ITINERARY IDEAS FoR WEST COAST USA & ALASKAN CRUISE
If you're planning a trip to the West Coast USA and maybe including an Alaskan Cruise you'll find some great ideas, tips and inspiration for places to go and things to do and things NOT to do on your trip in our blog.
On the West Coast we spent time in San Francisco, Seattle, Leavenworth, Birch Bay and fter the Alaska cruise we went across to Nevada to Las Vegas.
We traveled by planes or buses. We didn't want the stress of hiring a car and driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. In New Zealand we drive on the left side of the road.
Just click on any places of interest on the itineray below for items you might want to add to your trip.
Day 1:Travel to San Francisco
Day 2: Flight to Seattle Train to Leavenworth
Day 3: Explore Leavenworth
Day 4: At Leavenworth
Day 5; Travel to Birch Bay
Day 6: Explore Birch Bay
Day 7: Birch Bay & Fairhaven
Day 8: Travel to Vancouver Join cruise to Alaska
Day 9: At sea- Inside Passage
Day 10: Juneau, Mount Robert Tramway & Mendenhall Glacier
Day 11: Skagway, Walking Tour, White Pass & Yukon Railway
Day 12 & 13: Thru Glacier Bay to Ketchikan
Day 14: Sailing back to Vancouver
Day 15: Finish Cruise. Train to Seattle
Day 16 & 17: Explore Seattle
Day 18: Leave Seattle. Fly to San Francisco
Day 19, 20 & 21: Explore San Francisco
Day 22: Travel to Las Vegas
Day 23 & 24: Explore Las Vegas
Day 25: Day Trip to Grand Canyon
Day 26 Las Vegas
Day 27: Leave Las Vegas Fly back to San Francisco
Day 28: San Francisco
Day 29: Sob ! Sob ! Leave San Francisco and fly home
DAY 1: Flight & Arrival in San Francisco
SHUTTLE BUS CONFUSION
It was about a 12 hour Air NZ flight from Auckland to San Francisco. The Bag Carrier had the aisle seat and I had a window seat with a stranger between us. The Bag Carrier likes to get up and wander around during the flight, and I like to have the wall of the airplane to sleep on, so we often have a stranger between us when we're flying. It is usually no hassle. To help pass the time I watched 3 movies and we eventually arrived around midday Sunday (the same day as we left.)
We caught the shuttle bus from the airport to the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, had a quick nap and thought we'd catch the shuttle back to the airport and get the BART into town. What we didn't know, was that there were two identical shuttle buses (neither showing a destination sign) calling at the hotel. As Murphy's law would have it, we got on the wrong one! It was the Burlingame shopping tour bus instead of the shuttle back to the airport and the BART station bus! After an unscheduled grand tour of Burlingame we finally got back to the airport and caught the light rail into San Francisco and headed to Fisherman's Wharf. We were very glad we got the airport shuttles sorted before the following day, when we needed to get the airport shuttle to catch our flight.
We wandered around the wharf looking at the sea lions and had the obligatory clam chowder for dinner. We walked for miles back along the Embacadero. We couldn't believe how quiet the central city was on a Sunday night at about 8 pm. By this time it was getting on towards dusk. The sun was shining but the wind was bitterly cold. We headed back to our hotel.
*Hot tip. If you're a senior you can buy a seniors' train pass at the airport info centre (not at the station) for $9 which gives you $33 worth of rides.)
DAY 2: Flight to Seattle. Train to Leavenworth
STUNNING TRAIN TRIP FROM SEATTLE TO LEAVENWORTH
We caught a two hour Alaskan Air flight to Seattle. Then we hopped on board the light rail from the airport to King St station, where we were to get the Amtrak train. We left our bags in storage there while we went into Seattle in search of small binoculars to take on our cruise.
We walked down to the waterfront and eventually found a Target store and some suitable binoculars. We had a very quick look around a small section of Pike Street Market and then headed back to the station to catch the 4.40 pm Empire Builder train to Leavenworth.
