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CA-NV spring 2010. Looking for recommendations...
Old 07-28-2009, 03:06 PM   #1
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CA-NV spring 2010. Looking for recommendations...

My parents are flying in from Europe next spring and they would like to get a taste of the west coast. They have about 7-8 days and there are a few things they absolutely want to see:

San Francisco
Napa and/or Sonoma
Las Vegas
Grand Canyon

They want to fly into SFO and out of LAS. I have been to San Francisco several times, so I think I'm OK planning for this part of the trip, though I still welcome suggestions. We would probably stay 1-2 days in SFO.

Then we would drive to Napa and/or Sonoma and spend 1-2 days there as well. Wine tastings is a must and ideally we would like to be chauffeured from estate to estate so that we can all have fun and not worry about DUIs. Has anyone ever done that? Any recommendation as far as companies providing such service? As far as lodging, I have been dreaming of staying at a very chic hotel north of Napa but it would be a huge splurge for us at $1,000 a night per couple. I am still considering it, but just in case, would you have any recommendation for more affordable lodging in Napa? Preferably a small "family-owned" hotel, with gorgious views and a country atmosphere, but no B&B.

After that we would drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas. What would be the best route? I am looking for stunning landscapes, but I still want to make the drive in 1 day.

I don't know anything about Las Vegas. My dad wants to stay in one of the large hotels on the strip. Any recommendations? We would probably stay in LAS for about 2-3 days and go on day trips (grand canyon, hoover dam, etc...). My step mom is interested in Native American art and architecture, any good place to visit near Las Vegas?

Please, also feel free to suggest other things to do in or around SFO, Napa, and LAS...
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Old 07-28-2009, 03:14 PM   #2
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Here are some recent ideas for the CA part of the trip.

California trip
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Old 07-28-2009, 06:27 PM   #3
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After that we would drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas. What would be the best route? I am looking for stunning landscapes, but I still want to make the drive in 1 day.
That is a brutal drive. Better IMO to fly to Vegas, fly to LAX when you are done with Las Vegas.

Another good idea is to cancel LV, drive up I-80 to Tahoe and Reno. That is a beautiful drive, not so damn hot, and easy in four hours. You said spring- there can be heavy snowfalls in the pass on I-80 in early spring.

That San Francisco to Las Vegas drive would totally wreck any vacation for me, I wouldn't do it on a bet. There is no fast and scenic way. There isn't even a fast way. It's 12 hours or so by a lot of ugly I-5 and Bakerfield, Antelope Vally, etc. Plus, by spring it can be really hot.

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Old 07-28-2009, 07:29 PM   #4
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The most scenic way to get from San Francisco to Las Vegas is to take Highway 120 through Yosemite National Park (Tioga Pass Road). If you want, you can take a relatively short side trip through the main part of the park (Yosemite Valley) and see the sights such as El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Then go south down 395 and through Owens Valley on the eastern slopes of the Sierra's. It's great scenery and you get a glimpse of Mono Lake. At Big Pine, you can go east on 168/266 and then Highway 95 to Las Vegas. On 168 you will pass by Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) and it's a short drive to Bristlecone Pine Forest (oldest tree's in the world). Alternatively, you can take 395 further south (passing Mt. Whitney) to Lone Pine, and go east on 136/190. In this case, you will pass through Death Valley, which is spectacular. From Death Valley, I'd take the "side roads" through Pahrump.

Unfortunately, this is quite a haul. It's doable in a day, although it's a minimum of 10 hours when driving straight through and perhaps 14 hours with food and potty stops. That doesn't leave much time to see Yosemite Valley or anything else. Also, depending on snow levels, Highway 120 (Tioga Pass Road) is closed until April/May. Call ahead for the estimated opening date. Some of the roads are desolate and have limited services. No big deal but you need a reliable car.

An alternate way to get there is to take I-80 through Reno or Highway 50 through Lake Tahoe. Or take Highways 88/89 over Carson Pass and Monitor Pass. All are scenic mountain drives and remain open throughout the year (except in a snowstorm). This may or may not require a little more time, depending on the circumstances.

The fastest way to get there is down I-5 or Highway 99 through Bakersfield and Barstow. It's 8 hours, but much less scenic.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:36 PM   #5
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The fastest way to get there is down I-5 or Highway 99 through Bakersfield and Barstow. It's 8 hours, but much less scenic.
579 miles on this route in 8 hours? I would like to see it!


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Old 07-28-2009, 07:53 PM   #6
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I would fly from San Fran. to Phoenix and drive to the Grand Canyon & back to Phoenix and fly to LV. Its only 8 days! I like to travel by train but that doesn't seen to be enough time. Europeans I've met really want to see the Grand Canyon.
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Old 07-28-2009, 07:53 PM   #7
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579 miles on this route in 8 hours? I would like to see it!
Fair enough. I was measuring from where I live, which is a little east of San Francisco. It's about 530 miles, or roughly 8 hours assuming an average of 65 mph. This is reasonable assuming 1 stop for gas and no significant stops for food.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:01 PM   #8
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According to these guys, the distance is 571 miles and the estimated drive time is 9 hours and 24 minutes.

