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  1. Default West Coast January 2012

    Hello! I'm really happy I found such an amazing and informative forum which was really helpful to take decisions about my trip to the West Coast (we are a couple with 3 teenagers). We really want to make the most out of the 15 days we'll be there. Anyway, I have some specific doubts and I'd be grateful if someone could help. This is my (rough) itinerary:

    1) Jan. 3 - 7: San Francisco (also going to Palo Alto to visit some relatives). Do you think we should go to Muir Woods? Should we rent a car to go?
    2) Jan. 7: Going by car to Yosemite (I know many roads are closed, but wouldn't miss the chance to go to the Park in winter, do you think it's risky or crazy? We're renting a mini van), spending the night in Yosemite Lodge and leaving next morning/afternoon after, what do you think is better? We'd like to ski in Badger Pass if its possible but I don't think we have much time.
    3) Jan. 8: Going by car to Monterey, visiting Carmel and other attractions over there, sightseeing, spending the night somewhere en-route. Next afternoon leaving to LA via Highway 1, stopping by Big Sur to take some pictures.
    4) Jan. 9 - 13: Arriving in LA at night. Do you think 4 days is too much? Then we're heading to San Diego.
    5) Jan. 13: Spending one day in San Diego and dropping off the car there. Flying to Las Vegas next day.
    6) Jan. 14-17: Staying in Las Vegas. We won't need a car if we stay in The Strip, right? I'd like to add some day excursion, like a helicopter tour to Grand Canyon. Do you think it's worth it given how expensive it is (around $300 per person)?

    Do you think this itinerary is feasible, or we'll run out of time in some part of the trip? My priority is to be able to do it all, but of course I'm open to change something if it's not doable this way.
    Any comment/recommendation/advice/whatever will be appreciated!
    Thanks so much in advance!

    Edit: forgot to mention something important! We HAVE TO start in SF and end the trip in Las Vegas because that's where our flights arrive and leave!
    Last edited by skolcito; 12-06-2011 at 07:16 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA! Let me see if I can help you with some of your questions.

    1) If it were MY trip, I'd definitely plan on Muir Woods. I've been there twice before and would go again if the opportunity arises. You'll have others comment about the car rental bit, as I wouldn't have an answer. There are lots of other things to see/do in the SF area.

    2) We left Yosemite in a storm one time. It was definitely an adventure. I'm sure others will chime in on this.

    4) Four days in LA would be great, IF you have an idea of what you want to do. That's because it will be difficult to narrow it down. Theme parks: Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Disneyland, California Adventure and Knotts could each take ONE full day. Hollywood could take a day or two. If you want a day at the beach, that's available too....bearing in mind that our weather may not cooperate AND the water never gets superbly warm down this way like you'd think it would.

    5) One day in San Diego ... well, we have a ton of things to keep you busy down this way!

    6) The helicopter tour from Las Vegas to see "the Grand Canyon" is going to take you over the Indian-reservation west end of the Canyon...NOT the Grand Canyon National Park area. That's because the GCNP has a "no fly" rule, but the west end does not. Worthwhile? I'll let others answer that, as I've never done that. I'd prefer to drive down and see the Canyon itself.
    As for a car in Las Vegas, no. The Strip has a trolley and plenty of buses and taxes, and at that time of the year, walking can be fun too.

    Happy planning!


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Why not drive all the way?

    Hi Skol,

    You may not be aware, but there is much to see along the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway. It is a single lane each way, and quite slow going.... even if you don't pull off in the view points. But of course, you won't want to miss them. And then there is Hearst Castle, which may interest the children. To plan to drive from Monterey all the way into LA may be a little ambitious. And arriving in LA after dark is not something I would recommend. Maybe plan to stop somewhere between Cambria and Santa Barbara, and make it into LA on the next day.

    If you are into theme parks, then maybe four days in LA could be justified. But I would suggest cutting down the time in the cities, and plan to drive from San Diego to the Grand Canyon, South Rim. It will be a long day, but you will never regret it. Stay the night in the park, if possible. It's cheaper than the flights you mention. Spend the next morning sightseeing, and if you leave not too long after lunch, you can make it into LV the same night. It is about a five hour drive to LV.

    This will allow you to see the GCNP, which most helicopter and charter flights from LV do not cover. They fly over the West Rim, which is the Indian reservation. It is not part of the magnificent National Park. (Mind you, it is still a great flight, but it would be in ADDITION to, not instead of a visit to the National Park.)

    Excursions during your stay in LV could be to Death Valley - a place like no other on earth, and a good day excursion from LV. Then there is also the Valley of Fire and other parks and attractions.

    Best you get a good paper map, and lay out this route. See what there is, which places are along the route, or not far off it, that may interest you.

    Enjoy the planning.

    Last edited by Lifemagician; 12-07-2011 at 08:08 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Needs balancing IMO.

    You won't want a car during your stay in SF, the City is easy to get around without one and the parking is very expensive.

