California Road Trip - Critique Please?

Old Jul 13th, 2006, 10:15 AM
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California Road Trip - Critique Please?

Hi there

Myself and my boyfriend have a three week road trip planned, taking in California, Arizona & Nevada. I have been scouring these boards (and trip advisor’s) for months and must firstly thank everyone for their useful advise.

I have finally managed to decide on an itinerary (I think), and would be very grateful if you could critique? I am concerned that I may be trying to fit too much in, or perhaps concentrating on the wrong things? I have consulted maps & mapquest for driving distances, but would also be grateful of any real life experiences on any of the routes – maybe I am being a bit too ambitious on the driving side?

We are fairly open to most activities, but are not really into art/museums. Also, I would be grateful for any restaurant recommendations that you might have along the way!

All suggestions welcome. Apologies for the long post, but this is my first trip to the west coast and want it to be perfect.

Thanks in Advance for your help

Fly into LAX from Dublin, Ireland
Day 1-3
Stay at: Ambrose Hotel, Santa Monica for three nights.

Plan to visit the “usual” tourist sites of LA – Hollywood, walk of fame, Chinese Theatre, Beverly Hills, BelAir, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach & Santa Monica Pier. Also have booked a Warner Bros Studio tour.

Day 4
Drive to Santa Barbara, stopping at outlet store on the way. (Camarillo Premium Outlets – is this a good place to stop for some retail therapy?)
Spend night in Marina Beach Motel, S.B.
Taking in Santa Barbara Mission, County Courthouse & Pier (Stearns Wharf).
Visit to the wine room in the city also.

Are there evening organized wine tours available, as I think it unfair if I have all the fun whilst the BF is the designated driver?

Day 5
Morning – spend in S.B.
Leave for S.L.O.
Staying at Peach Tree Inn, S.L.O.

Day 6
Morro Bay – Morro Rock
Hearst Castle – Tour 1 or 2 ?
Then into Cambria for lunch (last shops/petrol before Big Sur)
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery – north of Hearst Castle
Montaña de Oro State Park
Dinner at Nepenthe
Staying at Lucia Lodge, Big Sur

Day 7
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Limekiln State Park
Andrew Molera State Park (horseriding).
Into Monterey – dinner in Monterey or Pacific Grove?
Stay in the Monterey Bay Lodge

Have I packed in too much here? If so, which is the best?

Day 8
Spend the morning in the aquarium
Lunch in Carmel?
17 mile drive including a stop at Point Lobos
Half Moon Bay for dinner/sunset (this is about 2 hour drive from Monterey – correct?)
Drive into SF late – 2 nights at Nob Hill Motor Inn (how long from HMB to SFO?)

Day 9
Cycle over Golden Gate to Sausilito (lunch in Sausilito)
Spend some time in Golden Gate Park
Evening Alcatraz Tour followed by dinner at Slanted Door (reservations made!)

Day 10
Cable car trip
Chinatown for lunch
Leave after lunch for Yosemite (about 2pm to avoid traffic)
Staying three nights at Yosemite High Sierra B&B

Day 11/12
Mariposa Grove & Wawona Hotel - Redwoods
Glacier Point (or Sentinel Dome to avoid crowds)
Valley Floor
Bridalveil Fall
Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls

Day 13
Toulomne Meadows – on the way out of the park
Over Tioga Pass and on to Bishop (we are traveling in mid Aug so I expect Tioga Pass to be open)
Stop at Bodie and possibly Mono Lake, if time available
Staying at Best Western Creekside Inn, Bishop
Dinner at Whiskey Inn

Day 14
Drive to Death Valley National Park
Reservations at Furnace Creek

Day 16
Day in Death Valley (taking in the interpretive centre at the hottest part of the day)
Leave for Las Vegas late in the pm to avoid heat and see the sunset (as well as getting the view of LV strip at night!)

Day 17
Day trip to Grand Canyon – Scenic Airlines Deluxe Tour

Day 18
Day in Vegas – casino hopping or just chilling by the pool
Where is good for dinner? Nothing too pricey, just some good food.
Would like to take in a show, perhaps one of the comedy shows – would this be better than one of the Cirque offerings?

Day 19-21
Fly to NYC for 3 days and then home!

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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 10:45 AM
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Hi joools! We just did a shorter version of your trip a couple of weeks ago.

I'm going to suggest that on Day 6, rather than retrace your steps to Cambria for lunch, you go on up the road about 20 miles to the Ragged Point Inn for lunch. The drive from Hearst Castle is about half an hour, plus time to look at the seals. Fabulous views, you can sit outside, great soups and sandwiches and they have gas too.

