Hi I really need some help on this! Me and 2 mates (all 25) are planning a fly drive holiday to the west coast of America in May/June 14 for 2 weeks. This is what we have so far.
Starting in Vegas for 3-4 nights, hiring a car, heading to LA for 3-4 nights, then onto Santa Barbara for 2 nights, ending in San Francisco for 3 nights. I know all of you guys will have lots of info, because there is so much to do , and in 2 weeks we want to do as much as possible. Can anyone recommend routes or places to visit on the way? I know there's Death Valley, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and many more. But after more research I've read about different routes to see more of the coast, different roads, driving through Malibu. There is so many! So I thought I would turn to you guys for help
I don't know about now but when I wanted to do this years ago, they would not let you take your car between Nevada and California.
Apart from which you will get hit with a steep one way charge if you pick up your car n one place and drop it off in another.
There are very frequent flights from Vegas to LA. It's like getting a bus. So you can drive around, see what you want to see, then car at the airport and pick up another car at LAX.
Accommodation in California is expensive if you just turn up at a motel so best booked online beforehand. A cheapo motel can cost more than a good hotel.
I found coast roads of California hard work. They meander and wander and it takes ages to get anywhere, but do avoid driving if you can in rush hours as freeways and toll roads are a nightmare then in California.
Do get yourself a decent road map. There's nothing like travelling 100 miles the wrong way to add to the cost of your journey.
If you see a motorcycle behind you, check your speed. There is a fair chance it's a cop.
Not really a lot in Santa Barbera. Pop in on the way for a few hours. Spend more time in LA.
San Fransisco, the hills are STEEP. You must park into the curb as others do with your parking brake hard on. Trams have the right of way and do not undertake a stationary tram.
One minor thing. Leave your car in first gear on steep hills in SF.
There are coast roads worth taking through California--and there are ones to avoid. For the most part, they are almost all worth the drive (though not if you are drunk or are more worried about getting from A to B than you are about enjoying the drive)
First of all, yes there is a steep drop off charge for renting a car in one place and then dropping it off in another location (up to $500)--but in my view flying around California and expecting to be able to actually enjoy the experience is about as ridiculous as it gets. Certain places are made to be seen by car--and California is the #1 place I can think of that falls into this category (along with the Tuscan countryside of Italy). So rent the car, and forget the cost.
As far as where to go and when--be sure that when you to go to Los Angeles you do this on a weekend--because driving around downtown LA on a weekday will be very frustrating. Traffic is lighter in the summertime, however, since lots of people are out-of-town on vacation or out of school and thus not clogging up all the roads. Be aware that heading to the beach on the weekends will result in traffic, though if you go during the early afternoon periods.
Now, as far as where to go in Las Vegas and in California:
Las Vegas--there are tons of places to have fun. Probably for the younger set, the popular spots are the Palms, the Hard Rock Cafe, the Rio, and Mandalay Bay (in that order). Each of the major resorts also has their own meeting place--clubs and the pools (at places like the Venician, the Wynn, the Mirage, Paris Las Vegas, MGM Grand, or Treasure Island). Just avoid the super cheap spots (like the Orleans or El Cortez, etc, a place that caters to kids--like Excaliber or Circus Circus--or places that send the wrong message about how serious you will be in a relationship--like the Hooters Casino Hotel. If you can't find someone at the pool at the major hotels to spend a night out with, you just aren't trying.
P.S. Be aware that many prostitutes, very well dressed and looking outstanding, will be frequenting some of the hotel lounges looking for guys who want a "date" for the night. Presuming you actually want to meet a respectable women to make a connection, spend you times in clubs or at a show rather than alone in a lounge--or else just be aware that you may be approached about money when you think you are making a "real" connection.
I'll discuss California spots in my next post.
A bit more on Las Vegas before going on to California. My son (age 25) just pointed out to me that the current guy to girl ratio in Las Vegas is about 6-1 on the weekends--meaning that the time to go there now is on the weekdays (when it won't be as "kickin'", but when the ratio is a mere 3-1.) (back when I used to go, it was only about 1.5 to 1, so I guess things really have changed.
Also, my son points out that you should try to meet someone at the pools or at shows. He says clubs are way overrated and overpriced in Vegas--$50 to get in, $12 a drink (3 drink minimum per person), and then you have to practically punch someone just to make sure you have enough room to avoid getting jostled. Expect $150 minimum per person for a club per night he says. Shows, on the other hand, are reasonably priced ($40-50) and quite often include either a dinner or includes the drinks or both--plus of course, top notch entertainment. It's a much better deal--and more enjoyable experience.
Okay, California. It's about a 5 hour drive through the desert to LA from Las Vegas, easy road all the way, but in July it will be 100 degrees out so, carry water or soft drinks with you (preferably in a small cooler) and keep the air conditioning on.
In Los Angeles, the places to go are all near the water--or you'll want to go to the amusement parks (Disneyland, California Adventure Park, Knotts Berry Farm, or Six Flags Magic Mountain way north of town). Los Angeles is 50 miles from one end to the other--not your normal downtown city. Think of driving from London to Bristol and never not seeing strip malls, lots of small houses on top of each other and advertising billboards. That is Los Angeles. Near the beach it gets more civilized--so spend time at Huntington Beach or Newport Beach (near the southern part), Santa Monia or Venice Beach (near the west) or in Anaheim (close to which are all of the amusement parks except Six Flags).
