Has anyone done a West USA road trip?(41 Posts)
My DH has a milestone birthday next year and we are planning a once in a life timetime type trip. Thinking a west USA road trip at the moment but I have no clue where to start.
We know we would like to do Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Vegas and the Grand Canyon but I’d really love some ideas for experiences/places that other people have been and loved. Perhaps a national park or lake or two?
I’m pushing for a month long trip but DH doesn’t think he could get longer than 3 weeks off. Re timing, from my initial research I’m thinking either May/June or September (hoping The former so it’s sooner!)
Has anybody done this and could perhaps share some wisdom or tips? Looking for anything helpful from best month to go, to places to visit, to whether to fly/drive or get an RV. Treat me as a total novice to this road trip lark
Thanks in advance!
We did this last year in August over three weeks and it was amazing. Here's our itinerary if it helps.
Flew to Vegas- didn't like and should have only stayed there one night.
Then drove through Death Valley-amazing scenery
Stayed for 2 nights at Mammoth Lakes--touristy but nice mountain town.
We were supposed to go to Yosemite but couldn't due to fires so ended up at lake tahoe instead. We didn't like it but think we just picked the wrong part.
Then on to san fransisco for 3 nights- loved it especially alcatraz. The food was great too.
Drove along highway one to see big sur- amazing views.
Stayed one night each at monterey and cambria--both nice but cambria very quiet.
One night santa monica--a bit cheesey but nice.
Then three nights in hollywood-- didn't like very grimey.
Two nights sandiego- felt much more relaxed than la and enjoyed the harbour and zoo.
One night lake havasu-- very quiet due to heat/humidity, and think its more popular in the spring.
2 nights grand canyon--amazing. We walked down into the canyon itself and the views were beautiful
Then back to Vegas for one night to fly home.
I think if you want to go to Yosemite then June is better as there might still be snow in May. Not sure though!
We had a car and stayed in motels but found ourselves wishing we'd done an rv instead and spent more time in the national parks rather than cities.
This is what we did:
Flew to San Diego
Picked up car
San Diego to Phoenix
Phoenix to Sedona
Sedona to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
Las Vegas to Death Valley
Death Valley to Lake Isabella
Lake Isabella to Yosemite
Yosemite to San Fran
San Fran back to San Diego via Monterey (whale watching) and Santa Monica
San Diego to home
We really didn’t enjoy Las Vegas and wouldn’t go back, however strategically it is a good stop between Grand Canyon
In the summer you could drive between Death Valley and Yosemite without having to go all the way around the Sierra Nevada mountain range - we went in winter so had to go the long way round. Hence the Lake Isabella stop. Wouldn’t particularly recommend it otherwise.
We loved Death Valley and wish we had spent more time there.
The coastal drive between San Fran and San Diego was lovely and a highlight.
Yosemite is amazing and would definitely recommend.
Wouldn’t recommend LA particularly but it might make sense if you get good flights into and out of there.
Yes - although we had a very long break.
Places I would not bother with - Vegas and probably LA.
Places we loved - Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Carmel, San Francisco.
Should have said Las Vegas is strategically a good stop between Grand Canyon and Death Valley
Definitely do Yosemite on the way up to San Francisco. Monterey's nice too (or it was when I went in 2003)
Years ago spent a month in an RV in the West. We had a baby and a toddler with us and its one of the best things we ever did. All the above itineraries sound good. What worked for us was getting an annual pass for the National parks (only $50 or so back then) and seeing Kings Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde and up to Yellowstone. All amazing, and we discovered national park campsites were almost always better and prettier than commercial sites. Outdoors in the west has more to offer than towns and cities, except maybe San Francisco which everyone agrees is tops. We actually liked Las Vegas for the change of pace. Super envious of OP. We talk all the time about going back.
I did exactly thus, I highly recommend Cartmel, the red woods and grand canyon at sun rise
Wow those tips and itinieries are fab and just what I was looking for so thank you.
I’ve always had the dream of doing a road trip in an RV but have heard they are troublesome in the cities. But then again whilst I would love to see LA/SF I wouldn’t want to stay in the cities the whole time so perhaps we could do a bit of both!
June looking likely then!
You could always have an RV for some of it and then ditch it when you get to a city. For our itinerary we had a sensible car (it was winter and snowy for parts!) for the San Diego-Phoenix-Sedona-Grand Canyon-Las Vegas-Death Valley-Yosemite-San Fran bit, this was all mostly wide roads/easy driving. We left it once we got to San Fran, had a few days in San Fran without any car and then picked up a convertible for the San Fran to San Diego (coastal) bit.
