California road trip

(76 Posts)
shesariver Sun 30-Sep-12 22:25:23

Hi, I posted a bit back about planning a California holiday and got some fantastic tips and idea, was originally planning it for 2014 but thanks to DH taking on some extra work think we could go next September instead, so very excited! Now I need some realistic times, plan on being there 2 weeks....

We plan to fly into SF, stay there for maybe 3 nights then hire a car and drive to San Diego. What we want to see/do is: drive the coast highway (obviously!), Monterey/Carmel, LA (as DH is a huge film fan), Disney Anaheim (just for a day though!) and San Diego. So a mix of tourist sightseeing and relaxation really.

So can I pick your brains about how many days/nights in each place? And where to base ourselves in LA, had thought about Santa Monica...do you think this would be ok to relax at for a bit and also take in all the touristy film things about LA and Hollywood Studios?

Thanks smile

AppleCrumbleAndFish Sun 30-Sep-12 22:32:11

I'd definitely recommend a visit to Hearst castle.

mumblechum1 Sun 30-Sep-12 22:40:36

We did a similar trip last year. Spent a week in Sonoma Valley, which is the wine area next to Napa Valley, beautiful and not as packed as Napa. Did hot air ballooining, zip wire in the redwoods canopy, lots of hiking, and had a house on the Russian River with boats which was great.

Then drove down Highway1 in fog (in August), stopped at Carmel for one night which was nice, lots of good restaurants but quite cold.

Then a week in Santa Barbara, in a beautiful house with a pool, lots to see and do.

Drove back up North, stayed for 4 nights in San Francisco, saw all the sights etc.

Personally I'd avoid LA, it looks kind of boring, in that it's a big sprawl with no centre. Santa Monica would be nice, though.

mumblechum1 Sun 30-Sep-12 22:42:05

Also don't underestimate how long it takes to drive everywhere. Driving from Santa Barbara to San Francisco took about 10 hours, with an hour for lunch in San Jose. Looking at the map it should have taken about 5 or 6 hours.

shesariver Sun 30-Sep-12 22:43:58

Thanks smile

Afraid LA is a must because of my geeky film fanatic DH! Should also have mentioned we will have DS2 and 3 with us who will be 5 and 11.

CityDweller Sun 30-Sep-12 22:46:21

Definitely stay in Santa Monica in LA. It's nice to be able to walk around (rather than having to drive everywhere) and pretty much everything you need (outside the tourist traps stuff) is there. An easy drive to Hollywood (although avoid doing that drive btw 5 and 7pm, when the traffic is crazy) for that stuff, likewise to Universal if you want to go there. If you want to spend time at the beach, avoid SM beach (that's where the drunks and homeless hang out). Head north past Malibu to, e.g. Leo Carillo, which is beautiful and rarely busy.

Btw, the PCH drive from SF to LA doesn't take as long as everyone thinks it does. You can do it in a day, easily. Not that you would necessarily want to, but when I lived in California and friends came to visit they were always surprised at how the drive is really not a road trip in itself. Big Sur is a nice stop off too (with some very fancy hotels if you want a splurge) as is Santa Barbara. And a second vote for Hearst Castle, which is totally bonkers in an utterly brilliant way. Book in for multiple tours, because when you've done one, you will want to do more, I promise. Easy to spend a day, or a significant part of it there.

As to how many days in each place - that surely is up to what you want to do in each place. I could kill a month in San Francisco no problem. LA I think you can get an ok sense of in 3 full days (1 doing H'wood touristy stuff, maybe driving around Bev Hills, one doing Universal, and one just hanging out around Santa Monica), but you could easily fill more time as there's more to it than movies and beaches (e.g. great hiking in the hills, some interesting museums and a good foodie scene - check out the food trucks, which you can track down on twitter). Likewise, you can just overnight in Big Sur/ Carmel, but you could spend longer if you want to do some hiking or just totally chill out at a nice hotel for a few days.

Happy planning!

pchip Sun 30-Sep-12 22:47:03

It takes 5-6 hrs if you don't drive along the coast, but take the flat boring nothing to see route via I-5.

lumpybumpylooloo Sun 30-Sep-12 22:53:23

I agree that the driving times can be huge. If there was any way that you could manage longer than 2 weeks it would be well worth it, to give you longer to enjoy each part. There is so much to see.

I would suggest 4 nights in San Francisco because your first day/night are taken up with your flight etc. And there is so much to do.

Probably only one night in Carmel area.

Santa Barbara is lovely and very relaxing so maybe 2-3 nights there.

I'm not a huge fan of LA, but Santa Monica is a good base... You have the beach, pier etc, but only 30 min drive or so to Hollywood etc. Also has Third Street Promenade for a wander in the evening-great restaurants and street entertainers to amuse the children. I would suggest 3-4 nights in LA at least.

