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Advice on travel itinerary for SF, LA, LV, GC, Yosemite national park

Advice on travel itinerary for SF, LA, LV, GC, Yosemite national park

Old Dec 28th, 2022, 12:22 AM
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Advice on travel itinerary for SF, LA, LV, GC, Yosemite national park

Hello everyone! This is the first time I'm posting here. I found this forum to be very helpful when planning a trip to Italy and was wondering whether you could offer some advice/suggestions. My husband and I will be travelling to the US from Cyprus (probably via London or Germany) for the first time in mid September 2023. We're not sure when we'll be able to return to the US so we'd like to cover as such as practically possible, but for our trip to still be enjoyable and not spend most of our time travelling from one place to another.
We'd like to visit SF, LA, LV, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park. I'm a bit overwhelmed and don't know where to start in order to plan this trip. Some important information:
- We're in our early thirties and like both big cities and nature. We'd like to see both on this trip.
- We haven't booked any flights yet so we're flexible on that front - we estimate to spend around 16-17 nights in total (including travel). Travel time from Cyprus to LA is around 21.5 hours. I looked at flying in SF and out of LA, but the flights are much more expensive if they're one way, so I think it would make sense to fly in and out of the same airport and LA has the cheapest and most options.
- We have friends who live close to LA and have a car and who will be able to travel with us on most days. They won't be able to join us in SF, so I was thinking of going to SF first or last. However, I'm not sure how Yosemite would fit it in this case.
- Regarding number of nights in each place, I was roughly thinking 4 nights in SF, 4/5 nights in LA (one day could potentially include Disneyland/Universal Studios), 2 nights in LV, 1 night at Grand Canyon and 2 nights in Yosemite.
If you have any suggestions on how to go on about this they would be much much appreciated! Please let me know if any important information is missing from my message.

Thank you in advance!

Christina
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 06:42 AM
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Mid-September is a good time to go as it's past the main tourist season. Don't miss Yosemite as it may be the premiere national park. You can take a tour bus from SF to the park. It's an all-day excursion and costs around $180 per person. It would be nice if you could fit in a visit to Zion National Park which also a premiere national park and it is only 3 hours away from LV.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 06:54 AM
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Hi! Many thanks for your reply. I do want to prioritize Yosemite and it's definitely one of the places we'd like to visit. I think we would prefer to stay there, at least for one night, so as to be able to spend more time there.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 07:11 AM
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Welcome to Fodors.

17 days sounds like a generous amount of time but you are talking about vast distances. How important to you are Yosemite in particular as well as Las Vegas?

Originally Posted by PrairieHikerI View Post
Mid-September is a good time to go . . ..
Not always. September is the very worst of our fire season and Yosemite could be either too smokey to see anything - OR entirely inaccessible with road closures. The last several years fires in the Aug/Sept time frame have been awful. And bear in mind, even if there are no fires in or very near Yosemite the air quality/visibility can be impacted by fires a hundred miles away.

OR . . . it could be absolutely fine -- but you won't possibly know until the time of travel.

As for Las Vegas - September is generally a little cooler than August but daytime temps can still range well over 100F / 38C but everything is air conditioned of course.

Just something to consider: From LA maybe take two days and fly to Phoenix and hire a car to drive to the Grand Canyon, stay one night then back to PHX. Fly PHX to SFO and stay a few days.in San Francisco Then hire a car and drive down the magnificent California coast seeing Sant Cruz (including coastal Redwoods) Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, several wine regions, Santa Barbara and end up back in LA.

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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 07:12 AM
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oh -- didn't see your 2nd post. Unfortunately forest fires are a fact of life in the mountains of California.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 07:23 AM
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Hello, welcome to Fodor's! Since your friends with the car live near Los Angeles, I would fly to LAX. Spend whatever time you want in Los Angeles and then have them drive you to Yosemite (via Fresno to south entrance). Spend some time in Yosemite and then have your friends drop you off at the Merced Amtrak station. The #713 San Joaquin train leaves Merced ( MCD) at 11:23AM (current schedule) . It takes you to Emeryville CA where you board an Amtrak bus for a 30 minute ride into downtown San Francisco arriving before 4PM.
When you are done with San Francisco, fly to Las Vegas. If your friends can't come to Las Vegas to drive you to see the Grand Canyon. you might have to rent a car or take one of the long bus tours that start early in the morning from Las Vegas. Did you plan on renting a car at some point on your trip? On the way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, be sure to stop to see Hoover Dam if you are in a car instead of a bus.
After you have seen the Grand Canyon, return to Las Vegas. You can fly from Las Vegas back to LAX for your return flight or you could fly to someplace in the eastern US for a shorter flight back home.
Have fun planning and taking your trip!
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 07:33 AM
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Do note that depending on where exactly in the enormous LA basin your friends live -- the drive to Yosemite could take from 6 to 10 hours without stops.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 08:19 AM
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potential itinerary:

