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Old 05-31-14, 04:58 AM   #1
cj_nz
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Visiting Western USA & Canada - trip ideas

Hi everyone,

Just looking for some input. My Wife and I are planing a trip across the Pacific to visit USA and Canada. I have a plan of towns we want to visit etc, but we still have quite a few gaps to fill. Looking for suggestions of places to visit and things to do. Wouldn't mind doing a few unique and quirky things, such as local traditions and fairs, carnivals etc...

Below is the plan we would like to stick to, but if there is something extremely good to see, then we may change it:

Fly into LAX
Los Angeles - 3 nights
San Diego - 2 nights
Pheonix - 1 night
Grand Canyon - 1 night
Las Vegas - 3 nights
Yosemite National Park - 1 night
Lake Tahoe - 2 nights
San Francisco - 3 nights
-----
Fly San Francisco > Vancouver
-----
Vancouver - 3 nights
Kamloops - 1 night
Jasper - 2 nights
Edmonton - 1 night
Calgary - 2 nights
Banff - 2 nights
Beaver Lake - 2 nights
Kelowna - 1 night
Fly home from Vancouver

Some of the things we are already planning on visiting are:
Palm springs Aerial Tramway
Santa Monica Pier
? theme park or Water park in LA/Anahiem
San Diego Zoo
Grand Canyon South Rim
Hoover Dam
Las Vegas Sky Dive
Virginia Truckee
Zephyr Cove Cruises
Alcatraz
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Bridge
Alamo square
Hendrick Point
Cable Cars
Sailing around San Francisco Harbour
The Raptors (Vancouver Island)
Victoria Hippo Tours
West Edmonton Mall
Gopher Hole Museum
Stampede in Calgary
Beaver Lake

Those are most of the ideas we have planned at this stage. We would like to visit a really good Theme park or Waterpark in one of those areas. They don't even have to be in the same town, we can do them at different times.

We are looking at end of June, start of July for a total of 30 days. I know it is going to be extremely busy, however it is the only time we can get away.

Any ideas would be appreciated, especially things that are really good but not common tourist spots.

Thanks,


Sam.
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Old 05-31-14, 06:04 AM   #2
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Just a few questions ...

1. How are you getting between all those places? Cycling? Rental car?

2. Why 3 days in LA? That's one place I usually try to spend less than half a day.

3. What route are you thinking of taking between Kamloops and Jasper?

4. Beaver Lake? I'm Canadian and I've travelled all over Alberta and BC, but that's a new one to me. I had to look it up. There is a Beaver Lake on Vancouver Island ... is that what you mean?

5. If you're going to go to the Gopher Hole Museum, why not the Drumheller badlands/dinosaur museum?

6. Do you know when the Calgary Stampede is? It's July 4 - 13. It doesn't go on all summer. If you're planning to start the trip at the end of June, by the time you reach Calgary it will be over.
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Old 05-31-14, 06:34 AM   #3
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Just a few questions ...

1. How are you getting between all those places? Cycling? Rental car?

2. Why 3 days in LA? That's one place I usually try to spend less than half a day.

3. What route are you thinking of taking between Kamloops and Jasper?

4. Beaver Lake? I'm Canadian and I've travelled all over Alberta and BC, but that's a new one to me. I had to look it up. There is a Beaver Lake on Vancouver Island ... is that what you mean?

5. If you're going to go to the Gopher Hole Museum, why not the Drumheller badlands/dinosaur museum?

6. Do you know when the Calgary Stampede is? It's July 4 - 13. It doesn't go on all summer. If you're planning to start the trip at the end of June, by the time you reach Calgary it will be over.
Hi,

1. We are renting a car, don't have enough time to cycle around unfortunately.

2. Having never been overseas, we would like to just experience a bit of a big city, find a few touristy things to do. I'm sure we will find plenty to do in LA, especially things on the outer limits. We can still change the timetable, but we have a few things to do there.

3. Looking at heading north along highway 5 direct to Jasper. When we head back to Vancouver, we will head a different way down through Kelowna.

4. Beaver Lake is about 1 hour East into the forest from Winfield (Just up from Kelowna). theres some nice cabins and a bunch of water activities. Looking at just unwinding for a bit before the trip home.