Although actually, should say bits of Death Valley and Yosemite aren’t easy driving but windy roads! But not busy and I’m sure it’s doable in an RV.
I have recently done a similar trip with DH and DC who are 11 & 8. We went at the end of May this year.
We flew into Vegas, spent a couple of days there getting over the jetlag. 2 days was plenty of time there I think. We picked up a car and went to Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, Montery, Pismo Beach and ended with a few days in LA where we did Disney & Universal.
We absolutely loved it! We had 15 days in total, it would have been lovely to have a bit more time in some of the places. My favourite was Death Valley & Yosemite, also loved Monterey and Pismo Beach.
I'm really jealous of you having this to look forward, I'm gutted out holiday has been and gone. It was amazing.
One of the most beautiful places I’ve been is monument valley, there’s a hotel in the park run by native Americans which has a view from each balcony . Far more impressive than the Grand Canyon I thought.
One of our best holidays was doing a circular route, LA, Grand Canyon, vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, Monterey , LA.
Everyone’s different but I loved Vegas but hated LA, good thing about this trip was the contrast between national parks, and the 3 very different cities
We went about 7 years ago and I think this was our itinerary and some of the sights we saw :
Flew to Las Vegas (4 days including day trip to Grand Canyon, probably one night too many).
Flew on to LA and picked up a car followed by :
1 night Hollywood (Hollywood tour, Westwood memorial park where Marilyn Monroe is buried, Troubadour, whisky a go go)
2 nights Santa Monica (cycling on the beach bike path, Venice beach, pier)
1 night Santa Barbara
1 night near Hearst Castle (don’t bother with this )
1 night in a cabin on BigSur Pfeiffer state park I think. Good walking in the area. Unfortunately there was a lot of fog and we couldn’t see a lot of the coast; I’m also led to believe that BigSur is more spectacular if you drive north to south.
2 nights Carmel, whale watching off Monterey , 17 mile drive (don’t bother).
4 nights San Francisco - Alcatraz, Napa Valley wine tour, cycling to Sausalito, walking tour in Haight Ashbury.
Was a brilliant trip!
I think you have to evaluate what sort of person you are! We disliked Las Vegas. One night there was too much! However those who cannot find anything to like in LA really do have a problem! Yes, you need a car and it’s better to stay in Santa Monica, but it has some great sights and buildings if you avoid the tacky trash! It just takes a bit of effort and you can really have a cultural visit! Look at Lonely Planet for ideas.
I think you could combine two holidays we have done. Start in SF. Spend time looking around the city. Go up north to see the redwoods and Sausalito. Then either go to Yosemite and / or do Highway 1. I would do Highway 1. Big Sur is fantastic and stop at Nepenthe cafe for the views. Whale watch off Monterey but stay in Carmel. Clint Eastwood wasn’t wrong! Lots of other places to see on your way down to LA and Santa Barbara.
In LA, you must see the Getty Centre. The most beautiful white hill top art gallery with views to die for. Go to Malibu and the Getty
Villa and drive along Mulholland Drive. Go to Paramount studios and drive around Bel Air. LA isn't far from Pasadena and that’s worth a visit for the Huntington Library and gardens. The 20 acre cactus garden is something else! So - nothing to see in LA!!!?
We have also been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and Mesa Verde and The Grand Canyon. We stayed at the Native American park hotels but be prepared for crap food. Good locations though.
We also travelled on to the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Telluride in Colorado. If you like Big Country and the real outdoors go here! It’s truly special and less overrun than Yosemite. Be a bit adventurous and you won’t regret it. Fly home from Denver and try and do 4 weeks. 2 weeks California and 2 weeks in Utah and Colorado. Stunning!
Why anyone wouldn’t bother with Hearst Castle is beyond me. Ditto the 17 mile drive. You can get lunch at Pebble Beach golf club. It just shows how you need to evaluate if you are a culture vulture or not! Or someone who appreciates the great outdoors!
Durango is one of my favourite places in the South West. We did a trip that included going up to Silverton on the train then down by minibus to go rafting on the river in Durango. Steamboat Springs is another nice mountain resort with lots going on.
Yes chemenger! Totally agree. We did very similar! I realised my post was so long I missed some great bits out. Jeep trip (seriously off road) from Auray or Durango is also amazing!