It was about a four hour, absolutely stunning train trip. We followed the coast for an hour or so out of Seattle, then headed inland up into the Cascade Mountains.
day 3 & 4: Exploring Leavenworth
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? A POCKET OF BAVARIA IN THE MIDDLE OF WASHINGTON STATE
We wandered around admiring this Bavarian town in the middle of Washington State and the Cascade Mountains withs its" cuckoo clocks and lederhosen. Apparently, in the 1960s the logging industry had almost finished and the town was rapidly going into decline. The locals got together to try to find a way to revive the town and decided, because of its location in the mountains, to develop it as a tourist Bavarian town. They have done an amazing job of it.
Leavenworth attracts about two million visitors a year. They host one of the largest Octoberfest celebrations outside of Munich. They have a well known and very popular Christmas lighting ceremony and in January they have an Ice Festival. And, of course, plenty of gluhwein (mulled wine) and bratwurst sausages to keep you fuelled! We had a delicious bratwurst sausage dinner at Munchen Haus Bavarian Grill and a beer garden in the center of town. This is an authentic Bavarian grill and beer garden with a great selection of delicious Bratwurst sausages, exotic mustards, sauerkraut and beers. It was a very popular place and so authentic that it was easy to imagine that you could have been in the middle of Austria.
We didn’t have a car and stayed at Worldmark by Wyndham and it suited us fine. The location was a few minutes' walk to the township and we had a kitchen in our apartment so we could cook a meal if we had had a big day and didn’t feel like dining out. Most of the lodges and hotels have a Bavarian theme and many are situated in, or very close to, the township.
BEAR & BOBCAT WARNINGS SCARE US AWAY!
We took a bit of a walk around the Icicle Loop Trail which is a good two and a half hour family trail. ( www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/icicle-gorge-loop ) We were amazed to come across a couple of deer on the trail who weren’t the slightest bit afraid of us. They just carried on grazing and completely ignored us. However, when we got to the bear and bobcat warning signs we decided to turn back. We are kiwis from New Zealand and had no idea what to do if we came across these animals!
We visited the Gingerbread Factory. “The little bakery with the big heart” is its slogan. This is a bakery and café set in a Bavarian style house selling gingerbread houses and cookies and an assortment of wraps and salads and espresso coffee. Yum!
day 5: travel day to birch bay by train & bus
We were up at 4.30 am to get ready for a 5.30 pick up, but we were told our pick up wouldn't be until 8 am, as the train back to Seattle was late. The Amtrak Empire Builder train takes three days to travel from Chicago to Seattle, so one can understand why it is often not on schedule towards the end of its journey. Luckily we arrived in Seattle just in time to make the connection with the Bolt bus to Bellingham.
At Bellingham we had to catch another bus into downtown and then, finally, the bus to Birch Bay. We had been up since 4.30 am and travelling since 8.00 am and eventually arrived at Birch Bay at 6.00 pm. We were brain dead and travel weary.
DAys 6 & 7: Birch Bay & Fairhaven
NOT ACCUSTOMED TO PRIVATE BEACHES!
We decided to have an 'explore Birch Bay day.' We took a long walk south along the beach. The beach was all stones and pebbles and it was low tide. It wasn't what we were expecting. We had both been expecting a beach like the ones we'd seen around Vancouver with pine trees and lots of logs.
A lot of the Birch Bay beach was closed off as "private beach" and the public was not allowed access. This is a completely foreign idea to us and we were not impressed! It certainly made us appreciate our NZ beaches.
A DAY TRIP TO FAIRHAVEN
There is only one bus in to and out of Birch Bay on a Saturday and we hopped on it, because we'd seen all we could of Birch bay without a car. Someone had said to check out a place called Fairhaven. Three buses later we arrived there and twenty minutes after that we left there! We wandered around Bellis Fair Mall, caught up on our emails and caught the only bus back to Birch bay with exactly the same people we had traveled with on the morning bus.
Day 8: tRAVEL TO vANCOUVER. jOIN CRUISE TO aLASKA
At 5.30 am we got up, finished packing, and went to reception to wait for a taxi to Cordata, as there are no local buses on Sunday. Instead of a $1 bus ride it cost us $60+ for a taxi! We arrived early as there wasn’t much traffic around and got a coffee at the co-op. The Bolt bus took us through to Vancouver and we were processed through customs in about 15 minutes, which was some kind of record for the bus we were informed by the locals.
We met up with an American couple on the bus and they guided us from Vancouver station across to the monorail and to Canada Place where the Noordam was moored. It was a beautiful day. Perfect!
