Here’s the incredibly detailed report on our family road trip, as promised. Putting all of this information into the blog seems like the best way to preserve it for a long time to come.
This is our third major road trip; we seem to be able to do one every two years. Every time we take a trip we seem to have even more fun; I am already thinking about what we would like to to do next. The trips get easier as the kids get older and better able to take care of themselves.
I started planning this trip early in the year. One of my daughters expressed the desire to attend the Woodward Gymnastics Camp in Tehachapi, California. Several other members of her team were also planning to go. Since our kids had never been to Disneyland, we came up with the basic concept for our trip: Daughter would fly to LA and spend a week at camp. Late in the week we would hop into our Suburban, drive down to Tehachapi, pick her up, and then visit Disneyland, Universal Studio, San Francisco, and so forth. We also considered stops in San Diego and even Phoenix, but time constraints made us rule both of them out.
Once we had the general trip figured out, I set out to plan each day’s driving and attractions. I tried several different desktop and online tools and ended up using Microsoft Streets and Trips. None of the online tools were ideally suited to the planning process. For example, the Rand McNally Road Trip Planner was almost good enough. After spending a considerable amount of time with this site, I found that it had a hard limit of 10 trip segments. My major complaint with all of the tools is that they insist of a level of specificity and precision that isn’t really necessary in the early planning stages of the trip. For example I don’t need to make a certain day’s drive exactly 600 miles. It would be far more useful to be able to enter an approximate schedule and route and then have the planning tool help to choose the best cities for stops, where best might be defined as a city of a certain size, hotels (with vacancies) at a certain price range, cities with some interesting attraction, and so forth.
Once I knew how much we would be driving each day and approximately where we would be stopping, I started to reserve hotels for each night. This took a long time to get right. We were traveling at peak times, we needed two rooms, I insisted on free internet access, and my budget was not unlimited. We really like to have a pool to help us unwind after a long day on the road. We ended up staying at several La Quinta locations, a Holiday Inn Express, a Best Western, and a Comfort Suites. Even though these were moderately priced hotels ($79 to $110 per room per night) all of them were clean, safe, and comfortable, and all had free wireless internet access. One of our family “secrets” to keeping our travel affordable is to choose hotels which offer a free continental breakfast.
So we had our schedule and our route, and we knew where we would be staying. Since I would be taking a laptop along to use for email, I thought it would be cool to use a GPS receiver to track our progress and to help with navigation, especially when we were in big cities (Los Angeles and San Francisco). I bought an inexpensive GPS receiver from The GPS Store and it worked out fine. I also bought a power adapter for the laptop so that we could run it all day in the car. Overall, I would grade Streets and Trips as a C+ as an in-car navigation tool. I had the kids take turns as Navigator. My 10 year old really took to the job and did really well. My biggest complaint with Streets and Trips is that it provides too much information. It often provides incredibly detailed, foot-by-foot directions at times when what I really want (as the driver) is something that is more summary in nature. I would prefer to know that I need to make a turn from I-5 to I-205 in 3 miles, not that I need to get onto one ramp, move to a second ramp, and then get onto the next road. I had to train the navigator to look ahead several steps to make sure that I knew where I was supposed to go.
Ok, just a few more tips and we’ll get to the trip. We make sure that all of the kids know what the plans are way in advance, and we let them provide ideas and input. This trip is for them, of course. The kids are responsible for doing all of their own packing. We review what we will be doing and the types of things they’ll need, and the rest is up to them.
We always pack the cooler each morning with lots of water and some juice, and some fruits. We fill it up with ice at the hotel, and we are good for the day. We try to stay away from soft drinks. We also like to visit a market each morning, for bread, deli meats, and so forth. This lets us eat lunch while moving, saving time and money.
