I agree, if you are driving in the US hire or buy a GPS. It saved our marriage and was essential for finding your way in and out of cities. Plan your time carefully from San Fran to Las Vegas, especially if you are planning to visit Yosemite - it's not just a drive by and definitely deserves at least a day out of your itinery. The drive in can resemble a parking lot if you arrive on a weekend or morning.
Have fun, we did your road trip in reverse and flew from LA to Vegas then drove out to Grand Canyon. The flight into LV was amazing to see from the air, entirely different perspective of the desert and this city in the middle of nowhere!
Use Google Earth to check out directions and distances and ask lots of questions on different routes on this forum and also check out Trip Advisor for other excellent forums.
Thanks for all your help, I think, from what I hear driving in LA is just not worth the hassle.
I've just been out and bought a Sat Nav, it was something I was thinking of anyway as I'll be spending a lot of time on the road in Oz and NZ too. Just finished loading the maps onto it now.
Looking into my itinary a bit more, it is worth a day or two in San Diego? I'd also like to have a look at Mexico but I think this will be stretching it...so much to do and so little time.
If you have the time, San Diego is worth the trip. We extended our stay as we were having so much fun. Old town SD is great to see if you don't mind "touristy" , great markets, shops and restaurants. Beautiful parks, (Balboa) beaches, La Jolla and harbour area. Visiting the Midway is an awesome experience as was Sea World and even the zoo was lovely. Mission Bay area was a nice place to stay and out of the city limits. I would suggest keeping your car in SD , not so easy to get around and your sat nav will be VERY handy, the freeway loops were incredible.
Be aware the drive from Grand Canyon to San Diego is further than it looks. A big full day or we stayed overnight in Lake Havasu city. That was an interesting stay in itself, especially if you are there on the weekend!
We decided against a Tijuana day trip, had heard it was not the best use of a day.
If you are into National Parks, take the time to see Sequoia. I thought it was better than Yosemite, particularly without the crowds.
Since you're from the UK, let me give you a quick analogy:
Going from Las Vegas to Los Angeles via the Grand Canyon would be the equivalent of going from London to Leeds via Southhampton. Not exactly on the way--and more in the opposite direction than in the direction you were planning to go.
If you want to go to the Grand Canyon, go (and you should because its one of the true wonders of the world). But don't plan on doing this as part of your trip to LA unless you just want to meander around the desert. (P.S. The Hoover Dam is also on this route, but it is less than an hour outside of Las Vegas anyway--so it's easy to get to whether you go to the Grand Canyon or not)
As far as driving from Las Vegas versus flying: Flying is cheaper, and quicker, and there is less traffic. However, the desert is an interesting place to drive through for the scenery--although there are no places to stop unless you plan to take a day and visit Death Valley. Besides, you will see plenty of desert in Las Vegas--so for those on a limited timeframe--like you--I'd recommend flying to Los Angeles, and then I'd rent a car for the trip up US 101 north to San Francisco, where there a lot more things to see and do.
(On this later route, stop in Santa Barbara and visit the beach, mission and downtown. Go to the old Danish village of Solvang just a short ways north of Santa Barbara. Visit either Morro Bay and Cambria (beautiful beaches and views or Paso Robles (good winery stopover spot halfway up the coast). Then take the quick route up 101 to Monterey and Carmel (see other posts I've made on here about these cities), or else take Highway 1 (the long way, but most scenic road in the country) up to these cities. Drive to Santa Cruz and visit the beach boardwalk, and maybe tour the redwoods near here. Then go to Winchester Mystery House in San Jose--and lastly drive the remainng 50 miles on up to San Francisco.
GREAT ADVISE!! Im from Santa Ynez neighbor to Solvang. Check out Najuoi Falls about 15min. going west on Alisal Road. They're is also a swimming spot Called "Red Rock" off of Paradise Road (exit from Hwy 154. One of the top 10 scenic routes in the USA) Have fun! Californians love the UK!
If you're going in October, there is a very good chance that you will not be able to go through Yosemite. You may be able to only go in and out, but not through. That will leave you on the western side of the Sierra mountains. Before you leave San Francisco you should check conditions of Tioga Pass. That is the route from Yosemite to the eastern side of the Sierras. If Tioga Pass is closed, you would have to take Interstate 80 from SF to Reno and then hwy 95 down to LV. The only other way would be down to LA, and then to LV. Tioga Pass is quite high and closes very early in the fall some years. Visit Yosemite if you can, but be prepared to cross it off your list. You could check conditions by calling (from your SF motel room) the Calif. Highway Patrol, or the Calif. Dept. of Transportation.
Thanks again for the replies, didn't realise Yosemite closed so early so I'll check it out when I'm there.
Solvang and Santa Barbara look really nice, how far are they from LA/San Fran?
There's now so much to see and do, I don't think 2 weeks will be enough, oh well it will just have to be a really busy period of my trip.
Keep the replies coming, each is really appreciated.