The Value of Vacation Planning

california 2016-01-19 126People sometimes put off taking vacations just because of the time involved in planning them. Others travel but without a plan. They hop in the car and head across the country without really knowing what to expect. While this may be adventurous, it means sometimes eating in a dull restaurants when a top rated one is right across the street. It means sometimes wasting an hour of precious vacation time driving to an attraction only to discover that it is closed on Mondays — and today is Monday.

Vacation planning is not an easy task. Doing a good job of it is extremely time consuming which is probably why few people do more than plan the travel basics. For me however, a good vacation plan is vital. Having the details of a trip preplanned means that once I arrive at my destination, I can sit back and relax. I’ve already traveled the entire trip on paper and in my mind. I’ve already weighed all the options and made the decisions about where to go and what to do. I know the opening and closing times of attractions. I have checked the weather reports and have planned for a rainy day. I have a list of the best reviewed restaurants for each of my destination towns and cities. And I’ve chosen and made hotel reservations for each night of my trip based on the reviews of other travelers. And yet, I keep it all flexible. Nothing is set in stone. If during my travels, I decide I’d rather do something else, I go ahead and do something else. If time becomes an issue, I might skip the top rated steakhouse and make a fast drive through McDonald’s instead. A travel plans is designed to be used as a guidelines to make vacation travel more worry free. A good plan tells me everything that is available and it gives me choices.

While on paper they may look regimented, all of my plans are designed for a leisurely pace of travel and all have extra time built into them. I estimate the time it takes to go from place to place and the amount of time needed to visit an attraction. To that I add even more time to allow for all the “extras” — lingering in a gift shop, making an unscheduled stop to buy ice cream, or being held up by slow service in a restaurant won’t throw the plan off course because of my generous time allowances. At the end of the day there is usually time left over to catch a movie or take a dip in the hotel pool. When days are well-planned, you can do a lot of things and see a lot of places at a comfortable pace.

A huge help in recent years has been the addition of GPS to rental cars. (Or save the daily fee by taking your own). There’s no longer a need to consult maps and written directions. Just type or talk your destination address into the GPS and the “lady in the box” will tell you step by step how to get there. Just use your common sense and don’t consider it to be foolproof. I once had the “box lady” try to take my car down what was clearly a hiking trail and another time she told me to turn left off of a cliff. It never hurts to carry a road atlas as a back-up and the atlas gives you the added benefit of being able to see the lay of the land on paper which can be a big help especially if you’re considering going “off plan” and heading in a different direction for the day.

Below is the plan I wrote for our family’s long winter weekend to California. If you insert your own flight, car rental, and other travel info, you may find it to be the easiest vacation that you have ever taken. Leave a copy at home and your family will always know your whereabouts.

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5-Night Vacation to Los Angeles, California

 Day #1: Saturday, Date–

Flight information: Cleveland, OH to Los Angeles, CA/ depart 6:55 p.m./arrive 9:25 p.m.

Upon landing, collect baggage and take Dollar car rental shuttle to pick up location. Reserved is: mid-size rental car. Reservation #——-

Drive from Dollar Car Rental to Queen Mary Hotel, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, CA 90802     (562) 499-1657: Hotel confirmation #————-.

About the Queen Mary Hotel: Once a world-class ocean liner, the Queen Mary Hotel offers guests unique accommodations and a wide array of attractions that simply cannot be found anywhere else.  Whether it’s the authentic polished wood paneling, the original 1930s artwork, the Art Deco style or the operable porthole(s), there’s no question that the Queen Mary Hotel is unlike any other Southern California hotel. Each stateroom is unique with its own personality and offers a real glimpse into what transatlantic travel was like during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. With an impressive history and tradition of excellence, the Queen Mary Hotel is more than a place to rest one’s head – it’s an entire experience. From historic tours, to paranormal attractions, shops, spa and various events, there are a wide variety of things to do and see while aboard the ship.99california 2016-01-17 089

Day #2: Sunday, Date–

Leave the hotel by 8:00 a.m. Drive 34 miles/55 min. to arrive by 9:00 a.m. at:

