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  1. Default Advice welcome on a Westcoast & national parks trip

    Hi there,

    First of all, let me introduce us / myself: We're a young couple (25 years old) from Europe and going to the USA has been a dream for quite some years. Now that we're not students anymore and have a little bit more money than before (we're both employed) we decided to give in to the dream and travel to the USA.

    After doing a lot of research and asking around (colleagues and friends) I put together a trip visiting the west coast and several national parks.

    A few weeks ago we booked the flights and hotels (may -> june) and I'm starting to narrow down on the details.

    In short, this is how our schedule looks like:

    1. New York
    2. New York
    3. New York
    4. New York
    5. Washington DC
    6. San Francisco -> Santa Maria
    7. Santa Maria -> Los Angeles
    8. Los Angeles
    9. Los Angeles
    10. Los Angeles -> Palm Springs
    11. Palm Springs -> Grand Canyon
    12. Grand Canyon -> Capitol Reef
    13. Capitol Reef -> Bryce Canyon
    14. Bryce Canyon -> Zion NP
    15. Las Vegas
    16. Las Vegas
    17. Las Vegas -> Death Valley
    18. Death Valley -> Sequoia NP
    19. Sequoia NP -> Yosemite
    20. Yosemite -> San Francisco
    21. San Francisco
    22. San Francisco
    23. San Francisco
    24. San Francisco
    25. San Francisco


    It's quite a trip but it's not the first time and there is so much to see which makes it very hard to plan. But after all you can't do everything and you have to make a selection.

    I have quite some questions but I'd like to avoid to turn this topic into a big mess, which is why I think it might be better to just discuss several items one by one.

    So here goes my first question(s): We arrive in the evening in San Francisco airport, pick up our car and go to our hotel (near the airport). That way we can leave (early) in the morning for the first day of our road trip.

    What would be the best route to drive from San Francisco (airport) to Santa Maria? I figured Hwy 101 -> 85 -> 17 and than highway one all the way to Santa Maria. We're leaving on a Saturday so I figure we won't be bothered by traffic jams? What's worth visiting along the way (although our time is little limited), what's worth visiting and which is not? Is the 17 mile drive in Monterey worth the money? Is Hearsth Castle worth going to without a tour (so just pass by and have a look of it from outside / the road)

    As you can see, a lot of questions about the first day already, hope it doesn't bother you too much :-)

    Finally: already a big thank you in advance for the tips, tricks and advice we're about to receive.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default Busy schedule in parts.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    I would definitely recommend travelling down the Coast on CA1, but it's a slow twisty Road and will take time with low average speeds and you an expect to see traffic, it's one of the worlds top Ocean drives. By the time you have stopped at various viewpoints and had lunch etc, it will become quite a full day, but a very enjoyable one. Not sure how much you can see of Hearst Castle from the approach Road, but I think they do tours in the evening during the summer. As I mentioned though, you have quite full day.

    Are all lodgings booked ? Your itinerary is 'doable', but you have a lot of time in the City and some days you are driving for long hours with very little time at your destination. Especially places like Grand canyon and Yosemite.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    Driving from SFO to Santa Maria via the coast highway is going to be a very full day without making any scenic stops. I'd really recommend you try to rearrange things a bit. Why not book a Hearst Castle tour for the next morning and spend the night in San Simeon instead of Santa Maria? You can drive from San Simeon to LA in about 5 hours.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    777

    Default Seems like a lot of stuff squeezed into three days...

    New York
    Washington DC
    San Francisco --> Santa Maria

    First off, I assume you're flying from DC to SFO; that's 6 hours in the air plus a an hour or two on either end dealing with security, baggage, rental cars, etc. Doesn't leave a lot of time to drive to anywhere.

    On paper, it may look doable; you can leave IAD around 9 east coast time, and land in SFO at noon Pacific... but it's going to feel like 3pm or worse to your body, and then you're looking at a full day drive. I couldn't recommend this.

    Second, one day isn't a whole lot of time to spend in DC... plus getting there from NYC.

    I think this section needs further scrutiny.

  5. Default

    First of all thank you all for the advice so far.

    Unfortunately I only just recently discovered this nice community and all lodgings are already booked (trough an agency so it's almost impossible to change that) and also the flights are booked so I'd like to avoid making changes to the itinerary as much as possible.

    We arrive in SFO 10PM local time (friday evening) so we can leave the hotel early in the saturday morning. So assume we can leave at 8 or 9AM on saturday morning and we'd like to arrive just before sunset (I hate searching for a hotel in the dark :) ) which would be around 8PM according to what I found on the internet. That means we'd have 11 to 12 hours available for traveling. According to google it's a 5 hour drive (make that 6) which means we'd have 5 to 6 hours for sightseeing, no?

