NOMADasaurus Logo

The Perfect 10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary (2024 Guide)

Picture of Alesha and Jarryd

  • Last Updated: February 4, 2024

Plan the ultimate California road trip itinerary with our 10-day road trip itinerary, including all of the best national parks, cities and other attractions!

California is instantly captivating. Its major cities twinkle in the spotlight, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles. Its natural beauty is abundant as well, from the cliffs of Big Sur to the beaches of Santa Barbara.

However, California is ever-changing, and it changes fast. Rising snow-capped mountains soar out of lifeless deserts. Roads weave through conifer forests and giant redwoods, where alpine lakes mingle among hot springs and local towns that boomed with the growth of climbing.

Metropolises and epic nature are never far apart in this state. But it’s the California road trips between them that make it the perfect state to turn on the engine and put the car in drive.

This ultimate California road trip itinerary will include the highlights of this massive west coast state. From national parks to big cities, lazy beach towns, and more, here is our guide to planning the best California road trip!

Looking for the absolute best things to do in California? Check out our complete list here !

Table of Contents

Where To Stay In Los Angeles

Where to stay in san diego, where to stay in palm springs, where to stay in mammoth lakes, where to stay in lake tahoe, where to stay in sacramento, where to stay in san francisco, where to stay in santa monica, california road trip wrap up, the perfect california road trip itinerary.

The best way to travel from northern California to southern California , or vice versa, is via an epic California road trip. Sure you can take a quick flight, but the best way to absorb all the the Golden State has to offer is by exploring on land.

This 10-day California road trip itinerary gives you a nice introduction to this beautiful state. California is massive, and 10 days is not nearly enough for seeing all of it. But in these 10 days, you’ll get to see as much as possible. Let’s get into it!

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars , which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

Los Angeles

Day 1 – Los Angeles

World-famous Los Angeles makes for the perfect place to start your California road trip itinerary. With easy access from around the world, fly into LAX, rent a car, and start exploring. Here are a few of the best things to do in Los Angeles !

  • The Griffith Observatory

Start your time in Los Angeles by getting your bearings. The Griffith Observatory offers amazing insight into the cosmos, but just as applicable are its far-reaching views across the city, the Hollywood Sign, and the Pacific Ocean.

Home to Lotus flower beds, floating swans, and paddle boats, Echo Park is a glimpse into LA’s past and current beauty. Book a paddle boat in advance to best enjoy the scenery. Afterward, pick from a smorgasbord of local food trucks.

  • The Hollywood Bowl

As the sun sets on Los Angeles, take in a show at the beloved Hollywood Bowl. The airy amphitheater has consistent events from festivals to concerts featuring a whole range of genres. With the sky a burst of colors, it’s a captivating music space.

  • Hop-on Hop-Off Bus

Getting around Los Angeles can be a nightmare. Lack of solid public transport and gridlocks can slow you down on what’s already a tight California road trip itinerary.

The Hop-on Hop-Off Bus delivers you to some of the city’s highlights, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sunset Strip, and Beverly Hills. You can always wait to pick up your rental car until after you explore LA!

Have more time? Check out our 3 Days in Los Angeles itinerary !

Close to Rodeo Drive, The Peninsula has a world-class restaurant, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, and a full-service spa. It’s the best option for luxury in Los Angeles!

In Venice Beach, Stay Open brings one of the best beaches in Los Angeles. Enjoy free bike rentals and WiFi so you can explore LA with ease.

Close to Hollywood Boulevard, Banana Bungalow leaves you close to the action with cheap onsite dinners plus regular free BBQs. If you’re on a budget during your California road trip, there are some great cheap hostels around the state!

Day 2 – San Diego

This drive takes 2 hours from downtown Los Angeles

After a leisurely drive from Los Angeles, discover the lovable San Diego , where sprawling parks harbor dozens of museums, galleries, and world-class zoos.

Beaches offer more than just a quick surf, in fact, you can expect to find life-changing burgers. At night, the bay glistens alongside the Gaslamp Quarter, here you can reflect on a busy first few days.

San Diego is a must on any California road trip. Here is our list of the best things to do while visiting San Diego.

San Diego

  • Mission Beach and Hodad’s

Before you make it to downtown San Diego, stop for a swim and the best burgers in America. Big call, so I’ll let you decide. Hodad’s is a gastronomic and cultural gem. While Mission Beach is the perfect way to cool off after a big drive.

  • San Diego Zoo

The extensive San Diego Zoo takes you on a journey through our natural world. Experience the Elephant Odyssey or the Polar Bear Plunge alongside 4,500 other endangered or rare animals from across the globe.

  • Balboa Park

It takes days to explore the incredible Balboa Park with a fine-tooth comb. But in such a short time, pick your favorites among the 16 museums, impressive Spanish architecture, landscaped gardens, and galleries.

  • USS Midway Museum

Covering 10 acres, the USS Midway Museum boasts 30 historic aircraft on board the famous carrier. Learn more about WWII and the Battle of Midway, and experience real cockpits alongside other interactive exhibits. Afterward, wander along the Embarcadero.

  • The Gaslamp Quarter

Once the sun has set, the Gaslamp Quarter lights up and the streets’ cobblestones glimmer under the stars. Enjoy a fun night in San Diego while exploring this romantic district home to high-end restaurants and candle-lit cocktail bars.

With four outdoor pools, half a dozen restaurants, a golf course and a spa, the five-star Fairmont Grand Del Mar has all your needs covered.

In Downtown San Diego, Motel6 offers cable TV, free Wi-Fi, and close proximity to the top adventures around the city.

Set in the Gaslamp Quarter, HI San Diego is a refurbished urban hostel with a fun atmosphere, a game room, plus self-guided tours and adventures.

Have more time? Check out our 3 Days in San Diego Itinerary !

Day 3 – Palm Springs

This drive takes 2 hours and 15 minutes from San Diego.

In southern California, Palm Springs is a gateway to epic mountain ranges and mystical deserts. Your time here is packed with hiking trails delivering memorable views and guiding you through a unique national park. But the town itself has a charming culture, shopping, and regular enchanting events.

  • Joshua Tree National Park

The main reason to visit Palm Springs is to explore Joshua Tree National Park. This intriguing national park showcases the beauty of the desert landscapes, its unique flora, which gave the park its name, plus the colors that make every use of an open canvas.

  • Downtown Palm Springs

After visiting Joshua Tree National Park, shop, eat, and walk your way through downtown Palm Springs. Adorable boutiques whisper your name with handcrafted goods looking to find a home in your road trip vehicle. On Thursday evenings, the town comes to life for its weekly VillageFest.

  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

With no time to hike, take a trip up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the summit of San Jacinto Peak. The stunning rise provides views across the Coachella Valley along with the Chino Canyon.

  • Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

If you choose to avoid downtown Palm Springs, Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a great alternative. Walk among 150-year-old trees where the desert mixes with exotic landscapes to create a spectacularly colorful ecosystem.

  • The San Jacinto Mountains

Another option is to explore the San Jacinto Mountains in greater detail. The Deer Springs Trail is a challenging, designated National Scenic trek that takes you to the San Jacinto peak for an ultimately rewarding experience through memorable desert landscapes.

Find more of the best things to do in Palm Springs here !

Close to downtown Palm Springs, The Paloma Resort is set in historic bungalows with mountain scenery and offers inspired Spanish cuisine in a former mission.

The Travelodge provides travelers with easy access to the town’s best restaurants and shopping while being a great base to explore beyond.

With free onsite parking and complimentary breakfast, the Crashpod Hostel is cozy, inexpensive, and a great place to recuperate.

Day 4 & 5 – Mammoth Lakes

This drive takes 8 hours and 15 minutes from Palm Springs, via Death Valley National Park

Today on your California road trip itinerary, drive from Palm Springs through the ethereal Death Valley. The drive along Route 395 will be unforgettable, delivering you first to Convict Lake and then to the beauty of Mammoth itself.

On the second day, explore the lakes, ride the gondola, and hit the hot springs.

Find more things to do in Southern California here !

  • Death Valley National Park

Break up your journey to Mammoth Lakes with a drive through the otherworldly Death Valley National Park. Stop by Badwater Basin and stand almost 240 feet below sea level in the depths of Death Valley.

If you love unique natural scenery, Death Valley is a must on any California road trip!

Death Valley

  • Convict Lake

Next, get a sneak peek at Convict Lake. The alpine lake is surrounded by fast-rising peaks and while it’s a sunrise hot spot, its serene beauty can be admired at any point. Just off the highway, you won’t even have to leave the car.

  • The Village at Mammoth Lakes

After an enormous and beautiful day on the road, enjoy a relaxing evening in the Village at Mammoth Lakes . Shops, restaurants, and bars combine in this classic mountain village. Enjoy a nice meal before resting up for the day ahead.

  • Stand-Up Paddleboarding

There’s no better way to enjoy the enchanting lakes than on a stand-up paddleboard. The handful of nearby bodies of water are often calm and glass-like, leading to ease of movement and the chance to feel small alongside the stunning Sierras.

  • The Minaret Vista

On your way to Devil’s Postpile, stop at the Minaret Vista to admire the eternal beauty of the Sierra Nevada. Set in the Eastern Sierra Range, these craggy mountains fall down to vast valleys and feature two soaring spires, including Clyde Minaret.

  • The Devils Postpile

A national monument, the Devils Postpile is a formation of giant basalt columns. These were created by lava which cooled over 80,000 years ago. The hexagonal columns can reach up to 60 feet in height.

  • Rainbow Falls

A part of the Devils Postpile National Monument , don’t miss out on a trek to Rainbow Falls. Walk from the post pile to discover a 100 feet waterfall whose consistent rainbows gave the fall its name. You can also walk directly here by driving to the Rainbow Fall trailhead.

  • Mammoth Mountain Gondola

It’s been a busy day of activity, so take it down a notch with a ride on the Mammoth Mountain Gondola . The ride up lands you at over 11,000 feet. The panoramic views span the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

  • Wild Willy’s Hot Spring

End your day with a recuperating experience at Wild Willy’s Hot Spring. It’s been a busy trip so far, so put your legs up in one of the two springs whose temperatures range from 95 degrees up to 105.

From Westin Monache Resort , you can take the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain before returning to make use of your kitchenette as well as the onsite pool and hot tub.

The Tamarack Lodge dates back to the 1920s and, among the included kitchens and private fireplaces, the lodge hasn’t lost any of its charm.

The Moderne Hostel provides guests with large communal and cooking areas, including BBQ facilities, while being close to Mammoth Mountain.

Day 6 – Lake Tahoe

This drive takes 2 hours and 40 minutes from Mammoth Lakes

With one full day in Lake Tahoe, it’ll be up to you how much you explore. Do you choose to focus your day driving through Yosemite National Park on your way there or do you take the direct route to explore local hikes, parks, and lakeside towns? There’s no losing here.

  • Yosemite National Park

An option along the drive from Mammoth Lakes is the world-famous Yosemite National Park. You’ll need to make it a priority to explore well, but views of El Capitan and Half Dome make any “detour” worth it. Yosemite National Park is so famous that you may even choose to solely focus today’s exploration on that! Luckily this ultimate California road trip is customizable, and you can easily change it to allow for more time in Yosemite National Park.

  • Fallen Leaf Lake

A direct drive to Lake Tahoe leaves ample time to explore. Check out the nearby, charming Fallen Leaf Lake where you can SUP or kayak before enjoying some waterfront eats surrounded by epic mountains.

  • Eagle Rock Trail

For rewarding views of Lake Tahoe without a lengthy hike, meander down the Eagle Rock Trail. The mile-long trek is family-friendly and ends with breathtaking views of the lake with enchanting nature along the way.

  • Emerald Bay State Park

Along the west shoreline of Lake Tahoe, you’ll find the popular Emerald Bay State Park. Find hiking, swimming, and mountain biking throughout while you can also explore Vikingsholm, with its impressive Scandinavian design.

Visiting the charming mountain town of Tahoe City is a great way to ring in the evening. Along the lake’s edge, the town has elegant mountain architecture, local galleries, plenty of places to eat, and bars in which to toast to a great day.

If you need more ideas for exploring Lake Tahoe after your California road trip, here are the best things to do in Lake Tahoe !

Lake Tahoe

Live in the lap of luxury at The Ritz-Carlton , complete with on-site restaurants, spas, and a pool with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

A stay at the Mother Nature’s Inn comes with free onsite parking, along with inclusive WiFi and Smart TV, while being close to the beach.

The sprawling Mellow Mountain Hostel is close to Heavenly for skiing, summertime gondola rides, the beach, and some of the best action in South Lake Tahoe.

Day 7 – Sacramento

This drive takes 2 hours from Lake Tahoe

Next on your California road trip, enjoy the drive from Lake Tahoe through the Eldorado National Forest on your way to Sacramento.

Take the time to explore the underrated city where farm-to-table restaurants are much more than a niche. Take in the history and, if you have energy, try your hand at some fun outdoor sports.

  • Downtown Sacramento

Culture, history, and food collide in downtown Sacramento. A surprising foodie haven and cocktail paradise, travelers will also be happy to see so many museums and galleries to visit as you’ll discover below.

  • California State Railroad Museum

Within the Old Sacramento Historic Park, the California State Railroad Museum is an ode to westward expansion and the worker’s efforts. The latter particularly focuses on the prominent role of Chinese railroad workers. Explore 19 authentic trains before traveling on one yourself.

  • The American River Trail

If you prefer to keep experiencing the state’s splendid nature, head to Discovery Park. It’s here you can explore one of America’s great bike trails, the American River Trail which spans 32 miles through brilliant scenery.

  • White Water Rafting

Add some adrenaline to your California road trip with some white water rafting. With snow melting from the Sierra Nevada, this part of California is prime for some adrenaline-pumping rafting on the American River.

Looking for more incredible things to do in Sacramento? Check out our ultimate guide here !

In central Sacramento, the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel , evokes class and provides high-end amenities with a poolside bar and hotel restaurant.

With easy access to downtown, Wyndham Garden provides a great place to recuperate before with an onsite restaurant and bar, plus free WiFi.

Save money on your California road trip with this incredible hostel! Nestled in a former Victorian mansion, HI Sacramento provides guests with a social experience with a spacious patio and complimentary breakfasts.

Day 8 & 9 – San Francisco

This drive takes 1 hour and 40 minutes from downtown Sacramento

Start your day early and head towards the stunning California coast, where you should reach San Francisco by mid-morning. From there, head to the waterfront where you’ll enjoy delicious cuisine and epic bay views.

With two days of your California road trip, take your time in San Francisco, see all the attractions, and even take a day trip to Napa Valley.

  • Embarcadero

Canvassing the waterfront of San Francisco, the Embarcadero is the perfect place to start your exploration. As you wander along the boulevard you’ll pass a number of historic piers with excellent views with many offering boat tours into the harbor and Alcatraz Island .

  • Fisherman’s Wharf

With gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf is a fantastic lunch spot. The early fishing boats have long gone and the Dungeness crab is ready.

Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to the Hyde Street Pier and its historic ships.

  • Lombard Street

Take your mind away from the famed bridge and you’ll notice how undulating San Francisco is. We mean, it’s crazy steep. Lombard Street represents this best. Home to eight compact turns and beautiful landscaping, it’s a unique drive.

Lombard Street

  • Golden Gate Bridge

Ok, you’ve been patient. It’s time for the Golden Gate Bridge. The incredible site, of orange arches spread between two rising headlands, will be one of the most memorable parts of any California road trip. Admire it from the Presidio before walking along for amazing views of San Francisco.

  • Napa Valley

Finding time for Napa Valley with just two days in San Francisco can be tricky. But lovers of wine and captivating landscapes should make time. An hour north of San Francisco, Napa Valley has over 400 wineries covering a range of budgets and styles.

Save time and energy during your visit to Napa Valley with this half-day wine tour .

If you want more ideas, check out our list of the best things to do in San Francisco !

Your second day in San Francisco is all about nature. Start with an early morning hike up to the Twin Peaks. This slice of untouched nature offers splendid from its summit, at 922 feet.

  • Golden Gate Park

San Francisco’s own Central Park, Golden Gate Park combines historic architecture and eye-catching nature. Walk or ride along the miles of trails to discover the Dutch Windmill and Japanese Tea Garden to go alongside its Botanical Garden.

  • Ocean Beach

After a busy morning of hiking and biking, take some time to relax at Ocean Beach. The three-mile beach spreads the crowds and allows ample room to take in the Pacific Ocean, rugged coastline, and the far horizon.

  • Union Square & Chinatown

Having got enough exercise and sun on day 9 of your California road trip, take some time to indulge. Union Square is the city’s top shopping district and also home to the towering Dewy Monument. Afterward, enjoy some mouthwatering eats in SF’s famed Chinatown.

  • Oracle Park

Leave room, of course, for a ballpark hot dog as you end your second day in San Francisco at the beautiful Oracle Park. Set right on the bay, it’s a great place to catch a game of baseball as the sun sets to the west.

The high-end Fairmont Heritage Place provides guests with luxurious apartments with full kitchens and a private terrace complete with a fire pit.

Set in Union Square, Club Donatello is a four-star hotel with an onsite restaurant, and a rooftop lounge, and is close to Oracle Park. Make the most of your California road trip itinerary by choosing mid-range accommodation right near all the best attractions!

Enjoy modern amenities and a lively atmosphere at ITH Pacific Tradewinds Hostel which is close to Chinatown and the San Francisco waterfront.

Take a look at our list of the 25 best things to do in Northern California if you need more inspiration!

San Francisco

Day 10 – Santa Monica

This drive takes around 9 hours from downtown San Francisco.

After departing San Francisco, you’ll start wrapping up your California road trip by looping around and heading back down to southern California.

Make your way south on a California coast road trip where you’ll soon meet Half Moon Bay and the splendid beauty of one of the most famous roads in America. We’ve saved the best for last!

The Pacific Coast Highway is packed with highlights and epic scenery like the famous Big Sur, making it the perfect way to end your California road trip.

  • Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most iconic roads in America, no California road trip is complete without a journey down the famous Pacific Coast Highway. Yes, you can take this drive from the PNW, but the section between San Francisco and Santa Monica is highlight packed.

Read More: Plan your Pacific Coast Highway road trip with our ultimate guide !

  • Carmel By the Sea

10 minutes from the famous Monterey, Carmel By the Sea is laden with adorable seaside cottages that lead to white sand beaches. However, the architecture combines with the art scene to be the true highlight. Explore a town once home to Jack London and now over 100 art galleries.

The section of Highway 1 through Big Sur is a shock to the senses, in all the best ways. From tunnels and Pfeiffer Beach to the unforgettable Bixby Bridge, Big Sur is maybe the most scenic spot on this drive. No California road trip is complete without driving through Big Sur!

  • Santa Barbara

You’re almost done with your California road trip, so take a break in Santa Barbara ! The stunning town of Santa Barbara is known for seafood, powdery white sand beaches, and fascinating Spanish history. Though you could easily spend days in Santa Barbara, if you’re short on time you can just have a quick driving break here.

  • Santa Monica Pier

There’s no better way to end your California road trip itinerary than with a sunset viewing at the Santa Monica Pier. This iconic landmark will appear around the corner as you caress the edge of Malibu along Pacific Coast Highway . Park the car and watch the sky become ablaze before enjoying some of the pier’s rides.

Check out all the best things to do in Santa Monica here .

Enjoy the beauty of the west coast at the charming Shutters On The Beach with an onsite restaurant along with surfboard and bike rentals.

Enjoy free parking, a simple breakfast, an onsite gym, and free WiFi at the Days Inn which is close to major routes into LA.

A block back from the famed local beaches HI LA – Santa Monica is prime for the last night of your California road trip. They offer lots of fun activities, like a pub crawl and group dinners.

Santa Monica

This California road trip itinerary takes you around the state, through its major cities and best national parks. You’ll experience a mix of civilization, lush landscapes, and lifeless deserts, sometimes on the same day.

From the cliffs of Big Sur to the mountains of Yosemite to the beaches of Santa Barbara, there is so much to see in California! Even the best California road trips couldn’t really include it all, but we’ve done our best to give you a good introduction.

Ten days is short for a west coast road trip, but it’s better than nothing! As a quick and inspiring glimpse into the Golden State, it’s the perfect platter to decide what you’ll inevitably later explore in greater detail.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you book accommodation, tours or buy a product, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us keep creating more free travel content to help people plan their holidays and adventures. We only recommend the best accommodations, tours and products that ourselves or our fantastic editorial team have personally experienced, and regularly review these. Thanks for your support, kind friend!

Picture of Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hi, We’re Alesha and Jarryd!

Join the Team

We’ve been traveling the world together since 2008, searching for the planet’s best destinations and adventures.

Love Travel?

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter for the best travel tips, ideas and deals!

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.


The Ultimate Las Vegas to Los Angeles Road Trip Itinerary (2024 Guide)

The Ultimate 3 Days in New York City Itinerary (2024 Guide)

The Perfect 3 Days In Los Angeles Itinerary (2024 Guide)

Related Posts

21 best things to do in fort lauderdale, florida (2024 guide), 25 best things to do in texas (2024 guide), the perfect 10 day texas road trip itinerary (2024 guide), 18 of the best day trips from charlotte, north carolina (2024 guide), leave a comment cancel reply.

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Finding the Universe

Travel tales, photography and a dash of humor


A Two Week California Road Trip Itinerary

Last updated: April 19, 2024 . Written by Laurence Norah - 118 Comments

The United States is pretty much the perfect country to road trip in, with great roads, cheap gas and hundreds of gorgeous destinations to choose from. It’s no wonder that a California road trip is on many visitors to-do lists!

We’ve taken a number of fantastic US road trips , including Route 66 , the Pacific Coast Highway , the Oregon Trail and a route through the Deep South , and have never failed to have an amazing time.

One of our favourite states to explore though has to be California. With a mix of an excellent climate, some of the best National Parks in the country, and world-famous cities to explore, you’re never going to run short of things to do in California.

With this in mind, I wanted to put together a classic two week California road trip itinerary, taking in some of the best that the sunshine state has to offer. I did a trip almost exactly the same as this a few years back, so I know that it’s a good one.

California Road Trip

Two weeks is also a good amount of time for a trip like this, although you could of course extend it by a few days if you wanted to see a bit more, or wanted to go a bit slower.

California Road Trip Itinerary

This California road trip itinerary has you starting and finishing in San Francisco. As it’s a loop, you could also start and finish at any other point. If you would prefer another starting location, LA would be the most logical.

The route runs anti-clockwise, but you are welcome to drive it in whichever direction you prefer!

San Francisco – 3 Days

We’re going to start our California road trip with three days in San Francisco. San Francisco is home to the second largest airport in California, so there are plenty of opportunities for getting here for both domestic and international travellers.

Tram in San Francisco streets

San Francisco, and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area is also an excellent city to base yourself for your first three days.

If you’re arriving internationally, you’re going to want a few days to adjust to the time zone difference before hopping into a car. For this reason, I’m going to recommend spending three nights in San Francisco, and picking up your hire car as you leave. You won’t want (or need!) a car while you’re in the city – parking is expensive and there are plenty of other options to get around.

You won’t be short on things to do in San Francisco, and in fact, might feel a little overwhelmed by all the choices!

Our suggestions would be to take in the Golden Gate bridge (hire a bike to get here easily), explore Chinatown, pop across to Alcatraz , revel in the tourist trap that is Fisherman’s Wharf, don’t miss golden gate park , head to the top of Nob Hill for cocktails at The Mark, hop on a cable car and, if you still have time, take a stroll at Lands End.

San Francisco Sunset

To get yourself oriented, we can also recommend taking a walking tour with the excellent SFNative folks, they know the city backwards. Finally, if you’re looking for some great photo opportunities, check out our guide to the best photography locations in San Francisco .

Accommodation wise, there are plenty of options in San Francisco. Here are some of our favourite picks for your stay, across a range of budgets.

  • HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel – found right on Fisherman’s Wharf, this budget hostel offers both dormitory and private accommodation options. There’s free breakfast and free parking, making this an excellent option for the location.
  • Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel – found in the popular Union Square district, this great value 3-star hotel has a rooftop restaurant, library, and on-site theatre. Rooms have private bathrooms and coffee makers, and breakfast is included. A paid parking garage is available nearby.
  • Parker Guest House – found in the old Mission district just behind the San Francisco mission building, this is a well reviewed and good value guesthouse offering private rooms. Free breakfast is available, and parking is available on site for a reasonable (by San Francisco standards) fee.
  • Columbus Inn – Just a few hundred yards from Lombardy Street and Fisherman’s Wharf in the North Beach district,  this 3* inn offers great value for the location. Private rooms offer en-suite and tea/coffee making facilities. There’s also free parking on site.
  • Golden Gate Hotel – a very well reviewed 3* hotel just minutes from Union Square. Continental breakfast and afternoon tea are included. Rooms are definitely on the cosy side, and some have shared bathrooms, but the price is great for the location. Paid parking available nearby.
  • Staypineapple Union Square – we stayed at this restored historic 4* 1913 hotel on a recent trip to San Francisco, and loved the mix of the old and the new. We loved the rooms, the colorful pineapple theme, and the free pineapple flavoured cupcakes certainly helped! Parking is available nearby for a fee.
  • Four Seasons Hotel – if you are after five star luxury, then consider the Four Seasons hotel. Also found in Union Square, rooms are huge, there’s an on-site restaurant, fitness centre, and many rooms have city views.

See more options for hotels in San Francisco here, as well vacation rentals on Plum Guide here and Vrbo here .

Pacific Coast Highway – 2 Days

The drive down the section of the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles is definitely one of the best road trips in the world. So it’s really a no-brainer that this would be your first destination after you pick up your hire car and head out of the city.

Pacific Coast Highway California

There are numerous highlights along the way, from cute seaside towns to gorgeous wilderness areas. Don’t miss Santa Cruz , Monterey , Big Sur and the Julia Pfeffer Burns State Park (camp here if you can!).

The latter is particularly famous for the waterfall that cascades onto the beach, a gorgeous photo opportunity.

From Big Sur head further south and take in highlights like the seals at Cambria , tasty food at San Luis Obispo, the gorgeous Pismo beach, Hearst Castle and more.

For loads more information on this stretch of highway and to help you plan the perfect coastal road trip, check out our super detailed guide to planning a  Pacific Coast Highway road trip .

California road trip - Waterfall onto beach Juiia Pfieffer Burns State Park California Big Sur

For the 2 days you’ll spend on this part of your California road trip, we recommend stopping overnight around Monterey or Carmel on your first night, and San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay or Cambria on your second night.

There are plenty of accommodation options all the way down this stretch of highway, from campsites and B&B’s to luxury hotels – it all depends on your budget and what you’re aiming for. Here are a few options to consider in our recommended towns along the way.

For your first night, we recommend one of the following:

  • If you like to camp, then there are camping options in the national parks along the route here, including the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground . I’ve camped here and it’s lovely to be surrounded by the massive redwoods. Just be aware that it is popular, and booking in advance is a must.
  • Sandpiper Inn , Carmel – we stayed here when we visited Carmel. We enjoyed the comfortable rooms, inclusive breakfast, and proximity to the beach. Free parking is available.
  • Coachman’s Inn , Carmel – we’ve stayed at a number of the boutique hotels which are in the Four Sisters Inn collection, and they’ve all been excellent. This inn, found in the heart of Carmel Village, gets good reviews. Rooms include coffee makers and free popcorn, wine with hors d’oeuvres is served in the evenings, and breakfast is included.
  • The Inn at 1252 , Monterey – a good value inn on the way into Monterey. Rooms feature coffee makers, and a heated pool is available year round. There’s also a fitness room, free parking and free coffee.
  • The Jabberwock B&B , Monterey – just a few blocks from Cannery Row, this very well reviewed B&B offers seven lovely guest rooms, some of which have fireplaces and hot tubs. Free parking, and breakfast is included.

