Author Topic: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)  (Read 10554 times)

Noodle

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Oh, yes, Grocery Outlet, for weird and cheap food (not bad-quality, just odd flavors of things they discontinued, store brands you've never heard of, etc). Also Aldi's for inexpensive basics. I know you said that you are not big on dining out but once you hit the West Coast, there is lots of great "casual food" from fish tacos in San Diego to amazing bakeries in Seattle. Plus those cities have a big food truck culture. I hope you will get a chance to try some of the local goodies! Seattle also has a million specialty shops, from chocolate to cheese, that would make a great place to stock up for picnicking on the last leg home.

I get the mountain fatigue...Crater Lake and Mount St. Helens are really unusual, though, so I think they would be interesting even to those from mountainous areas. You might also think about going up the Olympic peninsula to see the rain forest and then using ferries to get back to Seattle. That would be really different from the Intermountain West.

And all the conversation about so many days here or there...the great thing is that especially traveling after the end of the heaviest tourist season, you will have tons of flexibility in the second half of your trip (once you drop off your FIL). So if you get bored with LA early, or fall in love with the Redwoods, you can switch it up as needed.

I don't think anyone has said much about Seattle yet. You could easily spend more time there if you liked (although you'll be at the end of your trip, so you may be experiencing travel fatigue by then.) I think the most fun things in Seattle tend to be the quirky, and not especially expensive ones. If you haven't already used a ferry, take the ferry across to Bainbridge and back. It's not expensive to walk on (don't bother with the car) and you will see just as beautiful views of the harbor and city as an expensive harbor cruise. The Ballard Locks (especially the salmon ladder, although I don't know if anything will be running by then), Pike Place Market, the Fremont troll sculpture, the Seattle Art Museum sculpture garden, etc. For paid attractions, I think a lot of people find the Seattle Underground tour really fun, and there are quite a few walking tours on various themes. The Seattle Architecture Foundation's tours are modestly priced because they are given by volunteers. The culinary walking tours from various companies are fun too. They just restored a 1960s movie theater, the Cinerama, and I am told it is a really fun place to see a movie.

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Actually, I thought of something else.   The whole drive from about Rexburg ID (north of Idaho Falls) to Salt Lake City is pretty darn boring, as is Idaho Falls itself (that's being kind to Idaho Falls).  Just bleak desert with nothing much to see.    But if you go through Yellowstone to the east side of the Tetons to Jackson Wyoming, you get part of Yellowstone, Teton Park, and the town of Jackson itself, which while touristy, is worthwhile to see.   The drive and Jackson that way are hands down better than Idaho Falls.   No comparison.   

Then the drive out of Jackson to the south is very scenic.   You go through the Snake River Canyon to Star Valley WY, take the 34 at Freedom WY, and follow that all the way to Logan Utah.   Head south out of Logan and pick up I-5 at Brigham City, UT.    Great drive the whole way.   Best part is that that route will probably only add about 1.5, maybe 2 hours to the whole drive and it is 20  times better.   Another option would be to keep on the 89 south at Star Valley, and down to Bear Lake and onto Logan that way.   Also very scenic, maybe a half hour longer than the route I outlined previously.   




Sid Hoffman

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Yes, yes, yes to echo the posters that are telling you to go along the coast from LA to SF. I'm not sure what's in Visalia, but if I were you I would shave 2-3 days off your LA stay and do a slow drive up the California coast. Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo - a lot of wine country through here, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Santa Cruz... I lived in LA and I wouldn't want to stay there for 9 days for fun. If you want to see a lot of it (i.e. Santa Monica or Venice beach and downtown) you'll be driving around so much in traffic you may not feel like it's a vacation after day 5 or so.

Yes, 100% agreed!  I've been to almost every state in the west, a half-dozen in the east, and 9 countries outside the US.  The California coastline between Santa Barbara and Monterey is probably my favorite place in the world to relax.  Sure, it's fewer activities, fewer cities, but plenty of parks, beautiful coastline, and a much slower pace of life than the big California cities.

