Need travel help with rental car, hotel and anything between San Fransisco and Vancouver
February 3, 2010 5:38 AM   Subscribe

Need travel help with rental car, hotel and anything between San Fransisco and Vancouver

My girlfriend and I are doing a sizable trip to the west coast (and the midwest) this spring. There are three key areas I need ideas for:

1) Good places to go along the Pacific Coast Highway (north)

So the rough itinerary looks like this:

-Fly into SFO
-3 days in San Fransisco/Berkeley/Oakland
-3 days in wine country
-5-6 days ???
-6 days between Portland and Vancouver
-Fly to Madison (from Seattle), spend a day
-Drive to Chicago spend 2-3 days
-Drive to Akron for a wedding

As for the stretch between wine country and Portland, partly we want to enjoy a leisurely drive up this route. We plan to break up what looks like a 10+ hour drive across a few days. We've heard good things about Red Wood nat'l park, Mendocino, North Bend and Gold Beach. Still, I figure there's got to be many gems that are yet to be found.

For context, we're late 20-somethings who like the outdoors, music, food, sports, and are both urban planning/transportation geeks.

***Suggestions for SF, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Madison, Chicago more than welcome!***

2) Accommodations - cost cutting

We plan on splurging while in wine country and we expect to have to pay big bills while in major cities. Still, given the length of the trip and that we won't be staying with friends/relatives for the majority of the time, I'm open to any suggestions on how to save money here.

Could be pertinent:
- My girlfriend is not overly adventurous and likes things clean, so stuff like couchsurfing is out.
- However we also don't need lots of space, so stuff like hostels could work.

- Are there places along Rt 1 where you can park your car and sleep in it?
- Is mid-May going to be warm enough to camp?

3) Rental car - cost cutting

I've traveled a fair bit, so the basics and details about insurance I'm already well covered on. The plan at the moment is to do weekly rental car rates for the bulk of the trip. Basically pick something up after getting into SanFran and keep it for two weeks until we fly to Madison and then get another rental for a week there.

Could be pertinent:
- Neither of us have our own auto insurance
- Neither of us are AAA members
- We both are Zipcar members
- We can both drive stick
- We both like transit (but will be carrying luggage)

- Should we try to negotiate with the same rental car company for both the rentals on the West Coast and in Madison?
- Should we try more of a mixed approach of cabs/zipcar in cities and rentals for long stretches?
- Is AAA membership worth getting just for the discount/insurance/roadside?
- I'm looking at hotwire and rentawreck are there other good sites for this?

Thanks for taking a look!
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding #1: Definitely do Mount St. Helens. Particularly as you are outdoors enthusiasts. Fascinating stuff. If I remember right, there are three separate visitor centers—the first and third are the best. Bonus: not expensive.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:01 AM on February 3, 2010

I have to leave for work, so this will be sort (but I'll be back), but we did a drive-around-Oregon trip last summer and I have to say Crater Lake Crater Lake Crater Lake! If the rim road is open, which I think it should be by mid-May, but call the park service and check. Oregon is full of amazing rocks and volcanoes and hiking.

For hotels, especially in cities, use priceline. We pricelined ourselves into a great 4-star hotel in downtown Portland for $100/night.
posted by rtha at 7:07 AM on February 3, 2010

I biked the entire pacific coast this past summer. There are not places where you can park and sleep; the road is heavily trafficed by tourists and they want to keep everyone in official campgrounds, of which there are very many. In May you're not quite in the high season so you shouldn't have time finding space. It will be chilly at night and in the mornings but you have a car, which means you can lug firewood around and make coffee and bacon and eggs in the mornings. With a bit of work you can make camping quite luxurious. Also, a lot of campgrounds have yurts you can rent, especially in Oregon. They fill up well in advance so look into this. I don't remember if there are many hostels on the coast. If there are two of you, you might be able to bargain a hotel down to $50, if you're in a less expensive area and it's May and it's not the weekend.