For your second night, we recommend one of the following:

  • Apple Farm Inn , San Luis Obispo – we really enjoyed our stay here on one of our Pacific Coast Highway road trips. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, the breakfast was fantastic, and the on-site bakery has some delicious food. There are also two pools on site, and free parking.
  • Madonna Inn , San Luis Obispo – this four star family-owned motel just to the south of SLO is a truly quirky destination, and a landmark of the central coast. Each of the 110 rooms is uniquely decorated, with pink being a key theme throughout. We didn’t stay here, but we did have dinner at the Gold Rush steak house on-site, which was fantastic.
  • Seaside Inn , Morro Bay – this 2* budget inn is one block from the waterfront. Rooms have a microwave and refrigerator, and there’s free on site parking and coffee.
  • Beach Bungalow Inn and Suites , Morro Bay – five minutes walk from the aquarium, this three star inn is very well reviewed. Comfortable rooms have fireplaces, refrigerators and coffee machines, and a hot breakfast is included as is parking.
  • Cambria Palms Motel , Cambria – this 2* motel is a couple of blocks from downtown, and offers comfortable rooms at a good price. Rooms have refrigerator and coffee machine, and free parking is available on site.
  • El Colibri Hotel & Spa , Cambria – on one of our visits to Cambria we stayed here for a couple of nights and really enjoyed it. The rooms are lovely, with fireplaces, and some have spa tubs. There’s an on-site spa, outdoor hot tub, and breakfast is available. Free parking on-site.
  • J Patrick House B&B , Cambria – this five star Irish themed inn was Cambria’s first B&B. There’s a a free wine hour, evening cookies and a full breakfast included with your stay. Each room is individually designed, and there’s free parking on site. A great pick in Cambria.

Santa Monica, LA – 2 Days

Los Angeles can be a big, confusing place, particularly after your trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. That’s why I suggest you head to Santa Monica and make that your LA base.

On the coast, and technically a separate city (it’s kind of hard to tell as LA and its surrounds are part of a fairly vast urban sprawl), you’ll have access to the wonderful beach and pier, as well as nearby Venice, most famous for its beach and people watching opportunities.

santa monica sunset

Again, there’s no shortage of things to do in LA. If you’re interested in film, you can visit the Hollywood sign, walk the Hollywood walk of fame or go on a tour of the backlot at Universal Studios .

Art lovers will find their thrills at the Getty Center , which also offers gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding city. Other highlights include Sunset Boulevard, and of course, you can hop on one of those tours of the stars homes if you’re so inclined.

LA also has plentiful accommodation options to suit all budget. Here are some of our recommended options:

  • Santa Monica Motel – we enjoyed our stay at this basic 2* motel, which is around a 10 minute walk from Santa Monica Pier. There’s free morning coffee and free parking, and rooms come with coffee makers and in-room refrigerators. It’s definitely a value option.
  • Banana Bungalow – this hostel offers shared and private accommodation, around a mile from the downtown Hollywood area. There’s free parking on-site, and reviews are positive.
  • Magic Castle Hotel – this 3* hotel is a short walk from the Hollywood walk of fame, and you get a pool, unlimited free snacks, free continental breakfast and reasonably priced parking. It’s also a short walk to the Hollywood Bowl, and only three miles from Universal Studios. We really enjoyed staying here.
  • Villa Delle Stelle – this boutique hotel in central Hollywood gets excellent reviews and will make you feel like a celebrity. Each suite is designed after a specific old Hollywood Celebrity, and guests can avail of celebrity style services such as in-room massages, private chefs and a personal trainer. Free parking is also included.
  • The Georgian Hotel – this beautiful 1933 4* Art Deco hotel is a short walk from Santa Monica pier, and offers ocean views and on-site dining. Breakfast is available, and parking is available on-site for a fee.

See more LA listings here for inspiration , as well as LA listings on Vrbo here . For a more curated apartment rental option, check out Plum Guide. You can see their LA listings here .

If you’re not excited about Los Angeles, you could also choose to skip it and head down the coast to San Diego County and the city of San Diego itself. This is a more laid back (and easily navigable!) experience compared to LA, and there’s a great deal to do here as well.

For more reading on San Diego, check out this guide to things to do in San Diego we put together.

Joshua Tree National Park – 1 Day

Time to head out of the city, and the remainder of this itinerary is going to focus on exploring some of California’s unbelievable wilderness areas and National Parks. We’re going to start this off with a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park , home to those iconic shaped trees that the park is named for.

Joshua Tree

It’s a wonderful place, the meeting point of two deserts, and offers good opportunities for camping, hiking and star-gazing.

The best way to experience the park is to camp overnight in one of its many campgrounds (you should definitely reserve a spot well in advance if this is your plan), otherwise, there are various lodging opportunities outside the park if you’re not big into camping. You should also be aware that there is very limited water availability in the park (and no hookups for RV’s), so make sure you bring plenty of water and food – this is a remote desert environment after all!

Here are some suggested accommodation options in nearby Twentynine Palms.

  • 9 Palms Inn – this budget 2* property gets good reviews, and rooms come with a coffee machine, microwave and refrigerator. There’s also free parking on site.
  • El Rancho Dolores – this is a great value 3* property with a seasonal pool. Rooms have microwaves and refrigerator, and free parking is included.
  • Sunnyvale Garden Suites – a very well rated 2* hotel offering a range of suites, each of which comes with a BBQ as well as a full kitchen. There’s a hot tub and gym on site, and free parking is available.
  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites – this 3* chain hotel offers comfortable and well reviewed accommodation, with an outdoor heated pool and fitness centre. Rooms have coffee making facilities, microwave and small fridge, and there are BBQ facilities available for guest use.
  • Flying Point Homestead – if you want something a little bit different, check out this property. It’s actually a holiday home rather than a hotel, but one of the options is a beautiful silver streak trailer!

See more listings for Twentynine Palms and this general region on  Plum Guide here .

Note, if you want to include a detour to Las Vegas, this would be the moment to do just that. We’d suggest adding a couple of days to your trip if you want to experience the city and its surrounds as there’s a lot to see and do here. Then you can rejoin the trip at the next stop.

For more on that sort of trip, check out our two week USA road trip itinerary , which include Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Death Valley National Park – 1 Day

Moving on from one desert environment to another desert environment – and the largest national park in the contiguous United States. Death Valley (the name was given by gold rush travellers who nearly perished here) is the hottest and driest place in North America, and has recorded the hottest ambient air temperature in the world.

Badwater basin

So, overall, a hot place.

Other than making you want to crank up the AC then, what does Death Valley offer? Well, there’s that sense of remoteness. The vast, unforgiving wilderness. The knowledge that you’d probably die fairly quickly if you happen to wander off and get lost (don’t wander off and get lost folks).

Death Valley

Truth be told, there’s plenty to do here. You can visit Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the entire North America, which actually sits 86 metres below sea level. Then there are sand dunes, salt flats, craters, colourful canyons and hiking opportunities galore.

Just be aware that this is a seriously inhospitable, and, in the summer months, unbearably hot, destination, so plan and pack accordingly . If you’re looking for more ideas on spending a day in Death Valley, check out this excellent post .

Mammoth Lakes – 1 Day

From Death Valley we’re going to head further north, up to Mammoth Lakes . This drive is quite incredible, along the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the scenery (and temperatures) will change dramatically as you ascend into this gorgeous part of the world.

Mammoth Lakes are an adventure lovers playground. You can go hiking, camping, cycling, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing – the list goes on! There’s also a ghost town , craft beer companies, shopping opportunities – basically, pretty much everything you could imagine.

lake mono

Whilst you’re here, you should also take the opportunity to visit Lake Mono . Now a state nature reserve, Lake Mono is a million year old lake notable for the “tufa” towers, calcium carbonate structures that stand above the lake like strange modern art installations. Definitely worth a visit, and particularly photogenic at sunrise and sunset.

Yosemite National Park – 3 Days

Finally on our awesome California road trip, I’m going to suggest you spend three days exploring Yosemite National Park before heading back to San Francisco to return your hire vehicle and head home.

Vernal falls Yosemite

Yosemite is without doubt one of my favourite places in the entire United States. It’s a wonder of nature, a photographer’s paradise, and somewhere I dare anyone to visit without falling instantly in love.

There’s a lot to see and do here, which is why I’m going to suggest taking three days to get the most out of your visit. This will let you see all the highlights, as well as go for some longer hikes (or drives), and not feel too rushed.

Glacier point view Yosemite

I’ve got a full guide to the best photography locations in Yosemite , but in brief, don’t miss Yosemite Falls, the hike up to Nevada and Vernal Falls, the drive (or hike) to Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Valley View and Bridalveil Falls.

If you love longer, more challenging day hikes, then Half Dome is a seriously challenging walk (permit required), as is the walk up to the top of Yosemite Falls .

There are a range of accommodation options in Yosemite National Park, ranging from campsites to canvas-sided tent cabins, through to luxury hotels.

There are 13 campsites available in the park , with a number of these available for reservation, and the rest operated on a first come first serve basis. If you want to camp, we highly recommend booking well in advance, which you can do here .

There are also nine lodging options operated by Yosemite Hospitality inside the park, which are the only other accommodation options available in the park itself. These can be reserved up to a year in advance, and range from simple canvas cabins through to a high-end luxury hotel. These can all be reserved online in advance here .

Important –  As of 2022, Yosemite has introduced a reservation system for park entry. If you are visiting between late May and the end of September and planning on driving into or through the park between 6am and 4pm you will need to have a reservation. You can find out more and make your reservations online here .

Yosemite view of El Capitan

California Road Trip Map

We’ve put together a map of our suggested California road trip itinerary, which you can see below, and also on Google Maps here . Note that depending on the time of year, access to Yosemite can be restricted due to snow, so you have to take the longer way round.

In addition, parts of the Pacific Coast Highway are often closed due to damage caused by landslides. As such, the map should be seen as an overview rather than a definitive route. You’ll want to plan your own California road trip route that matches any current road conditions and closures.

You can check the status of the coast route (state highway 1), as well as all the other roads in the state, on the Caltrans website here .

California Road Trip Itinerary Map

California Road Trip Itinerary Overview

  • Days 1 – 3: San Francisco
  • Days 4 – 5: Pacific Coast Highway
  • Days 6 & 7: Los Angeles
  • Day 8: Joshua Tree
  • Day 9: Death Valley
  • Day 10: Mammoth Lakes
  • Days 11 – 13: Yosemite National Park
  • Day 14: Return to San Francisco

When to Take a California Road Trip

California is a fairly good year round destination, but there are a few things to be aware of when planning your trip. In the Winter months, places like Yosemite can become accessible particularly from the east side, due to snow, as you can see in the map above.

The main road in to Yosemite is the Tioga Road, and this is usually closed from November through to May or even June. In addition, parts of the park, including Glacier Point road, are often closed for a similar timeframe.

If this happens to you, you’ll have to take a serious detour to get in based on this itinerary. A better option might be to embrace the snow, and head up to Lake Tahoe for some fantastic skiing opportunities. Or, you can head east, out to Nevada and the pleasure city of Las Vegas.

big sur coastline

In summertime, the heat can be quite intense, in particular in places like Death Valley, where in the summer months temperatures can exceed 100F, and it’s not recommended to spend much time outside.

Where to Stay in California

California has a serious range of accommodation options to meet pretty much every budget, although larger cities and busier months do tend to increase the prices. We’d always recommend booking in advance for your trip if possible – in particular for national park campsites and hotels, and to get the best deals on city centre hotels.

For two people travelling together, you’re looking at a budget range of $60 – $150 per night for comfortable private en-suite accommodation, although you can obviously spend far more than that!

Our preferred option for hotel booking is, as they usually have the best prices, regularly run deals, and many properties offer good last minute cancellation policies. See their listings for California , San Francisco and Los Angeles to get you started.

We also use and recommend Plum Guide and Vrbo for vacation rentals.

For more ideas, take a look at our travel resources page for helpful hints and tips on getting the best deal on accommodation when you travel.

How to Get Around California

This is a road trip, so obviously you’re going to want a hire a car! We recommend searching for your car rental on Discover Cars here . They compare a range of providers so you can find the best deal for your trip.

Drivers with foreign licenses are allowed to drive, if your license is in a language other than English then you would be best with either an international drivers license, or a certified translation.

Another option of course is to hire a camper van or RV, which will let you stay in campgrounds and other, more out of the way areas. This can be a fun way to travel in a more self sufficient style. If this sounds like you, we recommend comparing RV rental prices at Motorhome Republic . They list all RVs from many of the major suppliers to help you find the right one for you. See their USA listings here .

We can also recommend checking out  RVShare , who offer peer to peer campervan rental – a bit like the AirBnB of RV rental! Similar options include Outdoorsy and RVEzy .

If this is your first time in the USA, or you just want a reminder of what it’s like to drive in the USA, check out our guide to driving in the USA for lots of tips!

Practicalities for a California Road trip

Travelling in the USA is relatively easy, but we wanted to share a few things to help make planning your California road trip a little easier.


The USA uses a 110v electrical system, with plugs that are either two pin or three pin. The holes are flat, and sometimes the two pin plug holes will be different sizes, so the plug will only go in one way.

If you’re coming from much of the rest of the world, including Europe, the UK or Asia, you will definitely need a travel adaptor like this . You will also need to check that your equipment supports the 110v supply, as much of the rest of the world uses a 220v supply.

In our experience, most electronics like laptops and phone chargers accept a universal voltage, whilst higher power devices like hairdryers do not. Always check the device itself, the voltage rating should be on your plug or adaptor somewhere.

Internet Access

Internet access is widely available across the USA in the form of WiFi, which can be found for free at most hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants. There are also a number of free WiFi hotspots in some of the cities on our list.

If your phone is unlocked you can pick up a pay as you go SIM in the USA. One of the better options is from Straight Talk , which you can buy in Walmart stores.

For more options on getting online when travelling, check out our guide to getting online when travelling to help you figure out the best options.

The USA uses the US dollar, and there are ATM’s available throughout. In our experience though, you can pay for nearly everything with a credit card, so you will rarely need cash. Whilst it is worth having a few bills on you, for the most part you won’t need them.

Instead, just make sure you have a credit or debit card that doesn’t charge you any foreign transaction fees and uses a fair price for currency conversions, and you should be good to go.

Water across the USA is safe to drink, unless otherwise indicated. There are drinking fountains in the majority of public locations, and we recommend you travel with a re-usable water bottle so you can just fill it up as you go.

One thing we always love about travelling in the USA is how drinking water is always brought to your table at a restaurant – something we wish was standard around the world!

For the most part, the USA is a safe destination to travel in, and we have never had any problems. Of course, every country has crime, and areas where you would be wiser to avoid, however if you practice basic safety precautions, keep your valuables out of sight and behave as you would at home, you should be fine!

Further Reading and Resources for a California Road Trip

California is a very popular destination, so there’s no shortage of research material to help you plan your trip! Here are some of my favourite resources:

  • We have a guide to things to do in San Diego
  • I’ve written a guide featuring some of my top tips for driving in the USA to help get you going on the road!
  • Wondering how much a California road trip will cost? Check out our  guide to how much it costs to travel in the USA to help you plan your trip budget.
  • Jess has a guide to driving the Pacific Coast Highway , which will give you lots of ideas for that section of the road
  • If you’re interested in California’s wine country, see our guide to visiting Napa Valley
  • Route 66 ends in California, so take a look at our guide to planning a route 66 trip , as well as our detailed 2 week Route 66 itinerary and 1 week Route 66 itinerary
  • Fodor’s Guide to California , which also includes details on a number of fantastic road trips
  • The Lonely Planet California Guide , which is great for finding things to do, places to eat and places to stay
  • A US road atlas , because sometimes you don’t want to rely on GPS!
  • If you’re planning on hiring an RV or camping, this guide to free and super cheap campgrounds will quickly pay for itself
  • The official Visit California page, which will give you more advice on what to see and when to visit
  • For more in California, see this awesome guide to places to visit in California , from fellow bloggers at yTravelBlog
  • My guide to things to do in Redding California , if you decide to head to northern California
  • Getting online when travelling in a foreign country can be daunting – check out our guide to getting online when travelling to help you figure out the best options for your trip
  • And if you’re looking for inspiration for the rest of the USA, check out our USA section , which includes a Deep south itinerary , tips for New Orleans during Mardi Gras – and lots more!

Detailed itinerary and trip planning advice for the ultimate California two week road trip, including San Francisco, LA, the Pacific Coast Highway, Death Valley, Yosemite and more!

And that sums up my perfect two week California road trip itinerary! If you’ve got any comments, suggestions or additions, do pop them in the comments below. Plus, if you liked this post, do check out the rest of my itinerary series , which will help you plan the perfect trips all around the world!

Enjoyed this post? Why not share it!

There are 118 comments on this post

Please scroll to the end to leave a comment

2nd June 2024 at 11:19 pm

Hey, lovely guide thank you!

I am coming from Brazil and will spend around 2 weeks in the US, I was thinking of doing an itinerary very similar to this one, but starting and leaving in LA, and adding 1-2 days in Las Vegas and just pass through San Francisco after Yosemite (Entering the NP from the west coast).

What do you think of it? Also, we want to go on July and I’m worried that Las Vegas/Joshua Tree NP/Death Valley would be too hot, so I’m thinking of just driving through Death Valley to reach Mammoth Lakes, do you think it makes sense? Is there a way to “skip it”? By looking at the maps it seems it’s the shortest way to Yosemite. I’m use to the Brazil’s temperature which is quite hot but not so much as Death Valley hot.

My itinerary is extremely open so please feel free to suggest anything really, I’m just prone to visit LA and the west coast really, I want to visit some interesting cities but also see a lot of nature, small towns, and have an open itinerary in case I want to stay more at some specific place.

Laurence Norah says

2nd June 2024 at 11:53 pm

Thanks very much! Sounds like you have a great trip planned. So your trip idea is definitely do-able, in fact I have a similar California itinerary that includes Las Vegas here . It also includes the Grand Canyon but you can leave that out as it’s a lot of driving. Going through Death Valley is going to be one of the quicker way to Mammoth Lakes. The park does get incredibly hot, but if you are driving through with an air conditioned vehicle then you should be ok. I’d just avoid doing too much sightseeing in the park as it can be pretty intense. You can also take Highway 95 from Las vegas and follow the eastern edge of Death Valley without having to actually go into the park if you prefer.

But honestly if you are coming from Las Vegas it’s going to be hot wherever you go, Vegas in July is also incredibly hot, as is all the desert around it! You certainly can sightsee if you get up early in the morning, but don’t plan to spend a lot of time outside.

If you like small towns then another option would be to join the original Route 66 road, if you drop down the 95 from Las Vegas to where it joins the Interstate 40 around Needles, then you can follow Route 66 towards LA. That’s a really fun drive with lots to see on the way, and we cover lots of detail on that in our two week Route 66 itinerary (just read the Needles to LA section , days 13 and 14).

Have an amazing trip, let me know if I can offer any more advice!

3rd June 2024 at 12:17 am

Thank you so much for the quick answer!

I will look into those, thank you again!

Just in general, first time coming to the US (and the west coast of course), in the summer, do you think there are better options than this itinerary I described or is it a solid one? I’m looking for a mix of interesting cities (LA, Vegas, SF), driving through interesting places, see nature, and just a flexible schedule in general that I can spend more days in places that I really like!

5th June 2024 at 5:55 pm

It’s my pleasure! So actually I think this is a great first time US itinerary. California and the section of Nevada from Las Vegas is going to give you a really diverse range of things to see. From the wild desert to dramatic Yosemite, to mountains and lakes, through to big cities like San Francisco and LA, through to the beautiful coastal towns. There really is something for everyone. This was actually really close to the itinerary I first took when I first visited the States around 20 years ago and I really enjoyed that trip. So I am sure you will have a great time. Let me know if you have any more questions as you plan it out, I’m happy to help!

robert feinberg says

16th December 2023 at 4:48 pm

Hello, we are planning a road trip to California in July, and using your template, but adding a few different options. we are traveling with 2 15 year olds, and they want to surf. any recommendations you can make on that, as well as stops that will be good for them? much appreciated.

16th December 2023 at 8:26 pm

So there are a lot of surfing options all along the coast from San Francisco to San Diego. A lot will depend on the experience of your children and whether or not they are experienced surfers or are looking to learn. Also, some locations will have surfboard rentals wheras others are more remote. So it will depend what you need in that regard. However, there are good options all along the California coast, including Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Pismo, Morro Bay, Ricon Point and Surfrider beach (Malibu). I’d just recommend doing some research to ensure you match the breaks to the skill level required 🙂

Have an awesome trip!

Kim Dawtrey says

7th October 2023 at 9:39 pm

Hi Lawrence We are just home after nearly three weeks in the US on a route based on your California Road Trip, although we also went to the a Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The information within your blog was a great help in planning our trip. Unfortunately we were unable to drive down the whole Pacific Highway due to landslide near Big Sur, but we loved the 17 mile drive and would recommend staying in Pacific Grove (we stayed in Bide-A-Wee hotel which was great). We were also unable to drive across Death Valley as the NP was closed due to the damage to the roads, we did however visit Death Valley Junction and throughly recommend a visit to Amargosa Opera House. The board outside says tours at 9.00am and 6.00pm, but the young lady in the hotel reception was more than happy to give us a tour for a donation, fascinating place and history. If you haven’t visited I can send you some photos. Another side trip we did was to Bristlecone Ancient Pine Forest, amazing place, great drive up to 10,000 feet, with fresh snow at the top! The Grand Canyon and Yosemite were certainly the highlights for us. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, thank you for all your valuable information, if we were 40 years younger, we would love to be doing what you and Jess are doing!

8th October 2023 at 12:33 pm

Thank you so much, I’m happy to hear you had a great trip in California and beyond! Unfortunately the Pacific Coast Highway does get blocked quite regularly due to landslides, and it also sounds like unfortunate timing with Death Valley. However I am glad to hear you still had a good time overall! We haven’t visited the Amargosa Opera House, we will definitely have to add that to the list!

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences, and safe onward travels 🙂 Jess and I love to hear from fellow adventurers who have been out exploring!

All the best,

erika liaci says

3rd July 2023 at 2:54 pm

Hi we are finalising our US Road trip to/from LAX in mid August. Would you recommend still going to the Death valley? I am a bit scared of the temperature which might be 50C? Thanks erika

4th July 2023 at 9:26 am

So I would personally probably skip Death Valley in August. It’s going to be too hot to do very much, and you would likely be able to better spend your time elsewhere. An extra day in Yosemite for example!

Have a great trip!

17th April 2023 at 11:43 am

Hi – this 2 week California road trip looks amazing. Your blog is really helpful for planning our own trip. Would it be possible to know the driving distances between each of the places please. Thanks Sam

18th April 2023 at 8:09 am

Hi Sam, thanks very much! So I didn’t put distances because in my experience they tend to change with side trips etc. Also, the Pacific Coast Highway is regularly affected by landslips so stretches of the route can be closed.

That said, as a rough guide:

From San Francisco to Santa Monica is around 500 miles From Santa Monica to Joshua Tree is around 150 miles From Joshua Tree to Death Valley is around 260 miles From Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes is around 200 miles From Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite is normally around 75 miles but this depends on the pass being open From Yosemite back to San Francisco is around 170 miles.

I hope this helps! Have a great time in California 🙂

28th January 2023 at 2:46 pm

Hi. Would you recommend Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon? We will be driving back from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and are thinking of an extended detour north rather than going back via Kingman. Thanks

29th January 2023 at 9:07 am

It is with some dismay that I’m not able to accurately answer your question as both parks are still on my to-do list and I haven’t visited either. So rather than inaccurately answer your question I would have to say I don’t know. I definitely want to visit them both, and from the photos I have seen I don’t think you would be disappointed with either, but that’s about as much as I can say for now until I have visited both!

Sorry not to be of more help but I hope you have an amazing trip nonetheless!

Maxine says

4th August 2022 at 8:16 am

This post has been super helpful and given us great ideas for a trip we are planning with our two teenagers next summer. We want to include vegas, therefore, would you recommend that we head there after San Diego before heading back to Yosemite? Thank you

4th August 2022 at 6:06 pm

Thanks very much, glad you found the post useful! So yes, heading from San Diego or Death Valley to Las Vegas would make the most sense. I’ve actually written a trip out that is similar to this one but include Vegas (and the Grand Canyon if you wanted to also include that). That’s here:

You can save time of course by skipping the Grand Canyon 🙂 Let me know if you have any more questions, I’m happy to help. Otherwise, have a great trip!

William D Villont says

6th January 2022 at 9:03 pm

My wife and I took a California trip similar to this one except we went south to San Diego as our final destination. I really enjoyed the trip and can fully understand why you highlight this trip as one someone should surely take. We agree. My only disappointment of the trip is that, at the time, I was doing videography and that is all I took on the trip, my video camera. Now that I have gotten back into photography I wish I had taken my camera as well. We rarely get out the old video (VHS tape) and watch and I have not taken the time to transfer the VHS to DVD yet. I just gave it away, that this trip was sometime ago because I was shooting VHS. Anyway I would love to take this trip again and if this Covid thing ever goes away, maybe I will. Thanks for sharing this trip.

7th January 2022 at 11:29 am

Hi William,

I’m glad to bring back positive memories of your California trip! Interesting to hear you mostly took video. I have a similar reverse quandry when I travel, I usually only find myself able to concentrate on one medium of story telling as we go, so I focus on photos. But I often think it might be nice to have more videos. I hope you get to watch your video soon and also to take the trip again one day!

Have a lovely and safe 2022,

Delaney Blute says

1st July 2021 at 3:18 am

Hi! Thank you so much for the wonderful travel recommendations. I’m planning on taking this trip with my mother and sister, possibly leaving next late summer. Do you have a ball park recommendation for price for the entire trip for 3 people? We plan on budgeting it, but just wanted to know if you had any estimate of what this trip would cost for 3 people. Thanks so much!

1st July 2021 at 12:47 pm

Hi Delaney,

This is a great question. So it’s really hard to give a price estimate because everyone has a different travel style, and it will depend on what type of accommodation you are thinking of booking, whether you are happy to share a room for the three of you vs have individual rooms, whether you are ok with budget dining vs more expensive options and so on. I’m also not sure if you’re from the US or not, so car rental if you need to rent a car would also be a cost to consider.

I do have a guide which has a ballpark idea of costs for travel in the UK, which you can see here:

That should give you an idea of how much each element of the trip should cost you, to help you come up with a rough figure. The main costs are going to be your accommodation, gas / car rental / car parking in cities, food, and any attraction entry.

I hope this helps! Let me know if I can provide any further input, and have a great trip 🙂

Chantelle says

7th March 2020 at 2:06 pm

We have a trip booked for just short of a month in September! Your blog was really helpful, thank you!

I was wondering if you had some advice on Car vrs Camper. Is it easy to find places to stay in a camper or would you recommend a car and motels. We are happy either way just want our trip to be as stress free as possible!

7th March 2020 at 5:07 pm

Hi Chantelle!

So we have done both, and honestly, we prefer motels / B&Bs to campsites.

In the USA, campsites are a bit different to the UK in my experience. They tend to have more formal “sites” for each visitor, which means they can’t just squeeze another person in. When they are full they’re full. For National Parks especially, this means that they can book out and then you can be stuck trying to find somewhere to stay. You can of course book them in advance, so that’s an option. The other good news is that if you have a campervan all is not lost as there are places you can camp for free. However these tend not to be totally exciting, Walmart carparks for example let folks stay overnight, but this might not be the dream option.

