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  1. Default Trip Report - SF - Yosemite- Death Valley - Las Vegas

    Hi there!

    I found this site very very helpful whilst planning our trip (two 21yr olds doing a 2 weeks trip - original thread is here

    I meant to do a trip report when we got back, but other things took priority. So here it is now! We travelled from 22nd June 2010 to 5th July 2010. One thing we were worried about was cost as we were students funding it from our part time jobs and savings from student loans, so I will include rough estimates of cost.

    We arrived in San Francisco and went and got on a mini bus transfer (not pre booked - there are loads outside the airport waiting - I think it was $15 each plus a bit of tip). We stayed at the Green Tortoise Hostel and it was great. We stayed in a private double room, cost $304.20 for 4 nights, there were tasty free evening meals 3 times a week, free breakfast every day, the reception people were very friendly and we made friends on the organised bar crawls. Cheap places to eat around - pizzerias, tacqueria etc. A tip for the free evening meals is to buy the cheapest crate of beer from the off licence a couple of doors down (discount for staying at the hostel) and share them round at your table. It's a great way to get people chatting.

    We suffered from jet lag pretty badly - tired at about 7pm, and waking up at 3am. That first afternoon we just got our bearings and wandered around - we did A LOT of walking this holiday. We included china town, all up the promenade beside the sea, fisherman's wharf and just wandering up and down streets. The next day (23rd) we hired bikes (very cheap, again got a discount from the hostel, was $80 for 2 bikes hired all day). The bikes came with a map and the route went across the Golden Gate Bridge, round to Sausalito (where you could take the ferry back if you wished) then there was a slight detour up to Mill Valley where there were some big redwoods and some amazing big American houses, then around down to Tiburon, where we got the ferry back. This my favourite thing we did in San Fran. We saw such beautiful houses and scenery, it was like another world out of the hustle and bustle of the city. The weather was also completely different - very foggy and cold in San Fran and boiling hot across the bridge! We both got sunburnt, but were sensible enough to take plenty of water (as well as food - we saved a lot of money on this trip by preparing sandwiches instead of eating out).

    Unfortunately, we're not the fittest of people and our legs burned like hell that night. An 18 mile bike trip isn't something we do very often! So the next day we couldn't walk fast. So I took the opportunity to drag Matthew round Macy's and did some ambling around the shops in Union Square. Didn't buy much but the window shopping was nice. We also just sat and people watched which is great fun. We were going to go on the trams but didn't really see the point - the queue was massive, full of tourists like us, it costs money and we preferred walking.

    This night we had pre booked the Alcatraz night tour, so we ate at Hard Rock Cafe (voucher from book - buy one get one free on meal) and went on the tour. It was great, I really enjoyed it. Quite directed though with the audio tour lasting only as long as you have on the island pretty much - I would've preferred more wandering around time.

    The next day (25th) our legs were feeling better, so we walked all the way across to Golden Gate Park. Unfortunately, we got a little lost and ended up walkinmg through the Tenderloin District - I'd read about this place and knew to avoid it and I was quite shocked just by how bad it was. We were only a few blocks from Union Square yet there were so many homeless people around and people openly doing drugs on the street. Nothing bad happened even though we probably were quite obviously tourists. But after that we walked through the Haight-Ashbury District which was interesting, some cool shops. The Golden Gate Park was a slight disappointment for me - mainly because it was horrible drizzly weather. We got the bus back across town to union square - very cheap only a couple of dollars. This was also fun, listening to the crazy people talk on the bus to no one in particular.

    The next day we picked up the rental car from Avis - we were amazed by how cheap this was! $133 for 6 days rental, with drop off in Vegas! (Tip - it was much cheaper to drop off at Vegas airport rather than on the strip). We were talked into an upgrade at the counter, but it was only $6 extra a day, and we got a massive brand new Kia and it was lovely.

    So we set off and Matthew managed to turn left at a junction and face three lanes of cars waiting at traffic lights! And then went the wrong way down a (quiet) one way street! Pretty scary but we soon got the hang of driving on the 'wrong' side of the road!

    Next bit coming up......

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Excellent! Thank You

    Thanks, Naomi, for an excellent and detail-filled report.Glad to hear that all went well, and especially heartened that you have been so kind as to share your experiences and discoveries.