Land in LA and then do the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite, San Francisco, depart from San Francisco. My feeling is that it would leave out the Big Sur coast. It can be done by eliminating the Grand Canyon. Arrive in LV, and then Yosemite, SF, the coast and leave from LA. However, an open jaw ticket suggests dropping off the car in a different state which could be too expensive, depending on your budget.


Last edited by Michael; Dec 28th, 2022 at 08:41 AM. Reason: adding a thought
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 09:26 AM
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If your friends can't get you to Yosemite, you could take the Amtrak Coast Starlight north from Los Angeles to Emeryville with the bus over to San Francisco. You can get a San Joaquin train from Emeryville to Merced and wait for a YARTS bus into Yosemite from the Merced train station. There is also YARTS bus service from Yosemite Valley back to Fresno if you wanted to fly from Fresno (FAT) to Las Vegas.
The view from the northbound Coast Starlight is great for a few miles coming into Santa Barbara.
There is also a 1AM bus out of Los Angeles Union Station that connects with a northbound San Joaquin train from Bakersfield to Fresno or Merced which would get you to Yosemite earlier.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 03:34 PM
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From Las Vegas to Grand Canyon, AZ is over 4 hours drive each way, so one overnight gives you precious little time to actually seeing the GC....
You can fly from Las Vegas to many European alrline hubs - so consider that as a departure point for your trip back to Cyprus as well. It would save backtracking all the way to SF or LA.

Same for Phoenix AZ - one stop to LCA, connecting in London.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 11:25 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
Welcome to Fodors.

17 days sounds like a generous amount of time but you are talking about vast distances. How important to you are Yosemite in particular as well as Las Vegas?



Not always. September is the very worst of our fire season and Yosemite could be either too smokey to see anything - OR entirely inaccessible with road closures. The last several years fires in the Aug/Sept time frame have been awful. And bear in mind, even if there are no fires in or very near Yosemite the air quality/visibility can be impacted by fires a hundred miles away.

OR . . . it could be absolutely fine -- but you won't possibly know until the time of travel.

As for Las Vegas - September is generally a little cooler than August but daytime temps can still range well over 100F / 38C but everything is air conditioned of course.

Just something to consider: From LA maybe take two days and fly to Phoenix and hire a car to drive to the Grand Canyon, stay one night then back to PHX. Fly PHX to SFO and stay a few days.in San Francisco Then hire a car and drive down the magnificent California coast seeing Sant Cruz (including coastal Redwoods) Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, several wine regions, Santa Barbara and end up back in LA.
Thank you for your suggestions and letting me know about the fires. I did hear about the fires, but I hadn't realized that it could be this bad and that September is the worst month, it's definitely something I'll have in mind. I'm guessing we could book accommodation in the park and in case there are fires we'll cancel and do something else instead. I read on other threads that it books up really fast, but the reservation system was down yesterday, I'll have a look again soon! Regarding the alternative itinerary, this is something that we could potentially do in case we don't end up going to Yosemite. I did read that the areas you mentioned are beautiful, but unfortunately we won't have time to fit everything in and I wanted to prioritise Yosemite, as it's a completely different landscape from anything I've ever seen.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 11:27 PM
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Thank you so much Tom! This is really helpful and it sounds like a good plan, we'll look into it more.
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Old Dec 28th, 2022, 11:30 PM
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Originally Posted by J62 View Post
From Las Vegas to Grand Canyon, AZ is over 4 hours drive each way, so one overnight gives you precious little time to actually seeing the GC....
You can fly from Las Vegas to many European alrline hubs - so consider that as a departure point for your trip back to Cyprus as well. It would save backtracking all the way to SF or LA.

