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USA West Coast Driving Tour
Old 11-01-2009, 11:34 PM   #1
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USA West Coast Driving Tour

We (DW and I) are considering a US west coast driving tour.

Likes - nature, scenery, etc.
Dislikes - big cities, crowded "attractions", over-hyped/commercialized stuff
I would like some suggestions from personal experience - either a trip you did, or maybe you live in the area. Now for some specifics of what I am looking for.
1) Time of year -I am thinking about starting either in the North or South, and doing a fairly "linear" tour. Since we like to go when most of the kids are in school to minimize crowded attractions, we usually do a spring or fall vacation. I was thinking that doing a spring trip (April/May?), you might want to start in the South and go North to avoid more severe weather. Alternatively, we could do it in the fall (Sept/Oct?), and go the opposite way. Thoughts?
2) "Must See" - We want to hit some of the biggies like Yosemite, Sequoia, Redwoods, etc. What else that maybe is not as well known?
3) Avoid - any over-hyped or over-commercialized stuff to avoid?
4) Hidden gems- maybe stuff off the beaten path?
5) Great places to stay - maybe B&B's you've really enjoyed, good value hotels, etc.
I think we want to limit it to the western 2 tiers of states - California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Washington.
Thanks for any suggestions.
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Old 11-02-2009, 06:57 AM   #2
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We (DW and I) are considering a US west coast driving tour. ... Thanks for any suggestions.
I like these kinds of threads. Other than eastern Washington (Spokane/Cour d'Alene) and Utah, I can't add much but look forward to what transpires. (for the same reason(s) as the OP.)
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Old 11-02-2009, 07:25 AM   #3
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Some years back we flew out to San Diego to visit my sister and BIL, rented a car and took the Pacific Coast Highway (US 1) up to San Francisco. Great scenic route and lots to see along the way like Hurst castle, Pebble Beach and San Francisco itself. Also visit the original missions. Been too long ago to recall all the details but others can add some interesting stops. San Diego itself is a great visit. Enjoy!
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Old 11-02-2009, 07:25 AM   #4
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I will watch the thread with interest. DW and I are thinking of the same thing except we will be stopping along the way to ride bikes and to visit the cities.
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Old 11-02-2009, 08:08 AM   #5
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Oh! San Francisco! Much to do there. In spite of your "Avoid - any over-hyped or over-commercialized stuff to avoid?" qualification, Fisherman's Wharf should be visited at least once by everyone.

On the other side of that coin though is Mt. Diablo. I have driven up there twice; once in the Spring and another time in the Fall. Not only is the view and scenery at the top incredible but the drive itself is wonderful.

And let's not forget the San Diego Zoo -- lots of people there (crowds actually) but you don't really notice. This place is so much better than even the best "Reviews" ever described.
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Old 11-02-2009, 08:25 AM   #6
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This sounds like great fun! I took a similar trip as a teenager and we only managed to hit a few attractions that far west, but Yosemite is a good one!

It looks like you are planning to hit several national parks along the way (and who wouldn't want to?). The national park service has basically what amounts to a season pass, good for entry into all the national parks for a year. You might want to look into that and see if it is cost effective given where you would like to go. Have fun!
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Old 11-02-2009, 08:48 AM   #7
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I'd recommend starting in SF and going north, and doing it in September or October.
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Old 11-02-2009, 09:22 AM   #8
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Going North of SF is great. The redwoods are incredible and there are many smaller towns with perfect atmosphere. Agree with TromboneAl that September is a great time. Check out Point Reyes. It is a really cool place.

If going into Utah I recommend Zion NP. It is my favorite of the canyons. Much better than Grand Canyon in terms of beauty IMHO. Bryce is also very interesting.

I know less about Southern Cal or the best time to visit there.