I had forgotten what a great looking city Vancouver is with the snow capped mountains and beautiful harbour with Stanley Park and the sea planes.
Hot tip. From the train and bus station in Vancouver, you just walk across the road to the monorail and $1.75 concession ticket for seniors takes you right to Canada Place where the cruise ships usually dock.
(The ticket machine takes Canadian cash or credit cards.)
GLORIOUS SUNSET & STUNNING SAIL AWAY
We got on board about 12 noon and were pleased with our balcony cabin. A bottle of champagne was a gift. We headed to the Lido buffet for a light lunch as we hadn't had anything to eat all day. We did our best to do ‘moderation’ but they had a peanut butter cheesecake with a slab of dark chocolate topping that did us in!!!
The absolutely stunning sail away lasted about 3 hours through the pine-covered inlets and the most glorious sunset. Brilliant!
dAY 9: aT sEA. iNSIDE PASSAGE
We were quite a way from the land and there was quite a swell. It was also getting cooler. Today’s temperature was 11 degrees celsius and it got cloudier and mistier as the day went on.
dAY 10: jUNEAU: mT rOBERT tRAMWAY: mEDENHALL gLACIER
MAGNIFICENT MENDENHALL GLACIER
We took the ship’s shuttle into town and went straight to the Mount Roberts tramway. It has an 1800 foot ascent and gives stunning views of the town and harbour. We even had a couple of bald eagles soaring above us. We wandered around a few of the local walking tracks but didn’t stay too long as we wanted to get back down to get the local bus to the Mendenhall Glacier, which was also on our to-do list.
It was about a 40-minute walk from the bus stop to the park. We went straight to the Nugget Falls Waterfall trail. This about a two-mile round trip. We were fascinated by the amount of moss covering the vegetation.
Wow! What a sight when we finally arrived with the huge waterfall and the glacier. We wished we had more time to spend there. We caught with another couple of couples off the ship and shared a taxi back to town. We were exhausted!
*Hot tip. Use the $ 3-day shuttle ticket from the ship into town because it’s a boring walk into town and you’re better off spending the extra time and energy walking around Juneau. Also, the shuttle driver told us that the walk back in the early evening can get dark and is known as ”bear pass!”
The local bus out to Mendenhall Glacier costs $2 and it’s about half an hour walk. The town tour buses charge $15 each way. We shared the 6 seater taxi back and it cost $30 between 6 of us. Or find 2 other couples and share a 6 seater there and back again to give you more time at the park.
dAY 11: SKAGWAY. WALKING TOUR AND WHITE PASS AND YUKON RAILWAY
WILD WEST SKAGWAY
We docked and wandered (about 10 minutes walk) into the town. The first impressions were good. Skagway is at the end of the Lyn Canal and was established in the Gold Rush days as the gateway to the Klondike. It’s very much a tourist town these days and keeps the wild west feel with wooden boardwalks and old western type buildings.
We bought our train tickets at the station and joined a walking tour of the town with one of the rangers. It was entertaining and we learnt all about Soapy Smith the con man and the goings on at the Munroe Saloon.
WHITE PASS & YUKON RAILWAY
We wandered back to the ship for an early lunch before the train trip. The train was at the pier. Because we had bought our tickets in town and not through the ship we were supposed to get on the train back in town. As we were walking along the pier to make our way back into town we saw one of the train guards and asked him if it was correct that we had to go back into town. He just grinned and opened a carriage door for us, closed it behind us and we were able to have the pick of the seats. How lucky were we?
DAY 12 & 13: THROUGH GLACIER BAY TO KETCHIKAN
RAIN PUTS A DAMPER ON OUR SIGHTSEEING!
The weather lived up to its reputation and was misty and drizzly as we sailed into Ketchikan. It didn’t improve! There were float planes everywhere.
We caught a local bus out to Totem National Park but it was raining too much so we stayed on the bus and it dropped us at the very impressive new library where we were able to catch up on our emails. We walked back to town down a very very steep road (we're sure it must be one of the steepest roads in the world) and window-shopped our way back to the ship.