SANTA ANITA PARK, 285 W Huntington Dr, Arcadia, CA 91007  

9:45 a.m.: SEABISCUIT TOUR, Free. Board the Seabiscuit Tram near Clockers’ Corner. The Seabiscuit tram will take you to the stable area, receiving barn, and the Paddock Gardens. Plus, see Seabiscuit’s original stall and barn, areas used during the filming of the movie Seabiscuit, and meet the equine star of Seabiscuit, Fighting Furrari, who played the primary role in the film. Not only that, you will also visit the jockeys room, silks room, saddling paddock, the walking ring with its topiaries and statuary, and the carriage horses in their home under the Grandstand. This is truly a unique experience!  Tours depart at 8:30 a.m. (there is a minimum of 10 people to do the early tour) and 9:45 a.m. ARRIVE EARLY. The signage for the tour is poor to non-existent. Enter the park at the far left of the parking lot and continue walking to the left. Go up the ramp and through the building to Clocker’s Corner Restaurant. Continue walking past the restaurant and down the stairs to the fence where the trolley should be waiting.

10:45 a.m.:BRUNCH at Clocker’s Corner Restaurant: Enjoy brunch following the tour. Nestled at the west end of the grandstand. Reviews: “A Unique Experience! How many places are there where you can enjoy a tasty breakfast while watching race horses work out just a few yards in front of you? Not many. Review: “Very enjoyable experience with a great view of the San Gabriel Mountains.”

12:30 p.m.: RACING begins; General admission $5; Clubhouse admission $10; sit in the grandstand or purchase box seats for $10 per person. Last race is at 5 p.m.

5 p.m.: return to the Queen Mary Hotel, stopping along the way for dinner.


Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, 1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007-7508/#1 of 135 restaurants in Arcadia/Review: “I love this place. It is crowded, you have to wait, it is loud, no beer – but I love it. We each had a soup and shared 10 dumplings and it was all great – – excellent taste, perfect service, fresh ingredients.” 

Matt Dennys Alehouse, 145 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia, CA 91006/#2 of 135 restaurants in Arcadia/Review “Nice selection of beer on tap, excellent food-fish and chips are our favorite, large bar area, and a large patio where there is entertainment sometimes. There is an early bird menu too if you want to save a few pennies.”

In-N-Out Burger, 420 N Santa Anita Ave, Arcadia, CA 91006-2843/A California favorite

 california 2016-01-18 077Day #3: Monday, Date–

Leave hotel around 8:00 a.m. Drive 47 miles/48 minutes to:

9:15 a.m. Visit MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Address: 26801 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, CA92675. Hours: 9-5; Quick stop only to walk the grounds. An hour is nowhere near enough time to do this place justice but a quick stop is better than none. If you can find an extra day in the area, by all means add it to your itinerary.

10:15 a.m. Depart mission by  Continue to zoo arriving by 11:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m.: SAN DIEGO ZOO AND BOTANICAL GARDEN, 2920 Zoo Dr., San Diego, CA 92101; (619) 231-1515. Hours 9-5; Tickets: $50 Seniors get 10% discount at the gate;  If you purchase your tickets on-line you can skip the long ticket line and head straight for the gate.

Because of traffic, best time to leave zoo is no earlier than 5:20 p.m. Drive 1-1.5 hrs. to San Juan Capistrano arriving by 6:50 p.m. for dinner.california 2016-01-18 146


El Adobe de Capistrano, 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA92675-3215, Hours 4-9; Mexican but also steaks, baked potato, fries, children’s menu shows chicken fingers. Known for being President Nixon’s favorite restaurant.

A’s Ace Burgers, 28698 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA92675-1002 “the food it plentiful and cheap. It’s a hangout for locals and surfers. The food was good, the atmosphere awesome! It’s really a hole in the wall, mom and pop type place so go with low expectations but you’ll leave having satisfied your taste buds!”

Following dinner at leisure, drive to hotel.california 2016-01-18 248

Day #4 Tuesday, Date–

10 a.m.: QUEEN MARY TOURS ~Audio tour of ship; Free; pick up a headset in the tour office 10-5.

