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26 days in California - help with planning!

(52 Posts)
Fancyashandy Sat 25-Jan-14 10:41:29

Flying to San Francisco with husband and two children (12 and 9yrs). Thinking of 3/4 nights San Francisco, 2/3 nights at Yosemite, then down the Pacific Highway stopping off at Carmel and a few places perhaps for a few nights. Need to be in Santa Barbara for around the 12 - 16. Will probably do a theme park/ studio in LA though don't want to spend much time in LA. Thinking of San Diego and want to end with perhaps 3 days in NY before flying back. First time so welcome any ideas or input.

sassytheFIRST Sat 25-Jan-14 10:52:56

We went last summer. We did:-

SF, 4 days
Yosemite 3 days
Monterey 2 days
Pacific coast 1 days drive - worth breaking this up esp if you want to go to Hearst castle (we had been before so didn't this time)
Santa Barbara 1 night.wish we gad longer here, so you'll really enjoy it
San Diego 3 days
LA 3 days

It was great.

afromom Sat 25-Jan-14 11:04:22

We went for 3 weeks with DS (when he was 5) for my DB and DSil wedding a few years ago. We did much the same journey as you but in reverse.
San Francisco was great. The piers are good, right at the far end there is an old fashionned penny arcade. we had a ride on the Rocket Boat, which was DS favourite part of the holiday! its a high speed biat that takes you from the piers out around to Alcatraz and back (no stops, just adrenaline fuelled fun!). You get wet!!!

Clam chowder out of a bread bowl is a good foody tip, as well as some of the Mexican street food.

A ride on the street cars are a must too! And obviously a trip over Golden Gate Bridge! You can hire bikes and ride over of drive over etc.

We didn't do Alcatraz as lots of people had told us it can be quite scary for kids, but as yours are older they might be ok! There are some quite dodgy areas downtown, I would recommend looking into trip advisor reviews before booking a hotel as they were quite accurate we found. We rented an apartment in the end in a residential area which was lovely, on the top of a hill and had a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz!

Santa Barbara was my favourite place! I want to live there! Not so great for the kids, but the building are so pretty and the court house is quite interesting to walk around. We went to an amazing Brazilian restaurant towards the top if the main strip (away from the beach) which did a meal and a show with dancers etc for quite a reasonable price. DS was awestruck with the dancers shock

Santa Monica beach and pier are also good for a stop off, they have a fair ground with roller coaster etc on the pier.

We didn't do any theme parks as the main interest in LA was wedding prep etc (my SIL is from Long Beach). I have heard others say that they enjoyed Universal more than Disney though if that helps.

Can you tell we had a fab time grin

charleybarley Sat 25-Jan-14 11:06:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

afromom Sat 25-Jan-14 11:07:52

Oh yes I forgot Monteray. That is a nice place too and quite a good distance for a stop over along pacific highway. There's a big aquarium there (really expensive) and the best chocolate in the world (I think anyway!)

charleybarley Sat 25-Jan-14 11:11:54

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

charleybarley Sat 25-Jan-14 11:14:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DPotter Sat 25-Jan-14 11:15:43

SF is a great city and Alcartraz is a good trip; our the 12 yr old was a bit bored by it but didn't find it scary. It does get very busy in holiday season so i suggest you book on line if you want to be sure of getting a slot (the boat trip out / back is all included in the ticket price; this link is from the official national park website for Alcartraz we also went on a bus trip around the city which was good fun. The standard trams are fun but the queue for the famous tram on the hill was enormous so we didn't try that. We went in July and the weather was chilly & it did rain so don't assume the weather in SF will be warm - take layers.
we camped on the edge of the Yosemite park and I believe accommodation is limited so again, book well in advance. however the park is spectacular and definately worth it - beware of the bears ! It was very hot here ! have a great time!

ajandjjmum Sat 25-Jan-14 11:17:21

Shall be watching this thread closely - thinking of similar although sadly slightly shorter. Happy Planning Fancy - always one of the best bits of any holiday! smile

Fancyashandy Sat 25-Jan-14 12:00:37

Thanks folks, some great advice and opinions.

Afromom - I've been looking at a site for apt rentals. Some are up nearer Pacific Heights area or close to the Panhandle of the Goden Gate Park - wasn't sure if these residential areas would be disappointing and we'd be a bit out of the biz.