The other thing is that if you do the math, you will find that the cost of renting a campervan + the cost of paying campsite fees will probably be a lot more than the cost of a cheap car and economy lodging. Plus if you plan on visiting a few of the cities in this itinerary a camper will be more effort than it’s worth. You didn’t mention budget so this might not be a huge factor, but I just wanted to highlight it.

I think you can see where my preference lies for this itinerary. Obviously if you love camping and want to spend more time out in the backcountry and national parks, it’s a great option. But you might find that buying a cheap tent and a couple of sleeping bags for a few nights is a better option than renting a camper 🙂

Have a great trip – let me know how it goes and what you decide to do! We have a facebook group you’re welcome to share your experiences in here:

chantelle sims says

14th March 2020 at 2:44 pm

This has been so incredibly helpful thankyou!!

My pleasure Chantelle – have a great trip!

Sharon says

16th February 2020 at 7:40 pm

Great inspiration and ideas, thanks

16th February 2020 at 9:34 pm

Our pleasure Sharon, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Thiago says

12th February 2020 at 7:45 pm

Just want to thank you for these super detailed guides, guys;

13th February 2020 at 10:48 am

Our pleasure Thiago, if you have any questions we’re happy to help 🙂 Safe travels!

Kathy Reed says

26th January 2020 at 5:51 pm

Hi – this was an amazing find! Loved all of your recommendations. Do you have any recommendations for anything just a little further north into the Redwoods. Perhaps starting in Santa Monica and going north? Though i do love the loop feature of this itinerary. Makes it so hard to decide. Thanks!

28th January 2020 at 9:19 am

We have travelled north of this itinerary as well, with our highlights including Napa Valley, Point Reyes National Park and Redding, however we’ve not put together a detailed itinerary for this sort of trip as we’ve not covered the area in enough detail. If redwoods are what you are after particularly, then on this itinerary you can see them near Santa Cruz, if you did want to follow it.

Let me know if I can offer any more advice for your trip!

4th January 2020 at 4:39 pm

Hi Great site for info ? Just would like to know what time of year would you recommend doing this road trip ive just read on here ,we’re coming from the UK so any info will help us plan Many thanks Barry

5th January 2020 at 11:25 am

It can definitely be done at any time of year, but I might avoid the depths of winter as snow can make the roads into Yosemite a challenge, plus it will be quite cold. So if you are looking for more of a summery California road trip, I might suggest May through September. We just toured California in August, and it was definitely very hot inland, as well as being busy so perhaps May/June or September would be the best time for a good combination of weather and fewer people 🙂

Debbie says

4th January 2020 at 3:03 pm

Hi We are planning this trip in April 2020! We will skip LA (Not interested) & Yosemite (We’ve already been) & we will only spend 1 day in San Francisco (we’ve already been) my question is do you think we can do the rest in 7 days?? We definitely want to do the scenic drive from San Francisco to San Diego & back to San Fran an thank you for all the wonderful information!!

5th January 2020 at 11:32 am

Hey Debbie!

Awesome 😀 So you can do the Pacific Coast Highway from SF to San Diego in a couple of days if you don’t mind going at a bit of a pace. I’d probably slow it down to 3 days though. I’m not sure if you still plan on seeing Joshua Tree and Death Valley – if you plan on going up and down the Pacific Coast Highway both ways, then you’re actually going to end up driving much more than this itinerary if you do visit Death Valley, as you’ll do about 2/3rds of the route and then turn around.

I’m not sure if you wanted to go to Las Vegas instead, but what you could do instead of going all the way back is finish in Vegas. I have noticed that many car hire firms don’t charge one way fees for trips between SF and Las Vegas, and flights out of Las Vegas are also very inexpensive. Even if you don’t want to do the whole Las Vegas thing, there are some lovely outdoor attractions in the area including the Hoover Dam and the spectacular valley of fire state park.

Anyway, just a thought. To answer your question – yes, you could do the rest in 7 days but I fear it might be a bit rushed,

30th December 2019 at 1:24 am

How many miles is this trip in total?

30th December 2019 at 3:28 pm

Around 1400 miles, but you’ll want to add on detours, side trips etc. So I’d say 1500 – 2000 to be on the safe side 🙂

Mallikarjun says

19th December 2019 at 8:51 pm

Can you please let me know the “Public Transport” options, it may be Bus, Metro or any other services in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego. I am planning for a trip in end of Jan 2020 for about 6 to 7 days to cover these cities. Or is there any travel packages you suggest for these cities. Please let me know.

Thanks, Malli

22nd December 2019 at 5:29 pm

My pleasure, and apologies for the slow response, I’ve had some site issues I’ve been working on.

For your question, are you looking for public transport between the cities, or in the cities? If the former, then I’d generally recommend the long distance bus as the best way to get between the cities in California, although you will struggle to get to more remote locations this way.

For each city you mention, there are different options. San Francisco is the easiest to get around, as there’s a great bus system as well as bikes, e-bikes and scooters. LA is a bit trickier – there are both buses and a metro, but just be aware that the distances can be quite far as the city is very spread out. So the best option is to figure out what you want to see and make sure the accommodation you pick is as close to the sights as possible.

San Diego is also easy to get around for the most part, with buses, trolleys and trains.

I hope this helps 🙂

Samantha says

28th October 2019 at 1:20 pm

Hi! this sounds amazing and I am literally looking at booking this for June next year! From looking about the only area that I am a bit unsure of is Death Valley – where is best to stay around there and if only doing a day – what would be the best suggestion of something to do? I am also thinking that we will add 1 day on to do a Vegas stay since its so close!

29th October 2019 at 8:31 am

Hi Samantha,

So when we visited we stayed just outside the valley at Panamint Springs – specifically we stayed here .

A day is enough to see the highlights of Death Valley. You’ll want to visit Badwater Basin of course, the lowest point in North America. Other highlights including the Mesquite Sand dunes, Zabriskie Point, the Devil’s Golf Course, the Artists Drive and Palette and Mosaic Canyon.

We can definitely recommend tacking on a trip to Vegas as well. We’re actually thinking of publishing a new itinerary in the coming months which includes Vegas, as it’s a popular addition 🙂

Gisele leduc says

13th October 2019 at 3:38 pm

Would like to know w ymt is there a bus trip to 14 days in calif. Where does the bus leave from in the US. And approx how much is the cost

14th October 2019 at 8:36 pm

Sorry, could you clarify? Are you looking for a tour of California?

15th October 2019 at 3:32 pm

Looking for next year we live in Ottawa Canada and would like to take a 14 day bus tour especially san Francesco and pacific route. Are there bus tours leaving let’s say from Buffalo, New York we can easily drive to these destinations. I meant leaving from New York City and Buffalo. What would be the cost and does it include meals. Thank u

Gisele Leduv says

15th October 2019 at 7:37 pm

Hi I would like to know if there are Any bus tours leaving from New York City or buffalo 14 day road trip to California especially the pacific coastland. What would be the cost for such a trip.

16th October 2019 at 8:08 pm

Hey Gisele,

I have looked but most tours that depart from New York and go to California are much longer, because the distance is so great from the east coast to the west coast. If you want a tour that focuses more on California, it would definitely be easier to get one that departs from San Francisco or Las Vegas rather than New York – is that a possibility?

vivianchoo says

5th October 2019 at 4:44 am

Good articles and good photos, Helps a lot. Thank you!

5th October 2019 at 10:16 am

My pleasure – have a great trip!

Jason Parsons says

19th August 2019 at 3:23 pm

This is a super inspiring blog. Which area did you stay in Yosemite? We are planning to complete our road trip with 3 nights in Yosemite. We will have a car and plan on day trip walks within the park.using a hotel or lodge as our base.

19th August 2019 at 4:09 pm

Thanks very much! In Yosemite we’ve stayed in a few places. On the trip with the photos in this post, we stayed in Curry Village, which were canvas tents ( ).

Jess has also stayed at the Wawona hotel, and the other lodge options are The Ahwahnee Hotel and the Yosemite Valley Lodge. I would definitely recommend staying with the park if you can as it makes it a lot easier to see everything within a short distance. The various options are at different price points though, so you’ll have to figure out which is best for you 🙂

Have an amazing trip!

julie morton says

15th June 2019 at 4:36 pm

Great article, thank you. I will be doing a similar route with my husband in September. Do you have any further guides on the Mammoth Lakes area or could you suggest somewhere to base ourselves there for a couple of nights please? We will be coming from Death Valley and then heading on to Yosemite.

15th June 2019 at 8:31 pm

Hi Julie! We don’t have anything else about Mammoth Lakes unfortunately on our blogs. We have guides to other parts of California, including Yosemite, but Mammoth Lakes is still on the to do list.

Have a great trip, sorry we couldn’t help this time!

Tara West says

2nd June 2019 at 6:30 pm

Hi there, Just found your blog. Really helpful. Thank you. We are thinking of doing a Californian road trip with our 5 month old baby in Sept. How long are the drives between the places you mention? I wouldnt want to do LA so would probably do San Diego instead. Is there anywhere you advise missing out with a baby? Thanks so much. Tara

3rd June 2019 at 6:26 pm

Our pleasure, we’re delighted to be able to help 🙂

So the drives will obviously vary depending on what you stop and see, but none of the days on the itinerary should have more than four hours driving. We’ve also not got any personal experience with traveling with a baby, however, just bear in mind that even in September Death Valley is going to be very hot. Other than that I don’t see a reason not to go to any of the locations on the list, and Death Valley will be manageable, just take care with the heat 🙂

Priya Singh says

30th April 2019 at 6:40 am

I really appreciate the work you have done, you explained everything in such an amazing and simple way.Good post. I was searched for this topic. Finally, I got the information on this blog. Thanks for the effective information.

30th April 2019 at 5:38 pm

Thanks Priya – pleased we were able to help! Have a great trip 🙂

Rafael says

5th March 2019 at 1:45 pm

Hi guys, great post. I found it really handy now as i’m planning a 3 week road trip through California (and Nevada) in a month (apr 6 to 27). We are starting in LA, just a few days and then planning to go to Joshua Tree (Mojave, is it worth it?), Las vegas, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, and Route 1 back to LA. It’s quite a lot of days, and i find hard to plan where to sleep every night, as i’m not sure how long would it take me to visit every national park, and even cities. So my question is, should i book in advance all different accomodation? In that case how many days should we give to the different national parks and places. As the trip gets so long, we are being really careful with our budget, and that takes me to the second question, what are the best places to stay on a budget in the different stops?

By the way, we are a group of four, planning to rent a car.

Thanks again for your post. Looking forward to read your answer!

Rafael from Uruguay

5th March 2019 at 2:50 pm

Thanks very much 🙂

So to answer your questions. I think Mojave is worth it if you like deserts and wide open spaces.

In terms of accommodation, you are not travelling at a very busy time of year, although it is easter towards the end of April. However there are no Federal holiday, so it should not be too busy. So this means you should be able to book quite last minute. The only places I would advise maybe booking in advance would be any national parks you want to stay in, which can be busy year round. So Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Death Valley, if you plan on staying inside the park, you will want to plan your accommodation in advance.

In terms of budget accommodation, the parks all have campsites, so that would likely be the cheapest option if you don’t mind camping. Some have existing tents you can hire if you don’t want to bring your own tent – Yosemite for example has some nice fixed tents which are not too expensive. For other cities, I’d advise looking at the budget motel chains like Motel 6, Red Roof Inn and so on. These can be very cheap, but do be aware they are not always very central. So you might find something like AirBnB to be more cost effective.

As you are visiting a number of parks you will probably want to buy a national parks pass, which will save you money on parks entry.

I’d also advise taking a look at my guide to how much it costs to travel in the USA, which should give you some more budgeting ideas 🙂

Let me know if you have any more questions!

c. m. crawford says

17th February 2019 at 3:22 pm

I would take extra care with possessions in the big cities in California. I left my purse in the back of my rental car, parked in a highly visible location on a beach in San Francisco, and even though there were people walking up and down the beach, the window was smashed and the purse stolen. Luckily wallet & phone were on me and the purse was even found and turned in to the police, but I had to exchange the rental car. Other than that California is awesome.

17th February 2019 at 4:34 pm

Sorry to hear that Cris! This is definitely an issue around the world, we always recommend not leaving any valuables in sight in a car as it makes for a tempting option for a thief 🙁 Glad to hear you got your purse back though!

Matthias says

9th February 2019 at 6:57 pm

Hey you guys! You have a great blog and this post inspired the route for my first trip to California with a buddy (we’re planning on doing pretty much the same route). But our plan is doing it the other way around: Also starting end ending in SF but heading to Yosemite from there and doing the trip clockwise. Would love to hear your thoughts on that idea 🙂

10th February 2019 at 6:06 pm

Hi Matthias!

The route would work either way. The only thing is that many people prefer to drive the PCH from north to south as you are on the right hand side of the road, so you get clearer views. But it’s stunning either way to be honest 🙂

Catherine Smithfield says

18th January 2019 at 4:12 pm

Hi Laurence,

Fabulous site guys… I would love some tips please my husband and I are planning a once in a lifetime trip to the USA, we fly into and out of Los Angeles , arriving 16th October and leaving 5th December. We will be spending thanksgiving with friends in Washington state . We would like to drive the Pacific highway, see some of LA, San Fran , Yosemite,Death Valley Las Vegas,- just very quick as we feel we should see it and the Grand Canyon . We love nature, beautiful landscapes, we are also foodies . Any suggestions would be very welcome , hire car v Rv , obviously due to the length of our trip I would like to be sensible on accommodation costs…is there a reliable decent hotel/motel chain you would recommend, or Airbnb. I have also been looking a5 the trusted Housesitters website but have recently come across a few very negative reviews . Many thanks catherine(UK)

18th January 2019 at 6:33 pm

Hi Catherine!

Thanks so much! We’ll do our best to help out.

So first of all, if you haven’t already, we can definitely recommend checking out the USA sections of both our websites:

Where we have loads of posts that you will find useful. Most particularly, I’d advise reading our driving in the USA , and our guide to how much it costs to travel in the USA . That latter one in particular will help you in terms of costing out the trip.

For a hire car, a normal car rental is going to be a lot cheaper than an RV, especially as you will most likely still have to rent campsite space to stay at. A standard hire car in the US will usually start at around $200 a week. Our US travel budget post has a lot more on how to find the best deal and things to watch out for.

In terms of accommodation, the US has a wide range of options. The cheaper chains include: Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, Super 8, America’s Best Value Inn, Travelodge. The next step up would be Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn.

Note that the cheaper hotels are often found a little way outside of towns, often at interstate exit ramps. It’s also worth being aware that they are nearly all franchises, and so as a result the quality can vary dramatically, so it’s always worth reading reviews before visiting.

For booking and reviews, we highly recommend . We have nearly always found this to be the cheapest option, even compared to turning up at the property, and the reviews can be a helpful guide. However, just bear in mind that cheaper hotels tend to rate worse, as folks can have high expectations!

Hopefully all this helps, let us know if you have any more specific questions we can help with!

Natasha says

9th January 2019 at 10:22 am

PS We are also planning to visit family in LA and have possible access to accommodation in Pacific Grove so should we be considering finding snow at Big Sur instead of north of San Fran? PPS Budget is going to be very tight!

9th January 2019 at 10:38 am

Hey Natasha!

So I’ll answer the Big Sur question first 🙂 Snow isn’t very common at Big Sur as it’s right by the sea, and it doesn’t usually get much except at higher elevations. The most reliable option is to head east to Tahoe or Yosemite, although that is going to be quite a drive and won’t fall into the definition of a short drive I’m afraid 🙁 The other option is to head up towards Auburn, as you get closer to the Sierra Nevada Mountains you will definitely find snow, but again, this isn’t going to be a short drive.

Whilst there is always a possibility of snow elsewhere, I wouldn’t want to guarantee it!

In terms of house swaps, the closest option we have for you is TrustedHousesitters , but that’s more of a house sitting opportunity than a home swap. I know there are home swapping platforms, but we’re not familiar with them, so I wouldn’t want to give a recommendation!

I hope you have a wonderful trip!

9th January 2019 at 2:44 pm

Thanks for the super-prompt response! Very helpful to know Big Sur is unlikely to tick the box and we hadn’t considered Auburn so I’ll find out more about that instead. Otherwise we’ll stick to Yosemite or Tahoe, which we’ve heard lots about.

9th January 2019 at 2:50 pm

My pleasure! Those two will definitely be fantastic, Yosemite in winter in particular is stunning. We have a guide to visiting Yosemite here 🙂

Also, I know real snow is ideally preferable, but there are a number of locations that generate snow that are going to be closer to San Francisco. If you google “snow in san francisco” or something similar, you should find some options!

9th January 2019 at 10:17 am

Thrilled to find your fascinating and helpful site! We live in Cape Town, and are planning a month in California between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, focussed around spending time with family in San Fran.

But my 14- and 16-year-olds have never experienced snow so we’re looking for guaranteed on-the-ground snow in early/mid December, as short a drive from SF as possible. Skiing not required, but snowman-building and perhaps some sledging would be great.

Also, can you recommend a site we might arrange a house swap through?

20th November 2018 at 8:30 pm

Hi, I’d like to know if February os a good time to make this travel. And what do you think about Sequoia National park?

27th November 2018 at 11:22 am

February would be good, just be aware that there might still be snow in Yosemite and so you’ll need to keep an eye on road closures around that area. We haven’t visited Sequoia National Park, but we have heard it is a great park, well worth visiting 🙂

12th November 2018 at 10:53 am

Hi there! This post has been really helpful as my partner and I are planning our honeymoon for April 2019 and we would love to roadtrip in the US. We have about 12 nights and would love to spend good chunks of time in San Francisco, LA or Santa Monica and some national parks. We would also love to do the Pacific Coast. We were originally thinking of flying into San Francisco and out of LA, but your post has me wondering if a roundtrip is better. Would you suggest we amend your suggested route? Which of the the national parks would be the best to visit?

12th November 2018 at 4:15 pm

Hey Neely! There are so many great National Parks, but Yosemite is definitely up there as one of my favourites. I would say a round trip is better – the route I have outlined makes a nice loop, and car hire is nearly always better value if you return the car where you picked it up 🙂

Chiara says

2nd October 2018 at 5:21 pm

Hi! I love your blog guys! We are thinking about a road trip in California next summer, and this post is a perfect inspiration! We will travel with our kids, they will be 3 and 6 and we have 3 weeks instead of 2. Do you have suggestions on how/where to use the extra days? Considering we can’t plan super long tiring car journeys and have to incorporate some activities they would enjoy too like some beach life, aquariums… Any suggestion is very welcomed! Thank you very much in advance!

4th October 2018 at 4:20 am

Hey Chiara!

So my suggestion would be to follow this itinerary, but just to go a bit slower and spend a bit more time in each place. I’d definitely suggest the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo as two great options along the way, and Universal Studios in LA is also sure to be a hit 🙂 Along the PCH you’ll also find loads of lovely beaches, so I think you’ll easily be able to stretch this two week road trip into a three week California itinerary! Have an awesome time!

4th October 2018 at 2:09 pm

Thank you very much!


19th August 2018 at 3:48 pm

Hi Im planning a road trip with my family to California from Orlando,Fl on June 2019. I want some advice where should we start.

19th August 2018 at 5:41 pm

Hi Angeline! Do you mean where to start in terms of planning? If you could let me know how long you are travelling for and what your interests are, then we can try to help. In the meantime, we can help out with some tips on driving in the USA:

And some tips on budgeting for your trip:

The overall route you take will also take you through part of our Deep South USA itinerary:

As well as parts of our Route 66 itinerary:

Which should both serve to help inform your planning on your route 🙂

Lisa Stark says

16th August 2018 at 1:20 pm

Hi, my partner and me are planning to do a road trip next September 2019, starting from San Fran and heading south, eventually arriving in San Diego over a 2 week period. Can you recommend a good car hire company, how long before we should book and some nice places to stop with boutique hotels, This will be out first time in America and I’m completely at a loss where to start planning. Many thanks. Lisa

16th August 2018 at 7:05 pm

Hey Lisa! Well, that’s a great question. There are a number of hire car companies that we recommend, you can see our list here:

It looks like you are doing a one-way trip, so just bear in mind that sometimes the “meta-search” tools that search a variety of providers don’t always account for that. So it might be easier to go direct. We’ve found that it really varies, but we’ve often had success with Enterprise and Hertz. It’s also worth bearing in mind that pick up from an airport location is nearly always more expensive than a city location, so if you can be flexible in that regard you will likely save a bit of money. Especially somewhere like San Francisco, as you don’t really need the car for the city and it will just end up costing you in car parking fees and wasted rental fees for a car you aren’t using.

For hotel and car bookings, I’d usually say the further in advance the better so you have everything sorted and don’t have to worry about it. In terms of stops, your route pretty much follows the Pacific Coast Highway, and we have a super comprehensive guide to all the towns along the route which you can see here:

That also has planning tips and suggestions. I’d also advise reading our tips for driving in the USA:

And our guide to how much it costs to travel in the USA:

In terms of other things to think about, I’m not sure which country you are coming from, but definitely consider getting a travel credit card that won’t charge you for foreign transaction fees, and maybe a SIM card that offers roaming in the USA. Three in the UK has a pretty good deal for SIM cards that offer free data in the USA.

Hopefully this helps a bit, let me know if you have other questions. It gives me an idea to put together a first timers guide to travelling in the USA 🙂

6th August 2018 at 12:24 pm

This is a great read, thank you for sharing. My partner and I are looking to do a similar trip in October this year. However, we are slightly confused on the route (and in what order) to do it all in. We want to do 14 nights and start in San Francisco and either end in San Diego or Vegas. (Everyone says Vegas is a must see at least once and although not on the top of our list, we thought we could add it on the end).

Our initial thoughts are 3 nights in San Fran, 2 in Yosemite, 1 in Monterey, 1 in Santa Barbara. 3 in la, 2 in San Diego and 2 in Vegas. Does this sound too ambitious? And any thoughts on in what order we would do this? I would appreciate anyones input on this. Thank you in advance!

6th August 2018 at 12:58 pm

My pleasure. So the only slight niggle in your itinerary is that Yosemite is the opposite direction to the Pacific Coast Highway, so that will add a bit of driving time to your route (it’s about 3 – 4 hours each way from San Francisco). I definitely recommend Yosemite, it’s just going to take a bit of time to do it on this trip. Overall your route is certainly do-able, as long as you don’t mind a fair bit of driving. I like that you are scheduling multiple nights in the various locations, that will give you more time to enjoy without rushing. I’d say that your order is pretty good, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

6th August 2018 at 1:27 pm

Thank you for taking the time reply! I am glad it sounds doable. I think the multiple stops should help to break up the drive (I won’t be doing it my other half has that pleasurable job =) ). Yes Yosemite is the one we are are a bit confused about as when to add it. Before or after San Fran and at what point as you say it is out of the way, but is a must for us, and we don’t want to miss anything on the drive down from San Fran to La, so a tricky one. Thank you for your input, much appreciated!

Tim Shakespeare says

24th July 2018 at 9:42 am

Hi there, my wife and I are coming mid October to California for a road trip celebrating my 50th. We start in SF, only for 2 days, then have 3 days before we get to Yosemite. Have you any recommendations of where to visit in that time, we don’t mind going in any direction before heading towards Yosemite? We then head to Las Vegas for my actual birthday for 3 days then onto LA for a further 4 days, any suggestions of where to spend time between the cities?

24th July 2018 at 9:42 pm

Hey Tim! Well, it really depends on what you are interested in! Obviously you’re not too far from Napa Valley if it’s wine you’re after, or you could head north to Redding, where there’s some beautiful scenery. A sojourn along the Pacific Coast Highway, or at least part of it, is also an option – there are so many cute towns along that route to check out (see our guide here:

Between Vegas and LA, the obvious choices are Joshua Tree National Park, and the whole Mojave Desert is pretty impressive. I’m assuming you’ll stop at Death Valley from Yosemite, but if not, you could head up that way. Another option is to head south from Vegas and find Route 66, and follow then into LA, which is a fun option. You can see more on Route 66 here:

Hope this helps a bit! Have a great trip and happy birthday!

tim shakespeare says

27th July 2018 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Laurance, that info is really useful

28th July 2018 at 4:08 pm

My pleasure 🙂

Paula Lambie says

20th July 2018 at 2:35 pm

Hi Laurence, Absolutely loved your article. We are a group of 6 friends that are coming from Trinidad and want to stay about 7-8 days on a road trip starting in LA and possibly leaving from San Fran. We are coming around the end of Feb 2019 and leaving around March 6 or 7th. Still in the planning stages and would appreciate any advice or recommendations. I want to include Yosemite and Sequoia but don”t know if it is feasible with the time period we are looking at. Any advice would greatly be appreciated. Take care.

22nd July 2018 at 9:09 pm

Thanks very much. So Yosemite would be feasible, but you have to bear in mind that in February and March it can still be quite snowy in the park, and it’s also a four hour drive each way from San Francisco, so that’s going to eat up a lot of your time. My suggestion would be to definitely do the Pacific Coast Highway over two or three days, and then depending on your interests, either some time in places like the Joshua Tree, or the cities like LA, San Francisco or San Diego. Another option is to go further north of San Francisco, although Yosemite is a really incredible place and well worth the effort to get out there!

Hope this helps, have a great trip!

Louisa says

12th June 2018 at 6:03 pm

Hi Laurence, We are a family of 5 holidaying in California in August and staying San Francisco (3 nights) -Yosemite (3 nights)-Monterey (2 nights)-Santa Barbara (1 night) and at the moment San Diego (2 nights) and LA (3 nights). I am wondering if we are being over ambitious at the end of the holiday and should just stay in LA rather than driving down to San Diego and back to LA for our flight back? Is San Diego a must see? I am torn between wanting to see it all while we are in California but not overdoing it and rushing too much. What are the travel times likely to be realistically between Santa Barbara, LA and San Diego at that time of year? Thank you for any advice.

13th June 2018 at 11:07 am

Hey Louisa!

I think San Diego is worth visiting, and as you have 3 nights already in LA I don’t think you’ll have too much rush. I will be honest and say that I don’t know exactly what the travel times at that time of year will be, but I find that Google usually estimates travel times pretty well – just avoid the peak rush hours and you should generally be fine 🙂

Shelley says

14th May 2018 at 9:00 am

Hi Laurence, Great website! We are booking a 3 week trip over Christmas. LA to San Francisco, via Vegas/Death Valley etc. Weather wise, what should we expect, particularly with Yosemite? Is there anywhere along the coast which is worth stopping off between LA and San Francisco for a night? Many thanks Shelley from Sydney

14th May 2018 at 2:53 pm

Hi Shelley!

Thanks for your comment – sounds like you have a wonderful trip planned. So, Yosemite in particular can be tricky in winter. It can be accessed, but you need to be aware that it will obviously be quite snowy, and access isn’t possible from all sides – the route I have laid out for example you would have to alter a bit in order to access Yosemite in winter, as the Tioga Road is closed. You also usually can’t get up to Glacier point in winter. But the major attractions in the valley are accessible. For more on visiting Yosemite in Winter, you can check out this guide to Yosemite in a day that Jess wrote:

There is a lot to see and do on the Pacific Coast Highway, certainly enough to fill a day or two. There are lots of towns to stop at, and which you choose really depends what you are into. Cambria is a favourite of ours, but there’s a lot to see and do. This post breaks down all the highlights, so you can make an informed decision 🙂

Have a fabulous trip!

Lis Brown says

1st May 2018 at 11:15 pm

Hi Laurence, great post and photos! My husband and I are planing to do 2 weeks driving trip in California, i love all your suggested destinations, I may do the same trip as yours. However, I will be 4 months pregnant (planning to go in May) during the trip, may I know if the in-land route/parks and lake visits are suitable for me and accessible by car or light walking/ light hiking? your trip is start from san francisco and end there too, am i right? thanks in advance!

