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California - totally overwhelmed by where to go!

(32 Posts)
CocktailsAndDreams Sun 11-Feb-18 12:12:25

This summer we are going to California. We have two DDs aged 12 & 13. We are going for two weeks. We've made a bit of a rookie error by booking (non-transferable) flights to and from San Francisco.

I'm trying to work out an itinerary for us but an getting overwhelmed by it all! 🤣 There is just so much to do!

Things that we difinitely want to do:

Alcatraz - going to book the night tour
Golden Gate bridge
Monterery, Big Sur drive etc
DH wants to do a couple of days in the wine valleys north of SF
Yosemite - looking for some kind of exciting activity rather than hiking
Death Valley
Maybe LA (I'm reluctant), so possible staying in Santa Monica?

How would you plan such a trip?

Also where to stay in any of these places? Looking at treating ourselves to a bit of luxury - this is our first long haul trip as a family and are prepared to go large.

didireallysaythat Sun 11-Feb-18 12:17:46

Death valley to Yosemite is a long way (a day of driving). You could do Yosemite (it will be packed so you might just find accomodation in the park this late), Napa valley, sequoias, SF, Big Sur etc. I'd perhaps leave Vegas and death Valley for another trip. LA is ok but doesn't have the central feel of SF. SD is great but you didn't mention wanting to go south for the sun.

mrwalkensir Sun 11-Feb-18 12:23:05

We did a three week loop round from San Francisco - via Yosemite, Sequoia, Mono Lake, Death Valley, Vegas (bit grim but kayaked on the Black Canyon which was lovely- could stay over in Boulder City instead). Then back up the coast - Santa Monica, Monterey, Morro Bay (sea otters ).

swimster01 Sun 11-Feb-18 12:58:38

It does take quite a lot of planning! I think you are trying to fit too much in though, especially with start and end in San Francisco. I would also add that weather on the Californian coast can be chilly and cloudy at that time of year so set your expectations accordingly.

The Big Sur drive may well be clouded in mist and was a let down, However, we really enjoyed Sequoia National Park, Monterey, Carmel, Julia Pfeiffer park, the spookiest beach ever (Monastery beach - not for swimming), elephant seals at San Simeon and Santa Barbara. We did Yosemite and Death Valley on a different trip but wasn't blown away - much preferred Sequoia.

AtlanticWaves Sun 11-Feb-18 13:04:15

We too preferred sequoia and kings canyon to Yosemite. Death Valley was good but wa did a 3 week trip from LA to SF so might be a bit far for you.

We went in august. The coast was cold (santa Barbara etc) and inland was hot!!! We had fog in SF and amazingly rain in Death Valley ! (First they'd had in 8 months).

Within 3 days of arriving in California I'd bought myself some jeans and DH a sweatshirt as we were too cold.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 11-Feb-18 16:43:17

Do not try and fit too much in because CA is a vast state (its bigger than the UK). I would leave Death Valley off altogether if you are going there in the summer months and/or driving there (its far too hot then).

You can get to Yosemite from SF by train and Monterey can be easily visited from SF as a day trip. You could stay in the Sonoma area for a couple of days as well; that is not all that far north from the SF area.

Muir Woods is also worth a visit and that is not far from SF either.

Aragog Sun 11-Feb-18 16:54:21

We are going to California this summer, with DD, who will be 16y. I have just recently finished booking the accommodation. We are going for 2 weeks. We are flying in and out of Oakland, just outside of San Francisco.

I ended up making myself a little spreadsheet table to plan it all!

Our plans are:

4 nights - San Francisco
1 night - Six Flags theme park
2 nights - Napa
1 night - Sacramento
2 nights - Yosemite (though staying at 2 different hotels due to limited accommodation left)
4 nights - Monterey

I have booked hotels/accommodation for all nights now, but not any of the activities yet.

We plan to go to Alcatraz on day 2 - we will be awake early due to jet lag and it is DH's birthday - so will be an ideal day. You book tickets 90 days before.

On day 5 we will be at the theme park, as DD is a big coaster fan. We all like theme parks here.

In Napa we want to do some wine tasting but not sure where yet.

On the first day in Yosemite we are staying in the Valley and will send the time having walks, etc. On the second day we are staying a bit further out and DD wants to go to the Pioneer Village.

In Monterey we will go to the Aquarium one day, whale watching another day (been researching whale watching companies and following a couple on FB to see what shows up) and on the final full day DH wants to do 18 mile drive, see Pebble Beach, etc.

We are focusing on the San Francisco and surrounding areas this visit. A couple of years ago we went to Las Vegas - LA - Santa Monica - Anaheim. But there was so much to do, we didn't want to keep moving on so last time just focused our time that way down, and planned to return - which we are doing this year.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 11-Feb-18 17:24:44

Aragog,

I would like to make a suggestion re Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. Do buy yourselves a Flash pass as it can save time with regards to waiting in line. These can be purchased in advance online from their website. Their new Harley Quinn crazy coaster is opening soon.

