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tfst Nov 14th, 2017 01:40 AM

Family winter holiday
We are a family of four adults from SEA country planning to have holiday in USA from the third week of December for 16 days (excluding the international flying time).
Our arrival is in San Francisco and departure from Chicago.
We would like to go to San Francisco nearby area, maybe Sausalito, Napa valley also Lake Tahoe if possible then take California Zephyr to Colorado (stop at Glenwood Springs or Denver). We want to visit a Christmas picturesque/winter wonderland town and would like to try skiing.
Boston & New York are in our mind too if time permits (and worth for this trip).
We prefer to use public transportation instead of driving in the mountainous snowy area if possible since we are not used to it.
We are looking forward to have any suggestion for our itinerary so that we can enjoy the trip.
Thank you.

vincenzo32951 Nov 14th, 2017 06:20 AM

With 16 days and the number of places on your list, I'd probably skip NYC and Boston this trip, assuming you can't change flight plans and must get to Chicago to depart for home.

Note that for skiing and other activities, the 3rd and 4th weeks in December (especially the 4th) are quite popular vacation weeks in the US, meaning you'll need to make reservations soon.

tomfuller Nov 14th, 2017 07:14 AM

This sounds like a great adventure for 4 adults that get along well together.
Your choices for the California Zephyr from Emeryville would be 4 coach seats (uncomfortable for some), 2 roomettes (my favorite), or a family bedroom.
If you want the best chance of seeing snow and maybe skiing, go to Glenwood Springs. There is a great bus service from Glenwood Springs to Aspen (42 miles).
Leave Glenwood Springs and travel on the California Zephyr in coach (daytime travel). Spend a night in Denver before flying to either New York or Boston.
To get back to Chicago you might want to take the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited. The LSL starts in Boston and New York and joins in Albany New York for the overnight trip to Chicago.
Depending on your schedule and how much you love (or hate) train travel, you could fly back to Chicago from New York or Boston.

5alive Nov 15th, 2017 12:23 AM

Your ski/snow portion of the trip is what you need to decide first. San Francisco and Chicago are big cities. You will find a place somewhere. For skiing, your options are more limited. Reservations are filling up. There is a technical glitch right now on this website, so some of the Colorado regulars may not be able to reply. They were very helpful to me in the past, so this is unfortunate.

First, I would disagree with Tom on your transportation. Fly from San Francisco to Salt Lake City for skiing in Utah or western Colorado. OR, fly from San Francisco to Denver (or Vail or Aspen) for skiing as well. Take the train for shorter trips (See below.)

The most popular resorts are probably full. That doesn't mean you can't still have a snowy Christmas.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, which Tom suggests is one good idea. It is about 45 min to Aspen and the same to Vail. I believe there are shuttles to the ski lifts. Ask when you call or email (and which destination).

Option 1: Glenwood Springs

The Hotel Colorado is known for their large Christmas displays. I checked for Dec 22-27 and you can still get a room there. They also have a Christmas Dinner so also reserve seats for that.

Option 2: Winter Park--One thing I like about this destination is that you can take the express train from Denver or a shuttle from the airport. Both need reservations. There are also shuttles to the slopes from some Winter Park lodgings.

MoBro recommended Devils Thumb Ranch. It is open until Dec 23. And again for Christmas Eve and Christmas night. Looks really nice. Reserve Christmas Dinner if you stay there.

This search engine for Winter Park might help find other lodgings in the area. Be sure to use the map view and confirm that what you choose has access to the ski shuttles.

Once you have your hotel booked, get your tickets from San Francisco. United Airlines has a hub in Denver and a lot of flights to the area. Alaskan Airlines does too and is one of my favorites.

Gretchen Nov 15th, 2017 04:34 AM

For 16 days you will need to have this fine tuned. And if skiing, you need to be at the site by the day before and make arrangements for ski rental and LESSONS to do the next day--and for as many days as you want to devote to them.
For the reason above, Winter Park has much to recommend it if you don't have a car.
I agree about flying. You just do not have time for trains over the LONG distances.
San Francisco--X days I'd stay at least 4. You are now at 5 days.
Fly to Denver. I believe the ski train only leaves in the morning so you'll need to arrive Denver and spend the night. Sixth day
Go to Winter Park, make your arrangements for the next (maybe 2 days) Seventh day Plus 2 ski days. 9 days
Return to Denver in afternoon of second ski day (9th day). Spend night in Denver.
Tenth day--fly to chicago. Spend 5 days and fly home.