Same for Phoenix AZ - one stop to LCA, connecting in London.
Thank you for the suggestion, I'll have a look at the flights and see whether this works and how much they cost!
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Old Dec 29th, 2022, 07:38 AM
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I'm sorry to add what might be additional negative information, but another factor about visiting Yosemite in September is that the famous waterfalls in Yosemite Valley - some of the key attractions - may well be reduced to trickles, or even dry, given the ongoing drought conditions prevailing across California and the West. Of course, the valley is still quite beautiful, and in September it will be just as full of visitors as in other seasons (accommodation within the national park is the limiting factor) so one can still enjoy Yosemite. But I think it's safe to say that between the risk of fires and smoke, and the absence of much water over the falls, it's not the ideal time to visit. If you could transport your whole trip to the late spring, say May/June, I think you'd be altogether happier with all your destinations. No idea if that's possible, but thought I'd mention it.

I'd also mention that while Yosemite is indeed beautiful, it's just one of many, many beautiful destinations in the American (or Canadian) west that one can reach in that time frame. I hesitate to start making lists, and I do NOT want to hijack your holiday plans. But let me mention a few areas you could think about and maybe do some research, bearing in mind the season and your time constraints.

Monterey Bay and Big Sur. A couple of hours south of San Francisco, this is an incredibly "target rich" region featuring some of the best scenery in California (or the whole US) as well as fascinating history and natural wonders without equal. Google the places on this map - https://goo.gl/maps/r3d852HrB3bxt4tX7

California redwoods. These stunning trees, located in coastal areas ranging from the central California coast up to the Oregon state line, are beyond awesome. I've taken numerous friends from overseas on road trips that included the redwoods, and 100% of them - without exception - said the big trees were the highlight of their trips. The best groves are a half-day's drive north from San Francisco. Google the places on this map: https://goo.gl/maps/4uG6YFJyReFbJzLSA

Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Just east of Portland, Oregon, the awesome Columbia River has created a deep canyon that features numerous waterfalls (that don't dry up) along the south wall of the gorge. At the east end of the "waterfall zone" is the small town of Hood River, situated at the bottom of the Hood River Valley. This valley, full of orchards and vineyards that will be in full harvest mode in September, extends south to the base of Mount Hood, one of the stratovolcanoes that dot the Cascade Mountains. You can drive up the slopes of Mount Hood to the iconic and historic Timberline Lodge, and from there via chairlift to the permanent icefields on the mountainside. There are countless hikes in the region, wineries, breweries, the eclectic Maryhill Museum (Rodin in the sagebrush) and more. This is a superb destination at the time you're traveling, all easily reached (within an hour or so) of Portland International Airport. Again, google the places: https://goo.gl/maps/ef8KAH6WWmDoZ3hg6

It's worth noting that domestic flights within the US are not expensive. For example, a one-way flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco in September is around US$50 - $60. From Vegas to Portland (should you choose that option) the price is around $120. So using some quick domestic flights, both to save time and to reduce one-way hire car penalties, is an easy fix.

Secomd, look at "open jaw" flight itineraries for your transatlantic flights, i.e., home to city A, return from city B. These are usually found via "multi-city" options on online travel sites, and usually cost almost the same as simple return trips. For example, for a three-week trip starting in late August, a return ticket from Larnaca to Los Angeles costs €888. For the same dates, an "open jaw" ticket, Larnaca to Las Vegas, San Francisco back to Larnaca, costs €907. (Both are via London in both directions.)

Finally, I'll say that Las Vegas is an excellent "port of entry" for overseas visitors, especially those subject to 9- or 10-hour time changes. It's a 24-hour city, so if the bedside clock says 2 AM but your body clock says noon, no problem, head downstairs where there will be plenty of action, plenty of places to eat and drink, or head outside to watch the sun rise over the desert, well before the heat of the day.

Anyway, just some suggestions.

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Old Dec 29th, 2022, 11:07 AM
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>> looked at flying in SF and out of LA, but the flights are much more expensive if they're one way,

I read this thread from bottom up and saw that. Just want to point out what Gardyloo said about doing a multi-city search for the international travel. You can close that open jaw using inexpensive one-way domestic fares or car travel.