Actually, I thought of something else.   The whole drive from about Rexburg ID (north of Idaho Falls) to Salt Lake City is pretty darn boring, as is Idaho Falls itself (that's being kind to Idaho Falls).  Just bleak desert with nothing much to see.    But if you go through Yellowstone to the east side of the Tetons to Jackson Wyoming, you get part of Yellowstone, Teton Park, and the town of Jackson itself, which while touristy, is worthwhile to see.   The drive and Jackson that way are hands down better than Idaho Falls.   No comparison.

This is a great tip also.  I've done a trip from Utah up through the Idaho Falls side to Yellowstone, but then down through Jackson on the return and it is immensely more beautiful on the eastern side along the Tetons through Jackson and the 100+ miles south of it even.
« Last Edit: July 22, 2015, 05:17:53 PM by Sid Hoffman »

Sid Hoffman

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Also, you might want to check this out:

2-month roadtrip across Canada and USA

It's a canadian doing a 2-month roadtrip which includes a ton of the western US.  I noticed you also cut out the entire Pacific coast north of SF.  Feel free to hit up the thread I linked to above for some pictures of the Oregon coast as well.  Huge parts of it are amazing - the near-rain forest mountains run right into the ocean, giving a look and feel that's different from anywhere I've been.  You also miss the Redwoods of NorCal as well.  It's your trip, but I'd want to hit at least some part of the coastline, either the Redwoods in California or at least from Lincoln City to Astoria in Oregon.

The Pacific has a late summer, where temps peak in the middle of August in the south and even later than that up north, so with you starting your trip at the beginning of September that's still totally fine for the coastal regions.  The other areas away from the coast may be already transitioning to fall, however.  The coast is actually a really safe bet for that time of year.  I've done PCH trips as late as mid-November and still had very pleasant weather.

henrysmom

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Live in Los Angeles and think you are spenfing too much time here. Personally two days in Disneyland is enough. I love Getty Villa and Huntington Library; both are great places to have a restful day. Getty Villa is near Malibu so cath the museum for

zoltani

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In LA don't miss the Watts Towers. I think they are one of the most unique things in the city, if not state.

davef

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When you leave Medford for Portland plan on Swinging by Crater lake on your way up. It is a bit out of the way, about 100 miles NE of Medford, but you are as close as you will ever be.  There is enough time to leave Medford (as early as possible) Drive up  to crater lake, visit all the viewpoints around the lake, take a hike down to the water, have lunch by the lake then drive to Portland by the early evening. When you are in Portland plan a side trip to the Columbia river gorge, just 30 miles east of town on 84.

See some pictures we took on out last trip there. Alternatively, in the late summer you can camp a the lake to get these great sunrise shots!

sisto

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I also agree with all those that said to cut back the time in Vegas. I do also suggest checking out Red Rock canyon while there. I would also recommend less time in LA and more time in Central or Northern California. We might cross paths in Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons too. Your trip sounds amazing by the way.

davef

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I agree with several of the other posters less time in Vegas, more time in red rock country. Arches is nice and Bryce canyon.

As another poster indicated, Bend, OR is awesome. Consider staying in Ashland and going >Crater Lake> Bend. And cutting Portland down to one night.

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I can write a ton on this subject.  Both DH and I took trips like this when we were teens, and when our kids were younger we made a goal:  Take them on a driving trip across the US when they were young teens.  We chose our dates based upon them being old enough to endure long drives, being old enough to remember the things we saw, but not old enough yet to drive and want to get jobs. 

Our original goal was to do a month-long trip, and we saved for it for two years -- but then life intervened, and DH wasn't able to get off work that long, so we cut it down to three weeks and began by flying to Vegas /renting a car. 

Overnights:  Originally the plan was to rent an RV -- we both thought it'd make sense:  No searching for hotels, no packing up camp.  But the price, oh, the price.  I can't remember exactly because this was 6-7 years ago, but it was so ridiculously high that we dropped that idea immediately.

