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California trip
Old 10-17-2008, 07:13 PM   #1
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California trip

My wife is turning 40 next summer. I want to take her on a trip to California. The plan is to:

Fly to San Diego and spend 3 days there
Drive up to L.A. area and spend 3 days there
Fly to San Francisco and spend 4 days there.
Fly home.

It will be a total surprise so Im on my own to plan the trip. Neither of us has ever been to California, so I'd like to get some suggestions as to activities I should plan while we're there.

I dont really care about L.A. but was thinking it would be cool to see Sunset strip, Hollywood, Rodeo drive..ect?

Im open to any and all ideas for things to see and do. HELP !!!!!
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Old 10-17-2008, 09:42 PM   #2
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Hello,

What does your wife enjoy when traveling? There are so many interesting and fun things to do in California.

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Old 10-18-2008, 12:08 AM   #3
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Never been to San Diego, but would LOVE to visit Balboa park if we ever do get there.

LA -- ick. FYI, if your wife (or you) has asthma or COPD, go in the spring or fall when the air quality is better. The Getty Museum there is lovely; the Getty Villa is also supposed to be great. French dips at Phillippe's are yummy, and the Santa Monica Pier is fun.

San Francisco -- I'd do the cable car thing, go to Alcatraz, explore the Ferry Building's food, see (and eat) Chinatown, take a picnic lunch down to the Marina, do the zigzag down Lombard street, visit Fisherman's Wharf, and see the Exploratorium as well as the new California Academy of Sciences, which sounds just too cool for words.

You might also consider driving from LA to SF and taking a couple of days to do it. This will take you through the Central Coast's wine country, and it's a gorgeous drive. There's great wine tasting in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley (where the film Sideways was shot), and also in San Luis Obispo County -- both San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles have great wine areas. San Luis Obispo has a thriving downtown and is a neat place to stay. Paso Robles is hotter and has less leafy-street charm, but also has nice places to stay.

If you drive up highway 1 from LA to SF, you get to see San Simeon and Hearst Castle, as well as Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula. In Salinas is the National (John) Steinbeck Center, and in Monterey is the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Anywhere between San Diego and San Francisco you can also visit one of the twenty-some Missions. There's one in San Diego and then one every thirty or so miles along El Camino Real. My favorite of the ones I've seen is La Purisima Concepcion (near Lompoc), because a huge amount of acreage is intact and you get the feeling of what it might have been like to actually live at the Mission. It's also a state park so the historical intrepretation is of a little higher quality (IMHO) than the ones that are still owned by the Catholic Church.

California is a big state, and the drive would give you a chance to see (and enjoy) it's quieter side. It's also beautiful, and concentrating on the cities only shows you one part of the trip.

You can PM me if you want more detailed info. Have fun planning your trip!
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Old 10-18-2008, 02:44 AM   #4
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I'd like to add Old Town/Historic Park in San Diego, and of course the SD zoo in Balboa Park. From SF, you can make day trip to Napa Valley. Be sure to have Cioppino, a seafood stew, in SF, its birth place.

I wonder what happens to the several Californian residents, who would be able to give a lot more guidance. As Arizonans, we have gone to CA all the time but cannot match the local's knowledge.
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Old 10-18-2008, 07:45 AM   #5
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Are you within driving distance? as there is a lot to see in America's southwest Why not drive the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to the Oregon border,fantastic scenery.
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Old 10-18-2008, 11:17 AM   #6
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Jambo, are you addressing me? I assume so, because utrecht's schedule won't permit him to drive that far. SF is enough to keep him busy for a few days.

If so, I have driven through and saw the Redwood forest, and spent some nights in Coos Bay and Eugene. Alas that was some years ago, and may be time to do that again. Portland is my 2nd favorite place to retire, after somewhere in the Puget Sound.
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Old 10-18-2008, 11:22 AM   #7
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I live in Dallas so driving to California isnt a real option.

I have considered driving the LA area to San Fran leg of the trip but would want there to be few things to do along the way. I dont want to just drive 6-7 hours or whatever it is.

As I said earlier, Im not interested in LA itself, but isnt there alot of places to see and things to do in that area? Santa Monica? Maybe a movie studio tour? Shopping on Rodeo drive? I dont even know how close together these places are or if that would be, logistically, a good idea.

So far, for the SanDiego leg, I have the San Diego Zoo, Old Town, a 4 hr sailboat charter, Coronado Beach and an indoor rock climbing place on my "to do" list. Any ideas which area of the city is best to stay in?

L.A. leg.....totally open to suggestions

SF leg....Cable Car tour, Alcatraz, ChinaTown, Picnic at marina sounds great (any specific marina?), and was thinking of staying at a hotel in the Fishermans Wharf area.

Thoughts?
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Old 10-18-2008, 01:13 PM   #8
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"I live in Dallas so driving to California isnt a real option."