    So my initial question was: how to spend these 5 to 6 hours in the best possible way? :)

    PS: If I'd known this community earlier I would have ran the schedule by you guys first, but one must make shift with what one has I suppose.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,748

    Default 'Real world' times

    That means we'd have 11 to 12 hours available for traveling. According to google it's a 5 hour drive (make that 6) which means we'd have 5 to 6 hours for sightseeing, no?
    No. From the Airport you may get to Santa Maria in 5 hours, but only by travelling all the way on 101. Think of the coast trip around Big Sur as your 'sight seeing', there is plenty to enjoy so take your time. Going this route doesn't leave you with any other choice but to take it easy anyway, particularly when caught up behind slow moving traffic. [It's worth every moment].

    Google maps are very over optimistic in there drive times and on main routes you would be best to allow an extra 20% on main Highways and more on roads such as the PCH. Those 'clever' computers never have the need to stop for the bathroom, food, rest or top the tank up. Never mind other human 'errors' such as congestion and construction delays.

    all lodgings are already booked (trough an agency so it's almost impossible to change that)
    As I mentioned your itinerary is 'doable', but you have left yourself short of time in some places, yet you have time in others to possibly spare, so it might be worth enquiring. People believe you can't change, but if it's something you would consider, it might be easier than you think.

    As your flights are booked [not so easy to change without costs] I would guess you could only make alterations to the 'Roadtrip' section'. If it's something you are open to, a couple of suggestions.

    Drop Capitol Reef from the itinerary and relax at the Grand canyon for a day.
    #or take a day from San Fran for time at the GC#

    From Death valley take the spectacular Tioga pass[ CA120] direct to Yosemite and visit the Giant Sequoia tree's by the South entrance and drop Sequoia NP. Extra day in Yosemite.

    If you go to Sequoia, spend an extra day in Yosemite and travel to San Fran next day.

    The places I have suggested you 'drop' are spectacular in there own right, but you are covering large distances and visiting a lot of places in a limited amount of time. I think it would help to catch your breath and 'soak up' these natural wonders.

    If you change your itinerary, or leave it as it is. continue to ask questions as and when you need.

  7. Default

    Thanks for the suggestions. For now I'd like to see what can be done with the current itinerary so we can see how far we get.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    I'd really recommend you take Dave's suggestion and you try to rework your hotel reservations. That really should not be a big deal. Your trip is very unbalanced - spending huge amounts of time in most cities, and racing through everywhere else at a pace that will barely be possible.

    It really is like travel time wasn't accounted for at all when some of these stops were laid out. Some of these have been mentioned, but 1 day in DC when you have got get down from NY isn't much time at all. The coast problems have been discussed, and the problems continue. Palm Springs to Grand Canyon is going to take most of the day, as is GC to Capitol Reef. Death Valley to Sequoia is also a long day on the road, and when you factor in the time to drive from Sequoia to Yosemite to San Francisco, that's basically another full day - so you'll have basically have less than a half day each for Sequoia and Yosemite.

    As has been mentioned, you can drive between all of these places in the time you've listed, but its just not giving you time to stop to actually see them! Even trimming each of your extended city stops by just a day would make a huge difference.

    Most hotel reservations can be changed without penalty, as long as you are not doing it right before you are due to arrive. If your agency won't change them - I'd start calling the hotels directly, and be looking for another travel agent for any future trip.

  9. Default

    Dave, Michael,

    I think I started off on the wrong foot here. Due to the fact that I described my itinerary too condensed some misunderstandings were created (I think). Let me try to correct my mistake by describing my itinerary more in detail and then I'll reply to some of your remarks so we can identify where the issues exactly are.

    So here goes:

