We're booked our flights bound for the USA in late September, flying into Los Angeles and out from San Francisco. Other than "we must visit Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco", nothing is set in stone. I wonder if anyone has got any suggestions for a 2-week itinerary?
Also, we're unfamiliar with driving on the right-hand side of the road, and was planning on using public transportation within the cities and flights to get between them. However this sounds like we'll be missing out on a lot of things that could make an American road trip fantastic. What are your thoughts on this?
Cheers from a rapidly cooling down New Zealand,
Recommendations: Get out of LA as soon as possible. Not worth spending any time there. No, not even Hollywood. It's grimy, grey, dismal, and covered in highways. There's vaguely interesting areas to be sure, but every day you spend there is a day you wouldn't be spending in a much more interesting location.
I've never done Las Vegas - mostly because it's just way too far out of the way, with casinos not appealing to me at all, and nothing else of particular interest around it (excepting perhaps the grand canyon, but that's nearly the same distance further on again), while the rest of California is just chockful of worthwhile sights and gorgeous nature.
What I have done instead, and what I'd recommend for two weeks, is renting a car (I've relearned how to drive on the left side three times now, coming from the right, and never had any particular trouble, so think you should be totally capable of handling it in the other direction as well - just give yourself time to consciously think about it before setting off), leisurely following highway 1 (the pacific coast highway; scenery comparable to the west coast of the South Island, and not much busier either) up to San Francisco (easy driving as soon as you've left LA behind, and easy to get onto from LAX, so you'd have to do as little LA driving as possible), taking 3 days, and particularly going slow (visiting every single beach and cove) on the stretch from San Luis Obispo to Monterey, with the highlight area being around Big Sur. (Note that there's virtually no accommodation on that stretch, so research and book that in advance.) Also be sure to visit Santa Cruz, which is a wonderful little city, with a great coastline. Spend a couple of days in San Francisco (personal highlights: the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, and the weird and wonderful stores on Valencia Street; I think you would also enjoy exploring the twin peaks and presidio neighbourhoods), and then make a beeline for Yosemite National Park, to spend as much time there hiking as you can get away with (minimum of 3 days, but you wouldn't be bored with an entire week).
If you had a bit more time, I'd also recommend exploring further to the north (I loved the volcanism around Lassen; Bumpass Hell puts Wai-o-Tapu to shame), but given that you don't, if a week in Yosemite feels too much, there's a whole bunch of further national parks and forests north and south of Yosemite as well. I particularly liked the look of King's Canyon National Park, despite rushing through it in less than a day. Or from San Francisco you could head over Golden Gate Bridge and explore some of the redwood groves just to the north.
(I don't know if you still have the option of changing your flights, but if you'd be set on Las Vegas, a loop starting and ending in San Francisco might also be just about doable: San Francisco, through Yosemite, Las Vegas, and back to San Francisco via the Pacific Coast Highway, just bypassing LA to the north and getting to the coast at Ventura.)
[ Edit: Edited on 15-May-2015, at 02:21 by Sander ]
San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas are some fun areas to visit. While you are on the west coast of the USA, you might also consider San Diego. It has a lot to offer. They boast the largest zoo in the world along with the Wild Animal Park. You might also want to consider SeaWorld, which is very popular. Explore the area of Old Town while visiting San Diego. It shows a lot of the earlier Spanish settlements of the area. If you like old missions, San Diego has the first mission built in California. Visit the Hotel Del Coronado which is an historical landmark along the beach. You can google San Diego to get other ideas rather than have me go on forever. If you are uncomfortable driving, you can take a train from Los Angeles to San Diego which will bring you right into downtown San Diego.
I agree with Sander concerning LA - just one mega-suburb if you ask me (I've lived there twice and would never return). I used LAX in Feb for a trip to SE Asia and it was HELL! I would not rent a car in LA - those freeways will kill you for a first time opposite-side-of-the-road driver - much better to rent in a smaller city like Las Vegas. Next to impossible to see LA without a car!
In San Franciso you don't need or want a car because it's so compact and there the public transit is quite good (parking expensive). You will love SF if you can afford it - not exactly the cheapest city in the USA.
I agree that San Diego is very nice (esp. the beaches), but traffic downtown is also hell (one big parking lot at rush hours).
Hotels and even motels in the States are generally way overpriced and lacking in most everything compared to the rest of the world. I recommend B&B's or perhaps Airbnb apartments.
Thanks guys, this thread is full of little gems for us first-time USA travellers.
Yes Sander, we can change our flights for a small fee, so your suggestion is well worth considering too. However, flying into and out of SFO is more expensive as well (I think it's about $/€400 more when I booked - Air NZ has a monopoly on flights between NZ and USA).
We promise we'll get out of LA ASAP
Thanks for the tips on hotel/motel/apartments, Daawgon. We did have a look at AirBnB briefly, and at least in SF they do seem to be not much cheaper than some motels. I'm sure we'll have another look when we're ready to book.