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Old Aug 21, 10, 8:27 am   #1
 
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California trip and hotels advice needed...what to do?

Hi everyone, this is my first post so I hope it's not a confusing one!!

OK. Hubby and I have suddenly decided to book a last minute holiday to California/San Francisco - flying from the UK. We contacted a very, very good company called Trailfinders who are offering us an 11 day trip, flying into LAX with an overnight stay. We then pick up a hire car and do our own thing for the next 6 days before heading into San Francisco for a four night stay.

Now we're suddenly wondering whether 10 days is enough time to do the whole fly drive sightseeing thing and that it might make the break to frantic. Particularly trying to find places to stay at this busy time of year. So should we leave it for another year when we can book a longer holiday and plan it more carefully?

We have until tomorrow to decide whether we want to take this option. To cut a long story short, we've not had a decent holiday abroad for over 15 years, I won't bore you with the sad and sorry details. I really do want to find a holiday that doesn't involve to much stress for either of us as we're both in dire need of a break. We're not the lazing around kinds. We'd like to do the touristy things, ie Alcatraz, museums, galleries etc. We also enjoy theatre and concerts and eating out.

We're now wondering whether we should try and change the holiday to just San Francisco. I'm assuming there's enough to do there to keep us occupied for 6 or 7 days? I know that touristy things are usually expensive, but there must be other cheaper options for things to do.

The other option is to fly into San Francisco rather than LAX and drive North for a few days and take in the vineyards and national parks and then drop down to San Francisco for a few days.

I know this is confusing... I'm confusing myself What it amounts to is.. what would be the most stress free holiday for us both that involves spending some or all of our time in San Francisco.

I hope you can help.

Annabelle
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Old Aug 21, 10, 10:03 am   #2
 
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Hi bizzylizzy - Welcome to FlyerTalk!

Well it sounds like you guys need a vacation, so let's see if we can help you have a great one. Not taking one at all doesn't sound like the right path, now does it?

Some things come to mind as I read through your post:

*What is the itinerary that Trailfinders would offer you? Would you primarily be choosing that option because you wouldn't have to plan an itinerary (or because you got a great bargain, or because they would worry about the details, or what?) California is physically large and also has a great diversity in what visitors can do here. That means that you may be on itinerary out of simplicity in planning, but then you are disappointed to experience a trip that has you moving around more than you'd like and seeing things you don't want to see.

*Would you and Mr. bizzylizzy rather stay in one place longer? Or does changing hotels and locations every other day or so sound good to you?

*What's your preference across big cities, small communities, scenic drives, and so on? It reads like you're really drawn to San Francisco, so maybe a small beach community would prove boring to you.

*What cost parameters do you have? You have one reference to costs in San Francisco -- yes it's an expensive place to be but as you might expect a lot depends on what you do and eat each day.

To answer one of your questions, yes there is undoubtedly a wealth of activities to keep a visiting couple engaged for 6 or 7 days. Two things to get you started to explore that idea further if you wish: one is this San Francisco Chronicle visitor's guide where you can explore events and activities that you might be interested in. A second thing to know is that there is a public transportation system called BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) that will easily get you from the airport into the city and then help you get around the area, including neighboring cities for day trips. (Perhaps not renting a car would be interesting to you?)

One other note to make relative to your planning is that you could also split your time between the LA area and San Francisco -- fly into LA and see some things there, then fly to San Francisco for a few days, and home from there. LA offers public transportation too but it is more spread out and you would be more likely to want a car for your visit.

But, to answer the key question in your post: in my opinion the most stress free holiday would not be following a tour provider's itinerary which would cover a lot of California in an 11 day period, but would be one consisting of (a) flying into San Francisco and unpacking once in one hotel, (b) using a combination of public transportation and taxis to explore, (c) taking day trips outside of the city for a few of those days to see a few other communities.

Good luck in sorting through your choices and make sure to post questions as you think through this!
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Old Aug 21, 10, 10:37 am   #3
 
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Thank you so much.

Golly, thank you for responding so quickly, you are so kind.

