California Trip - it's changed again guys!!
Replies: 20 - Last Post: Sep 19, 2012 11:14 AM Last Post By: yaguri
Sep 17, 2012 3:06 PM
California Trip - it's changed again guys!!Hi All,
I've been planning a trip to America now for a couple of months (and writing here about it too!) and the trip has been constantly evolving and developing. It now looks nothing like the original ideas I had, but I'm really excited about it and thanks to you guys, I think it's going to be much better than the original plan!!
I recently questioned car rental etc in California, and some of you were kind enough to answer my question about the age limit etc. However, since then, with my constantly evolving trip, I have decided I would prefer not to hire a car and would prefer to use public transport.
My original plans were to go quite long distances (by which I mean 400+ or so miles) and do large loops, which has been whittled down and whittled down. I am now not even leaving the state of California on my trip (originally I was going to several states and using a tour company, Green Tortoise etc).
Below I include my new itinerary. You've all been really helpful to me since I started posting on here, and I'd really appreciate your input with this latest itinerary again. Here's a couple of things I think you ought to know first:
1. I am a confident driver in the UK, but this would have been my first time driving abroad and I would have been driving alone. Whilst the distances I envisaged for each travel day were not large (I live in Wales and travel a lot for work/pleasure reasons), I would not have felt comfortable driving alone in California. I also felt that although having a car would allow me to freedom to come and go as and when I wanted, I would not have been able to properly enjoy the scenery all the time, as I would have been concentrating on the road.
2. I understand that public transport is not always one hundred percent reliable. I have factored this into my plans and will be prepared for all eventualities. I have used public transport extensively in the UK and in other countries in Europe and feel confident doing so. I know there are disadvantages, but hopefully you'll agree that my itinerary makes the best use of public transport in California and I have chosen some good places to visit that are easily accessible.
Days 1-6 - San Francisco. I will be staying with a friend here. This is not the only time I will be in San Francisco - I have factored in a day or so for jet lag and am going to go to a farmers market, the Golden Gate Park, California Academy of Sciences and maybe see a ball game (if there's one on!).
Days 7-10 - Amtrak to Monterey. Hostel/hotel. Will be booking this very soon as can see already hotels are becoming booked up for the time I'll be there. Usual things - aquarium, whale watching. Big Sur - have looked at local bus times/fares/routes.
Day 11 - Amtrak to Visalia. Overnight stay.
Days 12-14 - Visalia - Sequoia NP shuttle. Camping in Sequoia NP at Lodgepole Campground hopefully. Walking/hiking/outdoors activities. Will use free shuttles within the park.
Day 15 - Amtrak to Merced. Overnight stay.
Days 16-20 - Merced - Yosemite NP shuttle (YART?). Camping Yosemite NP (campground TBC). Horse riding, hiking etc. Hopefully there'll be plenty of photo ops. I'll be there late June-early July - hopefully the waterfalls won't have dried up quite yet!!
Day 21 - Yosemite NP - Sacramento. Overnight stay.
Days 22-24 - Sacramento-South Lake Tahoe (Amtrak). Will include 4th July in my stay and will hopefully witness some amazing fireworks!! Accommodation TBC.
Days 25-26 - Sacramento again. Spend more time here - wine tasting, enjoy a bit of town/city life after being in the great outdoors for a while!
Days 27-31 - San Francisco again. Go to Alcatraz, Pier 39, Golden Gate Bridge, ride on cable cars etc. Staying with my friend again - he'll be able to show me plenty of other things to do I'm sure!!
Days 32-34 - Redwood NP. Way off the beaten track (still get there using Amtrak). Have not researched this section at all yet, but really want to go up there.
Day 35 - travel back to San Francisco.
Day 36 - fly back to Heathrow.
I hope that seems reasonable, I think it does and I feel confident about the trip. Would welcome any advice/tips that you guys have though, and any feedback on using public transport in California - would be good to know as much as possible before I go. I'll be travelling mid June-mid July (busiest time, but only time I've got) and will be booking most things in advance (obviously reservations for camping etc in the national parks, trains, some hostels/hotels), so can't be too flexible once those are booked, but will try to take into account as much as possible delays/cancellations/problems.
Would welcome thoughts!! Thank you!!
Sep 17, 2012 3:45 PM
1Others may comment on your itinerary, I just want to correct one statement you made.
Public transportation is generally very reliable, it's just not as available as you may be used to. You'll have to work around more limited schedules and destinations as you probably have at home, but it will almost always run as scheduled.
