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pz742w Dec 2nd, 2007 04:47 PM

CA for 2 weeks, Solo Travel
Greetings! I will be traveling from Detroit to CA for two weeks, over the holidays. I will be traveling solo -- and would mostly like to focus on natural beauty, hiking and some site-seeing. So far, I've listed Redwoods, SF, Big Sur/HWY 1, LA, San Diego. I'm trying to avoid car rental and would like to take the trains as I head from north to south. I'm also seriously considering taking the CA Zephyr from Colorado. Yosemite and Death Valley are also intriguing. As you can see, I've listed a bunh of things...but I'm solo and a high-energy person...and I really want to be inspired by both people and scenary! Any insight for NYE would be appreciated! THANK YOU!!

TahitiTams Dec 2nd, 2007 05:07 PM

Personally, I would rent a car because you are not going to see much taking a train..
Hotwire has good deals on car rentals or go direct.
I have gotten deals as low as $16 a day for a mid-range which is perfect or for several dollars more a full or luxury.
Car rentals on a weekly basis can be very reasonable and this way you can see Big Sur, Redwoods, Death Valley, San Diego and with your high energy..this will work best for you!
Have a great time..

oceankayaker7 Dec 2nd, 2007 05:14 PM

I second getting a car. Its a must. I would be careful driving around the Sierra's in regards to winter storms.

bbqboy Dec 2nd, 2007 05:21 PM

It's Winter! stay on the Coast!

pz742w Dec 2nd, 2007 05:26 PM

Thank you very much for your replies. I'd really like to avoid a car. Sounds crazy, but I'm from in the auto industry in market intelligence...and I'm looking to just get-lost and not worry too-much about highways, navigating, and not being able to relax, read, enjoy the view while traveling :) Are you sure the trains are not scenic? I have found quite a bit of writing on the coastal starlight as one of the most scenic and some of the California/Amtrack rails which hugs the coastline from SD to LA -- all of this is very appealing...if I can figure out the transportation when I actually stay in one spot for a few days. I will definitely try hotwire to see if I can get a great deal for at least part of the trip! Any other suggestions on a "North to South" are welcome! I know some of the other posts have details for SF, etc.

TahitiTams Dec 2nd, 2007 05:42 PM

Train from LA to SD..sit on the right and you get some great coastal views but a car is a must..
I wish our transit system was all that..but it's not.

J_Correa Dec 3rd, 2007 09:53 AM

Yes, unfortunately, the train only goes along the coast for a short while. It is inland north of Santa Barbara. The most breathtaking sections of our coastline are north of there. A car will give you much more flexibility and you will be able to spend more time seeing what you want to rather than waiting for public transportation and taking round-about routes to get where you want to go.

If you are set against renting a car, much of your itinerary can be done. You will have to rely on a combination of public transportation options as Amtrak wont do it for you.

Here are some ideas:

The SF Bay area and Santa Cruz areas actually have pretty decent public transportation. In SF, it wont be a problem at all.

To see some redwoods, check out public transportation to Muir Woods, or you can go to Big Basin or Henry Cowell state parks in the Santa Cruz mountains. From SF you would take Caltrain to San Jose, then a commuter bus (Hwy 17 express) to downtown Santa Cruz. From there you can take the 35 bus into the Santa Cruz mountains to the parks. Sort of a hodgepodge of transportation systems, but it is doable. I think you would probably be looking at a 3 hour trip to get there, versus maybe an hour and a half in the car.

For Big Sur, I don't know of a bus that goes to Big Sur that time of year, but there is a state park just south of Carmel called Point Lobos, which is breathtaking and will give you a good feeling for the Big Sur coast. To get there, you can either take a Greyhound from SF to Monterey and then take local public transportation, or if you have gone to Santa Cruz, you can take a couple buses from Santa Cruz to Monterey - you switch buses in Watsonville.

Yosemite - Amtrak runs a bus service from Merced. You can take a combination of Amtrak buses and trains from SF or San Jose to get there.

Anya Dec 3rd, 2007 06:14 PM

I recommend a car. You'll see more with less hassle. I've taken a train from San Francisco to Merced and it wasn't scenic.

travelgirl2 Dec 3rd, 2007 07:56 PM

Sorry to agree with the others. Everyone travels by car in CA.

pz742w Dec 8th, 2007 10:49 AM

J_Correa -- thank you for the time in your post and the information. I will review it and see what/how with the car.

Now -- I guess part of my resistance to car is the many post on this site that talks about the immense traffic and the amount of time spent stuck in traffic (which is quite lonely in a car when you have to watch the road).