As a matter of fact, we could have booked a complete 'everything booked' package with Trailfinders. I have nothing but praise for them. We actually asked them to quote on a flight in LA, a first night hotel and four days in San Francisco. We decided to do the middle bit ourselves. But the more we both think about it, the more it strikes us that we might be better off saving the fly drive holiday for next year or the following one when we can free up more time (and money)

I wonder if it would make sense to fly into SF, spend four or five days in the city, then drive out North for a couple of days. Maybe book a vineyard hotel. I have been told it's v difficult to book hotels in the national parks easily. I believe they book up very rapidly.

The travel agent has The Chancellor Hotel in Union Square provisional booked already for four nights. It seems a friendly place. Is it easy to take trips out of the city using tour companies or public transport, or should we hire a car?

As for budget. Good question. My hubby is a children's book author. As you probably know most authors (except JK Rowling ) are not particularly well off*. We sold our house many years ago so that he could take time off to write. We're living off savings and fresh air But we desperately need a break, so we are using more savings to pay for this holiday. We're not really burger bar types, we like to eat good food, which doesn't have to be expensive of course. We're don't like pretentious restaurants, but would probably eat in smaller and less commercial places with maybe one special meal at the end of our trip. We belong to the RSC here in Britain and actually live about half an hour away from Stratford upon Avon. We go to most of the plays there, so we were interested to hear about your Shakespeare in the park productions. I suppose those depend on the weather. We'd also like to catch a football game perhaps. We went to one in Dartmouth when we visited New England a long long time ago and were totally confused, but it was fun to watch.

Maybe I'm persuading myself to book a long week in San Francisco. Less time on holiday because it would be more expensive, but it does sound like a smashing place, and the whole 'unpacking once' idea makes it sound even better.

Thank you for your very helpful and friendly advice. I think we owe you a beer

Annie

*Trivia...I was born in the same wee Cottage hospital as JK Rowling, at a place called Yate near Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire UK.
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Old Aug 21, 10, 10:55 am   #4
 
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Welcome to FT !
I grew up in the UK, and live in CA, so I have, perhaps, something of a transatlantic perspective on your question.

For most Americans, 10 days is quite a long vacation (holiday), and Americans tend to be a lot busier on vacation than Brits. Of course that';s a generalization, but the OP may want to consider thaose factors when reading advice from the locals (FWIW - personally I take the American approach).

First off - Trailfinders are good - my parents use them, and I'm rarely able to come up with anything cheaper.

Finding places to stay will not be a problem. If you give us an idea of your budget, there will be plenty of people able to give suggestions on hotels. If you are on a modest, but not tight budget then Holiday Inn Express hotels are usually reasonably priced ($70-100) and consistent, so you know what you are getting with no surprises - and they are everywhere, and you'll often have a choice of half a dozen within a few miles. Courtyard by Marriott and Hamton Inn by Hilton are perhaps a shade nicer (and more expensive) and also good options if what you are looking for is consistency/predictability. If you are looking for something cheaper, Red Roof Inn are better than the other big motel chains (eg Motel 6, Super 8); I'd avoid Travelodge - although it's a familiar brand in the UK, there are some real dumps over here.

If you are not going to be able to come back again within a few years, then I think your idea of waiting until you can spend 2-3 weeks is probably a good one. 10 days is not going to be enough time to see much of CA. If you are likely to be able to come back in a couple of years then your idea of just seeing northern CA ("NorCal") on this trip is a very good one.

Other things to do on a longer or second trip are Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. Many people (eg my British in-laws) expect to hate Vegas, and end up loving it, and IMHO everybody should go out of their way to see the Grand Canyon if they come within a thousand miles.

So, for a low-stress 10-day CA vacation of the kind you mention, I suggest spending the whole 10 days in Northern CA (ie fly in/out of SFO). San Francisco and immediate surroundings ("the Bay area") will keep you busy for at least a week. Add in wine country and Yosemite and you have a well-rounded, not too busy but plenty to do 10-day holiday.

