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US West Coast - Car or Camper

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Dec 8th, 2013, 04:39 PM
  #1
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US West Coast - Car or Camper

Hi,
We are a family of 4 (2 boys, aged 10 & 8) coming to the US mid-March 2014, for 4wks. We fly in and out of LA, and have a rough itinerary planned (LA (explore Hollywood, do Disneyland), Legoland, San Diego, Joshua Tree NP, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yosemite NP, San Francisco, back down to LA). As you can see, nature is big for us, but also things like USS Midway in San Diego, pop over to Tjuana, Cable Car museum in San Fran, La Brea Tar Pits in LA,..).
Our question is (one of many, really!): should we hire a car or a campervan? People have said the advantage of a camper is we can stop and eat whenever we want to, we don't need to pack and unpack each day. Advantages of car - hotels usually have 2 double beds and should be cheap-ish at that time of the year, easier to find parking.
Would really appreciate thoughts and comments, as well as any other trip suggestions.
Thanks, E&T
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Dec 8th, 2013, 04:44 PM
  #2
 
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#1 - Do not go to Tijuana!
#2 - Rent a car and stay at motels; you will be glad you did.
#3 - IF you haven't already booked airline tickets; fly into LA and out of San Francisco. Do a one way trip, no back tracking.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 05:06 PM
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I would definitely rent a car. Good deals are available if you shop around. We use Thrifty and Dollar. Join their clubs and you will walk right to your car.

Parking is usually free outside the downtowns of large cities.

Most chain motels have rooms with two queen beds (which are larger than doubles), swimming pools for the boys, and "free" family style breakfast counters.

Eating when you want is not a problem in the areas to which you are traveling. It is also fun to shop for lunch at the deli counters of our groceries and supermarkets. (We carry plastic plates and cutlery for this purpose.)

HTtY
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Dec 8th, 2013, 05:09 PM
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Bad idea. You might not pop back.

Mid March is still winter time here in California. Good chance for snow/ice over the passes, in Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Be sure you rent chains and keep them with you just in case.

There are pros and cons to rv vs car travel. Do you mind being in such close quarters for 4 weeks? You can have some quiet time to yourself in a hotel suite. You can save on eating by having an rv. Having an rv allows the kids to stay occupied during long drives. All the places you listed have campgrounds with the exception of San Francisco. If you decide to rv you might want to stay outside of SF and take the BART in. If you choose rv get the smallest possible. Driving and parking in some of these places will be challenging. We have traveled both ways with kids. It really is a personal choice.

Hoover Dam, near LV, might be interesting for the kids. Bryce is also a beautiful NP to visit. Gorgeous with a light dusting of snow. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a great place to spend the day. Be sure to stop here if you decide to take the coast route from SF to LA. Easter is April 20 next year so keep this in mind. Many here travel the week prior and the week after. California has so very much to do, even if the weather does not cooperate, and you have to skip some places, there is always tons to keep you busy. Happy Planning!
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Dec 8th, 2013, 05:28 PM
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You could rent/use the RV and also - spend a few nights in hotels/motels if you chose to.

As mentioned - having the RV does allow you to have the option of having your meals whenever you want - especially if you are a bit off the beaten path - or if the boys have hunger pangs, whtever.

Here is one page to heck out the many campground options, some of which have pools and other amenities, or are close to same.

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/rv-ca...est-33333.html
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Dec 8th, 2013, 05:39 PM
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Has the family ever traveled in a RV before? How did it work?
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Dec 8th, 2013, 06:17 PM
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Have you ever driven an RV in snow and/or winter conditions - esp in the mountains? If not, I would consider very strongly before committing to this (and some roads in the mountains might still be closed for the year).
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Dec 8th, 2013, 06:27 PM
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As others have said, DO NOT go to Tijuana. Mexico is a foreign country, and often requires another visa for non-US Citizens, You could very easily end up stuck there!

One consideration about RVs is the gas mileage. It's BAD, like under 10 mpg. Most cars get closer to 30 mpg, so your fuel costs could easily triple by drivng an RV instead of a car. Add this to the more expensive rental costs, and it might be significantly cheaper to just rent a car and stay in hotels.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 06:58 PM
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IMO staying out of Mexico has nothing to do with visas. It can just be a very dangerous place. My son lives in San Diego, and went to college there. The University emailed parents letters numerous times letting us know their opinion on the students crossing the border into Mexico: they were 100% against it. I threatened to drag him home to live till he was 75 if he ever set foot in Mexico.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 07:19 PM
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If you want to go to Mexico, I would go to Tecate. It is a nicer town than Tijuana and doesn't have the same issues. Of course make sure that you can travel to Mexico and back legally.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 08:11 PM
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Almost NONE of the destinations you mention are easy with a motorhome. And in winter (march is still winter in the mountains) some are nearly impossible in a motorhome.