  3. Default

    So we set off with our TomTom sat nav we brought from England, which we'd put a memory card in with USA maps on. You can buy these from Amazon, or 'acquire' them on torrents. We managed to miss the exit from the embarcadero to the Bay bridge and ended up doing circles and getting stuck in one way systems - all part of the fun right?! But then we were on the main road and heading in the right direction! It was great to see the landscape change, it got quite dry and barren pretty quick. We stopped off for food and petrol in Modesto - it's so different to the UK in that there are fast food stops at pretty much every exit. We also stopped at a Walmart and picked up some food that ended up lasting us the whole holidays - wraps, twinkes, peanut butter, bread, crisps, cereal bars etc. We also bought a few big bottles of water. We got to our hotel just out of Yosemite much quicker than I thought, roughly 4 hrs. We stayed at the Cedar Lodge for 3 nights, total cost $432.73. I had originally wanted to stay in the tents in Camp Curry but one night was fully booked. If I went back I would stay at Camp Curry I think, although Cedar Lodge wasn't far outside the entrance and it was nice. The leflets they give you at the entrance are very useful and have a great map of the trails.

    Yosemite was easily my favourite place on the whole trip! The first day we got there, we went to Mariposa Grove (as suggested by southwest dave). It was a MUCH longer drive than we anticipated, but beautiful. We got there about an hour before sunset so we only did a short trip up to the Grizzly Giant. I was sad we didn't have more time here but I loved what we saw. I also got eaten by mosquitoes!

    The next morning we visited the visitors centre for a quick look around and bought our one way Glacier Point bus tickets for the next day. We then did the Mist Trail - beautiful. The waterfalls was in full force, we got soaked! It was very busy however and there were varying levels of hikers ability on a narrow trail - people got frustrated. It made me laugh how serious some people took it - they must spend a fortune on 'hiker's equipment' - proper shoes, tshirts and trousers, those walking pole things, camel backs. We managed just fine in trainers and normal clothes and water bottles. The real hikers who are staying over night in wilderness camp sites have their bags and tents with them. Some rich people seem to just over-prepare unnecessarily.

    The Mist Trail was my favourite. The late afternoon we spent at Bridalveil falls and having a bit of a wander around, looking up at El Capitan and down at the Merced River, and just being in awe really. We then drove to Tunnel View point, went up a bit towards Inspiration Point (not all the way) then went back down to tunnel view to watch the sun set - amazing.

    Next day - Got the 8.30am bus up to Glacier Point - cost $25 each for a one way trip. Apparently the road had only been opened a week or two before - there was still snow everywhere. Glacier Point has amazing views - some people seemed to think Glacier point is where the bus stops (great views) but its actually a 1 minute walk away - more great views to a different aspect. The bus driver ecouraged us to take the Panoramic Trail - but this takes you down past a bit of the Mist Trail which we'd done the day before. So instead we did the Four Mile Trail. I wish we'd listened to the bus driver, because really the 4 mile trail is good for going up (steep though) but the views get less good as you go down. This was probably my only regret - choosing the wrong trail. It still gave great views of the valley and Yosemite Falls. We also got rattled at by a rattle snake! That afternoon we took it pretty easy and went to lower yosemite falls, and wandered around down by the river and through a meadow trail.

    One bad point about Yosemite was the food - very overpriced, we bought from the supermarket there (it was good to get apples) and ate at our hotel once - so expensive and horrid food. We pretty much lived off cereal bars and peanut butter.

    Next day was another early start. We checked out, filled up the tank, and headed for Tioga Pass. Even more amazing views! And plenty of places to stop (olmstead point, tenaya lake, tuolumne meadows) and take photos. I enjoyed seeing the little stream that eventually turns into Yosemite Falls.

    As a side note, one thing we found funny was this loud American couple (I have bright pink hair and Matthew was wearing a 'loud' Hawaiian shirt as a laugh) the man stopped and stared and said (shouted) "Oh my Gawwwwd" and the woman said "Well, I guess we're all tourists here" which is very true!

    We then continued down and did the June Lake Loop - very nice and something that was suggested on this site.

    We got to Bishop in plenty of time even though stopped loads for photos and did little walks in the meadows, around the lakes etc. We stayed at a nice motel there ($100) and had a delicious Mexican at the taqueria!

    More to come....

  4. Default

    We had a nice lie in at Bishop as we'd gotten over our jet lag and didn't have to get up early to make the most of a day. We drove to Furnace Creek, stopping off every now and again for photos. We loved how there was no one around pretty much, and it's just so typical of what you expect of an American road trip through a desert - long straight roads etc. It was insanely hot however, couldn't spend long outside. We stopped at the sand dunes but didn't walk out far onto them. We then swam a bit in the pool at the hotel cos it was so hot - very nice except for some german woman cutting her toenails beside the pool - urgh. A couple of hours before sunset we drove to Badwater Basinas the sun was going down - beautiful views. We then did artist's drive as the sun was setting - the colours were lovely and no one else around. The food at Furnace Creek was very nice - room cost us $153.44 for one night.