We also realized that camping wasn't going to be a bargain for us.  We would've needed to carry a tent, four sleeping bags, four pillows, four mattress pads, flashlights ... plus our clothes and other gear.  It would've meant we would've needed to move "up a size" in rental cars, which would've also meant lower gas mileage.  It also would've meant more time setting up /packing up camp each day, and it would've meant more time on the road -- campsites aren't always located next to the tourist attractions we wanted to see. 

We stayed in hotels, and -- given the same circumstances -- I'd do it again.  My husband travels for work fairly regularly, and he saved up all his rewards point /specifically stayed in certain hotels to get the right type of points -- and then we mostly did the "points + cash" deals to stretch the points.  After long days of driving /hiking /etc., it was wonderful to come into an air conditioned room, take hot shower, and veg out in front of the TV.  After long driving days, we appreciated workout rooms.  Most hotels have laundry facilities; I did laundry every three days -- that got old.  Best of all, we tend towards 2.5 star hotels (Holiday Inn Express, Country Inns & Suites), which provide a free breakfast, which -- with four of us in the room -- was a great bargain AND a time saver.  Hotels also provide free ice for your cooler.  Staying in hotels means you don't have to do the same thing every day:  On days we knew we'd be arriving late, then heading out early the next morning, we chose the cheapest possible rooms; on days when we expected to have an evening to relax in the hotel, we splurged on a nicer place or even two adjoining rooms so the kids could relax with their own TV and we could have some private time.  The kids were ready to hit the pool and get in some exercise most evenings. 

We also used Priceline pretty heavily.  I started planning this trip well in advance, so I had plenty of time to big low and move up slowly.  I got some rooms as low as $30.  If you're doing the Priceline thing, use BetterBidding.com -- it'll help you predict what hotels you'll "win", and I found it surprisingly accurate.

Our biggest accommodation splurge was cabins at some of the national parks -- Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon.  These were expensive, but they were worthwhile in terms of location.

Packing:  We each had a rolling carry-on suitcase.  If I were doing it again, I'd go with small duffle bags and keep a plastic tub in the back of the car for dirty clothes. 

We each packed four shorts outfits, one pair of jeans, tennis shoes, flip-flops, hiking boots.  In Yellowstone, when the temperatures dipped into the 40s, I was forced to buy $50 sweatshirts for everyone.  It was July.  We wore them for three days straight, then didn't need them again during the trip. 

Food:  We arrived late at night, and the next morning our first stop was Walmart.  We bought a cooler, drinks, sandwich fixings, fruit and yogurt.  Though we were forced to abandon our cooler at our last hotel (flew home), this saved us oodles of money. 

Most days we had breakfast at the hotel ... then we ate out for either lunch OR dinner ... and had sandwiches from the cooler for the other meal.  Worked out well.  I bought lots of convenience foods that I don't typically buy at home, but it all worked out well.  The kids became little food-schemers:  Oh, this hotel gives out apples at the desk -- thank you.  This hotel provides fresh-baked cookies every evening -- straight into our ziplock bags. 

Mistake: I spent all our credit card rewards points on restaurant gift cards, thinking we'd be able to eat "for free".  Turns out the restaurants we have here on the East coast don't really exist out west.  The vast majority of the cards came right back home with us -- not a big problem, we used them here at home.

I bought some certificates from Restaurant.com -- good deals. 

We enjoyed a couple meals at places we'd seen on Food Network.  Fun! 

Route:  We started by picking the "must dos" that were do-able for our starting point /available days ... and with that information we planned our general route ... then we combed the internet to choose smaller activities and attractions that fell into our path.  Some of the secondary items turned out to be wonderful; for example, Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ was absolutely incredible in an other-worldly way, and I'm very glad it made the cut.  We didn't yet have a GPS or smart phone when we took our trip, but I spent hours and hours on the internet measuring highways /printing maps /optimizing our route ... and in the end we had a busy, highly structured three weeks.  95% of our plans worked out perfectly, and we were never lost even once. 

I made a three-ring binder notebook with printed maps, hotel reservation print-outs, and other information about activities (plus tickets).  It worked out great.