Mine wasn't a road trip as I flew! But I did the following.
Yosemite - amazing.
San Francisco - loved it
Vegas - only couple of nights as a base for Grand Canyon. Not any feelings one way or the other.
LA - ok. But not great. I like wandering and it didn't seem to lend itself to that.
Grand Canyon - bit of a let down after Yosemite to be honest!
Moab is another great town, apart from Arches and Canyonlands National Parks there is Dead Horse Point State Park which has Thelma and Louise point. You can go on river trips or jeep trips on the slick rock as well. Good food there too.
I loved our west USA road trip. We flew into San Francisco - loved Alcatraz, my personal highlight.
Drove down the big sur and coast road stopping at San Luis Obispo. Spotted whales on the way and stopped to watch, they were amazing. Stayed st the apple farm and highly recommend in San Louis obispo.
We weren’t fussed about Hearst castle either - we have plentiful stunning stately homes/grand houses over here. It was so crowded.
Drove to LA, spent 5 nights and that was too long. Saw what we wanted to see and weren’t great fans of LA itself. Stayed in Santa Monica.
Drove to Vegas, we spent 3 nights there and loved it, but that was enough. We didn’t do the Grand Canyon, huge mistake.
Flew to New York! (Wouldn’t have done this but huge pressure from friends who live there)
Have done Yosemite/San Francisco/napa valley in the past.
Everyone loves different things, and you’ll have your own favourite memories.
But even my least favourites I would do again, just love America.
Have fun planning, the planning is almost as exciting as the holiday!
We did it. Don't bother with an RV.
Flew to Phoenix
San Luis Obispo
It was brilliant and we did it all in two weeks.
Either of those times of year is good - quieter and not too hot/cold.
I've done it in several shorter trips - but in 3 weeks you could definitely do a lot - depends on how tiring you find lots of driving/sightseeing. I'd go car rather than RV there's loads of motels/hotels.
Highlights for me (in no particular order)
Coast road SF to Big Sur (incl Monterey for wildlife)
San Diego/La Jolla
Napa/Sonoma (only if you like wine)
I am thinking of this for a couple of years time when dd3 has finished school. What kind of cost for a 3-4 week trip for family of four? Probably Car/motel. Need to start planning!
We did a similar trip and loved it! Flew into San Fran, then Yosemite, death valley, mono lake, horseshoe bend, around the grand canyon, the big meteor crater, the Hoover dam then vegas, whole trip was almost 3 weeks.
Highlights were death valley - so many cool things to see, rhyolite - a ghost town just outside death valley, horseshoe bend - Google it, it honestly looks that beautiful in person, mono lske is just so different to anything we've ever seen, the meteor crater is pretty cool, and all the different terrain, from the trees and snow in Yosemite, to the dry acrid death valley, and the grand canyon is just epic!
I have done similar to all the above a few years ago. They are all nice places but you absolutely HAVE to go to Yosemite. It is literally the most stunning place I have ever been - the view from Glacier Point is just unbelievable... I cried!!! (I didn't scream though, that's only for the Michelangelo )
Grand Canyon - bit of a let down after Yosemite to be honest!
Yes I wasn't as impressed by the Grand Canyon either. I think it's because it's so hyped up, whereas I didn't know much about Yosemite before we went there.
Obviously its still amazing and definitely worth a visit though!
We looked at an rv but there were a lot of extras; slower driving times, more fuel use, bedding, towels, cutlery&crockery etc. It worked out cheaper for us to get a better car and stay in motels, these were very nice and much nicer than the UK equivalent! Hotels largely a waste of money over there imo, again lots of extras. Also rv parking can be limited - i seem to remember lots of roads in Santa Barbara not allowing rv parking.
@caranx my family took a similar route as yours. How did you find driving through the hills and curves after leaving Monterrey? I found driving through miles and miles of sharp curves and and steep hills unsettling.
We've also stayed at Apple Farm Inn in San Luis Obispo, an absolute must! Both the town and the hotel, gorgeous. I'd also recommend Santa Barbara. Beautiful place, amazing fish restaurants!
@bevelino haha you're right I don't like heights so I think I screamed my way around some of the bends - at least the roads are wider than the UK
I thought the Grand Canyon was amazing. So much bigger than I was expecting and in late October far less crowded but with blue skies and it was plenty warm enough.