5. I will look into the Drumheller Museum, sounds like could be a good one to see. Thank you.

6. Yes thank you I am aware of the dates of Stampede. We are looking at going about the 7th July.


Sorry I'm not sure if I mentioned it, we are looking at going in 2015 - I'm just being really eager and getting things planned well in advance.
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Old 05-31-14, 07:04 AM   #4
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No, you didn't mention 2015.

Don't forget to check the distances between places. North America is big and there's a lot of driving in your plan.


Regarding your route into and out of Alberta ... you've skipped the Icefield Parkway all together. Hwy 5 is nice enough, but I'd recommend heading up the Icefield Parkway. Take in the Icefield Parkway, and if you can, take in a bit of Hwy 11 too, at least out to Abraham Lake. If you've got bicycles with you, you might want to do some of that by bicycle. Or take in the Icefield Parkway and a bit of Hwy 11 on the way back. That area is the best part of Alberta.


Between Edmonton and Calgary, Wetaskiwin has an interesting car museum that might be worth a visit.


If it were me, I'd spend one less day in LA (and probably one less day in Los Vegas) and at least one more day in San Diego. Take in the trolley tour ... get a 2-day pass so you've got time to explore some of the areas.
San Diego Tours by Old Town Trolley | San Diego Sightseeing Trolley

San Diego also has at least a couple harbour cruises you might be able to combine with the trolley tour. That's what we did when we were there.
San Diego Boat Tours | San Diego Harbor Tours | Hornblower
San Diego Harbor Tours


Beaver Lake is a rather remote choice.
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Old 05-31-14, 07:50 AM   #5
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I agree with Machka re: Drumheller, the Royal Tyrell Museum is world class.
Royal Tyrrell Museum

Also spot on about the Icefield Parkway and Hgway 11.

If you want to stretch your legs near Banff, there is a lovely little hike just outside a town called Canmore to a place called Grassi Lakes. It's a favorite little walk of mine.
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Old 05-31-14, 12:18 PM   #6
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Palm Springs Tramway is wonderful, but it's nowhere near LA, San Diego or Phoenix. However if you do San Diego to LA to Phoenix. it's on your right just before you leave civilization.
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Old 05-31-14, 12:52 PM   #7
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Leaving Vancouver have two plans in case of rain.. If the weather is nice,take the Sea to Sky Highway upHowe Sound via Squamish to Whistler. Consider spending the night there. Continue on to Pemberton through the Coast Mountain range then into the Fraser Canyon at Lillooet & Cache Creek then on to Kamloops. (If it is wet on the coast, just take the Coquihalla to Kamloops) From Kamloops take Highway 5 to Jasper. A must see is Moraine Lake and a night at the Moraine Lake Lodge (Book Early).

From Jasper go down the Icefields Parkway (maybe tour the Columbia Icefields) to Lake Louise (spend a night at the Chateau Lake Louise). Next day head to Banff and wander about. Great Irish pub there called St. James Gate or have a casual lunch at the Elk and Oarsman which has one of only two roof top patios in Banff. Banff Springs Hotel and the Rimrock are excellent.

From Banff, head East to Calgary for the Stampede and all the city offers.

I personally would skip the long and tedious drive from Jasper to Edmonton and south to Calgary. The West Edmonton Mall was a spectacle in its day but it is a little worn and doesn't offer much over any other mall. Maybe spend a day on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria and back as a trip filler. You will have seen the best of BC.
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Old 05-31-14, 02:27 PM   #8
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Los Angeles…The Getty, Lacma, Moca or Natural History museums, Griffith Park and Los Feliz, walk the beach path or beach from Santa Monica to Venice Beach (the pier is 1950’s kitsch carnival if that’s what you like), Gjelina’s on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach for lunch or dinner, on Wednesday the farmers market in downtown Santa Monica, for music the El Rey, Troubadour, Hotel Café, Nola’s, Blue Whale, Greek, House of Blues or for blues/soul/jazz Harvelle’s in downtown Santa Monica. A drive into the Santa Monica mountains for hiking or renting mountain bikes at Topanga Creek Bikes and lunch at Geoffery’s in Malibu on the way there and dinner at Nobu’s in Malibu on the way back.
Six Flags Magic Mountain for extreme thrill rides. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on your way to San Diego.

spend more time in Yosemite and less in Vegas
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Old 05-31-14, 07:10 PM   #9
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I live just outside of Edmonton. It's a great city, but I wouldn't travel too far to see the West Edmonton Mall ... unless you have kids. There is some neat stuff for kids to do, especially if you bring some swimming gear. You can stay at their themed hotel in the mall, which overlooks the massive wave pool area. There's also a decent indoor amusement park which kids love. Other than that, it's just a large mall with mostly regular stores.