We also stayed at the Monterey Bay Lodge. It's a real motel, but very nicely kept, nice landscaping, small pool (they have a supply of towels-very small towels!- at the pool. I recommend Monterey's Fish House for dinner. No view, but really nice little place and great food and wines. It's just a couple of minutes drive from the hotel and easy to find.

We also left Yosemite via the Tioga Pass, just a week and a half after it opened! It's an easy drive, but the views are so outstanding that it's easy to not pay enough attention to driving. So, stop often, especially at Tenaya Lake (because I loved it there!). We stayed at the BW Creekside in Bishop. Lovely hotel, not great breakfast though, so if you want a big breakfast I'd eat outside the hotel. dinner at Whisky Creek was very nice.

Didn't go into Death Valley as it's just toooo hot for my mum. sho's visiting from Scotland and, at 83, is having a harder time with the heat now.

You have a busy itinerary, so don't be too tied to it. You can make changes along the way if you find there's not enough time, or you're tired, or you just want to sit and enjoy a view rather than drive more.

I found this web site very useful for Big Sur:

Have a fabulous trip and welcome to California.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 11:11 AM
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Some small details: Point Lobos is not within the confines of the 17 mile drive. Also on day 8 you will be backtracking if you go from Monterey to Carmel--after having driven through Big Sur, driving the 17 mile drive is redundant unless you are a fan of golf courses. Also I would not recommend Nepenthe for dinner--lunch yes, because of the view. It is very expensive at night, and in my opinion not worth the expense. If I was going to spend that kind of money I would eat at Cielo.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 01:07 PM
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I definitely agree with the advice so far. Just a couple more comments:

There is gas availible north of Cambria, it is just more expensive. You can buy it at Ragged Point, Gorda, and Big Sur Station - maybe at Lucia as well.

Day 6 is really packed. I'd cut out Montana del Oro state park - it is nice, but not a must see. Not backtracking to Cambria will help losen things up a bit too. If you have time, San Dollar Beach is really nice.

Limekiln is just south of Lucia and is a nice park - there are a couple nice short hikes along the creeks - one to the falls and the other to the kilns. They give you a really nice introduction to redwood forests. The trees are all second growth - the original big trees were logged to feed the kilns - but the forest is really pretty. You half expect to see dinosaurs come through - LOL.

I would choose Limekiln over Pfiffer Big Sur if I had to due to time constraints, which you probably will, ESSPECIALLY if you want to ride some horses that same day.

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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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You have really done your homework and should have a nice trip. (We live in So Calif and have been to all the places you mention). Day 13 might be a little rushed depending on where your hotel is the night before. Toulomne is about 2 hours from Yosemite Valley and then Lee Vining is about 1/2 hour from that. Not sure how long it takes to get to Bodie from there because there are some dirt roads involved. You could spend a few hours at Bodie easily (or less if you are inclinded). It is quite a lot of walking and can be really hot depending on the time of day. And Toulomne Meadows - well it is so beautiful with so many great hikes that you could spend weeks in just that area alone. If nothing else, be sure you get out of the car around the bridge near Lembert Dome and hike the little trails near the river. Not many people and you can go as far as your time allows and should have pretty flowers and the stream will be full. Also, be sure to stop at Olmstead Point and Tenaya Lake. The side of the lake that you will come to first on your way up from the valley (the west side?) is far less crowded than the other side. There are little trails going around the lake that have very few people on them and the view of the lake, with the white granite peaks overhead, is spectacular.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 03:25 PM
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Sounds like a great trip! I'm jealous.

I would bag dinner at Nepenthe and go to Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn instead. Nepenthe is a cool place for sure, but the food is not so great. Dinner at Sierra Mar would be delicious, and it is a truly unique place, as many things in Big Sur are.

I'd spend two nights in Big Sur, but that's just me.

You must drive down to Pfieffer Beach and wander around there for awhile. The waterfall and the beach are beautiful.

You might want to shift Point Lobos to Day 7 and drop one of the others.

Where are you planning to eat in Half Moon Bay? I can highly reccomend Cetrella's. No ocean view, but tasty food. Or further up the coast there is the Miramar Beach Inn and another coastside place, who's name escapes me at the moment. I'd heard a rumour that Miramar would be closing, not sure if that is true. If you want a great seafood dinner in a funky place, try Barbara' Fish Shack at the harbor. Very casual, but it is a favorite of mine. Or if you want to break the bank, there's the Ritz Carlton right on the ocean bluff.

Be careful at the Monterey aqaurium. I thought I would just spend two hours or so there and ended up spending around 5 hours there, and that was my second time there. It is a very interesting place that is constantly changing. One could spend the entire day there.