You will actually save $$$ renting a car and staying in motels - most of which will gave a kitchenette or at least a microwave.

Getting to Yosemite from Las Vegas will involve a hellacious/loooong drive around through Bakersfield.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 08:12 PM
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Many motor homes are not winterized, so inventory may be restricted - something else to oonsider.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 08:20 PM
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I'll jump in and say rent a car, maybe an suv with room for a cooler (available everywhere for cheap) for those snacks and lunch fixings on the road. You'll use less gas, have a more comfortable place to sleep, and many rev's add huge mileage costs if you travel the distances you plan.

If the kids want the camping experience, pick up a tent etc. at one of the big box stores.
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Dec 8th, 2013, 11:39 PM
  #14
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Thanks everyone for the honest and open responses!! We really appreciate it. We have used campers before here in New Zealand - our winter time, but only 4 days, not 4 weeks! I think we may now be tending towards a car, and staying in backpackers/motels along the way. Probably travel more in a car than a camper (speed and all that).

We are really looking forward to our trip - the first overseas trip for the boys apart from 10 days on the Gold Coast 2 yrs ago. I was last in the US 10yrs ago.

Any suggestions re good, cheap, motels? A chain, or stand-alone?

Thanks again!
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Dec 9th, 2013, 02:21 AM
  #15
 
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As an avid RV'er, I'm glad to see you've decided on a car instead of a camper and that's just because of the time of year you will be visiting the states.

I know Michele_d mentioned Bryce Canyon National Park, but you might also be interested in Zion National Park. It would make a nice loop from the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and then Las Vegas.

For lodging when visiting the National Parks, try to stay in the parks.

Utahtea
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Dec 9th, 2013, 05:47 AM
  #16
 
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For lodging:
make reservations in the parks if you can, they can be cancelled without penalty up to fairly close to the time you will be there, if you change your route.

pick up some of the magazines at welcome centers that have discount coupons for hotels/motels that are for last minute walk ins. Even if you can't use the coupon, they have maps showing where there is lodging and what the different places offer (swimming pool, free breakfast, work out room, laundry etc.) so are very helpful if you wing it.

If you don't want to pay for in park lodging, there are towns with lodging near most of the parks. Look at Cameron Trading post or several places in Tusayan for Grand Canyon, Springdale for Zion, Torrey for Bryce, if you decide to do the loop from Vegas that Michele d and Utah tea mentioned, and I would do for this kind of trip.
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Dec 9th, 2013, 07:40 AM
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For Yosemite, stay in the Valley and make your booking ASAP. Yosemite lodge or Curry village. If everything is full, the only other accommodations w/I a reasonable drive are two motels in El Portal - Yosemite View Lodge is the better if the two.

Everything else is too far from Yosemite Valley. (Except for some condos in Yosemite West which are fine but may be too expensive)
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Dec 9th, 2013, 08:09 AM
  #18
 
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Don't mean to be a broken record here but don't forget to request chains for your car...can't emphasize this enough.

I live in mid state California in the mountains and I do not want you to get caught off guard if it snows. Driving in a little snow is not really a problem but once the snow starts to melt and then refreezes, you can be in a whole world of hurt if you don't have chains. Not to mention it is dangerous to drive without them in some situations.

If you have never used chains before just have the rental company show you how to put them on. Really, it is simple, but extremely important if you encounter snow. Grab a few extra large black trash bags to keep in the trunk in the event you need to put on chains. You do not want to be kneeling in the snow when you put chains on.

Bring along some layers, as March is still pretty cool. Snow would be fun for the kids...and beautiful for you, but you just need to prepare a little bit just in case.

With regards to hotel/motel chains: you will not find these chains inside the National Parks but outside in the adjoining cities.

http://cahotellocator.com/hotel-list-CA

http://www.cheapism.com/best-cheap-hotel

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...alifornia.html

Motel Six (very basic) http://www.motel6.com/

America's Best Value Inn: http://www.americasbestvalueinn.com

Best Western: http://book.bestwestern.com

Choice Hotels...I stay here all the time and it is perfectly adequate on a budget: http://www.choicehotels.com/
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Dec 9th, 2013, 08:35 AM
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Chains are not allowed on rental cars and use of them will void the insurance.
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Dec 9th, 2013, 08:43 AM
  #20
 
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This is about Yosemite, but will be applicable in general re: chains on rental and driving during winter locations that OP wants to visit:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g6...re.Chains.html
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