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Planning a California holiday advice

(28 Posts)
duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 09:28:41

Hi, we are planning a dream holiday to California as my DH and I have always wanted to go. It wont be for 2 years yet so plenty of time to save up and plan, I need some tips from people who have been before re booking everything. My boys would be 20, 11, and 5 by then.

We always wanted a multi centre holiday to take in both San Francisco and Los Angeles and San Diego. Things that are top of our list - all the things in San Francisco such as Alcatraz etc, a few days at Disney in Anaheim, def a beach for a few days, Hollywood sights as DH is a huge film fan, Universal Studios to. Anything else would be a bonus.

Its how to book I need help with - never have been to America before so nervous of booking things independently but realise a travel agent would be more expensive. We usually drive to France for a holiday so am used to booking villas etc and hotels myself but it just seems a bit daunting because there would be flights involved and worried about timings etc.

So for the people who have done this type of holiday what did you do? And what do you think iis best?

Go to a travel agent and get them to book flights from the UK and internal flights, deal with hotels and car hire etc?

Or book flights, hotels etc myself. Ideally I would stay at a hotel in San Francisco but would love a villa in the LA area with a pool for that part - nothing too extravagant, basic would be ok.

And how do you go about car hire as this will be essential.

Thanks for any tips you can come up with for this complete novice!! smile

Pitmountainpony Fri 11-Jan-13 05:40:21

Feel free to message me.....we know California well and have done all those places from LA. It is amazing and that will be the best 3 week holiday.
Easy to book here but do car before you come.

ragged Thu 13-Oct-11 20:14:59

Gosh, I'm sad, this thread is making me homesick (sniff sad).
OP does not sound like a Death Valley person (my OH cares little for the desert, too).

Grand Canyon is at least 6+ hours drive from SD or LA.
Hotels in SD are hideously expensive, even if you are happy to go with Motel 6 (OP does not sound like someone who would be happy with Motel 6). So I won't try to answer hotel booking Qs.
Responses to OP's other questions.

My dad (from SoCal), in your shoes OP, would get his travel agent to do the bookings for him.
You may need to book Hearst Castle tickets in advance.
Weather wise any time is good to go, but April/May is persistantly cloudy in coastal SoCal. You will not be guaranteed any hot weather at all (what I think of as "hot", anyway) unless you go to the desert in the summer months.
Storm (rainy) season=Nov-March. And when it rains at all, it rains A LOT, over several days. I find English rain quite wimpy.

You want to visit the amusement parks (like Sea World, Disneyland) in the school time, so late Sept-early Dec, avoiding Turkey Weekend, or mid Jan until about 2 weeks before Easter, and 2 weeks after Easter until early June. I consider it insane to visit these places during school vacation times (although we had a very quiet New Year's day at Sea World, once).

September still very hot to visit Death Valley, but you said you like heat? Winter is too cold to visit Grand Canyon, roads sometimes closed for snow up there, too. October-Nov okay, but flowers better in the desert in about March. I am planning a big trip to SoCal in May 2015(?).

Everyone in my family would drive SF to LA/SD because the flights are hideously expensive and the security so tedious.

One way car hire no problem as long as you go with a major chain & big cities pickup/drop off.

thirtysomething Thu 13-Oct-11 19:49:44

Las Vegas is a must! We flew from San Fran to Vegas (v. cheap - around £55 per person) and drove back via death valley. Was just fabulous. Yosemite unbelievable too.

It's all fantastic envy

leannac Thu 13-Oct-11 19:40:02

I'm planning a trip to California for our honeymoon taking our 18 month old daughter - we're so far considering San Fran, Sonoma, Big Sur & Yosemite as we only have 2 weeks. Does anyone think we can do more or will that involve too much driving and be too much of a rush with a toddler?