*Hot tip: Walking tour maps are free at the visitors' centre and are very interesting and comprehensive. Local buses leave every hour from downtown and cost a dollar a trip or two dollars for a day pass. We took the Silverline bus. It stopped at the Plaza Mall, Walmart and the Totem National Park and took about 45 minutes one way. On the way back it dropped us at the library (Wow) so we could use the free Wi Fi and walked back down one of the steepest roads in the world back to town.
DAY 14: SEA DAY SAILING BACK TO VANCOUVER
HUNDREDS OF DESERTED ISLANDS!
We woke up to a grey and misty day and it stayed that way nearly all day. It was a shame because we were sailing close to many islands on both sides of the ship. We were stunned at the number of islands for mile after mile with no evidence of life. Incredible. We were disappointed we didn't spot any wildlife.
Late in the afternoon the sun came out and there were signs of civilization on some of the islands. We were getting closer to Vancouver.
day 15: End of cruise. travel to seattle
A DAY OF ERRORS & CONFUSION!
We had a leisurely disembarkation and hopped aboard a monorail to the Amtrac station looking forward to our scenic train trip from Vancouver to Seattle. OOOPS!!!!! We had booked the train from Vancouver, Washington USA, not Vancouver, Canada. Who knew there were two Vancouvers in NW America? I had made exactly the same mistake last year, confusing Salem Massachusetts and Salem New Hampshire.
Fortunately for us, a bus was due to leave Vancouver in an hours time for Seattle. We were disappointed that we couldn’t get our train trip, but we managed to get the front seats on the modern bus and had good views.
When we got to Seattle we decided to walk to the Camlin Hotel because it looked straight forward on the map. The bus stopped at the station on 3rd Avenue and we just had to walk up to 9th Avenue. That was the theory!
So we lugged our suitcases up as far as 8th Avenue, only to discover there was no 9th Avenue. The freeway cut across where 9th Avenue had once been and it went to 10th Avenue. We walked through some pretty scary areas under bridges where the homeless lived and up a couple of steep hills before giving up and having to go back to the station to get a cab.
The Camlin was directly up behind Pike Place Market at the other end of town. We hadn't even been close. What a day that was!
DAY 16: SEATTLE
Roger woke up with no voice, a runny nose and a hacking cough and stayed in bed for the day This was an ideal opportunity for me to go shopping. I wandered through Nordstroms and West City and got the monorail to the Seattle Centre. I strolled around there window shopping for a while then headed back to Pike Place Market.
It was absolutely buzzing at midday on a Monday and there was a huge queue to get into the original Starbucks. I found a bakery that made the most delicious chocolate walnut brownies and a supermarket with a deli section that made great ham and salad and Swiss cheese sourdough filled rolls that I took back to the hotel to have for dinner.
DAY 17 & 18: SEATTLE
Roger was feeling a bit better so we headed back to the monorail and out to Seattle Centre and Pike Market. We headed out on bus 40 to the Ballard Locks in search of salmon on the ladder but it was too early in the season. We went back to Freemont and found the Lenin statue and the very scary troll under the bridge.
Leave Seattle and fly to San Francisco.
We got up at 5.30 to leave by 6.30 to take light rail to the airport and 9.30
flight to San Francisco.
DAYs 19, 20 & 21: IN SAN FRANCISCO
HOP ON HOP OFF BUS
We headed off to San Francisco on the BART. We got off at Powell St and wandered around the amazing Westfield complex. We found the yellow hop-on hop-off bus and negotiated a $24 pass for 4 days.
We did the bus tour which was interesting but I was cold all day and feeling rotten. We shared a steak sandwich at Westfield and went home. I was not happy at catching Roger’s flu!
The next day I was feeling absolutely lousy so it was my turn to curl up and stay in bed all day! Roger took the shuttle to Burlingame and explored the area. He brought back some medicinal supplies and a big bunch of red roses! Ahh!
On Sunday we hopped on the Caltrain and went for a ride to San Jose -the capital of Silicone Valley. It was like a ghost town on Sunday - unbelievably quiet. It was eerie.
The main event we witnessed was a drug purchase under a dark bridge. We got out of there very very quickly!! However, we went through Palo Alto and Stanford Uni on the way back which was very impressive and had a nice meal at Redwood City.
HEALTH TIP: We vowed that next time we go travelling we are going to make sure that a month before the departure date we do everything possible to get the immune system in excellent shape so that we stand the best possible chance of avoiding catching colds,viruses etc, while traveling in crowded planes and tourist spots.