A few tips:
In San Franciso, I wouldn't have a car the whole time. Many hotels charge for parking and the traffic in the city itself is awful, and public transport is good. (And I say this as a stereotypical car-lover who drives a huge SUV, and very rarely uses public transport - except in places like NYC and SFO). So if you plan to spend a few days in the city, then head out to wine country and/or Yosemite, I'd seriously consider leaving the car until the day before you head out of the city.
If you prefer small, independent hotels to the predictability but blandness of the chains then you'll get heaps of suggestions if you ask in the San Francisco forum http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/san-francisco-468/ www.tripadvisor.com is also a great resource.
If you plan to drive long distances, consider an SUV or minivan (people carrier). The driving position is higher and more natural, so you get a much better view of the scenery, and driving hundreds miles is no more tiring than driving for a few hours in a car.
See if you can rent a car from a non-airport location - it will be cheaper, whether pre-paid (which I recommend - eg www.holidayautos.com or via trailfindfers) or a conventional booking.
Remember that in the US prices are quoted exclusive of tax, and tips of 15-20% are expected in resteraunts (not fast food).
It's worth getting a credit card with low/zero foreign exchange and transaction fees - I hear from family that most UK credit cards now have these fees - and fees of several pounds per US transaction are not uncommon. So, it can really pay off to get a new credit card just for this holiday, even if you cancel it shortly after you get home.
Don't book hotels via a travel agent; very rarely will they get you a better deal, and very often you'll find it cheaper on the hotel's own website, or on Priceline. Priceline has great deals on hotels, and if you use it carefully, you can often figure out exactly what hotel you'll be getting even when booking "name your own price" bargains.Also, consider making some reservations flexible - so you can cancel up to the day of arrival, especially for those days when you are away from the city.

Quote:
*Trivia...I was born in the same wee Cottage hospital as JK Rowling, at a place called Yate near Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire UK.
I lived just outside Yate for a while in the early 90s !
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Last edited by dgwright99; Aug 21, 10 at 11:37 am..
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Old Aug 21, 10, 11:59 am   #5
 
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What an amazing site this is. Thank you so much for your help. Yes, I think you're both right. We should plan (and save) for a much longer holiday when we can explore properly.

Equipped with this knowledge I now think the way way to go is, fly in/out of SFO as you suggest, then head North to Wine/National park country and stay a few days. Then head back into the city, ditch the hire car and spend some time exploring the city and surrounds.

Or, the t'other way 'round. Fly into SFO, stay in the city for a week and then head out North.

I'll have a scout around for places to stay North of the city. I gather that many places fill up a year in advance. I guess they do have cancellations from time to time though.

Fancy you having lived near Yate... amazing. I bought my first ever house there when it was a weeny housing estate. Now it's almost a small town.

I envy you, living and working in such a wonderful place. Paul (hubby) and I are in our fifties and both wishing we've moved abroad when we were young and vital as they say. The UK is not a jolly place to live these days.

It seems my round of beer is getting bigger. You're a

Thank you.

Annie
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Old Aug 21, 10, 1:07 pm   #6
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bizzylizzy View Post
... I'll have a scout around for places to stay North of the city. I gather that many places fill up a year in advance. I guess they do have cancellations from time to time though. ...
This may be true if you are looking at accommodations INSIDE a National Park or major attraction. There are many lower-cost places to stay in the small towns just outside the parks.

You don't say when this trip will happen but I assume from your posts that it will be soon. Late August/early September can be rather hot and dry in the Central/Northern California area. San Francisco will be pleasant but once you get into the hills away from the coast, be prepared for warm weather. When you say "north," be aware that Yosemite is not really "north" from San Fran. I think of Northern California as the coastal areas and redwood forests north of the Golden Gate (San Francisco) and the Central Valley and mountain areas north of Sacramento. This would include the wine country you mention.

If you wish to include Yosemite National Park, a moderate day of driving will get you to any of several small towns just outside the Park, where rooms mays still be found. Some, such as Merced, are the base for bus tours up into the Park. The drive out through the Delta region between the Bay Area and Stockton is quite pleasant. Stockton to Merced, not so much. A full-day visit to Yosemite from outside the Park will still let you see the major attractions at Glacier Point and in the Valley. Of course, a night or two IN the Valley would be quite nice but as you are aware, difficult to arrange on short notice.