DazR Mon 03-Oct-11 13:21:46

Hi duckdodgers We stayed in a motel near Anaheim for a couple of days and based here we visited Disney and took a day trip to San Diego and back (was a long day though!! really enjoyed sea world here). We then relocated to relatives in Santa Monica (just north of LA) who were keen to show us universal, muscle beach, hollywood etc. We arranged car hire in advance (but negotiated an upgrade when we arrived to collect). If you are thinking of Grand Canyon you would need to book accommodation here in advance - we stayed in a wooden cabin on the North Rim. We also took a light aircraft tour from Los Vegas which flew over the Grand Canyon and was awesome (but a bit scary too!!). We took a mule trail down into the canyon from our base at the North Rim which was very exciting and kids would enjoy it (although the eco-friendly toilets half way down were an experience I still remember......). I would try for 3 weeks if I was returning - there is so much to see and do. The national parks are fantastic - the great redwood forests (there are really good visitor centres too). We started in San Francisco in mid May and the routes through Yosemite were just opened (still snow on sides of road) - Death Valley was REALLY hot even then so you should check temperatures if you are going later. We stayed overnight in Death Valley at Stove Pipe Wells which was really fun.

Alouiseg Sun 02-Oct-11 19:25:26

It was the end of July in San Francisco for us. Misty and cold but on the upside there was great shopping! All in one place and they had an A&F for kids which delighted the ds'.

mummytime Sun 02-Oct-11 18:25:29

The Grand Canyon is a long way! We did it on our first 2 week holiday, and we rushed Highway 1. Buy a few guide books, far more useful than UK travel agents in my opinion. Also use trip advisor, to get some honest opinions and find hidden gems.

BecauseImWorthIt Sun 02-Oct-11 18:07:18

We were in San Francisco in August and it was cold and misty - I never actually saw the Golden Gate Bridge at all!

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 18:04:13

toddlerama - that sounds wonderful, just perfect, thanks!

Lots of recommendations for Trailfinders so thats good.

bike - me to regarding being outside. Would there be time to go to the Grand Canyon thats what I was thinking?

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 18:00:42

bunbaker thanks for the link, will have a look. In my heart I feel I could book it myself - but DH would kill me if it all went wrong, it just seems so daunting with timings, and car hire etc. So my head says travel agent.

I have always wanted to go to San Francisco alouiseg I think I will be really disappointed if I dont enjoy it. But Ive heard it can be so foggy you cant even see the GG bridge. What month did you go? Like you I want heat (well Im in Scotland we dont get it much grin)

Thats a good point - whats the best time of year to go? I was thinking September??

BikeRunSki Sun 02-Oct-11 18:00:26

We did this about 10 years ago, we decided what we wanted to see, then booked through Trailfinders, and it was only marginally more expensive (5% ish) than booking everything independently, and a great deal easier.

You must drive along the coast to San Fran.
Alcatraz will need booking in advance - I really enjoyed it.
I'd include a day or two in Yosemite too, but I love the Great Outdoors.
Have you considered popping into neighbouring states - Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Monument Valley, Las Vegas.

toddlerama Sun 02-Oct-11 17:59:02

Consider the Pacific Surfliner train. I used it to go between San Diego and LA when I was there for a while and I never got bored of the view. It literally runs along the coast all the way up and down and so comfy and clean compared to our trains.

Bunbaker Sun 02-Oct-11 17:54:45

I loved San Francisco, except for the weather. We were there at the end of July and it was cold and misty. It didn't put me off because the city had such a fantastic atmosphere and so many interesting things to see and do. So I advise taking something warm to wear when you are there.

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 17:52:51

panda I definitely plan to include San Diego, heard so much good about it.

Would really have to just do a quick day or 2 touristy thing in LA as DH wants to see film things, would prefer longer elsewhere.

Alouiseg Sun 02-Oct-11 17:46:52

We did this last year. We flew into LA for 3 nights, flew to Reno and spent 2 nights at Lake Tahoe, from there we drove to SanFrancisco for 3 nights then down to Carmel for a couple of nights then onto Santa Barbara and Montecito for a week and a bit on the beach. It was a great holiday but apart from LA it wasn't hot enough for me.

Next time we're going South of LA, I love San Diego and can't wait to go back. If I'm honest I didn't enjoy SanFrancisco - far too cold and misty for me and Alcatraz was depressing.

We flew with Virgin and sorted our own hotels out. I can't remember who our internal flight was with but they were shocking to be honest.

Bunbaker Sun 02-Oct-11 17:44:50

Your holiday sounds fabulous. Don't even think of doing this holiday without a car. Everywhere is so car orientated that public transport is almost non existent. The only place you don't need a car is San Francisco.