People in the know can check my knowledge of the ski train schedule. I offer the days as a check on what you will need to do in order to incorporate skiing into your plan.

Gretchen Nov 15th, 2017 04:38 AM

I will also add that going skiing as soon as you land in Colorado will have a toll on your body without time to acclimate to the altitude. It's not impossible but just be aware it will be a real physical phenomenon. Drink LOTS of water.

tfst Nov 16th, 2017 06:35 AM

Thank you so much everyone. We really appreciate your suggestions & informations.
Considering the time that we have, we will skip Boston & New York this trip.
However, we still cannot make the decision over the transportation from San Francisco to Colorado.
Some people suggested to take California Zephyr because it will pass the beautiful sceneries of Sierra Nevada & Rocky Mountains.
Anybody knows if it is ok to take trains during winter especially it will pass the mountain with possible snow.
One more thing. Since we will visited mountainous snowy place in Colorado, do you thing we still need to go to Lake Tahoe (considering the time we have).
What do you think about Breckenridge & Georgetown. Some say they are beautiful christmas towns. However we do not know if it is convenient to take a public transportation to go there from Denver.

tomfuller Nov 16th, 2017 07:42 AM

Amtrak is often delayed in Colorado in the winter. They will get you there even if it is several hours late.
There is a Bustang bus service between Glenwood Springs - Vail and Denver.
They also have service to Colorado Springs from Denver.
There is a good light rail system from Denver Union Station out to the Denver airport.
Riding the California Zephyr east of Sacramento, you will see lots of snow in the Sierras going down through the Donner Pass. The rails that Amtrak runs on are owned by the freight companies which keep them open through the winter.
A few years ago I was on the CZ in December. From the train while it was at the Glenwood Springs station, I saw someone swimming in the world's largest hot spring fed swimming pool.
On our most recent trip on the CZ in the first week of June 2017, We were 7 hours late getting into Winnemucca NV.
A truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and dumped a load of cattle feed on the tracks in eastern Colorado.
The best things about this delay was that I got a shower while the train was not moving and we also got an extra meal since we were traveling in a Roomette.

sf7307 Nov 16th, 2017 09:13 AM

I have been in Lake Tahoe hundreds of times, never been in Georgetown, and been in Breckenridge 3 times. If you go to Breckenridge, which is a really great little ski town, not very far from Denver, I would skip Lake Tahoe, as huge a fan as I am of Tahoe. Truckee, the old mining town in North Lake Tahoe, will seem just like the town of Breckenridge. With the time you have, I'd suggest doing something else instead of repeating the snow/skiing experience.

janisj Nov 16th, 2017 09:25 AM

The California Zephyr does travel through some lovely scenery (and some not so lovely scenery) but you simply don't have enough time to take the train and include Chicago in your trip.

It would eat up two full days en route (leaves SF in the morning and arrives in Denver in the evening the next day) and that is only IF it is on time.

tomfuller Nov 16th, 2017 04:02 PM

That's why I suggested taking the California Zephyr to Denver and then flying to Chicago, Boston or New York.
On May 18 2017 I was on the California Zephyr eastbound between Glenwood Springs and Granby when I saw cows in knee deep snow. I think they were turned out to graze when there was no snow on the ground.

janisj Nov 16th, 2017 04:06 PM

>>That's why I suggested taking the California Zephyr to Denver <<

They don't have time enough for that - 2 days JUST for the train. They want to visit SF and other parts of Northern CA, have a couple of days for skiing (which would require 3 nights), and the rest.

Gretchen Nov 17th, 2017 04:24 AM

You do NOT have time to take the train. Honestly, you can get caught up on scenery out a train window really quickly when you could be seeing great scenery, walking around in it, skiing in it in Colorado.
Breckenridge is a great little town and a ski town. Georgetown is an old mining town and further "down the mountain"--choose Breck. You will have to arrange a shuttle from Denver airport to get there if you are still not renting a car. YOu will see nice scenery getting there.
Skip Tahoe as suggested already.

tfst Nov 18th, 2017 06:36 PM

Thank you so much for all the suggestions.
Since California Zephyr often gets delayed in winter, so is it better for us to skip the train & just take the plane.
Honestly, our itinerary is flexible. Since it will be done in winter so we would like to visit a christmas winter wonderland town & try skiing once then we would like to do/enjoy the other

tomfuller Nov 18th, 2017 07:19 PM

If you don't have time for Colorado, you could go to Stevens Pass not far from Leavenworth Washington.
Leavenworth is the nicest "Christmas town" that I know of.
You can either fly from San Francisco to Seattle or if you have more time, take the Coast Starlight to Seattle.
Leavenworth is served by the Amtrak Empire Builder if you don't want to rent a car.

janisj Nov 18th, 2017 10:17 PM

tom -- stop with the trains already . . .

