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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 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

sweetestcup Tue 11-Jun-13 20:15:32

We are flying into SF and flying back from LAX, no extra charge thankfully for dropping the car off! Definitely not going to miss Alcatraz, already have the tickets booked, cant wait!

mrsmortis Tue 11-Jun-13 10:15:43

You don't need to return from the same airport you start from. We're flying LHR-SF0-LAX-LHR in August. It cost a whole £30 more than a return to SFO. But you need to check what the car hire firm is going to charge you for returning the car to a different airport to the one you collected from. We booked the flights in April and it was about 2700 for the four of us but DD2 is a lapchild.

If you are going to drive from SF to LA I'd recommend the coast road. It's much quicker to drive down central valley but it's boring. Distance wise think of it as the equivalent of driving from London to Edinburgh. I love the aquarium in Monterey.

Personally I hate LA, I'd much rather spend the time in northern CA. But I lived in SF for 3 years so I'm biased. In SF take the time to see Alcatraz. You may need to book in advance as the places on the ferry over there are limited.

sweetestcup Mon 10-Jun-13 21:06:39

Im the OP of this thread and its getting really exciting now, 11 and a bit weeks to go! Have booked Universal tickets, got the ESTAs and booked airport parking - starting to seem real now!! smile

Pitmountainpony Sun 28-Apr-13 15:19:42

Well do not miss Pffiffer beach as you drive down , just after the big sur post office and well worth the 5 bucks to park......hard to find as it is not signed...but it has purple sand and looks like it is from a movie. Trip adviser gives clear disrespect ions or ask a local. Big sur bakery is a good, non break the bank eatery with lovely outside seating.
The waterfall is also back if you drive past like we did one year......short walk from road but the most stunning view and photo opportunity.

The Madonna inn is pretty crazy....your teenagers will love it....straight out of the movie lurid and American.
Good stop off for a burger and drink before you get to Santa Barbara.
The mission at Santa Barbara is worth a look and is opposite a lovely big green space where you can picnic.

In San Fran there is the best food van for the freshest fish n chips....a Brit couple run it and honestly the last time we had fish n. chips that good was Rick Steins in Cornwall. It is down on the wharf so you can then go sit near the boats to munch on them

We really love a walk in Muir Woods a short drive from SF......massive redwoods and where both Star Wars and ET were filmed....the wood scenes anyway.
We are back up there in August and cannot wait.
California really offers the perfect vacation as there is such a diversity of experiences.
In LA, when you do your beach time I recommend point Duane beach....a whale popped up last time we went there and then stop at Malibu Cafe for fresh lemonade in their garden......your kids will love it, outdoor pool tables, paddle boats, swinging basket chairs, fire pits.....maybe 7 miles inland from the pch but so worth it just for a see the mountains of Malibu too. There is a seafood shack just north of Malibu which offers amazing good priced meals. All the locals eat there and yes it is worth the line if you hit it at weekends. Eat your meal looking out at the ocean....maybe 10 bucks a head........we no longer take a picnic when we beach it, so amazing is this eatery.

You will have an amazing time. Enjoy the anticipation as much as the trip!

sweetestcup Sat 27-Apr-13 20:27:22

pitmountainpony the Big Sur is the thing I am looking forward to the most although we are not staying anywhere, it will just be a days drive from Monterey to Santa Barbara. Im actually having goosebumps just thinking of it.Thanks so much for the links smile

Definitely planning on Universal, my boys cant wait for the Jurassic Park ride, we chose it over Disney because of the movie tour part of it, plus we have been to Disney Paris so I don't really feel the need for it again grin

Your recommendations regarding eating are so worthwhile so thanks a lot, I know everyone says its cheaper to eat in America etc but we are not used to having to budget for eating out for all our meals on holiday as our usual holiday is a self-catering in a villa or cottage in France where we take a lot of our own food with us.

Words cant describe how much Im looking forward to this - its been a big dream of me and DH for the last 10 years!

