San Francisco and Los Angeles

My sister and I decided to continue our amusement park marathon from the beginning of the summer, so we booked a trip to California to visit California’s Great America, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Earlier in the year, we’d each bought Cedar Fair platinum passes with the dining plan included, so nearly all the parks and meals would be included for the trip.

Instead of using miles, we paid $447.20 per ticket, inclusive of all taxes and fees. United’s award chart is rather expensive when booking domestic tickets, so we would have needed 25,000 miles each, netting a value of 1.7 cents a mile. On the contrary, a good business or first class international ticket would net a value of 5 to 15 cents a mile, so it was best to save our miles.


As a benefit of Marriott and United’s RewardsPlus, I was able to achieve United Premier Silver status and get complimentary upgrades to Economy Plus for my sister and I all of my flights. If you’re not familiar with Economy Plus, it pretty much gives you a seat with the amount of legroom you would have had before the airlines started cramming the seats closer and closer together.


San Francisco

Upon arrival at SFO, we picked up our rental car. Thanks to a fantastic tip from Million Mile Secrets, I used the Chase Ultimate Rewards site and booked a compact car for nine days through Thrifty for only $240 with unlimited mileage. It was a good deal cheaper than any other website I found.

We booked our first three nights at the Fremont Marriott Silicon Valley for only $113 a night plus tax. The room and common areas were pretty standard for a Marriott, but the real winner was the breakfast buffet, complete with omelet station, french toast station, fresh fruit, pastries, smoked salmon, smoothies, and assorted cereals. Normally the buffet is $24 a person, but it’s included for two people if you hold Marriott gold or platinum status.


In addition, they had a surprisingly affordable happy hour, which I used my $10 platinum F&B credit towards.


It only took us a day and a half at California’s Great America to ride every ride in the park, so we took a tour of the Winchester Mystery House nearby. Legend has it that it is haunted by the ghosts of everyone killed by a Winchester rifle. Mrs. Winchester continued to build and add on to the mansion until her death in 1922.


After checking of our hotel, we caught the BART into the city and checked out Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, and Lombard street. With the exception of the bus ride to the Golden Gate, we transited the entire city by cable car. I highly recommend the Alcatraz tour if you’re ever in San Francisco. Definitely worth the $35.50


The Pacific Coast Highway

After touring San Francisco, we drove down to Santa Cruz to stay at Hotel Paradox to begin our drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in the morning. As my first Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was definitely blown away.


Chocolates from a local candy shop on the bed, wood accents, and an Illy espresso machine in the room definitely set this place apart from every other Marriott brand property I’ve been to.


The restaurant the next morning was top notch as well. Just like other Marriott hotels, breakfast was included for gold and platinum members. They included an $11 credit per person, which was enough for continental breakfast, but you could pay the difference to get anything else on the menu that you’d like. With the added $10 platinum F&B credit, our meal ended up being free. My sister got the Eggs Benedict and I sprung for the Croque Madame.


After breakfast we began our journey down Highway 1.


Two things to definitely remember: have a full tank of gas when you embark and definitely give yourself about twice as much time as you think you’ll need. We left with a half tank in our little econobox and ended up getting gas just outside Big Sur for about $4.00 a gallon. In addition, we stopped a bunch of times to take photos and take a dip in the Pacific. The pictures really can’t do it justice. Nearly every view is postcard-worthy.


Knott’s Berry Farm

After about ten hours of driving, we made it to the Knott’s Berry Farm hotel in Buena Park. While not the fanciest of hotels, it’s clean, cheap, and right at the gate to the park.

Knott’s has got to be the most well-themed of all the Cedar Fair parks. The western town even has a real blacksmith!


The coasters are also incredible. Xcelerator was the first hydraulically launched Intamin coaster and preceded Dragster at Cedar Point and Kingda Ka in Six Flags, New Jersey. 0-82 MPH in only 2.3 seconds.


The Pony Express was also pretty impressive. All the seats are designed to look like horses.


Six Flags Magic Mountain

The mecca for coaster lovers has got to be Magic Mountain. With a record 19 roller coasters, it has more than you could ever expect to accomplish in a day. If you ever watch the roller coaster specials on the Travel Channel, at least a couple of the coasters are here. This includes the legendary Superman coaster.


Another completely whacked out ride is Green Lantern. With only eight people per car, you wouldn’t believe how loud the screams of terror are while you’re waiting in line. Also, even if this didn’t have a line, I’d only ride it once. It was fun, but absolutely heinous at the same time.




We spent the night in Bakersfield on the way back to San Francisco. I didn’t have high expectations for the town, but it was easily a great place to spend a half day. We ended up checking our the Bakersfield Museum of Art and walking the Kern Island Canal


Also, on the journey back, we stopped at Bravo Farms in Kettleman City and ate what can only be described as the best burrito I have ever eaten. No lie, this thing was filled with brisket and was absolutely amazing.




After an exciting nine days, it was time to head home, so we made our way to the airport. We flew out on a United P.S. flight with a layover in Newark. Economy on the P.S. 757-200 is pretty similar to standard domestic economy, but the TVs are completely free and the exit rows seem to have just a tad more legroom than on a 737. So much legroom that even at 6’3″, I could still cross my legs with room to spare. In addition, picking a layover at Newark instead of O’hare gives you a couple extra hours of sleeping time on a red eye.


Upon landing at Newark, we decided to cash in a couple of my day passes I got from my MileagePlus Explorer Card and check out the United Club next to gate C 120. We grabbed some breakfast overlooking the tarmac and I decided to take advantage of the shower suites at the club and grab a shower while we waited for our next flight.


After a four hour layover, we boarded our United Express flight to Norfolk. I will hand it to United, I’ve never been on a flight so short that they didn’t have a beverage service. Even on this 45 minute flight to Norfolk 🙂


So there we are, my first trip post. Hope you guys like it. As always, feedback in the comments is always appreciated. Happy travels!




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