Nowhere did the OP mention going to WA state.

garyt22 Nov 18th, 2017 10:49 PM

The confusion may be SEA in the post... I think that's South East Asia... not Seattle...

Gretchen Nov 19th, 2017 04:06 AM

An alternative to downhill skiing for you might be cross country skiing. Or snowshoeing or even snowmobiling at a snowy resort. These are already "upright"!! LOL The exertion of snow sports at altitude is very real and you should consider it, IMO.

janisj Nov 19th, 2017 09:54 AM

>> The confusion may be SEA in the post... I think that's South East Asia... not Seattle...<<

I didn't think there was any confusion. The OP said . . . >>from SEA country<<. I <i>think</i> tom just likes putting people on trains ;)

tfst Nov 19th, 2017 10:07 AM

Thank you so much for all the information & suggestions.
Considering all of it & the time we have, we are thinking of several options.

1st option:
- We will rent a car from SFO
- Carmel? (1 night)
- Sausalito, Napa valley (sight seeing, we will not do too many wine tasting. Is 1 night enough?)
- Sacramento, Lake Tahoe (2 or 3 nights?)
- Fly to Boston. Stay 3 nights
- New York 4 nights
- Chicago 3 nights

2nd option:
- Carmel? (1 night)
- Sausalito, Napa valley, Sacramento (2 nights)
- Fly to Glenwood Springs (Aspen or Vail? 2 nights)
- Take California Zephyr to Denver, stay 1 night
- Breckenridge or Estes Park? (2 nights)
- sight seeing Boulder & Denver (3 nights)
- Fly to Chicago (any other nearby places good to visit?)

3rd option:
- Sausalito, Napa valley (1 night)
- Fly to Denver
- Breckenridge or Estes Park(2 nights)
- Boulder & Denver (2 nights)
- Fly to Boston (3 nights)
- New York (4 nights)
- Chicago (3 nights)

Which option is the most doable & worth to do (considering the time, air ticket & hotel rate during the season).

Also, is it quite safe to drive to & from Denver - Breckenridge/Estes Park/Boulder during winter season? Is the road treacherous?

We are really grateful for all the information & suggestion given.

sf7307 Nov 19th, 2017 10:30 AM

Whether it is safe to drive from Denver to Breckinridge in winter depends entirely on the weather that day. In good clear weather, no problem.

tomfuller Nov 19th, 2017 10:39 AM

Second option: Fly to SLC and then take the CZ through Ruby Canyon (in coach) to Glenwood Springs. If on time it is in Glenwood about noon. Take the Roaring Creek bus line up to Aspen.
Whether you take the California Zephyr east from Glenwood Springs or take the Bustang is up to you.
I would not try to fly to Glenwood Springs (Aspen).
Vail is served by the Bustang. Winter Park/Fraser is served by the train (daytime arrival).
Ruby Canyon and the Glenwood Canyon (east of Glenwood Springs) are the most scenic spots on the California Zephyr route IMO.
There's plenty to see in Chicago without going outside the city.

5alive Nov 19th, 2017 01:29 PM


You can easily fly into Glenwood Springs via the airports at Vail or Aspen. Some of the richest people in the world use these airports and these airports mostly only operate in winter when there is peak demand.

I have flown into Vail in wintertime, and it is a great little airport and I wouldn't think twice about it. My friends steered me toward Vail over Aspen--they like that airport better. So I can't help you with Aspen.

United Airlines and American Airlines both serve Vail. Sometimes tickets can be spendy, and that will be your only issue. I

You would need a shuttle or a car rental to get to Glenwood Springs. The ride from Vail was really pretty in the snow.

Here is a link to the airport:

Here's a very extensive list of shuttles, limos and rides:

5alive Nov 19th, 2017 02:42 PM

Hi, I realize I never addressed your itineraries and your question.