Sep 17, 2012 4:29 PM
Something to love about California (along with so very many other elements) is the public transportation. If you have the time, expenses and endurance to travel by public transportation, then I would hedge that it's perfectly reliable, safe and enjoyable. There's Amtrak, Greyhound, street cars, trolleys, shuttles and local bus lines like Metro and Vista to transport you throughout California, and in dire situations, there's always the taxi cab. (Just look it up online or through the Yellow Pages of a local phone book.) The connections throughout California, especially along the coast, are extensive, and surprisingly, not too expensive, either, for the local lines. Most buses will allow you to drag along your backpack (ideal choice) or suitcase, too.
Driving in California can be intimidating to the outsider, but really, they're only exaggerated rumors. The worst case scenario for the inexperienced driver would be driving throughout LA along the freeways- the people are self-absorbed, rude and rushed on the roads. But to be trite, better safe than sorry. :) It wouldn't hurt to rent a car for a day or two if you wanted to experience some personalized adventures on a route that's all your choice, and renting a car for that time period wouldn't break your wallet or purse, either. I've seen very nice cars rent for 24 hours, no mileage limit for only $40.00, and face it: the Euro currency is of more value in America. :)
Lonely Planet Guidebook! A must! Remember, always use caution when you're traveling, and this is especially true of public transportation. When I travel, I like to keep an emergency, small stash of cash in my boots. (While I'm wearing them, of course.) :)
You should be spontaneous and enjoy unexpected adventures. For instance, while you're in San Francisco, just grab something while watching artists paint, or while pointing out the Golden Gate Bridge; it won't matter if you waltzed into a cheap supermarket and bought simple deli sandwiches or burritos; the view and the atmosphere of the place will make you more excited about the memory, rather than if you scrambled madly about in search of the perfect suggestion of a fine meal. Make it your own, and brag about it when you return to your native land or shore. While in 'Cisco, roam around Chinatown, and just choose based on the vibe. I also recommend buying a cheap cassette tape of Chinese/Mandarin/Japanese music, and laughing together when you listen to it later, attempting to sing along. The best trips have impulsive and zany twists that individualizes the experience. Sometimes Americans are glorified for their rudeness (expect on the roads of L.A. and in the shopping centers) , but in actuality, most Americans are very friendly and willing to help you. (Especially on the open-minded West Coast.) If you notice someone who intrigues or captures you, go ahead and brave the unknown by asking him/her/them what their favorite eatery is, or what experience is the most unique to their city's style.
If you have the chance, you should visit Santa Barbara. :) Monterey is beautiful, too.
Santa Barbara is very beautiful; lush, green mountains and the calm blue waters of the Pacific cradle an expensive Spanish-style built city. Santa Barbara, I would wager, is North America's most beautiful (smaller) city of about 90,000 people. There are restaurants, bars, clubs, music venues and everything else galore; and I guarantee you will love walking along State Street, SB's main drag. You can visit the Santa Barbara Mission for free, and the architecture and art is stunning. If you climb to the top, you'll get beautiful pictures. The view is amazing and captures the city, the mountains and the ocean. There are restaurants along Santa Barbara Pier as well, and during idyllic times, sailboats cruise along the water. Four miles south of Santa Barbara, the town Carpinteria is worthwhile; it's a smaller version of Santa Barbara, in a vague way, and has much more activity because of its compact size.
Lake Tahoe truly is one of the most beautiful lakes in North America, and it's great to visit throughout the year, unless you don't like snow in the winter. Some of it is surrounded by beautiful mountains and a spongy, green forest, and there are several hotels to choose from. I would recommend staying in South Lake Tahoe City for the local element, and renting a car to visit Virginia City and Reno for the lively element you're after, if you're willing to drive some 75 miles each way between the two points; Nevada's capitol, Carson City, is about the halfway point. Also, Reno is only 2 hours away from Sacramento. Any of these three cities would do to satisfy dining and fun, and some people don't know this, but Reno is like a miniature Las Vegas; there are casinos to gamble in downtown, and there isn't as much focus on scandalous women. In Reno, you'll find four star resorts, spas and dining and a unique element that Vegas lacks - Reno is surrounded by smaller, dusty brown mountains, and the weather is one of the things locals love about Reno. Truckee River runs through the downtown area, and there are some pretty cool music venues. Virginia City has a lot to do with Mark Twain, and it's a tourist hot spot that humors the crowds as an old Western town; there are actual wooden boardwalks, people dressed as cowboys, outlaws and sheriffs, and faux old-time diners and restaurants serve excellent "Old West" food, icecream and candy. Wild horses roam freely nearby in Virginia City's mountains.
I am in love with the Redwood Forest, and I needn't waste words - it's so beautiful, it will speak for itself. If you have the chance, explore Arcata and Eureka, too.
