We just got 14 days and we'd like to see the best places in the Southwest and possibly a few in California. We will fly to either one of these places from Minnesota and then do a road trip. Can you suggest the best places (in rank) and how many days to spend in seeing each? We will be using the free shuttles in the park and prefer auto-touring since we have my aged mother with us. She will not be able to hike but can walk for at most a mile distance. Can you also tell me where the best starting point is? I mean an itinerary would be great.
Best places in these 4 states/cities-- (my opinion only, obviously)
(1) Grand Canyon, Arizona--you can see the pictures, but until you stand on the edge you will just not realize what the word "awesome" actually means
(2) Pebble Beach/Carmel/Monterey, CA--there is a reason why I live close by. Give me $10 million and I still wouldn't move anywhere else. A redwood forest near a gorgeous beach area with almost perfect weather year round. Why live anywhere else? Great aquarium, Cannery Row, best golfing in the world, and the vistas and small town ambiance will make you want to move to California.
(3) San Francisco, CA--(northern part only)--great bay, fabulous restaurants, unusual places/things to do (Alcatraz, Cliff House, cable cars), beautiful bridges, happy people, ethnic diversity like nowhere else in the world, magnificent parks, variety of shopping--and lots to go and see and do (wineries just north, museums throughout the city, tons of pubs, gigantic hills all over the place) and good sporting events (including last year's national baseball champions).
(4) Southern end of Lake Powell--want to take it easy in nature's playground? Go here. Visit the "Rainbow Bridge" and lay back on your houseboat, or take your waverunner/ski boat out for a spin (I have).
(5) Yosemite--one of the top three national parks in the country--with very well known sites like Half Dome, the Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. Driving through the gold country nearby or through Mammoth Mountain/June Mountain (on the east side) is also beautiful.
(6) Las Vegas--playground of the younger set. If you are 21 to 35, this is the place to play and meet members of the opposite gender. There is a very real reason why Las Vegas' advertising motto is "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". If you are over 35, this is where you can go and pay no state income taxes and find cheap buffets and shows while living in your retirement community. Las Vegas is so popular that I believe that 11 out of the 15 largest hotels in the world are all located in Las Vegas--and usually all sold out (at least on the weekend). There is a selection of about 75 different concerts, shows, plays, comedy or trapezee type shows going on here each and every day/evening--usually with some of the best entertainers in the world (Elton John, Celine Dion, Eagles, Roberto Carlos, Enrique Iglesias, etc).
(7) Huntington Beach/Newport Beach, CA--the best thing about LA is its beaches--and these are the best of these. There are also 3 great art festivals in Laguna Beach (just a short ways south) during late July to mid-August. (the sawdust festival is my favorite of these).
(8) Moab, Utah--this is the center for the outdoor adventurer. Places close by include Arches National Park, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point (think of the beginning of Mission Impossible 2 where Tom Cruise is climbing the rim of a mesa and then has a helicopter show up out of nowhere to shoot him a pair of sunglasses that give him his new mission). He actually was climbing one of the "Mittens" mesas in Monument Valley (50 miles south), but at the top he arrives at Dead Horse Point (ah, the miracle of the movies).
(9) Sedona's and its Red Rocks (Arizona)--just a couple of hours south of the Grand Canyon is a place that acts like a local desert resort (a mini-Las Vegas city minus any casinos) in the middle of a fabulous desert red rock landscape. The drive to/from the city via the main Highway 17 (the fast road down from Flagstaff) is worth the trip alone even before arriving at Sedona.
(10) Santa Barbara to Paso Robles/Hearst Castle--great winery area with a coastal laid-back vibe. This is how all of California used to be before the LA metro sprawl took over most of the southern part of the state.
(11) Park City, Utah--if you are going in the winter, this is a nice place to do your skiing. It also has a well-know movie festival each year. The US Ski Team has their headquarters here. It is very far out of the way compared to all the other places on this list except for maybe Moab)
(12) Death Valley National Park--hottest place on the planet--but famous for its old mining towns that are still there (just minus the people)
(13) San Diego--great place to go during the summer when the beaches are most popular. Also has Sea World and good golf courses--and in the summer, the horse racing track is a popular destination (Del Mar--where the surf meets the turf).
(14) Lake Tahoe (and nearby Reno and Virginia City)--great in the winter or summer--casinos on the south end of the lake are the popular spots
(15) Napa Valley/Sonoma Valley--great wine and restaurants and spas--but very pricey nowadays compared to even 5 years ago.
(16) Bryce Canyon National Park--very unusual formations. If this place had anything to do in terms of development it would be in the top 5. But unfortunately, it's come look for a short while, then leave and go elsewhere.
(17) Cedar City, UT--this place has a great Shakesphere festival during the summer which rates a mention. It is also in the mountains and cool compared to the areas just south (like Zion and St. George)
(18) Zion National Park--okay, but not nearly as good as the others on the list.
Other considerations--if you have the time, go from Vegas to the Grand Canyon then to Sedona and then add in a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico before going to Moab and back past the southern tip of the Lake Powell to Bryce Canyon to Vegas (and into California). Santa Fe (mainly the downtown area) is really nice. Don't know if 14 days is enough time to visit Santa Fe, however, if you plan to spend a lot of time in SF and/or Monterey.
If I were to rank Santa Fe versus the other places on this list, it would probably rank 11th (just ahead of Park City).
[ Edit: Edited on 09-May-2011, at 21:54 by Calcruzer ]
As usual, Gary gave you great advice on what to see/do on your planned 14 day trip. Las Vegas does have 11 out of the 15 largest hotels in the world. But he is wrong on entertainment. Vegas has over 200 shows every day/night to choose from. Many you have never heard of, but there are the huge stars such as Celine Dion & Elton John to choose from. It was just announced that Rod Stewart will join the rotation of stars performing at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. He will perform 50 shows over the next 2 years starting August 24th. Great news for Vegas and all those who enjoy Rod Stewart.