West Coast USA
Replies: 23 - Last Post: Apr 3, 2013 11:44 AM Last Post By: willysnoutredux
Mar 7, 2013 3:44 AM
West Coast USAMy husband & I will be travelling to the US in May (from Australia). We are focusing on the West Coast and have 14 days. Our initial plan was to drive from Los Angeles to Seattle but we think that might be too much driving with too little varied experience and this is where we’d welcome suggestions from the forum experts.
We are now looking at a compromise of some driving and a couple of short flights to assist with the long distances but can’t quite settle on a plan.
The only “must- have” part of our itinerary is what I believe is called the “central coast” (following ghosts of Kerouac and Steinbeck) so we thought to land in LA, pick up a hire car and drive as far north as Monterey. How many days would this take up to have a leisurely look around?
From there our plans are open. Our interests are varied – scenic beauty, urban culture, art, and last but not least, interesting food. We are reasonably fit, but definitely more of the walking rather than climbing variety. I’ve searched travel sites and feel we should see at least one of the following but not sure how feasible they would be given the distances – Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Crater Lake National Park, San Juan Islands all sound wonderful.
Could one or two from the latter be made to fit into an itinerary given the limited number of days we have available? For instance if we flew LA to the Grand Canyon return and then made our way to Monterey, would two days at the Grand Canyon be sufficient? Is there another section of the North West Coast which we shouldn’t miss heading up towards Seattle?
We have visited San Francisco previously so this can be left off.
Thanking you in advance.
Mar 7, 2013 4:14 AM
1So, two weeks in May for the west coast and your "must see" is the central California coast "following ghosts of Kerouac and Steinbeck." Sounds like you are arriving in Los Angeles.
I would rent a car in Los Angeles and take three days to drive up highway 1 along the coast stopping a Big Sur and Monterrey and either return the car at the San Francisco airport, or drive around San Francisco to reach Redwoods national park to the north, then backtrack into San Francisco and return the car. Once in San Francisco you don't need (or want) a car and I'd spend about three days exploring San Francisco.
That will leave you with about six days left out of your original 14. You could take the AMTRAK train from San Francisco to Seattle and rent a car there for exploring Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, or Mt. Rainier National Park. Return the car in Seattle and fly out from there (or plan ot flying back to Los Angeles for your flight out).
Mar 7, 2013 4:20 AM
2You shouldn't try to cram in both the Grand Canyon and Seattle.
Figure about 3-4 nights for LA, two nights up the coast, and if you can get lodging (a big "if"), 2-3 nights in Yosemite. That's 7-9 nights already.
From there, you could either head to the canyon, Bryce, and Zion, or you can head north to Seattle, the San Juans or Olympics.
Mar 7, 2013 7:36 AM
32-3 nights LA, maybe 4 if you want to visit Disneyland (which is in Anaheim, not LA, 1 night Santa Barbara, 1 night either Pismo Beach or Cambria (Pismo Beach you can drive dune buggies or take a Humvee tour on nearby Oceano Dunes, Cambria for Hearst Castle or wine tasting in nearby Paso Robles. 1-2 nights Monterey (good hiking at Point Lobos), 2 nights Yosemite, turn in car at SFO.Then fly to Seattle or Las Vegas to drive to Grand Canyon.
Mar 7, 2013 8:46 AM
4Our initial plan was to drive from Los Angeles to Seattle but we think that might be too much driving with too little varied experience...
Too much driving, maybe, but too little varied experience? Not a chance.
We have visited San Francisco previously so this can be left off.
Did you travel outside the city at all when you previously visited? To the wine country or maybe Muir Woods?
I’ve searched travel sites and feel we should see at least one of the following but not sure how feasible they would be given the distances – Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Crater Lake National Park, San Juan Islands all sound wonderful.
They are, but of course there are limitations, some because of your time availability, and others of a more non-negotiable nature. For example, both Crater Lake and the high country in Yosemite NP (such as Tuoulmne Meadows and the Tioga Pass areas) will still have restricted access due to snow on the ground. The San Juans take a full day to access from Seattle (each way.) The Yosemite Valley floor is spectacular, but lodgings are probably already booked, and if you're forced to stay outside the national park - in Mariposa, for example, then a big part of your days are spent "commuting" to the park, and you will encounter a lot of people when you get there - a lot.