You are in for a treat! I've done these trips before but I'm still very jealous of you. You will love it. It wil be a lot of driving so hopefully you have plenty of time for your travels so you can relax and enjoy each place.
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Old 11-02-2009, 12:06 PM   #9
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... I droveall of highway 1 from Port Angeles to the water at Ruby Beach (beautiful black rock beach in Washington)... to LA...(still need to drive the rest to San Diego)... all I can tell you is there is too much to see... my favorites were the redwoods... the winding roads of 101 from San Fran south to LA, Santa Cruz, Astoria Oregon, Canon Beach Oregon.... and all the Trader Joe's in between... and I stopped at every lighthouse as well...
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Old 11-02-2009, 12:39 PM   #10
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Click here and scroll down to get an idea of places you might like to visit.
Road Trip Rip - Adventures Most of these are west coast nature and scenery.

There is also a 'contact' address. The young man that put the site together would be happy to give you some tips.
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Old 11-02-2009, 04:22 PM   #11
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In the PNW I would recommend Olympic National Park. Two "must see's" here in my mind are the Hoh Rain Forest on the western side and Hurricane ridge to the north. Weather is always a ? regardless of spring or fall so be prepared for cool and wet and don't let some rain or drizzle stop you from enjoying the sites - its what Gortex is for.

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Old 11-02-2009, 06:19 PM   #12
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On the other side of that coin though is Mt. Diablo. I have driven up there twice; once in the Spring and another time in the Fall. Not only is the view and scenery at the top incredible but the drive itself is wonderful...
I've driven up there, shamefully, only once. But lately, I've been on a kick to visit nearby burbs. We're planning to visit the Eugene O'Neill house which according to Yelp dot com. overlooks Mt. Diablo and has some leaf changing activity going on this time of year. They say the view alone is worth the drive. Has anyone been there? This might also work on the National Park thread as it is a National Historic Site.

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site - Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service)
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Old 11-02-2009, 07:18 PM   #13
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If you decide to including driving the Pacific Coast Highway (US 1), I'd recommend driving north to south. I've done it both ways, and driving along the outside of the highway is more scenic and you can see better down to the ocean, etc. Just less road blocking your view.
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Old 11-02-2009, 07:21 PM   #14
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Hey, we spent 6 weeks just exploring the Oregon coast! And a month+week before that in the CA redwoods between Eureka and Crescent City.

Magnificent - all of it!

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Old 11-02-2009, 07:26 PM   #15
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Hey, we spent 6 weeks just exploring the Oregon coast! And a month+week before that in the CA redwoods between Eureka and Crescent City.

Magnificent - all of it!
And Utah would take every bit of that.
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Old 11-04-2009, 12:03 AM   #16
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Thanks for all the input so far. I will definitely add Bryce Canyon and Zion NP's to the list. We had done a Rocky Mountain drive several years ago and had gotten to Arches and Canyonlands - but not down to the others. Also will include Olympic NP in the list.
The NP service does have a pass - it's $80/year (or $10 for life if you are over 62). That's a good deal.

About the SD Zoo - I have always heard so much about it and wondered if it lives up to the hype? That would be a good addition.

Thanks for the link to the Road Trip Rip - some really cool pictures there.

Also may try Fisherman's Wharf even though it would kind of violate my "crowded, etc" thoughts. DW may want a break from the wilderness - she tends to like cities/civilization as a travel destination more than I do. Always leads to an interesting discussion when planning vacations, so we generally go by the rule that if you plan the vacation, you get to do it your way. Since she doesn't like to plan (more "spontaneous") and I don't like to wing it, I get to do lots of stuff I like!
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Old 11-04-2009, 06:55 AM   #17
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A couple of site that may be helpful. Hubby and I are in the planning stage of another cross country trip, this time by car trailing a scooter and we are using these sites to help us.
Good luck.

Road Trip Planning: Tips, Resources & Advice

http://www.discoveramerica.com/ca/
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Old 11-05-2009, 11:23 PM   #18
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I live in SoCal and have traveled extensively through this area.

If you want to hit Yosemite, May is much better than October. Although there might be some color in October, the waterfalls will be going much more strongly in May. Many dry up over the summer.