Have a great time.

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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 07:37 PM
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My boyfriend and I went to Hearst Castle about a month and a half ago. We did both tours 1 and 2. I think I would recommend tour 2. Everyone goes on tour 1 so it's a bit crowded, felt like we were just being herded around. Tour 2 was really a lot more enjoyeable, because the group was a much smaller (about 9 people total when we went) and there was a lot more interaction between the tour guide and visitors. A big part was the tour guide: the tour guide for tour 2 was absolutely wonderful (believe his name is Bob, tall white man in his fourties...). They probably switch the tour guides around, and he might not be there when you're going there, but I would still advise tour 2 because of the crowd size.
Old Jul 13th, 2006, 07:59 PM
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Your day 6 has you running back and forth all through the Big Sur and Hearst Castle/Cambria areas. There's not much to do at Morro Rock except look at it, you can't climb it or anything. Hearst Castle is north of Cambria, so you'd have to backtrack to have lunch there. Then back north past Hearst to Piedras Blancas, then Montaña de Oro has you going all the back to Morro Bay!(maybe you don't mean to do things in the order you've written). Nepenthe is 20 or 30 miles *north* of Lucia, so you'd go past your lodgings and then have to backtrack (although this isn't so weird, but you would have to allow time for it). I agree with skipping Montaña de Oro, you'll see much more dramatic scenery through Big Sur, fill up at Cambria but have lunch at Ragged Point after Hearst. Be sure to go to the restaurant at Ragged Point, there is a burger shop out front that is not that good, don't confuse it with the restaurant. Then you could check into your lodgings at Lucia, then head for Nepenthe or Sierra Mar, or Cielo at Ventana--they are all close together and have the same great views but the food at the latter two is better.

Day 7-Julia Pfeiffer Burns has the famous McWay falls, it's just a short walk to a view. There are longer trails to take inland, but you won't have time. Pfeiffer Big Sur has thick redwoods and a huge campground with a store and restaurant there if you need to buy anything. But save time for Andrew Molera, hopefully you'll get to ride out to the beach and then back over the ridge to the redwoods there, this is a meeting place of southern and northern california, redwoods from the north grow alongside sycamores from the south along the streams there. this day won't be too bad if you don't do any long hikes at the parks before Molera.

You'll pass Point Lobos on the way to Monterey, so it'll be a backtrack to go there the next day. But not too bad.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 08:46 PM
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Can I go with you?

Looks like a well planned trip.

Favorite place to eat breakfast lunch and dinner in SLO is Big Sky Cafe, it is very "California" and they have wine by the glass from the nearby wine regions. If you are worried about drink driving it's an alternative to the wine tasting tours.

Favorite wine tasting room that we went to recently was Foley Estate, it's just off the 101 (west on 246). Especially if you like boutique Pinot Noir.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 09:01 PM
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I wasn't impressed with the outlets in Camarillo the last time I went, which was a couple years ago. There are two outlets on the way to Las Vegas, one at Stateline (where there is also a huge roller coaster) and another just before you hit Vegas. And another in Vegas between the Strip and Downtown. If you really want to wine taste, I would probably skip Camarillo and try the Vegas outlets.
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Old Jul 13th, 2006, 10:04 PM
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As a few have mentioned, you might be surprised how much time you spend at some of these spots. Any particular day's agenda could be wiped out if you can't force yourself to keep moving. I'd take the advice given about eliminating and re-arranging some things.

Day 13 is certainly one of those packed days, mostly because of the stop-the-car! views. Bodie on a hot August day could be brutal, and it does take some time to get to because of the dirt road in and out. It's interesting, but considering your schedule for the day, I'd drop it from your itinerary. But I highly recommend a stop at the Mono Lake Interpretive Center just a few miles north of Lee Vining (junction of Tioga Road and Highway 395). Very interesting information about a unique place, well presented.

If your timing for lunch that day puts you in/near Lee Vining, go to the Whoa Nelly Deli at the junction of Tioga/395. It just looks like a gas station with a snack shop, but the food is great, and you can sit outside with views of Mono Lake and the Owens Valley.

Have a great trip!
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 08:49 AM
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Hi Jools

Sounds like a great trip I have some advice about day 5. It is only a couple of hours from SB to SLO so you should have the late afternoon evening free. This is your chance to explore the area around Montaña de Oro State Park. This information will give you the opportunity to see native (read vanishing) southern california flora. It is not that far up the coast and you can fit this trip in about 4 hours longer if you want to add in Bayfront dining in Morro Bay. (SLO is not on the coast.)