    • Day 1: arrive at noon at JFK, didn't plan on doing a lot due to jetlag probably
    • Day 2-4: Various stuff in NYC (did not plan anything yet)
    • Day 5: AM in NYC, take train at noon so we arrive at 3 PM in Washington DC
    • Day 6: AM in Washington, take train in the early afternoon to NYC, hop on the plane to San Fran
    • Day 7: Leave San Fran quite early for a coast trip to Santa Maria
    • Day 8: Trip from Santa Maria to Los Angeles (arrive in LA in the evening)
    • Day 9: LA
    • Day 10: Universal Studios
    • Day 14: AM in LA, drive to Palm Springs in the late afternoon.
    • Day 12: Leave early (6 AM or so) in Palm Springs and go straight to Grand Canyon (maybe a 1-hour stop in between to let off some steam and stretch the legs). We should arrive at GC in the (late) afternoon, maybe we can do a small 1-hour hike or so and then watch the sunset.
    • Day 13: another quite big trip: from Grand Canyon to Capitol Reef (maybe a stop inbetween at the Natural Bridges Monument)
    • Day 14: Spend most of the day in Capitol Reef, leave for Bryce Canyon in the late afternoon.
    • Day 15: Spend most of the day in Bryce Canyon, leave for Zion NP in the late afternoon.
    • Day 16: Spend most of the day in Zion NP, leave for Las Vegas in the late afternoon.
    • Day 17: Las Vegas
    • Day 18: Spend most of the day in Las Vegas, leave for Death Valley (Stovepipe Wells) in the afternoon
    • Day 19: Drive from Death Valley to Visalia, I still have to look for a few nice spots / things to do on the way.
    • Day 20: Visalia to Sequoia NP, stay there for a couple of hours and then leave for Yosemite
    • Day 21: Spend most of the day in Yosemite NP, leave for San Fran in the late afternoon
    • Day 22-25: San Francisco


    I'd really recommend you try to rearrange things a bit. Why not book a Hearst Castle tour for the next morning and spend the night in San Simeon instead of Santa Maria? You can drive from San Simeon to LA in about 5 hours.
    This sounds like a really great advice and I'll definitely look into it with my travel agency.

    Your trip is very unbalanced - spending huge amounts of time in most cities, and racing through everywhere else at a pace that will barely be possible.
    It was a deliberate choice to spend relatively more time in the cities (as that is why we're coming to the USA in the first place) but I did not have the impression myself that the "road trip" would be "barely possible".

    but 1 day in DC when you have got get down from NY isn't much time at all
    As I now explained above, we almost have a full day in DC. While that's certainly not enough to discover every square inch of the city and do any of the wonderful museums, I figured it should suffice to see the main "things to do" (everything in and around the main park) and it's anyway better than nothing.

    Palm Springs to Grand Canyon is going to take most of the day
    True, but it was not our intention at all to spend most of the day at the Grand Canyon.

    as is GC to Capitol Reef.
    Also true of course, but then again it's only a 400 mile drive and we don't want to visit Capitol Reef on the same day. As long as we arrive at the hotel on that day it's fine

    Death Valley to Sequoia is also a long day on the road
    When I looked it up it was a 6-hour drive (to Visalia where our hotel is) and nothing else to do that day, so plenty of time in my point of view.

    and when you factor in the time to drive from Sequoia to Yosemite to San Francisco, that's basically another full day - so you'll have basically have less than a half day each for Sequoia and Yosemite.
    I was probably not clear in my first description of the planned itinerary, so please have another look at the more detailed version of it and if you still think there's an issue I'd be happy to hear it.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    I really don't see many (if any) significant changes from the problem spots I pointed out in my last post.

    You have no time in palm springs right now, so there really doesn't seem to be a point of stopping there at all, since it is not on the direct path to the Grand Canyon. I-15 to I-40 would save you some much needed time. Palm Spring to GC is about an 8 hour trip, and the GC is a huge place. Much of "your hour to hike" would likely be spent getting into the park, finding a spot to park the car, and then walking to the rim right in the village. It really is tough to get any appreciation for the Canyon in less than a half day (even that is very quick), and you right now, you've barely got a couple of hours.

    Same with the trip to Capitol Reef. It is only 400 miles, but it is all 2 lane slow going roads. This is another 8+ hour trip, just like DV to Visalia is going to take at least 7-8 hours (and since you aren't arriving in DV until the previous evening, I'd assume you'd want to see some of the park on this day?). And the less than a half day each is still certainly true for Sequoia and Yosemite (in fact, as you've described, you'll barely have time just to drive through Sequoia.)

    It is your trip and you can do whatever you'd like, but the theme of your plan is very consistent - nearly all of your travel times are extremely optimistic (the computer estimates you are looking at simply don't factor in the stops and slowdowns that make up real world conditions), leaving you to spend "most of the day" in some places when you've still got several hours of driving to fit into that day. You are also severely underestimating the amount of time it takes even to get a quick look at most of these national parks. If cities are your focus, that certainly is fine, but then I'd cut back on the amount of parks you are trying to "see" since right now, you just won't have time to do anything but drive through most of them. Eliminating Sequoia (and driving over Tioga Pass as Dave suggested) and skipping Capitol Reef and just going to Bryce/Zion would be the easy ones that would save you the most time.

    But if you just want to do it to see if you can, or if you want to stay beholden to hotel reservations, that's fine. Again, it's your trip, I just think its a case where you'll really end up regretting how little you saw, because you tried to "see" so much.

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