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  1. #1

    Default Advice needed: LA --> Grand Canyon --> Vegas --> San Francisco

    Hi everyone!

    Currently in the initial planning process for a (roughly) month long road trip next summer (2017) and in need of some advice and initial thoughts regarding our itinerary. We will be flying from London to either San Francisco or L.A. (return flights to L.A are currently just over £500 whereas return flights to San Francisco are around £900).

    We are either post-graduate students/recent graduates so we will be on a low-end budget. Accommodation wise we will be looking to use a combination of Couchsurfing, camping, airbnb and cheap motels. Suggestions of where to find good campsites in each of our locations would be hugely appreciated.

    This is our current plan:

    Day 1-3: Explore L.A. Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Hollywood (hire car on the 3rd day). Would love to see a baseball/basketball/ice hockey game. How easy is it to get tickets for these?

    Day 4: Drive from L.A to Joshua Tree National Park. Stay one night (recommendations?)

    Day 5: Drive from JT NP to Grand Canyon.

    Day 5-7: Thinking of staying in either Williams or Flagstaff as a cheap base. Is that recommended?
    Is it possible to camp in/near the GC NP? Would Tusayan be a good option? (I've heard that's slightly more expensive as it's closer).

    Would like to do one decent hike in the canyon as well as visiting meteor crater at some point.


    Day 8-12: This is the part i'm having particular trouble with. We want to go from GC NP to Las Vegas via as many NPs as possible. Specifically, we want to see Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion NP.


    Day 8: Drive from Grand Canyon to Monument Valley before moving on to Antelope Canyon (can this be done in a day?). Where do people stay if they want to explore Antelope Canyon?

    Day 9: From Antelope Canyon to Bryce Canyon.

    Day 10: Drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park. Are there lots of camping options in Bryce and Zion?

    Day 11: Extra day in Zion (Angels landing hike)

    Day 12: Drive from Zion to Vegas

    Day 12-15: 3 nights in Vegas. Is it possible to stay in Vegas on a budget? There are quite a few airbnb options but we were wandering where people stay if they're doing a roadtrip via vegas? Any recommendations of what we should definitely try and do in Vegas?

    Day 16: Vegas to Lone Pine via Death Valley NP. Stay in Lone Pine 1 night.

    Day 17: Two Options here. 1) Drive from Lone Pine to Sequoia NP. If I'm right, there is no eastern entrance into Sequoia and it would be a 4/5 hr drive? Camp there for 2 days and explore. 2) Drive from Lone Pine to Yosemite via the Tioga Pass, skipping out Sequoia, and camping in Yosemite for 2/3 days. Is Sequoia a must see? Would you rather take the Tioga Pass into Yosemite and just miss Sequoia?

    Day 20(ish): Drive from Yosemite to San Francisco.

    Day 20-23: Three nights to explore San Francisco.

    Day 24: Take highway 1 from SF to Big Sur. Stay near there 1 night. I'm aware there is a forest fire in the area at the moment? How likely is that to affect things for next summer? Want to see Pfeiffer beach and Hearst Castle.

    Day 25: Big Sur to San Simeon (Elephant Seals).

    Day 26: San Simeon back to L.A.

    Day 26-28: Couple of nights back in L.A before flying back home.


    1) First off, does this seem like a reasonable trip? Have we given ourselves enough days? Are there any obvious issues with the route I have suggested?

    2) Would the national park pass cover the NPs I have listed? Do you need one pass per person? Or one per vehicle?

    3) Any suggestions of particular sights on our route that I may have missed?

    4) Is day 8-12 practical? Do you think you can drive from Grand Canyon --> Monument Valley --> Antelope Canyon --> Bryce --> Zion --> Vegas in that time?

    5) As Brits on our first roadtrip, is there any particular advice you would give about driving in America? I'm thinking in particular about driving in SF and LA - would you advise any particular times of the day to drive in and out of these cities?


