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West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

Brisbane, Australia
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West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

Hi all,

I am planning a family (2 adults and 2 teenagers)holiday. Coming from Australia, it is our first time as a family to the US and so we've split the trip into two sections. The first half is to be spent exploring a taste of the west coast with the second half exploring a little of the east coast. I'd love some advice on the west coast itinerary as we're in the early planning stages, having only booked the airfares from Australia - US return at this stage. This is what we have so far for the west coast:

Dec 8 Arrive San Francisco - spend 4 nights;

Dec 12 Hire car and travel Big Sur stopping along the way and staying overnight at Monterey or Carmel (not sure whether to spend one or two nights on the way to LA);

approx Dec13/14 Hollywood (touristy stuff I guess);

Dec 15 Head to Las Vegas - 4 nights.

From there, we'll fly to the east coast and do 10 nights New York and 4/5 nights Orlando before flying home (no doubt exhausted but exhilarated from so many amazing sights and experiences!)

I do have a few questions -

1. How long to take doing the coast drive from San Francisco towards LA?

2. Should we spend 1/2 nights in Hollywood/surrounds? (We were advised that Hollywood would be a better place to stay given that we want to see a few of the touristy things like Rodeo Dr. Hollywood Blvd (stars?), Venice Beach etc)

3. Are we better to drive to Vegas in one go or should we stay overnight somewhere on the way?

4. We had considered doing a trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas but having read about the distance, I'm wondering whether we should now. Advice?

I realise I've asked for a huge amount of advice here. Thanks so much to any of you who can offer some suggestions!

Grover Beach...
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1. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

We have much shorter days in December. It gets dark around 5 pm that time of year. The drive between SF and LA really needs at least 2 night stops that time of year. One overnight stop in Monterey would mean a REALLY long drive the following day...... approx. 7 hours WITHOUT stops to LA. And with so much to see/do en route, it's likely to be closer to a 12+ hour drive, which means you will roll into LA long after dark.

I strongly suggest you take a night from Vegas and add it to the coast drive. 3 nights would be ideal with our shorter days in December. Monterey-Cambria-Santa Barbara

You should spend at least 2 nights in LA. 3 would allow for seeing more stuff. Again.... short on daylight that time of year.

You can drive to Vegas from LA in one shot. There won't be much for the teens to do there, since the place is engineered for adults. I would probably ditch Vegas altogether and add a night to the coast route and one or two to LA and/or Anaheim for a Disney park.

The Grand Canyon is a 5 hour drive from Vegas and close to 9 hours from LA. It will be REALLY cold there that time of year and possibly snowy. It is NOT a viable day trip from LV, if that's what you were thinking.

San Diego...
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2. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

I live in San Diego; and lived in the bay area (San Fran) for 8 years. Maybe I can help too. I totally agree with above reply. I would skip Las Vegas. I finally got to Las Vegas last year and believe me, I was done with it in one day. I couldn't wait to leave. Smokers everywhere. You cannot get away from them - even outside! The street was packed like it was a parade going on, all with smokers and seriously trashy people bringing their toddlers into smoke-filled casinos. The buildings are quirky but not nearly as awesome as they seem in pictures. You will be sorry you wasted your time going there. You can only gawk at people so long. And the interior of the buildings (like the Venice-like river inside) is far smaller than it looks on-line. I've seen malls with better attractions. I think Las Vegas is for young people who never left their home town before. I would definitely give up Las Vegas for just about any other detour. (more coastal, Grand Canyon, more Nor Cal, Yosemite.)

We visited Grand Canyon this past December and we were shocked at how cold it was. We stayed in the big old hotel right on the rim and my husband and I would have been thrilled to just stay in the room and look at the view from inside. It was too cold to stay on the patio for long (we have lived in serious snow country before but you get soft living in So Cal.) . My one son did a hike when it warmed up mid day but he got altitude sickness coming up and was found curled up along side the path. That was so scary. He is a pretty good athlete but we did not know about altitude sickness for hiking. The paths were very icey too so definitely stop and get the shoe covers that have spikes in them. Do that first thing. If you go to Grand Canyon, get the best room you can afford ON the rim.

Personally I enjoyed Mt. Zion more than GC. It's smaller and more accessible. You can walk in the canyon and really feel like you are "in" the canyon without going down in altitude so much.

Traveling down along Route 1 is really slow-going, mostly because you can't quit stopping to take in the scenery! It's a great drive and well worth taking your time. You can take all day going just to Big Sur. Stop in La Honda or Pescadero. (Stage Coach Road takes you off and then on again Route 1 near Pescadero.) Julia Pfeifer State Park is a GREAT hike but a 2 hour detour. Ano Nueva is another GREAT hike to see the elephant seals right on the beach but again, it's a long stop. Endless sand dunes with seals right there along the way.

Route 1 also very winding, so if anyone gets car sick, be ready. Raggedy Point Inn is a good place to stop.