We did a similar holiday and visited Los Angeles for the theme parks and Universal Studios, Calico ghost town, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco for Alcatraz and a general look round, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs and San Diego - Sea World and the zoo are awesome.

We did this holiday years before the internet was invented and booked our tickets through these people. I found the staff really helpful as they had visited many of the places we wanted to go to.

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 17:42:24

If the budget allows then maybe 3 weeks would be great grin

dazr that sounds amazing, Im sure you had a lovely time! When you got down as far as LA area did you base yourself in 1 hotel/motel and do Universal, Disney, San Diego? Or did you stay in all these places?

Going to go and check out Trailblazers now. On the down side will have to miss our holidays to France but we have actually dreamed about a holiday like this for years.

And did you hire the car before you flew or is it best hiring it when you get to San Francisco?

PandaNot Sun 02-Oct-11 17:34:28

It is doable in 2 weeks but you wouldn't get to stay anywhere too long! Don't miss San Diego, it's one of my favourite cities, much nicer than LA.

DazR Sun 02-Oct-11 17:34:02

Hi, did a similar thing for honeymoon several years ago - we started in san francisco for a few days (did alcatraz, china town, trams, wiggly road etc.) then drove down the coast which was amazing (around carmel, monterey) then headed inland (not sure what order but we visited yosemite, the grand canyon, death valley and los vegas) finishing up in Los Angeles (Anaheim) with visits to Disneyworld, Hollywood, Universal Studios and a day trip to San Diego. We flew home from LA (could pick up car in San Francisco and deposit in LA). We took 3 weeks for our tour (Trailblazers helped us to book some of it in advance - but we left parts blank so that we could book motels and stop wherever we wanted. Just check for local 'bank holidays' we got caught out once and had a struggle to find beds!

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 17:20:59

Thanks ever so much for all your helpful replies, definitely plan to drive it then! (well DH will grin - hes driven us to France from Glasgow for the past 3 years including through Paris at rush hour plus around the mountains when we went to the Alps so hes ok about driving in the US)

Can you pick up a hire car in San Francisco and drop it off Anaheim/San Diego then as drive would only be 1 way!

Chopchop I had thought about Las Vegas but wasn't sure if I could fit it all in. I realise I will never get to do everything of course, was thinking about 2 weeks though.

chopchopbusybusy Sun 02-Oct-11 17:09:53

Definitely drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles. One of the highlights of our trip was Hearst castle.
Paying by credit card on line for flights and car hire will give you financial protection if the company goes bust. Most US hotels have good cancellation policies allowing you to cancel until a specific time on the day of arrival without penalty.
If you feel brave enough leave some nights not booked anywhere to allow extra flexibility. Just turning up should be fairly easy in some places, probably not San Francisco though.
Depends how long you plan to go for but if you're willing to do a bit of driving, personally I'd include Las Vegas and the grand canyon and give San Diego a miss.

BecauseImWorthIt Sun 02-Oct-11 16:58:07

When we went to Australia and the US a few years ago, Trailfinders were brilliant helping me to plan the intinerary.

I went to see them with an outline itinerary in mind, and then they had all the info about flights/flight times to hand immediately.

Thevelveteenrabbit Sun 02-Oct-11 16:54:53

Route 1 is supposed to be very nice - the bits I have driven on are beautiful mostly the San Fran end.
Driving in the US is very easy.
I would be tempted to book flights and car hire as a package - this will give you ABTA? protection and then book accommodation seperatly to give yourselves the freedom to do things you want - we stayed for a few nights in the Big Basin State Park - in a camping hut - which was great fun - the children had a great time (a bit younger than yours - 6,4&4)

Earlybird Sun 02-Oct-11 16:18:42

If you have time, plan to drive from San Francisco to LA. And allow 3-4 days to do it.

It is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and there are lovely things to do along the way (Hearst Castle, State Parks for a bit of day hiking, etc).

duckdodgers Sun 02-Oct-11 15:31:40

Thanks for your reply smile

If I book with say someone like Virgin then is it much more expensive booking through a travel agent do you think?

How is the best way to travel internally then? It seems quite a distance between San Francisco and LA to drive so would flying be better? My DH doesnt mind hiring a car and driving abroad so driving around the Anaheim, LA and San Diego area would be ok.

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