    Next day we did Zabriskie Point and Dante's View, and headed over to Las Vegas! We saw some dust devils as we neared Pahrump which was exciting.

    We checked into the MGM Grand Celebrity Spa Suite - we splashed out! ($400 for 4 nights - so cheap compared to elsewhere. We did get a deal though - the smartervegas website was very useful for this.) We took the car back to the drop off at the airport - we expected to be charged $25 a day extra insurance for being only 21, but they didn't say anything so neither did we! We got a taxi back to the hotel and then headed out to roam the casinos! We probably spent about $10 total on machines, mainly the video poker ones. We wanted to play blackjack, but because it was a holiday weekend (4th july) the tables were packed and minimum bet seemed to be $15 which was just way too much for us. So we easily filled our time in Vegas with visiting every hotel and taking plenty of photos. The hotels are very far apart - even though they look close. We took the bus one day to get down to the other end of the strip where we went up the stratosphere at night for the views. That end of the strip was pretty dodgy. We wanted to go to Fremont Street that night, but a bus didn't come for an hour (they're supposed to be every 10 minutes) so we walked back up towards the MGM.

    There are plenty of free things to see in Vegas - the Sirens at Treasure Island, the Volcano at Mirage, the Lions at MGM, the gondola guys in the Venetian, the fountains at the Bellagio, and just the hotels themselves as well as people watching - it's great for a tight budget! Another night we saw a Cirque du Soleil act at Treasure Island (Mystere - $130 total for two tickets). The acrobatics were great but we totally didn't get the humour of the big baby - other people found it hilarious though. We didn't eat at any expensive restaurants - we ate a big lunch and had small dinners as this kept costs down and the portions were still massive from the lunch menus.

    We also booked a sunset tour trip to the Grand Canyon with Grand Adventures ($300 for two tickets). I'm not normally a fan of bus tours - hence why we did this holiday instead of a Trek America type thing. But it just seemed the best way for us to fit it in without paying more for the car and a hotel over there. We enjoyed it a lot, we had a great group on the bus and the 5 hour trip there passed pretty quick with all the chatting. The tour guide was very friendly and funny as well. We used the bus system there to stop off at several view points and the sun set was beautiful. I had expected more walking, but we still saw a lot so it was okay. We got back to the hotel pretty late - about 1am.

    All in all, we had the trip of a lifetime. Although now nearly a year has passed I'm itching to travel again! I love the planning part too - I'm currrently looking at Australia.

    So for the total costs of this trip for two people we worked out afterwards we had spent approximately £3500, or £1750 each (give or take a couple hundred quid).

    flights were £1100 (Manchester to London to San Fran then Vegas to London to Manchester). Hotels were roughly $1400 (£900 plus maids tips). Car was only £85. And we spend about £1500 total on spending money - including the Vegas show and trips such as the Grand Canyon and Alcatraz, and food and petrol.

    Food and accomodation really are the places where you can save a lot of money - we ate very cheaply in San Fran and Vegas - but it was more expensive in the National parks. We counteracted this by not eating much, eating mainly rubbish, and trying to limit our meals in restaurants until we were truly hungry and would eat every last scrap even if it was awful food (Cedar Lodge in Yosemite). As I said earlier, Lunch menus are also great.

    If I was to do it again, I would probably have spent more time in Yosemite. I loved the time of year we went though - the waterfalls were great.

    If anyone has any questions feel free to ask me. I needlessly worried before we left - but it's so easy once you're over there! And everyone's friendly - excpet for one guy who was staying at Cedar Lodge who heard us talking and pretty much said Yosemite was ruined compared to 10 years ago because too many foreigners came on tour buses and he lived only 90 miles away and it should be saved for people who live close by.......hmm. We didn't talk to him for long.

    And finally, thanks for all the help I've received on this board!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Great report !

    Hi Naomi [and Matthew] glad you dropped by !

    I am enjoying reading your report and will most certainly be keeping an eye out for updates and looking forward to them.

    We too 'experienced' that area of San Fran and it was quite an eye opener. We seemed to stick out like a sore thumb, or like the armoured/riot police van that was driving around Lol ! No harm done though, but I do recall one of the more run down streets had a great view of the gold dome on top of City Hall and thinking that it can't help relations.

    Keep it coming !

    [ I see you finished your report as I was posting, so Thankyou !] If you get the opportunity you can upload pictures to Photoshare from your computer and add them here if you want, we would love to see some !

    I have moved your thread to the appropriate 'Roadtrip field reports' section.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 01-09-2011 at 04:55 PM. Reason: Added comment.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I've stayed and eaten at the Cedar Lodge - I didn't find the food to be bad. I wonder what was wrong when you were there?

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