View Full Version : California travel advice please

13-Jan-2008, 12:16
We are flying into San Jose airport from Florida and will spend 9 days in California. A few days will be spent driving down the coast but we want to see Sequoi, Joshua tree and Death Valley. Looking on the map, this may be too much. Joshua would be the one to miss this time geographically speaking, but I would like some advice from those who know the area. This is my first vacation with my view camera, and don't want to rush things. Thanks very much.

Walter Calahan
13-Jan-2008, 13:39
California is the third largest state in the Union, right after Montana.

9 months isn't enough to see it all.

Enjoy the coast. Plenty right there for 9 days. Return to see other things.

Jim Fitzgerald
13-Jan-2008, 14:12
If you are flying into San Jose you can head over to Monterey. Point Lobos and the Garapata cost are very close together. Edward and Brett Weston's playground. A do not miss spot. You can hit Muir Woods just north of San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore. This makes the trip all close together. The Sequoias are up at about 8,500 feet and access might be difficult. They are something to behold. It is about a 6 hour drive from San Jose to Sequoa. To Monterey about 1 1/2 hours. From Monterey to Muir Woods is about 2-3 hours. You can also check out Santa Cruz. It is about an hour north of Monterey. You have Big Basin Redwoods, just outside of Santa Cruz,another must see. Hope this helps.


Louie Powell
13-Jan-2008, 14:15
Since our son lives just north of San Jose, we fly out about once a year. We are planning our next trip for July.

As Walter notes, California is a big state. We have found that it makes sense to focus on one area per trip - and that leaves excuses to come back again.

Last year, after a few days with our son in Mountain View and San Francisco, we drove down to the Monterrey Peninsula for a couple of days. Spent one day in Monterrey and the second in Carmel. Then back to San Jose where we did a day trip to Sausalito, Marin Headlands and Muir Woods.

This year will be similar, except that we plan to head north into Napa Valley for a few days during the middle of the trip.

Enjoy the trip.

13-Jan-2008, 14:50
9 months isn't enough to see it all.
no kidding! 9 months isn't even enough time to photograph Malibu alone! Been here for 3 years, still working around Malibu :-D

The PCH is a nice trip, for sure!

Deane Johnson
13-Jan-2008, 16:16
Death Valley is one awesome place, but I should think you would be better off flying into Las Vegas and entering from there.

13-Jan-2008, 16:25
What no Disneyland, SeaWorld, Universal Studios??!!! Or that's right, you got Disney World there in Florida...;)

You did not say when. And do you have to get back to San Jose to fly home?

I would suggest deciding which side of the Sierras is the most important to see this trip. Sequoia and Death Valley would be a hard mix...as there is no thru highway from Sequoia over the Sierras.

One of the many possibilities would be to spend a couple days on the west coast, then take HWY 50 over the Sierras (or 88 or 4 if they are open, but I doubt it) and then down the Eastside of the Sierras to Mono Lake, Lone Pine (Alabama Hills!) and over to Death Valley. Then end your trip in Las Vegas and fly home from there.

But on second thought, one could drive down the coast, then cut across the Central Valley to Sequoia, then swing farther south and cross the lower end of the Sierras on Hwy 178 and approach Death Valley from the south...then off to Las Vegas to fly home.

If you could fly home from Southern CA, you could do the coast, Sequoia and Joshua Tree. If you flew out of San Diego, you could see Anza-Borrego Desrert State Park on your way. But all that is a heck of a lot of driving!

Have fun planning!


Deane Johnson
13-Jan-2008, 16:41
Coops, I just reread you first post and your words "my first vacation with a view camera". It's a different world than shooting with smaller formats. I would recommend you pick one, maybe two nearby places and become immersed in the area.

As Ansel once said, "don't make an exposure until the scene has acknowledged your presence." I'll add "that takes time".

Turner Reich
13-Jan-2008, 16:45
First are you going to rent a car for the stay? If so then I would suggest flying into San Jose and out of Las Vegas or another place to extend the range. You would be able to go to the coast and then make your way to the departure airport enjoying all of the sites along the way.

John Kasaian
13-Jan-2008, 17:16
My recomendation---be flexible!

Hwy 1 is fun, IMHO southbound you'll see me more from the road and in the summertime expect fog in Big Sur until 11:00 or 12:00AM. The more scenic mountain passes in the sierras may or may not be open early---you never can tell!

I agree in not rushing things. Check out festivals and events, wine regions. Unless you have specific "targets" like Yosemite or the missions you'll probably have more than enough excuses to set up your kit just boppin' around. BTW try to hit the really touristy areas in the early morning before the tour buses get there (the lights generally better anyway) and if you're planning to RON in the National Parks do get reservations.

Lesser known areas you might enjoy:

Solvang/Santa Ynez/Los Olivos triangle---You'll get a beautiful spanish mission, a serious (rather than just cheesey) replica of a danish village, more great wineries than you can visit in a day, historic Mattie's Tavern in Los Olivos and a wonderful centrally located B&B (in Ballard, but there are plenty of motels in Solvang) All of this tucked away in voluptuous emerald (or gold if it's summer) hills.

