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So DH and I are hoping to do 3 weeks in califotnia next summer, but I have absolutely no idea where to start. Ideally we would fly BA to San Francisco as we have lots of air miles and then hire a car and fly back from another point, but what to do in the middle of that is difficult because there seems to be so much.
Amy recommendations of itenary? We will have children 18, 12 and 10. DH wants to drive over the golden gate bridge, I really want to do Yosemite or death valley and DS1, wants to do some theme parks with big rides!
We did Cali two years ago when DD was 15 and DS, 11. Flew into San Fran, drove to Yosemite then back to Monterey and down to LA. I would have liked longer, so much to see!
We all loved San Francisco. We cycled over the GG bridge (none of us are really cyclists - got the ferry back!), I think that was much better than driving would have been.
Monterey was lovely, whale watching trip a must. The drive down was spectacular.
LA, we did Warner Bros studio tour, Griffith Observatory, only did one day at a theme park (Universal) although we'd originally planned more there was enough other stuff the kids wanted to do. You only need a few days in LA imo.
If you fly back from the same place you will find car rental a lot cheaper. California is rare among US states in that you do not pay for an additional driver so that's a bonus.
I would do a loop: starting at SF, head down Highway 1 via Monterey and Big Sur to LA. Don't stay long in LA. Then head across through Joshua Tree to the Mojave National Preserve taking in some bits of Route 66, up to Death Valley, Yosemite and back to SF.
Use Roadtrippers.com to plan your route. It will tell you what's near the route based on your interests and will also give you an idea of fuel costs.
Honestly, with children of that age, going to Yosemite and Death Valley is going to add a huge amount of driving for you to just sit in the car and look out.
Personally I'd fly into SFO, spend a week there doing cycle the Golden gate, go to the Japanese tea gardens, Alcatraz, trams, museums, then pick up a car, go to Monterey for a few days (whale watching, kayak tour in the bay with the sea otters, more whale watching - I saw an orca breeching in the bay from my hotel balcony last time I was there), drive down the coast via Carmel, do some beaches, stop along the way en route to LA. A few days in LA going to the tar pits (not as good as you think, but cool in their own way), museums, lunch in Beverley Hills. Then head to the theme parks in the Anaheim area and maybe have a week there to chill out
Using airmiles alone on BA may be problematic due to overall lack of availability; you may well have to use miles and money. You may also have to be flexible on dates.
I would avoid Death Valley in high summer; its way too hot and you won't be able to stand being out of the car for very long. You may also find that Yosemite accommodation is already full for next summer too although you may be able to stay outside the park. What you are proposing involves an awful lot of driving and you could well spend most of your holiday behind the wheel. CA as a state as well is about the size of the UK and many people do underestimate distances and drive time.
Would certainly recommend a visit to Six Flags at Valencia (this is about 40 minutes north from the northern reaches of LA). I would suggest doing a two centre holiday with say 10 days in SF and the same in LA.
If you do visit the Warner Bros studios tour do the longer tour rather than the shorter one (the longer tour is more detailed and includes a very nice meal in their Commissary) and book this in advance online.
I too would miss out Death Valley and if you want air miles you need to be quick. Ditto with Yosemite. However SF is wonderful and a drive out to the vineyards or north of SF is worth it. SF has lots of great things to see and do. Fisherman’s Wharf is naff but there is a lot else that’s great. The first curtain wall glass fronted building is in SF.
We also enjoyed whale watching off Monterey and the 17 mile drive. Carmel is a brilliant place to stay for a few days too. As is Santa Barbara. There are missions to visit and Hearst Castle. Big Sur and Nepenthe Cafe are wonderful.
Don’t overlook LA. There’s more there than yukky Hollywood Boulevard! The Getty Centre is world class and so is the Getty Villa at Malibu. There are great iconic drives such as Mulholland Drive and Venice Beach is worth a visit. If it’s still there, the Max Factor make up and Hollywood costume museum is a little gem. We also liked the Paramount Studios tour.
A trip to the Huntington library and Gardens at Pasadena is great and there is a fantastic car museum at Pasadena too. You have beaches all the way. Forget doing too much driving and kick back for a bit. You really don’t want to spend 3 weeks in a car.
It’s perfectly ok to do one way and not round trip. Most people do!
We did California last summer and car rental one way is no more expensive if you stay within the state. So dropping off at LA no problem, dropping off at LV big hike in price.
Thank you everyone, lots to think about. Think we will probably have to postpone till 2020 due to costs and the craziness of flights in July!
My tip on flight prices is to watch out for Thomas Cooks flights. I don't think they have released yet for next summer -but they are good value. We went in June from Man- SFO direct for about £400 each. They fly Sundays and Thursday I think.
I love California - have only really visited north Cal - other than Anaheim for Disneyland as a child, and a few trips to Yosemite back then.
If you can't be bothered organising a Yosemite trip (it is worth it if you can fit it in) then how about Lake Tahoe? It's a little further of a drive - but you can stop over in Sacramento which is quite interesting or Lodi/Murphys for some wine country.