The California coastline can be lovely and sunny, or at that time of year it can be overcast and gray. By the time you're in northern California - from say Eureka all the way to and through the Oregon coast, the weather is more likely to be wet than not. Which is not to say the coast Redwoods should be missed - they are a wonder of the world, IMO a mandatory stop. The Oregon coast is also very beautiful, but have you driven the Great Ocean Road in Victoria? Surprisingly similar, although the Oregon coast is several times longer.
One last question - are you coming straight from Oz to LA? If so, then I'd suggest you look at what might be a far-fetched alternative plan.
Fly to LA but connect straight through to Las Vegas. Why Vegas? Because there's no better place to overcome jetlag, without representing a hazard to yourselves and others by driving long distances on twisty roads on the "wrong" side of the highway while your body is telling you it's the middle of the night. LV is a 24-hour city with lots of affordable accommodation, so even if you're stumbling around at 3 AM local time, you can find places to walk, cafes, gambling of course, or just watch the sun rise over the desert.
While you're in LV, take a one-day tour to the Grand Canyon. If you don't rent a car in LV, the cost of the tour (most are around $150 - $175) won't be a budget-breaker, and, again, even if you're still a bit jetlagged, you'll have a good experience without the hassle or risk of driving yourselves.
Then get a car and spend three days visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. These are very easily reached from Las Vegas, and in May it won't yet be too hot or crowded.
On the third day, return to Las Vegas and drop the car. Then fly to Portland, Oregon.
Spend a day visiting the Columbia River Gorge . In May the many waterfalls on the Oregon side will be full of water from melting mountain snow, and even if the weather is less than ideal, it will be a memorable experience.
Then head south through the Willamette Valley and out to the Oregon coast. I usually use Oregon SR 38, which runs through a lovely river canyon before reaching the coast at Reedsport. Continue south along the coast to the little town of Bandon, at the north end of the most beautiful length of the Oregon coast.
Continue south to Eureka, California, stopping at several of the beautiful beaches along the southern Oregon coast, then through the northern Redwood groves between Crescent City and Eureka. The following day, continue south, this time detouring to travel via the " Avenue of the Giants " around half an hour south of Eureka. I would stop short of San Francisco that night, in order to avoid high lodging expense, maybe around Santa Rosa.
The next day, drive the remaining distance to the Monterey Peninsula. If time allows that afternoon, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located on Cannery Row. The next day, drive through the arty little village of Carmel, stop at Point Lobos State Park (just south of Carmel) and on down the coast through Big Sur to an overnight stop at San Simeon.
The next morning, take an early tour of the Hearst Castle, then keep driving down the coast, with a planned overnight at Santa Barbara. Don't miss the historic mission in that lovely city.
The final day head into to LA, drop the car and off you go.
This is a high-speed tour of the west. It skips many places on your list, but it includes some real "don't miss" experiences. Submitted for your consideration.
Mar 7, 2013 9:42 AM
5Are you arriving and leaving from the same city, or will you have an open-jaw ticket? Also, how much money are you comfortable spending per night on accommodations, and what's your maximum?
(Low budget chain hotels like Motel 6 or Super 8 will run about $50-$60 a night; mid-range chain hotels like Best Western will run $100-$125; boutique kinds of places will usually start at $150-$200 and go on up into the stratosphere and beyond. I once paid $1,600 a night for a room at Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur, but I much prefer their, ahem, cheaper $1,000 "Tree House" rooms, which are about cool as cool ever gets, in my opinion anyway. And so you know, I've also paid $22 a night plus a refundable $3 room key deposit at the Hotel Howdy in Forsyth, Montana, so I ain't a complete snob.)
For planning purposes, keep in mind that the Grand Canyon is 500 miles from L.A. It's a big country we got here.
Mar 7, 2013 10:16 AM
6You can do something like this:
3 nights LA
2 nights coastal drive to SF
1 night Sonoma
2 nights Yosemite (if you can find a place to stay)
4 nights Vegas and whatever else you can fit in before the drive back to LA (Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion etc)
Mar 7, 2013 10:46 AM
7I'll deal with the central coast drive.
Leave LA early, take the quick route to San Luis Obispo and turn to Highway 1, the coast highway.
Drive up the coast to Point Lobos State Reserve for the sunset.
Get a hotel on the Monterey Peninsula in your price range.
See Pacific Grove, Cannery Row.