We stayed in Laguna Beach/Newport Beach area last time we were there and it was very child-friendly and absolutely idyllic!! It's actually closer to Disneyland than central LA I think.

San Diego also has loads to do so again, maybe 3-4 nights.

You will have an amazing time!!

shesariver Sun 30-Sep-12 23:00:05

citydweller and lumpy thank you, its a case of fitting in what we can because its the "holiday of a lifetime" cliche, we will never have as much time as we want in each place really...but its really helpful to get the days tips you have said! Ideally would love 3 weeks but financially and more essentially time off work its a no-no!!

clam Sun 30-Sep-12 23:16:26

We've just done something similar - although we factored in Yosemite (just awesome!) from SF, then back to the coast at Monterey, which increased the driving. Can recommend Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite.

Agree about underestimating journey times, even using googlemap directions.

Fog at the coast in SF and a surprising way south (almost to San Luis Obispo) until mid-late morning is not uncommon. It is on the cold side of chilly! Even in August. Travelling from Yosemite to Monterey, the temperature dropped from 108 to 58 in two hours!!

While staying in Monterey, and did a whale-watching trip there. The board-walk/fisherman's wharf there is nice, but Carmel (5-10 miles South) is prettier and quainter. Hardly any hotels right on the ocean there though, which was what we wanted, hence picking Monterey.

We stayed at Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo. Great place - very quaint and not your usual "chain."

In LA we stayed with friends in Pasadena but again, LA is HUGE and what looks like a quick hop along a freeway seldom is. We did all the usuals there that others have mentioned here. We only had time for one theme park and chose Universal (as we've done Disney a couple of times and kids bit past it now). They're doing a 2 days for 1 deal at the moment, but I wouldn't say there's enough there for two days really. We managed a visit to the beautiful Grove shopping mall - they do a lot of location filming there (Modern family, for instance) and in fact they were shooting a celebrity entertainment news slot thing while we were there. Max Greenfield, whoever he is - kids knew! You can google to find out where in the city they're filming various shows on which days. We didn't go to Southern LA (where Long Beach/Disney etc is) but I was at University there many years ago, so felt I'd "done" it - besides, no time left. San Diego is another 3 hours at least south of LA.

We then flew back to SF, as we couldn't face the road trip back up. If you're flying out of LA back to London then not a problem, but we found flights much more expensive to go into one city and out from another and we were able to use airmiles for the hop back up to SF.

We had a FANTASTIC trip and I would go back in a heartbeat and do it all over again.

Startailoforangeandgold Sun 30-Sep-12 23:27:08

Yes to Santa Monica, it actually has a precinct with a car park and shops you can walk round.

I loved San Diego, Polynesian restaurant with a view of the whole bay on Shelter island was amazing.

Google Bali Hai, I'm pretty sure that's it and check the reviews it was too long ago to be the same cooks.

shesariver Mon 01-Oct-12 12:46:48

clam thanks! You had replied on my original thread and I was wondering if you had been yet, glad you had a fantastic trip!

I am booking through Trailfinders, mainly because if we book it as a package we will only need about a £500 deposit whereas if I was booking it independently I would have to pay the cost of the flights up front, which as the most expensive bit we just dont have just now.

So how does this sound:

Day 1-4: San francisco
Day 5-6: Carmel/Monterey
Day 7-8: Santa Monica
Day 9-10: Hollywood
Day 11-14: San Diego or Laguna Beach

Really want to give Disney a miss, dont think my boys would be that disappointed as we have been to Disney Paris. Obviously 2 weeks is not long enough for everything but the thought of spending a few precious days at Disney makes me go "NO"!! grin...well because sightseeing around hollywood will be exhausting for us all, so want to rest and relax after that. they both love beaches so thats why I thought of Laguna Beach. Wasnt originally planning on staying actually in Hollywood but think now it would be easier regarding travelling around and seeing what we want to see.

shesariver Mon 01-Oct-12 12:49:13

lumpy still thinking about your suggestion of Santa Monica as a base to drive into Hollywood though, is parking easy to find does anyone know?

iseenodust Mon 01-Oct-12 12:56:53

With DC that age I would put in Disney. Disney America is totally different in atmosphere to Paris (though many rides the same). We stayed in some hilton nearby for cheap rates but had a lovely pool.

Fluffy1234 Mon 01-Oct-12 14:14:27

Another vote for Santa Monica. Disney Ahaheim is actually 2 parks, Disney and Disney California Adventure. They are both really good (I'm not a Disney nut) but would need a day in each. We stayed in Hyatt Regency Anaheim and that was a good base for the parks.

