Magical Tips for a Road Trip to LA
May 2, 2007 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Four International college students (over 21) from Kansas plans to go on a road trip to LA (May 14'th - 20'th). We need recommendation and advice with accommodation, attractions, any things else.

Ok.... Grab yourself a coffee and sit down. Sorry for the long post.

What we have
- Mazda prodigy 1993
- 2 Drivers
- GPS Unit
- AAA membership
- 2 or more Digital Cameras
- Laptop

- Leaving Kansas on 14'th (5AM) and arriving in Grand Canyon around (4PM)
- Spending 15'th sight seen in Grand Canyon (and Arizona)
- Leaving Grand Canyon around 5PM and arrive at LA around 11PM
- Spend the 16'th at Universal Studios
- Spend the 17'th in LA (or San Diago / Long beach)
- Spend the 18'th in LA
- Leaving LA around 4PM and arriving at Las Vegas around 8.30PM and look around
- Spend the 19'th in Las Vegas
- Leaving Las Vegas at 6AM and going to Utah around 10AM
- look around and leave at around 12 Noon and arrive at Colorado springs at 8PM
- Spend the 20'th around Colorado Springs
- Leave Colorado at 5PM and head back to Kansas

1) Please give your comments about the itinerary. It's adjustable as long as the max is 7 days.

2) we are on a budget. so we need to find cheap accommodation. Hostels are fine, as long as we get a clean bed and a hot water shower.

3) Please let us know things to see in these places for cheap. (Universal studio will be the only place we will be spending $50+ for tickets)

4) Tips about the attractions? (In VirtualTourist I read that in Universal studio we should start our day in further end of the park, and work our way towards the entrance. So we won't be going will the crowd) Any more tips like this?

5) In Las Vegas can we get in to Casinos? (not to gamble, but to look around, take some pictures) I mean we can't pretend to be high rollers, since everyone can see we are a bunch of International students

6) How about parking in LA? Is it better to leave our car at the Hotel and take public transportation?

7) Places to eat?

8) advice us on the route we should take. Currently we looked at the Google maps and plans to take the route that the GPS will take us. Are there particular roads that we should take/ avoid? Any scenic drives we must take?

9) We will be travelling in a Mazda prodigy 1993. Any car care tips for a long trip? what should we take with us?

10) Any general tips and trick that will be useful for us.

Thanks in advance..... U guys are the best !!!
posted by WizKid to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (18 answers total)
Response by poster: Ohhh.... and Grand Canyon is a big place.
Where exactly in Grand Canyon should we go.
Just give us a location that we can enter to the GPS :-)
posted by WizKid at 6:35 AM on May 2, 2007

1. Most of the driving times are very ambitious. I don't think you'll be able to leave the Grand Canyon at 5 and be in LA by 11--7 to 8 hours should do it. The Las Vegas to Colorado Springs leg is also pushing it--sure, you can be in Utah by 10, but you won't see anything interesting. The really cool stuff in Utah is pretty far off the interstates; if you want to make it to Colorado Springs that night, you'll pretty much have to blaze through without stopping. Also, Universal Studios is really lousy; might as well splurge and go to Disneyland, IMO. (Or even Knott's Berry Farm.)

2. Don't know any hostels (sorry), but there will be many cheap motels ($20-$40).

5. The casinos will be happy to see you, even if you only spend $1.

6. It's not too hard to park in LA; I'd take the car.

9. Take a flashlight and make sure the spare's full of air, and get an oil change before you leave.
posted by equalpants at 7:05 AM on May 2, 2007

Few random thoughts:

- there is no public transportation in LA, you'll be driving pretty much everywhere.

- you'll probably have more fun taking a detour up to Boulder than staying in Colorado Springs.

- the old route 66 (though in some places overdone with faux 50s nostalgia) passes through many stretches of that route and is more scenic than the interstate.

- get off the interstate whenever you can. Even when you get gas, take a few extra minutes to take an offramp and drive into the town rather than just get gas on the road.