Aragog Sun 11-Feb-18 17:47:11

Yes, we've been having a look at those. We get express passes when at Universal. Just been asking a friend - they're fairly local - as to how busy it gets.

DoneDisappeared Sun 11-Feb-18 17:50:29

How long are you going to be there? It's totally possible to do a coastal loop, but I'd leave off Death Valley. It's far away and the desert is hell in the summer.

CharlieBoo Sun 11-Feb-18 20:03:35

Yeah avoid Death Valley.. there is literally nothing there.. Yosemite is fab

CharlieBoo Sun 11-Feb-18 20:05:17

You could do an internal flight to Vegas... it’s an experience. Friends of ours did it last year with their two (14 and 13) and said it was great fun..

woodlanddreamer Sun 11-Feb-18 20:10:03

Yosemite is fab, but stay in the actual park otherwise you will spend all your time driving in & out. Book now though, it may already be too late. We stayed in the framed tents which were fine. The main thing about California was how expensive it was to eat out. And the food in Yosemite was awful. Hotels are very expensive, we stayed mainly in Airbnbs.

CocktailsAndDreams Mon 12-Feb-18 15:01:39

Thanks so much - some amazing ideas here. Aragog I think I might have to cope your itinerary! What are you going in Sacramento? I was thinking we might do a day in San Jose and go to Winchester House, but if there's more to offer in Sacramento then I'll look at that.

Aragog Mon 12-Feb-18 17:25:33

Not really sure yet re Sacramento - just wanted a night's stop between Napa and Yosemite and dh mentioned Sacramento. Also an old school friend of DD's now lives near there so we my be meeting up with them. They said it was nice round the old town and river for a wander.

BubblesBuddy Mon 12-Feb-18 20:09:37

I too would leave out Death Valley. Way too hot in the summer. Inland will be baking but I love the redwoods north of SF.

On this trip I’m not sure you have time for LA, but don’t dismiss it for future holidays. It has wonderful areas and great things to see. The Getty Centre is world class. It’s best to avoid the tacky, in my view, but there is much to see and Santa Monica is lovely and a great base.

PineappleScrunchie Mon 12-Feb-18 20:18:46

I’ve stayed in Yosemite Valley but My favourite place to stay was Evergreen Lodge just outside the park. It’s about the same price but really luxurious cabins instead of the basic park accommodation. It’s about 40mins drive to the valley (from memory so you’d need to check). The drive is amazing though with loads of scenic views etc.

If I were you I wouldn’t try and go as far as Death Valley/Vegas and would focus on San Fran, Napa, Yosemite and maybe Big Sur/Monterey but check what roads are open because they’ve had ongoing closures due to damage on the coastal road.

CMOTDibbler Mon 12-Feb-18 20:25:12

I'm in Monterey right now, and last night we had dinner at the Hyatt in Carmel and it was totally amazing - you can whale watch from their restaurant during the day and the sunset was spectacular.
I really like Monterey (alas am here to work), and it would be worth a couple of days here to kayak out in the bay with the sea otters, go on a whale watching tour, go to the aquarium and then go on down the coast.

Ginger1982 Mon 12-Feb-18 20:42:53

We spent our honeymoon in California in October 2014 and SF was really cold! Definitely Alcatraz. Book the night tour well in advance. It was sold out when we tried so did day tour instead. Biked across GGB which was good. Bus tour was also good. Went to the zoo too! LA is a shithole - avoid. We did LV and enjoyed it, definitely Grand Canyon helicopter flight!

Ginger1982 Mon 12-Feb-18 20:43:43

We also went to the American football in San Jose and the baseball in SF. Really good!

woodlanddreamer Mon 12-Feb-18 20:51:41

Not sure the helicopter flights are going to be popular just now sad

BubblesBuddy Wed 14-Feb-18 17:26:36

LA is not a sh**hole if you choose wisely about where to go and where to stay. Tougher areas are totally avoidable. Quite honestly there are wonderful buildings, the drive along Mulholland Drive is spectacular and the Hollywood costume museum in the Max Factor factory is great. There is Paramount studios and Bel Air is fascinating. You just have to be discerning and not follow the herd.

Ginger1982 Wed 14-Feb-18 20:38:06

I'm clueless Woodland what's happened to the helicopter flights?

woodlanddreamer Thu 15-Feb-18 08:22:22

One crashed this week & people died.

JWIM Fri 16-Feb-18 03:11:37

OP - we have stayed at the Argonaut in SF and would recommend. If you go to Napa then we ate lunch at a lovely restaurant Bistro Don Giovanni.

Aragog if you/DH are interested in Classic Cars (Pebble Beach) then the main events are in the 3rd week of August around Monterey. On ?21 Aug (check date) there is a free event in Carmel where the Concorse cars arrive and park on a main street for part of the day.

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