old acquaintance in the area; and dedicated a day to Disneyland ($87 per adult). And we visited the Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits.
On the way to Las Vegas, we kamped overnight at the KOA in Barstow (link) for $31.50. If you've never jumped into a swimming pool in the middle of a desert, this is the place to try it. At Las Vegas we stayed at Circus Circus (link), which was surprisingly cheap: $34 per night + 12% tax + $8.95 daily resort fee = $47.03 per night. (But their weekend rates are more than double.) Astonishingly, Rock & Rita's restaurant in Circus Circus currently has a toilet promo going: every table is covered with pictures of a mitiature toilet (bad enough) filled with chilli con carne (couldn't be worse). After ascertaining that there were no toilet-free tables available, we took our custom elsewhere.
We stayed two nights at the Mather Campground on the South Rim (link), for $36 per night. The National Park is wonderful, and the campsite is excellent (but bring your own lighting). The "We Cook Pizza & Pasta" diner at Tusayan, just outside the Park entrance, does great lasagna.
TO SAN DIEGO
Grand Canyon to San Diego is a very long day, so we stopped overnight at the Best Western in Needles (link) for $87.11 including tax. It was 118 degrees when we arrived, so we barely made it into reception.
Next day we took the scenic route over the Santa Rosa mountains. Very beautiful, but our car couldn't take it -- just before the top of the pass, the engine died. No cell phone coverage. Oh dear. But we waited 15 minutes for whatever it was to cool down, and managed another mile or so before conking out again. In this fashion we hacked it to the top, after which the car breathed a sigh of relief and coasted happily down to the valley.
Accommodation: a superb condo near Ocean Beach, booked through airbnb.com (link) for $70 per night + a one-off $48 service fee. We bought 3-day Go San Diego cards (link, adult price $163.20), and we had to work hard to get our money's worth: it cost nearly twice as much as the Go San Francisco card, so of course we felt obliged to visit San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Legoland. And we only had three nights in San Diego, not four, so we didn't get to see much of the city. We should have planned for at least one more day here, or perhaps bought a 2-day card.
Summing up, I think we made good use of our time and money. It's impossible to see everything in three weeks, so you have to make compromises. Our total distance covered was just over 2000 miles, which was not especially arduous. We were misled by the Go San Francisco/Go San Diego website: it implied that the special offers were for a limited time only, but the prices haven't gone up since we paid for them two months ago. So you don't need to buy these in advance.
That's it. Any questions?
Aug 22, 2012 2:59 PM
Aug 22, 2012 3:56 PM
Aug 22, 2012 4:34 PM
Aug 22, 2012 4:51 PM
Aug 22, 2012 11:52 PM
Mather campground is $18 per night, not $36. And the Park entrance fee is $25 per vehicle, good for up to seven days -- a real bargain in my opinion.
nutrax, the campsite at Barstow was very pleasant. Even though we could have saved a day by driving straight from LA to Las Vegas, we're glad we took our time and camped in the desert. And we got to eat at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner (link).
johnsang, we were happy with both airbnb places, especially the San Diego condo. Looking at the San Diego link, I see that they've put the price up, which might be my fault -- I told them what excellent value for money they were...
The car was a white Toyota Camry, with about 40,000 miles on the clock IIRC. The upgrade price was $10 a day, less the $50 discount we got.
Aug 22, 2012 11:59 PM
Aug 23, 2012 3:17 AM
7Thanks for the report, TonyK.
Yes, I've had exactly the same problem with Alamo (Salt Lake City airport) in the past. To me, whatever car you're provided with, you want to be able to store your luggage out of sight. Maybe the explanation you got was true and it's company policy to remove the cover because as you can see it's not an isolated incident. Whatever, it's ridiculous that they do it. At least in your case they tried to make some sort of amends. I got nowhere with the staff at SLC and in the end had to settle for a compact car for 8 weeks after prepaying for an intermediate as they insisted they had no saloons available in the class I wanted.
Aug 23, 2012 8:56 AM
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