Pitmountainpony Sat 27-Apr-13 03:08:45

I really recommend the big sur coastline-so beautiful.Expensive but if you say off the beach you can find affordable- we stay here when we go there

You have to stop and have a beer here- amazing views- we ate once and it was pretty avearge so i would just have a drink to enjoy the view

Deetjens is amazing too for breakfast- overpriced for dinner but so lovely.

As for LA- both The Getty and the getty villa are free- fabulous part of a day out.
I would do Universal with kids that age- i think it is a great day out and at 80 bucks a pop cheaper than disney-the studio tour there is more fun than the Warner one which is much more a working studio tour-the universal one gives you far more bang for your buck.

Cheap eateries if you want to keep the food bill down on some days- the food truck of LA are indeed amazing.
In and Out Burger
Panda Express- we eat here as a family for$15 each week
Soup Plantation ( really healthy fresh saladey stuff- 3 course is maybe 12 bucks a head and 5$ for kids
Wholefoods have a great food bar.....

Sometimes it is helpful to know where you can eat for 20-30 bucks for a family when you are on the road as we found that stuff really added up till we worked out which places were very reasonable for everyday meals!
You will love it-it is an amazing state.

sweetestcup Fri 26-Apr-13 13:46:14

Flights were the most expensive part, think they were about £3000 of it!

ssd Fri 26-Apr-13 10:34:53

wow, but sounds fab!!

sweetestcup Thu 25-Apr-13 20:52:28

ssd of course its not cheeky!

Its a shed load of money, we have been saving for years to pay for the holiday plus my DH is a childminder and so will be getting extra money over the summer holidays that we will put towards spending money. So its:

2 nights New York (for my DH, plane goes there anyway)
4 nights San Francisco
1 night Monterey
1 night Santa Barbara
4 nights LA
4 nights Laguna Beach

Our hotels in NY and SF have rooftop pools and our hotel in Laguna Beach is on the beach, and we paid extra for a beachfront room!

We have 1 days car hire whilst we are in SF so we can drive up to Bodega Bay (where The Birds was filmed), plus tickets for Alcatraz and hop on bus for 3 days. We also have the hire of a big car when we leave SF so we can fit our luggage in for the drive. Our boys are 11 and 5 so still child prices but there really wasn't much difference in the flight prices, the child ones were about £100 cheaper I think. All in all it was around £6200 as far as I remember, eeek...£500 of that was the 2 nights in NY mind you that my DH added on!

The kids generally stay free as the hotels were saying 2 children stay free based on 2 adults.

ssd Thu 25-Apr-13 13:53:57

op, please dont answer if you feel this is cheeky, but can I ask how much your trip is costing? It sounds absolutely fab. And are your kids adult prices or childrens prices, have heard this makes a difference.

sweetestcup Wed 24-Apr-13 22:57:56

Thanks again for all the tips (Im the OP smile), will look out for the Splash cafe!

MinnesotaNice Wed 24-Apr-13 17:54:40

Lived in central California for just under a year. Agree that Hearst Castle is pretty good.
PCH is fantastic--takes longer but the view is amazing!
If you decide to stop at Pismo Beach, eat at the Splash Cafe. The line will probably be out the door and around the corner, but it moves fast and is SOOO worth it. Best clam chowder soup ever! Order it in a bread bowl with seafood topping.
Also YY to the aquarium in Monterey. Best aquarium I have ever visited.
Loved Napa and am dying to get back to Cali for a trip to Sonoma and the Redwoods.

lemo Wed 24-Apr-13 17:42:47

Looking at doing kind of same trip, flying into San fransisco, napa, Yosemite, Monterey, Santa Barbara . Fly out of LA. I'm trying to organise this independently but am struggling to find any accommodation in Yosemite area, unless I want to spend 1000 dollars for three nights. Did you use travel co?. Any tips

SucksToBeMe Sat 26-Jan-13 22:06:33

Another vote for Hearst Castle.

