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Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Cambridge, United...
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Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Hello:

we are a family with 3 kids (9,6 and 2 years old). We'll be in SF for work for 2 weeks, and then we would like to take a 12-day RV trip in California. Dates are: 7 April - 20 April 2012. We were thinking of the following trip:

SF

Monterey

BIg Sur

Morro

Kings Canyon

Sequoia

Yosemite

SF

or the other way around.

My main problems are:

Is April too early to visit Sieras (Kings, Sequoia, Yosemite) and would we be better off going on the coast from SF to LA and back (we are flying out of SF back to the UK)?

Will we be OK with an RV to get around the Big Sur?

If we do end up in the Sierras, where would you recommend that we station ourselves in each: Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon? And what is a must to see in each at that time of year in April that is accessible? We like to stay for at least 2 nights at places, so we get at least a whole day exploring in each place... easy going pace. Kids love to hike and cycle, the little one will be in the backpack or buggy.

Also, if you have a different suggestion for our itinerary that makes more sense at that time of year, I would love to hear from you.

I realize that I am late, but work has just informed me now about going to SF... So I am desperate for advice and will be VERY grateful for your opinions.

Thanks so much.

Teja

San Diego...
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1. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

I think it's a great trip, although it's a lot of driving for kids to wait out - at least 815 miles (1300 km), possibly 20 hours of driving time for the whole trip - maybe they will be occupied with activities while riding in the RV. The big concern with April is that could be a lot of snow in the mountains and there is still the possibility of a winter-type storm in the Sierras even in April. So far, though, this winter has been unusually dry and relatively snowless, but the winter isn't over with yet.

You could get lucky and there could be clear and sunny weather for your entire trip. Or you could get unlucky and there could be a snowstorm in the Sierras. And the Tule Fog is a problem in the central valley of California including areas such as Visalia, Fresno and Modesto, which you may be passing through. If you plan your trip so that your drives in the central valley are in the afternoon hours only, you may be able to avoid the Tule Fog completely. April is a little unpredictable regarding the weather, but otherwise it is a good month for travel in California. I think you should still plan to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon as well as Yosemite, though you probably won't be able to drive all park roads as some will be closed, you will be able to see enough of those parks to make it worth going over there.

I certainly hope it will be sunny for your entire trip, but you should be prepared for any possibility, including the possibility of needing to put chains on the tires of your vehicle in the mountains, if a storm leaves snow or ice on the roads. And, some mountain roads will still be closed in April. At this time the road that connects Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the Generals Highway, is closed and the parks' web site states that it may be closed until April 1st. For those 2 parks, you can call (559) 565-3341 to get an update on the current road conditions, or check their web site at nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/currentcond.htm

In Yosemite, some park roads such as Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are normally still closed in April. This winter, so far, has seen very little snowfall compared to the previous couple of winters. So there is a chance that Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road in Yosemite will open earlier than normal. But it's still unpredictable; a snowstorm is forecast for this weekend and there's still a couple months of winter left, and spring storms are possible. I would not expect Tioga Road or Glacier Point Road to be open at the time of your trip, but on the slim chance that one or the other is open, that will offer more opportunity for you to drive around the park. The road to the parking lot for Mariposa Grove may or may not be open at that time. Certainly you will be able to visit Yosemite Valley as the roads in it are generally open all year. For road conditions in Yosemite you can call (209) 372-0200 (press 1 then 1) or check that park's web site at www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm

Last year there were some problems with Highway 1 through Big Sur; though they have been resolved now, there are some 1-way sections that require short waits. There is still a chance that a heavy rain storm this winter could cause a mudslide or other unexpected event that would close Highway 1. You can check the current status of Highway 1 by looking at this page: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/sr1 or by calling (800) 427-7623. But yes, generally, you will be fine with driving an RV on Highway 1 through Big Sur, and many people do make that drive in an RV. Additional tips on driving Highway 1 through Big Sur are at http://jrabold.net/bigsur/drive.htm

RVs tend to drive slower than small cars, and if you notice that a line of cars is forming behind you on a highway, pull over at the nearest turnout to let them pass. I'm not really sure what the exact law is but I think if 5 or more cars are right behind you, you are required to pull over at a turnout to let them pass.

