SanFran to LA

I have a question or two regarding a trip I’m taking soon.

I’m flying into LA next year and I want to go to San Francisco.
What’s the best way to get there? Car? Plane? Train?
In Oz our capital cities are at least 12 hours apart by car but I’m wondering if in the US it’s different.

If driving is possible, how long will it take? Can it be done in a day?
Also, what’s your advice with how long to stay. Is San Fran the sort of place one should stay for a day, 2 days or a week. (we are on a limited time frame).?

I’m also wondering if the Grand Canyon is worth seeing and if so by what means? Should I go via Las Vegas, or as I’ve heard the locals call it ‘Lost Wages’?
We have to go to Las Vegas for a particular event, and I’m wondering if we should go to the Canyon from there. Is it a day trip away or do you need to fly, and arrange accommodation in Arizona?

The map I have is very decieving.

Lastly, we are planning only to spend our 2.5 weeks around the East Coast side, staying mainly between LA , San Fran & Vegas. Is there somewhere we MUST go? Somewhere around there we will kick ourselves if we don’t go to?

Thanks in advance for the advice.

I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon from Vegas, so I’ll answer your San Francisco to LA question.

It really depends on what you mean by “best.” If you want the most direct route (read: fastest), taking I-5 all the way down would be the best.

If you’re looking for something a little more scenic, hwy 1 (aka Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH), would be the best way. Along the central part of California (essentially, everything between SF and LA), it is pretty much side by side with the Pacfic Ocean (once you get into LA, it starts to taper off).

To get from LA to SF via car takes anywhere between 6 to 10 hours, depending on traffic and the route you take. In extreme cases (Thanksgiving holiday weekend, for example) it can take up to 12 hours, but that’s pretty rare. I’ve done it as short as 5 hours late at night on I-5 (which is a really boring drive) and taken a day to drive up the 101 and on parts of the 1 in about 10 hours with stops along the way, and that’s a very pretty drive most of the way.

The train stops at every town in between LA and SF, and takes something like 12 hours. I don’t think this is a good choice, unless you like whirlwind tours of the backyards of people who can’t afford to move away from the train tracks.

If you check around and call the airlines, you can sometimes find pretty cheap flights ($60 round trip, for example) between some of the LA airports (LAX, Ontario, Orange County) to San Jose, Oakland or SFO. If you fly to Oakland or SFO, you can use BART to get into the city, you probably won’t even need to rent a car.

San Francisco isn’t very big - you can hit most of the touristy places in a couple of days. But then you could spend weeks in the various museums and parks and just exploring the city itself. I’d budget at least four days if you can, you won’t have a shortage of things to do.

If you want a tour of Alcatraz, you need to get reservations ahead of time.

I’ve never done the grand canyon from that direction, so I’ll leave that to someone else.

It takes roughly 6 hours to drive from LA to SF via the I-5. However, if you take the Hwy 1, it’ll take a few hours more, but you’ll have a beautiful view of the California coast on the way up. If you’ve got the time/resources, this is recommended.

I would spend at least 4-5 days in the Bay Area, because not only do you have the City itself, you have plenty of day trips (wine country, the Redwoods, etc.) that are easy to do. Not everyone’s crazy about driving in SF, but it’s an easy place to navigate, but a hard place to park (and those hills tend to intimidate some drivers).

My Mom went to the Grand Canyon from Vegas and she thought it was a worthwhile and affordable trip (she left in the morning and was back the same day). She really enjoyed herself, and any number of hotels in town will make the arrangements.

If you have time, drive from LA to SF on Highway 1, as vandal recomended. Take 2 or 3 days. Stop in Cambria, see Hearst Castle. Stop in Big Sur or Monterey. See the Monterey Aquarium. Drive the 17 mile drive (between Carmel and Monterey). Then hit SF. You can easily fill 2 days.

In the alternative, advance tickets from LA to SF on Southwest Airlines (1 hour flight), are about $100 a round trip.

I-5 (the most boring road in California – flat, through the central valley, almost dead straight) will take about 6 hours between LA and SF.

Flying from LA to SF will take about 2.5 hours, not counting the time in the airports getting to/from the gate.

Driving will take about 8 hours, taking the Interstate 5. If you take the State Highway 101, you will pass a lot of Vinyards, and can do wine tasting, etc. and the landscape is much prettier.

You can take the Coast Highway 1, the scenic route, but if you’re going to go for the scenery, allow two days, stopping in some place like Big Sur or Monterey. The most scenic parts are between Monterey on the north and Pismo Beach in the south.
(Some may say Santa Barbara on the south, but the hiway doesn’t have a view of the coast much further south than Pismo.)

Amtrak no longer has a convenient service between SF and LA, so you’re outta luck there.

As for the Grand Canyon, I could write up a whole buncha options, or you could just look here.

What do you mean boring? There’s a curve up there around the Kings County line that’s a little exciting. And don’t forget the (seemingly) miles long cattle feed yard that fills the air for miles around with ammonia.

First of all, superstar, I hope you have a great trip.

