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Need advice for 3 weeks first time california travel

Need advice for 3 weeks first time california travel

Old Jan 26th, 2022, 04:49 AM
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Need advice for 3 weeks first time california travel

Hello there. I find that forum by conisidence while researching travelling information.

I am guy from Europe (Austria to be precise) that is in the pre planning phase for his first solo trip to the United States ever. I want to go to California first. My first rudimentary callculations of my travel budget tell me that it should be possible to for 3 weeks in the second half of this year if the Pendemic permits it of course.

California is really big state though with lots of great stuff to do so I need some advice for my plans.

My interests are rather vast. I want to get some beach atmosphere but also want to know more about the history of California and get familiar to different cultures there.

Cities that might be of interest would be Los Angeles for the beach and cultur stuff and San Francisco for the history. San Diego also seem to have nice beach but that's all I know about that city. So I am not sure if should put it into my consideration list.

Do you guys think 3 weeks are enough to get out most of the both cities or would you recommend some other destinations worthwhile for a first timer in California?

would be pleased hearing a few opinions.

thanks for the help in advance


greetings from Austria
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 06:49 AM
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Hello. Welcome to Fodors! I don't claim to be a California expert but I will be driving through it next week on my way to Arizona. Are you planning on driving a rental car or are you planing on using public transit (train, bus, taxi/Uber etc)? With 3 weeks you will be able to see a lot of things outside the two large cities if you can drive yourself.
In July and August California quite often has large wildfires that put large amounts of smoke in the air which spoils the view of some great scenery. If there are not big fires in the area, by all means try to get to Yosemite National Park. You can get there from San Francisco by taking an Amtrak San Joaquin train to Merced and a YARTS bus from the train station into Yosemite Valley. If lodging is not available inside the park, you can stay in El Portal or other locations along the route of the YARTS bus system.
Don't expect to find much of a beach experience in Los Angeles. If you want to find an uncrowded beach, try going north to the Santa Barbara area. Santa Barbara is also served by Amtrak trains. There is a nice zoo there and a nice mission up on the hill.
You should plan on carrying your proof of vaccination with you when you come to the US. It may come to the point where you have to show it to be seated in a restaurant. It already is in Hawaii.
Plan on carrying plenty of masks with you (KN95 preferred) to put on when and where required.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 06:56 AM
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Three weeks should be sufficient. Personally, I wouldn't spend more than five days in SF and LA. You can cover all of the highlights in this time. If you can rent a car, you can go down the super-scenic Highway 1. Along the way there are quaint towns and lovely beaches (the beach culture is still evident in Ventura). Remember it's too cold to swim in the waters off California except at a few warm-water beaches such as Pirate's Cove at Avilla Beach. Most importantly, try to go to Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. You won't regret seeing these premiere national parks.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 07:22 AM
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A lot of scenery and historical stuff between San Francisco and LA if your budget can fit in a car rental.




and for the album in its entirety: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjrq39ia

But whatever accommodations your seek (hotel, motel, B&B, camping), you will need reservations.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 07:33 AM
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tomfuller Thanks a lot for the nice welcome. Well I can drive so renting a car would be possible but as I have never been to the states I think I will stick the the public transport, Amtrak or one of the buss vendors like Greyhound.

Good to know that I should look outside LA for the Beach experience. Santa Barbara sounds nice.

PrairieHikerII Thanks for your answer as well. I have already read that Pacific in California is not as warm as many people might think. But that's fine. I am happe enough with just walking around the beach to get the beach atmosphere. If could come close to warm enough to swim I would swim of course but I am fine with just staying at the beach without swimming.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 07:45 AM
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You can also make you trip easier if you research "open jaw tickets" where you fly into one city and home from another.
In your case, you should research flying into San Francisco (SFO) one way and back to Europe from LA (LAX). That will save you almost a day's drive. And if you are coming from Vienna, I don't think there are any direct non-stop flights to California, right? So you might pick up an airline bargain by flying via NY or Chicago or somewhere else you can get to on your first leg of your journey, There are some inexpensive domestic airlines (the one that comes to mind first is southwest.com) that have very inexpensive flights within the US cities-Chicago to LA or SF or other major cities that might have direct flights to Vienna, so these would be worth researching. And they are very flexible so you can easily book one trips from one city and back from another.

You really shouldn't need a car to explore most of the San Francisco area itself. It is more like a European city with great public transport and the core area is relatively small and compact. It is mostly walkable although as you probably know, known for its hills, so you have to take that into consideration. But if you either start or end your visit to California in San Francisco you can either pick up or drop off the car before or after your visit there. Southwest airline also offers good ticket prices between northern CA and southern CA, so one way to save some time on your trip would be to spend your days in San Francisco, rent a car for a few days to see what you want to see in northern CA and then fly to San Diego. You should be able see what you want there as well mostly without a car if you stay over by the beaches or downtown for instance. Then you could either take a train up to Los Angeles or drive up (around 2-3 hours) and then finish your trip in LA for example flying back to Europe from LAX. In LA you probably will want a car since it is very spread out, but it again it will really depend on what you want to do and where you stay.

