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  1. Default Arizona (and Calif.) with kids?

    My family and I are going West this summer. It is me, my wife and our kids aged 4 and 1 1/2. We have about 17 days in July and want both to see some of the West and do some relaxation at the beach. Because of the age of the kids this is not primarily a "road trip". We intend to fly to San Diego, rent a car, pretty much stay put for a while (summer holiday plus Sea World, maybe Disneyland, etc), and then spend some days driving to San Fransisco along the coast, and fly back from San Fransisco. Our start/endpoint is New York City.

    However, I can't shake off Arizona. This might be my one roadtrip in US (we're from Europe, living in NY now but am soon moving back). Grand Canyon might be a bit much of a detour with the kids who might not be too interested in the view, but are there other sights attractive to children?

    I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I think it's some of that "wild west" landscape that I know from Western movies and Disney cartoons, so perhaps Nevada or the mountains of California would be just as good? (I've also had Utah recommended, but that seems to make too long a drive)

    What other places are good to fly into from New York? I've thought about Phoenix, which seems to be a two-hour drive from Flagstaff where we could take Route 66 westward towards the coast. Flagstaff airport would mean a flight via LA and a more expensive rental car. Salt Lake City seems too far away.

    So what is my question? I'll try with this: do anyone have any tips for vacation with small children, seeing some of the interior West, ending up in either San Diego/LA or San Fransisco (I could tack it onto the end of our SD-SF route instead), with a startpoint that is easily reachable from the East Coast by reasonably priced flights and good car rental options? Ideally, it should involve less than 10 hours driving time (and I suspect Google maps' driving time calculations to be a bit on the optimistic side) from either San Diego or San Fransisco, spread over something between three and six days.

    Also, how is the climate? I'd think that a lot of this area is at high altitude which might make it not too hot, but I haven't really checked that very thoroughly.

    Thank you all very much! I've looked a bit at discussions on this forum and it seems to be a lot of helpful and eager people out there :-)


  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2009
    SF Bay Area

    Default 2 "c"s, one "s"

    Hi Jorgen. Minor note first, as I native San Franciscan I have to point out the correct spelling of Bagdad-by-the-bay is San Francisco.

    For small kids in southern California the sure bets are the San Diego zoo, Wild Animal Park, Legoland, and Sea World (all in the greater San Diego Area) and the usual theme parks in the LA basin.

    Farther north the Monterey Bay Aquarium is usually a hit with kids.

    Not sure whether Yosemite will connect with kids, but I have to admit I still have memories of the first time I went there with my parents (I was maybe 4 at that point).

    In SF, pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, both intensely touristy, will have some things that kids should enjoy. A small gem to look for is the Musee' Mechanique, where mechanical toys and dioramas from a century ago are on display. Entry free, but the displays/games need to be fed coins. This is on the waterfront near the WWII submarine and Liberty Ship. Further up are some old ships and a National Park dedicated to maritime things that a four year old might enjoy.

    As a native Californian, you have to take what follows with a grain of salt: with small children and a little over two weeks, you can easily fill the time entirely within the state of California, with no transit day over a couple hundred miles (if planned correctly). If you start wandering farther afield make sure you have things to keep the kids occupied.

    From LA to SF your two scenic options are
    1) Highway 1 along the coast
    2) Go east from LA to connect to 395 and follow it up the eastern edge of the Sierra. From the Mono Lake area you would take 120 through Yosemite National Park, hopefully stopping there a day or two.

    You're doing this during high season with kids, so I would recommend booking ahead in places that fill up; Yosemite would be one of those places.

    Last thought: do your beach time in Southern California, the water up where I live never warms up.

    Oh... one more last thought. Many old westerns were shot in the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine on 395. In fact, the Alabama Hills also stood in for the Kyhber Pass in the 1930s classic "Gunga Din". Also "Tremors", but let's not go there. There is a set of dirt roads (that your car rental company might not approve of you driving on) that takes you through these rounded brown boulders at the feet of Mt Whitney. Local shops have guides to the area.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by CalOldBlue; 05-16-2009 at 11:08 PM. Reason: Add photo of Alabama Hills and Sierra eastern face

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default So much to see, so little time !