As vandal and buckgully have noted, there are basically three practical ways to get from LA to San Francisco. (Note that the San Francisco locals generally don’t use the term “San Fran” even though everyone else in all of Christendom uses the term.)

  1. Drive the direct route (5 to 6 hours)
  2. Drive the scenic route (12-14 hours)
  3. Fly

If you drive the direct route, the emphasis is on “direct.” I-5 straight up. Not very scenic. Sometimes crappy traffic but usually not too bad.

If you drive the scenic route, the emphasis is on “scenic.” Much of this drive looks like something out of a tv commercial. Amazing cliffs, and view of the sun out over the Pacific most of the way.

Flying is relatively cheap. Southwest Airlines is usually the cheapest. Note that on Southwest you don’t have an assigned seat, so get there an hour early so you can check in.

Note that the BART (the SF Subway) goes to the Oakland Airport, but not to the San Francisco Airport. You may want to rent (or, in Ozzy “hire”) a car when you are in San Francisco. It is a pain to drive around the city, and an even bigger pain to park, but you can get to some cool stuff that you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

Much to our everlasting shame, and to my everlasting frustration, the train is, as buckgully noted, probably not a practical option. Not only is it slow, but last time I checked you had to take a, ahem, “motor coach” (aka a bus) from LA to Bakersfield, and then get take the train from Bakersfield.

When you are in San Francisco, be sure to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, and go up to Mt. Tam (aka Mount Tamalpais). There is an AMAZING view from the fire look out post up there. You can see the entire San Francisco Bay, and Marin County, and the Pacific Ocean. Also visit the Exploratorium, which is one of the coolest science museums in the world.

As to the Grand Canyon, you absolutely must do whatever you can to see it. Coming all the way to Vegas and not going to the Canyon is like going all the way to, I don’t know, Brisbane, and then deciding it’s too much trouble to see the Great Barrier Reef. From Vegas, probably the best way to get to the Canyon is to drive to the North Rim. The North Rim is less crowded, less touristy. And mind blowing. To me the Grand Canyon is like Shakespeare’s Plays, or the Great Barrier Reef. You’ve heard so many people say so many good things about it, that you have to think it’s overrated. But it’s not.

From Las Vegas, you can rent a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. Expensive yes, but you can do it in a day. Otherwise you’ll need a day to drive from Vegas to the Canyon. Here’s where it gets tricky…it’s no good seeing the Canyon if you get there late, because of nightfall. The choices are to leave Vegas early, or stay overnight at the canyon rim or in Williams AZ. If you go in winter, night falls at 5:30-6pm. I haven’t driven from Vegas to the Canyon, but I have from the Canyon to SF in one long 13 hour drive. It was still worth it.

Whups, forgot to include that the 101 route will take about 8-10 hours, not including any time you stop for wine tasting.

Also, Southwest Air advertises that they fly to San Francisco, but what they only say in the fine print is that the destination is not San Francisco Internation, but actually Oakland Airport.

Still, I fly Southwest almost exclusively - they’re the best value and have the fewest screwups.

BART does go the the SF airport, service started this summer.

Under no circumstances should you take I-5, it’s horribly boring and you’re not visiting to see the agricultural parts of the state. I recommend the Coastal route as well.

If you have to fly, Jetblue and Southwest have very reasonable rates. Check well before you plan to get there, sometimes Southwest has really good specials if you book at least two weeks in advance.

Be aware if you drive that everything in San Francisco is expensive, especially parking. >_< I second the recommendation of another poster that you visit Napa while up there. It’s easy to do in an afternoon and is very pleasant.

See the Grand Canyon if you possibly can, I’ve been about half a dozen times, to a different area each time and every part of it is fantastic.

If you going to be driving around for most of the trip, and plan on San Francisco, LA, and Las Vegas as destinations, I’d strongly consider visiting Yosemite. It’s as much worth seeing as the Grand Canyon. It’s roughly 100 miles and a 3-hour drive east of San Francisco, but rather accessible from I-5 if you’re going up or down that way.

If you come up from LA, you can enter from the south (turn in around Fresno), without too much of a detour; you can exit out the east side and head straight toward SF

On the other hand, (say if you came up to SF via the coast), you can enter from the east from SF, then drive out (south to Fresno & LA), or over 120 to 395, and then south through Owens Valley (This won’t likely be an option if you go when there’s snow, i.e. late Nov. - April). From there you can get to Las Vegas through Death Valley(the lowest land point in the Western Hemisphere), or head down to L.A. (Note that if you are visiting in the summer, this is mostly a desert region, and the road will be very hot and dry; don’t cross Death Valley unless well prepared.) You can also get to Vegas by heading further south on 395 to Barstow then along the more-traveled I-15.

395 is a very scenic highway; after exiting Yosemite, you can see Mono Lake, some of the signs of the caldera under the valley (numerous hot springs), the Eastern Sierras, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest (oldest living things on Earth, > 4000 years old). The site of the Manzanar internment camp (where thousands of Japanese immigrants & Americans of Japanese descent were sent during WWII) is also along the route.

Sorry to sound like a brochure there, just trying to let you know of some of the options available.

