Vegas & Pacific Coast – Advice on driving routes, wineyards, food & stay
Replies: 26 - Last Post: Sep 24, 2012 12:10 PM Last Post By: SusieGirl7
Sep 19, 2012 11:15 PM
Vegas & Pacific Coast – Advice on driving routes, wineyards, food & stayWe are a bunch of Asian girls planning a 10–12 driving vacation to Vegas & the Pacific Coast in end Nov. After some research (including reading through this forum!), our itinerary as of now is :
1. 2 days in Vegas, including a day trip to the Grand Canyon
2. Drive to San Diego – spend 3-4 days in San Diego & LA
3. Spend a couple of days driving leisurely along the Pacific Coast from LA to SF, and then to Napa Valley
4. Spend a couple of days in Napa, another 2-3 days in SF
We love natural beauty, food + wine, culture (that gives us a better feel of a place) and activities that are unique to a place.
Need some advice on:
1. We love driving, so any recommendations on recommended driving routes, apart from the Pacific Coast drive between SLO & SF, will be gratefully embraced! (we’d initially planned to drive from Vegas to SF through Yosemite & Death Valley but had to drop that on account of the weather)
2. Any recommended tour operators for the day trip to Grand Canyon from vegas?
3. I read this is the migratory season for grey whales – would it be worthwhile going on a whale cruise at La Jolla – any recommended tour operators?
4. We’ve budgeted for 2 days for San Diego + LA, but I am told that we should budget more time here than for SF – thoughts?
5. I was told by a friend to cut down time spent in NCal due to the rains and was also told to trade Napa for southern wineyards (Monterey and Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley) – thoughts and suggestions (including where to stay). We wanted to spend at least a couple of days in wine country.
6. Is it worthwhile to do a day trip to Yosemite from SF?
7. We love food & wine, so highly recommended eating places along our route would be most welcome
8. Finally, any recommendations on accommodation, esp along the Pacific Coast – we usually like to do home stays/ rent some rooms/ stay in a warm, cozy place that gives us a chance to chat with locals apart from exchanging notes with fellow travellers
Thanks a lot : -)
Sep 20, 2012 4:28 AM
11. You have the main one.
2. No. However, pay very close attention to where they go. There are three rims to the canyon-north, south and west. The north (closed that time of year) and south are in the national park, the west is on native land. The park is where it is for a reason--this is where the canyon is widest and deepest. You can learn the geography and take walks on your own here. The west rim has the skywalk, and you can take helicopters to the river However, the entire experience is a guided tour, which you cannot deviate from (no walks on your own). It's also much more expensive ($75 per person vs. $25 per car; though on a tour this won't likely matter as much).
Tour operators in xVegas tend to purposely obfuscate the destination. Be sure of this, if you are taking a helicopter from xVegas, you're not visting the park.
3. I've done whale watching from Santa Barbara before, in the event you skip xSan Diego. Don't remember who with.
4. I would pick one of xLA or xSan Diego, not both.
xLA, in particular, is a sprawling urban blight on the land, and "visiting the sights" can easily take you 40 miles away from your starting point.
Based on your interests, I would not give it more time than xSF.
5. It's not monsoon rains, where it rains every day. It may rain for a day or two, then be sunny for a few days.
I wouldn't worry too much about it.
6. No, unless you believe you'll never make it back to the country. It's a 4-5 hour drive, each way, for just a few hours in the park.
7. What is your budget, in numbers, per meal/entree, with/without alcohol?
What style? xIndian? xCalifornia fusion? Classical xFrench? Dive bar? Celebrity chef owner? Trendy?
8. Again, what is your budget, in numbers, per night? Also, how many is "a bunch of xAsian girls?"
Sep 20, 2012 5:05 AM
2More details on specific budget and interests (beyond 'wine') would be helpful. By 'culture' do you mean museums? Walking tours? Shows?
The main thing I'm noticing is that your trip seems to be VERY rushed. You aren't allowing yourself more than a day in any one place except SF and Napa. Your main destinations are all large cities with a lot to see and do and considerable travel time between each site, and while you say you enjoy driving, you aren't doing much else BUT driving. (You have a day in Vegas, a day at the Grand Canyon (less, actually, when you allow travel time -- it's a long drive from Vegas to the South Rim -- the only part that's open in late November), a day driving to LA/SD, a day in each town (less travel time between them), a RELATIVELY slow drive to SF (but hardly 'leisurely' if you want to take the scenic route 101 and really see anything en-route -- it's normally a full-day drive to Napa), and then, finally, a few days each in Napa and SF. (3 days is a reasonable time to allow for SF.)
If you can't allow more total time, I'd remove a destination or two. Instead of the Grand Canyon, consider a 'natural beauty' site closer to Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is lovely, good for a half-day, and gets you back to Vegas for dinner with 'good food and wine.' Then either LA or San Diego, not both. There is tons to see in each town, and good places to eat and stay.