SAN FRANCISCO- TRAVEL TIPS
STAYING BY THE AIRPORT- Pros & Cons
Staying out at the airport means paying budget or moderate accommodation prices BUT you need to allow for about one and a half hours to be able to travel from your hotel into the central city and the same on your return. If you have plenty of time the airport accommodation is an economical option, but if you are only on a short stay and your time is valuable you might be better to spend the extra money and stay in central San Francisco where you will be on the spot to start your sightseeing.
We stayed at three different hotels by the airport. Doubletree by Hilton and Crown Plaza both had regular free shuttle buses going to and from the airport. At the airport we could buy a BART senior pass (over 64 years) for $9 that was valued at $33. It covered a return trip into Central San Francisco. The trip would take an hour to an hour and a half but we had plenty of time so the time aspect was not a problem.
At the Quality Inn and Suites on Airport Boulevard, we could catch the 292 bus at $1.10 per trip for seniors into central San Fransisco and also to the airport. The bus was excellent value and also went to San Jose in the other direction.
DAY 22, 23 & 24:
Went to Fremont Street and saw the sights and zip lining and had the dinner buffet at the Main Station Casino. It was a long slow bus ride on the Deuce back to Harrahs.
DAY 25: DAY TRIP TO THE GRAND CANYON
Day 25: Wednesday 18 May
Day trip to the Grand Canyon
Set off at 6.30 am. Picked up at the hoteland taken to the tour companies head office. Zillions of bus loadsof people.An hour and a half drive to Kingmanfor rest stop and two hours drive to Williams for buffet lunch. Then another hours driveuntil we got to Grand CanyonNational Park.One hour at Mathers Point- simply awesome. Then taken to Bright Angel Lodgefor another couple of hours ooing and ahing. Left the Grand Canyon at 4.30pm and got back to our hotel finally at about 10 pm. On the way back we saw the Hoover Dam all lit up. It looked very impressive!
DAYS 26 & 27 : LAS VEGAS
It was our last day in Las Vegas so we took the 202 bus to Rainbow and then the 101 bus out to a local shopping mall to stock up on goodies for the grand kids. The trip was much longer than it looked on the map and we had dinner at Harrahs.
Not a good day today to be flying from Las Vegas to San Francisco. Freak winds delayed our flight and we eventually arrived in San Francisco three hours late but our luggage was off on its own somewhere else in the USA!
It wasn’t easy organising our hotel shuttle bus to the hotel without a phone but the good people at the lost luggage office took care of it for us. Our luggage finally arrived that evening.
Took the 292 bus back to the airport and on BART to San Bruno and big mall with Target. Panda Express for dinner. Luggage at the hotel when we got back thank goodness!
DAy 28 &29: SAN FRANCISCO & HEADING HOME
A BIG DAY OUT TO MUIRS WOODS
The big day out! Caught the 292 bus into San Francisco. At the end of the line we hopped on the Golden Gate transit bus to Sausalito. Tried to catch the Muirs Woods shuttle bus at Sausalito but it was full so we had to wait another hour for the next one!
About 50 minutes winding drive to Muirs Woods. Worth the long trip. The Redwoods certainly are majestic and magnificent. We walked a couple of the shorter trails and then had to get back early to join the queue to ensure we got on the 4.30 pm bus.
We didn’t have much time to explore Sausalito as we had to catch the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf.
We had some dinner at the Westfield Mall and caught the BART and the 292 bus back to our hotel. A big day out!
UNFORGETTABLE SIGHTS AROUND THE TENDERLOIN AREA
We had a leisurely breakfast and finished Packing. Check out time was 12 noon so we hopped on board the 292 bus and headed into San Francisco. We got off the bus at Mission and 7th and wandered through the Civic Centre Farmers Market which didn’t impress us at all
We wandered around central San Francisco and somehow kept ending up in the more undesirable area around the Tenderloin area. The highlight of the day was a guy with a beard and boobs and dressed in a bikini who nonchalantly cycled by us as we waited to cross the road. We headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags and make our way to the airport and the long flight home.
" So that's it! We're at the airport waiting for our flight back to NZ and keeping our fingers crossed that our luggage doesn't decide to go off on its own again."
So Many Places! So Little Time!