I'm thinking of doing a trip to see Yosemite, with Tahoe and SF at the beginning and end of the trip, flying from Midway using SW points. It will be a family trip with the wife and 2 boys (17 and 14). We'll likely do a Tues-Tues trip. Anyone with tips on these 3 places? We'll definitely do Alcatraz and see the big trees. But otherwise we're pretty open on ideas you may have as far as places to stay and things to do. Any help will be appreciated
To provide you with good insights and recommendations what month are you planning the trip?
Sounds like exciting trip - a bit ambitious - but well worth the effort. I'm not too enamored with Tahoe, but if you go there, there's a nice Marriott in heart of the city.
I enjoyed sitting around the hearth buffet and choosing food to eat....
I'm not an expert on San Francisco, but if I were traveling with kids again - as I did in 2011 - I'd stay at Marriott Courtyard at Fisherman's Warf. We walked to everything, except taking cable car to China Town from bottom of Powell Street....Nanking Restaurant is one of my favorites.
I'd recommend trip across the Golden Gate to small town of Sausalito, and then along the beach road to Muir Woods, but stop on hill top overlooking SF and bridge.....
....if you'd prefer a taste of England, book at room at this B&B near Muir Beach (forget the name, but it's on left hand side of road en route to Muir Woods...
The Muir Woods National Monument Park is a wonderful place to visit with younger folks....
Back in SF, drive down the crooked street, Lombard Street, climb up Coit Tower at opposite end of Lombard...and take boat trip to Alcatraz - it's most always busy regardless of time of year, but you can spend 1/2 day here. I'd suggest watching video ahead of tour, and you can rent headphones to describe each area...
...make sure you visit Al Capone's cell...
...back on the mainland, take the kids to Giradelli Square and enjoy a few chocolate delights!
If you happen to fly into Reno, NV, since you can't fly into Reno (except if you have your own plane), I'd suggest driving over to Virginia City (approximately 45 minute drive). This is the town that inspired the TV series, Bonanza. It's an old mining town, and a step back in time....
You can drive over the mountains to Tahoe, or around them via Carson City.
Always enjoy seeing some pics with the replies! Appreciate the tips. Basically I want to see Lake Tahoe itself and it seems like a logical place to fly into or out of for Yosemite, where we plan on spending 3 days, I think. I've been to SF a couple of times for business, but the family has never been there so your advice is very helpful. Thanks!
There is No Airport to speak off in Lake Tahoe, the closest airport is in Reno. At Lake Tahoe you may want to think about which section and part of Lake Tahoe you wish to stay, each section brings unique benefits. In South Lake, do check out the Marriott Timeshares; they have well priced daily rentals, great location, etc.
The drive from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite is minimum 4 hrs. Book your hotel insight the park ASAP, example Curry Village, etc.
Sounds like a great trip, though as fschumpert mentions, a bit ambitious. Still doable, I think! If you're using SW miles, have you considered flying into Sacramento (SMF), thus splitting the difference so to speak in terms of distance? I might recommend flying into SFO and out of FAT (Fresno-Yosemite Int'l) or the other way around, but alas, SW doesn't service FAT. Flying in and out of the same airport will also save you some cash too, I am thinking, as far as renting a car goes (same drop off/pick up).
I'm afraid I'm not much help with Tahoe, as it's been eon's since I've stayed there or visited in the summer.
For Yosemite, there are a number of lodges that you might consider, such as Tenaya Lodge, Ahwahnee Hotel or Wawona Hotel (all are wonderful). There are no Marriott's. Fantastic trails abound in Yosemite, at every hiking level. An easy one that will afford spectacular views is the 1 mile hike to Sentinel Dome (off of Glacier Point Road), where you'll have a panoramic view of both Half Dome and El Capitan (and Glacier Point offers nice panoramic vistas (take binoculars) too. There are many easy trails from the valley floor that the family can enjoy. I would caution to be sure to heed the trail signs. Stepping off of the trail in some areas can be dangerous. People unforntunately die in Yosemite every year, and not just rock climbers. The best time to go to Yosemite is late spring or early summer, when the spectacular waterfalls (Yosemite, Bridalveil and Vernal) are at their most majestic. California has endured a many year long drought, but hopefully we will have an El Nino winter, which will bring more rain, and therefore magnificent waterfalls (in drought years, by the end of summer, these majestic waterfalls are just a trickle). It is presently raining here all week!!
If you want to see more of the big trees (Giant Sequoias) besides what's at Mariposa Grove, you'll want to visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. These are located southwest of Fresno off of Hwy 180. You can visit the big trees in a day. If you need overnight lodging, there are some decent budget Marriott properties locally, SHS in North Fresno, FFI in Clovis, or SHS in Madera off of Hwy 99. I highly recommend a visit to these two National Parks for a visit to Grants Grove and the General Sherman Tree and the Giant Forest Museum off of Generals Highway (I mean, if you've come this far, you owe it to yourself.)