Places to Consider
Use your Lonely Planet Guidebook for more information. Based on personal opinion and experience, I highly recommend the following route:
I'll be honest about L.A. - the city is ugly, the people self-absorbed and rude. But you have to love it. I recommend riding the bus along Ventura Boulevard, and stopping to see Sherman Oaks, Encino and Tarzana. These are strictly urban valley subcities, but I love them. You MUST visit Venice Beach to really grasp the hippie, cultural vibe of old school So Cal, and you should visit Santa Monica, too - catch the pier at nighttime. Of course, take into consideration what your Lonely Planet Guidebook says, too. Hollywood is not to be missed, and yes - it's required that you walk along Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard. Don't walk around with your head bent down, studying stars and what not; look around you. Buy some fruit from a Mexican flea market; at a Mexican supermarket, buy bolillos, very yummy bread rolls that will fill you up for cheap - you can get four for only a dollar. Don't forget the iconic sign!
*Topanga State Park
For a spectacular view, drive alone Topanga Canyon - you'll see an astounding view of the valley, the mountains and eventually, the sea. Great hiking through these mountains.
*Santa Monica and Malibu
*Santa Barbara and Carpinteria
Santa Barbara is very beautiful; lush, green mountains and the calm blue waters of the Pacific cradle an expensive Spanish-style built city. Seeing and experiencing the city is enough to satisfy any visitor. You can visit the Santa Barbara Mission for free, and the architecture and art is stunning. If you climb to the top, you'll get beautiful pictures. The view is amazing and captures the city, the mountains and the ocean. You can't go to Santa Barbara without strolling up and down the brick-paved State Street, SB's main drag. Excellent window shopping, and the rumors are true: the wine is rich and the women are beautiful. I think that stopping to have a quick look at Carpinteria is worthwhile; it's a smaller version of Santa Barbara, in a vague way, and has much more activity because of its compact size. Directly across an open, grassy field where families picnic, play and relax, there is a state campground that looks like a tent city when it's packed. I recommend walking through it. Showers cost a quarter for every two minutes of water used. Carpinteria is extremely safe. The water can be beautiful, but I only recommend swimming in it for the novel fun of it; Californian waters are always cold. To camp in California, expect to pay between $35.00 and $60.00, except in certain cases.
*Consider a detour to Ojai
You may want to consider taking a thirty-mile detour to see a little mountain city called Ojai. It can get quite hot, but the mountains and fields of tangerines, nectarines and oranges is beautiful. This small place, too, is for the rich - there's not even a single fast-food chain in Ojai, and I recommend shopping at a still over-priced Vons, but still, it's worth it, especially if you love to see the stars. If you're into camping, I recommend staying at Dennison Park - it does get hot, and no, there are no showers or electricity - but the view is amazing, and the camp host, Milo, is a great guy.
*Lompoc and Solvang
If you travel through Lompoc for some reason, be sure to stop and buy some strawberries from a cheap roadside stand. You can buy cartons with ease on your wallet, and the strawberries are wonderful, and about the size of your fist. Lompoc is about sixty miles north of Santa Barbara. Solvang is a small tourist town designed to give you a Dutch feel. But you're closer to Amsterdam than I am, and you may want to forego it. :)
*Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo
*Monterey and Carmel
Reno is like a miniature Las Vegas; there are casinos to gamble in downtown,except here, there isn't as much focus on scandalous women. In Reno, you'll find four star resorts, spas and dining and a unique element that Vegas lacks - Reno is surrounded by smaller, dusty brown mountains, and the weather is one of the things locals love about Reno. Truckee River runs through the downtown area, and there are some pretty cool music venues.
Lake Tahoe truly is one of the most beautiful lakes in North America, and it's great to visit throughout the year, unless you don't like snow in the winter. Some of it is surrounded by beautiful mountains and a spongy, green forest.
*Yosemite National Park
*Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
*Death Valley National Park
Most journeys like this are self-explanatory, and become increasingly easy to enjoy, thanks to informative reading like Lonely Planet, but I hope I've been of some assistance. I can be quite vague and scrambled. Enjoy California and Nevada, and I hope we make a good impression! :)
Sep 17, 2012 7:27 PM
3I can't comment on the reliability or frequency of public transport in the region, having always used a car - however others have commented on here fairly regularly that AMTRAK services can fall behind schedule - perhaps that's the long-haul services rather than the shorter ones you are planning for here.
In relation to Redwood NP - apart from being a long way - once you get off the train, is there transport available to visit the park? It is a big place (even driving around), and also, we thought some of the state parks - apart from being much more compact - were superior redwood grove experiences, by quite a large margin. I don't know how accessible they are by PT, but they couldn't really be worse.