2nd May 2018 at 8:24 pm

Hi Lis! Thanks very much 😀 The trip does start and end in San Francisco yep.

For your question – I have to admit to not being an expert as we’ve not had any kids, however there is definitely light hiking in the majority of places. Just be aware it can get very hot in some parts of California, so do take plenty of water along. My advice would be to check the websites for the national parks you want to visit and see what hiking routes they have – I think you should be fine, but it’s always best to check as one persons “light hike” is another persons marathon 😉

Theresa says

10th April 2018 at 1:59 am

This looks like a great route, but I was really hoping to see Sequoia National Park. Any advice?

13th April 2018 at 6:16 pm

Hi Theresa! Thanks very much! As that’s in the north, you’d want to add it on near San Francisco. So you could either spend less time in the city, or lose a day somewhere else on the route. It’s hard to give specific advice without knowing your exact interests, but as you sound like you prefer nature to cities, perhaps spending less time in the cities might work better for you? Have a great trip!

15th April 2018 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for your reply. Sequoia National Park is south of Yosemite on the map (Redwood National Park is north of San Francisco). It doesn’t appear that there is road access to Sequoia NP on your route which heads north on 395. I did more research and verified that is the case.

18th April 2018 at 6:22 am

Hi! My apologies, I was thinking of the redwoods to the north of San Francisco and got a bit confused – but that is another option if you can’t make it to Sequoia. Road access can be a challenge due the mountains, and also in winter some of the roads into Yosemite are closed due to snow. So you might have to alter the route a fair bit to make it to Sequoia if that’s a priority 🙂

Jacques says

5th April 2018 at 10:41 pm

Hi Lawrence , we are also considering tyis roadtrip this month. Were from Canada. Assuming we are on the road a giving day with no reservations for a room the same night , by what time do we need to confirm a room or is there plenty of options once arriving early evening. Thank for everything.

6th April 2018 at 5:09 pm

Hi Jacques! At this time of year for the most part you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a room at the last minute. It does depend a little on what level of accommodation you are after, but for quick and easy motels we found they had lots of availability in general. We do definitely advise always checking prices online somewhere like though, as we nearly always got better deals that way compared to turning up – often the person at the desk didn’t have the power to actually match a price. So do keep that in mind 🙂 Have a great trip, and let me know how it goes!

Jacques Gauthier says

20th May 2018 at 1:13 am

Hi Lawrence ! We decided to take two weeks to travel from San Francisco to LA (Manhattan Beach) . We travel along the coast for these 14 days and enjoyed it tremendously. Next trip will be the National Parks .

Thank you .

20th May 2018 at 2:36 pm

13th March 2018 at 1:27 pm

We are hoping to do everything in your itinerary plus San Diego, we will only have 15 nights and would like to spend at least 2 full days in San Diego and 2 full days in SF, do you think this is reasonable without spending too long out of the 15 days in the car?

13th March 2018 at 8:34 pm

I think that should be do-able yes, if you are focused and don’t get too distracted 😉 Have an awesome trip!

Jacqueline says

19th February 2018 at 4:25 pm

Hi! I am planning a trip with my 10 year old son and love the looks of your itinerary. What would you suggest budget wise for this trip (minus flights) for the two of us?

Thanks, Jacqueline

19th February 2018 at 6:03 pm

Hi Jacqueline! It’s quite tricky to put a budget together on a case by case basis because everyone has different styles and standards of travelling. I’d suggest taking a look at my guide to how much it costs to travel in the USA, which covers pretty much all the areas you need to consider, and should give you some ballpark figures 🙂

Let me know if you still have questions after checking that out 😀

Gai Pendlebury says

12th October 2017 at 11:04 pm

Thank you — what a great and helpful site you have made.We are flying into San francisco from Australia in April.We only have 10 nights.Your suggestions are great — we will miss the LA part.Happy for anyone hear to put in their opinions for an itinerary!We will spent 4 or 5 nights in San fran and 3 in yosemite but the 3 nights are up for grabs –we have done Big Sir before so probs wont go south on the coast.I am thinking maybe Lake tahoe,gold rush towns …love to walk,history, beautiful scenery and quaint American towns.Happy to drive long distances– thank you –your photos are wonderful!

Laurence says

13th October 2017 at 10:33 am

Our pleasure – thanks for commenting to let us know, it’s always appreciated. Sounds like you have some good plans already – one idea might be to head north for Shasta Cascade region and see the caves / redwoods. I have a post about that region on the site too 🙂 Have a fabulous trip!

14th October 2017 at 5:09 am

Thank for that .I will look into it a bit more — I am really impressed with your links for such like 12 best spots for photographing San Fran or Yosemite. So helpful to know where to go to get those great shots!

Jules Selby says

28th August 2017 at 10:24 pm

We are planning two weeks but thinking of hiring an RV instead of hotels, what do you think?

28th August 2017 at 10:43 pm

An RV is definitely a good idea, but do be aware that they can be pricey, and you often have to pay for camping on top of that as well – although there are a lot of places you can camp for free in the US! So really it’s up to you – we’ve done both, and RV’ing is definitely a lot of fun!

Bob Steiner, Jr says

25th June 2017 at 4:07 am

You can’t drive a highway 1 through Big Sur. The highest us closed and detours long and winding over dirt roads

25th June 2017 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for pointing this out. Do you know how long the road will be closed? I’ll put a note in the post.

Erica Landry Napolitano says

16th April 2017 at 7:52 pm

This is some great advice for our upcoming trip. We have almost three weeks out in CA and these will be some great spots! Traveling with an 8 and 10 year old this still seems doable! Thanks.

16th April 2017 at 7:54 pm

My pleasure, have an awesome trip!

Jenna Francisco says

17th September 2016 at 5:18 am

So many good ideas here, and I agree that visitors should plan at least 3 days in San Francisco and Yosemite. One suggestion I’d make related to the “when to visit CA” section–SF and much of the coast are cold and foggy in the summer, so it’s a good idea for visitors to dress in layers and expect lots of fog in summer, that way they won’t be disappointed!

Sarah @ Endless Distances says

14th August 2016 at 1:16 pm

Wow this is so exhaustive!! I’ve don’t the pch before and it’s a dream. I would also definitely recommend staying in Santa Barbara – and the Mexican street food!!!

20th August 2016 at 8:28 pm

Thanks Sarah! It’s a fun place to road trip for sure – thanks for the recommendation!

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let me know when there's a reply to my comment (just replies to your comment, no other e-mails, we promise!)

Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter where we share our latest travel news and tips. This also makes you eligible to enter our monthly giveaways!

We only ask for your e-mail so we can verify you are human and if requested notify you of a reply. To do this, we store your data as outlined in our privacy policy . Your e-mail will not be published or used for any other reason other than those outlined above.

Dotted Globe

Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary: From the Pacific to the Redwoods!

california road trip april

Are you looking for the best California road trip itinerary to explore the most beautiful places in the Golden State? Our 10 days in California itinerary will take you from the rugged coast and beautiful beaches to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. Hike the Mojave desert, sleep underneath a yucca tree, and visit the lowest place on the continent while you road trip in California. Read our 10 day California Road Trip guide now. You may also like our post on 20 Best Road Trips in the USA .

Welcome to our ultimate California road trip planner!

We created this planner to help you plan the perfect road trip around California and it contains all the essential information you need to plan your trip today including budget and costs, what to eat, where to stay, etc.

Here you will find recommendations for a variety of California itineraries as well as get more information on California road trip must-see attractions including the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Sur, Yosemite, and Los Angeles.

Our mission? To make sure you have a blast in California!

Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur is the most scenic drive in the world

Also Read: Portland to San Francisco Road Trip Itinerary California To Texas road trip planner Best Things to do in Washington State

California is our favorite destination ever.

I have been enamored with California long before I visited it.

California, San Jose, and the West coast are randomly thrown around in conversations in India – because everyone knows someone working in Silicon Valley – and you can’t help but know about this slice of America.

Growing up, I knew more about Cisco, Apple, Google, and Yahoo (remember when everyone used Yahoo?!) than San Francisco, Yosemite, and Big Sur.

And Disney – because everyone knows Disney!

california road trip april

California has such a unique history.

The oldest, tallest, and widest trees live here and guess what, they have been around since prehistoric times – yes, even dinosaurs lived among the redwood trees!

One of the lowest, aridest, and hottest places on earth is right here in California in Badwater Basin.

And as for scenic places: California has so many of them!

We love Big Sur and its rocky coast, the wildflower super blooms, blue Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake and its tufas, unique shapes of Joshua trees!

There are so many things to see in California road trip that the list just goes on!

General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park during the winter

Also Read: 24 Best Places to Visit in California in winter

Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full  Disclosure  here. Thank you!

And that’s why in our California road trip itinerary of 10 days, we take you around all these unique and beautiful places in the Golden State.

Our California 10 day road trip itinerary is perfect for driving around dreamy landscapes of yellow poppies, orange orchards, purple foliage, and lush green vineyards.

We have divided this California roadtrip itinerary into 4 essential stretches as per the geographic features of the state – yepp, we are that geeky – and you can customize it as you want. 

Best waterproof walking shoes for California beaches

If you are a beach person like me, then extend the Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary to 10 days.

If you are a mountain lover like my hubby, then take a 10 day road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite.

Yosemite Valley Tunnel View in the winter

Pick your favorite area and stay there as long as you want. Or follow our California in 10 days itinerary exactly as described!

As always, we have also included suggestions for if you have more or less time.

Whatever you chose, you are going to have the time of your lives – because this is California!

Balboa Park's Casa de Balboa Building in San Diego, California

“Every time I come, I’m still amazed at the breadth California has. Big Sur, Yosemite, the desert… I love it.” – Theo James, the English actor

Best of California Road Trip 10 Days Itinerary

We, like most people, have seen California in bits and pieces rather than in one go.

We first visited California almost a decade ago and did San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the theme parks.

Second time around, we visited Death Valley National Park on a road trip from Vegas.

Then I lived and worked in the Bay area in tech (oh, the irony!) and that’s when we explored the California National Parks, North Coast, and the Sierra Nevada side of the state.

Our most popular posts: 22 Best City Breaks in the USA The Best Things to do in New York on your first visit Ultimate List of Best Places to visit in the USA

The Napa Valley Sign in Napa California

Most recently, we did the San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway – oh and also road-tripped Southern California and Disney with the kids.

On our next trip – we plan to do the North Coast and Redwoods Scenic Highway AGAIN.

Yeah – that’s how much we love California – have been to many destinations several times and still can’t have enough.

The best way to tour California is obviously by driving. The state is beautiful but huge and it’s not easy planning California trip that covers all the major attractions with limited time in hand.

Huntington Beach, California is sunny and warm in winter

And planning a California road trip with kids is even more difficult – how do you prioritize between theme parks and natural attractions?

And that’s where we rush in – your knights in shining armor – delivering the ultimate 10 day California road trip itinerary. 

Our California trip planner is more like going on a series of best California road trips – each more gorgeous than the previous.

Also, we follow this road trip along two of California’s most popular routes: south on the SR1 or Pacific Coast Highway and then back north along the scenic SR 395 through Eastern California .

That’s what makes our itinerary the absolute best California driving trip planner!

You can also call it the California National Parks road trip because we will be visiting the most popular of them on an epic road trip.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

california road trip april

Stretch 1: Down The Pacific Coast – 4 Days

Often enough, when someone talks about a California driving holiday, this stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway is the one they actually mean.

Constantly ranked among the top scenic drives in the world, the coastal drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles is the best of both worlds.

It combines the urban getaways of California’s two largest cities with the natural panoramas of Big Sur and the Pacific. 

If you have limited time, we would recommend spending 3 to 4 days along this route.

If you want to focus only on this coastal road trip, then just drive south on a road trip from San Francisco on SR1.

Take your own time to enjoy roadside stops like Carmel-By-The-Sea, Morro Bay, and the stunning Big Sur.

Hike or camp and explore nature.

Here’s our suggestion for this stretch of 10 day California itinerary planner.

Union Square is the heart of Christmas festivities in San Francisco

San Francisco – 1 Day

Start with our San Francisco road trip planner.

San Francisco is our favorite city to start a 10 day California trip.

The city is quite easy to fly into; the 3 airports of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland are located close by and many airlines have deals to the Bay area.

We would recommend spending a minimum of one day in San Francisco before picking up your rental car and driving south.

Or you can rent a car before, see SF, and then drive the PCH.

You can also start your 10 day road trip from Los Angeles, in that case, adjust your plans accordingly.

San Francisco street cars look charming during the holidays

Read this now! Whatever you do – don’t casually park your car at an empty garage in San Francisco. Car Break-ins in San Francisco are very common, as we discovered to our ill-fortune . On our latest trip to San Francisco, we had parked in a garage two blocks away from Pier 39 and came back to find the rear glass broken and both our children’s suitcases gone!  We had to spend quite some time to sort the issue and it left a sad memory on an otherwise awesome road trip around California in 10 days. We would recommend parking at your hotel while taking a cab or the tram to explore the city. 

San Francisco has many names – SF, San Fran, Fog City, the City by the Bay, Frisco (though don’t say that in front of locals) or simply, the City – going back to the days of the Wild West when there was nothing much in Northern California but the city.

San Francisco is colorful, vibrant, and bohemian.

It’s amongst our favorite US cities – right there at the top along with New York , Chicago , and New Orleans.

San Francisco City Hall decorated for Christmas

There are quite a few things to do in San Francisco: unsurprisingly most of them begin at or near the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco’s gigantic urban park.

Begin your visit at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center near the southern end of the bridge.

Learn interesting facts and see construction relics from the building of the Golden Gate Bridge before visiting the bridge itself.

Next walk across all 1.7 miles of this engineering marvel and icon of America.

The views of the bay from the bridge are beautiful and you feel an indescribable thrill while walking across it.

Definitely the highlight of your California travel itinerary!

california road trip april

Up for more adventure?

Bike the Golden Gate!

We have done it twice – most recently with our 3 yrs and 6 months old kids – it is a superb experience.

We love biking across to Sausalito, exploring the quaint town, and taking the ferry back to San Francisco.

You can also bike to the redwoods if you have more time.

Read our ultimate guide to biking the bridge here.

If not biking, then use the rest of your day to explore San Francisco’s highlights: Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, Lombard Street, and Ghirardelli Square.

If you want to spend more time in San Francisco, see the Painted Ladies – those famous SF houses shown in Full House!

You can also check out the city from the Twin Peaks.

The Golden Gate Park is perfect for a stroll.

Ride the cable car to Chinatown and have some dumplings and noodles for lunch.

Spend an afternoon admiring the beautiful architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts or visit the prison of Alcatraz Island.

Visit the beautiful redwood trees at Muir Woods National Monument or whale watch and hike at Point Reyes.

San Francisco is a beautiful city and you can easily spend a couple of days there as a part of your 10 day trip to California.

Read our San Francisco posts now to plan this part of the trip: San Francisco 3 to 5-day itinerary ideas 17 Best Things to do in San Francisco on your first visit

The area around San Francisco is also full of activities and tourist attractions.

Here are some suggestions if you want to spend a few more days exploring around the Bay Area during your California itinerary of 10 days:

Napa & Sonoma 

Take a day trip from San Francisco to Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail.

Sonoma County is also a great place to visit for wine lovers.

You can tour the many vineyards, taste local wines, dine at Michelin starred restaurants, and visit famous tasting rooms.

If you happen to visit in the fall, you will see beautiful fall colors in the vineyards and be able to attend grape stomping. 

San Jose is popular with millennials and those working in Silicon Valley.

You will find plenty of trendy nightclubs and bars in San Jose.

If you enjoy shopping, check out the high fashion brands on Santana Row.

For outdoor lovers, a hike to Mission Peak is a must while families will love the Winchester Mystery House.

Silicon Valley

If you love tech then you need to visit Silicon Valley.

It boasts the largest concentration of geeks and nerds – and as a fellow geek, I say it quite fondly!

Start your visit at the Computer History Museum to know everything about the machine that changed our lives.

Then see Google’s Android lawn sculptures in Mountain View or the garage where Hewlett Packard began in Palo Alto.

Visit Stanford University’s sprawling campus as well as Facebook and Apple!

McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip – 2 Days

On to the next part of the 10 day road trip in California.

After seeing San Francisco, drive south along the SR1 or Pacific Coast Highway.

Over the next 2 days, you will follow the coastal route to Los Angeles while making plenty of stops along the way.

Check the coastal communities of Half Moon Bay and Davenport before reaching Santa Cruz.

If you have kids, spend some time at the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk.

Next visit Monterey and Carmel by the Sea. Hike in Point Lobos or walk the coastal bluffs at Garrapata State Park.

On the way, you will see secret beaches, hidden coves, and beautiful views. 

Wineries near paso Robles in Central California

As you begin driving PCH1 while following our 10 days in California itinerary, you understand why artists settle here, photographers and writers both wax lyrical about this region, and why the drive is called the most beautiful in the world.

We recommend staying somewhere in the vicinity of Carmel Highlands for the night.

The next day, rise early for the star attraction of the drive: the 90-mile long rugged, wild Big Sur.

Big Sur is 6 hours from Los Angeles and you have a big day ahead.

It is really hard to describe Big Sur.

Rocky cliffs, foaming waves, spring wildflowers, lighthouses, migrating whales, turquoise water, redwood trees: Big Sur has everything.

December in California is the perfect time to go whale watching near Monterey

It is gorgeous in a wild way.

In Big Sur, you will find amazing state parks, some of California’s best hiking trails, iconic beaches, and tons of marine life, including otters, elephant seals, and dolphins.

Some areas of Big Sur can be closed at any given time of the year due to floods or landslides – so we recommend checking out the PCH status before your 10 days road trip California.

Beach hiking trails in Monterey California

Read more about all the attractions including the beautiful McWay Falls in our post One day in Big Sur . 

Other attractions of the Pacific Coast Highway drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles include Monterey’s famous 17-mile drive, the seaside towns of Pismo Beach and Morro Bay, the famous Hearst Castle, Santa Barbara, and the beaches of Malibu.

For the purposes of this California Itinerary of 10 days, we would suggest 2 to 3 days on PCH.

However, if you have more time then the PCH is easily a 4 day to week-long road trip in itself.

To read more about all the awesome stops on PCH and planning a detailed itinerary, check out our article on Planning a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway . 

Also Read: Top 10 Convertible drives in the USA

california road trip april

Los Angeles – 1 Day

While San Francisco and Silicon Valley are for tech lovers, Los Angeles is for Hollywood fans.

How long to stay in Los Angeles is a tricky question.

If you only have one day in Los Angeles, start by seeing the famous Hollywood sign and then visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame to take selfies with your favorite stars.

Also, see the Kodak Theatre (now Dolby Theatre) which hosts the Oscars and tour the movie star homes on Rodeo Drive.

Venice canals at Christmas in Los Angeles

If you have more time to explore Los Angeles, we suggest starting with lunch at the Santa Monica Pier.

Then visit the Griffith Observatory and see Los Angeles from above.

Or you can take a behind the scenes VIP studio tour at one of your favorite studios: pick from Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures or Sony!

You can also check out the beautiful exhibits at the Getty Center or the beautiful modern art at the Broad.

LA also has many other top museums and a large number of attractions – read our post on Best Things to do in Los Angeles for more ideas.

For more help in planning your day, read our Los Angeles itinerary for first-time visitors .

california road trip april

Here are some suggestions to explore the area beyond Downtown Los Angeles:

No California family road trip is complete without a trip to Disney.

Both of California’s Disney Parks are located close to Los Angeles in Anaheim.

On the best California vacation itinerary, you have to meet Mickey, Goofy and other beloved cartoon characters!

Kids also get to meet Disney’s princesses in full attire at the parks.

To plan a California family vacation itinerary including a trip to Disney, read our Disney posts .

Universal Studios

To understand all about movie-making, see movie sets, and enjoy thrilling rides visit Universal Studios.

This theme park has really cool attractions and the Studio Tour will take you through sets based on Shutter Island, Jaws, King Kong, and more.

Harry Potter fans will love visiting Hogwarts and taking thrilling rides based on the books and movies – and is a must-visit if you are spending 10 days in California.

Colorful houses near Santa Cruz, California

Channel Islands National Park

For a unique experience, customize our itinerary for California 10 days and visit the remote Channel Islands.

Comprised of 5 islands, the park has excellent wildlife, sea caves, and lots of natural beauty.

You can take a ferry to the park from Ventura.

Optional: San Diego – 1 Day

From Los Angeles, you can venture on the next part of California 10 day itinerary or extend your trip down the coast by visiting San Diego.

Not many people know that San Diego is the oldest city on the West Coast.

It has beautiful Spanish Colonial architecture and lots of history. 

San Diego, California, downtown skyline

Read our post 22 Best Things to do in San Diego now to know more about this beautiful city.

If you have one day, you can visit the Historic Old Town and understand the Mexican and Wild West roots of the city.

Next, visit the famous Balboa Park with its beautiful architecture, renowned museums, and the San Diego Zoo.

Round off your time in the city by exploring the historic Gaslamp Quarter and its Victorian architecture and trendy eateries, hotels, and pubs.

This area is perfect for ending the day with dinner and drinks.

california road trip april

If you have more than a day, visit the famous San Diego Sea World and see the dolphins in action.

San Diego is home to many beautiful beaches; the Mission Beach boardwalk is very popular.

Other things to see include Mission San Diego, Sunset Cliffs Park, and the bustling waterfront area of Seaport Village.

If you have more time on 10 day itinerary California, check out the dramatic sculptures in the desert city of Borrego Springs.

Related: For more California road trip ideas, check out our post on 12 Best California road trips

Christmas decorations in Old San Diego Town California

Stretch 2: Through The Arid Californian Desert – 2 Days

Continue on the California road trip route planner through deserts of southern California.

While most people associate California primarily with the coast and then with the dense redwood forests, the state is also renowned for its unique desert landscapes.

Most of these parts of southern California have a desolate beauty.

It is full of desert cities like Palm Springs which offer unique tourist attractions for visitors.

In this post, we focus our California 10 days itinerary on exploring two of the region’s national parks: Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

Joshua Tree Landscape

Joshua Tree National Park – 1 Day

Located partly over the Colorado desert and the Mojave desert, Joshua Tree National Park is named after the iconic Joshua tree.

This is a type of Yucca tree that is twisted, scraggly, and found only in the Mojave desert of California.

The easily recognizable tree looks even more dramatic in the desert landscape and bare rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park.

The national park is one of the most underrated California road trip destinations.

Its unique vistas have drawn photographers and artists to the park for decades.

Read our post on One Day in Joshua Tree to plan your trip.

california road trip april

There are many things to do in Joshua Tree and its otherworldly landscape.

One of the best ways to see Joshua Tree is by driving around the paved road in the park.

Campsites in Joshua Tree are spectacular and hikes through Yucca trees and cacti adventurous.

The Hidden Valley Trail is a short mile-long trail that offers great desert landscape views.

The park has many popular geological rock formations that are used for rock climbing.

The park also has a dark night sky and is good for stargazers, astronomy enthusiasts, and night sky photographers.

Wildlife and birding opportunities around the park are also numerous.

Barker Dam in Joshua Tree National Park at sunrise

Read more in our post 24 Best Things to do in Joshua Tree National Park .

While deciding how to plan a trip to California, we recommend keeping more time aside to explore the many attractions surrounding Joshua Tree.

You can easily include them on a South California road trip from San Diego to Joshua Tree in this order: San Diego – Anza Borrego – Galleta Meadows – Salton Sea – Palm Springs – Joshua Tree.

Here’s some more information about these desert experiences that are worth adding to your itinerary if you have the time.

Salton Sea 

The Salton Sea is an inland lake created by flooding from an irrigation canal of the Colorado River that carries water to the Imperial Valley in 1905.

Several resort communities were built along the new lake.

However, the lake has no discharge and as a result, the water became unusually saline causing the death of marine life.

As a result, the communities were abandoned and are extremely popular with ruin photographers.

If you have teens, then definitely include Bombay Beach ruins in your California vacation itinerary – they will love to see random objects lying on the beach.

Today, the Salton Sea shoreline is filled with deteriorating structures and RV communities.

The Salton Sea is also located directly on top of the San Andreas fault and geothermal activity including mud pools are present along the coast.

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is popular for birding, boating, picnicking, and camping. 

Beautiful interior of the church at the Santa Barbara Mission in California near Christmas

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, located in the Colorado desert region, is one of the biggest Californian desert cities.

If you want a relaxing vacation, then Palm Springs is one of the best California ideas.

One of its main attractions is the Palm Springs aerial tramway which takes you up Mount San Jacinto and offers great views of the surrounding area.

Palm Springs also has many great museums, boutique stores, restaurants, and resorts.

It is one of the most popular winter vacation destinations in the USA.

If you plan to visit Palm Springs, then check out our post on 30 Best Things to do in Palm Springs, California.

Palm Springs California in amazing to visit in December

Anza Borrego and Galleta Meadows Sculptures in Borrego Springs

While California has many beautiful state parks, few know about its largest – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

This park is at its most beautiful in the spring when the cacti flower and the desert landscape comes alive with colors.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is just two hours away from San Diego and can be seen on a San Diego Joshua Valley road trip.

In nearby Borrego Springs, you can see the unusual Galleta Meadows Estate sculptures.

These sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda are free to visit and beautiful works of art.

By driving all over the land you can spot dragons, serpents, wooly mammoths, and other fantastic creatures.  

Also, read our post on Planning the ultimate Southern California itinerary.

california road trip april

Coachella Valley Preserve 

Coachella’s Thousand Palms Oasis is a unique chance to see the oasis environment in the middle of the desert.

The oases directly sit on fault lines and the water seeping through the faults has given life to California Fan Palms and other big palms in the arid desert.

Wildlife including sheep, goats, bobcats, etc, also can be spotted at the oasis.

Entry to the reserve is free and it has many hiking trails plus offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

There are also other hiking areas close to Coachella Valley Preserve including Indian Canyons where you can hike through slot canyons. 

Scenic road to Death Valley National park, California

Death Valley National Park – 1 Day

Comprising of areas of the Mojave desert and the Great Basin desert, Death Valley is vastly different than Joshua Tree National Park.

For the most part, Death Valley is devoid of vegetation and is home to a variety of geological formations including the badlands, sand dunes, and the famous salt flats.

Death Valley also has the distinction of being the lowest point in North America and is also one of the hottest and driest places in the country.

california road trip april

No trip to Death Valley National Park is complete without visiting the Badwater Basin salt flats.

The salt flats, at 282 feet below sea level, are the lowest place in North America.

Death Valley National Park has many scenic drives that are perfect for exploring around the park.

Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes are good for taking a stroll, exploring the desert plants, viewing animal tracks, and sunrise/sunset photography.

The park has many interesting geological formations.

Death Valley also has a dark night sky and is great for stargazing and photographing the Milky Way.

Read our post on 14 Best Things to do in Death Valley National Park for more information.

Badlands view from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park at Dusk, California

We know you are planning to roadtrip California, but we can’t talk about Death Valley without mentioning Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is also a great city to begin your road trip to California.

The distance between Vegas and Death Valley is just over 2 hours and the route is quite scenic.

In fact, it is one of our favorite road trips from Las Vegas.

You can see the Sin City and then go on a road trip through California – an epic Las Vegas Los Angeles San Francisco trip, if you will!

Or you can also go on a memorable Las Vegas Grand Canyon road trip from California.

For Las Vegas travel inspiration, read our post on 52 Best Things to do in Las Vegas .

