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Thread: west coast

  1. Default west coast


    I'm from Sydney Australia and planning to come to the US for three weeks in December with my sister and parents. We want to do the west coast from San Francisco down to San Diego, then to Mexico for a couple of days, and fly to Hawaii for a couple of days on the way out. Is it best to drive down into Mexico, or to go with a tour group? Also, I'd really like to see Las Vegas, what do other people recommend? And would you drive there or fly..

    Thanks so much

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default It's All Within Reach

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Two and a half to three weeks (depending on whether your Hawai'i time comes out of the three weeks) is plenty of time to do what is one of the most popular trips discussed on these boards. That is San Francisco to Las Vegas to Los Angeles (or in your case, San Diego/Tijuana) and back to San Francisco. Some of the options and sights are in the discussions linked to from this post. Have a look at those, but in the meantime, let me answer some of your specific questions.

    Driving a car into Mexico can be quite a problem. Mexico does not recognize any insurance other than a policy issued by a Mexican insurance company. Now, your car rental company may have already made arrangements with such a company, or they may simply prohibit your taking their car into Mexico. If you can drive and get away from the border areas, Mexico can be a unique and rewarding experience. But if you find that you can't take your car, a tour or even a walk across the border and hike around Tijuana would still be in order.

    Obviously I'm recommending that you drive to Las Vegas. If you do the triangular route, you can see places like the Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley, and Maybe Yosemite along the way. Be forewarned, that the 'shortcut' CA-120 over Tioga Pass closes for the winter due to snow, so you will have to take the long way around the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I-15/I-5, between Las Vegas and San Francisco.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Québec, Montreal, Arizona, California, France

    Default Mexico!

    Hi there!

    Is it best to drive down into Mexico, or to go with a tour group?
    Although I've never been there, Tijuana is not generally recommended for tourists and does not have a very good reputation. I believe the Army even took over the whole city since there was too much corruption being done by both municipal and state officials. Actually, most border towns aren't very representative of what's out there. As soon as you get a little deeper into Mexico, you'll notice the difference. People are all smiling and polite and it is far more relaxing.

    Personally, I wouldn't vote for the guided tour since I like to improvize and have a spontaneous and direct contact with the locals, but on the other hand, a guided tour would probably be a lot safer. It depends on what you are looking for.

    Driving into Mexico is quite an experience which can be both scary and exciting (for me anyway:-). Some highways have been known for being more dangerous both in terms of terrain and robberies. Usually if you stick to major interstates and drive during the day that shouldn't be a problem. If you experience any trouble while driving on an interstate, try to find a safe spot to park your vehicle and wait for the Green Angels (the equivalent of AAA). To avoid endless waiting lines at the border, I suggest you get back in the US using a small town crossing but most importantly, have all the proper I.D. handy. And like Buck stated, make sure you have Mexican insurance and that the rental company allows you to get the car accross the border.

    If you don't want to run the risk of getting stuck for hours in your car at the border, cross by foot. Just be sure you don't have valuable objects in sight and keep your hand on your cameras and purses all the time when walking in downtown areas. Before you cross, make sure you have photocopies of all your I.D. papers and place them in different locations (purse, camera, pocket, etc) in case the original gets stolen.

    Have fun!

  4. #4

    Default Sounds great

    Sounds like there's a lot of potential for a fantastic trip. The road south from San Francisco, presuming you have time to take the Pacific Coast Highway, is spectacular. I have not driven it in the winter, however, perhaps someone who has could advise on the weather there at that time of year?

    This is an excellent report on the experience of driving in Mexico

  5. Default A couple of random comments...

    I've camped and driven along the California coast in winter a couple of times. It's very doable, but the weather may be blustery and cool. Most likely you'll see damp foggy mornings with a bit of mist in the air, clearning to scattered clouds or perhaps bright blue sunshine in the afternoon. You *can* see temperatures in the 80's in December, but most likely it'll be in the 60's -- and there is a reasonable chance of rain in December. All this of course, is dependent upon the year and the specific winter storm patterns going on -- so it just means that you need to be prepared a bit.

    Depending upon where you go in Mexico, you'll get different advice I think. If you just want a flavor of Mexico, take the light rail system in San Diego down to the border, and walk across. You can catch a taxi to the Plaza de Revolution and explore the touristy places there a bit, before heading back. That gets you out of the hassles of Tijuiana (TJ) traffic, and the foot crossing is usually quite a bit faster than by car.

    If you want to see more than the "touristy" TJ border town, you should go down to Ensenada (about 2-3 hours drive south of TJ). It's been built up into a resort community, but doesn't have the same border town feel. The road is very good (its a toll road), highly patrolled, and not too far. But to get to the toll road you have to drive through TJ which can be an experience in itself. Make sure you check to see if your rental car company allows you to take the car across the border, and that you have appropriate Mexican auto insurance (and health insurance, just in case). If you don't, you can end up getting held in a local jail for a fender bender. If you're set on going across via car, and your US rental agency doesn't allow cars into Mexico, you can cross over and rent a car in Mexico -- there are several national level chains which operate there (Avis and Budget, if memory serves, among others). But again, make sure you have the appropriate insurance and paperwork with you.

    As an alternative, give some thought to a flight from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas at the end of Baja or even Mazatlan or Puerto Viarta. I visited them last Christmas/ New Years and found the weather very nice (warm, sunny), and enjoyed the trip. These would be either a flight, or there's several cruise lines which operate a week long cruise visit down to these three cities from San Diego or LA area. Cabo is more "beachy" (beaches, resorts, sport fishing, kayaking), Mazatlan is more fishing and restorts, and Puerto Viarata is more mainland old Mexico for a place to visit. All enjoyable.

  6. #6

    Default San Fran to San Diego

    Last April I drove from San Diego to San Francisco, stopping in Laguna Beach, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles. I definitely recommend driving, as opposed to flying. California is truly a beautiful state. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask me! :)

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