    Thanks so much in advance for any help/advice. I have seen some great posts on other threads on this site so I thought I would try my luck!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I think you've got a very solid plan started.

    Camping is certainly an option at the Grand Canyon, and nearly all of the other National Parks you've mentioned. However, they are very popular and book up quickly, so you'll want to make reservations as soon as you can.

    The National Parks pass is $80 and covers everyone in your car. You can buy it when you arrive at your first one (Joshua Tree with your current plan). It will be well worth it for your trip, however it is worth noting that Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon are not National Parks - they are located on Native American Tribal Lands and are run by the Tribes.

    If it were me, I would go from Death Valley to Yosemite and either skip Sequoia or do it after Yosemite. Tioga Pass is a big part of the Yosemite experience. Also, Yosemite does have a grove of Sequoia Trees call the Mariposa Grove. It is currently closed for a restoration project, but it is scheduled to reopen in Spring of 2017.

    You can find good deals on hotels in Vegas, especially if there is not a major event going on, or if you're willing to look beyond some of the big name hotels in the middle of the Strip. I typically stay Downtown when I'm in Vegas - although one other note, most Vegas hotels are now charging "Resort Fees" that can add a hidden charge of anywhere from $15-50 to the room rate.

    Baseball Tickets shouldn't be hard to get, especially if you are going to a weekday game. Basketball and Hockey are in the playoffs in summer, so those games would likely be quite expensive.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
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    Hi, welcome to RTA!

    Day 1-3: Explore L.A. Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Hollywood (hire car on the 3rd day). Would love to see a baseball/basketball/ice hockey game. How easy is it to get tickets for these?
    Unfortunately, public transportation is still not very good in Los Angeles. You would do well to get your car on the first day you want to go anywhere.

    Joshua Tree NP and Grand Canyon NP both have campgrounds. You'd be wise, as Michael suggested, to start looking at reservations as soon as the window opens.

    Las Vegas -- well, it's really hot there in the summer, so you're doing well to think motels. For budget, look off-strip or downtown, and be sure to ask about the Resort Fees. Those resort fees include the wi-fi, and on the strip last summer, added $25/day to our room fee.

    Brush fires this summer will probably not affect anything for next summer. That said, however, California is so dry that fires spring up anywhere and everywhere at a moment's notice. You may be told, in a given campground, that you may not have a campfire. Or that your campfire must be relegated to a small outdoor grill.

    As far as the San Francisco to LA driving is concerned -- traffic that needs to get there in a hurry will usually be on I-5. Folks that use PCH (CA-1) or US-101 are usually not in such a hurry. If it were me, I'm not sure I'd want to be on the PCH on a weekend, but you'd do yourself a favor by getting your overnight reservation well in hand regardless of weekend or weekday.


    Donna

  4. #4

    Default

    Thanks so much for your reply!

    - Do you think it's better to try and camp in the grand canyon or base yourself in a nearby town e.g. Flagstaff or Williams?

    - Okay great, will definitely buy that pass then

    - Yes, I agree. I think Tioga Pass looks incredible so unfortunately I think we will miss Sequoia unless, as you suggested, we make some room for it as a detour on the way to San Francisco from Yosemite.

    - I guess we will just have to look out for some good deals in vegas then and be willing to stay off the strip

    - Sounds like Baseball would be the better option then. Is there a great deal of difference between going in San Francisco and L.A.?

  5. #5

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Hi, welcome to RTA!



    Unfortunately, public transportation is still not very good in Los Angeles. You would do well to get your car on the first day you want to go anywhere.

    Joshua Tree NP and Grand Canyon NP both have campgrounds. You'd be wise, as Michael suggested, to start looking at reservations as soon as the window opens.

    Las Vegas -- well, it's really hot there in the summer, so you're doing well to think motels. For budget, look off-strip or downtown, and be sure to ask about the Resort Fees. Those resort fees include the wi-fi, and on the strip last summer, added $25/day to our room fee.