Frozen Convict Lake surrounded by mountains on a winter day;

Stretch 3: Up Through The Sierra Nevada – 4 Days

After seeing Death Valley, take a road trip on California’s Scenic Highway 395.

This road trip is scenic whether you do it from north to south or like we recommend here, from south to north.

The best time to see the aspens turn yellow here is in fall.

The total distance from Death Valley to your final destination of Yosemite is 4 hours when the Lee Vining road to Yosemite is open in the summer.

However, we recommend keeping aside 4 days for this road trip as it has some of the most underrated road trip destinations in California including the Manzanar National Historic Site, Alabama Hills, Ancient Bristlecone pine forest, Bodie Ghost Town, etc.

For more information on these Route 395 stops, see this article .

Roads in Kings Canyon National Park in winter

For the purposes of this itinerary, we focus on the popular attractions of Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe. 

Route 395 will take you high up into the Sierra Nevada mountains, known for their spectacular beauty.

The Sierra Nevadas are home to many national and state parks including the mighty Yosemite and crystal clear high mountain lakes.

For the rest of your Californian road trip, you will be exploring the High Sierras and its many breathtaking attractions.

This is a welcome respite after the desert landscapes of Death Valley and Joshua Tree and depending on when you visit you will be able to see beautiful meadows, wildflowers, fall foliage, and even snow!

Lake Tahoe looks spectacular even in the winter

Mammoth Lakes And Mono Lake – 1 Day

Contrary to their name, Mammoth Lakes is not a lake but a winter ski town in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Mammoth Mountain is the main winter skiing area with a variety of ski runs.

In summer, it is a favorite with mountain bikers and hikers.

The town does have several beautiful lakes that are accessible only in the summer but none of them are named Mammoth.

The area has beautiful alpine meadows with wildflowers in spring and natural hot springs for some R&R.

In one day, we recommend taking the roughly one hour drive around the Lakes Basin and visiting all the lakes.

You can hike, picnic, kayak, and fish in whichever lake you like.

Or maybe just hang up a hammock and read a book by the lake.

california road trip april

Nearby Mono Lake is a saltwater lake surrounded by unique towering limestone formations called the tufa.

The lake visitor center has great information about the formation of the lake and the tufa while the short South Tufa trail is great for exploring the surrounding area.

The trail takes you along the lakeshore and among the tufas.

We suggest stopping here for an hour or so; Mono Lake accepts National Park Pass for entry.

On the way from Mammoth Lakes to Mono Lake, you will pass by June Lake and Devils Postpile Monument.

Enjoy snowshoeing on Lake Tahoe in winter

June Lake Loop Road is a great place to see the fall colors while the Devils Postpile National Monument is a unique geological formation of basalt columns.

Rainbow Falls, a 31m plunging waterfall, is another popular attraction of the monument.

Past Mono Lake, take the Lee Vining Road into Yosemite.

The official name of the road is Tioga Pass Road and it is closed in winter and spring (usually November to May) due to snow.

In that case, you can’t really visit Yosemite from the eastern side.

To know alternative routes in winter, check here . 

california road trip april

Yosemite National Park – 2 Days

Best known for its giant sequoia trees, bald granite cliffs, and spectacular waterfalls, Yosemite National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yosemite along with Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park is known as the ‘Big Three’ and receives over 4 million visitors each year.

Yosemite is a must-stop on any Ca road trip itinerary.

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is from the summer to fall when Tioga Pass Road is open.

Beautiful winter scenery in Yosemite National Park, California

We suggest spending 2 days in Yosemite National Park to hike, drive along scenic roads, and see the major attractions. 

On your first day, start by taking a Yosemite Valley Tour.

The Yosemite Valley is surrounded by the bald granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Most of the waterfalls including Yosemite Falls are also located in the valley.

The Valley is also where most of the park services including accommodations, shuttle buses, etc are located.

The Valley has hiking trails for all difficulty levels that lead to stunning views of Yosemite.

Lower Yosemite Falls hike is a short and easy trail that goes to the base of the falls.

california road trip april

Touring the Yosemite Valley via the free shuttle bus is the easiest way to see the national park.

However, if you are visiting in summer (especially long weekends) it can get very crowded – so plan to start early in the morning.

The Valley Visitor Center has great information and exhibits about the history and geology of Yosemite, plus it is a good place to get souvenirs, postcards, and magnets.

The aptly-named Mirror Lake reflects Half Dome peak and is beautiful to visit.

However, it dries up towards the end of summer and is best seen in spring/summer. 

Another must in the Valley if you’re visiting in summer is Glacier Point.

Located along the valley rim, it can be reached only by car or private tour.

The views from Glacier Point are stellar. It is also the base for many of Yosemite’s rim hikes.

We suggest spending one day exploring the valley. Yosemite also offers paid guided tours if you prefer them.

california road trip april

On the next day, you can go up the Tioga Pass road if it is clear of snow.

This is your chance to experience Yosemite devoid of the crowds.

The shuttle bus will take you up the Tioga Pass road to Tuolumne Meadows.

To see Yosemite’s giant sequoia trees, visit the Mariposa Grove.

This area is also accessible by the park shuttle.

End your day by visiting Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village.

Photographer Ansel Adams’s stunning black and white photos of Yosemite are a great reminder of how Yosemite looked over half a century ago.

Lake Tahoe And Emerald Bay – 1 Day

If you continue along Route 395 from Yosemite, you will reach lake Tahoe.

Note: Route 395 itself does not reach Lake Tahoe, so you will be following 207 from the Nevada side. 

The deep blue water of Lake Tahoe surrounded by snow-clad mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevadas is one of California’s iconic images.

Located on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is a popular travel destination for Californians throughout the year.

In winter it is popular for snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding.

Summer in Lake Tahoe is made for biking and camping.

In fall, the area around Lake Tahoe comes alive with spectacular fall foliage and is one of the top fall drives in the country .

South Lake Tahoe or the California side is best for enjoying the outdoors and nature with family while the Nevada side has lots of casinos and is more touristy.

california road trip april

Crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe (CC 2.0 – Christian Abend )

The drive around Lake Tahoe is 72 miles long and takes about three hours.

It is highly scenic and one of the best road trips in California.

Much of the shoreline of Lake Tahoe is public and the views of the lake from the drive are stunning.

The lake looks a pretty shade of blue during the day and taking a beautiful picture of the water is a highlight of your visit.

An essential stop along the drive is the Emerald Bay State Park.

The drive here is spectacular and the views of the turquoise lake are lovely.

There are many other ways to enjoy Lake Tahoe.

You can take a helicopter tour or enjoy watersports on the lake.

The Sierra Nevada mountain ranges are an absolute delight for outdoor and nature lovers.

What you will see in these 4 days is just the tip of the iceberg.

The High Sierras have many beautiful alpine valleys, lakes, ghost towns, waterfalls, and hiking trails worth exploring.

If you can spend more time in the Sierra Nevada, then here are some other must attractions:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks 

These are the two other national parks located in the High Sierras.

The giant sequoias surround you as you drive the park roads creating a surreal and unique experience.

The twisting and turning roads here are not for the faint-hearted (hint: carry some Dramamine!).

Both national parks have great hiking trails and lots of wildlife.

John Muir Trail

While it is not possible to hike in a short time, John Muir Trail deserves a special mention.

This is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada and passes through Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks.

It is as renowned as the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Bodie Ghost Town

The old mining ghost town of Bodie is an hour away from Mammoth Lakes.

Preserved as a state park, the town is full of historic saloons and deserted buildings.

While Sacramento is not in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, the city is on the way while returning to San Francisco from Lake Tahoe and makes for a great addition to our California road trip itinerary recommendations.

One of the top attractions in Sacramento is the California State Railroad Museum.

california road trip april

Stretch 4: Along The Wild North Coast

There are many things to do in Northern California including national parks, scenic drives, beautiful coastal towns, and more.

You will need another 5 days minimum to fully explore the Northern part of the state.

Hence, we do not recommend covering the North Coast if you are following this California Road Trip Itinerary for 10 Days – you simply won’t have time.

The best way to explore this region is to plan a separate road trip in the northern part of the state, the details of which you can read here in our post, Ultimate Northern California road trip itinerary .

California’s North Coast is less visited, unspoiled, and partially unexplored compared to the famous central Coast and the crowded southern coast.

The prehistoric coastal redwood trees grow in groves along the road all the way up to Oregon.

Hwy 1 ends at Leggett where it joins Hwy 101.

While the road follows the coast, for the most part, it turns inward in the area of the Lost Coast.

The remote Lost Coast as the name suggests is devoid of major highways and remains the ultimate adventure for a 10 day trip to California.

california road trip april

However, the coast is not the only unique thing about Northern California.

The northern part of the state is also home to geothermal activity.

You can climb lava tunnels at Lava Beds National Monument and see volcanic craters, domes, mud pools, etc at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Here are a few attractions of the region:

Redwoods National and State Park

The Redwoods National and State Parks were created to preserve the old-growth redwood forests.

The Redwoods are the tallest living trees on Earth and also among the oldest.

The National Park and state parks are also home to a number of endangered animals including spotted owl, species of sea lions, etc.

The unique environment of the dense redwood forests by the coast has resulted in the park being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seeing the Redwoods covered in fog during winter or spring is a surreal experience.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore, located in Marin County, preserves a large swath of northern California’s coastal wilderness.

Most popular attractions at Point Reyes include Alamere Falls on Wildcat Beach and Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Other attractions include the endangered tule elk herd that can be seen around Tomales Point, Native American redwood houses, earthquake trail, and dramatic cliffside beaches.

california road trip april

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants is an over 30 miles long scenic highway that passes through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and its mighty coastal redwood trees.

Roadside attractions include tunnels cut into redwood trees, giant groves, and unique roadside attractions like a house created from a single redwood log and a Redwood RV.

We suggest hiking in the Redwood groves to experience the truly gigantic trees.

The quaint seaside town of Mendocino is quite different from the coastal towns on the Central Coast.

It reminded me of Maine and the coastal upper East coast due to its Victorian mansions painted in pretty pastel colors.

The town is a historical landmark and very pretty to wander and explore.

Nearby Mendocino Headlands State Park and Russian Gulch State Park are worth a visit.

Nearby Fort Bragg is no fort but a lumber town on the North Coast.

The famous ‘Glass Beach’ of which I’m sure you have seen pics floating around on social media is in Fort Bragg.

The beach is a part of MacKerricher State Park, a state park with amazing views of the undeveloped headlands, beaches, and tide pools.

Another popular attraction in Fort Bragg is the Skunk Train – a railroad built to haul timber logs from the redwood forests.

Other attractions on the North Coast include the pretty Victorian towns of Ferndale and Eureka, Del Norte Redwood State Park, and the seaport community of Crescent City.

More 10 Day California itinerary ideas for slow travelers

You can use our California road trip planner to customize your itinerary based on your interests. 

If you can only spend 10 days in California, then seeing all the above attractions can be overwhelming; here are a few suggestions for those who like slow travel.

California coast road trip itinerary

One great option is to go on a 10 day pacific coast highway trip or 10 day west coast road trip.

That way you can spend more time in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles while seeing Big Sur at a leisurely pace. 

On this San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip in 10 days, you can tour the lighthouses, hike the trails, picnic on the beach, visit the wineries of the Central Coast, and enjoy nature – seriously the best road trip in California. 

You can even do the San Francisco to San Diego road trip in 10 days.

In that case, we would recommend keeping aside 2 days each for the 3 major cities and spending the rest of the time in the Big Sur region. 

This San Francisco 10 days trip lets you enjoy the beauty of the coast while visiting the Sierra Nevadas and the desert later.

California National Parks itinerary

California has 9 national parks – all of them are unique and make for an exciting California National park road trip. 

You can visit either the most popular ones or all of them, depending on how much time you want to spend in each park. 

We would suggest starting from Los Angeles, then seeing Joshua Tree and Death Valley before visiting Kings Canyon and Sequoia. 

Then see the beautiful Yosemite Valley. From Yosemite, head north to Lassen and then finally see Redwoods parks before returning to San Francisco. 

You can also see Pinnacles and Channel Islands if you have the time, to complete the national parks in California road trip. 

You can also use this route for creating your own California RV trip itinerary, since most national parks have RV campgrounds. 

Northern California road trip itinerary

Another great option for those who like slow travel is to plan a Northern California itinerary for 10 days. 

Start your road trip from San Francisco and drive along the less visited North Coast and see the majestic redwood trees. 

Drive along the Redwoods Scenic Byway before turning towards the mountains and exploring the caves at Lava Tubes National Monument. 

Visit Mount Shasta on your way to Lassen Volcanic National Park and end your trip in Sacramento, a couple of hours away from San Francisco. 

For more information on how to plan a California road trip focusing on the northern part of the state, read our in-depth post on Northern California road trip .

If you have less time: California itinerary 7 days

If you can’t spare 10 days, then we also have suggestions for 7 day California road trip routes. 

With only 7 days in california, we would recommend focusing on one region and exploring it at a leisurely pace. 

Of course, you can opt for a 7 day southern California itinerary or a 7 day California coast road trip along the PCH, but you can also consider some unique road trip ideas in California which explore its most popular attractions. 

Here are our favorites if you want to see the best of California in a week:

7 day road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite

If you are wondering how to spend a week in California but still see the most popular attractions, then this itinerary is for you. 

Start your road trip in San Francisco, see the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Mission District, Fisherman’s Wharf etc in two days. 

Then spend a day in Napa Valley and nearby Calistoga before seeing Sacramento.

In Sacramento, see the state capitol and the railroad museum then make your way to Yosemite National Park. 

Take a tour of the Yosemite Valley and see the famous El Capitan as well as the many waterfalls.

Enjoy the panoramic view from the Tunnel View Outlook. 

Then depending on the season, visit the Tuolumne Meadows area.

Return to San Francisco to complete 7 day road trip in California.

North California coast road trip

This California 1 week itinerary is perfect for slow travel. 

Land in San Francisco and take a day or two to explore it’s many attractions.

Then rent a car and drive north. 

Part of this road trip is on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 till Legett, after which you will be driving along the famous Redwood scenic byway. 

For your first stop, explore the beautiful Point Reyes.

See the lighthouse and the shipwreck, then eat oysters in Tomales Bay. 

Drive along the Avenue of the Giants and pass through the Redwood tunnels. 

Hike in the prehistoric Fern Canyon and visit the glass beach at Fort Bragg, then last stop at Eureka or Crescent City to finish the California coast 7 day itinerary.

7 Day Southern California trip itinerary

For this ca road trip planner, begin your trip with a day or two in San Diego or Los Angeles and then wind your way around Southern California’s desert attractions. 

See famous Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.

Enjoy the fantastic landscape of the Mojave desert and drink a delicious date shake.

See the sculptures in Borrego Springs. 

Then visit Anaheim and enjoy the theme parks.

There are also many things to do in Anaheim besides Disney. 

7 Day California Coast Road Trip

This is one of the most popular california driving holidays itineraries.

Follow this California road trip itinerary 7 days along the world famous Pacific Coast Highway. 

See the major cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Explore the charming mountain side towns of Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. Learn to surf and spot the elephant seals. 

Spend some time hiking and enjoying the wild, rugged vibe of Big Sur.

Take a tour of the Point Sur Lighthouse and hike down to Keyhole Rock. Go whale watching. 

If you have more time: California road trip itinerary 14 days

This two week california driving itinerary is perfect for long summer vacations, when most parts of the state including the High Sierras are completely accessible. 

Just use our main California trip planner, but add in all optional ideas including San Diego and the beautiful northern coast. 

Then see the Lassen Volcanic National Park area and visit the beautiful Burney Falls from Redding.

Spend some time in Mount Shasta and head back to San Francisco to complete California 2 week itinerary.

We hope you liked our California road trip blog.

Now you have everything ready to plan your perfect California trip itinerary, so make the most of it.

Did we miss any hidden gems in the Golden State?

Which part of the road trip did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments!

1 thought on “Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary: From the Pacific to the Redwoods!”

It’s really a cool and helpful piece of information. Thanks for share.

Comments are closed.

The Planet D: Adventure Travel Blog

The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

Written By: The Planet D

Road Trips , United States

Updated On: February 8, 2024

This California road trip itinerary will take you along incredible the famous Pacific Coast highway, through deserts, and around lakes and mountains. It is one of the most diverse road trips you can take in the United States.

We have personally driven these roads and highways on different road trips in California and we visited all the sights recommended. This two week itinerary can easily be mixed and matched to create different California road trips as long or short as you like.

California Road Trip Itinerary

Make sure to download your Pacific Coast highway Self Drive tour before embarking on your California road trip. Explore the California Coast at your own pace as you follow the app to discover monuments, towns, and points of interest along the route. It will track your route and play automatically to tell you about your stops as you drive from Monterey to Pismo Beach.

Table of Contents

California Road Trip Map

california road trip itinerary map

1. San Francisco – 2 Days

We’ve planned the initial stage of our California road trip itinerary from San Francisco . It is easy to fly into from all major hubs and car rentals can be picked up directly at the airport. Plus, traffic in San Francisco isn’t as congested as it is in Los Angeles making it the perfect start for any California road trip itinerary.

California road trip golden gate bridge

Spending two days in San Francisco will give you the chance to see all the iconic sites like the incredible Golden Gate Bridge before moving South. We have an excellent 72 hours in San Francisco guide where you can plan your entire stay in San Francisco .

  • Tip: When we visited San Francisco for the first time, we bought a  City Pass  and explored all the neighborhoods by bus. It was a great way to get acquainted with the layout of the city and have the option to hop on and hop off whenever we wanted with a 24 or 48-hour pass.
  • Click here to search all the car rental agencies and get the best price for your California Road Trip!

Things to do in San Francisco

road trip california palace of the arts

  • San Francisco Cable Car
  • Golden Gate Park – one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Painted Ladies – made famous by Full House
  • Hippie district of Haight Ashbury and China Town
  • Palace of the arts
  • See our complete guide to the Best Hikes in San Francisco

Make sure to get out on the Bay to see the city when in San Francisco, this Golden Gate Bay Cruise let’s you see many of San Francisco’s top attractions. You’ll cruise along the waterfront, sail under the Golden Gate Bay Bridge, go around Alcatraz and see the former hippy enclave of Sausalito. Whatch for marine life such as sea lions, dolphins and whales as you cruise the Marin Headlands wildlife reserves.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

For first-time visitors to San Francisco, we suggest staying near Fisherman’s Wharf. You will be close to all the iconic places in the city.

  • Luxury: Argonaut Hotel – A 4-star hotel located next to the SF Maritime National Historic Park for about $300 per night. TripAdvisor /
  • Mid-Range: Pier 2620 Hotel – This eco-friendly hotel is close to the beach. It is a new and modern design, with a fitness center. $200 per night TripAdvisor /
  • Budget: Hotel Zephyr – This boutique has nautical-themed rooms, central, near Pier 39, Lombard Street, and Ghirardelli Square. TripAdvisor /
  • Read our full guide for San Francisco Neighborhoods and Accommodation Where to Stay in San Francisco 

2. Monterey / Carmel By the Sea – 1 Day

Drive just 2 hours and 45 minutes from San Francisco to Monterrey

California Roat Trip stop: Monterey

After leaving San Francisco, we make our way down the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey. You can stay either stay in Monterey or Carmel by the Sea. Monterey and Carmel by the Sea are only 10 minutes from each other. We stayed at Carmel by the Sea and it was a great location to get around Big Sur.

When visiting Monterey, you’ll want to get out on the water as it is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. This Monterey Bay tour departs from Old Fisherman’s Wharf to set sail for some whale watching. You’ll see Californian Sea Lions basking in the harbor as you pass Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. 

Things to See and Do

The Ghost Tree of 17 Mile Drive

  • Cycling 17 Mile Drive – If there is one thing to do in Carmel before moving on, you must take a tour of 17-Mile Drive. We had a blast on e-Bikes with Big Sur Adventures . Read about our full experience at 17-Mile Drive – California’s Most Scenic Drive. 
  • Cannery Row – The Historic Cannery Row has been transformed from old warehouses to colorful buildings lining the waterfront filled with eateries and shops.
  • Monterey Aquarium – The Monterey Aquarium is the centerpiece of the city where they study the waters of Monterey Bay and tackle the oceans health problems.
  • Kayaking Monterey Bay – Don’t miss getting on the water in Monterey. We highly recommend taking a kayaking tour of Monterey Bay with Adventures by the Sea to view sea otters and sea lions.
  • Surfing Carmel – Beginners will love the easy break and sandy shallow waters of Carmel Bay. We spent the morning taking a lesson with the Carmel Surf Company

Hotels and AirBnBs in Monterrey

The Hideaway – Centrally Located on Juniper Street, a short walk to restaurants, and just a few blocks from the beach. This luxury boutique hotel has in-room fireplaces and offers a modern design. TripAdvisor /

Suggested Place to Eat – La Belana Cucina Toscana takes you straight to the heart of Tuscany with a traditional setting. Sit outside on the heated patio and enjoy a fresh farm to table menu drizzled in olive oil and truffles.

4. Big Sur – 1 Day

Continue down the Pacific Coast Highway 1 for an hour from Monterrey to Big Sur .

california road trip mcway falls

The Pacific Coast Highway is the Grand Dame of all California road trips. We suggest a minimum of 2 days exploring the coast along Big Sur. You can easily keep your base in Monterey to explore these sights.

A great compliment to your Big Sur road trip is to download this Pacific Coast Highway Self Drive tour. The app showcases the top scenic stops and views from Monterey to Pismo Beach. It tracks your route and the audio guide plays commentary to tell you stories and suggest points of interest. On this leg, you’ll see places like Garrapata State Park, Pfeiffer Canyon, McWay Falls, and the Bixby Bridge.

Considered by many the world’s most scenic drives, The Big Sur portion of California Coastal Drive on Highway 1 is a must for any road trip lover. In our opinion, all California road trips should include this leg as there are so many gorgeous stops from sea cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Things to See in Big Sur

California Road Trip Bixby Bridge

  • Bixby Bridge – Don’t miss stopping at the Bixby Bridge. Made famous by many a film and TV Show (most recently Big Little Lies . Tip : Go for sunrise no tourists were there at all when we were up before dawn.
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – This a good place to go for hikes and walk along the trails. It’s most famous for the McWay Waterfalls and offers beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Pfeiffer Beach – One of the best beaches on the route. Pfeiffer Beach is a bit of a drive off the main highway down a narrow and bumpy road, so it attracts fewer tourists than other viewpoints on Highway 1. Check out: 24 Of The Best Beaches in California
  • Garrapata State Park – Hiking trails along the coast, Karst formations, sea arches, and jagged rocks make for extraordinary views of a rugged coastal landscape at Garrapata State Park. For a complete breakdown of photography stops with GPS Co-ordinates visit our Photography Guide to Big Sur

Where to Stay in Big Sur – Ventana Resort

When exploring Big Sur we made a home base at Ventana Resort and spent two days exploring the surrounding area. We spent one night in  their glamping tents  and one night in a luxurious suite overlooking the ocean. Ventana is the perfect base for exploring Big Sur as it’s in the heart of everything.

Check out our guide to The Best Places to Camp in Big Sur

Where to eat in Big Sur

The views at Ventana are spectacular

  • The Sur House – Located at  Ventana Big Sur , The Sur House is an upscale dining establishment using locally sourced cuisine created by Executive Chef, Paul Corsentino. $90 Fix menu offers a divine three-course meal. Location: 48123 Highway 1
  • Big Sur River Inn – The  Big Sur River Inn  was the first hotel and restaurant in the area. Enjoy the photographs from a bygone era dating back to 1932.
  • Nepenthe – Open since 1949,  Nepenthe  is a staple of Big Sur attracting artists, poets, and travelers to its 800-foot sea cliff views. Location: 48510 Highway One
  • Big Sur Roadhouse – This locally run eatery has a funky vibe with family-style seating. Designer Steve Justrich transformed the roadhouse into a unique design that they claim as homegrown modernism.

5. Coastal Highway Stops

This drive takes 3 hours from Big Sur to Santa Maria, but take you time to see all the sights.

southern california road trip

We continue down the coast from Big Sur to the charming town of Santa Maria, which is one of our favorite California road trip stops. Be sure to give ample time for breaks on this route. There is still a lot more to see on this portion of the California Coast and you can easily spend a day exploring the sites as you make your way to your next overnight stop. 

  • Hearst Castle – Built by San Simeon, this incredible estate was built on 127 acres on a hill overlooking San Simeon. Pop in for a tour of America’s castle before driving on to spend the night in the lovely town of Santa Maria.
  • Morrow Bay – Another beautiful beach, Morrow Bay’s main attraction is Morrow Rock, a 180-meter tall volcanic plug standing proud offshore.
  • Pismo Beach is another place to stop if you still have time before spending the night in Santa Maria.

6. Santa Maria – 1 Day

santa maria wine country

So it is a good time to park your car and get out to explore the nearby vineyards for a proper “Sideways” wine tour experience. We have it as one day on your California road trip itinerary, but if you can spend two days here, we recommend it.

Things to do in Santa Maria

dune buggy adventure california

  • Wine Tours – There are several vineyards to choose. Hire a private car through Gold Coast Executive Transportation to take you on a wine tour. We had an amazing time touring Wine Caves of  Cottonwood Canyon .
  • Dune Buggy Adventure – To explore even more of the highest dunes in the world, go on a Dune Buggy adventure with  Steve’s ATV Rentals, 332 Pier Ave. Oceano.  Get in a dune buggy and hit the dunes.
  • Hidden Hollywood – Don’t miss this very cool Hidden Hollywood at the Dunes Center museum in Guadalupe Cecil B. Demille created an entire set of the pyramids of Egypt in the middle of the California Sand Dunes. He didn’t want anyone to use his set again, so he buried it in the desert and didn’t tell anyone where it was. It was nearly forgotten by everyone, until the 1990s when the director, Peter Brosnan decided to search for the hidden city.

Hotels and AirBnBs in Santa Maria

Check in to the historic Santa Maria Inn in the center of town. It has been a staple in Santa Maria since 1917. Be sure to peruse the halls to see legendary movie stars that have stayed here.

  • Santa Maria Style Barbecue – If you want to try authentic Santa Maria Style Barbecue, go to Far Western Tavern Tavern in Orcutt.

7. Santa Barbara – 1 Day

Today we drive a short distance of just 1 hour from Santa Maria

california coast road trip | deb and Dave

Continuing on through wine country and making our way through our California road trip itinerary, we arrive in Santa Barbara for a night before stopping in Los Angeles.

Santa Barbara is considered one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions with nine different wine routes to explore. It is a popular escape from Los Angeles, and there are many things to do here.

Things to do in Santa Barbara

biltmore four seasons santa barbara

  • Sunset Sail – We suggest a sailing trip to enjoy the beautiful sunset and the California Coast followed by dinner on a patio by the waterfront.
  • Stearns Wharf – Historic deep-water pier dating back to 1871.
  • Shopping – Santa Barbara is all about the upscale experience, stroll the Spanish style shops lining State Street.
  • Museums – Check out the many museums. The Museum of Art, MOXI – The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation and Museum of Natural History and the Sea Center.

Santa Barbara Hotels and AirBnBs

We stayed at the luxurious Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara. This estate is the perfect place to relax after all that driving.

8. Los Angeles – 2 Days

It’s an hour and a half to Los Angeles so you can start enjoying the city immediately

los angeles sunset

Click here for map CA coast

We’ve come to the next metropolis on our California Road Trip and it is time to explore L.A. Los Angeles is a good place to start for southern California road trips. Who doesn’t love Los Angeles? There are so many things to do in LA , that you could have your entire California road trip right here.

