West Coast Trip: Itinerary suggestions

We are fortunate enough to have a two-week slot in Easter '18 that we can allocate to a substantial foreign trip. The two kids will be 12 and 10 by that time and love the great outdoors, spectacular scenery, lakes and mountains etc. but also theme parks.

My wife an I have always had several sites in the west coast area in our bucket list and so we are thinking of something along the lines of the following.

Two weeks duration: Saturday to Saturday (First two weeks in April)
Fly into either San Francisco or LAX (depending on price and flight times)
Drive through Tahoe, down the 395, through Death Valley, onto Las Vegas, then Grand Canyon. Back to LA and hit Six Flags, back up the 99 and go to Sequoia national park and, of course, Yosemite. Finish off either in San Francisco for a couple of days or perhaps the six flags up there as well.

So those are our first thoughts but nothing is set in stone as yet and I thought I’d turn it over to me good doper colleagues for suggestions. Particularly on how long to spend at the major sites, any upsides or downside to particular routes, what about the time of the year? and any hidden gems you’d suggest? Recommended hotels?

Obviously it will involve a lot of driving but that’s fine. We are used to making 12+ hour drives anyway and the kids are happy with tablets and memory stick full of Harry Potter and Futurama.

All suggestions gratefully received but of course if they turn out to be duds we will hold you personally responsible and will send our kids around to walk on your lawn.

If you get as far as San Diego, the San Diego Zoo is justly famed. Also, I’m very fond of the Maritime Museum, with its lovely centerpiece, the Star of India, a wonderful old three-masted sailing ship (“the oldest merchantman afloat.”)

If you don’t get this far, the Los Angeles Zoo is worth a visit. (Okay, it helps if you like zoos!)

It’s winter here, so a day at the beach might be less fun than in July…but also less crowded. Maybe a romp at the tide-pools, playing with crabs and anemones, and just being soothed by the rush and thump of the waves.

(I don’t know where you’re from! If it’s Kansas, then you should visit the sea-shore; if it’s Atlantic City, then you’ve got your own ocean!)

If time is at all tight, you might skip Sequoia in favor of more time in Yosemite, with a visit to the Mariposa Grove at the south entrance to check off the Big Trees.

Just a geography reminder that there are two other states on the west coast. :slight_smile: You’ll only be in California. Which is lovely, but I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to give advice on my beautiful part of the world (Puget Sound area). :frowning:

I would recommend making some time for the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, a few miles away from Yosemite’s southern edge. It’s the entry point for the Mammoth ski area in the winter, but also a fun place to hang out in the summer with restaurants, an arts scene, and other touristy stuff. There is a campground in the down so you don’t have to pay for a hotel.

I recall the first big book my mother bought me was readers digest encyclopedia of the natural world, jam-packed with glossy photos from San Diego Zoo. I have always wanted to go but the rest of the family aren’t massive zoo fans.
It is certainly on the second tier of things to see if time allows.

I’m actually from the UK so I’m never too far from the oceans (a little colder than California though) but massive trees, mountains, deserts and canyons are much more of a novelty.

Good advice, I’ll check that out a see how well that ticks the boxes. My wife loves trees, one of the highlights of our New Zealand trip (pre-kids) was the north island Kauri forest.

Sadly time won’t allow but at some point in the future I’d love to see Yellowstone, the Tetons, Glacier national park and the Seattle/Vancouver area.

You’ve done your homework it seems … you’ve listed all my best spots already …

I’m thinking a quick little side trip here … Whitney Portal … maybe ten miles west of Lone Pine on US-395 … I don’t think you can see Death Valley from here … but you can get the gist of the Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft) to Death Valley (-282 ft) slope … quite a drop in just 85 miles … quite a drop indeed … just focus on your driving … it really is quite the drop …

Next would need you to do a bit of backtracking after you leave Yosemite … cross over to San Luis Obsipo on the coast and drive up Cal State Route 1 to San Francisco … Big Sur … where the ocean meets the mountains …

FYI, Mariposa Grove is closed until summer for rehabilitation.

If the weather pattern continues it should be an awesome year for wildflowers in the west. If you’re lucky you might catch Death Valley in bloom.

Remember, guys, NB isn’t coming to our shores until 2018. Who knows what the weather will have done in the meantime?

That said, San Diego has more than just the zoo. Drop down there from the Grand Canyon, spend a day or two in Balboa Park, then head back up to LA. Also be aware that 99 is a mess of a highway. You will always find yourself behind agricultural machinery for miles and miles.

We do need somewhere to stay on the 395 so will keep Whitney Portal in mind.

As for Big Sur, My parents did a road trip there thirty years ago and drove up through Carmel and Monterey and said it was lovely so if we decide to miss the Sequoia Park and instead see the trees nearer Yosemite then perhaps the coastal drive from LA up to Monterey would be a better bet.

Good catch on the 99, we were thinking of taking that road, so the I5 and/or coast road is a better bet?

The weather is one thing that I can’t control of course but I would be interested in everyone’s view on what the weather is likely to do in early April in those areas. How likely is snow in Yosemite and surrounding areas? Will I need to stop by Walmart and buy some chains if I’m venturing into the park?

Also, If we decide to do theme parks are we likely to hit spring breaks or major holidays (other than the Easter weekend) with Easter Sunday on the 1st April are the parks likely to be busier the first week we are there?

I’m not sure when Easter is in 2018, but you can’t always plan on a trip into the mountains even in spring. You never know when severe whether is going to hit, so be sure to have alternative plans just in case. If you like to drive, consider the Pacific Coast Hwy (aka Rt 1) and hitting Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey/Carmel. The aquarium in Monterey is great, and kids generally love it. But the drive, even by itself, is just awesome!

I second the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And if time permits, I highly recommend the mule rides down the Grand Canyon (make reservations early).

Good Friday is March 30th but our school term holidays run for the first two weeks in April.

Weather is a source of concern, at that time of the year and over that varied terrain we could get anything and flexibility will be key. Of course we’d like to get accommodation booked up well in advance but would there be a benefit in remaining flexible and booking a few days in advance, on the hoof? We’d only be looking at fairly cheap motel-styles places as it’ll likely just be a place to sleep but I don’t know whether demand will be super-high.

The thing about Tahoe is you go there in the winter to ski. If you don’t ski, it’s not really a place to go in the winter. It’s more a place to avoid. Yosemite can be absolutely beautiful in winter, but there are places that likely won’t be open. Still, Yosemite Valley is something you should see in your lifetime, if you can. I love Tahoe in the summer, too, because there is so much to do there. But summer means summer, and April isn’t summer.

If you’re getting to Vegas, I would recommend a side trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in southern Utah. Truly amazing scenery. Arches National Park and Canyonlands may be a bit too much out of the way, though. I love southern Utah.

There have been major improvements completed to 99 in the last few years. It’s freeway all the way now. Use 99 to get from SoCal to Sequoia and/or Yosemite.

Yosemite Valley, as well as the roads to the north and south entrances will be open, unless there’s a major storm going on at the time. Tioga Pass Road (Hwy 120 over the mountains to Mono Lake) will be closed. There is at least a possibility of needing chains. You may also need chains to get over the mountains at Tahoe, as well as several areas along 395; again depending on current weather. Could be snow at the Grand Canyon as well. Might as well get them & have them handy just in case.

Overall, your suggested route should be fine with typical early spring weather around here. Not sure the road up to Whitney Portal will be open, though.

Also note that there are some pretty neat volcanic features in the Mono Lake/ Mammoth Lakes area. I second the recommendation to spend a bit of time there on your way down 395.

This. In fact I’d recommend Bryce over the Grand Canyon.