Lake Tahoe---OK its a casino trap but if you can break away from the slots there are plenty of easy drives into the classic sierra granite landform and roll down hill long enough and you'll hit 395, the gateway to the eastern sierras. Avoid the Bonanza ranch unless you have an unhealthy fixation for Ben, Adam, Hoss, Little Joe and Hop Sing (in which case you'll think you've died and gone to heaven! Sad, very sad!)

Morro Bay---actually the whole coastline between San Simeon and Avila Beach. At the southern terminus of Big Sur the area is fairly cheesey but there is a heck of a nice beach front motel in Cayucos (The Shoreline, which has a continental breakfast with the best fruit salad in the pacific time zone) and to die for onion rings at The Custom House in Avila Beach.

There are 100's more.
Enjoy your trip!

Doug Dolde
13-Jan-2008, 18:42
If I had only 9 days, I'd fly to Las Vegas. Then rent a car and spend a few days in Death Valley. Try to get a reservation at the Furnace Creek Inn via their website and plan around available dates. Since you are in the area drive 100 miles over to the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine. Joshua Tree is worth a few days as well and is fairly close to Death Valley. About 3 hours away from DV.

Worth noting, Las Vegas also puts you close to Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon.

Frank Petronio
13-Jan-2008, 19:37
Aren't the wildflowers blooming in the Southern Desert?

13-Jan-2008, 19:40
But on second thought, one could drive down the coast, then cut across the Central Valley to Sequoia, then swing farther south and cross the lower end of the Sierras on Hwy 178 and approach Death Valley from the south...then off to Las Vegas to fly home.

Have fun planning!


Thanks for the responses. I did not provide much in the way of details which would have made it simpler for you to answer. We are coming in the first wek of Feb. We do a car rental. It was much cheaper to fly in and out of San Jose.
I have seen much of Northen Ca, but it was a while ago.
I like the suggestion mentioned above. Perhaps 4 days along the coast and 3-4 days in Death Valley.

Doug Dolde
13-Jan-2008, 20:24
Too early for wildflowers Frank. But there should be some in spring if the wet winter continues

Kirk Fry
13-Jan-2008, 22:32
Don't miss the secret park no tourist ever goes to: Big Basin Redwoods, just north of Santa Cruz,another must see. Home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco, the park consists of over 18,000 acres of old growth and recovering redwood forest, with mixed conifer, oaks, chaparral, and riparian habitats. Elevations in the park vary from sea level to over 2,000 feet. The climate ranges from foggy and damp near the ocean to sunny, warm ridge tops.

Brian Vuillemenot
13-Jan-2008, 23:14
If I were you, I'd spend the first few days of the trip driving along higway 1 from Sonoma and Marin counties, through SF, along the San Mateo and Santa Cruz county coasts, to Carmel/Monterey/Big Sur. You should spend at least 4 or 5 days to do this, preferably more. Since you have your heart set on Death Valley, I would then drive the 8-10 hours from the Big Sur area to Death Valley, and then spend 4-5 days there, concentrating on shooting the scenery around Furnace Creek- Stovepipe Wells. I was out there a few weeks ago, and the wildflowers are starting already. With all the rain we've had lately, it could be a very good bloom in a month or so.

Alternately, you could choose either the central coast or Death Valley and the Mojave (also going to Joshua Tree and the Mojave Preserve). As others have ponted out, it's a huge state, and you're probably better to concentrate on one area than to try and do two.

Atul Mohidekar
13-Jan-2008, 23:51
Perhaps 4 days along the coast and 3-4 days in Death Valley.

Since you have few weeks before you arrive here in the Bay Area, you might be able to get one or more of these books and read them:

1. The Photographer's Guide to the California Coast: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them

2. The California Coast: The Most Spectacular Sights & Destinations

3. Big Sur to Big Basin: California's Dramatic Central Coast

4. PhotoSecrets San Francisco & Northern California: The Best Sights and How to Photograph Them

BTW, Yosemite (4 hrs from SJC, closer than Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP or Death Valley) in winter is very photogenic and dramatic! You might need to put on chains, though.

// Atul

Frank Petronio
14-Jan-2008, 06:18
This is a fun romantic place to stay:


if you are somewhat of an aging hippie type. The big resorts there are super $$$.

14-Jan-2008, 12:37
I wondered how many cars it would take, bumper to bumper to reach from just North of San Francisco to South of San Diego along the Coast routes. Then I realized, I could just get out of the car and count them if I started counting at the northern point.

Go inland. You can probably spend almost all your time in Death Valley or nearby. The Coastal areas will frustrate you because you don't have enough time to do it all. It's tough to hold yourself to a few days. You may decide to call home and have someone sell your house and send you the money. (But only for the purposes of photography)

There are a few studies about over 25% of Californians wanting to leave the state, and that was before the weather, fires and slides of the last two years. I don't know what that has to do with your question, but being an Oregonian, it it truly meaningful to me.