Things to do in Los Angeles

Hollywood Sign California Road Trip

The possibilities are endless for sightseeing in L.A. so you can decide how long you want to stay here. From Universal Studios and Disneyland to hiking up to see the Hollywood sign or follow the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You must get out to see the beaches of Los Angeles. Our favorite beach is Manhattan Beach where you can see the famous 90210 beach house. But everyone loves popping over to Venice Beach too. I hope you’ve rented a nice car to drive along Rodeo Drive but if not, don’t worry, you’ll fit right in with the Bohemian atmosphere of Venice Beach. Read 25 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles – Hollywood, Hikes, And More

  • Note: You seriously need a car to explore L.A. It is spread out and it was made for driving.
  • Check out our post: Where to Stay in Los Angeles – 4 Hotels to Make You Feel Like a Star. 

Option: Continue to San Diego – Or Turn North

From Los Angeles you can continue south to San Diego or start heading north to make your way back to San Francisco.

  • The Best Things to Do in San Diego – A Local’s Guide to the City
  • Where To Stay In San Diego – The Best Neighborhoods & Areas

For our road trip, we turned north up towards the National Parks .

9. Joshua Tree National Park – 1 Day

From Los Angeles we drive two hours to the iconic Joshua Tree National Park .

california road trip joshua tree national park

Get the link to this portion of your road trip ideas in California.

Joshua Tree National Park is where two deserts meet: The Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. There are lookout points and there’s even a cactus garden. You can camp overnight in Joshua Tree and there’s also rock climbing. It’s one of the premier places on earth for bouldering. We only suggest spending a day here on this California Road Trip Itinerary, but if you have more time, put a tent in the back of your car and spend a couple of days hiking Joshua Tree and exploring more of California

10. Death Valley National Park

It takes about 2 hours to drive through non stop

Death Valley California road Trip

If you are planning a California road trip, you must try to include a day driving through Death Valley. It’s very hot, dry, and it’s a beautiful drive, but this portion of your California road trips planner should involve some precautionary steps. The average temperature is 48 degrees Celcius. (120F) Luckily there are enough stops at viewpoints along the road that keep you from having to trek too far for viewing in the heat.

  • Safety in Death Valley : Pack plenty of water, cover-up, and wear sunscreen.
  • Get the Google maps of  road trips California with a detour to Vegas .

11. Yosemite National Park – 2 Days

From Death Valley we drive 7 hours to Yosemite National Park

California Road Trip: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the Big 3 National Parks in the USA and it did not disappoint. It is where the legendary photographer Ansel Adams set up shop and took some of the most recognizable nature photographs of all time.

Things to See in Yosemite

Yosemite has all those iconic formations that you’ve all heard of like “The Nose” and “El Capitan”. Here you’ll find Bridalveil Falls, and the famous Tunnel View Lookout. Glacier Point is another not-to-miss stop. It’s also a place for adventurers to get out an enjoy nature. There are so many hiking trails you will need days to complete them all. Read more at Things to do in Yosemite National Park

california road trip mariposa valley

En route to Yosemite, be sure to stop at Sequoia National Forest. We combined our stay in Yosemite with seeing the sequoias as they are less than an hour away. A highlight for us was taking the park tour to see the Grand Sequoia Trees of Mariposa Grove. It is a bit of a drive from Yosemite, but hey, you’re on a road trip so it’s right up your alley!

When booking accommodation in Yosemite, plan in advance. During high season, things sell out fast! Curry Village has a range of canvas tents and wooden cabins plus hotel rooms. Accommodation range from basic tents with shared bathrooms to private hotel rooms with bathrooms. Check out TripAdvisor for prices .

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge is a great location to make a base in Yosemite. There’s free parking, free Internet and a pool. Read more: Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

12. Lake Tahoe – 2 Days

From Yosemite it is 2 hours and 30 minutes to Tahoe.

lake tahoe california trips

There are two major tourist areas to make a base in both South and North Lake Tahoe. The south is certainly the busier of the two sides of the lake with casinos, nightclubs and lots of people. While the north side of the lake is all about nature, quiet family run lodges and rugged and historic ski hills, the South sits directly on the Nevada border and feels kitschy and commercial.

Things to do in Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay, south Lake Tahoe

  • Scenic Drive – The best views most certainly happen when driving between South and North Tahoe via Emerald Bay State Park. It takes an entire day to really explore the lake and you must give a lot of time for sightseeing at Emerald Bay.
  • Emera l d Bay State Park – Emerald Bay has several different scenic stops and each one is a must! When you pull over, be sure to get out of your car and hike to the viewpoints. They get more spectacular with each turn! Hike down to the bay and see the famous Vikingsholm Castle or go on a lake cruise.
  • Camp Richardson – If you are up for more hiking, there are trails all around Camp Richardson that are less steep than the hike down from Emerald Bay. They also offer hotel and cabins for lodging.
  • Skiing – Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is the closest skiing to San Francisco and receives the most snowfall out of all the hills in California. After driving up the long and winding road, we stopped for a magnificent view of Donner Lake. North Star offers the luxury end of the spectrum of skiing with the only slope-side five-star lodging in the area, and don’t forget Mt.Rose offering Tahoe’s Highest Base elevation. Heavenly Mountain located in South Tahoe.
  • Read Things to do in Lake Tahoe in Winter

Hotels and AirBnBs in Lake Tahoe

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe Cedar Crest Cottages

  • There are plenty of lodging options in North Lake Tahoe and a good stay for families would definitely be our lodge at Cedar Crest Cottages .
  • Sunnyside Resort is a welcoming resort located on the Shore of Lake Tahoe. Your stay includes continental breakfast and afternoon tea.

Where to Eat – We loved our meal and the friendly staff at  Sunnyside Restaurant and Resort  located at 1850 W Lake Blvd, Tahoe City. It has been a Sunnyside tradition since 1965.

13. Sacramento – Bonus Night


It’s about a five-hour drive from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, so if you want to split up the 5-hour drive we suggest stopping in Sacramento . Even if it’s not on your California road trip itinerary from the start, it’s worth the time to see all of this history. The state capital of California is worth a visit even if you only see the historic downtown landmark of Old Sacramento. This 28-acre district is filled with old town saloons and bars taking you back to the 1800s.

Where to Stay in Sacramento

A great place to stay is  The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel  that is just a short 15-minute walk from Old Town. This new upscale hotel is located in the heart of Sacramento overlooking the Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.

How much does it cost to Road Trip in California?

As you’ve seen, your California road trip itinerary can move in a lot of different directions. There were a lot of stops we didn’t even make because this state is so enormous. As such, the cost can vary greatly depending on lodging.

Accommodation – If you stay in a campground you will pay $35 per night but you can also spend up to $1000 per night in luxury lodges like Ventana in Big Sur or the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara.

This road trip is 1500 miles in total . If the average car gets 20 miles per gallon and the average cost of fuel is $3.50 per gallon, you can expect to pay $262 in fuel for this trip.

Meals too can have a broad range. If you want a multicourse meal at some of the luxury hotels, you can spend up to $200. but you can also hit roadside diners for $20. We mixed and matched packing lunches, eating in diners and sometimes splurging on gourmet meals. We suggest you do the same to make the most of your trip.

If you can get breakfasts included and pack sandwiches and waters for lunch, you have just saved a lot of money for a romantic dinner out.

Full Map of Our Road Trip in California

California Road Trip Map

Whatever route you choose, you will go through some of the best  scenery in all of California . We hope to have given enough information to create your own tour by offering these California road trip ideas.

california road trip itinerary

You have now completed the route and can make your way back to The San Francisco Bay area to return your rental car. Or feel free to stick around California. There are so many places to visit , you can spend months exploring.

Did you enjoy this California Trip Planner? Why not pin it to use as a reference for future road trips.

California Road Trip Itinerary

And that ladies and gentlemen are our picks for the best road trips California has to offer. So, now you are ready to hit the road with a solid plan of all the things to do in California!

To see our full itinerary through California check out  Follow ThePlanetD from Oceans to Mountains  on the Visit California Website.

  • Things to do in Napa Valley
  • 16 Best Cities in California
  • 27 Best Beaches in California
  • 15 Best Hikes in California – Inspiration to Get Outdoors

You may also like these other great road trips:

  • 25 of The Best Road Trips in the World – That We’ve Taken
  • 13 of the Best Canadian Road Trips – That We’ve Done
  • Arizona Road Trip – The Ultimate 10 Day Itinerary
  • Dempster Highway Road Trip – Yes You Can Drive to the Arctic
  • The Cowboy Trail – A Southern Alberta Road Trip
  • Driving the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper Alberta

Our trip to California was in partnership with Visit California. For more information on California travel and itineraries,  visit their website. As usual, all opinions are our own.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO . 

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

You May Also Like

Ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Explore the Best of Iceland in 10 Days

Ultimate Iceland Ring Road Itinerary: Explore the Best of Iceland in 10 Days

19 Best Road Trips in The US in 2024

19 Best Road Trips in The US in 2024

The Essential Guide to the North Coast 500 Scotland

The Essential Guide to the North Coast 500 Scotland

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine , the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Join thousands of others who get our monthly updates!

Leave a comment cancel reply.

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

49 thoughts on “The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary”

Wow, what a great itinerary! I remember my California road trip like it was yesterday – an unforgettable experience. Starting in San Francisco was a smart choice – it’s such a diverse city with so much to see and do. I couldn’t get enough of the panoramic views from Golden Gate Park! And that City Pass was definitely a worthwhile investment. Made getting around the city super convenient. The drive along the Pacific Coast Highway was absolutely stunning. It’s a journey I think everyone should experience at least once. For anyone planning this road trip, don’t rush it! Take your time and really soak in the breathtaking views. It’s worth every second.

Oh wow! This is a great itinerary. Super detailed – thank you. We love California.

Thank You for sharing! This detail very use full for me!

This is really an ultimate road trip! I live in CA and have done so much of this but only little bits at a time. Beautiful photos!

This California road trip is really amazing and very useful for road trippers. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks Sharon, I’m glad we could help! And have a great road trip! When do you leave for California?

This is incredible and you travel photography is totally shocking! In spite of the fact that I live in California, there are a few places on your excursion that I haven’t visited at this point! I’m anticipating getting to Lake Tahoe and Death Valley sooner rather than later! A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing!

You are going to love Lake Tahoe. In the winter it’s a great destination. They really have it figured out as a four season destination. Make sure to bring plenty of water for Death Valley. I am sure you are used to the heat, but we were amazed with how hot it actually was.

Santa Barbara, California is a nice place to vacation and travel to often.

Santa Barbara is gorgeous. I’ve always wanted to go there since the soap opera called Santa Barbara. It didn’t disappoint.

I’m looking forward to getting to Lake Tahoe and Death Valley in the near future! Thanks for sharing!

Enjoy! They are two great and very different locations.

Super detailed – thank you!

Thanks, I’m glad we could help!

This is a great itinerary! There is so much to see in California. I have been creating CA road trip itineraries for 4 years of different duration and covering various interests. I currently have 35 and counting on my blog.

Oh wow! There are so many places to see in California, it really does take years. This road trip planner is from several different trips we’ve taken as well. It would be a dream to do it all again at one time!

I could not agree with you more about California being one of (if not the) best destinations for a road trip. Have you ever thought of renting a campervan to make the trip? It really makes the trip all the more immersive when you can stop and sleep right in the middle of it instead of having to venture off the beaten path to find lodging. And in most cases, you can do that in Cali. I recommend Travellers-Autobarn for an awesome campervan rental. They have locations in San Francisco and LA. I put their link in the website field. Happy Trails!

A campervan would be amazing. We love camping and meeting people on the road and we find that campgrounds are so much fun. Thanks for the tip!

Good to see wonderful snapshot of California and California road trip itinerary.

Thank you for sharing with us.

Great guide. Brings back so many California road trip memories. Planning one now with kids in tow!

Thanks! We love California

California is just amazing and blog was so informative about the Joshua Tree,Los angles ,South Lake Tahoe,Yosemite,Death Valley i love these kinda places actually nice write-up thanks or posting!

This post made me move towards road trip to California. Incredible post along with awesome photograph which is central attraction of the blog. Reading this post made my day. I wish I could travel like you without any worry of time.

Appreciate it for your great effort that made my day with motivation.

I hope you get the chance to road trip in California. We also have a photography guide to Big Sur with all the GPS coordinates so you can make the most of yoru trip.

A California road trip has been on the top of my travel bucket list for so long and this post hasn’t changed my mind. I’ve been to both LA and SF but would love to see all the amazing scenery in between.

Two great locations! You already have a great start to your road trip? Where would you like to go next?

This post makes me want to move home and go on a road trip! Thanks for giving me so many places to book mark. Can’t want to visit Cali again now!

Lucky you being from California. It is one of the greatest states in our opinion 🙂

Yes indeed it is great

This is great and you photography is absolutely stunning! Although I live in California, there are several places on your road trip that I haven’t visited yet! I’m looking forward to getting to Lake Tahoe and Death Valley in the near future! Thanks for sharing!

Wow, that is a serious road trip, filled with so many gorgeous things! When I was growing up, we did the Highway 1 trip several times, and I have so many great memories of it. This route takes you to all kinds of places I am yet to explore! Love it!

This is some great advice for our upcoming trip. I’m currently planning a road trip from San Francisco, so this is super helpful! Beautiful pictures you captured. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

I just want to tell that your photographs are really very inspiring and they just got me. I wanted to meander in the streets of this state. Thank you for taking us on this part.

Okay … just read over all the comments and I see a lot of people don’t care for Las Vegas. Fair enough. Please don’t right the whole city off as wasteful and uncaring for the environment. I’d ask you to please be open minded and learn more about our city before jumping to that conclusion. There’s more to Las Vegas than the four miles people know as the Strip.

Get in touch regarding Las Vegas and anything you want to know about the Southwest. I’ve lived in Vegas for five years and know the Southwest well. Would love to chat about your plans and provide recommendations/answer questions. You know where to find me!

We’ve been living in the bay area our whole lives and still haven’t done this route. SF direct to LA yes, but not this kind. Sounds like an adventure! I heard you two were at a Travel Massive event in SF late last year no? It was at a beer shop I believe. We were there too!

Hi. That trip sounds amazing. I’ve actually been to all those places on a Trek America tour. Alcatraz is a must see, there is plenty to do in Vegas without gambling and if you get the chance to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon do it because the views are to die for. You’ll have a blast! l look forward to reading about it.

You guys are going to have such a great trip! I’m from the SF area, went to college in LA and spent several summers on family backpacking trips in Yosemite, so I have to admit I’m actually a little jealous. Enjoy it extra for me, please!

Too bad you will be missing Lake Tahoe! One of the most beautiful places in the country! You definitely have to plan a trip to visit here at some point 🙂

Did a similar road trip last year and Cam is right, you need to stop by Sequoia National Park and see the General Sherman Tree (it’s basically on the way from Yosemite to Bakersfield!). With that said, still looks like tons of fun and I’m sure it’ll be a blast!

Thanks for the report : ) We will be doing about the saem route in September: Denver-Ouray-Arches-Bryce-Zion-Grand Canyon-Las Vegas-Death Valley-Mammoth Lakes-Yosemite-SFO 🙂

— Anton Way Any Way – Airfare search done right

Sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to do a west coast road trip. I have driven from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas, and I definitely did not spend enough time at the Grand Canyon. Las Vegas is fun, and as for shows any Cirque du Soleil show will be a good bet. I saw O which was fantastic.

Seriously–you are driving right by some really amazing places with no time to stop. You have to add several more days and visit Sequoia National Park (world’s largest trees), and Death Valley National Park.They are both incredible! Las Vegas is soulless and weird and there’s nothing to do if you don’t like gambling (my friend Jane who lives there slaps me every time I say that–well, not really, but I can tell she wants to). Replace your time in Las Vegas with time in Sedona, Arizona, about an hour’s drive south of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Plus, Zion isn’t all that far from Bryce Canyon National Park, which is way better! How’s that for unsolicited advice!

If you want to get out of California, these are all great suggestions. We need a year to really visit California and all the great States that Surround it.

Wha?! You’ve never been to Vegas…? Looks like a fun road trip, we’ve done a couple Californian road trips but we’ve never made it to Utah or Arizona. We originally planned to due a Utah, AZ, NV, CO road trip combined with TBEX this year, but Baby B is not a fan of long car trips, so that ones on the shelf for a few years

What a great route, including some mind-blowing scenery. Don’t spend too long in Vegas. We were disgusted by the excess and waste also. A sidetrip to the Hoover Dam would be an eye-opener as to just how much water is being sucked up. The water of Lake Mead will be so low by 2017 that they dam may not be able to produce any power.

Whoa! I met Felipe from Twtvite in Berlin last summer. Cool guy! Sounds like the road trip will be a blast. Zion National Park is amazing!

You’re not doing Highway 1 at all????

That’s by far one of my favourite road trips, between SF and LA!

Thanks for your great and motivating article.

Small World This Is

California , Road Trips

The Ultimate 10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary

California does not cease to impress with its diverse landscape. The classic Highway 1 road trip is an option for those who have less time, though to get a better understanding of California , it’s important to see both the coast and venture further inland. Here’s a California road trip itinerary that will take you from the ocean to the desert to the mountains and back to the ocean.

This post contains affiliate links (with no extra cost to you). Read the full disclosure policy click here . Thank you for supporting Small World This Is.

redwood trees california

Best Time To Plan a California Road Trip

September to early October is an ideal time to plan your trip. During this time, California is experiencing late summer weather in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the national parks are less crowded.

Summer weather can be cold, especially since San Francisco tends to be extra foggy during the summer months, and Los Angeles experiences June Gloom, where days can be chilly and overcast.

California has a Mediterranean climate, which gives the state dry summers and rainy winters. Right before the rainy season starts in mid to late October, it’s important to take advantage of the ideal seasonal weather around the state.

May is also a good time to plan a California trip, but depending on the severity of the rainy season, roads to national parks like Yosemite can still be closed.

Defining the Pacific Coast Highway

Note that the Pacific Coast Highway and Highway 1 are often used interchangeably. This main stretch of coastal road is officially called California’s Highway 1 (starting a bit north of San Francisco), where the Pacific Coast Highway, is the portion that starts from roughly Oxnard all the way to the end in Dana Point in Southern California.

If you do decide to plan a PCH trip in the late spring/early summer there’s a good chance the coastline will be foggy, especially in Southern California, which the locals lovingly refer to as June Gloom. Winter and spring can also be an option if the weather is sunny but be forewarned that if it’s rainy there can be road closures due to dangers like mudslides.

Renting A Car For Your California Road Trip

The best rental car prices are at the airport (SFO or LAX in this case) and I usually do a search on this site   that sorts through the top rental car companies like Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis to get the best deal. You can rent a car in San Francisco and then leave it in Los Angeles, though it will cost a bit more it’s well worth it.

California Road Trip Map

I recommend starting and ending in San Francisco for your California road trip itinerary, just because it’s a smaller, more manageable city than Los Angeles. You will not have to deal with the headache of Los Angeles traffic (though San Francisco does have its fair share of backups). You can also ditch your car and use public transportation to easily zip around the city before spending the next week and a half on the road.

california road trip map

10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary

This guide starts from San Francisco and heads down the coast. If you’re starting out in Los Angeles, just do the reverse route. Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1 & 2 – San Francisco

Day 3 – big sur.

Day 4 & 5 – Santa Barbara

Day 6 & 7 -Los Angeles

Day 8 – Joshua Tree

Day 9 – Yosemite National Park

Day 10 – lake tahoe.

The City By The Bay is a great place to get your bearings, spoil yourself at all the good food and visit the diverse neighborhoods that each feels like entering a different world. You can get in plenty of steps in this walkable city, where you can quickly log in your daily 10,000 before you know it.

Start your day with this well-loved San Francisco Love Tour that brings guests around on a 70-era VW bus. The tour is 2 hours and stops at popular sights like Haight Ashbury, downtown, Chinatown, North Beach, and the Mission to name a few.

After your tour, head to Crissy Field for top views of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Lands End for more spectacular bridge views.

On the second day, make your way to Golden Gate Park , where you can visit the California Academy of Sciences if you’re interested in natural history or art at the de Young . Afterward, go to the Japanese Tea Garden next door, the oldest public Japanese garden in the U.S.

Treat yourself to a dim sum brunch at Dragon Beaux (or hot pot in the evenings) in the Outer Richmond, get your fill of carbs at Tartine Bakery in the Mission, and eat your way through the Ferry Building restaurants , with a view of the Bay Bridge in the background. For dinner, try Foreign Cinema, if you want to get fancy.

Where to stay in San Francisco

  • Holiday Inn Express and Suites Fisherman’s Wharf   – a great mid-range central option near Pier 39.
  • Marriott Courtyard San Francisco Union Square – a solid choice downtown.

Travel tip: take BART back to the airport to pick up your rental car right before you hit the road. Having a car in San Francisco for the few days you’re visiting is usually a bigger headache than it’s worth with parking. Local public transportation and ride-sharing services will get you everywhere you need to go.

sutro baths san francisco california

The beautiful city of San Francisco should definitely be on your 10-day California road trip itinerary.

The first stop on this road trip is one of the most picturesque portions of the California coast . Be warned that the roads are especially windy on this part of the highway, so make sure to take motion sickness medication if you need to.

PCH stops along the way to Big Sur

  • Half Moon Bay’s Mavericks Beach (of Mavericks surf competition fame), though you will probably not see the monster waves which make rare appearances only during the wintertime.
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and the adjacent beach, which is a lot calmer than the boardwalk and a great break from the sensory overload.
  • Cannery Row , the city’s main drag that used to be filled with sardine canneries back in the day.

The Bixby Bridge is the most iconic sight in Big Sur, standing at 260 feet above Bixby Creek. There’s plenty of parking on both sides of the bridge to pull off and take photos from nearby vantage points.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a massive state park home to McWays Falls , an 80-foot waterfall that cascades into the Pacific Ocean. There are also numerous other hiking trails throughout the park ranging from easy strolls to strenuous full-on hikes.

Pfeiffer Beach feels almost otherworldly with its lavender-colored sand and keyhole rock formations jutting dramatically out of the Pacific Ocean.

Big Sur Bakery is a solid spot to stop for breakfast, including freshly-made baked goods and strong coffee. Big Sur Deli is a great spot to pick up sandwiches on the go.

Where to stay in Big Sur

  • For an affordable option, Big Sur Lodge is located in Pfeiffer Big Sur National Park, with cottage-style rooms and the Homestead Restaurant on the property which uses local ingredients for its menu.
  • For a taste of luxury,  Ventana Big Sur just outside of Pfeiffer Big Sur National Park is where you go to get properly pampered.

bixby bridge big sur california

Day 4 – Santa Barbara

This day is going to be one of the longer ones on your California road trip itinerary, and it’s recommended that you start as early as possible. It’s also one of the most scenic portions of the road trip, starting at Big Sur and ending in the beautiful seaside city of Santa Barbara .

You definitely don’t want to rush your way through.

PCH stops along the way to Santa Barbara

  • San Simeon’s Hearst Castle  to witness true extravagance (make a tour reservation beforehand)
  • Morro Rock looming at the entrance of the harbor to Morro Bay
  • San Luis Obispo , a college town where the tri-tip is not to be missed at Firestone Grill

One of my favorite ways to see Santa Barbara is through a bike tour, where you can view the city’s main sights like State Street and the Santa Barbara Mission on wheels. I highly recommend the Santa Barbara Electric Bike Tour , where the electric bike cruisers allow for easy mobility.

Sip local wines on the Urban Wine Trail , including the Funk Zone , which is a revitalized industrial area of town that has numerous wine tastings, cafés, and galleries. Get some sun at the city’s East Beach , while enjoying panoramic views of the Pacific. Wander around Ganna Walska Lotusland , a botanical garden located on the Montecito estate of a Polish singer.

Stroll down State Street downtown and then drive to nearby Los Agaves for some solid Mexican food. Get a scoop or two of ice cream at McConnell’s on State Street.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara

  • Sunset Motel is located close to downtown, is spotless, and comes with a complimentary breakfast.
  • The Lavender Inn by the Sea   is a cozy boutique hotel that is a few blocks from the beach and includes a free continental breakfast.

santa barbara california

Day 5 & 6 -Los Angeles

Welcome to Southern California! This sprawling city is not to be missed and two days will give you an introduction to a city that has many different sides. Los Angeles is roughly divided up into West, Central, Downtown, East, South, and The Valley.

If you want to experience beach life, the Westside (Santa Monica, Venice) is where you should go, but also keep in mind that there is a lot more to the city than these beachside neighborhoods.

To get your bearings, take a comprehensive guided tour that allows you to see popular LA sights like downtown, Griffith Park, Hollywood, Beverley Hills, and Koreatown. One of my favorites is this Grand City Tour of Los Angeles , which is a 5-hour long tour through the city in a 12-person van that allows for a more intimate feel.

Another favorite is the Downtown LA Food Tour , which stops at food havens like Grand Central Market, but also iconic landmarks like The Bradbury Building.

On the last day, drive down the coast to Malibu and spend the day beach-hopping at local gems like Point Dume , El Matador , and Zuma.

Immerse yourself in everything Hollywood, by taking a tour at a movie studio , or if you have the energy (and money) head to Universal Studios Hollywood , which is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Eat a Turkish-inspired brunch at Kismet , grab a sandwich and baked goods at Gjusta in Venice or steaming bowls of ramen in Japantown (there is also a branch in Sawtelle) at the ever-popular Daikokuya .

Where to stay in Los Angeles

Ideally, if you’re planning to visit all around Los Angeles, the central part of the city is a good spot to call home. A home base in the greater Hollywood area for example will give you easier access to the west and east parts of  LA, instead of staying on the Westside and having to drive all the way across town to sights on the Eastside or vice versa.

  • The Trylon Hotel is a great reasonably-priced hotel in Hollywood.
  • If you want to be beachside, The Gateway Hote l , is a mid-range hotel less than two miles from the beach and Santa Monica Pier, with free parking.

Travel tip: Plan your LA itinerary around neighborhoods that are close to each other to minimize driving across town. This means meals too. LA is a big city and driving from Santa Monica to Downtown in weekday rush hour traffic is not for the faint of heart.

santa monica california

Day 7 – Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is such an unexpectedly beautiful part of California, where the rugged landscape often feels more like a remote planet than a desert two hours drive east of Los Angeles.

The best way to experience the park is to get out and explore it on your own two feet by taking advantage of all the hiking trails . Skull Rock is a popular 1.7-mile trail that takes hikers past the giant skull rock formation, whose eye sockets formed out of centuries of erosion from the rain.

Hidden Valley features a 1-mile loop trail that goes through a valley sheltered by rock formations For more trails, check out this post .

There are no grocery stores within the park, but there is a café at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, where you can pick up boxed lunches. There are eight picnic areas within the park: Black Rock, Split Rock, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Indian Cove, Cap Rock, Live Oak, and Quail Springs.

Within the town of Joshua Tree here are some good options for food, including Pie For The People for outstanding pizzas at a spot located right outside the park’s west entrance. Royal Siam Thai Cuisine is a local favorite that’s perfect for a post-hike celebratory meal of green curry and pad see ew.

Joshua Tree Health Foods by the West Entrance is a great place to pick up healthy snacks and drinks before heading into the park. Joshua Tree Coffee Company is a great spot to pick up some strong morning fuel (try the vanilla latte).

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

Within the park itself there are nine campgrounds to stay at, where during the busy season of October through May, they are first-come, first-serve, except Black Rock and Indian Cove. During the quieter summer months, all campground grounds are first-come, first-serve.

Most sites only allow tents, except for Indian Cove Group Campground, which allows small RVs.

Though the park only has camping options, the nearby town of Joshua Tree has some good lodging options.