My husband and I are dual US European (French) citizens and have lived many years in both Northern California and Southern California. You will be in for a treat I hope as you explore California-really a lovely place
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 07:53 AM
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@jpie Thanks a lot for the information that was really helpful.

Concerning the flights. No you are right there are no direct flights from Vienna to LA or San Francisco. The all have at least one stopp. Some even have 2 stopps. So researching for a open jaw ticket to fly from City to City sounds like a really good idea.

And yes I cannot wait to visit. I have always been fascinated by California. It looks really great on the pictures. Really looking forward to explore it on my own.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 08:54 AM
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I am not a California expert either but have visited many times. My favorite beach area are the towns north of San Diego. Carlsbad is a favorite . The nice thing is that you can take the train from San Diego to Carlsbad as well as several of the other small towns.
Also just south of Half Moon Bay is the town of Pescadero and some nice beaches. You can do that as a day trip from San Francisco.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 09:10 AM
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You don't need a car in SF but you will need it everywhere else. Public transportation (trains, buses) sucks and you will waste valuable time if you don't rent a car.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 09:29 AM
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Look at Lufthansa from Frankfurt or Munich. They have non-stops to SFO.
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Old Jan 26th, 2022, 01:09 PM
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If you want to see gorgeous Highway 1 and Big Sur (and most of the stuff in those other pictures) you will need a rental car, period. Neither the Amtrak or Greyhound travels the most scenic part of Highway 1. It does travel from south of San Luis Obisbo and Santa Barbara into LA but you miss Big Sur, most of Carmel and Cambria.
September and early to mid October are the best months to visit California, but do check the Convention Calendar for San Francisco.
You might want to visit a California mission, founded by the Spanish priests and very historical, the two prettiest are in Carmel and Santa Barbara, they do not take long and admission is not much. Some of them still have mass and other services (San Luis Rey near Oceanside). You might be able to take a quick dip down near San Diego in the early fall, ocean will be warmest then, can even reach 70F sometimes.
Another important part of our history would be the Gold Rush, but Highway 49 (named after the miners who rushed to California in 1849) is a bit out of your way.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 05:08 AM
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@MichelleY Thanks for the tipps with Lufthansa.

@Jamie99 Thanks for the info. I will reconsider using car. You can see way more things with one.

Concerning swimming near San Diego?

Would you consider San Diego or small town near San Diego?

San Diego itself could be a nice destination for Sea World but besides that it seems to be more party town for younger people. I am not that old with 36 or 37 when I go but I am still too oldl for the party crowd.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 05:49 AM
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Yes, rent a car. What time of year are you planning to visit?
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 06:51 AM
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Originally Posted by MichelleY View Post
Yes, rent a car. What time of year are you planning to visit?
I am planning to go in late summer/autumn. Either in September or October.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 07:27 AM
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"Concerning swimming near San Diego?

Would you consider San Diego or small town near San Diego?

"San Diego itself could be a nice destination for Sea World but besides that it seems to be more party town for younger people. I am not that old with 36 or 37 when I go but I am still too old for the party crowd."

San Diego is definitely warmer for swimming than the LA that time of year but we honestly still think San Diego is pretty cool by September/October. But we have lived in Mexico so are spoiled with choices for much warmer water. And even though in France we have been know to swim in late Sept. or even early October, the Pacific is way colder than the Atlantic. Here's a link with a chart showing average sea temperatures in San Diego. You have to scroll down a bit to see it, but you will notice they only mark July August September at "warm" with an Average temp in October of around 20 C.

https://seatemperature.info/united-s...%2066.2%C2%B0F.

I think that whether you decide to drive between northern CA and southern CA will depend a lot on how much you want to drive the coastal highway or see other areas outside of the major metro areas. I think in San Diego and LA you really need to have a car to get to see the best of those metro areas.

In terms of of the party crowd most in my experience most of that is centered at the south end of Mission Bay. We like to advise European friends who want to stay near the water in a highly walkable area to stay in Pacific Beach. One hotel friends have especially enjoyed is called the Catamaran Resort Hotel. It is in a great location, has parking (paid I think, not free) and is in a great neighborhood to walk to restaurants, and to swim in either the ocean or the Bay:

https://www.catamaranresort.com/?utm...gn=gmb-listing

If it were me, I would stay near the water in San Diego, but there are also nice places to stay in the downtown area, or in the more "hip arty" neighborhoods of Hillcrest, Mission Hills or near the SD Zoo in Balboa Park. Both the San Diego Zoo and the "sister" Property out in Escondido, the San Diego Safari Park are both really well known and both are extraordinarily well run animal parks. I prefer both of them to Seaworld.

https://sdzsafaripark.org/plan-your-visit#
https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/plan-your-visit
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 08:02 AM
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Thanks for the info about the the water temperatur @jpie Yes 20 degree celsius really on the cooler side. But would be ok. I live in a town called Klagenfurt situated near a Lake (Lake Worth) and in June the lake also only has 20 degree. And i found it ok. Of course swimming in the lake is nicer in July or August when it has 23 or degrees. Mexico really would be the best place for a nice beach vacation on the North American Pacific coast. Mexico is also another country that is one my list I want to visist once in my lifetime. But that is for another trip.

