We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

Which San Francisco hotels are on sale?
dd/mm/yyyy dd/mm/yyyy
See hotels
Level Contributor
161 posts
14 reviews
Save Topic
Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

I don't know if the SF forum is the best place to post this but I really don't know where to start!

In June or August next year we would like to do a tour incorporating San Francisco, Los Angeles, possibly Las Vegas, and any other outstanding destinations that would be of interest to 2 teenage boys (they will be 14 and 17).

We don't want to do any driving - would an organised tour be best or are these ridiculously expensive? We would like to do it as cheaply as possible without roughing it!

We are based in Manchester UK.

San Francisco
Level Contributor
36,629 posts
27 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

You'll get a wider audience if you post this in the California forum (follow the bread crumb one level up). Even though Vegas is in Nevada, not California, it's not far from the border and many people make this trip. If you page through the California forum and check their itineraries and Top Questions you may find some answers to your basic questions as well.

However, I'd strongly advise you rethink the driving thing. I had some UK friends who recently did a coach tour of California, Arizona, Vegas etal and, I think, rued the fact they did. It was a lot of time in a bus with a lot of people they didn't know and staying in places that weren't of their choosing (I know the place they stayed in SF was OK but wasn't what they would ever pick for themselves).

You have plenty of time to plan this on a DIY basis and I think you will enjoy it a great deal more. If it's the driving on the wrong side that worries you, it's not difficult, our roads are good and, having spent a month in England last fall, we don't have all those bloody roundabouts you Brits stick in every 100 yards! Our roads are quite a bit wider as well =:0 However, I (and more importantly, my rental car) make it through unscathed and having the freedom to "follow my nose" was priceless.

Level Contributor
161 posts
14 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

Thanks for your prompt reply - I will look on the California page.

Level Contributor
9,326 posts
1 review
Save Reply
3. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

It would be helpful if you would give us an idea of what you and your family are interested in doing, or NOT doing, and how much time you are planning for the trip.

Not only would an organized tour be expensive, I think your teenagers will be bored to tears and completely out of their age range with the substantial number of seniors, or non-English-speaking tourists who end up on these trips.

The best way to do this is to drive.

Las Vegas will be scorching hot in August, and the teens will not be allowed into many areas of the casinos. The best parts of that experience for them would likely be a trip to Grand Canyon, Death Valley, or other National Parks.

I would encourage you to start reading guidebooks and looking for suggested itineraries. There are multiple guidebooks available.

Level Contributor
618 posts
75 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

We did the Best Of West coach tour in March 2003 similar to SAL describes aged 40 and 33 with no kids. The distances travelled some days are about 400 miles and you get 2/3 nights at the most in one city. You do see many towns and cities and national parks. Our bus was not full and had a mixture of nationalities and ages from 18 - 70. There was only one younger teenager for the second part of the trip. Our tour guide only did the commentary in English.

In Nov 2009, we flew between our favourite cities from the first trip including San Diego, Las Vegas and San Francisco. check out tailor making your own tour flying between cities.

This Sept we are flying into San Francisco then on to San Diego and the over to Chicago.

I am not a huge fan of LA. We had 3 nights on Anaheim as part of the coach tour and did Disneyland and universal studios and saw the walk of fame and the chinese theatre.

Vegas with teenagers is a challenge with the casino rules.

1 post
1 review
Save Reply
5. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

Hi like to check which tour company you used .

Level Contributor
524 posts
83 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4


Is driving really out of the question???

You will get so much more out of your trip if you drive

EVERYONE drives in the US and so everything is geared up for cars and arriving by car

Whatever you choose you cant do everything in one trip so you will have to think carefully what you include and what you leave out but you will get sooooo much more out of your trip with a car

Driving in the US is sooooo easy the raods are wide and on the whoe pretty quiet by UK standards - the only problem you will have is if you opt to go to LA (I wouldnt not that it isnt good there are better places......)

ALso youhave an automatic so no gear changes to worry about.....

If you do opt for a car I would recommend flying into San Fran and home from LAs Vegas. Get to Vegas via Yosemite and Death Valley

DO also spend some time driving the coast eith south to CArmel and Big Sur and then inland to Yosemite or north to Jenner and Anchor BAy and maybe on to Mendocino then the Napa valey and LAke Tahoe

Yosemite is my fav place in California

bit the Grand Canyon is even better and is about 4-5 hours drive beyond LAs Vegas - well worthit!!

its ideal if you can go for 3 weeks.....