Rather than Napa you might consider Monterey, less for the weather than for the distance (it's about an hour south of SF), and the fact that there is more to see and do besides drink wine. (I've never been to Napa, but we've been to Monterey a couple of times; a great aquarium, whale cruises, historic sights, scenic drives, a couple of decent museums, and good food.)
Definitely skip the day trip to Yosemite. Not only can that time be well spent in San Francisco, but it's a LONG haul, and the weather will be very iffy. (The most direct road entry into the park from SF is, I believe, closed in November.)
Sep 20, 2012 6:00 AM
3I would recommend skipping San Diego and Los Angeles, unless you want to visit the movie studios and celebrity homes sightseeing tours. Drive from Vegas to Santa Barbara, then north on Highway #1 -- very scenic. Spend time sightseeing in Montecito (celebrity homes), Santa Barbara, Solvang, (wineries), San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz. Drive inland through Silicon Valley to San Francisco. Take ferry ride to Sausalito -- artsy, yachts, fine seafood restaurants; take Golden Gate Transit bus over Golden Gate Bridge back to downtown San Francisco. Tour Japanese Garden and museums in Golden Gate Park. The Fort Mason Hostel has free parking and its near Fishermen's Wharf.
I prefer Sonoma wine country as being more picturesque than Napa. Sonoma is greener -- Napa can get parched with the hot summer sun, so turns brown. Spend night in town of Sonoma and rent bicycles to tour nearby wineries along Highway #12 -- Kendall-Jackson, etc. Drive along Highway #116 through artsy town of Sebastopol (apple orchards and dairy farms), then tiny villages, redwood forest, past vinyards (Louis Martini, if I recall), past renowned Bohemian Club to Guerneville (artsy, gay) on Russian River. You have a choice of driving west a short ways to Jenner and the Pacific Ocean, then driving south along Highway #1 to Bodega Bay -- good seafood restaurant on wharf. Then drive east on Highway #12 to Highway #101, or continue south to Point Reyes Station. At Lucas Valley Road, George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch movie studio is within two miles west. That road will also take you back to Highway #101 if you wish to return to San Francisco more quickly. Otherwise, continue south on Highway #1 past Point Reyes National Seashore (hiking trails) to Bolinas -- short detour to another artsy, bohemian village with architecturally beautiful homes and ranch houses with barns. Then continue south on Highway #1 through Stinson Beach -- there is a good restaurant next to the beach. Then continue onward over Mt. Tamalpais. Take the detour to Mill Valley -- Tom Cruise' hometown. It is also artsy with beautifully-designed homes. Then the junction with Highway #101, over the Golden Gate Bridge south.
Edited by: trekker502
Sep 20, 2012 8:02 AM
4"End of November" may run into the US Thanksgiving holiday, which is a major consideration in your planning.
In 2012, Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, Nov. 22. The days up to Thursday are really busy at airports, and many things are closed on Thursay. Friday is also a busy time as many people have that day off, and the weekend gets booked up.
Issues that come up:
Las Vegas will be high season, high prices on hotels. Accomodations in National Parks may be fully booked. San Francisco will also be full of tourists and shoppers. Not all restaurants will be open and you may end up in a fast food place for Thanksgiving Dinner if you don't make reservations for a restaurant.
Just in case you are traveling in 2013, the same applies to Thursday, Nov 28, 2013 and the week that includes it.
Sep 20, 2012 9:10 AM
5Yeah Kahua, Thanksgiving came to mind for me too. But, that may be a big bonus for a group of asian girls visiting America - what better way to experience the culture of the country than witnessing the biggest endemic holiday of the year. Espcially for a group that enjoys "food + wine, culture." Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and of course, roast turkey.
Ladies, if you are visiting during Thanksgiving (Nov 22nd) I'd recommend you research places where you can enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner while here. There have been a number of threads on it here (use the serach function) or web-search restaurants that serve traditional Thanksgiving dinners (there are a number of them). Maybe even get yourselves invited into someone's home for Thanksgiving dinner (that would be the best).
Sep 20, 2012 9:14 AM
6They are going to need money and reservations to find a traditional Thanksgiving meal in a restaurant.
A personal invitation may be more difficult if there are "a bunch", not knowing how many people that would include. it's easy as a solo person to be invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. A much different story if there are, say, 8 of them.
Sep 20, 2012 11:24 AM
7Thanks folks for the replies. Here are some more details:
1. There will be four of us
2. Our average budget for acco is USD 50 per person per night (we are ok to overspend in some places and underspend in others)
3. Our average budget for all daily meals is USD 70 - 100 for all of us (again, we'll have regular stuff most days and occasional special meals)
4. We'd like to try some Californian and European cuisine, would esp like to try local seafood. I have a lot of Indian & Oriental back home so not too keen on more of that kind.
5. Culture = walking, shows, local places of interest (e.g. Monterey Bay Aquarium), we'll be covering museums in NYC so think will skip them here
6. We'll actually be in NYC over Thanksgiving and will get into Vegas in early Dec
7. Re the Pacific coast drive, we plan to spend 2 nights at places along the way (possibly Monterey and Big Sur)
Thanks for the tips on the PCH route and things to do around SF. We'd love to try out an authentic thanksgiving dinner - will check if our local friends in NYC are willing to host us :-)
- So we were a little iffy on Yosemite and it seems we should drop it.