Northern California is by far more beautiful than Southern California IMO. You could spend 2 weeks in Nor Cal and not do the same day trip twice. (When people visit us down here, we are hard pressed to keep them busy for four days, unless you like theme parks a great deal.) From the Bay Area, you can do San Fran, Sausalito/Marin/Stinson Beach, Half Moon Bay (old western town Pescadero, La Honda, Heritage Redwoods) Mendocino, Big Sur, Ano Nuevo, Palo Alto/Stanford, and with an overnight add Yosemite, Lake Tahoe (true wonders). How you could give that up to take in Hollywood, I cannot imagine.

Hollywood is a slum. A garbage pit. Notice how distant the pictures are taken. I could not believe it when we got there. Trash, garbage, cheap Chinese shops. The "stars" are hardly noticeable. You could pass them without noticing. Awful. We did not even park. Beverly Hills has mansions if you've never seen a mansion. Rodeo Drive has expensive stores but you would not pick it out from any other street with expensive stores (and you will go to Park Ave. in NYC anyway so why do it twice?) Santa Barbara beach was nice enough to justify the stop, but by the time you get there, you will have seen a LOT of beaches. Still, it is different and charming. Beware of the famous LA traffic. I think it took us four hours to get through LA; it was insane. No wonder people shoot each other. I can't advise anything on LA, as I only wanted to leave when I got there. San Franscisco is a much nicer city (smaller and more interesting.) Just get very specific places if you go to LA or you will just spin your wheels in traffic and be very frustrated.

I would spend more time in Nor Cal, take your time coming down the coast, maybe stop in Santa Barbara, Venice Beach (afternoon) if you have the time and then do Disney if you like. I would take out LA city (you will see the same stores in NYC and NYC is much more interesting) and dump Las Vegas (unless you smoke and have been looking for a place where you feel loved). The coast drive is the whole point of California.

BTW, you could see Yosemite in a one day excision without an overnight if you plan carefully and get out super early. We did Yosemite so much that we had it down pat. Drive straight in, eat at the Ahwanne, do ONE hike (options limited in winter) and go to the overlook for sunset. Drive back in dark. But a lot of times there are road closures in the winter; so you could make it a "maybe" depending on weather and substitute Mendocino or Ano Nueva if the roads are closed. Ditto for Lake Tahoe, which is most beautiful in summer.

If I were advising my family coming to Cal., I would tell them to do the Bay Area extensively and north (Mendocino, Redwoods to the north). I would skip LV and LA for more natural wonders. You will have enough city with San Fran and NYC in my guess. Depends on how much city you like. I grew up near NYC and worked there for years. San Fran is nice as cities go. LA not so much in my view. Everyone loves Disney if they've never been. And it's especially pretty at the holidays. But the traffic in LA is all I remember of LA.

Sydney, Australia
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3. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

Interesting first post ;-)

I would suggest 3-4 days in LA. Do lots of research and plan your days and it will pay off.

Uden, The...
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4. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

I also would not want to skip Las Vegas. Love it or hate it and 4 nights may be too long but don't miss.

Grand Canyon NP is one of the 7 wonders of the world and highly recommended but try to stay at the rim www.grandcanyonlodges.com The old lodge the poster in #2 was referring to is El Tovar. 10 days New York seem very long for me. You can combine NY and DC in 10 days and take public transport (train) between them. Also NY and Boston come to mind. Will also be cold in the east in december.


Brisbane, Australia
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5. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

Thank you all so much for taking the time to give us your thoughts. So much to take in and consider and I am loving reading everyone's perspectives..many differing but I guess that's what makes the forum such an interesting place! Thanks Kibblesmom for the info about daylight hours - coming from Aus we wouldn't have been aware of that and could have been caught out. We may yet take a day from Vegas and add to our drive from San Francisco, certainly want to be able to really enjoy that coast drive. We're doing Disneyworld/Universal studios in Orlando so will probably leave Disneyland and Anaheim, I think which will free up time for other places.

Welovehaha, wow! What a great first post! You had me enthralled and laughing at the same time. You've given me much to think about and I will definately heed your advice about LA traffic and will have to plan carefully so as to avoid it where possible - 4 hours seems like way too much time to waste in traffic! I agree the coast seems like the place to concentrate on, although the rest of the family may not agree entirely!

Thanks red rob for the advice - I will certainly need to plan carefully for LA. I have to say, the idea of driving anywhere near LA is a bit daunting. I'm hoping that if we're staying in Hollywood and then heading to Las Vegas, that we can avoid the worst of LA traffic (I can hear some of laughing now! Idealistic maybe?)

Finally, Tet14, thanks for the Vegas recommendation. Friends have recommended it (even with teenagers). I'm hoping we can see a Cirque show while we're there, maybe a trip to Hoover Dam. I'm not sure about the Grand Canyon. I'm in no doubt that it's spectacular and would love to see it but would want to do it properly which would mean an overnight stay. That would mean taking two days out of what I've now reduced to three days in Vegas. Maybe next visit and maybe at a different time of year. 10 days in New York might sound excessive, but I spent 3 days there many years ago and found it to be not even remotely close to enough time. Being a music teacher and fan of musicals, I'm keen to see a couple of shows whilst there. We'll also be having Christmas and New Year there so there'll be a couple of down days amongst that as well.

Thanks again everyone for taking the time to help us out!

6. Re: West Coast Itinerary help for Dec 2013

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