In addition to Yosemite, which is what everyone seems to come here for, in the "north" region, I recommend the Muir Woods Forest just a short drive from the City for a quick day excursion or, even better, the very nice drive north along Highway 1 to the Point Reyes National Seashore (Park) or even further along the rugged coast to Fort Ross. One of my best memories of a romantic get-away is of a couple of nights at a very nice bed-and-breakfast in Inverness, just outside P.R. National Seashore.

An idea for a 2-night trip out of the City might be to Lassen Volcanic National Park in the far northern part of the state. For Lassen, you would need a full day drive to Red Bluff or Redding and a couple of nights in one of those inexpensive small towns. A full day would then suffice to drive up to the Park, see everything and drive back down to your room. The sights are rather compact and easy to see in a 1-day visit but very different from the much more crowded Yosemite/Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. In addition to the beautiful high mountain area, Lassen is still an active volcano and has areas with sulfur clouds, steam vents and bubbling mud pots in a place called Bumpass Hell (gotta love that.)

I agree with other posters that a 10 day stay limits you in what you can see of our large, diverse state. If you choose to stay with the LAX arrival, you could still see some of the coastal areas on your way to San Francisco. 3 or 4 days driving and visiting up the central coast through Santa Barbara, Morro Bay, Cayucos, San Simeon (Hearst Castle), Big Sur and Monterey would be nice and relaxing and still leave enough time for your 5-6 days in the City before departure. There are some fine winemaking regions along that route in Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties. Despite all the hype, Napa isn't the only place for that sort of thing. YMMV.

Last edited by abmj-jr; Aug 21, 10 at 2:29 pm..
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Old Aug 21, 10, 1:51 pm   #7
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Originally Posted by abmj-jr View Post
An idea for a 2-night trip out of the City might be to Lassen Volcanic National Park in the far northern part of the state. For Lassen, you would need a full day drive to Red Bluff or Redding and a couple of nights in one of those inexpensive small towns. A full day would then suffice to drive up to the Park, see everything and drive back down to your room. The sights are rather compact and easy to see in a 1-day visit but very different from the much more crowded Yosemite/Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. In addition to the beautiful high mountain area, Lassen is still an active volcano and has areas with sulfur clouds, steam vents and bubbling mud pots in a place called Bumpass Hell (gotta love that.)
That's a very good idea.

I'd expand on it with this option (which adds two days): Drive from San Francisco to Fortuna or Eureka (with maybe the first part on Highway 1 through Muir Woods). Stunning scenery and the redwood forests leave one speechless. Then drive from Eureka/Arcata to Redding; this is a beautiful drive and goes through the fun and funky town of Weaverville. Overnight at Redding (or Red Bluff) and then Lassen the next day. A long day's drive back to San Francisco could cut over at Williams to Clear Lake and then back through the Sonoma Valley to San Francisco.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&sour...71&ie=UTF8&z=9

And a previous poster is right: September anywhere east of Berkeley is going to be hot.
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Old Aug 21, 10, 3:43 pm   #8
 
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I cannot believe how helpful you are all being. Many forum .. or it it fora are filled with silly, aggressive and downright useless posts. I want to thank you all for the fantastically useful information you're passing on. I'll have a good look at all of these places on the map and then see what the agent has to say about flights and the hotel booking in the city.

I rather think you all have my measure. I did mention wanting to do some touristy things, but the better experiences are very often those that aren't on the main tourist trails. A very long time ago we went to Puerto Rico. We decided to venture into the rain forest there, where we found and booked ourselves into a parador where we were the only English people. The locals told my husband he sounded like Cary Grant... which made us laugh as my husband is a brummy (comes from Birmingham). Mind you, we were living in Bristol at the time which was Cary Grant's birthplace. Hmm spooky. We'd never had air con in a car before and thought our hire car had sprung a leak. But it was an adventure, and fun with it.

Any hotel and inn recommendations you can recall would be smashing, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Annie
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Old Aug 21, 10, 8:07 pm   #9
 
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I am gonna suggest coming for 10 days now and exploring what you can - even if you don't cover everything you'll have a better prospective on places to visit next time.
There are two major paths to explore CA nature - coastal and inland/mountain. Since you plan on spending 4-5 days in SF you can make a trip to Monterey/Carmel and get a sense of the coast at that point.