  • Joshua Tree Inn & Motel this hacienda-style inn is located a mere five miles from the park entrance and has a lot of historical charm. Each room has a patio to relax on after a long day of exploring.
  • Spin and Margie’s Desert Hideaway -a family-owned spot that is filled with personality and hospitality, and boasts clean spacious rooms with kitchenettes to prepare a packed lunch in for the trails.

Entrance fee: $30 for a 7-day vehicle pass as of February 7, 2023.

joshua tree california

Day 8 – Death Valley National Park

If you want to really understand California’s contrasting landscapes, Death Valley’s bone-dry desert landscape is not to be missed. It’s best to avoid going during the summer when the temperatures can easily reach 110 degrees and over.

Stop by the Furnace Creek area which includes the park’s visitor center, restaurants, and gas stations. Visit Zabriskie Point , one of the most popular lookout points in the park, where you can hike from the Badlands Loop or just drive up and soak in the view.

Experience the Badwater Basin , the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level, where you can view the mysterious salt flat from the parking lot.

The Racetrack with the magical moving rocks is also worth a mention (though it’s highly recommended to not go with a regular rental car due to the rough road).

For a sit-down meal, the Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant has solid burgers and fries, as well as massive salads.

Where to stay in Death Valley

There are limited accommodations in the park and not all places are open year-round. That being said The Oasis at Death Valley is home to two of the best hotels in the area:

  • The Inn at Death Valley is more luxury travel
  • Ranch at Death Valley has a more casual setting

Travel tip: Do not underestimate the dry desert heat and be prepared with plenty of water (at least a gallon per person/per day). Make sure to fill up on gas before entering the park, since it’s expensive and limited to areas like Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs.

death valley california

It’s hard to plan a California road trip and not include this iconic national park . The trick to having a successful trip to Yosemite is meticulous planning and more planning.

The best time to visit is May or September when there are fewer crowds and the weather isn’t too hot. The difference between these two times is that during May the waterfalls will be in full flow as the snow melts, but in September there isn’t as much water after a dry summer, but the scenery is still stunning.

On your way into the park turn onto CA Highway 41, and follow the sign that is marked Bridalveil Fall. Right before you reach the Wawona Tunnel, pull off into the parking lot and you’ll be rewarded with the classic Tunnel View that Ansel Adams made famous and includes El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome.

Once in the valley, start at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center , to get your bearings. Explore the valley, whether you go on the walking paths of Tuolumne Meadows (open from late May or early June to November, depending on the season), the easy Yosemite Falls 1-mile loop trail, or the more strenuous Glacier Point hike.

Nearby Mono Lake , with towering limestone formations, is also worth the stop as well.

The food in the valley itself is not particularly noteworthy, but there’s the historic The Ahwahnee for brunch with a view, where reservations are recommended. For a more casual meal, there’s Degnan’s Kitchen for reliable sandwiches and pizza.

Where to stay in Yosemite

If you have limited time in Yosemite, it’s highly recommended you stay inside the valley, since it takes about an hour or more to get from the entrance to the valley if you stay outside.

  • For luxury digs, The Ahwahnee in the valley is a popular choice.
  • If you prefer more rustic accommodations, the Half Dome Village is worth checking out for its heated tent cabins.

Travel tip: There are multiple park entrances depending on where you’re coming from. If you are driving from Death Valley, you will most likely enter from the South entrance. Make sure to always double-check road closures the day before, since things can change quickly.

Entrance fee : $35 for a 7-day vehicle pass as of February 7, 2023.

yosemite california

Head to the Bay Area’s favorite mountain getaway, where in the winter it’s popular for winter sports and the summer for outdoor activities around the lake.

There are two sides of Tahoe: the North Shore is quieter, more spread out, and nature-oriented, while the South Shore has a more touristy vibe with a lively nightlife with the bars, casinos, and resorts of Stateline and South Tahoe. The distance between the two locations is around an hour, so it’s important to choose which area best suits your needs.

Plan a day hike in either Emerald Bay State Park or neighboring D.L. Bliss State Park in the southwestern corner of the lake. If you prefer a more sedentary activity, float down the Truckee River, which flows out of the northwestern corner of the lake.

Visit the Alpine Village at Squaw Valley , where there are shops, restaurants, and free summer concerts. During the summer, visit King’s Beach in North Tahoe, a family-friend stretch of sand, where you can rent SUPs or kayaks to bob on the lake for a few hours.

Artemis Lakefront Café is a great place to grab Mediterranean food with a lake view on the South Shore. There are two Artemis cafes, so make sure to choose the one at Ski Run Marina for a memorable view. Fire Sign Café is a reliable choice on the North Shore in Tahoe City for brunch.

Where to stay in Lake Tahoe

  • For the South Shore, the boutique hotel Basecamp South is a lively spot to call home for a few days.
  • On the North Shore, the Best Western Plus Truckee has a reasonable price and includes breakfast. There are also vacation rentals in popular areas like Incline Village and Kings Beach as well in North Tahoe.

Travel tip: double-check park closures, since some close in September, but it depends on the weather. Also, make sure not to overdo it, since the 6,255-foot elevation can affect some people, especially during physical activity.

The drive back to San Francisco is 3.5-4 hours, depending on traffic/weather conditions.

lake tahoe california

Alternative California Road Trip Itinerary for 7 Days

If time only allows a week-long trip, you can easily shorten this 10-day itinerary by spending only one day in San Francisco and Los Angeles, driving through Big Sur to spend the night in Santa Barbara, and choosing between Death Valley and Joshua Tree. A 7-day California road trip might be a bit tight, but you will still get a solid introduction to some of California’s most beautiful destinations.

pacific coast highway coast

Alternative California Destinations

Here are some additional destinations that you can add to your itinerary if you have a few days extra on your road trip or want to substitute for example Los Angeles with San Diego if you have already been to LA before.

For everything indulgent, this Northern California city is the best place to go for wine, food, and relaxation. Visit the historic Downtown Riverfront Promenade and make sure not to miss the Napa River Inn and the surrounding beautiful artwork including Alan Shepp’s Mosaic Fountain in Riverbend Plaza.

Rent a bike and head out on the Napa River Trail , which winds its way along the river for 4.2 miles.

napa valley

Sonoma may not have the world-renown fame of its larger neighbor, but it definitely has more charm. The walkable downtown is centered around Sonoma Plaza with wineries, cafes (try the Sunflower Caffe for brunch), and boutiques to browse.

Afterward, walk around the neighborhoods surrounding downtown and admire the homes and sometimes even see horses grazing around.

sonoma ca

The capital of California is a lot more than its political roots (though a visit to the California State Capitol Museum is well worth a visit). There’s trendy Midtown with its tree-lined streets and the beautiful homes of  East Sacramento .

My favorite corner of Sacramento is Curtis Park, a picturesque residential neighborhood that is home to Gunther’s Ice Cream and Pangaea Bier Cafe .

tower bridge sacramento

Monterey’s swanky neighbor is known for its rich artistic community, where writers and artists live and work (director/actor Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel at one time). Dogs are revered in this town, and there are plenty of places to cater to any pups in tow, including Diggidy Dog , for dog treats and toys.

For humans, Cafe Luna downtown is worth stopping by for the breakfast sushi and wonton ramen.

carmel by the sea

This town was formed by a group of Danish settlers who were tired of Midwest winters and were looking for sunnier prospects out west, hence the name Solvang (sunny field). Stroll down Alisal Road to admire the Danish architecture and make sure to pick up aebelskivers (Danish pancakes puffs) at Solvang Restaurant’s to-go window.

Stop at Copenhagen Sausage Garden to counteract all that sugar with a cold beer and savory sausages.

downtown solvang


This small beach city on the Central Coast is a great alternative for those that want to avoid the tourists or the college student crowds of Santa Barbara. Take a walk on Carpinteria State Beach , and later head over to The Spot , a Carpinteria institution for hamburgers and fries.

If you want to stay inland, Seaside Gardens, a nursery/botanical garden hybrid boasts an extensive and unusual plant selection.

carpinteria beach

This coastal city has plenty to see and do, including the Ventura Pier , and a little ways down the San Buenaventura State Beach , which boasts less crowds with beautiful views. Afterward, grab a bite to eat at Cafe Nouveau , which serves both traditional American brunch items and those with a Creole twist, like their maple bacon beignets.

ventura pier

Pacific Palisades

Tucked in between Malibu and Santa Monica, this affluent seaside community is worth stopping at the Getty Villa for ancient art, rich architecture, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

For some extra fuel, head over to the Palisades Village , a pristine outdoor shopping mall and get an ice coffee at Alfred’s Coffee and make sure to check out the Instagram flower wall if that’s your thing.

getty villa pacific palisades

Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach Pier is fun to walk down and browse the shops for souvenirs and spot playful seals frolicking in the harbor below.

Jus’ Poke is a must for some authentic Hawaiian poke. The shoyu-flavored one is my favorite, with a side of brown rice and seaweed salad. There is also a solid selection of Hawaiian Sun drinks (try the guava).

redondo beach pier

Take a tour of the Queen Mary , a historic ocean liner that is rumored to be haunted and also has a hotel, restaurants, and bars to enjoy. Rent a kayak and leisurely float through Naples Island , which is similar to the Venice Canals in Venice Beach with envious waterfront homes.

If you have more time, take the Catalina Express for a day trip to this popular island that always is reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour.

queen mary long beach

Huntington Beach

Your first stop in this surf-obsessed beach town should be to catch all the action and watch the surfers from the iconic Huntington Beach Pier . Afterward, learn all about why this town has been nicknamed Surf City, USA, at the International Surfing Museum and view the world’s largest surfboard.

huntington beach

Newport Beach

Known for its picture-perfect piers: Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Pier , there is no shortage of activities to fill your visit. For an adrenaline rush, head to the Wedge , where you can watch surfers ride up to 20-foot waves.

Escape to Balboa Island on the ferry and walk around the town with a frozen banana in hand from Sugar ‘N Spice . Head to Mama D’s Italian Kitchen for homemade spinach ravioli and their famous pink sauce.

newport beach

Laguna Beach

As a major art community, this Orange County beach town is home to many notable galleries. The Laguna Art Museum is worth visiting to view an impressive collection of art from around the state. Soak in the coastal beauty of Laguna Beach by heading to Main Beach , just steps away from the city center.

Drop by Nick’s Laguna Beach for a blackened fish sandwich or the grilled steakhouse salad.

laguna beach

LEGOLAND California may be this coastal city’s claim to fame, but there is a lot more than this popular theme park to do in the area. Every spring, the Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch boasts 50 acres of vibrant blooms. There is also the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa , where you can indulge in an afternoon of self-care or perfect your swing on the golf courses.

For music enthusiasts, the Museum of Making Music , is a great spot to learn about how instruments are made, as well as try your hand at making your own music.

carlsbad ca

This eclectic seaside surf town has stunning beaches like Moonlight State Beach and Swami’s to spend a lazy afternoon lounging on and watch surfers do their thing. Further inland, the San Diego Botanic Garden has over 4,000 different plants from around the world, including rare bamboo groves and an intriguing undersea succulent garden.

Head back to town and walk along historic downtown Encinitas to browse the boutique stores and cafes.

mural downtown encinitas

Solana Beach

For a quick San Diego day trip, this coastal beach town boasts a strong community feel. A whole afternoon can easily be spent at the Cedros Design District , where you can shop for home interior goods, stop into a café for a quick pick-me-up or browse the numerous art galleries.

For outdoor adventures, Fletcher Cove Beach is a sheltered inlet where you can take a swim or surf. Every summer, the Fiesta De Sol marks the beginning of the season, with live music, local art, and specialty foods.

solana beach ca

One of the wealthier communities of North County, this glitzy beach town is known for events like the Del Mar Horse Races and San Diego County Fair located on the Del Mar Fairgrounds during the summertime. Spend the afternoon at picturesque beaches like Del Mar City Beach , and pup-friendly Dog Beach .

Every year in September, the city hosts the Taste of Del Mar , which features local artists in a free art walk, along with culinary highlights from nearby restaurants and live music.

del mar ca

California’s southernmost city is known for its many stunning beaches, delicious food, and laid-back attitude. Start your day out at Balboa Park , where you can go to one of the many museums including the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego Space and Air Museum .

Afterward, go to La Jolla where you can explore tide pools or just walk along the ocean and watch playful seals and sea lions. For dinner (and dessert) head to Little Italy , where you can find anything from breweries to traditional Italian.

san diego skyline

Palm Springs

Head to this glam dessert town to spend a day cooling off at the Arrive Hotel , where anyone can use the pool free of charge. Hop on the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to take in panoramic views of Coachella Valley below and hike around the trails once you reach the top.

Walk along Palm Canyon Drive to browse the art galleries, antique shops, and retro-themed furniture stores. Make sure to stop by the Cabazon Dinosaurs on your way to Palm Springs to snap a pic with the life-sized dinos.

palm springs

Head inland to indulge in a day of wine tasting in Temecula Valley Wine Country, with over forty wineries to taste some of the region’s best vino. Walk along the historic Old Town where you can browse shops and cafes that are housed along the wooden boardwalk and get a glimpse of the town’s Old West roots.

Go up in a hot air balloon at sunrise to see the expanse of vineyards from above or stay on the ground and play a round of golf. If you want to be a bit more active, rent a bike and spend the day biking through the vineyards.

temecula ca

There you have it. A California road trip that takes you from the coast, through the desert and mountains, and back to the ocean. Of course, you can mix and match the schedule so it fits your personal time frame.

You can extend your stay in places like Yosemite or Joshua Tree, if you have more time you can add on stops at places like Palm Springs if you want to experience this luxurious desert town where many Angelenos escape to on the weekend.

You can also stay in Los Angeles longer and explore all the different neighborhoods, and continue to eat your way through the city. It’s completely up to you.

Sources: Death Valley photo

' src=

April 3, 2021 at 3:39 am

Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.

' src=

April 9, 2021 at 5:15 pm

Thank you! I hope you get to visit California one day.

' src=

July 25, 2021 at 12:34 pm

Hi this a great bit of info. extremely useful we live in Manchester Uk and (assuming no covid restrictions) are looking to do this trip in April 2022 with two kids 12 and 17. so just starting to plan now.

July 26, 2021 at 10:08 am

Thanks Mark! Glad to hear it helped. April is a great time to take a California road trip.

' src=

September 23, 2021 at 10:10 am

How would this trip be in the beginning of April? The 1st week of April is our spring break. Do the fires impact this trip at all?

September 28, 2021 at 2:16 am

Hi! Early April should be an ideal time to visit. You don’t need to worry about fires, since those typically happen in late summer when it’s drier. The only thing that you need to keep an eye on is late-season rain/flooding when driving down Highway 1, since there can be landslides that cause road closures. This government website is helpful for checking highway closures: Have a great trip!

' src=

December 21, 2021 at 8:49 pm

This California road trip guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

December 22, 2021 at 11:40 am

Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful!

' src=

March 4, 2023 at 4:44 am

I always look forward to your newsletter and reading about your California adventures! A PCH tour is definitely on our bucket list. I loved your 10 day itinerary & hope to put it to good use one day soon. I have visited California a couple of times years ago. I’ve never seen a prettier place – although the traffic was like no place I’ve ever been!!! Enjoy & stay safe.

March 6, 2023 at 4:22 pm

Thanks Carol! I hope you get to come back to California soon and drive along the beautiful PCH. And yes the traffic around LA still baffles me even after living in the area for years ha.

' src=

May 30, 2023 at 4:41 pm

How would this trip look in the end of December weather wise?

May 31, 2023 at 10:01 pm

Usually, there’s a good chance of rain at the end of December, especially in Northern California. Last year was very rainy, but that was an exception. Weather in Southern California is mild and in my opinion great for visiting. Just be prepared for everything and bring layers!

' src=

June 8, 2023 at 3:10 am

very perfect article thanks for sharing it with us

June 8, 2023 at 3:46 pm

Thank you Gerald!

' src=

August 9, 2023 at 8:57 am

woow this pretty much gives all the insights about carlifornia , thanks for putting this pieces together.

August 9, 2023 at 10:55 am

Thanks, glad you found this helpful Bosco!

' src=

November 10, 2023 at 3:44 am

very perfect article thanks for sharing it with us.

November 10, 2023 at 10:34 am

Thanks, glad you enjoy it!

' src=

December 15, 2023 at 3:25 am

very perfect article thanks a lot

December 15, 2023 at 11:17 am

Thanks Mike!

January 4, 2024 at 6:55 am

very nice article thanks a lot

January 4, 2024 at 10:16 am

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Photo collage of a road over concentric circles of Big Sur, Mammoth Mountain, Joshua Tree and Carlsbad Flower Fields

11 perfect California road trips to take this spring break

  • Show more sharing options
  • Copy Link URL Copied!

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose ”

“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 ”

“ 99 Miles From L.A.”

For decades, musicians have written songs about California road trips, attempting to bottle their magic into a catchy track.

Los Angeles County travelers are lucky — our slice of Southern California, home to Highway 1 and the historic Route 66, is an especially well-positioned jumping-off point for anyone with the urge to hit the road.

A drive from L.A. to San Francisco, San Diego and other California cities can easily be transformed into a weeklong road trip with interludes of sightseeing, dining, wine tasting, hiking, surfing and more. Visiting one of the Golden State’s national parks? Why not add a few stops along the way?

Don’t worry if you only have a few days to spend on the road — most of these trips can be edited to fit your time constraints.

The road trips on this list, which span nearly the length and width of California, will need to be adjusted based on the time of year you take them. As our recent winter storms have demonstrated, driving in California can prove treacherous, so always check road conditions and local guidelines before traveling.

Please also keep in mind that some of the destinations and roads mentioned are currently closed due to weather. We are sharing these routes for future road trip inspiration, to use when road conditions improve.

Now, let’s hit the road.

An A-frame cabin in Idyllwild.

The best of both worlds: Palm Springs and Idyllwild

A camper trailer has a sunrise view over the rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

Get starry-eyed: Joshua Tree, the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego

Big Sur's emblematic Bixby Creek Bridge along Highway 1

A coastal getaway: Highway 1, L.A. to San Francisco

Two snowboarders glide down a snowy hill.

Mountains await: Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear

The Field of Light at Sensorio in Paso Robles

Wine time: Santa Ynez Valley and Paso Robles

Yosemite Falls seen from across the Yosemite Valley

Adventures in the parks: Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite

West side, Pinnacles National Park. Near Juniper Canyon Trail

Condors and caves: Pinnacles National Park and Monterey

A view of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the United States, with the Alabama Hills in the foreground in Lone Pine

See the Eastern Sierra: U.S. 395, Lone Pine to Lake Tahoe

Paddleboarders take a scenic sunset cruise amid warm weather in Crescent Bay Beach in Laguna Beach.

Surf and sand: L.A. to San Diego

Carson Mansion is a Victorian landmark in Eureka.

The Lost Coast: San Francisco to Eureka (and beyond)

Volcanoes and waterfalls: mount shasta, burney falls and lassen volcanic national park.

Sign up for The Wild

We’ll help you find the best places to hike, bike and run, as well as the perfect silent spots for meditation and yoga.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.

More From the Los Angeles Times

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, "Los Chinchillas," 1799; etching, burnished aquatint, drypoint and burin

Review: Goya gave Frankenstein’s monster his Hollywood face. Now this museum shows the artist’s larger power

Woman with glasses surrounded by orange and red illustrations like a pan, fried egg, car and shopping bags.

How to have the best Sunday in L.A., according to Nancy Silverton

Russell Thomas rehearses “Fire and Blue Sky.”

After the trauma of sexual assault comes the healing of ‘Fire and Blue Sky’ at L.A. Opera

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.

The best West Coast travel spots, according to readers

A Vanlifer’s Ultimate California Road Trip [With Local Destination Guides]

The beauty of van life is the ability to drive wherever, whenever you want. And, in our opinion, a California road trip is one of the best adventures you can go on in the United States.

There aren’t many places in the world that have deserts, mountain ranges, and white sandy beaches all in one area — this is why California comes out on top as a road trip destination. From the redwoods in the Sequoia National Park to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California has it all. And if the Golden State wasn’t on your road trip bucket list already, it will be soon enough.

Pacific Coast Highway

As road trippers, we know that sometimes the hardest part about van life or road trips is finding a route that’s both time and fuel-efficient. It can be a tedious task, we get it.

But luckily for you, we’ve done the hard part and curated the ultimate California road trip itinerary.

Whether you plan to begin your journey in California or if you’re passing through the area, keep on reading. You won’t want to miss this California coast road trip!

Short On Time? Here’s Our California Road Trip Itinerary

If you don’t have time to read our entire guide, you can view a short version of the itinerary below; you can go ahead and jump to any section that peaks your interest. 

Also, be sure to check out our itinerary maps. So as not to overwhelm you, we’ve split the itinerary into 2 legs:

  • Redwood National Park to Los Angeles

LA to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Redwood national park to la.

California Road Trip southbound leg

The first leg largely takes you along the Pacific Coast Highway. Here is our recommended list of stops on this leg of the road trip:

Redwood National Park

Napa valley, san francisco, monterey county, santa barbara.

  • Greater Los Angeles

California road trip northbound leg

This leg will keep you on the coast until you reach San Diego; from there, you’ll head inland and north again.

These are the stops we’ll recommend for the second leg of the journey:

Palm Springs

  • Joshua Tree
  • Death Valley

Sequoia National Park

  • Lassen National Forest

Redwood National Park California Road Trip

Our California road trip starts off along the state’s north coast at the Redwood National Park. 

As I’m sure you can gather from the name, the Redwood National Park is one of the top places in the world to walk amongst some of the biggest trees on Earth. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an ant, then you’ll have your answer after visiting Redwood. 

Some of the trees in the Redwood National Park are over 2,000 years old and stand over 300 feet tall. With countless hikes, scenic drives, and access to the beach, you can spend 2 to 3 days at the National Park, taking in all the natural beauty, wildlife, and breathtaking views. 

Scenic Drives in Redwood National Park

Sometimes, the best part about a road trip is driving along large stretches of road with valleys or coastlines rolling past your windows.

As the Redwood National Park is easily accessible, there are numerous routes you can drive along for uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean or the towering redwoods . Here are some of our favorites: 

  • Redwood Creek Overlook
  • Klamath River Overlook
  • Crescent Beach Overlook
  • Howland Hill Road
  • Bald Hills Road
  • Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
  • Coastal Loop

Campgrounds in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park California Road triT

Redwood National Park is actually split into 4 sections: the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the Redwood National Park.

There are no hotels within the National Park boundaries , but there are 4 campsites in the 3 State Parks. It’s best to book these campsites in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months. 

Visitors Centers

As with many National Parks throughout America, the Redwood National Park has a couple of visitor centers where you can learn more about the area and all of its history.

The Kuchel Visitor Center is the park’s main center, but you can also find the Hiouchi Redwoods Visitor Center in the northern section of the park.

Mendocino California

From the Redwood National Park, there is a beautiful scenic drive down Highway 1, aka Pacific Coast Highway, which takes you along vast stretches of California’s coast. Many people refer to this drive as the Lost Coast, and we find it the perfect route to the next California road trip stop of Mendocino. 

The drive is roughly 4 hours , but there are numerous campgrounds along the way to break up your time on the road. Some of the campsites are even dotted along the shores, so the journey is a destination in itself. 

When you reach Mendocino, you’re in for even more incredible hikes through spectacular state parks, strolls along the magnificent California coastline, and you can even add a little wine tasting to the itinerary if you so wish. 

State Parks in Mendocino

Mendocino Headlands Park California

These are the state parks you’ll find in Mendocino :

  • Russian Gulch State Park 
  • Mendocino Headlands State Park
  • Van Damme State Park

Other Things to Do in Mendocino

Apart from visiting parks, here are a few more things you can do while you’re exploring Mendocino :

  • Wonder through Downtown Mendocino
  • Visit the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint for that perfect photo opportunity
  • Cycle or hike along the Big River Haul Road
  • Witness incredible wildlife at the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
  • Kayak or paddle board down the Big River
  • Head to the Point Cabrillo Light Station
  • Visit one of Mendocino’s vineyards for a wine tasting experience

Also, from November through to April, you can head out on a whale watching tour to see California gray whales .

Napa Valley California

If you didn’t manage to get any wine tasting done in Mendocino, you’re in luck. Napa Valley is one of California’s most famous wine regions , and is lined with vineyards and wineries of indescribable beauty. If you’re a wine connoisseur, we’d highly urge you to dedicate a few days for a wine country road trip through Napa County.

Of course, as you can imagine, there are numerous vineyards to explore, with the most popular being the Sattui Winery in St. Helena.

Things to Do in Napa Besides Wine Tasting

If you aren’t a fan of wine , don’t worry — there are plenty of other things to do in Napa :

  • See the vineyards and Mount Saint Helena from a bird’s eye view in a hot air balloon.
  • Ride the 36-mile round trip Napa Valley Wine Train.
  • Visit Calistoga and relax in some of the country’s best and only mud baths.
  • Walk along the streets of Downtown Napa.
  • Dine in style at one of Napa’s six Michelin Star restaurants. 
  • Hike up, Mount St. Helena. The hike is moderately challenging, but you get magnificent views of the Napa region.
  • Drive down the Silverado Trail to see the hills and vineyards of Napa.

San Francisco California

After wrapping up in Napa Valley, you’ll want to make your way down to San Francisco.  Well known throughout the world for its numerous attractions and landmarks, San Francisco is an absolute must-visit destination on your great California road trip. 

Golden Gate Bridge

When 4 engineers designed and built the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge on Earth. That record has now been beaten by the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Tokyo, but the Golden Gate Bridge still remains one of the modern wonders of the world.

The bridge, which is 1.7 miles long , has become the most photographed bridge on the planet and should definitely be on your must-see list when visiting San Francisco.

If famous bridges weren’t enough, San Francisco is also home to — arguably — the world’s most notorious prison, Alcatraz. The federal prison may not house any prisoners today, but it has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

When you visit the prison on Alcatraz Island, you can take a walk inside and see where the likes of Al Capone and George Kelly served their time . 

Ride the Cable Cars

San Francisco cable cars

San Francisco is the only place in the world with manually operated cable car systems running through its streets. 

When the first cable cars were added to their tracks in 1873, their popularity soared. But, just under 20 years later, engineers designed the first electric streetcar, and so the decline of manual cars began. 

In our opinion, the cable cars in San Francisco are an excellent way to see the city, and as they’re the last manual cable cars in the world, its an experience you won’t get elsewhere.

Visit San Francisco’s Resident Sea Lions

If you’ve heard anything about San Francisco, then you’re probably well aware of the city’s resident sea lions. You can find the California sea lion community on the docks of Pier 19 at the Fisherman’s Wharf . 

If you’re traveling with kids, then Fisherman’s Wharf is also a great place to explore as it has a high concentration of family-related activities. The USS Pampanito submarine, which took part in World War II, Madame Tussauds wax museum, and  Ripley’s Believe It or Not! are just a few of the kid-friendly attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Visit the Twin Peaks

If you’re after amazing views of the Bay Area, you need to head to the Twin Peaks. The peaks stand at 922 feet tall and are easily accessible by car or tourist bus.

After you’ve been to the top of the peaks, you can make your way back down to the 64-acre park and enjoy some quiet time. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.

Santa Cruz California

Roughly an hour’s drive south of San Francisco is the next stop on your California road trip — Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz sure does have some character and is seen by many as the land of the mountains, surf, and laid-back vibes .

When you think of a Californian beach town, Santa Cruz is what will pop up in your head.  Surfers ripping waves in the ocean, boardwalks along the beach, and plenty of ice cream stalls dotted around the place. 

Whether you stop in Santa Cruz for just the day or if you spend the entire weekend there, you’re guaranteed a fun, relaxed, and enjoyable visit. 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is iconic. It’s been in numerous movies mainly thanks to its old-fashioned fun fair that features a historic wooden roller coaster, The Giant Dipper. 