- related: make it a rule not to eat in any chain fast food places. zero. none. no mcdonalds, no kfc, no taco bell. nothing. tape that to your windshield. go to local places instead. sit at the counter. talk to people you meet there.

- there are great thrift shops throughout the southwest, especially Las Vegas and Palm Springs, if you want to stock up on cheap "vintage" clothes.

- your greatest car-related risk is overheating: use your A/C as little as possible; carry extra water and antifreeze/coolant.

- check craigslist LA to see if you can rent a house or apt for a couple of days rather than stay in hotel or hostel.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:15 AM on May 2, 2007

I agree with equalpants about Universal Studios. I found it vaguely depressing the one time I was there. Go for Disneyland instead. Also, I have never needed it but understand that you can use Priceline and get good deals on nice hotels in the vicinity of DL for very reasonable money. Long Beach can be a fun place to hang out - Belmont Shores is a nice beach town with a nice main street that is very walkable/shopable. Check out the canals and maybe rent a gondola. Super Mex is good, and you can sit on the patio to eat or in the main dining room at an open window and people watch. Shore House is a good option too.
posted by jvilter at 7:27 AM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions...

@equalpants and jvilter
I thought Disneyland is for kids. All fairy tails stuff :-)
posted by WizKid at 7:41 AM on May 2, 2007

For your LA day, stay at HI Santa Monica -- it is clean and modern, and right in the middle of a fun part of LA.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:05 AM on May 2, 2007

I agree the itinerary is very ambitious. It reads more like one of those "7 countries in 5 days" European tours Americans take.

Personally, I would opt to make the Grand Canyon your main destination (and skip LA and, maybe, LV). You're driving through some of the greatest scenery in the US. I'd heartily suggest you slow down the pace and take more time to explore.

And I agree about skipping Colorado Springs. Other than the over-crowded Garden of the Gods, CS isn't all that great.

And, definitely Disney over Universal.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:09 AM on May 2, 2007

Since you cannot be 100% sure of the schedule (i.e. that you are actually able to reach all the sites in time), accommodation will be a problem. Hint: use/rent a tent (just in case). Also, go to the AAA office in KS and ask for the free maps and free travel guides for the states you are going to visit. The free guides contain info about hotels/motels. Each morning/early afternoon call several hotels see their prices and decide where to stay (do not do it too late in the afternoon/evening, you might find that they do not have any rooms left).

Other things to take with you:
- cell phones and recharger(s)
- music
- rechargeable batteries (if you use them - you will be taking lots of pictures)

Other suggestions:
- if you want to see interesting stuff stay off the highways (you will be giving the same advice after the trip). Use the highways only to move fast from point A to point B.
- you will have to pay to enter the national parks, plan accordingly
- you will be traveling through less populated areas: be sure that you have enough gas.
- wave you AAA card and ask for discounts all the time (especially for accommodation, see above)

Alternative route: skip LA completely. Spend more time seeing stuff rather than driving. For example, do you know about Zion National Park? Or about the Monument Valley?
posted by MzB at 8:19 AM on May 2, 2007

1. Are you going to the South Rim or the North Rim of the GC? I was there around the same time two years ago and the North Rim was still snowed out. The South Rim is where the tourists go, but it will take longer to get to.
Personally, as someone who has been to all these places, I'd get rid of one day (or all of, like Thorzdad suggests) in LA and add either Zion or Moab, but that is just my personal preference. There are cheap hotels in Moab; we camped in Zion. They are both gorgeous places. LA was, to me, underwhelming, and we spent so much time driving in the city that we didn't want to do anything.

2. Hostels are not popular in the US. (There aren't any HI hostels in Utah or Nevada, for example.) In Utah and Colorado, we mostly camped. Vegas has cheap places to stay in abundance (depending on your level of sketchiness.) LA is the same, but has three hostels, according to the map above.