Your kids will undoubtedly enjoy the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a simple oceanfront amusement park in Santa Cruz, http://www.beachboardwalk.com/ and might enjoy the Gilroy Gardens amusement park if you pass through Gilroy at some point. http://www.gilroygardens.org/

Sea kayaking or a boat ride around Elkhorn Slough may be a highlight, as you will probably see really cute sea otters there. http://www.elkhornslough.org/

The kids will undoubtedly enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/ For more information on the Monterey Peninsula area see www.montereypeninsula.info/guide/mryintro.htm and for Carmel see http://carmelfun.com/ or http://www.carmelcalifornia.org/things-to-do/

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, just south of Carmel, is a must-see in my opinion. The kids will love going around on the short, easy trails through beautiful scenery, and I mean world-class-level coastal scenery, and spotting wildlife such as possibly sea lions, otters, deer, rabbits and many birds. Plan to spend up to 4 or 5 hours at Point Lobos. There is a USD $10 day use parking fee there, but if you visit Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the same day as you paid that $10, just show your receipt at those parks and you won't have to pay again that day. For more information on Point Lobos see http://pointlobos.org and http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=571

The Big Sur area has many possible sights and stops. Two good sites with overviews of the Big Sur area are http://jrabold.net/bigsur/ and http://bigsurcalifornia.org/

Nepenthe restaurant is a popular stop along Highway 1 for lunch. http://nepenthebigsur.com/ Nepenthe is merely a suggestion and there are other choices of places to eat.

Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park has hiking trails along the Big Sur River and through redwood groves. The trail to Pfeiffer Falls is currently closed and is expected to reopen this summer, so I don't think it will be open by the time of your trip. http://parks.ca.gov/?page_id=570

For information on Pfeiffer Beach see ohranger.com/los-padres-natl-forest/poi/pfei… For driving directions to that beach, see http://jrabold.net/bigsur/roadpt0700.htm There is a $5 fee to park there.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is the one that has the beautiful little cove with the waterfall that lands on the beach. That cove is for wildlife only and is off-limits to people, but you can take a short, easy trail to a platform where you can view that cove and waterfall. For more information see http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=578

If you are interested in seeing the Elephant seals at San Simeon or Piedras Blancas, see http://elephantseal.org/

If you are interested in taking a tour of Hearst Castle, see http://hearstcastle.org

For information on Cambria see http://www.cambriachamber.org/visitors.php

For information on Morro Bay see http://morro-bay.com/ or http://morro-bay.com/

For information on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, see http://nps.gov/seki and kevingong.com/Hiking/SequoiaKingsHikes.html, although many of the hikes described on that page may not be available in April due to snow. And the road down into Kings Canyon itself could still be closed in April, depending on snow conditions. In any case, you should be able to visit the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park and the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and see the giant sequoias there. Crystal Cave is another possible sight in Sequoia National Park, though there is a per-person fee for tours of that. And there's a good chance you will get to see bears living there; as bear sightings seem to be common in those parks.

If your kids are interested in big cats, there is a small but good cat sanctuary on Highway 180, just outside the exit of Kings Canyon National Park. You can stop there and take a 1-hour tour with a docent and see big cats up close. They have at least one of every type of big cat that I can think of. If you take the first tour of the day (probably 10 am) the cats will be very active and may be excited about feeding time. Don't worry, they don't feed them live animals or anything like that, just ordinary ground meat they buy at a supermarket. You can be within about 3 feet (1 m) of the enclosures, though they are screened and it's perfectly safe. For more information on that place see http://cathaven.com

Finding the right places to park your RV each night may take some research, and I assume would require reservations at RV parks or at campgrounds in the national and state parks you are going to stay overnight at. I don't have any experience myself driving RVs so I can't really give you any tips on that. On your way after leaving Kings Canyon National Park and before you get to Yosemite, there is an RV park at Bass Lake, California. That could be an intermediate stop before entering Yosemite, if that works out with your time schedule. I wouldn't stay there more than one night, though, as it is too far from Yosemite Valley to make the drive back and forth each day. See http://basslake-rvresort.com/ for more information.

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is a train ride that is just outside the southern entrance of Yosemite, it is privately operated and takes you on a 4-mile (6.4 km) ride on an actual railroad line that was used for logging. Depending on which train you ride, the tickets cost USD $16 or $19 for adults and $8 or $9.50 for kids 3-12. For more information on that train see http://ymsprr.com/