You could fly to Vegas, do Bryce/Zion, drive through Nevada to Yosemite/Tioga Pass (this won't work until late June-ish due to snow, so if in May you'd have to drive back through Vegas through Mojave/Bakersfield and then up to Yosemite. You can avoid Sequoia and Kings Canyon if visiting Yosemite since they are similar but not as spectacular. In Yosemite, see the Valley and don't miss Glacier Point unless it is still closed due to snow. If you are a hiker the Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls Mist Trail is spectacular.

From Yosemite I'd head to San Francisco. Even if you don't like cities it is a place to see. Travel across the Bay Bridge and spend a day or two in SF, then travel North on the Golden Gate Bridge/ Highway 101. Visit Muir Woods, and go north to Redwood National Park. Humboldt Redwoods is also a very pretty state park.

From there you can cut back over to Interstate 5 and head north. Visit Crater Lake if you would like, and continue north to the Olympic Peninsula to see Olympic National Park. From there it's best to take the ferry back to the east side of Puget Sound.

This sounds easy but is a lot of driving. You could easily take a month or more.
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Old 11-05-2009, 11:45 PM   #19
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Surfdaddy - thanks for the itinerary! Sounds great. Actually like the idea of the fly into Vegas thing - fairly cheap flights, maybe see Hoover Dam while we're there - and gambling's not our thing. It will be a long trip, but I'm thinking maybe 3-4 weeks? As for Sequoia NP, the only reason I put it on the list was to see the sequoias up close and personal - maybe there are better places to do that Haven't done that research yet.
Also, will Crater Lake be open by June? I think I remembered that it is pretty late opening.
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Old 11-05-2009, 11:59 PM   #20
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Surfdaddy - thanks for the itinerary! Sounds great. Actually like the idea of the fly into Vegas thing - fairly cheap flights, maybe see Hoover Dam while we're there - and gambling's not our thing. It will be a long trip, but I'm thinking maybe 3-4 weeks? As for Sequoia NP, the only reason I put it on the list was to see the sequoias up close and personal - maybe there are better places to do that Haven't done that research yet.
Also, will Crater Lake be open by June? I think I remembered that it is pretty late opening.
I believe there are some sequoias in Yosemite as well, although the biggest ones are in Sequoia NP. You can easily swing by there on your way up to Yosemite.

Hoover Dam is well worth seeing as well. Not sure if they still offer tours into the dam itself, but many years ago you could actually ride an elevator into the dam and feel the vibration as a 30 foot wide pipe had water coursing through it and through the generators.

You are probably correct about Crater lake's opening. The problem is that if you want to see big waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, you should go by July. If you want easy access due to snow across Tioga pass (would not want to do this if you want to go to Sequoia NP since you need to go west of the Sierras anyway) or Crater lake, then the fall is probably better. Either way it is going to be beautiful.

I would carefully plan the driving times. Depending upon how far you want to drive in a day and how much idle/sightseeing time you want, you could do something like:

Day Place
1 Vegas
2 Drive to Bryce
3 Bryce
4 Drive to Zion,
5 see Zion
6 Drive to Vegas
7 See Vegas/Hoover Dam
8 Drive to Sequoia
9 See Sequoia
10 Drive to Yosemite
11-13 See Yosemite (I would spend at least 3 days here)
14 Drive to San Fran
15-16 San Fran
17 Muir Woods, drive to Redwood
18 Redwood/Humboldt Redwoods area
19 Drive toward Crater Lake
20 Crater Lake
21 Portland
22 Drive to Olympic
23-24 Olympic
25 Ferry to Seattle area

These times represent a fairly intense schedule without lot of rest time, but a month looks doable if you are up for that much driving. Days are approximate, as I'm doing the distances from memory and could be off a bit, but would be approximately correct if you are willing to drive some 8-9 hour days. If not, add quite a few more days of padding.

Of course you could trim some stuff away if you are time constrained. The easiest way to cut time would be to either just end in San Francisco (you could still drive up to Muir Woods, or even drive up to the redwood area and then return to SF), or to cut out Bryce/Zion.

In my personal opinion Crater Lake and even the Olympic Peninsula would be more expendable than Bryce/Zion. I don't know where you are from or what you like to see. Olympic is nice but the length of the drive up to that area make it more questionable to me if you are pressed for time.
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