    Brush fires this summer will probably not affect anything for next summer. That said, however, California is so dry that fires spring up anywhere and everywhere at a moment's notice. You may be told, in a given campground, that you may not have a campfire. Or that your campfire must be relegated to a small outdoor grill.

    As far as the San Francisco to LA driving is concerned -- traffic that needs to get there in a hurry will usually be on I-5. Folks that use PCH (CA-1) or US-101 are usually not in such a hurry. If it were me, I'm not sure I'd want to be on the PCH on a weekend, but you'd do yourself a favor by getting your overnight reservation well in hand regardless of weekend or weekday.


    Donna
    Hi Donna, thanks for your help.

    - Ok great I didn't realise that. Will think about hiring a car straight away in L.A.

    - Will do, thanks.

    - Will be sure to watch out for resort fees, then. I think airbnb has quite a few options (at least at the moment), so i think that may be a good option.

    - Would you say that camping in California posed a great risk due to the possibility of campfires?

    - Thanks for the tip! Maybe we should think about driving the PCG on a weekday.


    Thanks so much for your help!

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    If you will have camping gear and plan to do camping throughout your trip, I would try to do it at Grand Canyon too. But if you want hotels, Williams/Flagstaff would be your cheapest option, it just means an hour drive to the park.

    I think the San Francisco Giants ballpark is one of the nicest in all of baseball. I have not been to Dodger Stadium, but it's got a good amount of history too. Angels Stadium in Anaheim is nice, but a step below SF, and I would skip Oakland. I imagine the schedule will have to play a big roll in your decision too.

  7. #7
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    Back in our tent camping days, my husband and I would camp for 3 or 4 nights, then stay in a motel for a night just to have a soft bed and a nice shower. Or stay in a motel/hotel whenever camping was not a great option.

    For Grand Canyon, the main campground on the South Rim is Mather Campground, which takes tents. It is available through reservation. Other ideas would be to stay in one of the Kaibab National Forest campgrounds, like Ten-X near Tusayan, or one of the lake campgrounds closer to Williams. Ten-X is the closest one to the Grand Canyon and has reservations available. The others are south of Williams.

    Yes, the main reason for the campfire ban or restrictions is definitely our drought and how easily everything burns.

    Here is the link to the list of Joshua Tree NP campgrounds, which ones can/cannot be reserved, and more. Be aware that you will have to bring your own water to any campsite in this national park; none of them have water spigots. You can buy a collapsible water container or two at a sporting good store along the way.


    Donna

  8. #8

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    I beg to differ on the choice of baseball stadiums!!! My opinions: Anaheim is a basic cookie cutter stadium in the mold of the 70s/80s. Dodger Stadium is a classic but tickets may be hard to come by or very, very expensive. The new SF Giants stadium might be nice, certainly better for baseball than old Candlestick. Oakland A's stadium isn't in a chic neighborhood but tickets will be easier to obtain and it tends to be more of a baseball fan park than a place to drink cocktails and wine coolers. Also has BART transit.

    During your first few days of the trip you will experience a certain amount of jet lag--not a great time to be driving a car around on the wrong side of the road ;) Suggest considering taking a taxi cab to your Venice/Santa Monica hotel and walking around your first couple of days, or hailing a cab to get from the Pier to Venice. Pick up your rental car and take in Hollywood your last night (and Dodger Stadium if you can get tickets). During non-rush hour, a taxi to/from Hollywood might be a better option as the Blvd can be very crazy crowded. Griffith Observatory is just beyond Hollywood.

    Red Canyon Campground is about 15 minutes outside of Bryce Canyon NP. Looked to be a nice camping area along scenic Rt. 12. You can catch the Bryce Canyon NP shuttle bus outside the park entrance or drive into the park and catch the shuttle at one of many parking areas during the summer... shuttles run about every ten minutes, hop-on, hop-off.