We are driving to Houston next spring. Taking 3 weeks though


You pretty much hit the big stuff on the head. Make sure you hit Fisherman's Wharf
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Old 10-18-2008, 01:54 PM   #9
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We actually love love driving trips. We just dont have time for it this time. A few years back we spent 3 weeks driving across and around Europe. It was our best vacation ever. We had no plans and no reservations. Wherever we happened to be when it got dark is where we spent the night. 3 weeks from Cali to Houston sounds fun!
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Old 10-18-2008, 02:09 PM   #10
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In LA the Getty museum is definitely worth seeing, and if you like doing touristy things it's fun to spend a day at Universal City and walk on Hollywood Blvd. Maybe have dinner or drinks on Sunset blvd to see how the kidz roll.

For San Francisco, I think the previous suggestions are spot on. You might consider buying a sandwich at the Greens restaurant deli in Fort Mason and eating it next to the Marina there... that's one of my favorite things to do even as a resident. The MOMA museum is great as well.

Driving from LA to SF, if you have 2-3 days then go on hwy 1 by the coast and make lots of stops. If you just have one long day and want a little bit of hill scenery take hwy 101. Most non-tourists just drive straight on hwy 5 through the central valley which is boring but quick.
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Old 10-18-2008, 05:53 PM   #11
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Quote:
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We actually love love driving trips. We just dont have time for it this time. A few years back we spent 3 weeks driving across and around Europe. It was our best vacation ever. We had no plans and no reservations. Wherever we happened to be when it got dark is where we spent the night. 3 weeks from Cali to Houston sounds fun!
If you love road trips, I'd personally do the drive up Hwy 1 from LA to San Francisco, even if it means spending one fewer day in SF. The scenery really is spectacular, and it's worth doing at least once. As mentioned, you can overnight in San Simeon and visit Hurst Castle if that interests you (I've been to San Simeon, but not Hurst Castle).

Other thoughts:

As far as the best area to stay in San Diego, I'd probably recommend staying downtown. You'll be close to the Zoo & Balboa Park, Old Town and San Diego Bay, and Coronado. The Gaslamp District in downtown has lots of restaurants and bars that would probably be walking distance from wherever you stay. If you're baseball fans, the new ballpark is downtown, too.


Stuff to do in LA:

Universal Studios Tour: If you're into movies and/or television, this is a good way to spend a day. It's fun getting to see the back lots, etc.

The Getty Museum: A very nice art museum on a bluff overlooking the city. On some days you need reservations to get in (they limit the number of visitors per day, I think); checking ahead is a good idea.

LA has an almost unlimited number of music venues and clubs. A concert at the Hollywood Bowl might be nice.

Freaky People Watching in LA - LA has one of the highest concentrations of freaky people in the world. If you fancy catching a glimpse, you can:

Cruise Sunset strip. This is best done on a Friday or Saturday night. Traffic will be heavy, but all the freaky/beautiful people will be out.

Visit Venice Beach. The people watching here is...interesting. My wife and I saw Rodney Dangerfield strolling around with his plasti-bride the last time we were there (some years ago, now). There are some excellent street performers, as well. Fair warning: it's kind of scuzzy. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Whatever you do, have a great trip!
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Old 10-18-2008, 06:07 PM   #12
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Utrecht,

Since you love driving trips, you might want to consider cutting one city out of your itinerary in exchange for more time to drive and explore. An LA to SF road trip has plenty of great things to do and see along the way, and activity-filled cities at either end. San Diego is lovely, from what I've heard, but will add a lot of time to your trip.

Just for some perspective, the flight from LA to SF is going to eat up almost 1/2 as much time as driving there will. You'll have a rental car to drop off, if you're checking luggage you'll need to show up 2 hours prior to flight time, it's a 1-hour flight, then you'll need to get a rental car in SF and get to your hotel. I'd put that whole hassle at about 5 hours. In 5 hours you can (usually) easily drive from LA to San Luis Obispo. Or, for example, you could spend three hours at the Getty and then drive to Santa Barbara for an evening there. It'll also be cheaper.

Not saying the flying is a bad idea, just that driving may have benefits as well. And there's plenty to do between LA and SF on highway 101 or Highway 1 (I'd never recommend taking I-5 unless you just want to get there quick).
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Old 10-18-2008, 06:34 PM   #13
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Urchina made good points on the LA-SF flight leg. But no, I would not drop SD!

How about reducing time spent in LA, so you drive from SD to SF? Getty Museum is worthwhile. Same as freaky people watching in Venice Beach. Then spent a night in a coastal town on your way up to SF, like Monterey, in order to breakup the driving.

Be warned that the drive from SD to LA can be brutal with traffic jam. Around LA, don't be fooled by the distances shown on a map. It does not translate easily into hours spent in gridlock, breathing exhaust fumes.