I really cannot understand why pps don’t like LA. No, it’s not a small wandering around sort of place but it has some outstanding buildings and scenic drives. You have to look outside and beyond the hype and silly stars in the streets. If you do a bit of research and are the type of person that appreciates fine buildings, neighbourhoods, cuisine and museums it really can deliver. But no, it’s not a mooching place.
We did a similar 3.5 week trip (by car, staying in a mix of hotels):
San Diego for a couple of days to get over flights - zoo, La Jolla, USS Midway; Stone Brewing at Escondido does tours and good food.
Couple of nights LA - Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, Griffith Observatory, drive through Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier (plus boys wanted to do Universal Studios). DH and I had done the Getty on a previous trip.
Drive up the coast and along Big Sur - Morro Bay was a nice stop off; elephant seals, glass beach, Carmel, Monterey. Santa Cruz has an old fashioned boardwalk.
San Francisco (we stayed in Oakland and got the train in) for wandering around and Alcatraz.
Then north to Lassen Volcanic NP (my favourite park), down to Reno and Mammoth Lakes and a side trip to Bodie ghost town. We didn’t stop too long in Yosemite as it was July and heaving - Kings Canyon and Sequoia NPs are much quieter and also impressive (on a smaller scale).
Across Death Valley, a couple of nights in Vegas (so we could fit in a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon), down to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree (and a Stop off on the San Andreas fault) and back to San Diego.
We tend to book through Hotels.com to collect free nights. Lots of driving but we got to see loads of different things.
Anyone mind telling me how much this would cost? Thinking of doing something similar.
We did a smaller road trip for my 30th:
Flew to San Francisco (3 night)
Drove to Yosemite (2 nights)
Drove through Death Valley (1 night)
Ended in Las Vegas (4 nights)
San Francisco was lovely, we were there for 4th July and spent it on a boat in the harbour watching the fireworks
Yosemite was amazing and I would easily recommend it for a longer stay
Death Valley was nice to drive through it and say you've been there, but I wouldn't bother stopping over. It's much of a muchness after an hour of driving!
Las Vegas is definitely a marmite place - we love it. It was there I turned 30 and DH arranged a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon which was a brilliant way to see it. We also had dinner at a gorgeous restaurant and saw a Cirque du Soleil show.
Have a look at an app called 'Roadtrippers ' - it's excellent for planning trips like this and will show you driving times between places, as well as points of interest along the way.
Definitely May / June as the waterfalls in Yosemite are great then.
We did a 3 week trip but that included a couple of nights in NY on the way there.
We flew to San Francisco for 3 nights then rented a car and drove first to Yosemite then down highway 1 to Monterrey, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica then over to Grand Canyon via Las Vegas.
The highlights were Yosemite where we stayed in a wooden cabin and saw a bear and Grand Canyon where we stayed right at the rim. We did a fantastic trip which was flying over the Grand Canyon in a small plane, visiting Antelope Canyon then sailing along the Colorado River through the canyons.
Not so keen on Vegas. One night was enough.
If you are on facebook there is a group called 'California dreamers and west coast wanderers' really useful group!
Yup, I did this years ago on a shoestring after a conference when still a student. Stayed in youth and indie hostels if we could the whole time. SanFran was our startpoint, picked up the car and drove straight out over the Golden Gate to Muir Woods, stayed in a coast hostel that night. Then wine country, and down to Sacramento. Out to Yosemite and a night in a tent cabin in Yosemite valley. Following day out via Mono lake and down the back of the Sierra, and then on to Vegas. I hated it. But good starting point for Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and Bryce Canyon and back to Vegas after we decided not to go to Monument valley. Then a loong day drive to San Diego and day trip to Mexico, then up hwy 1 to LA, and gradually back to SF.
Best holiday ever. Worth it just for Yosemite and Bryce.
Would love to do it again but it was half a life ago. Go if you can.
Hi OP, just a word or two on Grand Canyon (GC)
There’s 3 locations that make up GC, north , south and west.
North is fairly remote and i don’t think it fits with your itinerary, west is closest to LV, it’s on Indian reservation land and is where the glass walkway is located. South is a couple of hours further on from west but is the place with its own ‘village’ with hotels (£££). It’s where the canyon is widest , there are tarmaced cycle route along the rim , buses to take you to other viewing spots and paths down into the canyon. There’s a town called Tusayen just 5 minutes south with chain hotels, it’s where we stayed.
We are going this summer;
Just changing our hotel in LA ...Really stuck where to stay.
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