But what the heck do I know, it's been 35 years since I made that drive...
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:23 PM   #9
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I'll second Shawn's suggestion that the most scenic route is over Tioga Pass, down 395 along the eastern escarpment of the Sierras, then east from Big Pine over Westgard Pass to 95 in Nevada. I've done that drive several times and it's some of the most spectacular scenery in the West. I've even done the drive in one very long, brutal day. I would never recommend that to anyone.

The Vegas tourist board advertises that the Grand Canyon is "a day trip". Some day: drive 250 miles to the canyon, grab a glimpse, then turn around and drive 250 miles back to Las Vegas. If they want to see the Grand Canyon, then I'd support the suggestion that they fly from San Francisco to Phoenix, and drive from Phoenix up to the South Rim of the canyon. If they like trains, they could stay overnight in Williams, AZ and take the train from Williams to the canyon. Williams makes its living these days catering to tourists headed to the canyon
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:25 PM   #10
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According to these guys, the distance is 571 miles and the estimated drive time is 9 hours and 24 minutes.

But what the heck do I know, it's been 35 years since I made that drive...
I did it about 3 years ago, but only to Stockton where we hit a motel for the night. We were on our way back here to Seattle.

I guess I am in the camp that thinks a vacation is for fun, and this just didn't qualify for me anyway.

Overall, my idea of a vacation is to take a ferry ride and come home to my own dinner at night.

A friend wants to go to the coast to cool off and smell the surf. I would go on a train, or maybe a bus, or if she drove all the way. It's 4 hours at most, but still I say "non"!

I guess my road trip days are running out.

Ha
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:28 PM   #11
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Thanks everyone,

DW had been pushing to fly from SFO to LAS and it sounds like it would be the best option. We had considered driving via Tahoe/Reno but it looked like too much of a detour. Shawn's scenic way sounds interesting but it would probably be best travelled slowly, to enjoy the scenery. Flying will also give us one more day to do stuff...

My dad really wants to see Las Vegas, so it has to stay on the program.

Is Phoenix that much closer to the Grand Canyon than Las Vegas? I would like to limit the amount of air travel.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:52 PM   #12
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Thanks everyone,

DW had been pushing to fly from SFO to LAS and it sounds like it would be the best option. We had considered driving via Tahoe/Reno but it looked like too much of a detour.
My buddy and I drove from Reno to Las Vegas a few years ago. It's long lonely 2 lane road. We saw 2 serious accidents, including one where we came over a hill and bodies and stuff were scattered all over the place. A young woman was dead, and a guy looked grieviosly wounded. We managed a 911 call and hung around until a Med-Evac chopper showed up. I think from Fallon.

Really messed up our trip, and definitely do not plan to drive that road again. It's tough to see a young person so recently dead. I felt horrible for her and the injured man. At least he was alive when they loaded him. Another guy had stopped, and he seemed to know how to help out.

Ha
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Old 07-28-2009, 09:37 PM   #13
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I'll second Shawn's suggestion that the most scenic route is over Tioga Pass, down 395 along the eastern escarpment of the Sierras, then east from Big Pine over Westgard Pass to 95 in Nevada. I've done that drive several times and it's some of the most spectacular scenery in the West. I've even done the drive in one very long, brutal day. I would never recommend that to anyone.
Assuming the pass is open in Spring (define Spring?). I just did that route over the Tioga Road in late June and there was still plenty of snow. No picnic areas or hiking areas open, but beautiful nonetheless.

8-9 hours for a one day drive doesn't give one much time to stop and take in the sites. I'd opt for air travel instead.
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Old 07-28-2009, 09:40 PM   #14
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Is Phoenix that much closer to the Grand Canyon than Las Vegas?
About 250 miles from Grand Canyon to LV, and about 230 miles (4.5 hours) from Phoenix to Grand Canyon, so no - it's not much of a difference. I guess my main point would be that I would not make it a one day trip. That would be way too much time spent in the car compared to actually seeing the canyon.

HaHa: Terrible about the accident. That would ruin a trip. I have to admit, however, that I do like the great emptiness of western Nevada and Highway 95. Mostly empty - excepting the occasional brothel stuck out in the middle of the sagebrush.
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Old 07-28-2009, 11:48 PM   #15
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FD, I would fly from SFO to LAS without a doubt. The drive from here to Vegas is full or really boring scenery.

Why not just take a helicopter tour from Vegas to the Grand Canyon. DH did one last year when we were there. He went on the sunset tour, it touched down at a couple of spots in the canyon. It cost about $500. He raved about it.
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Old 07-29-2009, 12:04 AM   #16
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As far as places to stay in Vegas, I was there about 11 years ago and stayed at the Luxor, on the strip, in the pyramid. It was fun, and has really interesting elevators. If you do stay there, be sure to ask for a Pyramid room, not a Tower room (the Pyramid rooms are in the Pyramid, the Tower rooms are not. They're probably all nice, but I got a kick out of being in the Pyramid. The hallways overlook the casino floor, so it's a little less classy and a little more noisy, but hey, it's Vegas!).