We hav been to Las Vegas 7 times now and the Grand Canyon 5 times

We have flown into LAs Vegas but also driven there from San Fran, LA, San Diego and Denver

Do let me know if you want more detail on anything Ive mentioned

San Jose, California
Level Contributor
56 posts
12 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

I agree with Beeble on trying to do it on your own in a car. 3 weeks is ideal for what you want to do, and if you do it in 2 you may feel rather rushed. I'd eliminate Los Angeles (or just drive through it). It's not an easy city to get to know, and has some charms, but they aren't really discoverable in a short trip. If you do go, make sure to stay at a hotel in one of the beach areas (for which you will pay more, of course.) The best of LA, in my opinion, are the "smaller" beach towns, which are now expensive places to live, but grew up from the original Calif. surfer towns, and I'd bet your teenagers would love to hang out at the SoCal beaches for a day or two, and you are guaranteed to get decent weather (sunny at least half the day, and in the 70's .) I'd choose one of the following areas, as they all have great big sand beaches, great paths along the beach for walking, bike riding, etc, safe swimming, etc.

Santa Monica (bigger, more action at he boardwalk, closer to other parts of LA (though nothing is close in LA), some great if expensive shopping on Montana.

Manhattan Beach or Hermosa Beach: More "mellow" than Santa Monica beach area, a little less crowded, Manhattan is a little more upscale than Hermosa, which still retains a bit more of the Calif surfer feel, but both are quite nice, very safe, etc. Cute shops, many local, lots of good restaurants, coffee places, etc. Many Calif girls and boys on the beach, and yes, your teens will enjoy the view.

(Avoid Venice Beach unless you want to people watch a mix of tourists, gang-bangers, body builders spray-tanned rust color, and intriguing and sometimes disturbing tattoos. Not the safest area at night, either, in my opinion.)

Beginning: SF

San Francisco is a must. Stay at least 3 nights. Many choices. For best budget options, and often free parking, try places near Lombard Street in the Marina/Cow Hollow areas (which are great restaurant, local stores, shopping, upscale areas.) These are "motels", but check Trip Advisor-thre are several that are recommended and are clean, if basis. You may prefer staying in the Union Square area. We like the Kimpton hotel group hotels; smaller, but always nice. But you may find a good price on a big chain hotel. Remember, parking will cost probably at least $30, and often to $50, per day extra at all these places.

Middle: to Carmel/Monterey via Silicon Valley (pretty drive)

After SF- Drive down Hwy 280 toward San Jose (if your teen is techie, or you are, drive by Google and Apple and Yahoo and Facebook headquarters, and brunch or lunch in downtown Palo Alto, or Mountain View to get he feel of Silicon Valley, and drive for 10 minutes around Stanford Univ. campus (beautiful Spanish-style and modern architecture, parklike setting, and can drive and never get out of the car--if you wish, and like most places in Calif!. Continue on 280 to San Jose go to 101 South towards Los Angeles. This will take you to Monterey/Carmel area, where I would spend one or at most two nights. On the way you could take a quick tour of MIssion San Jaun Bautista (probably just delay you 1 1/2 to 2 hrs-it is small), it is a typical Calif mission from when the Spanish settled the state. There's not a lot to do in Monterey/Carmel, except enjoy the beauty, unless you golf, and the beaches here are not good for swimming at all or even hanging out on, though there are places that offer fairly mellow sea kayaking, and the Aquarium is great (good lunch cafe inside too, with nice view, though not cheap.) Carmel is really pretty, but not of huge interest to teens, I don't think. Take the 17 mile drive along the coast--gorgeous.

After Carmel: Drive down the coast on Hwy 1, for a slower seaside drive on a sometimes windy 2 lane road. Or decide you've seen a lot of the coastal beauty, and go south on 101 again, through pretty rolling hills and oak trees, and stop off in the Pasa Robles wine country near San Luis Obispo, a cute college town on the coast. Spend a night there if you wish, or, if driving 101 and not 1, you can make it to Santa Barbara, very pretty town, too or even to LA (we routinely drive from SF area to LA area in 7 hours, so you are 1 1/2 hrs closer than that in Carmel, which is what I would do unless I wanted to spend a half day wine tasting (which is nice if you are into that sort of thing. You can have your teens with you-but they can't drink of course-or they could explore San Luis Obispo or hang out at a beach there if you pick a beach hotel in Avila Beach nearby...)