I highly recommend going to Drumheller. If you go, check out the Tyrrell Museum and the various programs they offer ... Royal Tyrrell Museum | Programs | Public Programs
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Old 05-31-14, 11:32 PM   #10
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Thank you everyone for the input, definitely food for thought. I think half of the rationale behind going to the mall is just the novelty of a big mall with so many things inside. In New Zealand our malls have a few dozen shops and a food court, and that's about it really. When I get a chance I will sit down and work out which of those attractions and places listed would suit us.

Are there any local festivals, traditions or carnivals that would be good to go and see?

Also, we will need to have at least 1 phone while we are away. Can anyone recommend a mobile carrier that provides a prepay account, and preferrably one that works in both countries? Just trying to cut down on costs if we can sue the same phone account in both countries.
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Old 05-31-14, 11:37 PM   #11
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Also in reply to a few of the pointers, yes I am aware of the large distances between places. I have been working out all of the distances as I go. Most drives I have tried to keep below 3 or 4 hours, but there are 1 or 2 that are most part of the day. That's part of the reasoning of staying 3 nights in some places, so as I can have a chance to relax and enjoy the holiday. I also don't want to drive tired. I do a huge amount of driving for my job, but even this will probably be large amount for me, so keeping an eye on fatigue is part of my plan. Don't want to be another tourist crashing!
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Old 06-01-14, 12:05 AM   #12
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Los Angeles…The Getty, Lacma, Moca or Natural History museums, Griffith Park and Los Feliz, walk the beach path or beach from Santa Monica to Venice Beach (the pier is 1950’s kitsch carnival if that’s what you like), Gjelina’s on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach for lunch or dinner, on Wednesday the farmers market in downtown Santa Monica, for music the El Rey, Troubadour, Hotel Café, Nola’s, Blue Whale, Greek, House of Blues or for blues/soul/jazz Harvelle’s in downtown Santa Monica. A drive into the Santa Monica mountains for hiking or renting mountain bikes at Topanga Creek Bikes and lunch at Geoffery’s in Malibu on the way there and dinner at Nobu’s in Malibu on the way back.
Six Flags Magic Mountain for extreme thrill rides. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on your way to San Diego.

spend more time in Yosemite and less in Vegas
My immediate thought on reading this thread is why spend so much time in Vegas? It's so artificial, but I suppose if you are coming from NZ, it makes an interesting contrast to beautiful nature...
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Old 06-01-14, 02:52 AM   #13
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This is the Tourism BC site
Destination British Columbia | Official Tourism and Travel Website for BC Canada

And Tourism Alberta's site
Travel Alberta | Alberta, Canada
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Old 06-01-14, 03:16 AM   #14
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i'd skip the palm springs tram altogether since you're not riding the tram road. people hate on la but there is a ton of stuff to do there between the kitchy/hollywood stuff, malibu-area beaches,
random things and the museums. little known fact is that the city of la (obviously huge) has more museums than any other comparable place in the world. plus add in the food varieties.
beside both the getty villa in malibu and the getty museum, there is the peterson automotive museum, lacma, moca, the various frank lloyd wright houses (and other important 20th century
architectural houses/buildings), walt disney concert hall, farmers market, olvera street, union station, santa monica pier, griffith park, various tiki bars, huntington library, the rose bowl swap meet
on the 2nd sunday of every month, the food truck scene and amoeba records in the area.


san diego is nice and very chill but there is very little world class stuff to do here. and yes, i have lived in san diego for the last 27 years. if i ever move, the things i will miss the
most-in order-are:
the mexican food/taco shops
torrey pines state reserve/state beach
balboa park.
that's about it.


las vegas one or two nights tops but the pinball museum on tropicana a few blocks easy of unlv rocks!. extra time spent in yosemite np or grand canyon np won't be wasted nor regretted.

san francisco area...north beach area is recommended if you're into a bar scene at vesuvio, comstock saloon or specs 12 adler museum/bar and city lights bookstore is a must. fort mason/crissy field/fort point/presidio are all extremely worthwhile along the waterfront on the way to golden gate bridge.
for me, my #1 stop in the city of sf is the ferry marketplace with the various specialty shops and restaurants. if the roli roti food truck is parked outside the ferry marketplace, be sure to stand in the line (however lengthy) and get a porchetta sandwich along with some sea-salted roasted potatoes. nom.