For information on Yosemite National Park, see http://nps.gov/yose , http://yosemitefun.com , http://yosemitehikes.com , http://jrabold.net/yosemite/ and http://aboutyosemite.com . There are programs designed for kids in Yosemite such as the Junior Ranger program and the Wee Wild Ones presentations. The "Yosemite Guide" newspaper that they will give you when you enter the park will specify the exact times and locations of the Wee Wild Ones presentations. Usually once at Curry Village and once at Yosemite Village each day, although I don't know what the schedule is like in April. If you are visiting the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park and the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park, then you can skip the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, as you will have already seen plenty of giant sequoia trees. The kids may enjoy the Pioneer Yosemite History Center in the Wawona area, in the southern part of Yosemite, and there is a 10-minute horse-drawn stagecoach ride there for only $3, $2 for kids, but I don't know if it operates in April. You can rent bicycles in Yosemite Valley, at both Yosemite Village and Curry Village. The bike paths around Yosemite Valley are flat and easy, no hills to climb, and they are separated from the car roads so they are safe. I'm not sure if bike rentals are available in April, but you can contact the park about it, or contact the private concession company that runs the rentals; see their site at yosemitepark.com/Activities_Biking_BikeRenta… . You should definitely start a new thread in the Yosemite forum on this site, where the destination experts will help you plan out your time in Yosemite to make best use of your time and with your whole family in mind. tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g61000-i315-Yosemi…

Once you have come up with an overall route and general itinerary for your trip, start a new thread in the local forum for each location you are going to or through, such as the forum for San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey Peninsula, Carmel, Big Sur, San Simeon, Cambria, Morro Bay, Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite. State what your time frame is for that location, approximate budget, your interests and travel style (that you like an easygoing pace), what you like to see and do on your trips, the fact that you will be driving in an RV, the fact that you will have your kids with you and their ages and interests, and any other facts pertinent to your travels. In those threads, the "locals" and destination experts for those locations can help you fine-tune your itinerary in that location with suggestions that appropriate for your interests and needs, including suggestions for where to stay, where to eat, and what to see and do that are right for you. Your overall route and itinerary might change a little depending on these local tips and suggestions. Eventually you will develop a detailed plan that is customized to your travel style, your own interests, your budget and your time frame.

For each of these locations that you are visiting, start a thread in that forum and the members who know that area well can help you plan out your time in that location..

San Francisco forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g60713-i30-San_Fra…

Santa Cruz forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g33048-i271-Santa_…

Monterey Peninsula forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g580824-i10632-Mon…

Carmel forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g32172-i187-Carmel…

Big Sur forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g240329-i513-Big_S…

San Simeon forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g33039-i829-San_Si…

Cambria forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g32148-i484-Cambri…

Morro Bay forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g32746-i906-Morro_…

Sequoia/Kings Canyon forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g143050-i904-Sequo…

Yosemite forum tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g61000-i315-Yosemi…

Edited: 21 January 2012, 14:13
Glasgow, United...
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2. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Wow, wow, and wow again! That is the most diligent, helpful, considerate post I have ever seen on Tripadvisor. As another family from the UK who will be in the area later in the year, thanks so much bw92116.

Cambridge, United...
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3. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Wow, that's an amazing wealth of information! A giant THANK YOU!

It occurred to me that we could possibly do the trip in a car as well, and stay at lodges if that makes things easier given the season (re RV campsite reservations). How would this compare and would it make sense? I haven't looked into it, but wrt budget, how would the two compare: car+lodges vs RV+campsite fees, does anyone have a vague idea/experience?

A million thanks,

Teja

Washington State
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4. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Hi Teja

In general, car + motel is cheaper. RV has the advantage of preparing your own meals, but it's more expensive to rent (higher rental cost + additional mileage cost), uses more gasoline, and is more expensive to park (RV Park, National Park or State Park campground, private campground) than you'd think. An RV vacation can be lots of fun, but it has additional challenges and a higher cost.

Types of RVs tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c151379

Where to Stay: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c151535

For a trip in April with kids, I'd recommend choosing fewer destinations and staying longer. You can easily fill 3 days in San Francisco, 2 or 3 in Monterey, and 2 or 3 in Yosemite. And I'm biased toward regular lodging, tho' finding RV campsites in Monterey, maybe Morro Bay, and Yosemite is possible. The big challenge will be Yosemite. I'll add to bw's great comments over there. If you're going to go with the regular lodging & a car idea, it will probably be an easier trip to plan.

When you ask about lodging for a family of 5 in San Francisco (on their forum), I bet they suggest Grosvenor Suites. Before you ask, be sure to read their Top Questions (upper right) so you'll know a taxi is the best transfer option for a family of your size, don't rent a car, and options about neighborhoods. Then put "family" into the SF forum search bar and read relevant threads (sort by date if you want more recent ones.) Finally, post a question.