One website that helped me a great deal was RoadTripAmerica.com, though people on that site tend towards oh-let's-just-go-camping-and-smell-different-air type trips, and they don't buy into the highly structured trip I was planning.  They also have the false idea that camping is free, and you're a fool to do anything else.  Still, take information where it's offered. 

We made a point of including SOMETHING for everyone in the family.  For example, we saw Glenn Dam (second largest dam -- we weren't on the right side of the canyon to see Hoover), and I was bored stiff -- but my husband loved it.  We also took in a Colorado Rockies game for him.  For my youngest, we splurged on a Vegas show.  And some things were for all of us:  We went to the coolest bookstore EVER in Denver, and we enjoyed some great meals.  My husband and I are all about historical sites, and the kids put up with us because they knew they'd be hitting a water park the next day.  But it wasn't "everything Mom wants and screw the rest of you". 

National park admission:  We did buy the America the Beautiful pass at our first national park stop (Zion National Park), and it was a small savings over the course of three weeks ... BUT you're allowed to put two names on the back of it, so I lent it to a friend who was going to the Grand Canyon that same summer, and then we were able to use it again ourselves when we visited Puerto Rico the next summer.  So, yes, we saved big.  You should look it up to see what it costs today, and -- assuming the rules haven't changed -- don't buy it 'til you're AT your first national park; your one year starts "counting" from the day you buy it, so you'd be stupid to order it ahead of time.

Do note that national parks aren't consistent in the way they charge.  Most charge X amount per car.  Some (like the cave parks -- we went to Jewel and Wind Tunnel) allow free entry to their visitor's center, but charge for their tours; this is appropriate because they can't allow you to wander through a cave on your own, and they have to pay the rangers.  Mt. Rushmore is free to see, but you have to pay to park.  Admission to Yellowstone also allows you into adjacent Grand Tetons.  The only national park in my own state is free.  Do your homework and check the admission cost of each park on your route; you can't generalize. 

Yellowstone is different from the other parks.  It is SO CROWDED.  Expect traffic jams.  If you stay in West Yellowstone, expect to need 30 minutes to get through the entrance gate of the park -- yes, it is SO CROWDED.  Drive defensively:  Expect everyone to just STOP every time a bear or a deer is visible from the side of the road.  Do not enter Yellowstone without a full tank of gas; yes, they sell gas in the park, but the price, oh, the price. 

Look into ranger programs at the parks.  They're free and so informative!  You can find this information on the internet before you leave.

I do not regret a single splurge on a national park tour.  I LOVED seeing the places where the Pueblo Indians lived at Mesa Verde.  The buffalo safari tour in Custer State park was possibly the best activity of the trip (okay, that's a state park, but it's pretty incredible).  I do regret not going to see Jay Leno in Vegas.  I second-guessed myself when I paid $500 for the four of us to see a Vegas show, but we were all mesmerized, and my youngest talked about it every day for two years; just yesterday I said something about it, and she smiled and talked about how much she'd loved it.  Expensive, yes.  Worth it, yes. 

Some of the BEST parts of the trip were surprises:  For example, when we were at the Grand Canyon -- we went to the Northern Rim -- the employees told us they were planning a July 4 parade.  It was a parade of the horses that take people into the canyon and the emergency vehicles that they use.  What they didn't tell us was that they were going to spray the crowd with water hoses.  They gave the kids water guns -- no, don't think Dollar Store, think Nerf Cannons -- so they could fight back; the water fight lasted an hour, and my kids declared it one of the best parts of the trip. 

We planned three days at the end of our trip in Vegas, thinking it'd be time to rest, hit the pool, wind down before returning home.  Mistake.  It was 117 degrees, and we literally couldn't get into the pool.  Still, the wind-down portion of the trip was good.

Our rear ends can endure a 6-hour drive ... but we can't do it two days in a row.  When you plan your route, be sure you're working in a balance of driving and active stops. 