Charleybarley - for some reason the 8 yr old is the one who really likes wants to go to Las Vegas - I'm not so sold and worried the heat in August could be severe. The Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon are tempting though.
NY - because we have plenty time, never been and it would break up the flight home.

zanz1bar Sat 25-Jan-14 17:42:26

Ok here is top tips from our trip last summer.

SF fantastic, we did airbnb house, easy to get around on buses.
didnt bother with Alcatraz, cant see the point its just a prison with stories of unpleasant people.
DO PLEASE GO to the Exploratorium just along the wharf from the alcatraz tourist hell. Its amazing and can easily fill a whole day, infact you wont get the kids out of there and A LOT more fun than the queues for Alcatraz. It was the highlight of SF for my 9 and 10 year olds.
Hire a bike and go over the bridge to sausolito get lunch and ferry back.
Have dinner at all the food trucks on 'Off the Grid'.

Take jumpers and coats, IT GETS COLD in the summer fog.

Go to the Montery bay Aquarium and book the kids in for a Scuba dive as a surprise and you will be a Hero!
Its in dry suits with instructors, they get to dive in an open sea reef pool built into the aquarium. A-maze-ing.

Book a boat trip to go whale watching anywhere along the coast, but Montery has plenty to choose from. Top tip go for the bigger boats with indoor cabin as I said before IT GETS COLD IN THE FOG!!!!

Stop off just north of Cambria to see the Elephant seals on the beach, they stink to high heaven.

Yosemite is fantastic, really well organized routes, vistor centre etc. We stayed outside the park at Mariposa.

If you want to do Las vegas, Hoover dam etc its a lot of driving, with kids, in the car, for hours....Hire the biggest car you can so they don't even have to hear each others breath and get fully stocked up on apple gadgets, then be dissapointed that they missed all the amazing views as they played Mine craft. But the Grand Canyon will take your breath away, loads of Motels in Williams and the closest you can get in high summer, but still a 90 min drive away.

I booked up most nights and spaced out the driving to no more than 8 hours tops, but it is a lot of time in the car.

I would do it all again in a flash. Best hotel the Saguaro Palm springs, absolute paradise!!!

Fancyashandy Sat 25-Jan-14 17:51:32

Thanks Zanzibar - some fantastic tips! Already planning the Exporatorium, have it on my list. Love the scuba diving idea, both husband and I dive and kids loved snorkelling last year on holiday. So can you hire bikes one way and then get ferry back - we wanted to do the bike ride. How long did it take to get to Saucelito? Loving the look of Yosemite.

zanz1bar Sat 25-Jan-14 17:57:35

Took about 2 hours

sassytheFIRST Sat 25-Jan-14 18:09:15

We used a company called away2usa - can't recommend them too highly. They are based in Manchester but v v knowledgable about California and Vegas, we gave them a rough itinerary, travel dates and a budget and they came back with a selection of hotels - most of which they had visited themselves, car hire prices, flights etc. we then researched on trip advisor etc, went back and, forth several times, finally agreed. They booked the lot fir us. So easy and helpful.

Get a satnav for the LA freeway system btw- a. Godsend!

MillyMollyMama Sat 25-Jan-14 19:08:34

Several worthwhile places are in LA. Totally agree with Mulholland Drive and the great view of the Hollywood sign at the end. Driving around the expensive neighbourhoods is fun for a bit too. We also went to the Getty Centre which is an amazing building in white stone finishes and great landscaping,not to mention its apart collections. Likewise the Getty Villa at Malibu. We really liked Santa Monica and the boardwalk to Venice Beach.

Also underestimated is Pasadena. The Huntington Library, Gardens and Art collection were wonderful. The 20 acre cactus garden is something else! There is also an old town and other museums in the area.

We also liked the Mission at Santa Barbara. That area is great and the beach is attractive. We also really rated Big Sur and Nepenthe Cafe has views to die for. In fact this area of Highway 1 is the best. San Franciso has plenty to do. Lots of museums, cable car rides, and the first glass fronted building in the world and the best tea in Yerba Buena Gardens.

Personally I would do Las Vegas and Arizona on another occasion - in the winter. Sooooo hot! There is plenty in California to keep anyone busy for weeks,and weeks!

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jan-14 09:15:07

If you have not already booked accommodation in Yosemite then this needs to be crossed off the list. It sells out fast.