But if you're staying two full weeks in San Francisco, your questions will be different than most casual visitors. Will your work specify where you stay? Will you have a weekend off, maybe to explore north of San Francisco?

Did you see the Top Questions and Itineraries on the other forum pages?

Cambridge, United...
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5. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Thank you again. So prompt, I am so grateful.

Yes, we will be in SF, actually at Stanford Uni for 2 weeks for work, so we will have plenty of time to explore SF. Also, work will book us apartment/hotel room for those 2 weeks and also rent a car for us. We would start our holiday part of our trip from Palo Alto (or if with RV from San Mateo) and then go down to Monterey, etc. for 12 days ending up back in SF to fly out of SF airport to the UK.

We have done 2 RV trips with the kids of 2 weeks in the USA before. Our experience is that we plan 1 day to get to places staying 2 or 3 nights in one place which then gives us 1 or 2 full days of exploring.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that renting a car and staying at lodges might be easier this time... I have to talk it over with my hubby.

Thanks so much for your invaluable advice.... Please keep the opinions and ideas coming...

Teja

San Diego...
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6. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Well, if you've done RV trips with the kids before and that worked out well, then you still could consider doing this trip in an RV. The kids might be happier and more relaxed in an RV where they could lay down and rest or do things like play games, instead of just sitting in a car. The drives on this trip aren't going to be all that long, really; the longest drive will be 4 or 5 hours and most drives will be shorter. But still, the comfort of being in the RV may be a factor in keeping your kids happy and entertained on this trip.

The gasoline (petrol) cost will be a factor as well, as RVs use more gas per mile than small cars do, but it not may be a huge difference in total cost. As of today the average cost of gasoline in California is at USD $3.69 per gallon, at least according to http://www.californiagasprices.com/ and it will probably go up slowly as the summer travel season approaches, so I wouldn't be too surprised if you see prices of USD $4 per gallon on your trip, and some of the more remote areas like that pump at Gorda on the Big Sur coast could even be $5 per gallon. So fill up wherever you see a decent price. If you find out the fuel economy (listed as miles per gallon for highways) for the RV and compare it to that for the small car, you can get a pretty realistic estimate of the gasoline cost for this trip. The different

Just to give examples, using purely arbitrary numbers which would not necessarily be the same as for your trip, say you drove an RV which averaged 15 miles per gallon, over 815 miles you would use 54 gallons of gasoline, at a cost of $3.69 per gallon that would be just about USD $200. My car gets 35 miles per gallon on the highways and newer cars get even better, but assuming 35 mpg my car would use 23 gallons, at a cost of about $85. So I would save about $115 by using a small car instead of an RV.

But the cost of the hotel rooms could easily wipe out that savings in gasoline cost. On the other hand, it is often difficult to get lodging in popular places like Yosemite Valley at short notice. There are many choices in the area though. Perhaps a cabin in the Foresta area just west of Yosemite Valley might work out for you. I don't really know. The destination experts for Yosemite including PacificNWFamily can help you determine the lodging that is right for you and your family if you decide to drive a car and stay in lodging instead of driving an RV. I would work on that in the Yosemite forum, once you have made a final decision between RV and driving a car. I guess that's something you will have to decide before you can start making any reservations for anything.

Washington State
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7. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Just so the geography is clear ....

The San Francisco airport is not in San Francisco. Palo Alto is about 35 miles south of the city of San Francisco. So your days to explore the city will require time to get there. It's certainly do-able, especially with the apartment & car rental provided, but it's more of a challenge. And when you return to the airport to fly home, you don't necessarily need to go back to San Francisco at all.

Check with folks on the SF forum to get the best advice about (A) driving in traffic & paying for $$$ parking or (B) using public transportation. With a family of 5, the choice isn't obvious to me.

Cambridge, United...
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8. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Thank you for this. Yes, I understand that SFO is south of SF and north of Palo Alto. If we take an RV, we could get it from San Mateo, which is fairly close. And if my memory serves me right, there is a great train service from San Jose via Palo Alto to San Francisco...

Anyway, looking at the prices for lodges etc... we may well be better off with an RV, also, the kids LOVE RVs. We normally do not plan to drive for more than 4-5 hours in a day, every 2 to 3 days.

Once we decide, I will definitely post more specific questions on specific forums.

THanks also to point me to top questions and itineraries. Especially top questions were useful.

I am so grateful to you all for feedback.

Teja

San Diego...
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9. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

Based on your posts including that one, I think the RV is best for this trip.

10. Re: Help for newbie family from UK - California in April

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