Suggestions, tips for southwest trip for 2 travel noobs
June 6, 2016 1:08 PM   Subscribe

My 18-year-old son and I are traveling to L.A. and points southwest at the end of this month. Both of us are inexperienced travelers and a little anxious. I want to get feedback on our planned itinerary and get any general tips or advice.

We will fly into L.A. (from Boston) and drive out the next morning towards the Grand Canyon, via Joshua Tree National Park. We have hotel reservations in Needles that night. We will set out early the next morning to the Grand Canyon and stay overnight there. We plan to leave late morning or mid-day for our drive back to L.A. via Las Vegas. Staying in a hotel there for one night, leaving the next morning to complete our drive to L.A. Then staying in L.A. for 2 1/2 days.

I planned the itinerary based on info from Google Maps and estimated drive times. Am I way off in judging distances/drive times? Any safety suggestions for driving through the desert for several days (using a compact-size rental car)? We don't need suggestions for things to do in L.A., as I've looked at lots of cool AskMes from the past.

Are there other questions I should be asking? And in case it's relevant, he has Aspergers and doesn't drive.
posted by primate moon to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds to me like a nice mini road trip from LA. But, I would be a little concerned about the fact that it's a lot of time in the car. Mostly just 'sights to see', especially on the trip out. Are you both ok with drive/hike/drive more/view some sights? Personally, this sounds ok to me, but is an 18-year-old ok with this?

Get an ipod nano or two, and load them up with podcasts and/or music you both enjoy, and plug it into the Aux port on your car. Or go to your library, and get some books on CD that you can pop into the car.

In Vegas, your son won't be able to be on the casino floors for very long. Make sure he can at least go to the pool (not a 21+ pool), or that there's a game room or something for him to do for fun?
posted by hydra77 at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2016

Stop at the Hoover Dam between the Grand Canyon and Vegas and take the tour.
posted by soelo at 1:58 PM on June 6, 2016

In a compact car I'm assuming you're not going to be doing any adventurous desert driving, like off-roading. So, stay on paved roads. Put 5 gallons of water in the trunk just for fun. If something bad happens, stay with your car. (Honestly, if you're staying on main roads and seeing the biggie attractions it's vanishingly unlikely that you're going to get into trouble that can't be easily corrected, but just in case.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't do the drive to Las Vegas on the day before the weekend, it can get clogged with traffic. Likewise, don't do the drive back on a Sunday afternoon or evening. It can go from +/- 5 hours to more like 8.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:22 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a little confused about your L.A. - Joshua Tree - Grand Canyon itinerary.

Are you driving out and spending a night at/near Joshua Tree, then a second night in Needles before moving onward to the Grand Canyon? Or is the plan to drive from L.A. to Joshua Tree, wave hi at some trees, then stay in Needles that night? If the latter, I think you should change plans and spend the night nearer to Joshua Tree. Partially because there's lots to see in the park proper, and partially because there's a ton of other stuff to do in that area, lots of cute places to stay, eat, check out some music, see an old Ghost Town that was used in a bunch of old Western serials back in the day, etc. It's a much more vacation friendly destination than Needles*, even if you then have a longer drive ahead of you the next day. A quick google gives a drive time of 5 hours from 29 Palms, CA, to the Grand Canyon, which doesn't feel too bad to me (though I get that the GC is huge and there might be huge differences in drive time depending on which end of things you want to be on and where you're staying. Still, even if 5 hours becomes 8-10, it's worth it in my opinion to stay somewhere fun.)

In the Joshua Tree area, I highly recommend Frontiertown and Pappy & Harriet's for dinner and a show. You could opt to stay in one of the cute little boutique places like the Hicksville Trailer Palace, or just hit up a motel in 29 Palms.

I disagree with the advice about the drive from Las Vegas to L.A. It's about on par with any road trip I've ever taken, in terms of "boringness", but since it's a very popular road trip from Los Angeles, there's a good amount of places to stop, road lore (for example the Zzyzx Road exit!), etc. Personally I'm a fan of the roadside diner with the fake dinosaurs out back, which unfortunately I'm blanking on the name of.

I drive a compact car and this is not a trip I'd be afraid to take.

*As far as I know, having never been to Needles, but having been to Joshua Tree a few times and also never having heard anyone I know in L.A. say, "Oh we're going to Needles for the weekend" whereas J.T. is a popular trip.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agree about Needles - there really is nothing there worth the seeing, though there isn't much elsewhere to stay unless you drive on to Kingman. To get to Kingman, you might think about driving the bit of historic Route 66 left to Oatman and then to Kingman and I 40 to the Canyon. Are you staying at the Canyon or in Williams or Verde?

On your way back to Vegas, stop off at Chloride (between Kingman and the Hoover Dam) an old mining town.

You could exit Vegas and then cut down through the Mojave National Preserve to get back to LA on I 40 rather than 15. That would take you through some real empty places (fill up your gas tank) including the restored Kelso Depot and if you have time, Kelso Sand Dunes.

If you take 40, I agree about driving down the Zzxyx Road to the Desert Research Center. You could also visit Vasquez Rocks (scene of many a movie and TV show, most famously Star Trek) outside Palmdale.
posted by A189Nut at 3:21 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a mean jaded person who has been to all of these places and thinks this is two different trips. I also don't head into the desert during the summer.

Fly into LA. Drive up the coast and do tons of awesome things, drive back to LA and explore LA.

Do the desert some other time of year. This trip you describe sounds like the height of misery to me, and I know all the cool sights along the way....

Seriously. Do the coast. Scrap this desert idea.
posted by jbenben at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth my family took a summer vacation to the Grand Canyon when I was 14. It was hot but not dangerous.

Your home climate will probably have a lot of influence on what you feel up to, but as someone who grew up with humid summers honestly I don't remember the Southwest feeling much hotter than what I was used to.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on June 6, 2016

I did the LA to Grand Canyon part of this trip a few years back, and at about the same time of year. I did the whole drive in a day (left at around 6-7 AM, arrived at around 7-8 PM I think), since we only had 4 days and wanted to spend the most time at the Grand Canyon. I agree with Sara C re Joshua Tree. While you can definitely make it to Needles with more than enough time to spare (we got there at lunch time on our trip), your time will be better spent in Joshua Tree.

Also, after Needles, we took the old Route 66 most of the way, because I delight in barren, desolate, twisty roads and weird kitschy Americana, and there are both of those things in spades along old Route 66. If you too like stopping at weirdo random shit all along your road trips, I recommend this route and trying the Roadside America app, which will direct you to all manner of weird sights.

Driving up the coast is great too, but fwiw, I didn't find this drive at all miserable or too hot. Phoenix was a literal hellpit at like 111 degrees, sure, but my car's AC stood up to the heat (and it was a compact sedan), and temperatures weren't too bad at the Canyon. Make sure you have a lot of water in the car just in case of a breakdown, and you should be fine. Another thing to maybe keep in mind is that you might run into thunderstorms along the way.
posted by yasaman at 5:39 PM on June 6, 2016

If you go to the South Rim, you can go round and cross the Grand Canyon at Marble Canyon, then go to the North Rim and the Kaibab Forest. The Kaibab is really cool, temperature wise and so forth. You can check out the small Utah Towns past there, then go back by Mesquite and Las Vegas.

But really, I would go North from LA, up to Carpenteria, and stay a night, there are some free beaches in town, then go North up to Morrow Bay, or the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is going to be much nicer on the coast of California, than in Death Valley.
posted by Oyéah at 6:33 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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