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California South to North Car Rental Too

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Im heading to California late Aug. Im going with my 2 sons age 15 and 12. We would like to arrive on a Tues and leave the following Thursday. Im flying into LA and then heading North to San Francisco. (Im severly afraid of heights, so Im doing south to north, my husband is not coming to do the driving) First, do you think I should go the week leading up to labor day and leave before the holiday or go the week of into Sept. School starts later in NY than California, so things may be a bit cheaper. We definitely want to do touristy stuff, especially in LA. Must dos: Star Tour, Chinese Theater, Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive, Huntington Beach. This is where Im getting confused and overewhelmed. Everything Ive been reading on here is basically North to South. I want to stop at Hearst Castle and Big Sur before San Francisco. I want to leave LA very early and Head to Hearst Castle. Do I stay over night there and head out next morning to Big Sur. I would like to spend a day at Big Sur sleep there (Need inexpensive clean safe hotels for these places) Car rental is killing me because of different drop off. I was thinking of keeping the car the first day in San Francisco just to go to Muir Forest. Then return. Can I get away without a car there. We want to do Alactraz, Lombardi Street, Fishermans Wharf, Chinatown. Are these things accessible without a car? Ok so here are the big questions: How many days would you spend in LA, Hearst Castle, Big Sur and then San Francisco. Its very hard to book hotels. Thank you so much for your help.

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