#1--It appears you plan to ski at Tahoe and skip Colorado. Makes sense, since you will be in California already. Stay 3 nights (2 full days of snow) or 4 nights (3 full days of snow). Skip either Boston or New York to make room for that. New York hotels are very, very expensive in December so for value, I would pick Boston, or more time in San Francisco and Chicago.

#2 Also doable. That seems more the speed of a vacation to me. You could add more "city time" in San Francisco or Chicago. (2-3 days of either).

#3 You will spend more time in airports than enjoying yourselves.

You asked about whether the roads to Breckenridge or Estes Park are treacherous. I really would encourage you guys to take shuttles since you are not used to driving in snow. Someone who is inexperienced in snow driving can spin out and end up in a ditch even in a "nontreacherous" spot.

janisj Nov 19th, 2017 04:51 PM

>>1st option:
- We will rent a car from SFO
- Carmel? (1 night) <<

>>2nd option:
- Carmel? (1 night)<<

Not a good idea in either option. You are flying in VERY long haul. By the time you clear immigration, and collect a car you will likely be exhausted. But even if you are totally rested -- on night in Carmel merely to pack up the next morning to leave again makes no sense. Forget about Carmel/Monterey unless you spend a minimum of 2 nights there.

I love Sacramento (I live just outside the city) but you have very limited time I would not spend time there.

I wouldn't go to Napa either -- December none of the vines will be in leaf and vast areas of Napa/Sonoma are just beginning to clean up from the huge fires. You can do wine tasting in the Carmel area.

I would do Carmel/Monterey for 2 or 3 nights, then either Lake Tahoe or Colorado for skiing. Since you won't know the road conditions much ahead of time I'd personally choose Colorado since you can fly there (I LOVE Lake Tahoe but I have the luxury of deciding at the last minute whether it is safe to drive up.

sf7307 Nov 20th, 2017 07:58 AM

I just reread the original post. I would.NEVER count on being able to ski in Lake Tahoe before Christmas, or really even until the middle of January. Been too many times when there’s been very little snow. May have plenty, may have none.

tfst Nov 20th, 2017 05:25 PM

Really appreciate for all the suggestion.
Tomfuller, you said "I would not try to fly to Glenwood Springs (Aspen)". May we know the reason?
Between Vail & Breckenridge, which one is prettier and easier to reach by public transportation?
Thank you.

tomfuller Nov 20th, 2017 07:26 PM

I hate flying into small airports and they tend to more expensive to fly to. If I'm not in a real hurry to get to a destination, I'll take a train or drive.
Tomorrow evening I'll be parking my 4WD at the Amtrak station and heading to Santa Clarita CA.
Vail is served by the Bustang either from Denver or from Glenwood Springs.

Gretchen Nov 21st, 2017 03:55 AM

OP Are you spending NO time in San Francisco?
Tahoe skiing has now been ruled out for the time.
In Option 2--your are already IN Colorado ski country if you fly to Glenwood/VAil. Ski in that area at Aspen Highlands (not sure what the name is now but it is an EASY mountain and you could really enjoy it).
Then if you want to go to Denver, good. But don't go back to Breckenridge.
Otherwise, fly to Denver and go to Breckenridge.
Even if there is snow on the ground, unless it is actively snowing, driving to Breck would be fine.

tfst Nov 21st, 2017 08:22 AM

Thank you Tomfuller for your info, yes the air ticket to Aspen/Vail is very expensive in Dec.
Therefore, we will fly to Denver then go to Breckenridge as suggested by Gretchen.

To answer Gretchen's question, yes 3 of us will spend 3 days in SF before 4 of us start our 16 days trip.

We are thinking to also skip Napa as suggested by janisj.

How does it look if we do:
-Sausalito, Sacramento, driving (2 nights)
-Carmel, driving (2 nights)
-Fly to Denver (1 night)
-Breckenridge, driving/public transport (2 nights)
-Boulder, Denver, driving/public transport (2 nights)
-Any suggestion for another place before we heading for 2 nights in Chicago? We still have 4 nights open.

We will only spend 2 nights in Chicago because we did visit the city some time before.

Thank you.

janisj Nov 21st, 2017 10:03 AM

>>Sausalito, Sacramento, driving (2 nights)<<


Sausalito is just over the bridge from San Francisco so you can easily visit it from the city -- even by ferry.