I'd also vote for flying from SF to LAS. You'll be missing some gorgeous scenery by not driving, but with only 1 day planned for the drive you're not going to see it anyway. You'd have to drive like a crazed woodchuck to make it that far in a day, and you'll be fried at the end of it.

Finally, are your parents set on being in Napa itself, or Sonoma itself, or are they open to other areas? There are plenty of pretty wineries in the Russian River Valley area (near Santa Rosa) and the countryside is also lovely. If you'd like more info on this area, PM me. Keep in mind that many (most?) of the wineries in Napa require reservations for tastings, and they have pretty stiff tasting fees ($25 and up, if I remember correctly). DH just pointed out that if you're a tourist, Napa is probably better. They've got a good website here.

You might also enjoy dinner at the French Laundry. Reservations are a must.

The other thing I really liked doing in the Vegas area was the tour of Hoover Dam. Utterly amazing and unlike anything I've ever seen before. It's only 35 miles from Vegas, so makes for an easy 1/2 day trip.
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Old 07-29-2009, 07:08 AM   #17
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I did it about 3 years ago, but only to Stockton where we hit a motel for the night. We were on our way back here to Seattle.

I guess I am in the camp that thinks a vacation is for fun, and this just didn't qualify for me anyway.

Overall, my idea of a vacation is to take a ferry ride and come home to my own dinner at night.

A friend wants to go to the coast to cool off and smell the surf. I would go on a train, or maybe a bus, or if she drove all the way. It's 4 hours at most, but still I say "non"!

I guess my road trip days are running out.
Ha, I guess mine are too. I get pretty tired and my limit is about 7 hours in the car these days. After three hours I begin to doubt my sanity for attempting a long drive. My mind says "12 hours? piece o' cake!" but my body and spirit say, "Why knock yourself out? What's the hurry?"

I'd vote for air travel as well.
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Old 07-29-2009, 07:44 AM   #18
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I was in San Francisco a few years ago and we took one of the day trips from San Francisco to wine country . It was a great way to see it since we were not driving . They have lots of little vans that could take you there for the day . I also have taken the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon .It was boring scenery wise but they kept us feed and entertained and it included a bus tour of the Canyon . All in all a relaxing way to see the Canyon and you can opt to stay overnight and take the train back the following day.
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Old 07-31-2009, 01:37 AM   #19
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About 250 miles from Grand Canyon to LV, and about 230 miles (4.5 hours) from Phoenix to Grand Canyon, so no - it's not much of a difference.
Not much difference in miles, but can be huge in time because of the security checkpoints going both ways over hoover dam. When I lived in Vegas I took the trip to the canyon leaving town on a week day after morning commute time. An easy drive got me to the canyon south rim with plenty of time to hit all the view points, walk part way down trails and take lots of photos. Also just sitting and looking is highly recommended. As is staying for sunset. Drove to Williams for dinner and hotel. Williams has much better and less expensive food and lodging options than the park. Only reason I can see to stay in the park is to make watching sunrise easier.

Drove back to Vegas the next day. I don't even want to think what driving across the dam is like on a weekend.

If you like Tapas there is a good bar that serves both traditional Spanish style and modern interpretations in Vegas Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar . Best meal I ever paid for was at CraftSteak in the MGM Grand. If you do go there, remember each of their side dishes is good for two average appetites, but they won't point that out as you order too much.

Finally, take it from one who spent most of his life camping and fishing in the Sierra Nevada: It can snow any day of the year. ALWAYS check weather before crossing a pass.
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Old 07-31-2009, 09:03 AM   #20
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Ha, I guess mine are too. I get pretty tired and my limit is about 7 hours in the car these days. After three hours I begin to doubt my sanity for attempting a long drive. My mind says "12 hours? piece o' cake!" but my body and spirit say, "Why knock yourself out? What's the hurry?"

I'd vote for air travel as well.
Well, we'll be doing about a 9-10 hour drive tomorrow, and we'll see how we do with that. Flying is just drudgery these days; I go on vacation to relieve stress, and to me flying adds stress.

Airlines are cutting back on flights to the point where if you want a decent fare you have to depart at 6 AM (meaning getting to the airport by 4:30), arrive at midnight or take a red-eye. Want decent arrival and departure times? Double the fare, practically. Then there's the nickel and diming of add-on fees and general decline in customer service and increase in customer-hostile policies. Add the TSA and its bureaucracy into the mix, and if I can possibly drive it in a day, I will.

I used to enjoy flying. Now I avoid it whenever I can. But some people don't hate flying as much as I have come to, and if you're one of those, knock yourself out.
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