Doc's lab is still standing next to the superb Monterey Bay Aquarium which focuses on the bay's ecosystem and has a few of Doc's possessions on display.
There are many Steinbeck story sites around town if you research a bit.
Salinas, twenty miles east, has the Nat'l Steinbeck Center museum and his boyhood home in which a group of ladies serve lunch.
Mar 7, 2013 1:31 PM
8I don't think you really appreciate how much time you will spend in the Damn Car.
Even if you fly from Vegas to Portland, you will be spending at least 5 solid days driving.
Add a day to recover from the flight, and you will be left with a miserable, grossly rushed trip. You do NOT need to drive all over Hell's Half Acre to visit interesting, vacation-worthy destinations and scenery.' The more you thrash around, trying to fit as many 'must-see!' locations into your trip, the worse the experience will be.
Your only hope is to ditch the Northwest destinations, where clouds and rain are almost a certainty. Even then, the resultant tour of California and Utah will be far less than optimal.
While recovering from jet lag in Vegas is a good idea, the notion of taking the bus for a day-trip to the GC is weak. You'll spend ~14 hours on the bus, with just a few hours at the park. Why bother?
Mar 9, 2013 4:25 AM
9Many thanks everyone - great suggestions which will take some time to digest & test. I do have a quick question - I thought I had read somewhere that it was better to drive up the central coast from LA to Monterey as opposed to driving south. Is this true and is there that much of a difference (as it would affect the itinerary that we take)?
Mar 9, 2013 6:49 AM
10It really does not matter. Driving north from LA, you will be next to the mountains, driving south from San Francisco, you will be driving next to the ocean (which makes some folks nervous).
You do not want to drive all the way from LA to Monterey without one or two interim stops, there is just too much stuff to see and the drive is slow from Cambria to the Monterey or Carmel area, you will only be able to drive 25-40mph. The road is very twisty with lots of curves.
Mar 9, 2013 7:32 AM
Mar 18, 2013 4:50 AM
12It's take a while but we have taken various suggestions you have all kindly offered.
Yes, Gardyloo2, we have done the Great Ocean Road, so decided to forego the drive along the Oregon coast. We also followed your suggestion and are flying directly to Las Vegas and will take a one-(long)day Grand Canyon tour. Then we will hire a car for two days and drive LV to Zion & back (missing Bryce as too little time) Can you suggest anything on this route that merits a slight detour? From LV we fly to Seattle for two nights (on the bucket-list) and then fly to SF.
Bzookaj we have decided to give ourselves three nights at Yosemite (hire car from SF) and the good news is that we have secured accommodation at Yosemite (admittedly at El Portal but which seems reasonably near). Finally from Yosemite across to Monterey and then three days down the coast to LA from where we fly home.
MontereyJack - thank you for the Central Coast suggestions & the Steinbeck link.
Willysnoutredx - we’d probably like to average a max of $100 per night accommodation (having said that we’re already double that for the three nights at Yosemite ) It’s also nice to have the occasional spurge but I doubt that I’ll ever match your $1,600/night experience. Do we need to book ahead for anywhere else (besides LV which we will also book shortly)?
A few questions remaining:
I’ve been following various links in terms of car hire – Carhire3000 and Enterprise seem to get good mentions. Any recommendations/warnings?
Also, could anyone suggest a reputable tour group doing the LV/Grand Canyon return? I’ve looked at tripadvisor and many supposedly positive comments look incredibly similar, making me think they might not be completely unbiased .... preferably small group with knowledgeable, articulate guide.
Many thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience!
Mar 18, 2013 6:15 AM
Mar 30, 2013 11:26 PM
14We would appreciate some further suggestions as we fine tune our holiday.
Our plan was to fly into Las Vegas and then:
Day 1 - a full day tour to Grand Canyon (returning to Las Vegas)
Day 2- hire a car in Las Vegas, drive to Zion National Park, stay overnight in Springdale
Day 3 - Zion National Park and back to Las Vegas
Day 4 - fly out of Las Vegas
Should we stick with the plan above? If yes, we would appreciate a recommendation of a Grand Canyon tour that caters to smaller groups and goes to the South Rim.
Should we hire the car on day 1 and then spend two nights away from Las Vegas, still going to Zion but instead visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon ( and thus not covering so many miles).
Many thanks again.
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