I made a trip that covered the same stops that you are considering.My brother flew to LAX to visit me and then we flew to Las Vegas.

One morning, we took a flight tour from as Vegas to Grand Canyon then bus tour to a couple of the most magnificent viewpoints of the canyon, stop for lunch (bright angel, iIRC), fly back to LAS and got a view of Hoover Dam on the way. From pickup to drop off at a hotel on the strip, it took matbe 6 hours.

Flew from Las Vegas to Fresno, picked up a car and drove up to Yosemite for a few days. Drove on to San Francisco for a couple days and he flew home and I flew back to LAX. I don't remember paying a one-way rental car drop off fee. If there was a fee then it didn't even get to the bite-the-bullet level. I likely got the car via costco travel. IDK what fees or costs would apply for a foreign renter.

Of course Grand Canyon is worth more than 6 hours. Those tour flights might allow for overnight(s) stays or one-way flights to/from GCN airport. Best airport for GC is Flagstaff.

How Do I Travel to the South Rim ? - Grand Canyon National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
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Old Dec 29th, 2022, 12:24 PM
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I have been to Yosemite during all four seasons and I find that any time you go it is a magnificent place, regardless of whether there is water falling over Yosemite Falls or not....

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Old Dec 29th, 2022, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by J62 View Post
I have been to Yosemite during all four seasons and I find that any time you go it is a magnificent place, regardless of whether there is water falling over Yosemite Falls or not....

But not when it is so smokey you can't tell if there is water falling or not.

I've been to YNP at least once in every month of the year except February (My one and only Feb trip was cancelled because of too much snow and not wanting to use chains). Spent my January honeymoon in Yosemite Valley. The only times I would not visit in future are July/Aug - mostly due to crowds . . . and any time there are wild fires in/near the area.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2023, 04:44 AM
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Gardyloo I tried replying above, but for some reason it doesn't post the reply, it seems I haven't figured out how to properly post here. Thank you so much for the valuable information and suggestions. I didn't know about the option of open jaw flights so this is really helpful and much appreciated! Do you mind sharing the site you used for finding the Larnaca ticket you mentioned as an example? Unfortunately it's not possible to change the timing of our trip, but we'll definitely start considering alternatives to Yosemite, as it's not convenient to do along the other destinations. Re Vegas, thank you for the advice, it does make a lot of sense. However, we'll probably visit San Francisco first, as our friends will be able to join us on later dates and we won't do San Francisco together, so it works better if we go there first. However, we might leave Vegas for last and leave from there.

mrwunrfl janisj J62 tomfuller thank you all for weighing in!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2023, 06:21 AM
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I saw the flight prices using a very valuable resource, ITA software (now owned by Google) which serves as the "engine" behind some of the major online travel agencies like Kayak and Orbitz. Here's the site: Search flights || ITA Matrix by Google (itasoftware.com)

It's very worthwhile to learn the ITA "syntax," which will allow you to create great specificity in your searches. You can specify multiple origin or destination cities, e.g. San Francisco or Los Angeles to Portland or Seattle, or sort the options by time of day or duration of the trip, or specify which alliances ITA should search for, etc. It takes a little effort but worth it.

You can't book directly through ITA, but it's linked to Google Flights (not surprisingly) where you can do so. Here are some screenshots just to illustrate - try it yourself.









(All for made-up dates and airport choices, but you get the idea.)
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Old Jan 3rd, 2023, 09:14 AM
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Ok, for your particular single-open-jaw trip, here are the search selections to find your options at the ITA Matrix link that Gardyloo gave.

This link should show the search options
LCA ⭤ SFO, LAS +1 || ITA Matrix by Google (itasoftware.com)

The options are:
Round Trip
Origin: LCA Destination: SFO LAS LAX
See calendar of lowest fares
Start Date: 09/01/2023 Duraton (nights): 16-17

click Search
click on a date and then choose from the two duration options
you see a table of results listed by Price

You've decided to make SFO the outbound destination but want to keep the return options open:
find the From/To column
click on the funnel? icon to the right of the From/To column title

on the popup, uncheck Las Vegas and uncheck Los Angeles
keep SFO checked
the lower part of the popup now shows the lowest fares for the three return-from airports.
click OK

the table now shows your ooen jaw options for LCA -> SFO, LAS/LAX/SFO -> LCA

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