For a trip like yours, I’d say a day trip to Yosemite should be enough; accomodations inside the park aren’t worthwhile unless you’re spending a lot of time there. If you do go over the pass to 395, there’s several towns with accomodations (Lee Vining at Mono Lake, Bishop further south, and Lone Pine near Mt. Whitney).

Well, it’s not like the San Francisco Airport is in San Francisco either.

The Oakland Airport has many fewer air traffic delays. SFO is a nightmare. And if you try SFO-LAX, you can get an effect where the nightmares multiply!

Not sure what time of year you are going, but you might consider gong up to Truckee (about 3.5 - 4 hrs from San Francisco). It is a small town (old railroad town) near the Nevada border. From there Lake Tahoe is 15-20 minutes drive away. Tahoe is HUGE… 35km x 17km and 550m deep. Lots of big mountains all around. You can also go down to Reno (35 minutes from Truckee). If you stay at the lake, Incline Village and South Lake Tahoe are nice places… Sand Harbor is just past Incline and is a good beach (the sand of course is not like Australia).

I used to live in Incline Village and Reno.

Others have covered the LA to SF aspect of your question pretty well. I would also agree that you should definitely take the effort to see the Grand Canyon.

However, I would disagree with constantine about the North Rim. Whereas it is much less crowded and more desirable for that reason, it is a significantly longer drive (from Las Vegas) than to the South Rim. Another factor you will need to consider on the north/south rim decision is the time of year. The road to the north rim is closed due to snow for a good chunk of winter. But the south is open pretty much year round.

Since you’re flying into Los Angeles, given the things you might want to see, I’d recommend the following (Note: this assumes you’ll be visiting in the spring/summer months):

  • get out of LA as quickly as possible :wink:
  • head toward the Grand Canyon via Las Vegas. Note: the drive from LA to Las Vegas is really boring (makes that drive up I-5 appear “scenic” ;-). But it’s only about 5 hours.
  • Depending on how much time, you can head either to the north rim or the south rim from Las Vegas. The north rim has the added attraction of taking you through Zion Canyon, and that is spectacular as well. Figure on a solid day of driving to either rim.
  • Plan on at least a couple days at the canyon. More if you want to do some hiking.
  • When you’re done with the Grand Canyon, head back toward Las Vegas. But instead of going all the way to Los Angeles, take 395 north (mentioned earlier).
  • 395 doesn’t start out all that exciting from Victorville, but you’ll soon get to see the east side of the Sierras, and that will be pretty nice.
  • When you get to 120, take that over to Yosemite. Now given the assumption that you are here in the spring/summer, the park will be crowded. But it is at least worth a drive through. It may be tough to find lodging and you may need to spend a night outside the park. But it is well worth it. Again, as long as you’ve come this far…
  • After Yosemite, then you could head up to San Francisco (across the valley).
  • I would definitely recommend at least 3 days in the city. It is very much a walking town, and there’s a lot of stuff to see.

California alone has lots to offer. I tried to tie together the places you mentioned, along with some of the suggestions from the other folks.

Hope this helps.

Hey, LA isn’t that bad.

It’s just that the people are all better than you are, because they got there before you did.

Remember that, and be sure to snub the people who walk off the plane behind you.

Another vote for Yosemite. :wink:

I usually take the 101. It’s a relatively nice drive and you can sneak off to the One (and in fact, the 101 and One intersect in spots) and then get back onto the 101 when you desire. It’s less drab than the 5 (which I have not taken for ages and have blotted out of my memory).

I have driven from Petaluma (hour N of SF) to San Diego in about 12 hours. (11 hours if you knock off the hour I spent in Solvang.) I kind of drove and drove and drove, though. But the traffic through downtown LA was not insignificant (is it ever?).

I always assume that you can get to SF from LA in about 7 hours, (give or take), taking the 101.

However, going to Yosemite involves taking Highway 99 for some stretch and if you thought I-5 was boring and ugly, well then, you’re in for something much worse.

Oh, and as far as Yosemite goes: if you plan on staying in the Park, get reservations at least several months before you arrive. I have gotten lodging with shorter notice during the “off” season (Spring or Fall) but anything less than 2 months during the off season is VERY risky. I think 4 months is better. During the summer months, I’d try to get reservations 6 months or more in advance. More advance notice is better, especially if you have a strict timetable. Also, try to visit during the weekday. Trust me on this one. (Though I have survived a weekend visit–it’s not as fun.)

I will also warn you away from Camp Curry’s tent cabins, even though they are cheaper. The campgrounds are full of loud, boisterous people and you won’t get much sleep. (Unless you like the “rustic” nature of it all…) I have stayed in Camp Curry’s wooden cabins, and they are much better. Also, I like Yosemite Lodge (more expensive but so very close to Yosemite Falls).

Even if you are tardy in getting reservations, you often can find a room in The Wawona Hotel. It’s about an hour S. of Yosemite Valley (where a lot of beautiful scenery is, but there’s also plenty to admire in the Wawona area. (And besides, the drive up to the Valley and also up to Tuolumne Meadows is always worth it.)

If you can only spend a day at Yosemite, check out this site which has a lot of info for the one-day visitor.