Do you not want to see <i>anything</i> in San Francisco? I personally would not spend time in Sacramento in the winter -- use those two days for SF car-less to get over the jetlag, then go to Carmel/Monterey, then fly to Colorado.

jamie99 Nov 21st, 2017 12:38 PM

Once again janis beat me to it - why Sacramento? It is backtracking to go east from SF area (Sausalito) to Sacramento, then drive west back to Carmel. It also used to get pretty cold there in the winter, my late husband has family in the area and we drove up after Christmas at least 3 times to visit them.

janisj Nov 21st, 2017 01:29 PM

Sacramento isn't that cold by say midwest or snow country standards. But cool, often quite damp, and definitely the chance of serious fog. If it is going to be cool/wet I'd rather it be on the coast instead of in he Central Valley/Sacramento.

Gretchen Nov 22nd, 2017 08:21 AM

If you are going to ski in Breckenridge, it will take more than 2 nights. Please read my scenario of what it will take to get ready to ski in a post above.
NO to Sacramento.
Drive down the coast to Big Sur or Monterey. Drive up the coast to Muir Woods and Eureka. That will add a couple of days at least.
YOur days are too "compact". When you are flying there is a lot of lost time in airports also to factor in.

5alive Nov 22nd, 2017 02:50 PM

Agree with Gretchen on just about everything. And thanks to sf7307 for the snow season at Tahoe.

Most especially I would emphasize Gretchen's point about the number of days skiing. Plan on 3 nights/2 full days. Any snow sport takes time. Between getting gear fitted and taking a ski lesson that you reserved ahead and eating lunch, only one day on the slopes won't give you that much time.

If possible try to find a place in Breck (or Winter Park) to stay. Can you get a cancellable reservation soon? (Pay attention to the date you must cancel by.)

Here is why: The American holiday Thanksgiving is tomorrow. More Americans will begin thinking Christmas plans after tomorrow will also start reserving.

tfst Nov 23rd, 2017 05:42 AM

Sorry we did not write clearly.

"Sausalito, Sacramento, driving (2 nights)" ---> It means we'll drive & stay there for 2 nights :)

Since it is backtracking & seems not the good timing to go in winter, we will skip Sacramento.

"Do you not want to see anything in San Francisco?" ---> we will have 2 full days after our arrival at SFO to enjoy the city before we start our 16 days trip.

We would like to have any recommendation for the good accomodation & restaurants in SF, Sausalito, Carmel, Denver, Breckenridge, Chicago.

Also, any suggestion in which town/city we need to rent a car.

Thank you.

tfst Nov 23rd, 2017 05:56 AM

Thanks all for the suggestion, it's really helpful.

We are interested in going to Muir woods, but is it good in winter?

Which places nearby SF (within 2-3 hours drive) that is worth to do/see before we fly to Denver?

Thank you.

janisj Nov 23rd, 2017 09:41 AM

>>"Sausalito, Sacramento, driving (2 nights)" ---> It means we'll drive & stay there for 2 nights :)<<

I understood what you meant and I responded with "why?" Now you are skipping Sacramento which is a good thing.

Now . . .

>>We would like to have any recommendation for the good accomodation & restaurants in SF, Sausalito, Carmel, Denver, Breckenridge, Chicago<<

You do not need accommodations in Sausalito. Sausalito is directly across the Golden Gate Bridge from SF. You should stay in San Francisco for about 3 days and visit Sausalito for a few hours on one of those days. You can take the ferry across.

What is your budget for accommodations? . . . it is pretty late to be looking for places to stay in SF, Carmel, and Breckenridge but you should be able to find something. However we can't recommend any places without knowing how much you want to pay.

tfst Nov 23rd, 2017 05:56 PM

Thanks a lot janisj for the info.

Our budget for the accomodation is about usd200/night room only.

Nelson Nov 23rd, 2017 06:41 PM

In Denver The Crawford Hotel in Lodo is new and in the heart of Denver's Lodo district. Lots of restaurants and shops in the area.

Normally it's outside your budget but I just got an email from them and they are having a "Black Friday" sale. If you book within the next three days you might be able to just stay within your budget and get a very nice room:

We stayed there earlier this year and enjoyed it.

If that's too expensive then there is a Hotel Indigo, part of the Holiday Inn chain, that's just a few blocks and should be cheaper. There are a few other hotels nearby as well.

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