For San Francisco, there are a number of Marriott properties. With the kids, you may want to consider staying in the Fisherman's Wharf area as there is so much to do there, and where you'll likely catch one of the ferry's to Alcatraz. Also, there's Ghirardelli Square. Chinatown is fun, and there are a couple of excellent museums at Golden Gate park, and you have to take the kids down Lombard Street. A cable car ride is touristy perhaps, but it's an icon of SF history, and hey, it's a lot of fun if you've never done it. Also, if you are MLB fans, try and plan a visit to AT&T Park. It's rated the #1 MLB stadium in the nation. SF boasts a good zoo as well (though as far as zoo's go, your best bet would be the San Diego Zoo. For another time.) I know I've repeated some of fschumpert's recommendations, so consider mine an added endorsement. Hope this helps a bit.
Just to pile on to what pluto77 and others have already mentioned, in take warm clothes along for layers as you know what famous saying came from Mark Twain?
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco"
It is very very true. You can have a splendidly gorgeous day with shorts and a t-shirt, but once the low clouds and fog come in off the bay you will freeze. I've gone from getting a nice sunburn walking around the city to shivering in minutes.
As for Alcatraz, excellent point about getting tickets early on as well as midweek. When you get your tickets be sure to get the headphone option as well for the sounds of the joint as well.
Also very close to Fisherman's Wharf right next to Chinatown is North Beach which has some incredibly yummy Italian restaurants as well as Mama's on Washington Square - HOME a lively and excellent spot for breakfast, but expect a line. Another spot for a nice breakfast that is less crowed most days is | American-style café.
Across the Golden Gate Bridge and a few miles further north from Sausalito you'll find sleepy Tiburon that overlooks San Francisco and Alcatraz as well. Fun spot of weekend brunch is Sam’s Anchor Café - A waterfront restaurant on San Francisco Bay. The food is pretty good but the view is better sitting out on the deck.
Great area with much to see and do, enjoy.
These responses are great, thanks! Why do some of you think it's ambitious? Should I give us more time in Yosemite or SF? We can probably spend more time. How long should we plan on for each location?
If it's the driving, that doesn't bother us. We've driven all over the country and enjoy it. We're not driving from Chicago this trip just because of the extra time that would take.
I think we will stay at the Courtyard by the Wharf, not sure where we will stay in Tahoe/Reno. I have a certificate for 2 nights at a level 8, so we'll be using that somewhere on the trip. We'll likely stay in Yosemite for that portion (even though I hate paying for lodging on vacations ). If it's like Yellowstone, the in-park lodging makes sense, to avoid the 1.5 our drive from anywhere outside of the park.
I'll consider "closing the loop" and driving back to Tahoe so I save money by dropping the car at the same airport I pick it up at. I thought it was farther from SF to Tahoe, but it looks to be about 4 hours as well. This brings up another question, anything worth seeing on this drive?
muuurph - There's not much to see on drive between SF and Tahoe - and it's about 4 hours, depending on weather at time you travel. The Marriott in Tahoe, as posted in earlier reply, is ideal place to utilize your Reward points, and food is good here.
The drive from Tahoe to Reno is easier around the mountain via Carson City, while longer, than over the mountains. If you're not skiing, or gambling at casinos, there's not a lot to see - in my opinion - in Tahoe; however, the lake area is picturesque. If you do drive back via Carson City, I'd recommend a side trip to Virginia City, before you arrive in Reno.
As an ex-resident of San Francisco the comments here pretty much touched upon all areas.
My wife and I visited Yosemite last July when I had business in Fresno. Fresno is the closest major town to the park and is an hour drive to the park entrance. But once inside the park it's still another hour and a quarter to the Village. The sites along the way are what make this place spectacular.
Whenever I'm in Fresno I check into the Fresno Courtyard on East Shaw. It's pretty standard, but comfortable. There are lots of restaurants around as opposed to other Marriott branded properties around the town.
All this is great! I have so far booked 4 nights at south Lake Tahoe (not Marriott though - too expensive... ) and 4 nights inside the park in Yosemite village for July.. After that we don't know where to go. The suggestions here are very good, but since we have a 3 year old in the car we don't want to drive too much and also don't want connecting flights (to Houston). Unfortunately there are no direct flights from Fresno. I guess we will either return to Reno or go to Sacramento. We will stay away from SFO. I will just follow what others will say :-)
If you want to visit San Francisco area for a couple of days but not hassle with city driving and prices, I suggest staying at the Renaissance ClubSport in Walnut Creek. It is across the street from a BART station and is only 30 minutes to the city. This hotel is very nice and is likely to be much less expensive than inferior properties in the city. Platinum (not sure about Gold) members get an excellent buffet breakfast in the restaurant and all guests have full access to a world class fitness facility and pool adjacent to the hotel. Parking is expensive, but you really don't need a car in the area unless you plan to visit Napa or Sonoma.
You can actually take BART all the way to SFO, but you can fly out of Oakland and Sacramento is about 1 1/2 hr drive. Amtrak also has trains from Reno to SF, and the Martinez station is about 20 minutes from the hotel.