    It's always tough making choices in these circumstances, but it has to be done.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums!

    CalOldBlue has given you some good ideas and here are a few more that include
    some of our favorites.

    Only you can decide whether to answer "the calling" or not, but Phoenix would be a good destination point if you wanted to see the Grand canyon from the South rim, and Monument valley would be an option, home of many John Wayne movies. Have a look around the forums and as questions arise just ask.

  4. Default

    Thank you both for your replies!

    Right now I feel I have a choice between the following two options for our 17-day trip:

    a) Phoenix-Flagstaff (stay 2 days, daytrips around there) - Route 66 westward - San Diego (stay 5 days, some attractions) - LA - Big Sur (stay 2? days) - San Francisco (stay 2? days)


    b) start with the San Diego part (fly there instead of to Phoenix), drive in a bit shorter steps and tack on some more Bay Area in the end, such as Sonoma.

    any opinions welcome.

    How is the driving Phoenix->Flagstaff->Route 66->LA, is it "scenic" or is it flat desert all along? This is of course a subjective question but I won't commit to 10 hours of driving here if it is only for the "attractions" such as Grand Canyon. Is the area flat? mountainous? is there a view from the road most times? sandstorms? intolerable heat? Are the cities along the route interesting?

    again thank you so much. There seems to be some related threads these days as well, learning from them also.


    (rehearsing spelling: San Francisco. San Francisco. San Francisco. I want to spell things right... :-) )

  5. Default I-40/R66 West from Flagstaff - scenic?

    I'm considering driving westwards from Flagstaff via I-40 and/or Route 66 to San Diego in July. However, a lot of people say this path is monotonous and not particularly interesting. I know this is a subjective question, but could anyone share any opinions on whether this is true? Does the scenery change? Huge mountains and/or mesas in the horizon? Altitude changes? Climate changes? Vegetation? Sightlines? I've never driven in a climate this hot / arid before and don't really know what to expect. After all, it'll probably be two to three days of driving (we have kids and don't want to take too long hauls in one day) and if it's boring I'm inclined to leave out Arizona alltogether and fly straight to San Diego.

    As a comparison, some other people have said that the LA - Las Vegas,NV drive is boring - is the LA-Flagstaff route more interesting?

    Thank you!

    (I posted a related thread some days ago but as this is about a more specific question I hope I'm forgiven for posting again)


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tustin, California, United States

    Default Give me a few days

    I'm actually doing this exact route on I-40 from Flagstaff to Barstow on Friday when we return from our current roadtrip. If no one else answers your question before then I'll be sure to give you some detail on this leg.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    If you have 3 days, I would suggest the following routing:

    Take I-40 to Seligman, and take old 66 to Kingman. Stay on old 66 and stop in Oatman. From there, take the Oatman-Topock highway to Topock and onto I-40. Get off on old 66 again to Amboy, then take Amboy Rd into 29 Palms. Take CA-62 to I-10 and go east about 12 miles to Palm Desert and take CA-74 up into the mountains. Take CA-371 to Aguanga, then CA-79 through Julian to I-8, then I-8 into San Diego.

    This is 560 miles, a very easy 3 day drive, and could be made in 2 days. You would also have the option of going through Joshua Tree between 29 Palms and Palm Desert.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Well, Phoenix is near sea level as is LA and SD, and Flagstaff is over 7000 feet. It's hardly flat desert all the way. Between Kingman and Needles, I'd detour over old 66 and see the old town of Oatman.

  9. Default

    Thank you both! That last suggestions sounds quite interesting, not much longer than the route I originally thought about. In my mind, mountains are good. I also found this webpage that can plot elevations: , giving me a bit better impression of the scenery.

    More opinions of course appreciated... :-) And Kinless, looking forward to your report!


  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Albuquerque, New Mexico


    Northern Arizona is anything but monotonous and uninteresting. I think you’ll find that it’s quite scenic. Here’s an illustration of the elevation changes on I-40 in Arizona.

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