Here are my highlights from the coast.
- Jenner - beautiful beach and river inlet, good kayaking, coastline north of here is breathtaking, probably the best on the coast aside from Big Sur south of San Francisco
- Leggett - Standish/Hickey park has a great swimming area in the river, if it's hot out. The pub on the side of the highway is nice.
- Redwoods - take Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods state park, and also spend some time in redwoods national park. Burn a day going hiking or something, it's worth it.
- Garberville - this little town was surprisingly bustling. We tried to figure out what the major industry was and couldn't. Not tourism, not logging, not fishing. Someone told us it's marijuana. Pretty good restaurants etc. here.
- Eureka / Arcata - really neat towns, kind of like a mini San Francisco and Oakland if they had stayed backwater logging towns instead of growing. Lots of character. Great place to spend a day and a night.
- Winchester Bay - really quaint area around here - good bakeries! (except they were closed, boo). Lots of pretty parkland nearby - lighthouses, dunes.
- Florence - find Kathleen and Nina's diner and eat there! Coastline north of Florence and near Yachats is really pretty
- Newport - visit the Rogue brewpub. Newport's cool, it still has a fishing industry so not quite as touristy.
- Tillamook - the three capes scenic drive
- Cannon beach - big beautiful beach here, but touristy and expensive.
- Astoria - really cool and really pretty town. Lots of escapees from Portland.

- Mendocino. It's the same as every town on the coast but fancier and more expensive. It's pretty - old Victorian architecture - but didn't live up to the hype for me. The scenery around there is really beautiful, though.
- Gold Beach. It's a resort town but lower-end and kind of scuzzy. Like Port Orford to the north, the area is poor and doesn't have much going on besides limited tourist traffic. The coastline in Gold Beach is kind of nice but nothing special.
- North Bend - it's one of the larger towns on the coast, 50,000 people, and I have bad memories because the people here are mean to cyclists. It was kind of bleh. There are smaller towns all over the place that are much prettier. Charleston for one, right outside.
- Crescent City. A major prison is nearby and it has high crime. Also the people are rednecks and mean.

By the way if you see any touring cyclists on the road, don't pass unless you can give them half a lane at least, which means wait until there are no cars oncoming. And encouragement is nice but don't yell or honk, it's scary! Just a wave and a thumbs up.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2010

shouldn't have trouble finding space
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:21 AM on February 3, 2010

Hi, I'm back. More random thoughts:

In SF and PDX, don't bother with cars. You can rent bikes in both cities - in SF, you can rent a bike, ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands for some great hiking.

Will you be driving a rental car across the border into Canada? Because your rental car company might not like that. Be sure to check.

I know you said wine country, but I have no specific advice for Napa. Do explore the Anderson Valley, which is a little more often the beaten track. Tasting rooms here do not, in my experience, charge for tastings (many in Napa do). My favorite place is Navarro - they make an outstanding dry Gewurz and a luscious Pinot Noir, and they don't sell their wine in shops, so you can only get it at the winery or at a restaurant that carries it.

Some years ago we did a drink-your-way-from-Fort-Bragg-to-San-Francisco trip by stopping at every microbrewery we could think of. From south to north (and I'll leave the googling to you), there's Lagunitas in Petaluma, Bear Republic in Healdsburg, Mendocino Brewing Co in Hopland, Anderson Valley Brewing Co in Boonville, and North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg. I am almost certainly forgetting a few (or a lot).

On the Oregon coast, we stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel. It's not cheap, exactly, but it's charming and it's just across the river from the Rogue River brewery.