SoCal-Stay at beach, do Disnneyland or Universal Studios if you are into that sort of thing (I'm not so can't give you great advice, but others like amusement parks ). Don't bother with "Hollywood"-nothing to see, and downtown LA is also nothing. Westwood and the UCLA/Brentwood area is my favorite part of town, other than the beach areas, and having dinner there and walking around, getting an ice cream etc might be fun for your teens as there are always students in that area, some nice shops (mostly not cheap), decent restaurants, etc.

Or: Yosemite route (better imo):

Alternatively, after Carmel, head back to The Central Valley of Calif, toward Fresno, and visit Yosemite. This is a truly special place, even when crowded in summer. Make reservations now for next year--it's always packed in the motels and hotels and camping in the actual Yosemite Valley. Stay two or more nights depending on how much you want to hike etc , but if just "seeing" it (and that is worth it) you could get by easily with 2 nights.

Yosemite , drive to

Death Valley to Vegas/Grand Canyon: OR

Yosemite, drive to Lake Tahoe/Reno, then fly to Vegas

Okay, personally, I would not want to do this drive in the summer-Death Valley will be 120 F for sure, but if you must, make sure your car is working well, your cell phones all work, you have excellent directions, and you have reservations in advance at the Furnace Creek Inn (only place to stay in Death Valley.) The desert is interesting to see. I would probably skip Death Valley in summer, and fly from Fresno to Vegas, or , better yet, drive from Yosemite to the eastern side of the Sierras, take Hwy 395 to Lake Tahoe, spend a couple of nights there (teens will love it and there are tons of things to do--swim, water ski, boat, hike, mountain bike, enjoy almost Alp-like views, a cute gold mining town-Truckee-etc. Then, fly to Vegas from Reno, only 50 min from Tahoe.) Drive on to Vegas after staying one night, and make sure to stay on the strip in Vegas, not outside of town. You can get good deals in the summer at even the best hotels, and don't need to book now--check it out a month or so before you go. Some love Vegas, some hate it, but it's rather fascinating either way. Go for a hotel with great pools for the teens, catch one of the shows they will like (like Cirque du Soleil) people watch, fine dine if you like or stuff yourself at hotel buffets. You can drive to Grand Canyon and it is worth it for sure. Could do a long day trip from Vegas, or head out and stay at the Canyon for a night. Fly home from Vegas.

San Jose, California
Level Contributor
56 posts
12 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

Forgot to mention two things:

1) Driving Hwy 395 to Tahoe/Reno is a beautiful drive alongside the steep eastern Sierra mountains, and going through ranch land and "high" desert and a few small (tiny, most of them) towns, and it is an easy drive;and

2) Tahoe has good places to stay, ranging from very reasonable old 1950's style motels along the lake on the North Shore (pick something in the Tahoe Vista area, and one that has been refurbished; we stay at my family house near there, but have put up extra guests at some of them, and they are fine--some even quaint, and you can get a small individual tiny cabin and kitchenette, too), to the Hyatt near Incline Village (actually in Nevade; the lake is divided into half Calif/half Nevada), which is really nice but on the pricier side, to a couple of places in Tahoe City (though it's ugly on the outside, the Pepper Tree Inn has a good location and great views of the lake.) I'd avoid South Shore, and pick one of those spots with teens .

As for Tahoe, if water sports (swim, ski, kayak, SUP) etc are not for you or your boys, there is terrific hiking all around (no poison oak or ivy and no poisonous snakes!) And mountain biking at Northstar , with a lift to take you up. You can sit in the cute village and eat or have a drink while the boys burn off some energy! Or and you could ride the tram to the top of Squaw Valley for views, hiking, swimming in a pool on the mountaintop and ice skating (I think open in summer-not sure) Avoid the food at the top of the tram--it is bad, but places in the ski village below are good.

San Francisco
Level Contributor
515 posts
12 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

Although my family and I have driven to both Los Angeles & Las Vegas numerous times from SF, I do understand why others would want to avoid driving when on vacation. You may want to consider flying into San Francisco spending a few days here, next fly to Las Vegas where you can schedule a day tour to the Grand Canyon and then, fly to Los Angeles. Depending on where you intend to visit in LA, you may want to rent a car there since the attractions are quite a distance apart. Airlines to look for good airfare prices are Virgin America, Southwest Airlines & United.

10. Re: Help in organising west coast tour for family of 4

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 08 October 2012, 15:17