Are the trains not an alternative to this for longer-city travel? Looks like Cali has an Amtrak pass which takes you several major routes and then does the connections.

Hmmm... maybe I grab a car and let the traffic tell me when to get off and stretch :)

Thanks for all of your insight! I look forward to just letting the trip unfold.

Any further insights are immensely appreciated! I will also scour the other posts where you-Cali's are tremendously helpful! Thanks!!

d_claude_bear Dec 8th, 2007 11:02 AM

You should not be overly worried about San Diego traffic. The main freeways (interstate 5, 8, 15, and other main highways) are busy during commuting times (into central SD 6:00 to 9:30 a.m.; outbound 3:30-6:30 p.m.) and along the coast (interstate 5) on weekends.

If you use a car in SD, try to travel routes like downtown-to-LaJolla or downtown-to-the-Mission either ourside those hours or by using surface streets.

Unlike Los Angeles, New York, or maybe even Detroit, you can drive into and through downtown with relative ease most of the time.

dwooddon Dec 8th, 2007 02:05 PM

I'm going to be the odd-man out on this question. I lived in SoCal for many years and often used the train for inter-city travel. I agree with everyone else that in most areas of California, you'll need a car for local travel. The public transit situation is abysmal in most areas other than San Francisco but between cities, the train works well (As long as you are going where the trains go). The areas you mentioned of Death Valley and Yosemite are both well off the rail system so you would need to drive to either from one of your destination cities.

Most of the scenic portion of the train is, as was stated previously, between San Diego and LA and between LA and just a bit north of Santa Barbara. Even so, the transportation aspect in the less scenic areas make the train a good value.

The trip between Denver and San Francisco (actually Emerville) that you briefly mentioned is superb, especially in the winter. I highly recommend it.

So, my advice would be to go for that AMTRAK pass.

Betsy Dec 8th, 2007 02:24 PM

Intercity CA trains are a pain. They are usually delayed either by freight traffic, which has the right of way, or by malfunctioning equipment.

For SF Bay area transpo try, which links to all regional systems over a very wide area.

pz742w Dec 9th, 2007 12:33 PM

Thank you for the additional insight on the trains! I'm less concered once I'm in a city vs. traveling from north-south

Being from Detroit, I'm familiar with the train delays (to Chicago) due to freight trains own the rails and get priority...I'm trying to weight if the Cali-Amtrak pass will give me the freedom to read a book when being delayed vs. sitting by myself in a car...looking, well at other cars :)

Incidentally, I was really hemming/hawing today on doing the Denver-SF train ride....but my heart really wants to do that's for the push over the edge!

Thanks again Cali's!!

L84SKY Dec 9th, 2007 01:35 PM

Getting from city to city might not be bad but getting around in the cities, with the exception of SF, is difficult & time consuming.
It's embarrassing how bad public transportation is in Southern California.

suze Dec 10th, 2007 07:10 AM

California is a state based on getting around by car, more than anyplace I've ever seen. It's a BIG state and trains simply don't run all that many places. Especially to see the Redwoods, Big Sur, etc. you really need to be willing to drive. Renting a car will give you the freedom to do what you describe and move around at a fast pace.

Certainly there are places you can get to by bus or possibly train, but it would VERY much limit your ability to get to the best of natural beauty, hiking, etc.

IF you wanted to see only the major cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, that could much more easily be done on public transportation.

Otis_B_Driftwood Dec 10th, 2007 06:32 PM

If you did your trip in the summer months, you would have the option of taking a Green Tortoise tour. But, unfortunately, they don't run them in winter.

suze Dec 11th, 2007 07:00 AM

I normally do not rent a car myself when I travel either. But to see California, that's one place that I would. I don't think your idea is a practical trip to attempt unless you're willing and able to get a car.

FainaAgain Dec 11th, 2007 08:21 AM

Denver-Emeryville is the most spectacular part of Zephyr's ride, if you don't get bored on trains, take it. Bring snacks. If late arriving in San Francisco, ask the bus driver to drop you off at the Hyatt to catch a taxi (connecting Amtrak bus to SF is included in the ticket price).

J_Correa Dec 11th, 2007 09:52 AM

We also like using public transportation - at home and on vacation - when we can. We live in San Jose and intentionally bought our house near our lightrail system for convinience, take Caltrain when we want to go to SF, etc.

But I stand with the others - for the stuff you want to see, you really should get a car. Some things are possible without one, but it will take a lot longer to get there. You mentioned being nervous about sitting in traffic when you could be sitting on a train instead - except for a few instances, even with the traffic, a car will be quicker.

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