General comments: 

- Don't forget to pack a first aid kit.  I needed it the very first day for hiking blisters, and I'm usually a no-blister type of girl.
- We chose to buy water bottles, and did we ever go through them; we weren't willing to risk any upset from the local water.
- We did two horseback riding cowboy meals at two different parks -- one of them was Yellowstone -- and they were expensive but so much fun.
- Mesa Verde National Park is near nothing, but so worth the drive.
- Zion National Park is one of the best for hiking. 
- Custer State Park is not to be missed.
- Note that the Grand Canyon has three sides, which are quite different, and you can reasonably only visit one. 
- Grand Tetons was perhaps the most beautiful place I've ever seen -- but so full of gnats!  Pack bug spray.
- The nicest hike we took was Mt. _____ next to Jenny Lake in Grand Tetons; we took the water shuttle across the lake, then did the hike.  So beautiful and little chipmunks running around everywhere, taking chips from my girls' hands. 
- Check out a couple audio books from the library, and download them to your ipod. 
- Once you've planned your route, look for tips online; for example, we took a short hike up a secluded hillside in crowded Yellowstone and were perfectly positioned (with maybe a dozen other people) to watch Old Faithful erupt. 
- The Wolf and Grizzly Center in West Yellowstone is wonderful. 
- We LOVED the rodeo in Cody, WY, but I wish I hadn't stayed at that ratty Bear Motel next door to it. 

Soooo much more.  It really was a fantastic trip, and DH and I intend to do much of it again after we retire.  We plan to buy a teardrop camper, which will mean we can take it at a more leisurely pace.  But the plans we made /executed were ideal for the time we had /taking our kids. 


beee

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Re: Grand USA West road-trip (38 days, 4500 miles): looking for some advice
« Reply #60 on: September 01, 2015, 12:40:48 PM »
Our trip is right around the corner (september 3rd).
Thanks everybody for suggestions!

We added another day in St George, Utah. Next day we will visit North Rim of Grand Canyon, and drive to Flagstaff. And the day after that we will have a full day for a South Rim. 2 full days for 2 rims.

We also added a drive along the coast from Visalia to Monterrey, and then we will spen a night there.

We also split our 9 nights stay in LA to 3 parts:
1 night at Venice Beach
4 nights at Anaheim, so we will have 3 full days for Disneyland parks
4 nights at West Hollywood

We removed 1 day from our way back home, so Seattle-Edmonton drive will have just 1 night.

All the hotels are booked, if somebody is interested, here're the prices:
we tried to find the cheapest places available with good ratings
Price is in $usd per night, but without taxes (another 10-15% on top)

Great Falls   75
West Yellowstone   171
Idaho Falls   70
Salt Lake City   62
St George   40
Flagstaff   56
Flagstaff   56
Las Vegas   51
Las Vegas   51
Las Vegas   51
Las Vegas   51
San Diego   55
San Diego   55
San Diego   55
San Diego   55
San Diego   55
Los Angeles   99
Anaheim   65, cheap, walking distance from park = no need to pay for parking
Anaheim   65
Anaheim   65
Anaheim   65
Los Angeles   95, no taxes here
Los Angeles   95, no taxes here
Los Angeles   95, no taxes here
Los Angeles   95, no taxes here
Visalia   63
Monterey   54
San Francisco   99
San Francisco   99
San Francisco   99
San Francisco   99
San Francisco   99
Medford   47
Portland   59
Portland   59
Seattle   71
Seattle   71
Seattle   71
Clearwater   68

Cookie78

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Re: Grand USA West road-trip (38 days, 4500 miles): looking for some advice
« Reply #61 on: September 01, 2015, 12:46:19 PM »
Safe travels!

Gone Fishing

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Re: Grand USA West road-trip (38 days, 4500 miles): looking for some advice
« Reply #62 on: September 01, 2015, 01:00:00 PM »
If your cooler is not rated for 5 days @ 90 degrees F, get one that is.  Makes life a lot easier not having to restock ice so often on the road.  We got a 50 quart Igloo MaxCold for around $25 from Wal-Mart (10 years ago, but I don't think they have gone up much) and it really is a significant improvement over the more basic line of coolers.   