Joshpoodlehamster Mon 01-Oct-12 14:34:31

Shesariver: Finding short stay parking in downtown Hollywood (from our limited experience of the neighbourhood) took us about five minutes to locate.

We parked in a 'built up' Hollywood late June 2011 between lunch and 5pm - very near to the Hollywood walk of fame - in a shopping street two blocks away at most. We followed a neon arrow that said 'parking' and drove inside a building, up two levels and ended up in a very strange 'lot' with cars 'butted up close' and not what we are used to at all. It was about 20$ plus tip.

Later that day we also parked near the 'Big W' hotel in Beverley Hills and that was about 20$ for three hours in a more regular style rooftop car park.

Having visited Leeds city centre last month the charges were comparable and it was easier in LA!

HmmThinkingAboutIt Mon 01-Oct-12 14:54:52

You can do the PCH in a day - we did. But I'm not sure its something I would recommend unless you had to. It is a long drive and doing it in a day doesn't give you much time to stop. We left LA at 7am (and we were staying just on the outskirts of LA) and didn't arrive at hotel in SF until 9pm in the end with a few relatively short stops along the way. (You need to stop at the seal colony btw).

Last year there were a lot of road collapses on the PCH and a lot of roadworks as a consequence. I have a friend who lives out there and said that it had been partly closed at time during the year - so this is something to check as its highly likely that the repairs are going to continue for sometime potentially until next year - and thats without considering new landslides that might have occurred since.

Joshpoodlehamster Mon 01-Oct-12 14:57:27

Should also have said that on another day it took us over 2 hours to drive from Santa Monica to Beverley Hills. The distance is actually only about 6 miles.

While we were there One Direction were staying at the Big W in BH recording their first album hence our repeated visits.

clam Mon 01-Oct-12 15:47:49

I can only recall 2 roadwork closures in August of this year. One of those was pretty major but we got through the lights after one wait. But that doesn't mean there won't be more to come.

We had loads of little stops en route - photo opps mainly. Seal colony, yes, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns Park (fabulous beach with a waterfall) and another confusingly similar Pfeiffer Park further north too. Had lunch on the beach there - about 2 miles off the PCH. Oh and due to a lapse in dh's the map-reading, we accidentally ended up on a small detour through a fabulous little place called Solvang - very Germanic, Disney-fied town that looked like it had come straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

We took 2 days to travel down from Monterey to LA, stopping overnight in San Luis Obispo. I wouldn't have wanted to do it in one - it's very pretty for one thing, but it's also quite a winding slow road.

clam Mon 01-Oct-12 15:49:33

Oh, and the freeways in LA at rush hour are hideous - just like here. We got by as we had a native with us, who took us on useful shortcuts, but we'd have wasted a lot of time otherwise.

Joshpoodlehamster Mon 01-Oct-12 15:54:42

CLam
May I ask what you paid for your flights this summer please and how far out you booked?

iseenodust Mon 01-Oct-12 16:06:57

If you do it in too much of a hurry you won't have the trip of a lifetime, just window blur. grin Highway 1 is mainly not dual carriageway! Places like Carmel, Monterey, Santa Barbara all have a different feel. We also spent an evening at some beach just north of LA where locals gather to watch the sunset, the dolphins come out to play and there was a little seafood grill - recommended if anyone can name it !!

clam Mon 01-Oct-12 16:17:42

We booked relatively late, at the end of March/April and paid £3100 for 4 of us with US Airways. Found the flights on Skyscanner, but booked direct through their website, as got a slight reduction for dd (14) on there. Bet you could get cheaper though in advance. Also, we didn't fly direct, but via Philadelphia, which wasn't as bad as everyone said it would be. Also a few hundred quid cheaper to do one stop.

We had free flights back up to SF from LA with American (airmiles) but got clobbered for baggage fees though. $25 each! angry

HmmThinkingAboutIt Mon 01-Oct-12 16:30:24

For our trip we flew into Vegas and out of Vegas as it worked out considerably cheaper than to fly to LA or SF even with extra mileage - we barely spent any time there and went up to the Hoover Damn on the way to LA.

Return flights from the UK to SF worked out the most expensive returns, it was cheaper to get returns to LA. And flights into SF or LA and out of the other worked out even more expensive. If memory serves me I think it was cheaper to get a return and then get a one way flight than book openjaw.

Also flew USAirways. They were truly awful. Worst Airline I've flown with. Give me RyanAir over them. No free alcohol (which I'd expect on a transatlantic as standard) and the service on board and the attitude of staff was abysmal. They were only cheaper by about a tenner, and I wish I'd spent my money elsewhere tbh.

clam Mon 01-Oct-12 16:39:13

Really? I found them OK.

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