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Old 06-01-14, 03:25 AM   #15
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My immediate thought on reading this thread is why spend so much time in Vegas? It's so artificial, but I suppose ... it makes an interesting contrast to beautiful nature...
i agree that it is a weird choice, but it is also so completely different. i've driven across the west three times, camping at most of the national parks along the way, and each time, we stopped in vegas or reno/tahoe to provide the other side of the existential coin. we only did so for one night each time though. i'd much rather spend time camping in utah, a pacific beach, or the mountains of california.

i loved driving across nevada on hwy 50, the lonliest road in america toward great basin. we camped in the furnace of death valley one night i'll never forget. hiking the dunes of oregon also feels epic. or driving vancouver island toward tofino.

taking amtrak across montana or along the coast is also way up there for me.
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Old 06-01-14, 05:45 AM   #16
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I think Vegas is a spectacle that has to be seen. If you want to take in most of the sites and a couple of shows, 3 days is about right. Beyond that, the faint smell of stale cigarette smoking and sounds of slot machines takes its toll.

Not to pry but your approximate age may help people in suggesting activities.
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Old 06-01-14, 06:09 AM   #17
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Ok so I have made a few changes. In Canada I have taken out Edmonton, Calgary and Beaver Lake. I have added another night to Banff, and can head to the Stampede from there. One of my work colleagues who is from BC told me that doing that is possibly a better option, as accommodation in Calgary will be extremely expensive for those few weeks.

As for USA, we have found a number of things in San Diego to do that we like the sound of, so we will still head down there. As for Las Vegas, I think the fact it is so flashy and fake is part of the attraction. It is certainly not something I will ever see at home. We will not be hitting the Casino's for 3 whole days, it will be a bit of a base. From there we will head out to do Sky Diving over the desert, Hoover Dam etc during the day, and go to shows and other things in the evenings. We also plan on a day of just lounging around and sitting by the pool, and generally not doing much.

As for getting from San Diego to Las Vegas, I originally planned going to Phoenix for a night, then staying a night at the Grand Canyon. Is there much to do in Phoenix? I can't seem to find much. Would it be worthwhile just doing 1 long drive direct from San Diego to Grand Canyon national park, and skipping Phoenix? I think it was about 8 hours. I would write off the whole day and dedicate it to travelling.

This is great, thanks for all of the ideas. It's good to get lots of little things from locals, as I wouldn't have a clue otherwise!
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Old 06-01-14, 06:43 AM   #18
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In Vancouver, the popular spots are Stanley Park, English Bay, Robson Street, and you could take the tram up Grouse Mountain for a view of the city. People often suggest Gastown which I find is become the home of the homeless, drug sales, prostitution etc. I would avoid it and that section of nearby Hastings Street. In Stanley Park, you can walk the seawall that gives a good view of downtown, the north shore and under the Lions Gate Bridge which was a gift from the Guinness family to the city.

Once you are done with Vancouver, maybe drive south to Tsawwassen to board the ferry for Victoria. Victoria has the Butchart Gardens, Empress Hotel for high tea and a cool downtown vibe reminiscent of the English Heritage. After Victoria, drive up the Island Highway to Naniamo where you can catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay and the beginning of the Sea to Sky Highway toward Squamish and Whistler as I previously mentioned.

If you end up on Hwy 5 through Merritt BC, take 5A (Old Kamloops Hwy) and pass along the more scenic Nicola Valley, Nicola Lake, Douglas Lake Ranch, and Quilchena Ranch. The Quilchena Hotel is a Western goldrush hotel worth stopping at and there is a nearby general store and gift shop. You will then come across Stump Lake and then the descent into the valley at Kamloops.

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Old 06-01-14, 06:53 AM   #19
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Ok so I have made a few changes. In Canada I have taken out Edmonton, Calgary and Beaver Lake. I have added another night to Banff, and can head to the Stampede from there. One of my work colleagues who is from BC told me that doing that is possibly a better option, as accommodation in Calgary will be extremely expensive for those few weeks.
Not only expensive, but extremely difficult to find. You'll have to book in advance.

I spent a lot of years in Alberta, living in Edmonton, Calgary and several other places, but they aren't the most spectacular parts of the country. But I'd recommend a loop out to Drumheller to take in the museum there and then back through Calgary. You won't be able to stay in Calgary, but you might find accommodation in Strathmore or Cochrane (I'd recommend Cochrane ... have the ice cream there!)
Mackays ICE CREAM - Serving homemade ice cream for over 60 years!