11:45 a.m.:A free Long Beach shuttle leaves the hotel every 2o minutes or so. Take the shuttle to:

AQUARIUM OF THE PACIFIC, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802  Hours: 9-6 Daily; $29 adults ~You can also walk over to the aquarium at your leisure .8 mile/16 min.

or spend the day visiting SHORELINE VILLAGE SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS: Continue walking an additional .6 miles/12 min.

and/or take the shuttle DOWNTOWN to visit downtown attractions.california 2016-01-19 140

5 p.m.: Walk from aquarium or Shoreline shops to:


Auld Dubliner, 71 S Pine Ave, Long Beach, CA 90802-8158 .3 miles from the aquarium/6 min. walking; Just opposite Hyatt Regency. At the Nike store turn right. Walk to Pine St. Turn left. Auld Dubliner is on the left. This establishment takes you literally to Ireland, great atmosphere, traditional music, wide spread spirits and ales, variety of pub grub (including wings and burgers plus traditional Irish fare).

Nicks on 2nd, 4901 E Second Street, At corner of St. Joseph, Long Beach, CA 90803. Rated #1 restaurant in Long Beach; classic American menu; take the free shuttle.

Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. Restaurant, 87 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, CA 90802; walk here from the aquarium or Shoreline Village shops. Popular seafood chain.

7:00 p.m. Return to the Queen Mary Hotel.

8-10 p.m.: QUEEN MARY PARANORMAL SHIP WALK, $44 per person; register at the tour office on Promenade deck.california 2016-01-20 299

Day #5: Wednesday, Date–

Leave hotel by 7:00 a.m. Drive 45 min.- 1 hr. 40 min./33 miles via I-710-N and 101-N

Parking: Hollywood & Highland Center: A  very big underground parking lot; it will take 20 minutes to park. Daily parking cost is $13 per day. Entrance is on Highland Avenue only.

On arrival: STARLINE HOP ON HOP OFF BUS TOUR, Hollywood, CA 90028. Purchase tickets at kiosk on the street when you arrive. Take the RED route tour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. First tour leaves at 9 a.m. Takes 2 hrs. if you don’t get off the bus.

12 p.m.: Leave Hollywood and drive to:

GETTY CENTER: At N Sepulveda Blvd and Getty Center Drive /Arrive at 1:15 p.m./ Tuesday–Friday and Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.  Closed Mondays. Admission is FREE;       Parking lot opens 9:30 a.m.; Parking is $15 per car. Self-service pay stations make it convenient to pay for parking at the Getty Center. Take a ticket upon entering the parking structure, park your car, and then bring your ticket to any of the parking pay stations, or to the parking office at the tram departure station, to have it validated. All pay stations accept credit cards and many accept cash. You will need a validated ticket to exit the parking structure. Find the stations by the elevators on every level of the parking structure, as well as behind the tram station at the top of the hill.  LUNCH AT THE GETTY.

california 2016-01-20 275 4:30 p.m. Leave Getty and drive 15-20 minutes to:



Big Dean’s Oceanfront Café, Santa Monica Pier, 1615 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, CA 90401 “Great casual beach bar. Lots of room out back, even if busy. Burgers, wings, and reasonable prices.”

Pier Burger, 330 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA “best burger I’ve had in a while.”

Peas and Carrots, 1260 15th St. Ste. 105, Santa Monica, CA 90404 (burgers, salads) Parking is under building

OPTIONS: Visit PALISADES PARK: Great views and/or THIRD STREET PROMENADE: Most popular outdoor shopping area in LA

At leisure: Return to hotel: 31 miles/33 minutes.

california 2016-01-21 005Day #6: Thursday, Date–

Leave hotel at your leisure. Drive Pacific Coast Highway for 1 hr. to Newport Beach /Balboa Island. Browse shops; take ferry to peninsula. Park at beach and walk pier to:


Ruby’s Diner: located at the end of the pier; best milkshakes; good burgers

2-4 p.m. Afternoon Fun Zone Boat Tours: Take 90 minute combination tour of stars homes and wildlife. If you are taking just one tour there is 2 hour parking near the boat. If you are taking both tours back to back, park in the pay parking lot at the pier and walk to the boat tour (it is not a long walk). The closer parking lot is 2 hr. parking only which doesn’t give you enough time to get back before your parking time expires. 

4-6 p.m. Browse shops in Newport Beach


After 6:20 p.m. (to avoid the worst of the traffic): Drive to airport (leave very early. The traffic could slow you down and everything else also takes longer here than you might experience at your own smaller airport); return car to Dollar; take shuttle to gate.

Have dinner at the airport once you’ve passed through security and can relax.

Flight departs L.A. at 11:10 p.m./arrive Cleveland 6:34 a.m.

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