USA 2015 guide book reviews: California, Las Vegas & San Francisco

The Rough Guide to California

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for this review. I did not receive any payment and was not required to write a positive review.

We were lucky enough to receive review samples of guide books for the areas we were visiting on our USA 2015 trip from both Rough Guide and Marco Polo. Here’s a list of the books we used:

DK/Rough Guide

  • DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: USA
  • Rough Guide California
  • Pocket Rough Guide Last Vegas
  • Pocket Rough Guide San Francisco

Marco Polo

  • Las Vegas Marco Polo Guide
  • San Francisco Marco Polo Guide

So which guides came out on top? Which were kept in the glovebox and thumbed intensively at each place we visited?

We used to favour Lonely Planet guides but became converts to Rough Guide when we visited Norway for five weeks in 2011. Since then this brand, which is part of the Penguin Group, has become our go-to choice for new travel guides.

The Rough Guide to California didn’t disappoint and was excellent in all respects. California is so large and varied it could be (and once was) a country in itself. The Rough Guide to California is as thick as a European country guide and was an indispensible resource when planning the trip at home and while away. This book definitely wins the glovebox challenge, with lots of useful maps and a readable style with enough historical colour to help you understand the places you’re visiting, along with all the practical information on attractions and locations that we needed.

Most of our trip was in California, but we did also spend time in Arizona, visiting the big canyon national parks — Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce. For these we mainly relied on information we’d printed from the US National Park Service website before leaving home, along with snippets from the DK USA guide.

In the main, this was a bit too general and high-level for our requirements, but it was useful to fill in the gaps. It’s not our favoured style of guide, however. We found DK USA to be a bit dated in style, and lacking the kind of colour that helps bring a place to life.

City Guides – Rough Guide vs. Marco Polo

Marco Polo Guide to San FranciscoBefore this trip, we’d never used Marco Polo travel guides before, but that could now change.

Reading and comparing the Las Vegas and San Francisco guides from Rough Guide and Marco Polo, we both preferred the Marco Polo guides.

Why?

In fairness, both guides are similar and both are well up to the job. Both use a two-column layout and have similar content.

Our preference for the Marco Polo guides was mainly because we preferred the organisation of the content and the more modern formatting of the guide. It seemed more readable and easier to find what you want — e.g. suggested eateries, grouped by budget, or details of casino attractions in each section of the strip.

Both guides included pocket maps of the central areas of each city, but with differences.The Marco Polo maps were physically larger and included more detail. For example, in San Francisco the bus routes were marked on the map. Very useful.

In Las Vegas, the Marco Polo map covered a wider area and was far more useful for driving. As it happens, the Rough Guide pocket map was the best for a walking tour of the main strip area as it was very large scale and showed all the main casinos in enough detail to plan an efficient route.

Summary

There weren’t any bad guides here. Rough Guide California was excellent and the four city guides were all good, but in the cities, the Marco Polo guides had the edge and I’d now like to try one of their full-size country/region guides.

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