- I was also thinking of Red Rock Canyon instead of the Grand Canyon - Ive heard its a great drive there from Vegas too - so thanks for that tip, we'll consider that
- Re LA+San Diego, we'd planned to stay in San Diego and make a day trip to LA to visit a studio, but we can drop it. If we had to choose between Vegas and San Diego/LA, we'd prefer the latter
- I'll look up wineyards in Sonoma and Monterey - will just have to convince my friends to consider alternatives to the more popular Napa :-) I also read there's a Michelin 3 star
- It's encouraging to know that it's not likely to rain continuously - I'm from India and was picturing something similar to our monsoon! Question here though - we were told to limit our time in NCal due to the rains - but it sounds that it shouldn't be that bad - is that correct?
Sep 20, 2012 11:44 AM
8I was also thinking of Red Rock Canyon instead of the Grand Canyon - Ive heard its a great drive there from Vegas too - so thanks for that tip, we'll consider that
That's fine if you weren't particularly interested in the Grand Canyon anyway, and just want to get out for an easy day trip to a scenic spot. The drive to Red Rock is nothing special, but it is a very nice place to spend a day, and fun to explore. But don't get the idea that it is somehow similar to the Grand Canyon, or that you're making something like an even trade by going to Red Rock Canyon. The Grand Canyon is on a whole different and enormously vaster scale, and is unlike any place you're likely to see elsewhere in the world. Of course a day trip to GC is either long and exhausting (if you go to the south rim) or expensive (if you to the West Rim, which also has the distinction of being generally less spectacular than the south rim). But that's the trade you'd be making. Honestly, if you were serious about visiting the GC from Vegas, an overnight to the south rim is BY FAR the preferred approach.
Sep 20, 2012 12:01 PM
9Ok -- your details.
2. $200 a night should be fine for accomdations for a quad room. (Most hotels have two double beds in each room, so you can manage with one room.) The only place it might be a LITTLE tight would be San Francisco.
3. 70 per person for meals? Or 70 for all 4 of you? The former is fine. You'll get plenty of good local and European cuisine, and yummy fresh seafood. The latter ($20 pp/per day) means you'll be mostly eating fast food, with the VERY occassional nicer meal. You may be able to spend less on accomodations and allow more for food.
The Michelin 3 star restaurant you mention in Napa seems to be The French Laundry -- dinner there is $270 for a fixed-price meal. Which seems to be well out of your budget.
If all you're wanting to do in LA is a studio tour, you could spend more time in San Diego, head to LA after lunch (it's about a 2 hour drive), see a studio, (you'll need to check specific tour times for the studios you're interested in) have dinner, and then push on north, maybe to Santa Barbara (another 2 hours.)
Honestly, nobody can predict the weather. It may rain a lot the week you're there, or it may be dry. Be flexible and have contingency plans. (I don't think I'd drive the PCH in the pouring rain.)
Sep 20, 2012 1:55 PM
Sep 20, 2012 2:40 PM
xSan Diego is south of xLA. You're going to pass through on your way north.
I think you're better dropping xSan Diego.
Consider the Grant Hotel (not Plaza). Basic, but great location.
Also see FAQ 268, though pay attention to the limitations.
I agree that your food budget is somewhat lacking. Dinners at sit down places can easily be in the $15-25 per person range, and you have that for all the day's meals.
However, you can eat more than just fast food on small budgets. There are plenty of options for cheap eats. You just won't get your splurges like you think you will.
I would visit Zion over Red Rock, but again, this is a different experience than the xGrand Canyon.
Sep 20, 2012 2:57 PM
12Hate to break it to you, but that food budget won't get you far if you're looking to have a foodie adventure. On the plus side, there are tons of excellent and extremely cheap ethnic eateries in SF an LA especially. Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and every other cuisine you can imagine. Of course, most of those are Asian, so maybe not so exciting for you. Generally anything labeled Californian or French is going to be $$$, as is decent seafood. You won't get within sniffing distance of French Laundry or Meadowwood with $70/day. Dinner for four would be over $1,200 without wine.
Sep 20, 2012 2:59 PM
13For dining recommendations, i suggest looking through Yelp. Pretty much everything here is California cuisine influenced. Most European food will be California/European.
You're probably going to have to eat in for breakfast, then have fast food for lunch in order to have money for a real dinner. Even in casual places, a sandwich or salad plus drink or appetizer can quickly add up to $15 once you include taxes and a tip.
Driving from San Diego to Los Angeles for a studio tour will take about 3 hours one way. Make no sense to do that and not see Hollywood or Santa Monica or LA's museums. And unless you want to see Sea World, the Wild Animal Park and the SD zoo, there is no need to devote all your time to SD. I would spend one day there and then maybe the morning and then drive to LA.
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