The zoos you mentioned also look interesting. Worth a visit for sure. The info about the best parts to stay in San Diego also looks nice. Staying at beach in pacific beach also sounds like the best strategy. If the public transport System is ok it would be still possible to visit other parts of the city. Would be also possible to use to rental car to explore the city but it would be more conviniant to use public transport to explore San Diego.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 09:20 AM
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Yes I think that if you were staying in any of those "core" San Diego neighborhoods, you can use public transport to get around for some of the areas, although to be honest, most places you are probably going to want a car in San Diego. For example, getting from the hotel I mentioned to the Balboa Park Zoo is over an hour by bus with a change. One option might be that you take the train or bus down from downtown LA to San Diego and then you use public transport to get around and then take Lyft of Uber rides to get to places that charge a fair amount for parking for example.

Also, I wanted to mention that the US now has flixbus. You may know about it from Europe already. We just took it from Palm Springs CA to downtown LA and it was really good and very inexpensive.

https://www.flixbus.com/bus/united-states

In terms of swimming a lot will also depend on how warm the air temperature is as well if you are hot and sweaty then the cool water may be great

In any case I know you are going to have a great trip!
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 09:35 AM
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If you are interested in California history, you should visit the first of the Missions in San Diego. You should have a car in San Diego. We do have public transportation, and if the Trolley goes where you want to go, it's good, but the buses take a long time.

IMO, you'd be better going to the Zoo than Sea World. San Diego County has many beaches. If you want to swim in the ocean, pick a beach with lifeguards and ask them where it is best to swim. Don't swim at beaches with no lifeguards.

Be sure to get medical insurance that will cover you in the US. You never know what will happen.

If you're in San Diego in August or September, the Padres baseball team may be playing at home in Petco Park. It could be interesting to go to a game and Petco is one of the most beautiful baseball parks in the country. It would be an opportunity to view American culture up close!
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 09:54 AM
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"If you're in San Diego in August or September, the Padres baseball team may be playing at home in Petco Park. It could be interesting to go to a game and Petco is one of the most beautiful baseball parks in the country. It would be an opportunity to view American culture up close!"

Or -- The San Francisco Giants who play in an even more beautiful park (by 'baseball park' we mean stadium). One or the other team should be playing at home during your visit. There are also Major League baseball teams in Oakland, LA and Anaheim (confusingly called the LA Angels). But none of those parks would be as good as San Francisco or San Diego.

SF is 100% doable by public transport. For the coastal drive between San Francisco and southern California you would 100% want/need a car. For San Diego you definitely could manage without a car but it would be easier with one. In LA itself -- public transport has improved a little bit with some metro lines and some express buses. But what is doable by transit depends a LOT on where you are staying and what sites/sights you want to see. A car is more convenient for sure. Before you decide on accommodations in either LA or SF do ask here on the forums. Both cities have sketchy neighborhoods where it would not be a good idea to stay.
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Old Jan 27th, 2022, 10:31 AM
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jpie Thanks for the further information. I have heard about flexbus but have not used it yet. Good to know that it is in the states now as well. I also think I am going to have a great time so many nice things to do. Your answers were really helpful.

Barbara You mentioned many valuable hints about safety. Luckily I already have global travel insurance. It is also very good to be careful where to swim in the ocean. I have already read that rip currents can be quite dangerous. So it is indeed necessary to just swim there were the life guards are.

As a history buff a visit to the Missions would also be a must.

Watching a baseball game to get a american cultural experience was also on my bucket list in case there are same games happening when I am there and it seems that I am indeed lucky. Thanks a lot for the information.

@janisj Checking out the neigborhoods is also a valid advice I will do in the other forums when the time is right. According my research you are right. It seems that SF is the best city to get along without my car, which makes it the ideal starting point for vacation. There also lots of flights to sf.

LA is quite a tricky city concerning public transport. Some parts seem to be connected via the subway quite well but for other parts a car is essential. But as you have already said it also really important were to stay. The importance of good entry point were to stay in LA to start my explorations cannot be overstated. So far my list from things to in LA is rather short thought compared to SF and San Diego. So far just visting a movie theme Park like Unversal studios,grifftb observatory, Rodeo drive and the la brea tar pits come to my mind. Visiting a beach like Santa Monica Pier was also on the list, but I am quite certain know that I will stay in San Diego for a view days so I can do the beach segment of my travel here. Or have the LA beaches some unique to them that would make worth visiting?





It is good to know that it could be possible to make San Diego without a car but having a car could be more conviant.I just need to research how expensive the parking of the car would be at some of the locations.


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