    I've not been to Yosemite in the middle of winter, but it's something I would love to do. IF the conditions were right, it looks like a 'winter wonderland', of course that is a big 'if' and one that no one can know until a day or 2 beforehand. You will need to carry chains and be prepared to use them and that would mean checking with the rental company that it's OK by them. Some info from the NPS site.

    Personally I think the part of the trip between SF and LA via Yosemite and the PCH is far too rushed compared to your City days and will need at least another night and possibly two ! The daylight hours are short this time of year and by the time you get to Yosemite it will most likely be lunchtime or after and to get back to the coast and look around attractions in Monterey/Carmel will mean leaving early and having little time after you arrive at the coast. To go to the lenghts of getting to Yosemite, it certainly warrants more than a 2 or 3 hours appreciating it. It would be a very long day from Carmel to LA via Big Sur and not something we would recommend, planning to leave Carmel in the afternoon just isn't going to work.

    You have enough time to make the trip work, but you need to 'tweak' it a little and get a better balance IMO. As nice as I'm sure SD is, perhaps dropping it from the itinerary and one night from LA or LV would balance things out better and give you more time to explore the wonderful scenery at a relaxed pace. You could then consider just driving from LA to LV and perhaps keep the car an extra day or two for some excursions.

  5. #5


    The first time I visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, many years ago, was on an organised trip from Las Vegas. I was short on time to do a road trip and the air trip provided an excellent way to see the Grand Canyon. Obviously cost is a factor.

    I don’t understand about trips only covering the west side of the canyon because the Grand Canyon National Park Airport is only two miles from the South Rim entrance. We left Las Vegas early in the morning on a fixed wing flight, about eight passengers, flying over Hoover Dam and along the Grand Canyon before landing at the airport.

    We were low enough to have very good vision of all the scenery all along the way. I am still amused by my thoughts of the pilot who did an excellent job but he looked young enough to be still at school. Must be me – everyone one seems younger these days.

    We had organised transport taking us around the South Rim spending 6-7 hours there, with plenty of time on our own, seeing the sights before flying back to Las Vegas. It was an experience I am glad I did not miss.

    Grand Canyon National Park Airport.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Some do, most don't.

    Quote Originally Posted by Eris View Post
    We left Las Vegas early in the morning on a fixed wing flight, about eight passengers, flying over Hoover Dam and along the Grand Canyon before landing at the airport.
    That must have been one of the very few flights from LV which actually goes to the South Rim. Fact is that most only fly over the west rim. In 2001 I took one of these flights. It was a magnificent experience. The two hour flight took us below the rim of the canyon. But as great as it was, it did not go over the Grand Canyon National Park... which I visited three years later - and have several times since.

    That is why we warn people to be sure they know what they are getting, when taking a Grand Canyon flight from LV.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    I don’t understand about trips only covering the west side of the canyon because the Grand Canyon National Park Airport is only two miles from the South Rim entrance. We left Las Vegas early in the morning on a fixed wing flight, about eight passengers, flying over Hoover Dam and along the Grand Canyon before landing at the airport.
    The difference is that you took an actual plane to GC Airport, which isn't a bad thing at all, it is probably the best way to see things, the fastest. It just comes at a price.

    Its the helicopter tours that nearly always go to the West Rim. Such tours at times can also fly into the canyon - ie go below the rim, because they are done on reservation lands where they don't have the same restrictions as the national park. Planes can fly above the Grand Canyon within the National Park, they just have to stay above the rim.

  8. Default

    Thanks so much for your advices! I'll really consider dropping San Diego or spending one less night in either LA o LV so that we have an extra spare day to spend en-route somewhere between Monterey and Los Angeles. Do you think this would work? In LA we want to spend a day in Universal Studios, go to Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Santa Monica I missing some nice, relevant place to visit in LA area? Will 3 nights be enough? (we won't be going to Disneyland because we already went last year to Walt Disney World).
    Regarding the Grand Canyon, as much as I'd like to go we don't want to drive ourselves all the way from LV, so I'll consider a bus-tour or other helicopter/plane tours which include transportation to the South Rim. Does it take a whole day (morning til evening) to do the National Park?

    Again, thanks a lot for your help!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    I'd always recommend at least a full day for Grand Canyon, but a half day can be done.

    The big key, especially if you are considering a tour, is to make sure you really know what you are getting. I would not recommend any bus tour that does not include an overnight stay at the rim, since you simply can't do the Canyon as a daytrip from vegas and have time to enjoy it. I'd also say that you'd end up spending a lot more time on the road compared to driving, because you can save a good chunk of miles by driving directly from LA to GC, without detouring north to Vegas.

    If you can find a flight to the GC airport that's in your budget and lets you stay at the rim for most of the day as described above, that would be great.

  10. Default Snow chains?

    I'm having a dilemma here with my wife about driving to Yosemite in winter...I read that possession of snow chains is legally required if we want to drive to the Park in winter months. Do you think it is likely we'll actually get to put them in the tires and use them (we are going mid-January)? Is it dangerous to NOT use them? We are renting a mini van and I don't think car rental companies allow us to use them so I don't really know what to do...Any recommendation?


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