For your road trip I would focus on Sierra and parks. Crowd will diminish soon as school is about to start.
If you want to stay in the parks consider Kings Canyon or Sequoia as an alternative to often overpriced and overcrowded Yosemite. Cross the mountains on 120 or 4 or 108. You can take 395 north from LA and spent a couple days in Mammoth and a couple days near Tahoe.

I wouldn't put Lassen on my first trip list it's just too far away from everything else and requires lots of driving. Just focus on LA-SF corridor for now.

Consider priceline to get hotels especially in urban areas - I suspect you'll get a nice 4* place for less than what you are planning to spend now.


The point is - if you can come now - do it, don't wait.
Cheers
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Old Aug 21, 10, 11:52 pm   #10
 
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I know earlier that you said you were considering flying into SFO and just beginning your holiday there, however, should you choose the LAX option with an overnight stay, I will echo another poster who mentioned Monterey and Carmel. I would consider overnighting around LAX, picking up the rental car (hire car) and then heading North along US 101 with perhaps a stop in the Santa Barbara area and then Monterey or Carmel before continuing up to SFO.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 7:12 am   #11
 
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Originally Posted by bizzylizzy View Post
Hi everyone, this is my first post so I hope it's not a confusing one!!

OK. Hubby and I have suddenly decided to book a last minute holiday to California/San Francisco - flying from the UK. We contacted a very, very good company called Trailfinders who are offering us an 11 day trip, flying into LAX with an overnight stay. We then pick up a hire car and do our own thing for the next 6 days before heading into San Francisco for a four night stay.

Now we're suddenly wondering whether 10 days is enough time to do the whole fly drive sightseeing thing and that it might make the break to frantic. Particularly trying to find places to stay at this busy time of year. So should we leave it for another year when we can book a longer holiday and plan it more carefully?

We have until tomorrow to decide whether we want to take this option. To cut a long story short, we've not had a decent holiday abroad for over 15 years, I won't bore you with the sad and sorry details. I really do want to find a holiday that doesn't involve to much stress for either of us as we're both in dire need of a break. We're not the lazing around kinds. We'd like to do the touristy things, ie Alcatraz, museums, galleries etc. We also enjoy theatre and concerts and eating out.

We're now wondering whether we should try and change the holiday to just San Francisco. I'm assuming there's enough to do there to keep us occupied for 6 or 7 days? I know that touristy things are usually expensive, but there must be other cheaper options for things to do.

The other option is to fly into San Francisco rather than LAX and drive North for a few days and take in the vineyards and national parks and then drop down to San Francisco for a few days.

I know this is confusing... I'm confusing myself What it amounts to is.. what would be the most stress free holiday for us both that involves spending some or all of our time in San Francisco.

I hope you can help.

Annabelle
personally, I'd stay between santa barbara and san francisco, or maybe north of SFO. avoid LA, it's a pit.
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Old Aug 22, 10, 5:50 pm   #12
 
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Look, while the suggestions to narrow your focus are not bad ones...

(What would you say to someone coming to see "all of the UK in 10 days" California *is* as big as your lovely island )

I'd actually not mess around with the bookings you already have. Why stress yourself out with second-guessing? You can have a *lovely* 10 day vacation flying into LAX & flying out of SFO. Rather than trying to hit everything California has to offer, why not focus on the classic coastal route North to San Francisco.

Day 1: Fly into LAX & stay overnight
Day 2: Leisurely drive to Santa Barbara
(possible diversions: beaches, outlet malls, orchid farms, and strolling around Santa Barbara itself, which is an eminently lovely downtown to stoll from the pier to the Presideo, even the Mission if particularly ambitious)
Day 3: Explore the Santa Barbara Wine Country & stay somewhere about Pismo Beach
(possible diversions: wine tasting, Solvang Danish colony, Santa Maria BBQ, more beaches)
Day 4: Cambria
(possible diversions: beaches, fun & funky towns San Louis Obisbo & Morro Bay, historic missions)
Day 5: Drive Highway 1 to Monterey
(possible diversions: MUST BOOK TOUR of Hearst Castle!!!, scenic views, Carmel)
Day 6: Drive to SFO
(possible diversions: LOTS OPTIONS depending on route & time! Monterey Aquarium? I'd certainly drive up to the fun & funky town of Santa Cruz for lunch on the boardwalk, do you want to see redwoods? Driving highway 9 to Felton gets you to amazing groves and a steam railway, on the other hand, if you are not burned out on amazing coastal scenery, continuing on Highway 1 and coming in San Francisco from the "back way" through Pacifica is pretty amazing)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++