Alright, so it’s time to get moving…
Day 1 We left the house on Thursday, the 14th of July, bound for Redding, California. We spent most of this day driving, with regular rest stops. We took at small detour for a quick driving tour Portland, Oregon. Later in the day we watched for what seemed like several hours as Mount Shasta grew closer. We arrived in Redding in the early evening, checked in to the La Quinta and headed for the pool. We ate some takeout Chinese food in the room, and got a good night’s sleep after covering a bit over 600 miles.
Day 2 On Friday the 15th we set a course for Bakersfield, California. This was a very scenic drive, through lots of farms and orchards. For over 40 miles the roads were lined on both sides with olive trees. We stopped at a little store called the Olive Pit, sampled some olives, and bought olives and some olive oil. We made an unscheduled stop in Sacramento and ended up staying there for a couple of hours. We took a look at the Old Governor’s Mansion, stopped at Starbucks for some Vanilla Bean Frappuccinos, then walked a few blocks to the Capitol building. We saw Arnold’s office and took a lot of pictures. Got back on the road and arrived in Bakersfield in the early evening. Checked in to another La Quinta, had a great Mexican dinner, and stayed at the pool until nearly 11 PM.
Day 3 On Saturday the 16th we made the drive to Tehachapi (a bit over 40 miles) and met our daughter at the gymnastics camp. Tehachapi is a very interesting place and we should have spent more time looking around. We toured the camp and then headed toward Anaheim, about 120 miles away. Our route took us near the Mojave Desert and the temperature was well over 100 degrees. We stopped at a Wal-Mart to buy the newest Harry Potter book. Things were uneventful until we got close to LA, when we hit a lot of traffic. We drove South for a very long time and I was sure that we had gone to far. We pulled off of I-5 and promptly got lost in a neighborhood full of cute little homes and hard-working immigrants. We finally got directions from a postal carrier and got back on the highway. We arrived at our Holiday Inn Express near Anaheim, unpacked, and hopped into the car to find some dinner. There was no shortage of choices, and we decided on a little place that advertised Peruvian-Italian food. My wife is from Peru, so I knew the food and knew that we would eat well. Indeed, we had Jalea (a huge pile of fried seafood), Lomita Saltado (meat and potatoes), Aji de Gallina (chicken in a walnut sauce), Pollo a la Milanese (chicken cutlet), chicha (a drink) and Inca Cola. After this delicious and filling meal we returned to the hotel, hopped in the pool, and were treated to the nightly fireworks show from Disneyland, right next door.
Day 4 This was a Sunday, and we wanted to keep things a bit relaxed. We drove north to Hollywood, went to Grauman’s Theatre, and saw the footprints and handprints of the stars. We saw the stars on the sidewalk, and we posed with various costumed characters. We saw the H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign in the hills, and then we got back in the car and drove to Rodeo Drive. Fortunately the stores were closed and we could only window shop. We saw some spectacular homes and lots of nice cars. We drove past the Los Angeles Temple, and then we drove back to Anaheim. We ate dinner at Coco’s and then returned to the hotel to watch the fireworks yet another time.
Day 5 We got up early and walked from our hotel to Disneyland. Bought our tickets and went in. We did as many rides as we could, including Space Mountain, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Star Tour, Innoventions (and the Asimo robot), the Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, the Monorail, Splash Mountain, and Thunder Mountain. We ate Mickey cookies and pastries for breakfast, watched the parade, and ate turkey legs in the afternoon. We did some shopping, and watched the evening fireworks, then did some more rides. We left after 11 PM, with a good time had by all.
Day 6 We had planned to visit Universal Studios on Tuesday (the 19th) but we quickly realized that this would be a mistake, and re-planned our day. We had a big breakfast at the hotel, did some laundry, and then went to Downtown Disney to do some shopping (actually, I stayed back at the hotel to read). In the evening we ate pizza in our room while watching the fireworks from our balcony.