Eric

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Re: Grand USA West road-trip (38 days, 4500 miles): looking for some advice
« Reply #63 on: September 01, 2015, 01:22:28 PM »
Safe travels!

And have fun too!  I'm looking forward to hearing about it if you want to give us an update when you return.  (or during?)

bognish

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Re: Grand USA West road-trip (38 days, 4500 miles): looking for some advice
« Reply #64 on: September 01, 2015, 01:52:07 PM »
Its probably to late to change, but seriously think about skipping Sequoia and your night in Visalia. Stick to the coast up Rt1 instead of the central valley in CA. If all you want to see is big trees you can Big Basin State Park between Monterry and SF, or Muir Woods Natl Park is only 30 minutes across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. Sequoia park is great for backpacking, but not spectacular from the car. And its a long drive out of the way across dry empty valleys. You will get plenty of that on the rest of your drive. Stick to the coast when you have the chance.

beee

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Re: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« Reply #65 on: February 17, 2016, 03:33:37 PM »
Thanks everybody for your advices!
We did it!

40 days, 9078km / 5640miles

Total spent for everything:
USD$6500 / CAD$8500 (the rate was about 1.3 at that time)

We mostly bought groceries, ate out only 3-4 times.

The biggest costs were theme park tickets (for 2 adults):
san diego zoo, safari park, sea world, universal studios, knott berry farm
3 days in disneyland/california adventures

beee

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Re: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« Reply #66 on: February 19, 2016, 10:51:37 AM »
Sticked to the planned route. The drive was ok, after super windy roads in Sequoia National Park everything else was easy.
"That thing in the photo" is my sandal with a hole in it's soil (with my finger). Yeah, bad photo :)
But it shows how much we were walking

arebelspy

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Re: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« Reply #67 on: February 19, 2016, 11:00:21 AM »
Neat!  Seems like a fun adventure.

How was being cooped up together that much?

Do you have the costs broken out by:
food
gas
lodging
entrance tickets
etc?
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dandarc

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Re: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« Reply #68 on: February 19, 2016, 11:12:11 AM »
I'm getting $2806 base price just for lodging - probably $3K after taxes.

Looks OP did pretty good on the cost of everything else!


beee

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Re: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« Reply #69 on: February 19, 2016, 11:29:40 AM »
Quote
How was being cooped up together that much?

We like spending time with each other, a lot of time, so it wasn't a problem.


Costs (all $ are USD):

Total: $6500 for 40 days (9078 kms), $163/day on average
Lodging: I published prices breakdown earler, total is about $3200 for everything (around $80/night on average for 2 people).
Food: $960, +/ 515% (I might've missed entering a receipt or two or three) (around $25/day)
Gas: $520, +/ 515% (I might've missed entering a receipt or two or three) (9 cents/mi / 6 cents/km, 227kms/day / 141 mi/day on average)
Misc: the rest

Some highlights of misc category:

$147 3G internet for two months (AT&T. Tried with ConsumerCentral, it was a lot cheaper, but required us zip postal code to register. I found one! The zip code of the Target which free wi-fi we used to register online. But, in the end of registration it refused all 3 of my canadian credit cards :) Had to return the sim-card for refund.

$84  Annual National Parks pass

$155 Las Vegas: Enrique Iglesias concert
$18 Las Vegas: lost at slots machines

$293   San Diego: zoo, seaworld, safari park (3 days in total)

$51  Los Angeles: Knotts Berry Farm
$418  Los Angeles: Disneyland + Disneyland California Adventures for 3 days + icecream/cocktails there + locker rentals (we had a big backpack with our own food and additional clothing, and rented locker to not carry it with us throughout a day)
$47  Los Angeles: Madame Tussauds hollywood museum
$243  Los Angeles: Universal Studios hollywood theme park

$159   San Francisco: Exploratorium, Academia of sciences, Cruise

$78  Seattle: space needle + Chihuly glass gardens
$8 Seattle: Volunteer Conservatory
$9    Seattle: Starbucks on space needle, the most expensive coffee we've ever had
« Last Edit: February 19, 2016, 11:58:02 AM by beee »