Get a convertible. Play "California Dreamin'" on the drive up HW1. Man, I want to go on a road trip now. Haven't done that for a while (getting old, can't drive for too long any more).
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Old 10-18-2008, 07:53 PM   #14
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I agree with many of NW-Bound's points. I personally would drop LA from the itinerary before San Diego. If you did limit your time in LA, you could check out Santa Barbara, Monterey, etc. Santa Barbara might be my favorite place anywhere. I'd live there, if there were any jobs and real estate weren't sky high (even by CA standards).

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Get a convertible. Play "California Dreamin'" on the drive up HW1. Man, I want to go on a road trip now. Haven't done that for a while (getting old, can't drive for too long any more).
Just do it! My grandfather retired at 65, and bought himself a Lebaron convertible (Grandpa was a died-in-the-wool Chrysler man). Within 6 months, complications from diabetes and emphysema left him with limited mobility. He told me that he wanted to take one more trip down Highway 1 in the convertible, and he didn't want to do the driving, he just wanted to enjoy the scenery. I was 20, and thought that sounded great. I also figured we had plenty of time to do it. Within another 6 months, he was strapped to an oxygen tank, and in almost constant pain, making the trip impossible. He died about a year later. I've always regretted not taking him on that trip.
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Old 10-18-2008, 08:12 PM   #15
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I would drive the whole time while there and do the driving from LA to San Fran. OR maybe you could fly to San Fran and then rent a car. The Hwy 1 recommendation is one of the best. You would not really be seeing the best of California if you miss Hwy 1. I would recommend from San Fran, driving down to Monterey and possibly Hearst Castle for a 1-2 night stay and then driving back to San Fran for the 3rd day. I promise that you won't be sorry. My dad came to visit me once and flew into San Fran, and I was so glad that I took him down the coast to Monterey and Hearst Castle - those ended up being his favorite parts of the trip.
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Old 10-18-2008, 08:13 PM   #16
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In fact, I would even use sacrifice one of the LA days to add to San Fran. LA is so spread out that to me it's hard to navigate.
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Old 10-18-2008, 08:35 PM   #17
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utrecht,

I agree with those that suggest you consider doing the 1/101 drive between LA and SF.

In my opinion it is better than any single thing in either SF or LA. It shows some of the really nice parts of CA that you don't see by doing the "big city tour."

It is a great drive. Your should take at least two days and maybe three days to enjoy it though. Othewise it is just a really long hard drive.

There is a nice combination of outdoorsy things (e.g. beaches, redwood forests, etc.) and more civilized things (e.g. Hearst Castle, Monterey, the wineries).

I will warm you though that the driving is slow and it is steep (up and down) and windy (in and out) in places.

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Old 10-18-2008, 10:46 PM   #18
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Looks like I may have to revisit the idea of flying from LA to SF and drive instead. It would save me about $140 in airfare but believe it or not it costs $95 more to drop off a car in SF than it does to drop it off on LA (when rented in SD).

$175 total drop off fee seems more than a bit excessive. Thats more than the rental itself.
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Old 10-19-2008, 12:57 AM   #19
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Idle thoughts in no particular order:

I agree with the drive vs fly people -- struggling through two big airports may not take as much time as driving, but the hassle is HUGE. I had to take my parents down last month and I didn't even THINK of flying.

That said, I we also drove from LA to San Diego and back last spring -- it's a zoo just about any time of day. Plan carefully.

While on the topic of roads, three Stanford MBA students just plunged 700 feet off Hwy 1 near Big Sur. The drive is gorgeous and I'd do it coming north, but I don't like heights and would never take it going South. I'm a weenie, though -- ymmv.

In San Francisco: If you like the outdoors drive across the Golden Gate to Marin County, check out the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods for the Redwood experience. Stinson Beach is also lovely.

The Palace of the Legion of Honor is excellent if you like art museums, and its a quick drive to the beach from there. I second the vote for MOMA as well.

We finally visited Alcatraz this summer after 30 years in the area -- much more interesting and less touristy than I expected. You get a nice 15-minute ride on the bay, too.

Ditto on everything else. I don't particularly like Fisherman's Wharf -- it's a tourist zoo IMHO, but if you like that sort of thing...

Whatever you do -- have a great time and let us know how it went!
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Old 10-19-2008, 02:27 AM   #20
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Just do it! My grandfather retired at 65, and bought himself a Lebaron convertible (Grandpa was a died-in-the-wool Chrysler man). Within 6 months, complications from diabetes and emphysema left him with limited mobility. He told me that he wanted to take one more trip down Highway 1 in the convertible, and he didn't want to do the driving, he just wanted to enjoy the scenery. I was 20, and thought that sounded great. I also figured we had plenty of time to do it. Within another 6 months, he was strapped to an oxygen tank, and in almost constant pain, making the trip impossible. He died about a year later. I've always regretted not taking him on that trip.
Sorry to hear about your granddad story. Particularly since his desire wasn't all that extravagant (you live in the state!).

I will drive down that Hwy1 soon. Maybe early next year. Reason: with the economic downturn, it is an inexpensive vacation for us. And we can get a timeshare exchange for a nice resort suite.
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