Day 7 We packed up and checked out, and hit the road again, setting out for San Simeon and the 268 mile drive to the Hearst Castle. It was nice to be able to stay in one hotel for four nights, but it was time to move on. We started out a Latin market in Anaheim, where we bought several bags of delicious pastries, some deli meat, some fresh bread, and some exotic canned fruit juices. We headed north through heavy traffic and had lunch in the car. We arrived at the castle late in the afternoon, just in time to buy tickets for the 4 PM tour. We watched a spectacular Imax movie and then took the tour. The castle is amazing (this was the second visit for my wife and I) and the kids really enjoyed it. Our camera ran out of battery power halfway through, so we’ll have to rely on our own memories. We had a good seafood dinner at a place called the Shanty, and then drove to Morro Bay and checked in to the Best Western El Rancho.
Day 8 Today’s destination was South San Francisco, with a calculated distance of 230 miles. We started the day driving through wine country, seeing wineries and vineyards left and right. We stopped in Gilroy, also known as the garlic capitol of the country. Before entering Gilroy we stopped at a Garlic Store and had some garlic ice cream. We then headed into Gilroy and went off in search of an outlet mall that we had seen on a billboard. We found it and went to the Le Creuset store. While talking to the store manager about our trip he recommended a good sushi bar in Palo Alto. We made some purchases and headed on to Silicon Valley. We drove past the eBay campus and then continued north to Palo Alto, and the campus of Stanford University. We spent several hours walking around the campus and took a lot of pictures. We took a quick stop at the mall near Stanford and listened to some jazz musicians. It was getting late so we drove to Palo Alto and had a delicious sushi dinner at Miyake. We finished off the day by walking around downtown Palo Alto, and then drove to our hotel, the Comfort Suites in South San Francisco.
Day 9 Our goal for Friday (July 21st, if you are keeping track) was to see as much of San Francisco as we could in one day. We ate a hearty contintental breakfast at the hotel, gassed up the car, and headed north and into the city. Traffic was surprisingly light and we were there before 9 AM. We started the day by parking at Pier 39 and walking across the street to the Pier itself. The girls rode the carousel, we watched a guy make a bunch of crepes, we bought some “penny” candy, and saw a bunch of sea lions. Across the bay we saw Alcatraz Island. We walked to Fisherman’s Wharf and then onto the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square. We visited a shop that offered Peruvian and Mexican handicrafts, and also spent some time in an architectural book store. We returned to the Wharf and had a typical lunch there — fish and chips, calamari, and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. We walked some more and passed by the hotel where we spent part of our honeymoon in 1982. We planned to ride the cable car but it had broken down and the line was very long, so we returned to the car instead.
From there we navigated to Lombard Street, and drove down through the twists and turns. Next stop was Chinatown, where we walked, shopped, and ate a great dinner: Peking Duck, Wonton Soup, Pot Stickers, Shrimp Balls, Beef Chow Fun, Fried Rice, and Salt and Pepper Shrimp. After dinner we took one more ride down Lombard Street, and took a lot of pictures. Wrapping up the day, we drove through Haight-Ashbury and on to a park where we stopped at a Japanese garden. Tired and pretty much “toured out”, we returned to our hotel.
Day 10 Today’s goal was to return home, with continency plans to stop in Oregon if we ran out of time or energy. As we checked out of the hotel we had to endure the sounds of some protesters outside of the hotel. They were yelling “Boycott the Comfort Inn. Don’t Check In, Check Out.” They were loud and annoying. don’t know what their grievance was. The odd part about their chant was that “Comfort Inn” was the most recognizable part of what they were yelling. So I don’t know if they were helping or hurting their cause by protesting.
We had breakfast and checked out, then drove across the Bay Bridge. We drove through UC Berkeley and then made a quick stop at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (at the request of our oldest daughter). We stopped at a Trader Joe’s near Berkeley and loaded up on snacks, drinks, bread, and deli meat for the long ride home. We finally got underway at about 10:30 in the morning, and then just started driving, arriving home just a few minutes before midnight after covering 865 miles in a single day. Other than one stop at McDonald’s for ice cream cones, we just drove and drove and drove.
So there you have it. We had a ton of fun and can’t wait to do another trip in a year or two.