When you leave LA to drive north, go to Santa Monica and take Highway 1 (the coast route) which is a really scenic drive, and although a slight bit slower than the other way, is worth the extra half-hour or so of drive time.. It goes past Malibu and also past Zuma Beach (a well know spot where about half the commercials filmed in the US are done because of its great beauty and easy access for the film stars that live close-by).
It is only about a 2 hour drive from LA up to Santa Barbara. In Santa Barbara, there are three different things worth seeing--Santa Barbara itself (and its State Street), which is a happening place on the weekend when the town's size doubles from the tourist coming into town and hanging out at the clubs, the area a ways (70 miles) north near Solvang, a Danish town plopped down in the middle of the California horse country, and Los Olivos (another 10 miles north) which is in the middle of the "wine country" of Santa Barbara. The Solvang area is also famous for being where Ronald Reagan had his ranch, and the Los Olivos are is where Michael Jackson lived on his "Neverland" Ranch--neither of these two spots can be visited, although Michael's former home is right next to the road where you turn off for Los Olivos (Hwy US 101 and California state highway 154). There are great pastries and danish/german food to be had in Solvang--and it worth a quick tour. Also, the Los Olivos area is where the wineries really begin as you head north (although you will pass wine country from here on up all the way to SF for about 300 out of the next 380 mile drive.
Speaking of wineries--these are great places to meet people--and to get recommendations on things to see and places to go to locally.
Hey, if you are going to drink--either have a "designated driver" or else plan to spend the night somewhere close by.
On the way on up to San Francisco, you might want to take the windy coast road from San Luis Obispo on up--or more likely, you'll want to take the regular highway up until you can cut west to Monterey and Carmel. You really need to take this sideline trip over to this spot--and then on up to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is a strange type of town (practically my hometown now since I live just a few miles north) and is like a place where the hippies of the 1960s arrived and then never left. Some parts of town are old and rundown--others very upscale and modern--and its all surrounded by beautiful redwood forests to the north and has the best weather anywhere in the world. A very strange town in its own way--I like parts of it and hate parts of it--and yet I have lived here (in the redwood forest area) for over 20 years now.
Heading on up to SF is an easy one and one-half hour drive from here--either taking the coast route or taking the inland route through the so-called "Silicon Valley". If you go inland, take I-280 not US Hwy 101, as this will save you tons of driving time. San Francisco is another kind of strange adlso--but everyone loves it. In the summer months it will be warm and pleasant in the daytime and absolutely frozen in the evening after around 5 PM (pack accordingly). It's a town Polk Street between Geary and Bush Streets. Also, the busy areas are over near Union Square (during the day), or along Columbus Street (during the night). Have fun there--everyone does.
One last thing--in San Francisco a car is not necessary--and is actually kind of a pain. Plan to visit the areas outside of San Francisco (like the Muir Woods or the Napa Valley first--if you plan to go to either of these)--and then drop your car off on your first day in the city. The city has probably the best public transportation system in the entire United States--so getting to the airport (either SF's or Oakland's can be done on BART) and getting around town is more fun on Trolleys, metros, cable cars, or via taxis (which are relatively cheap in SF) and this will avoid the difficulty of trying to find a place to park or getting parking tickets.
[ Edit: Edited on 14-Jul-2013, at 21:13 by Calcruzer ]
I haven’t actually done this trip yet, but I am doing something similar in September (for our honeymoon, both aged 29) so wanted to share with you what I have found out from the research & forums etc that I have been on before booking my trip
We are doing it backwards to you, flying into San Fran first. I would recommend doing it this way for a couple of reasons :
Driving down the Big Sur from SF to LA is supposed to be a better experience then driving the other way around
Pick your hire car up when you leave SF - Parking is very expensive everywhere in SF apparently (and most hotels charge this as extra, like $50 a night is not uncommon)
At the end of your trip you will start to be tired and Las Vegas is such a buzzing city, it will literally pick you up and carry you through the last few days
We have booked our Car hire with Alamo and there isn’t any issue driving between states & pick up / drop off at different locations
The rest of our trip we are doing as follows
San Fran - 3 nights
Yosemite - 2 nights
Monterey - 1 night
Morro Bay - 1 night
Santa Barbara - 2 nights
LA (actually staying in Santa Monica) - 4 nights
Vegas - 3 nights
We purposely booked Vegas so we leave on a Friday, as staying over the weekend the hotels are double the cost
I read A LOT that so many people try to drive the Big Sur in one day and although it is possible hours wise, there is so much to see, it would be a complete waste to rush it. That is why we have 2 stops in Monterey and Morro Bay, to break it up and so we can spend a good few hours seeing and stopping at the sites - we would have liked more but there is just too much to do in a short space of time.
Our trip is 16 nights, so if you wanted to do something similar but over 2 weeks, I would do 1 night in Santa Barbara & only 2 or 3 nights in LA - We are using as SB a bit of a break and relax for a couple of days, otherwise we would probably only do one night here. LA we have specific things booked (a couple of theme parks amongst other things) which is why we have 4 nights here - unless you plan to do the same, then going by reports 2 days would be fine in LA.
There is also places like San Diego that looks a good spot to see, plus others along the coast / Big Sur (San Simeon for one) that might be more appealing then the places we have chosen
Yosemite was fairly important for us to go to and looks like a must see when in that part of the country. I think you could maybe do something along the lines of the following if you didn’t want to see the coast -
Fly in to LA first
Although I think that would depend on the time of year you go, as Death Valley gets to extreme temperatures in the summer
I'm not sure if there is any other specifics that I should point out - but please let me know if I can share anything else with you