And thirdly, I think ten days in San Francisco out of 36 is a very large slice - unless the fact you are visiting a friend makes it worth it to you. I would think six days (3 x 3) would be more than enough ... good as it is.
But overall, you sound very self-sufficient, including carrying camping gear on the various trains and buses.
Sep 17, 2012 10:07 PM
4I'm fairly certain that Redwood is out of the question via public transit. You might be able to get "nearby" the park (and as Ian notes, the "park" is actually a handful of state and national parks scattered around the north coast), but getting around would be nigh impossible. Someone might be able to prove me wrong but I'm pretty confident that you need a car for these parks.
Yosemite is perfectly fine without a car, as are the cities of course. Waterfalls should still be going strong in Yosemite during your visit. Make sure you take the bus up to Glacier Point, and to Tuolomne Meadows if that bus is running.
Sequoia is a nice stop, and Lodgepole is a great place to stay. Good choice!
You should definitely consider taking the bus from Monterey to Big Sur - it runs daily over the summer. You can get a sampling of the spectacular Big Sur coast from the bus, then spend a night or two in Big Sur. There's enough to do within walking distance of bus stops to keep you entertained for a couple days. There are redwoods here, though not as spectacular as you'd fine far north.
Book lodging or camping FAR ahead for Big Sur. Yosemite, too. Don't know about Sequoia - I camped there last November, and there were literally two other tents in the entirety of Lodgepole campground during my stay!
I'm not a Tahoe expert but I am skeptical that you can see a lot by transit. Someone might prove me wrong, though.
When relying on public transit, remember that LESS IS MORE! Getting from place to place will be a huge pain in the ass a lot of the time, so you want to pick places that are worth the trouble and where you can stay awhile. Don't be afraid to cut even more to spend an extra day or two in Yosemite and Sequoia, plus an extra couple days for Big Sur in addition to the days you already have allotted to Monterey.
Sep 17, 2012 11:24 PM
5Just reminiscing about my trip to Sequoia... don't know how strong of a hiker you are but the hike to Pear Lake that leaves from Wolverton (just a few minutes from your campground via the shuttle) is SPEC-FREAKING-TACULAR! I highly recommend it. It's about a 12 mile hike with a couple thousand feet of elevation gain. But the views are worth the effort (I think). It's a very popular trail so don't worry about going alone.
Also, there's a nice and pretty easy hike that departs directly from Lodepole to Tokopah Falls.
Be sure to climb the stairs to the top of Moro Rock. Sunset is a good time for this.
And of course, you have to stop to take a short walk in the Giant Forest.
Sep 17, 2012 11:57 PM
6I'm no expert, but you might want to double check that you can do this trip. Some of the routes appear that you are only using the Amtrak Thruway bus for that leg, and according to state law Thruway bus tickets can only be used in conjunction with a train ride http://www.amtrak.com/california-thruway-buses-reach-hot-vacation-spots (I understand its due to that fact that it would then be in competition with Grayhound). My understanding of this was that if going from point A to point B, one portion has to be with a train, with the bus being a continuation of that single trip. They may not allow you to have those overnight stays in places, like in Sacramento before heading to South Lake Tahoe for example. There are ways around that, but it can make route planning quite difficult. I also plugged one of your legs into the Amtrak route finder (Day 11, Monterey to Visalia), and it told me that they can not find train service for that route, and I tried several different days.
Otherwise, I would suggest booking the portion to monterey early, as the Coast Starlight, which covers part of that route, books up quite quickly. Another suggestion is that instaed of going to and from South Lake Tahoe from sacramento, consider a loop. You can take the Amtrak Thruway bus to South Lake Tahoe, and then take local bus service (there are actually several options) to either Truckee or Reno, From there take the California Zephyr train through some great mountain scenery back down to Sacramento (or on to Martinez where you can catch the bus up to the Redwoods, or continue on to San Francisco)
Another option is to take the YARTS from Merced to Yosemite as planned, but then continue across the Sierras on YARTS to Lee Vining or wonderful Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes for example, has a local bus system, including, I believe, a shuttle which will take you to Devils Postpile National monument. From Mammoth or Lee Vining, you can then take Eastern Sierra transit http://www.estransit.com/CMS/ north to Carson City and Reno, where you can then take local transit options to Lake Tahoe. From there continue on your plan to go to Sacaramneto via Amtrak. This route is WAY more scenic then the route you would take from Yosemite to Sacramento, though with all the things to see and do along the way you may need to fin an extra day or two somewhere in your schedule. Have Fun
Sep 18, 2012 2:08 AM
Sep 18, 2012 5:08 AM
Sep 18, 2012 5:48 AM
9Thanks guys, all these responses are wonderful and really, really helpful. Some great suggestions for things to do and see and lots more to think about - I can see my trip changing again before long!!