First stop here in Los Osos
Large “Old Growth” Oaks. You do not have to hike the whole trail but this is a special place because most of these types of oaks have been bulldozed to make way for all the development you have been seeing for the last 5 days. This is how most of southern california looked before the europeans arrived.

Then less than 3 miles away is this place
You get great views of Morro Bay and Morro Rock I would hike the whole trail here. There are guides about the native plants and best of all there are a population of rare pigmy oaks here. They are closely related to the huge oaks you just saw and about the same age but are about 100 times smaller.

You then can proceed about 8 miles to Montaña de Oro State Park. I like the beach at Spooners cove for its geology and neat beach combing.

After that you could head into Morro bay and have dinner down on the bay there are numerous places to eat and lots of shops to browse. Some suggestions Dorn's Original Breakers Café, Great American Fish Co. Orchid Restaurant at Inn at Morro Bay

Lastly check out this link
It may offer you some advice you have not yet seen.

Erin Go Bragh
Have Fun
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 09:01 AM
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Hi joools,

Looks like a great trip and you have gotten alot of great additional advice. My only comment is to maybe think about taking a few half days (around the CA coast and Yosemite area) to do nothing! What I mean is that you have most days packed in there and it might be nice to spend a leisurely morning sitting at a cafe rather than rushing off to the next site everyday.

If you like the kind of fast paced travel that you describe then I think you will have a great time as your trip is well planned out.
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 11:27 AM
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Don't miss Mono Lake if you have time and it's on the way. Also, try to spend more time in Death Valley. Run on the sand dunes, but late in the afternoon or evening.

In LA, you could try to see a live taping of a tv show--Jay Leno, etc.
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 12:45 PM
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Hey there

Thanks so much for all of this great advise!
I have taken this on board and re-structured the trip a bit so as to avoid looping back on myself.
I realise I have packed a lot into this itinerary, and probably won't get around to everything. But it is nice to have a note of the great places to see on my route, and then I have a wealth of choice at any given time! In the meantime, if there are any other "must sees, do's or don'ts" please let me know. And I'm sure I'll be back with some more questions before I go!

Thanks, once again
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 01:23 PM
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Casanova's in Carmel was really great for lunch!
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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>>Day 18
>>Day in Vegas –
>>Where is good for dinner? Nothing too pricey, just some good food.

Go for a lavish buffet--it's a quintessential Vegas experience. Try Paris or Bellagio. I have European friends who were blown away by the heaps of food we Americans chow down. They totally loved it!

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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 01:46 PM
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Another comment re day 9. With so little time in SF I would suggest skipping bicycle ride over GGB into Sausalito, and spending more time exploring SF. As your schedule now stands you are only going to spend 1/2 a day in SF itself.
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 02:09 PM
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Thanks SAB. What would you recommend in San Fran, in addition to what I have already mentioned? I've never been, but would like to get a feel for the city.
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Old Jul 14th, 2006, 05:18 PM
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You have done some extensive planning!!

Just a couple of comments. First, I think you are really going to regret having such a short time in San Francisco. I would cut at least a day from Southern California. The sights you mention for LA can't compare.

Also, are you aware that Bodie is 13 miles north and about 14 miles east of Lee Vining, meaning that you will have about a 50-mile round trip 'commute' before you get on your way south? Bodie is very interesting, but perhaps not worth the time, especially in the hot summer. Mono Lake is at Lee Vining and the interpretive center showing the effect of the efforts of the volunteer committe to raise the water to former levels after the Los Angeles Water District diverted most of its tributaries is interesting and worth some minutes.

Unless you have a special reason for visiting San Luis Obispo, I would go on to Morro Bay from Santa Barbara without that overnight stop. As a matter of fact, I would just stop and see the rock and then go on to Cambria, from where you are in a better position for a Hearst Castle Tour. I would make reservations for a morning tour. (Advance reservations are almost necessary.)

Here is the mileage. Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo - 106 miles. 13 miles from SLO to Morro Bay. Another 20 to Cambria. Total 139 miles, which is easily done in an afternoon after you have seen things in Santa Barbara. Then the morning Hearst tour gives you more time to enjoy the sights you want to see on the coast on the way to Lucia Lodge, and more time to enjoy the view there.

The drive down Hwy 395 from Lee Vining t is beautiful. You are on the eastern side of the Sierras, which shoot very dramatically straight up, unlke on the western side, where they gradually rise from foothills.

Bishop is an OK overnight stop. 58 miles further on, though is Lone Pine, which I find more charming. At the foot of Mt. Whitney.

Oh, I would see one of the Cirques over a comedy club....they are amazing. Expensive, however.

Have a great trip !
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