And do take in the Icefield Parkway, up to Jasper and back, and Hwy 11 ... out to Abraham Lake, perhaps even out to Nordegg. Nordegg has a hostel and a few other accommodations. That area is definitely worth seeing.



On the way back to Vancouver, stop in Radium Hotsprings for a night ... spend some time in the Hotsprings there.


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As for getting from San Diego to Las Vegas, I originally planned going to Phoenix for a night, then staying a night at the Grand Canyon. Is there much to do in Phoenix? I can't seem to find much. Would it be worthwhile just doing 1 long drive direct from San Diego to Grand Canyon national park, and skipping Phoenix? I think it was about 8 hours. I would write off the whole day and dedicate it to travelling.
When we spent 6 weeks travelling through the US in late 2012, we spent one night in Phoenix. But we probably would not have done if it had not been for the fact that we had tickets for the Trans Siberian Orchestra there. We had a really nice hotel room, went out for a good dinner, and went to the concert. Then the next day we headed up to Grand Canyon.

However, without the attraction of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, I would skip Phoenix, and head right up to the Grand Canyon. Stay in Prescott, Sedona, or Flagstaff. Sedona is stunning. Jerome, on the way to Sedona is also very interesting. If it were me, I might take a fairly direct route from San Diego to Prescott, then take 89A through Jerome to Sedona. Stay there or continue on to Flagstaff.

Then take in the Grand Canyon the next day ... we cycled there, but perhaps you want to do a bit of hiking.

Then head north to Page (check out Lake Powell), west to Kanab, then north to Bryce Canyon. Spend a night or two in either Kanab or at Ruby's Inn near Bryce Canyon, and explore Bryce Canyon ... it's breathtaking.

Then make your way to Los Vegas.
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Old 06-01-14, 07:24 AM   #20
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Having grown up in L.A. (and escaped 25 years ago), I'll add: driving 3 to 4 hours may not get you anywhere. I can remember hearing them call a "Sigalert" (severe traffic backup) on the Santa Monica freeway at 2AM.

This site is useful for traffic in U.S. cities: Sigalert.com Traffic - Pick a City
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Old 06-01-14, 07:47 AM   #21
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North of San Francisco is the wine country and Point Reyes National Seashore. Further up the road a couple hours is Ft Bragg where you can ride "The Skunk Train" which winds it way up through giant redwoods for a salmon bake. Driving the twisting, turning road up the coast is scenic but takes a while compared with the highway just a little inland.
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Old 06-01-14, 11:26 AM   #22
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As for getting from San Diego to Las Vegas, I originally planned going to Phoenix for a night, then staying a night at the Grand Canyon. Is there much to do in Phoenix? I can't seem to find much. Would it be worthwhile just doing 1 long drive direct from San Diego to Grand Canyon national park, and skipping Phoenix? I think it was about 8 hours. I would write off the whole day and dedicate it to travelling.
If you drove from San Diego straight to Las Vegas, my nephew would be happy to fly you on a tour of the Grand Canyon. He works for Maverick Helicopter.
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Old 06-01-14, 11:28 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
Having grown up in L.A. (and escaped 25 years ago), I'll add: driving 3 to 4 hours may not get you anywhere. I can remember hearing them call a "Sigalert" (severe traffic backup) on the Santa Monica freeway at 2AM.

This site is useful for traffic in U.S. cities: Sigalert.com Traffic - Pick a City
I hear you. One Friday night, when it took me longer to drive from the Wilshire District to Lake Elsinore than it would have taken to pedal the distance, I decided it was time to leave.
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Old 06-01-14, 04:19 PM   #24
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I would replace the Grand Canyon with Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
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Old 06-01-14, 04:26 PM   #25
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My immediate thought on reading this thread is why spend so much time in Vegas? It's so artificial, but I suppose if you are coming from NZ, it makes an interesting contrast to beautiful nature...
i did put a in there....but hey if the fakeness of the tourist vegas is what’s of interest to someone then I hope they enjoy the false reality with all the other people there!....and actually i personally think the deeper and nuanced feelings a tourist could get from spending time hiking in yosemite, zion etc would be a more positive and healthier view of this country.


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I would replace the Grand Canyon with Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
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