@congochris - Your post is extremely helpful. I am definitely going to consider a loop with Sacramento/Tahoe and your suggestion to carry on using YARTS in Yosemite and go to Mammoth Lakes is definitely something to seriously consider. I have, for all the Amtrak routes I am considering, tested the routes on days I will be going e.g. if I'm travelling from San Francisco to Monterey on a Tuesday, I've tested this on the Amtrak website on a Tuesday (granted, not the actual Tuesday). Anything that has come up as not available I am substituting with Greyhound or local services, or changing the route. I know what you mean about restrictions, the stopovers I mention in my original post are there because of time constraints etc and not necessarily because I want to spend a night in those places. Still, half the adventure is in the getting there and those little places I'm not so keen to see will no doubt surprise me!!
@ianw6705 - I may well consider cutting my time in San Francisco as you advise, especially since I would like to spend another night in Monterey/Big Sur and have been considering that. However, there's so much I'd like to do in San Francisco and my friend will show me around and I'm the sort of person who likes to wander around and get 'lost' that I don't think 8-9 days is too much time there - especially since @WSOrtega26 makes everything sound so inviting!!
Everyone else - all your tips and points and little suggestions are really welcomed and will be taken into account, particularly the things I could do and see whilst I'm travelling around. I'm so excited now about coming to California and seeing some of the amazing scenery.
I'll also take into account the Redwood NP comments - will research further and if I think it would be difficult with PT only, will scrap and find some redwood trees elsewhere and nearer San Francisco!! I've already scraped Lassen Volcanic NP because it's so remote - a shame, because I would like to visit. Another time perhaps, and there's so much to do and see in the central/coastal/Sierra region that I think I'll have more than enough to occupy me!!
No doubt I'll post here again with a new itinerary/corrections/wanting more suggestions in the not too distant future. Thanks for all your comments, so great and makes me so excited!! And @WSOrtega26 - I'll make sure to approach people and speak to them. It's not something we tend to do in the UK, but who knows, maybe I'll be able to get a date like they do in American dramas when they make it look so easy!!
Sep 18, 2012 6:07 AM
However, this is not saying that they will stop everywhere you would like, or that getting around the parks will be easy.
Sep 18, 2012 8:01 AM
11Well, what do you know... you can get to the Redwood parks via transit after all. Looks like Jedidiah Smith State Park is pretty easy via bus from Crescent City (via Redwood Transit bus route 199 - and, come to think of it, you could even take a taxi from Crescent City if necessary because it's so close), and a bus (route 20) also passes Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and parts of Redwood National Park.
Note to the OP - I've never tried this, but it does look possible after all! And just because something is possible doesn't mean you should do it.
I also love the Mammoth Lakes idea. Also note there is an airport there, from which you could fly to LA or SF if you're sick of bussing it.
Sep 18, 2012 9:26 AM
Sep 18, 2012 9:34 AM
13I wouldn't try to do Redwood Parks by transit. You get to spend all day on a bus just to get ot Crescent City and would have to do some serious walking to get around. (You may read about a hostel inside the park. It closed several years ago.)
You can get to Muir Woods by transit on summer weekends & holidays. I can get crowded i the main area, but if yo are any kind of hiker, you can take one of the trails leading out of there & soon have the woods to yourself. Afternoons are also less crowded.
There are also many tours to Muir Woods from SF. There are torus that combine Muir Woods with winery visits, if that interests you Take a look at the ones that can be booked through the HI hostels here. These tours are more likely to attract, well, the kind of people who stay n hostels rather than, say, 70-year old retirees who are more interested in the gift shop than the tree. There are direct links to the tour company web sites, if you don't plan on staying at one of the hostels.
In summer, there is transit from Monterey to the Big Sur area. Route 22. You can see redwoods at the state parks, especially Pfeiffer Big Sur, which "has a band of attractive old-growth redwoods that stretches from the park entrance and the lodge (where the biggest trees are found) to Pfeiffer Falls."
Sep 18, 2012 2:50 PM
14Thanks Nutraxfornerves - I was planning to take the Route 22 bus anyway from Monterey to Big Sur and now have a greater incentive than before. The tours look interesting and a possibility... I am trying to do this on as small a budget as possible though so spending $90-100 on one tour for a day seems a bit expensive. Thanks for the link though - it's definitely something to bear in mind if I think I can afford it!!
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