Do not underestimate driving distances. CA as a state is vast and driving distances can be vast (the distance alone between SF and San Diego is over 500 miles. If you measure that in terms to the UK as well that's further than London to Edinburgh!) so I would choose 3, perhaps 5 at most places and spend a few days in each. You do not want to spend all of your time behind the wheel of a car driving from one city to another!.

Las Vegas in August is brutally hot, I've been there at that time of year and would not recommend it at all. Easter is the best time to go there.

I'd leave NYC off the list as well and spend all the holiday in CA.

NoArmaniNoPunani Sun 26-Jan-14 09:20:22

Watching with interest as we are going to Cali in September

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jan-14 12:22:27

Also internal flights within the US are not as cheap as they once were (and there are no discounts for children). Many carriers as well charge for extra bags if more than one bag is put in the aircraft hold.

Fancyashandy Sun 26-Jan-14 13:50:47

We have 26 days in the US so plenty of time to squeeze in NY and we haven't been before. A trip from the UK just to see NY for probably a few days is very expensive, much cheaper this way.

Will look at accommodation in Yosemite though and hope it's not booked out!

specialsubject Sun 26-Jan-14 16:46:10

there are gateway towns for Yosemite which may have space, usually about an hour from the valley. You'll see so much more once you dump the car, and most American National Parks are quiet once you are more than 500 yards from the car because most can't be arsed to walk. Make sure there is nothing edible or fragrant in your car if you do overnight in Yosemite.

each to their own - I was fascinated by Alcatraz, its history and stories, but I'm not 12 or 9. Also consider crossing the Golden Gate to Sausalito.

the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon is not day trip distance from Las Vegas. Flagstaff is a good gateway town.

check rules for kids in casinos.

charleybarley Sun 26-Jan-14 17:10:00

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CiderwithBuda Sun 26-Jan-14 17:23:04

We went last year too.

Hated Las Vegas. Far too busy and frenetic. We flew in and out of Vegas though so didn't have much choice!
Actually wasn't overly keen on San Francisco either this time. Went years ago and liked it more. We did enjoy Alcatraz. Didn't like the Exploratorium! We did it same day as Alcatraz though so were tired. DH and DS liked it but didn't love it.
Just up towards Fishermans Wharf from the Exploratorim is a bread shop called Boudin. It's busy downstairs but upstairs is a nice bar/restaurant. We ended up there twice as DS loved it. There is a museum and a tour and talk about the history. That was interesting for an hour or so.
Hire bikes to cycle over Golden Gate Bridge. We didn't but wished we had.
Grand Canyon was amazing but it is a long drive.
Yosemite and sequoia were great.

Am jealous. Would love to be doing it all again!

frenchfancy Tue 28-Jan-14 07:41:05

We are going in March (5 weeks and counting grin ).

We are flying into LA, and doing Disney straight away to get it over and done with (I've always hated the idea of Disney, but the kids are desperate to go) We are then heading down to San Diego where we've rented a lovely cottage for a few days (happy to share details if anyone is interested). We are planning to do whale watching and the zoo whilst there, but are skipping sea world in favour of the wildlife at la Jolla.

We are driving from San Diego out to Arizona to a dude ranch for 3 days (we all ride so this is a highlight for us) on from there to the Grand Canyon for 2 nights before driving back to LA for 4 days (cottage near Venice beach).

We have decided to skip Los Vegas as we would be there the first Friday of spring break and I don't think that would be a good idea with kids, and we are not doing San Francisco as we don't have as long as you and the distances are just too big.

I was worried about spending so long in LA but now I've read up on it I'm really excited, especially about Getty and the Huntington Library.

RudyMentary Tue 28-Jan-14 07:46:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Fancyashandy Tue 28-Jan-14 09:50:01

frenchfancy - Would love to hear some details on your dude ranch (do you have to be a rider?) and your cottage in San Diego. Wasn't going to go that far south but have heard good things about it.

So, so far we are looking at:

4 nts SF
3 nts Yosemite
3 nts down Pacific Highway maybe staying at Carmel or such
7 nts perhaps in Santa Barbara
1 or 2 nts LA for theme park
4 nts San Diego (big maybe)
Leaves 4nts for NY

This is just an estimate as got to start somewhere - so open to ideas and suggestions on best way to tackle itinerary - and any places not mentioned as I'm a bit clueless.

Love the sound of something like the dude ranch. Also anyone know how long roughly the drive is from SF to Yosemite and general other distances?

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