5. The casinos in Vegas don't have a dress code like the ones in Europe, if that's what you're concerned about. If any of you look pretty young, just make sure you have your ID on you, but heck, I look pretty young and didn't get hassled. Cheapo Vegas has you covered there.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:20 AM on May 2, 2007

Hitting the Grand Canyon in the time frame you give is unreasonable by at least 3 hours unless you rocket through everything at 80MPH+ and only stop a times for gas.
posted by geoff. at 8:35 AM on May 2, 2007

Pretty much all the national parks and monuments in Southern Utah are worth seeing. If I were you and I couldn't extend the trip by at least a few days, I'd either push hard to get to southern California and back, and maximize your time there, or stop and explore the north rim of the grand canyon, southern utah (we've always had good luck camping in capitol reef), and maybe Mesa Verde.
posted by Good Brain at 8:45 AM on May 2, 2007

Universal Studios is such a waste--don't go. Don't go to any theme parks.

Parking in LA is pretty easy. Parking is free and plentiful in many places, but bring quarters and dollar bills for some parking lots and meters in the more congested areas.

You say you might want to visit "San Diego/Long Beach" but San Diego and Long Beach are 2 hours apart. They might look deceptively close on a map but the cities are by no means Saint Pail/Minneapolis twin cities.

Check out this Weekend-in-LA thread from several weeks ago.

Don't worry about expensive lodging in LA, either. It's nothing like trying to get cheap lodging in Manhattan. In Manhattan, anything on the island is outrageous, i.e. greater than $150/night. LA is totally different. Since there is no "center" of LA, you'll be driving everywhere. Just don't stay in any of the swanky neighborhoods. I constantly drive past independent hotels that charge between $35-60/night.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:53 AM on May 2, 2007

To add to the other comments, Disneyland is an American experience. It had a tremendous impact on American ideas about how a landscape should look.
LA is also an American experience, but your timeframe is waay too short.
Also, gas is going to go up as you go farther West. Estimate your gas needs and make sure that you've got a good cushion there, because while gas is $3.25 on the West Coast now, it could be $4.25. It's not likely, but it's possible.
posted by lilithim at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: So as for this site (
Disneyland has multiple ticket options
-One Day ($63)
-One Day Park Hopper ($83)
-Two Day Park Hopper ($122)

So does this include all the rides (as in Universal Studio) or do we have to pay extra for the rides?
posted by WizKid at 10:14 AM on May 2, 2007

Wizkid, no extra money for the rides at DL. Once you have your ticket, it's good to get you into the park, or parks if you opt for CA Adventure too. (The best ride there is Soarin' over California, and the rest is nice, but missable with your schedule). Entertainment is free, and do stop and listen to some of the live music that is everywhere in the park - the Dapper Dan's do old time barbershop quartet stuff on Main Street that will blow you away and there's always something good playing in the French Quarter. Food can be pricey, but I think it's worth it to pay and maximize your time in the park rather than exiting and trying to find someplace cheaper in the neighborhood. You can bring in food as long as you are descrete - granola bars and such, and we've always carried water bottles in. If you buy coffee on main street and save your receipt, you can get a refill at some of the other concession places, but not all.
The other people have a point though, you'll be zooming past some of the most beautiful desert scenery you'll ever have a chance to see in Utah. You might consider just stopping there and really enjoying it, if you feel like you'll be able to make it out to LA another time.
posted by jvilter at 12:32 PM on May 2, 2007

I'm from Australia, and did a road trip around that area a few years ago. I loved the national parks. Joshua Tree, Yosemite, the Mojave desert and Death Valley are all incredible places. Sure, Disneyland and Las Vegas are pretty heavily American things to visit, but what I realised after my trip was that as much as you hear about America, you rarely hear about its landscape and beauty (as opposed to its people and polititians).

So if you're at all nature-inclined, don't miss the national parks. Vegas is fun, sure, but I'd miss it any day if I got another chance to go to one of the national parks.
posted by twirlypen at 4:38 PM on May 2, 2007

As soon as you get to LA, find a bookstore or a music store and pick up an LA Weekly -- it's a free newspaper that comes out on Thursday and has club, concert and event listings. Also the city's travel site suggests things to see and do by neighborhood.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:07 PM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks eveyone for your inputs.
If anyone else got any good ideas, please post it up.
posted by WizKid at 12:59 PM on May 3, 2007

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