I'm still a little undercaffeinated and I know there are a lot things I'm forgetting, so I'll probably be back to babble some more.
posted by rtha at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2010

Yosemite - admittedly a bit out of the way, but worth the trip. (There's an amtrak/bus connection, that might be worth investigating if you're carless.) If you're cruising up the coast then I've stayed at this B&B a few times. It's run by very nice people and it's close to the Avenue of the Giants. There's not much in Ferndale, but if you need a spot to stop for the evening it's safe bet.
posted by 26.2 at 9:32 AM on February 3, 2010

In Southern Oregon, you might like historic Jacksonville and Ashland. Jacksonville is very quaint, but you will most likely have to stay in a B&B. (I've stayed at the Magnolia Inn and the McCully House because you aren't forced to have breakfast with the hosts.) Ashland is an interesting town - what do I want to call it? Creative, artistic, progressive. Also the home of a famous Shakespeare Festival.

Once you get north of Southern Oregon on I-5, your best bet is to head over to the coast (Hwy 101) instead. See the coast, do as PercussivePaul says. Don't expect anything fancy; this part of the coast is not as developed as what you find in California, and the best restaurants are holes-in-the-wall with fresh seafood.

And yes, yes, Crater Lake. Check to make sure it is open before you go. It's at a high elevation, so it opens when the snow melts and roads become passable.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:40 AM on February 3, 2010

my wife and I flew into Seattle and drove to San Fransisco. We had a travel agent that was able to find a rental car in Seattle that needed to be returned to San Fran. His was able to book that car for us at a rate that was much cheaper then doing a one way rental. Not sure how you find a car like that but would be worth investigating.
posted by tman99 at 9:43 AM on February 3, 2010

Olympic National Park is amazing. It's a temperate rain forest. From Portland, I would head straight there (northwest corner of WA), don't waste any time.

On the other hand, if you've seen too much scenery already, Portland and Seattle are both really great cities and you can spend extra time there. Stay in downtown Portland, so you can walk/metro all over, it's so much fun. Ditto for Seattle.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:47 AM on February 3, 2010

Madison and Chicago: You don't need a rental car if you are city people. Take a cab from the Madison airport to your hotel. Walk or rent bikes. Madison is very bike friendly and the downtown area is compact. Take the bus from Madison to Chicago, or if you can't stand the riffraff, take it as far as Rockford (or east to Milwaukee, but that will take longer) and then take the train to Chicago. Use busses and/or trains in Chicago. I'm so sick of Chicago for personal reasons that I can't offer any unbiased advice as to what to see. If you change your plans and decide to swing by Milwaukee, memail me.

SFO/Napa: The first leg of your trip (SFO to wine country) sounds like our honeymoon. I especially enjoyed the Japanese Tea Garden and Chinatown in San Francisco. Driving up PCH was moderately terrifying. We stayed at a private cabin in Fort Ross with a sauna and hot tub - I believe it was the honeymoon suite. It's a bit overkill if you're only going to be there overnight, but it'd be great for a few days. The PCH is way more isolated than we thought it would be - we had to drive an hour to get groceries/gas. There's a great romantic restaurant in "downtown" Napa called Tuscan or Tuscany that I highly recommend.

I'll ping my husband to see if he has any other thoughts.
posted by desjardins at 10:34 AM on February 3, 2010

Oh, I forgot about Garberville. Definitely worth checking out if it's on your route. Middle of nowhere, wacky locals... you'll feel like you're in a quirky TV series, or the placid opening minutes of a horror movie.
posted by AugieAugustus at 11:23 AM on February 3, 2010

Personally I don't think you're giving yourself enough time in the Bay Area/northern California. What is it you want to do in wine country? Unless you're big wine nuts, tasting rooms become much of a muchness. There's a million things to do in SF and Oakland (please don't call it SanFran or Frisco while you're here if you want anyone to take you seriously), check out those AskMe threads. Hog Island Oysters is a nice stop along Tomales Bay if you like oysters- the freshest and cheapest possible. They supply oysters and grills, you bring the rest.

I think I would choose Shasta over Mendocino.

I second Ashland and Crater Lake.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:17 PM on February 3, 2010

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