Loved it. Landed in SF then drove to Yosemite and onto Carmel and Monterey. Santa Barbara, Laguna and Santa Monica/LA.
We arrived in LA, did theme parks, then drove down to San Diego, more theme parks, then nipped over the Mexican border (on foot) to Tijuana, then drove over to Flagstaff Arizona, then up to Grand Canyon (flight over), then drove over Hoover Dam to Las Vegas, then through Death Valley to Yosemite, finally ending in San Francisco where we did Alcatraz, GG bridge and up to Napa Valley for wine tasting. Then flew back out of SF. Did all that in just 2 weeks, so you've have plenty of time for more or rest if you had 3 weeks.
We've just come back from three weeks in California. Flew to Vegas from Manchester for 700 each (cheaper than San Fran or La). Hired a car and drove through death valley stopping at Mammoth Lakes for two nights. We were then supposed to go to Yosemite but it was closed due to wildfires so we went to lake tahoe instead. Then on to San Francisco. From there we drove the Pacific coast highway stopping at monterey, cambria and santa monica. Then LA and San Diego. Then lake havasu city before heading to the grand canyon. Then back to vegas to return the car and fly home.
We absolutely loved big sur and the national parks, but hated LA....
Try Air New Zealand out of London into LA.
Couple of days in LA but stick to the tourist areas, it's quite dangerous in some communities.
Have to drive highway 1 up to San Fran. Do GG bridge, Alcatraz etc. Yosemite from there, then down to Vegas through Death Valley.
Quick over night in Palm Springs then SAN Diego (very pretty) up the coast back to LA.
To all of those saying a few days is fine in LA- are you mad? 😀 We went to LA for 10 days earlier this year and it was absolutely brilliant, we didn't even scratch the surface of it in that time. With the exception of the walk of fame, EVERYTHING was better than we expected. We will go back for sure.
We also flew Air New Zealand from London, they are a fantastic airline. Comfy seats, great entertainment, free drinks and snacks and friendly staff. Quicker than the expected times too, they knocked almost an hour off the expected flight times each way.
We just got back
Flew to LA then drove to San Diego for 6 days-
Surfing, the zoo, the old town and lots of relaxing
Drove to LA- stayed in silver lake, trendy hipster area and easy walk to eat out. Drove to topanga beach in Malibu one day and then had another sightseeing around the pier in Santa Monica, rodeo drive.
Then on to Monterey and Carmel. We stayed in Carmel as the weather is better but did whale watching, and visited the aquarium. Also did a hike around pint lobos. Stunning.
Up to Santa Cruz. Nothing special.
Then on to Napa and San Fran. San fransciao was five for the touristy bits like driving over the bridge, Alcatraz, the bendy street. But the city itself was dirty. We didn’t like it so much. It’s quite run down in places with lots of homelessness.
The to Napa which is lovely but not much to do except drink wine and eat well!
We loved LA so much to see and do and has a ton of culture.
We loved the drive up big sur and being in the Monterey area. Blew our minds.
Our kids are 10 and 6, netherare intertested in rides so the parks are wasted on them.
It’s a beautiful state and we met so many beautiful friendly people. It’s expnsive though. $5 for a load of bread! $100 for a meal out easy for the 4 of us.
We flew into LA and out of SFO, hired a big car. Flights were with virgin Atlantic and were £2k for us all.
Car hire was £1.7k for the duration. We took $3k spending money. We had booked our accommodation beforehand.
I’m jet lagged like crazy now so sorry for typos!
Done this twice.
Fly into SF. Stay in SF 2 nights, you won't need a car yet! Visit Alcatraz, ride the trams, go to Height Ashbury ( where the summer of love started in the 60 s, the kids will love the vibe there).
Pick up car, drive to Yosemite. Stay outside the park for 2 nights, try Yosemite Bug, again very laid back for teens. Drive to Grand Canyon and stay in cabin 2 nights. This needs booking well in advance! Drive to Las Vegas, stay 2 nights. Get your hotel through Hotwire. We stayed at MGM Grand in a massive suite for £50 a night.
Drive to Death Valley and down Route 66. We stayed north of LA, and the DCs had surfing lessons. Drive back up the Pacific coast highway, visit Big Sur, Cartmel, go to the sea life centre in Cartmel.
Back to SF. Drop car off. We stayed another couple of nights in a nice hotel.
Getting too and from the airport in in SF is an absolute doddle on the train. Take your own sat nav, and get your own car hire insurance in the UK before you go, it will save you a fortune. Most of the chain hotels have laundry facilities so you don't need to take loads of clothes. I did our washing before we came home, so brought back cases full of clean clothes 👍🏻👍🏻
Remember, under 21s can't drink alcohol, and many bars won't allow them in. Plan to have big breakfasts!
Oh, and if you book your flights, first coup,e of nights in SF hotel, and car hire through a tour operator, you'll get a better deal and they will be ATOL protected. We used Dial A Flight. Then we booked all the other hotels ourselves online. It's important to remember that if you book everything yourselves online, if one thing goes wrong, you have no recourse for the others, so if your flight is delayed, you still have to pay for your hotel room, whereas doing what we did, the travel agent sorts out issues.
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