Self Drive - California
With US $ selling for around 70p, the USA is still good value for money. We suggest this itinerary because it offers enormous and diverse opportunities and represents great value for money. Any traveller with even a moderate amount of confidence can plan and execute this journey without the aid of a tour operator. The basics require only air travel bookings, car hire, insurance and an adventurous spirit, and not too much of the latter. Accommodation for the arrival night should be booked in advance, but there are adequate motels and hotels available along the route for c$40 - $50 per room per night. By booking just one night ahead, you can retain total flexibility in your itinerary. Stay at a Hotel/Motel and ask them to ring ahead for you for the next day. Don't forget, if you are over 55 years of age, they will even give you a Seniors' discount rate!
The recommended itinerary is to start and finish the trip in San Francisco. You can have a very worthwhile journey in two weeks, but if you can take three, the possibilities are commensurately greater. This short article does not set out to fix an itinerary, simply to convey the possibilities for travellers. There are excellent route ideas available free from the California Tourist Board (www.gocalif.ca.gov/tourism/tour_homepage.jsp ). They offer a wealth of information including some suggested routes at: http://www.visitcalifornia.co.uk/Great-Drives/
If you are worried about hiring a car and driving in America, don't be! Driving discipline is generally a great deal better than in Britain and the roads are excellent. The freeway system is less perplexing than the M25 and the sign posting is top quality. Within two or three miles, the average driver is quite at home.
San Francisco is one of America’s greatest cities and it is quite easy to lose two or three days just taking in the atmosphere. Even the beggars have ‘techno-style’, one even bragging about his web site at www.loosechange.com. In addition to the many cultural attractions, a ride on a cable car through the city streets, a visit to Alcatraz to be given a conducted tour by an ex-con and a look at the Golden Gate Bridge are essentials. If time permits and the season is right, a trip to nearby Muir Woods to see the Salmon moving upstream to spawn, is also rewarding. If you want to go to Alcatraz, book ahead or you may be unlucky.You can get a lot of detail from:http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/
Things to Remember
The People - Throughout most of the USA and particularly California, people are particularly friendly. Get used to being greeted by perfect strangers who will find it odd if you do not respond. Make a habit of saying "good morning" etc. to people you meet, they will be surprised if you do not. When they say "have a good day", they mean it!
Leaving San Francisco, head down the coast to Santa Cruz. The Pacific Coast Highway 1 follows the coast-line all the way to Los Angeles. The road is generally not busy and the views are the some of the most stunning in the USA. Along the route, stop at Monterey, visit Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck and take a look at the excellent aquarium before visiting one of the top quality sea-food restaurants lining the harbour where Elephant Seals work at their daily quest to take over some of the magnificent yachts moored at the pier. At certain times of the year, it is also possible to take whale-watching trips from this and other coastal towns on the route. From the Pacific Coast Highway, on some occasions one can see the whales tracking north.
The Merced River in Yosemite National Park
A little further south one comes to the famous golf complex at Pebble Beach and the charming little town of Carmel, where Clint Eastwood did a spell as the Mayor. San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Malibu also feature on the route and, if time permits, a slight detour to visit Solvang, a Scandinavian oasis in the USA, is well worth the effort. And so to Los Angeles, the home of the Hollywood movies and the original Disneyland. Its worth a visit and it would be a pity to travel to the area without taking a look around, but there is little doubt that the greatest value is in having a quick look around and pointing the vehicle’s nose in a northerly direction towards the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, and Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. (second link)If you are on the three week trip, Las Vegas is also a possibility. Vulgar? Yes it certainly is, but it is also one of the worlds uniquely exciting cities and well worth a visit. There are many people who were dragged kicking and screaming to Las Vegas and have made a dozen return trips since that first shock. If you have even more time, you can visit the Californian wine regions in the Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, Carson City and a host of other places. If you see a signpost for ‘Rough and Ready' give it a miss; as a tourist attraction it falls a little short!
If time forces choices, make certain that Yosemite is on the list. Drive to the charming little town of Mariposa, book into a motel, and catch the public bus to Yosemite. This national park is so stunningly beautiful that it will live in your memory forever. Steep cliffs, giant trees and waterfalls plunging from the high sierra, make this one of the most memorable places on earth!
If you end up in the Auburn area, be certain to visit Charlie Green at his winery.
Insurance - You should always have good travel insurance. When you hire a car it is wise to take the additional 'CDW' (Collision Damage Waiver)" cover. It is not expensive and gives peace of mind. Americans are generally good and courteous drivers, but are less obsessed by their cars than Europeans and are not quite as concerned about bumps.
Restaurants - If you troop into a diner or some other restaurants after about 8.30 p.m., you may be confronted only by the cleaning staff! Americans tend to eat early in the evening and a lot of eating facilities close after that demand is met. Naturally, there are restaurants that are open very late, but you may have to look around for them.
Security - There was a time when US cities were generally thought to be places where the public was at peril. The situation has changed over recent years. Naturally there are places where it is not advisable to go, particularly in cities. But, providing one follows the rules that would apply in any other city in the world, there should be no cause for concern. Apply the rule: "When in doubt - ask". If you are not sure, then steer clear.
San Francisco Bay is home to the famous Alcatraz Prison
Traffic Discipline - Read advice on local traffic rules before taking to the road. ( This link contains details on many important topics) Observe speed limits carefully. There are far more police cars on the roads than in the UK and they are hot on speeding and road discipline. If you are stopped, remain in the vehicle and be polite. The California Highway Patrol and local police forces are extremely courteous; if you act in the same way, you may be lucky enough to get away with a little advice! Two real differences to remember:
1. If your road is clear, it is legal to turn right at a red light after coming to a complete stop, providing there are no signs prohibiting you from doing so. This is an excellent rule and helps to keep the traffic flowing.
2. At Stop signs, you must stop. You then proceed in the order in which you arrived at the junction/crossroads. If you were third to arrive and stop, it will be your turn when the other two have departed. Its all very logical and works well.
If you stay in Yosemite you may well get visitors
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move (Robert Louis Stevenson 1850-1894)