    Plan and make campground reservations far in advance as they sell out quickly during the summer months.

    Re: "Day 24: Take highway 1 from SF to Big Sur. Stay near there 1 night. Day 25: Big Sur to San Simeon (Elephant Seals)."
    -- Monterey is a good jumping point to begin your Big Sur drive which will tend to be on the slow pace side. Plenty to do in Monterey. Get an early morning start when heading south through Big Sur. Cambria and Morro Bay are good night-over towns south of Big Sur. If you are craft brew fans then consider staying over night near the Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles, CA.

    re: "Day 26: San Simeon back to L.A."
    -- Exit 55 off of US-101 south (Ventura/Camarillo) to CA-1 (Pacific Coast Highway) is a good way to go and avoid the concrete jungle until Santa Monica.

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    If you will have camping gear and plan to do camping throughout your trip, I would try to do it at Grand Canyon too. But if you want hotels, Williams/Flagstaff would be your cheapest option, it just means an hour drive to the park.

    I think the San Francisco Giants ballpark is one of the nicest in all of baseball. I have not been to Dodger Stadium, but it's got a good amount of history too. Angels Stadium in Anaheim is nice, but a step below SF, and I would skip Oakland. I imagine the schedule will have to play a big roll in your decision too.

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Default Preparation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hurtmore1 View Post
    Would like to do one decent hike in the canyon as well as visiting meteor crater at some point.
    You could do no better than to get hold of a copy of "Over the Edge; Death in the Grand Canyon" by Ghiglieri and Myers.

    Hailed as an absolute masterpiece, it should be read by everyone visiting the canyon. Not at all morbid, but very descriptive of all the activities which take place within the canyon (even in the carparks), especially the detail about the hiking trails. It is a real page turner, and hard to put down once started.

    Lifey

  10. Default

    Hello Hurtmore. Looks a great trip, especially with all those parks in the itinerary.

    Day 4 you're probably best staying in Yucca Valley
    Day 5 onwards. I'd say Williams is your best value base here. It's a fun place to stay too.
    Days 8-12 Take the I40/Route 66 to Meteor Crater. Note the crater is about 30 mins drive off the interstate. It's not a National Park, it's privately owned and we felt a little ripped off after having visited it, but if it's on your list...
    Carry on to Winslow and stand on the corner!
    Carry in I40 and either take the 87/160/163 to MV, OR carry on a bit and take the 191 and visit Canyon de Chelly NP.
    Either way I can recommend booking a sunrise tour at Monument Valley. Navajo Spirit tours are good.
    Antelope canyon is an easy drive from MV. Again, recommend a tour at AC to get the most out of it.
    Not been to Bryce Canyon
    Day 24. Can recommend Big Sur Campground & Cabins
    Day 25 San Simeon. The Best Western there is pretty decent. Easiest to get to Hearst Castle from here. They do a large number of various tours of different durations and prices.

    In general you'll find driving in the US much easier than in the UK for the following reasons:
    More space. Courteous drivers. No roundabouts. Good signage.
    I say in general, traffic in LA is bad. Think London with straighter roads and more traffic lights.
    In San Francisco, just leave your car in the car park for your whole stay. Unlike LA there's public transport.

    You can turn right on a red light (unless a sign says otherwise). Note you will get honked at if you dither at these.
    Also note that when you come to a junction and you see a street sign (e.g. Harbor Boulevard) this is the name of the street that you're crossing, not the one you're on.
    On the highways, the exit numbers are (mostly) mileage based, e.g. you will see a jump from say exit 211 to 219. You've not missed any exits, they are 8 miles apart.
    I say mostly, because some around LA are like in the UK, sequential.
    Handbrake is usually a foot brake
    Internal light is usually operated by pulling the main light switch (may seem dumb, but took us ages to work it out, and many cars there are like that).
    Don't use a debit or currency card in the auto gas machines.
    Can't think of anything else for now!

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