Yes, you will miss Yosemite, Sequoia, and the Sierras, which is a pity. You won't have a chance to hit Napa and the Northern wine regions (although they are much pricey than the Southern ones). You'll miss the North Coast redwoods which are a touch more amazing than the ones south of SFO. You miss Lassen, which has been described as California's Mt. Fuji. And we haven't even mentioned San Diego, Palm Springs, the Colorado River, or anything of the amazing experiences in my own home town of Los Angeles.

I guess you'll just have to hit it big like Rowling...
And come back!
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Old Aug 23, 10, 4:16 am   #13
 
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Thank you, that's wonderful. Unfortunately I have a hubby (he's a writer) who says 'I don't want to feel like a tourist'. He likes to find and do things where he either learns something or doesn't feel like he's 'just another tourist'. Unfortunately we only have a package tourist's budget, so I think it will be difficult to find something that won't make him feel that way. Sigh Men!!!

I think we may fly in and out of San Francisco, simply because I suspect you need a good swathe of time to explore properly as many of you have pointed out.

Meanwhile I'm off to try and find something 'different' to pique his interest for a few days. We both need a relaxing break, but we're not the lounging around types. City breaks do sometimes make you feel you're treading the same paths every day admittedly. But it seems to me, if you don't want to feel like a tourist, you really do need the big bucks. I tell you guys, I'm going to need a holiday after all of this. You'd think it would be simple wouldn't you. Believe me, our holidays (if I can remember our last one back in the mists of time) are never, ever simple.

Annie
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Old Aug 23, 10, 8:40 am   #14
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mlshanks View Post
Day 1: Fly into LAX & stay overnight
Day 2: Leisurely drive to Santa Barbara
(possible diversions: beaches, outlet malls, orchid farms, and strolling around Santa Barbara itself, which is an eminently lovely downtown to stoll from the pier to the Presideo, even the Mission if particularly ambitious)
Day 3: Explore the Santa Barbara Wine Country & stay somewhere about Pismo Beach
(possible diversions: wine tasting, Solvang Danish colony, Santa Maria BBQ, more beaches)
Day 4: Cambria
(possible diversions: beaches, fun & funky towns San Louis Obisbo & Morro Bay, historic missions)
Day 5: Drive Highway 1 to Monterey
(possible diversions: MUST BOOK TOUR of Hearst Castle!!!, scenic views, Carmel)
Day 6: Drive to SFO
(possible diversions: LOTS OPTIONS depending on route & time! Monterey Aquarium? I'd certainly drive up to the fun & funky town of Santa Cruz for lunch on the boardwalk, do you want to see redwoods? Driving highway 9 to Felton gets you to amazing groves and a steam railway, on the other hand, if you are not burned out on amazing coastal scenery, continuing on Highway 1 and coming in San Francisco from the "back way" through Pacifica is pretty amazing)And come back!
You just listed my ideal vacation. In fact, most of it I just did in May, and it was amazing!
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Old Aug 23, 10, 9:24 am   #15
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I'm a little confused.... Does your reference to "package tourist's budget" mean that you can only book actual packages where the places visited is part of a package or a tour?

In California, if you want to get "off the beaten track" (as much as that's possible in California), then avoid the "name" places.

E.g., if you're going to take a trip up the north coast, stay at or visit Ft. Bragg instead of Mendocino (I find Ft. Bragg much more "real" than Mendocino). Spend some time in Weaverville (between Eureka and Redding; I strongly doubt it's part of any tour!). Etc., etc.
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