We are going to CA next year, but hiding a camper van. I love the redwoods, but it may be to far north. Have a great time (you will)

Pedallleur Sat 26-Jan-13 22:01:34

Ragged Point Inn is a good location. Not far from Hearst Castle (a chance to see what real wealth buys in both good and bad taste) and right on the cliffs. LA - SF is nearly 400 miles of driving. Whale watching in Monterey was good apart from everyone on the boat was sea-sick at some point.

rubyrubyruby Wed 23-Jan-13 23:10:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Stylelostinlabour Wed 23-Jan-13 21:43:52

Hi rubyrubyruby

We have just booked all our stays and all 5 are in the same room in all hotels. Booked via an independent travel agent.

Happy to share which ones if it helps?

We are doing 3 nights sf and then 2 nights Yosemite and then 2 nights Monterey and then the final week in somewhere like Newport but just looking for somewhere to rent (see other post!)

rubyrubyruby Wed 23-Jan-13 12:51:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

purplesunflower Wed 23-Jan-13 11:24:43

Not read whole thread - so sorry if already been said.

Laptop we drove from SF to Newport Beach (just south of LA) with dt3. We stopped for 1 night in Carmel, so a bit further north than Big Sur I think, although it was a few years ago. We stopped for a night again near near Santa Barbara. I'm glad we had 2 stops - IMO too far without.

rubyruby - we went independently and I'm pretty sure would be cheaper that way. We hired holiday homes direct from owners for the longer stops and only stayed in hotels if it was one night at a time.

V jealous of you all planning the trip - we had an amazing time and I'd love to do it again

rubyrubyruby Tue 22-Jan-13 15:05:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

laptopwieldingharpy Thu 17-Jan-13 12:25:00

Late to the party but marking my place if anyone wants to comment further….

OP, we have the same vague itinerary. We have nearly 3 weeks though really want to squeeze in san diego AND nappa or sonoma.
2 kids, 5 & 9.


- 4 nights San Fransisco

- 2 nights in Big sur to break it up (Is the drive from Big Sur to La really long? would a 2nd night stopover in san luis obispo be easier?)

- 5 nights in LA

- 5 nights san diego and fly back to San Fransisco bay area

- 3 night nappa or sonoma

Would be most grateful if anyone could indicate driving times between each leg.

clam Mon 22-Oct-12 22:11:41

Bear in mind, if you're camping, that you presumably won't have any gear with you. We ended up camping just one night in Yosemite (unintentionally - long story) but everything was provided - tent (already erected) airbeds, bedding, towels, hurricane lamps etc..

shesariver Mon 22-Oct-12 21:51:11

Hi zaz - wish we had 3 weeks!

Anyway after a few tweaks Trail-finders have did an itinerary for us.


2 nights New York (for my DH)
4 nights San Francisco
1 night Monterey
1 night Santa Barbara
4 nights LA
4 nights Laguna Beach

Have decided to take out San Diego unfortunately as dont want to overdo things. Hoping to book in the next few weeks! grin

zanz1bar Sun 21-Oct-12 17:49:48

Can I join in?
We are hoping to do much the same trip July 2013 , for 3 weeks.
No idea where to go, how long to take anything really.
But need to start in LA as one family member flying in to join us for the trip.
I have a 8 yr old, 9 yr old and 3 adults. The kids are wildlife crazy so whale watching a must.
Would prefer just one day a Disney, dh will refuse to go so need to plan who goes when and where, but he will do sea world.
Would like to do a some camping/glamping or a ranch and the beach.
Any ideas and advice would be very, very welcome
Budget is flexible as this really is the holiday of a lifetime, haven't had a holiday in 2 years to save up for this big one so far.

shesariver Thu 04-Oct-12 11:42:01

Oh hopandskip, sitting here in Glasgow and its cold (well at least its not raining!) and Im so jealous, would love to be in your pool just now! grin

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