Everyone loves amusement parks, especially when they’re situated right alongside the beach, so spend the afternoon getting your adrenaline pumping and indulge in the Boardwalk’s many sweet treats.

Drive Along West Cliff Drive

Driving along any stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway is unforgettable, and the West Cliff Drive is no exception. West Cliff has some of the most beautiful views in all of Santa Cruz, and if you have time, we highly recommend getting out of your car and taking in the refreshing ocean air.

Carmel, Monterey, California

You may never have heard of Monterey County, but once your road trip is complete, you’ll most definitely want to head back. 


One of the most popular attractions in Monterey is the beach in the city of Carmel. The beach is stunning with its white sand and relatively calm waters, which makes it a great stop for families on the road.

After you’ve finished up at the beach, you need to take a stroll through the quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea town. It feels like you’ve jumped in a time machine and headed back in time. The cobblestone paths and unique buildings are an attraction of their own when visiting Monterey. 

Drive the 17 Mile Drive

The 17-mile drive down the Monterey Peninsula’s southern side is an epic road that gives you some of the most beautiful views that Monterey has to offer.

We recommend starting the drive from the Pacific Grove Gate and working your way down to Carmel to enjoy the beach and Carmel city. 

Other Things to Do in Monterey

Here are a few more activities that are worth your time while you’re in Monterey :

  • Go shopping on Cannery Row and see one of the largest populations of California sea lions.
  • Visit the award-winning Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Go souvenir shopping at Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Head out on one of the many whale watching tours.

Big Sur California

A short, 45-minute drive south of Monterey, is Big Sur, which is home to over 90 miles of jagged coastline and the St. Lucia Mountain Range . With this great diversity of landforms come numerous activities for nature lovers to enjoy. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park got its name from one of Big Sur’s beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer. While walking one of the seven marked trails, you’ll encounter intriguing coves, picturesque waterfalls, and towering redwood forests. 

One of the most popular trails is the Waterfall Overlook Trail. It’s less than a mile long and takes you to the McWay Falls, which is one of Big Sur’s most popular attractions.

If you’re on the hunt for whales, this is the place to be.

From December to February and March to May, migrating gray whales frequent the waters around the Big Sur coast , with some even coming up into the cove into which the McWay Falls flows.

Pfeiffer Beach

pfieffer beach, California

If your feet are sore from hiking, or you’re just short on time, you can head to Pfeiffer Beach.

Pfeiffer offers its visitors expansive shorelines that are towered by rock formations and thick vegetation.

One of the most famous rock formations in the area is a few feet out into the ocean.

This rock is the Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock, which got its distinguishable arch from thousands of years of erosion. During low tide, you’re able to walk through the water to the rock, and if you can wait until sunset, then you’ll have an incredible photo opportunity. 

Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach is Big Sur’s largest stretch of unbroken sand and is said to be one of the best surfing locations in the area.

Now, we know not everyone is into surfing, so if you’re heading to the beach, you can also try your luck at beachcombing.

You see, this is where the shoreline gets its name — from sand dollars that wash up on the shore. Sand dollars are flat, burrowing sea urchins that, once dead, turn white and end up on the beach.

Santa Barbara, California

From Big Sur, your next stop will be down the coast in southern California.

Santa Barbara is home to many celebrities , including George Lucas, Ellen DeGeneres, and Drew Barrymore.

And, with celebrities settling in Santa Barbara, it must be a nice place to visit. 

This charming city, which many people nickname the American Riviera, is full of fancy shops and 5-star restaurants, along with beautiful beaches, cozy cafes, and numerous photo opportunities. 

Visit the Mission Santa Barbara

The Mission Santa Barbara is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, which makes it a must-see during your California road trip. 

In 1925, an earthquake destroyed buildings all throughout Santa Barbara. Then, during the rebuild, builders designed and constructed buildings in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, which was inspired by the Mission Santa Barbara.

Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Pier

Santa Barbara Pier

Stearns Wharf isn’t just a great place to head to if you’re after incredible views — it also leads to the Santa Barbara Pier, which sits at the end of State Street. 

Built in 1872, the Santa Barbara Pier is the oldest working wooden wharf in California . At the time of construction, it was also the longest deep-water pier in the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Nowadays, the pier is home to numerous attractions, like the Sea Center and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Walk, Skate, or Cycle the Cabrillo Bike Path

If you want to feel like you’re in a California-based movie, you’ll want to either skate, cycle , or walk down the Cabrillo Bike Path. The path runs between some of Santa Barbara’s best beaches and has palm trees lining its edges.

Head to the Funk Zone for Some Nightlife

After a week or two on the road, you may well feel like you need a night out. If that’s the case, the Funk Zone is the perfect place to go!

The Funk Zone is full of some of Santa Barbara’s best cafes, restaurants, and entertainment venues, as well as boutique shops, art galleries, and street art displays .

Malibu California

Just over an hour down California’s Pacific Coast Highway is the beach city of Malibu.

Now, we would be lying if we said the majority of your time won’t be spent on one of Malibu’s many beaches, because, well, that’s what Malibu is known for!

Point Dume State Beach

One of Malibu’s most popular beaches, Point Dume is the perfect place to relax and unwind. If you aren’t into lying on a beach, the State Beach also has a hiking trail that offers you a short and interesting hike with views of the Santa Monica Bay, Santa Monica Mountains, and, on a clear day, Catalina Island.

Zuma Beach, Malibu, California

Zuma is another one of the city’s well-known beaches. It’s the biggest one in Malibu, so as you can imagine, it’s a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. 

The beach is a great stop for families, couples, or solo travelers; if you can, stay for the sunset . Depending on the conditions, the sky lights up with shades of orange, red, and pink.

Once you finish up in Malibu, you can drive a further 20 minutes south to Santa Monica to enjoy the Santa Monica Pier, the Santa Monica Beach, and even visit the original Muscle Beach Gym.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Everyone, and we mean everyone, has heard of Los Angeles. So, of course, it was a no-brainer to add to your California road trip itinerary.

LA is home to amazing entertainment, nightlife , restaurants, and theme parks, all of which certainly make it a place you don’t want to miss.

Hollywood Sign

If you head to Santa Monica, the Hollywood Sign in northern Los Angeles is on your way. The Hollywood sign is about a 30-minute drive from Santa Monica , and in our opinion, you can’t visit LA without making a trip to see the world-famous mountainside lettering. 

If you don’t want to hike up to the sign, then there are a few places you can head to that offer amazing views from down below. These include Lake Hollywood Park, the Hollywood Reservoir, and North Beachwood Drive. 

While, sadly, you can’t touch the sign, you can hike up Mount Lee to get views of Los Angeles from behind it.

There are a few options to get you to the top of the mountain; these include:

  • Walking along Mulholland Dr or Deronda Dr from Lake Hollywood Park
  • Hike the Wonderview Trail
  • From the Griffith Observatory parking lot take the Mount Hollywood Trail
  • Set off from the Bronson Caves

Stargaze at the Griffith Observatory

Griffiths Observatory LA

At the peak of Griffith Park is the Griffith Observatory, which is one of the world’s finest planetariums. If you’re interested in all things space, then the Griffith Observatory is a must-do while you’re on your California road trip visiting LA. 

The observatory has a 290-seat planetarium, giant telescopes, and educational films that teach you all about the planets, stars, and give you sneak-peek at the mysteries of the universe.  

Take a Ride on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus

One of the easiest ways to see LA is by jumping on a hop-on hop-off bus. Not only do these buses take you to all the must-see destinations, but they also have guides to the city’s history and other relevant information.

Head Down to Venice Beach

While in LA, you’ll find yet another world-famous California destination — Venice Beach.

Venice Beach is an ideal destination for those looking to catch some waves before relaxing with a drink at one of the many bars.

Drive to Huntington City Beach

If you’re a beach lover, you’ll want to head about an hour south of Venice Beach to Huntington Beach.

On your drive, you’ll also pass through Long Beach; we highly recommend visiting all 3 beaches as they all have unique characteristics that set them apart from the rest.

Anaheim, California

This one only really applies to all the Disney lovers out there, but when there is a Disney park in the area, you just have to go.

The first-ever Disneyland Park to open was in Anaheim in 1955. Since Anaheim is only a 26 drive from Los Angeles, it is a no-brainer. 

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, California

If you aren’t a Disney fan, your next stop after departing Los Angeles should be Laguna Beach. It’s about an hour’s drive south, but the picturesque coastline is well worth it. 

After all the outdoor activities you’ve been doing, we hope you aren’t sunburnt by this point, as Laguna Beach has lengthy stretches of sandy seashore, and many hiking trails to explore.

Head to the Beach

As Laguna Beach has seven miles of coastline, you could spend days exploring some of its many beaches. Here are some to help you make a decision:

  • Crescent Bay – Good for kayaking and sea lion spottings
  • Thalia Street Beach – Perfect for beginner surfers
  • Rockpile Beach – Ideal for experienced surfers
  • Treasure Island Beach – Amazing views and a secluded cove to explore
  • Aliso Beach – For firepits and bonfires
  • Main Beach – Basketball and volleyball nets

Hike Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park has 40 miles of trails that wind through vast sycamore and oak woodlands. You can do all sorts of activities on the trails, from mountain biking to bird watching.

San Diego, California

The southernmost destination of our California road trip takes us to San Diego.

San Diego is yet another city in California that has unforgettable beaches, vibrant nightlife , and captivating attractions. Exploring these is definitely worth your time.

Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo, which is classed as one of the best zoos not just in the United States but in the entire world. 

What’s more, the 1,200-acre park that houses the zoo makes an ideal location for bike rides, scenic walks, and picnics.

Spend Time at Mission Beach and Pacific Beach

San Diego Beach

Mission Beach and Pacific beach connect together to form the shoreline of San Diego. With miles of sand, nearby boardwalks, and even an amusement park, you’ll always find something to keep you entertained throughout your visit. 

Although these beaches are connected and share the same coastline, they couldn’t be any more different from one another. Mission Beach has calmer waters and a more relaxed vibe in general. Pacific Beach, on the other hand, is more upbeat and lively, with restaurants, shops, and bars lining the Mission Boulevard.

Enjoy the Views at Sunset Cliffs

As I’m sure you can tell by its name, Sunset Cliffs is San Diego’s best sunset-watching location. With untouched vegetation and dramatic cliff faces, the area is picture-worthy during the day and night, but it’s best to go around sunset time.

Palm Springs, California

Now it’s time to turn around on your California road trip and head back up north to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs has a few notable attractions that deserve your attention, so it makes sense to stop here before you go on to hike Joshua Tree and Death Valley later on in the trip. 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Once you make it to Tramway Road, you’ll come across a gondola ride that works its way from Palm Spring up into the San Jacinto Mountains.

If you’ve been struggling with the heat, the aerial tramway will be a godsend as the air temperature drops by double digits once you reach the top . 

Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon, California

It’s not every day you see flowing water right in the middle of a desert. But, at Tahquitz Canyon, that is exactly what you’ll see. 

The two-mile loop trail leads you to a waterfall that is tucked into the Tahquitz Canyon. If you worked up a sweat on the trail you can even take a dip in the falls to cool off .

Mount San Jacinto State Park

If you like what you saw on the Palm Spring aerial tramway, why not hike through southern California’s second-highest mountain range?

The Mount San Jacinto State Park takes you up roughly 11,000 feet above sea level and gives you impeccable views of the alpine forests and surrounding areas.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park

We hope you rested up in Palm Springs as you’ve got some long hikes ahead of you in the Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is around a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs and has some stark differences from the coastal towns you drove through not long ago.

Joshua Tree has over 795,000 acres of rock formations and stark desert with hiking trails a-plenty throughout. 

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is one of the shorter and easily accessible hikes in Joshua Tree, and it will take you on a 1-mile loop through an opening into a large rock-walled bowl. 

Barker Dam Nature Trail

Barker Dam Joshua Tree California

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is another relatively short route that goes for 1.3 miles past Joshua trees, rocks, and bodies of water.

Many people turn around and walk the loop back once they reach the remnants of a water tank. But we recommend carrying on. Although this makes the hike shorter, you actually miss the best bit — the largest trees beyond the dam.

Ryan Mountain Hike

If you’re after a more challenging hike, then the path from Park Boulevard up the Ryan Mountain should be right up your alley. Known as the Royal Mountain Hike, this 3-mile up-and-down hike takes you up 1,000 feet of elevation. But the 360-degree views of Joshua Tree at the top are well worth it. 

Other Things to Do in Joshua Tree

Here are a few more things you can do at Joshua Tree National Park apart from hiking:

  • Visit Skull Rock
  • Drive up to Keys View Lookout Point
  • Explore the Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Marvel over Joshua Trees’ rare permanent spring, Cottonwood Spring Oasis
  • Hike the Arch Rock Trail
  • Gaze at the stars come nightfall

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park

What to Do After Joshua Tree

If you want to explore other natural attractions on your California road trip, make your way over to the San Bernardino National Forest. From the deserts in Joshua Tree to the 800,000 acres of woodlands in San Bernardino, you’ll truly feel like you teleported to another world and not just driven an hour down the road. 

San Bernardino is an awesome hiking location with hot springs, the Big Bear Lake, scenic drives, and wildlife encounters. But be aware, there are bears in the area.

Campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree has a large selection of campsites to choose from. However, if you’re traveling into the area with an RV or van, 2 of the best sites are the Black Rock Campground and the Cottonwood Campground as they both have drinking water and flushable toilets.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Now it’s time to head back up to northern California to explore Death Valley. And don’t worry, we know it doesn’t have the most appealing name, but the area is truly magnificent. 

Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place on Earth. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then I’m not sure what will.

An aptly-named section of the park, Furnace Creek, received the hottest temperature ever recorded in July of 1913.

Wondering what that temperature was?

Well, it was 134°F. Yikes.

Dante’s View

Dante’s View offers one of the best viewpoints at Death Valley.

There is a parking lot at the viewpoint, along with trails, to give you a different perspective of the land down below. 

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

If you’re visiting Death Valley at sunset, you should head to Zabriskie Point. There is a short walk to the overlook, and then there are short trails that lead out into the hills.

Badwater Basin

Few can say they’ve been to the lowest point in the USA. But you can — if you visit Badwater Basin, that is! Badwater Basin sits 282 feet below sea level and comprises wide-open salt flats.

Other Things to Do in Death Valley

If you feel that you can tolerate a bit more heat, here are a few other activities to engage in at Death Valley National Park :

  • Explore the lumpy salt flats of Devil’s Golf Course
  • Enjoy the 9-mile scenic drive down Artists Drive
  • Hike Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch
  • Walk to Darwin Falls and enjoy the natural wonder of a waterfall in the desert
  • Sled down the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Visit the Ubehebe Crater and witness a once active volcano

Campgrounds in the Death Valley National Park

Campsites in Death Valley work on a first-come-first-serve basis.

That said, the Furnace Creek Campground takes reservations during its busy season.

If you plan to camp at Death Valley, remember — temperatures are scorching during the summer months, and because of this, most campsites are closed.

Sequoia National Park

Time to beat the heat of Death Valley and head west to get to some much-needed shade in the Sequoia National Park.

The Sequoia National Park is home to the world’s largest redwood, Hyperion .

Hyperion stands over 380 feet tall, and if that isn’t a reason to visit Sequoia, then I don’t know what is. 

If the height of Hyperion doesn’t impress you enough, Sequoia is also home to the largest tree by volume. The General Sherman Tree is more than 36 feet in diameter at its base. For perspective, it would take about 20 people holding hands to hug this tree.

Things to Do in the Sequoia National Park

Moro Rock Summit

Sequoia National Park offers more than just majestic redwoods for you to admire; there are plenty of attractions and activities from which to choose.

Here are some that we’d recommend:

  • Visit the Giant Forest Museum
  • Climb 390 steps to Moro Rock (the view is well worth it)
  • Drive through the Tunnel Log
  • Explore the Crystal Cave marble cavern
  • Take a dip at the Tokopah Falls
  • Drive under Tunnel Rock

Hiking Trails in the Sequoia National Park

Needless to say, there are a few excellent hiking trails at the park, too:

  • Crescent Meadow Trail
  • Big Trees Trail
  • Congress Trail

Campgrounds at the Sequoia National Park

There are 7 campgrounds dotted around the park.

That said, the best one to head to if you’re traveling in RVs or vans is the Potwisha Campground.

Potwisha can accommodate RVs up to 24 feet long, and the area has flushing toilets, water, and other amenities.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of America’s most famous National Parks. And for a very good reason.

The park’s vistas are stunningly beautiful and offer guests a range of activities, from hiking and biking to fishing and rock climbing. 

Yosemite Falls

One of the prettiest parts of the Yosemite National Park is the Yosemite Falls. This waterfall pours its way down over the granite wall smashing against the rocks down below.

Because of its height, you can see the waterfall from numerous areas in the park, but the best view is at the start of the Yosemite Falls hike. 

You can hike your way down the trail to reach the base of the falls with minimal effort. On particularly hot days, the mist the falls create is pleasant and refreshing, so we highly recommend this hike.

Another of Yosemite’s popular sites is the Half Dome climbing wall. Climbers from all over the country have flocked to Yosemite to tackle the giant granite wall that towers over the valley.

If you aren’t looking to climb the wall, then there are two great options that give you fantastic views of the Half Dome.

The first is at the Glacier Point Lookout, where you can see how much the rockface actually looms over the valley and the surrounding mountains.

And the second option is the Mirror Lake hiking trail, which takes you to the bottom of the rock so you can see it from an ant’s perspective.

Tunnel View

Yosemite Park Tunnel View

The most iconic Yosemite Valley view is from the Tunnel Valley, which stretches out to Bridalveil Fall, El Captain, and the Half Dome.

The best time to visit is during the afternoon, when all the walls are bathed in direct sunlight.

Other Things to Do at Yosemite

Here are a few more things for you to do while you’re at Yosemite National Park :

  • Gaze at the 3,000-foot El Captain Rock.
  • Drive an hour up to Glacier Point
  • Hike to the Bridalveil Fall
  • If you’re skilled, try climbing the rocks of Yosemite
  • Hike Tioga Road
  • Cycle along Yosemite’s 12 miles of paved paths

Campgrounds at the Yosemite National Park

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds, most of which have sites for RVs.

It’s important to book ahead as much as possible to secure yourself a camp space , as all the campgrounds in Yosemite fill up fast.

Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

Heading further northeast on the ultimate California road trip will take you up to Lake Tahoe, where you can spend the day hiking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains or participating in water sports on the lake itself.

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is a small sheltered cove of Lake Tahoe that has relatively shallow water, which gives the bay its beautiful turquoise color . 

Overlooking the bay is a Scandinavian castle, Vikingsholm, which is open to the public. Guests can take a tour inside after hiking its steep one-mile trail.

Alternatively, you can jump in a kayak or get up on a paddle board and explore the lake from the water itself. 

Hiking Lake Tahoe

Some of the more beautiful hiking trails are at the lake’s southern end. These trails include:

  • Fallen Leaf Lake Trail
  • Cascade Falls Trail
  • Rubicon Trail

Partake in Winter Sports

During the winter months, Lake Tahoe transforms into a world-renowned alpine skiing destination. Even if you aren’t an avid skier, the ride to the Observation Deck via a 9,123-foot gondola gives you outstanding views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding areas. 

Other Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

When you’ve had enough of skiing and water sports, you can still find a few exciting things to do around Lake Tahoe:

  • Have a picnic at the D.L Bliss State Park
  • Relax on the sandy beaches at the Sand Harbor State Park
  • Hike the Eagle Rock Hiking Trail

Sacramento, California

Sacramento is one of our final stops on this California road trip itinerary. As the state capital, the city features plenty of historical landmarks . Below are our top picks.

California State Railroad Museum

Over 500,000 people flock to the California State Railroad Museum every year, and if you too are interested in trains, we suggest you make a stop there yourself . 

The museum is spread out over six buildings and showcases railroad cars and locomotives, along with their history, and how the railroads shaped California and its economy.

Pony Express Terminal

The endpoint of the Pony Express was in the Pony Express Terminal in Sacramento. Although the mail service is no longer around, the building was named a National Historic Landmark, which now belongs to the Wells Fargo History Museum.

American River Bike Trail

Grab a bike and cycle along 32 miles of paved roads on the American River Bike Trail. The trail runs from Discovery Park to Beal’s Point and has separate lanes for people going either way.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic Park, California

Our final stop on this California road trip will take you to the Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is around a 3-hour drive from Sacramento. And, don’t worry, Lassen is well worth it.

The Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all 4 types of volcanos: cinder cone, plug dome, composite, and shield. And the best part is some of these volcanos are still active . 

Hikes and trails throughout the park can take you alongside volcanic gas vents, steam vents, turquoise pools of water, and boiling mud pots. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day. 

But, along with the volcanic activity in the area, there are also plenty of lakes, waterfalls, and scenic drives that you can fill your days in Lassen with. 

The Best Trails in the Lassen Volcanic National Park

Not everything comes easy, and some of the best views require some work to get there. We hope you have your hiking boots ready, as the Lassen National Park has some incredible hikes that you won’t want to miss. These include:

  • Bumpass Hell Trail – Easy
  • Sulphur Works Sidewalk Trail – Easy
  • Devils Kitchen Trail – Challenging
  • Lassen Peak Trail – Challenging
  • Cinder Cone Trail – Challenging

Other Things to Do in the Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’re tired of hiking, you can find some time to relax and take in the natural beauty at the landmarks below:

  • Manzanita Lake 
  • Juniper Lake
  • Emerald Lake
  • Boiling Springs Lake
  • Kings Creek Falls
  • Mill Creek Falls

Finally, you can take a drive down the Lassen Park Highway and immerse yourself in the surrounding scenery from the comfort of your vehicle.

Campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are 7 separate campgrounds throughout Lassen, but only 3 can accommodate RVs and trailers. These 3 sites include Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake, and Butte Lake.

That said, there are no RV hookups, so make sure your RV or van is equipped with everything you’ll need during your stay. 

California Road Trip: Conclusion

California Road Trip

So, there you have it! The ultimate California road trip. We hope this itinerary has helped you shape your future trip through the beautiful state of California.

As we wrap up this article, we’d love to know your favorite parts of California. Did this itinerary help you? And is there anything we should have added to the destination or activity list? Let us know in the comment section down below!


Please note that all comments will be checked by our team before being approved.

Related Van Life Posts

Find out more about the most suitable vans for your camping passion.

Bandelier National Monument: All You Need to Know Before Your Visit

The Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos is a must-see destination if you’re heading to New Mexico. With numerous trails, intriguing rock cavities, and various wildlife species, your day at this landmark is guaranteed to be one you’ll remember. To help you make the most out of your time at the Bandelier National Monument, we’ve put […]

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed sites in the state of Arizona. And for good reason: The curve of the Colorado River’s path and the shape of the surrounding rock formations offer truly unique, unforgettable views.  The natural landmark attracts over 2 million people every year, and we are here to give you […]

Colorado National Monument Visitor’s Guide: Activities, Best Time to Go, and Other Tips

The Colorado National Monument is one of the most popular and scenic tourist destinations in Colorado. Endless canyons, breathtaking rock formations, and an abundance of animal and plant life arguably rival the better-known Grand Canyon. Trust us: you won’t want to miss this landmark. To help you plan a trip to the Colorado National Monument, […]

  • 239,733 Members
  • 1734 Stories Told
  • 94 Featured Places
  • Van Life Stories
  • Camper Vans
  • Off Road Campers
  • Tiny Homes on Wheels

Incredible Custom Off-Grid 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter Conversion

Vw buzz: the iconic camper’s futuristic evolution for the modern vanlife enthusiast.

How to Build a Camper E-Book

The Best California Road Trip Itineraries: 13 Grand Adventures

California is built for road trips. We’ve got 163,000 square miles of mountains, desert, redwood forest, beaches and pastoral landscapes. And while driving the Pacific Coast Highway or doing a lap of Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are popular (more on them below), there are a whole lot of other backroads and coastal drives that await you.

So, we’ve compiled our favorite baker’s dozen of California road trip itineraries. These CA road trip ideas cover the whole state, north, south, east and west and all of them promise stunning landscapes and epic adventures.

Palm Springs sunset road.

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

  • Our 13 Fave California Road Trip Itineraries

This CA road trip planner has a lot of detail. Each itinerary has mileage info and suggested number of days along with a rough idea of which roads to take. We’re also suggesting some itinerary highlights, when to go and some top stays along the way.

We think you should read the whole thing, so that you can get itinerary ideas for multiple trips. But if you’re in a hurry, please use the table of contents to skip around to the areas which most peak your interest.

Pacific Coast Highway: SF to LA

Pacific coast highway: north coast, north coast redwoods, the central coast loop, napa/sonoma wine country drive, highway 49 gold country route, the lassen/shasta volcanic legacy highway.

  • National Park Trifecta: Yosemite, King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Highway 395 Eastern Sierra Drive

South coast beaches: la to san diego, california deserts loop: san diego to death valley, the best of the sierra nevada scenic drive, the best california road trip itinerary (in 2 weeks).

McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park


Make sure you get the best possible deal when renting a car. Compare across brands at . Or look for special member deals at Avis , Hertz , Budget or Enterprise .

  • Start : San Francisco
  • End : Los Angeles (you can do the reverse, but pullouts are easier to do north-to-south.)
  • Miles : 460
  • # of Days : 3-6
  • Route : Highway 1 all the way down

The Pacific Coast Highway is America’s classic road trip and hand’s down the most popular California road trip itinerary. It actually runs the full length of California from the Oregon Border to San Diego. And we cover more sections of it in the North Coast and South Coast road trips below.

But the section from SF to LA is a fave Cali road trip for the sheer jaw-dropping scenery. If you need some convincing, check out our advice on why we think Big Sur is so worth it .

Just go ahead and bookmark our SF to LA PCH itinerary . It’s a 5-7 day slow roll down the coast which is optimized for epic coastal views, marine life, wine tasting and fun beaches.

On the northern section of the drive, key stops include whale watching in Monterey Bay, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the 17-mile drive through Carmel .

Once you hit Big Sur , our favorite stops include the Point Lobos State Park, Garrapata Beach, redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach (purple sand!), Sand Dollar Beach, the Piedras Blancas lighthouse , Hearst Castle and elephant seals at Ragged Point.

Dinosaur Cove Cove Shell Beach Pismo, with beach and tree.

After Cambria, you can head inland for wine tasting in Paso Robles or stay on the coast road. You can visit quirky Harmony town , do some fun hikes and eat cookies in Cayucos , or take on some activities in Pismo Beach , like visiting Pismo’s best beaches or doing some Edna Valley wine tasting .

In the southern section of the hike, you can visit the quirky Solvang Danish town, do yet more wine tasting in Los Olivos and swing into Santa Barbara to visit the mission and art galleries. Then it’s a long roll down Highway 1 past some of Northern LA County’s prettiest beaches.

When to Do the PCH

Summer is the busiest time to visit Big Sur . And winter is very tricky because winter storms often close Highway 1 through Big Sur. We favor April/May or September-November for the finer weather and slower pace.

Notable Places to Stay on the PCH

The Hyatt Carmel Highlands is a 5-star splurge with killer views. For something more low-key amidst the redwoods, you can also rent glamping cabins in Big Sur . Get an ocean view (with free sunsets!) at the Vespera Marriott in Pismo Beach.

Mendocino Coast Road with beach overlook

  • End : Leggett
  • Miles : 210
  • # of Days : 3-5
  • Route : Highway 1 all the way up

This northern section of the PCH is less popular than the Central California section, but it’s notable for its rugged coastline, Tule elk, some of our favorite northern California coastal towns . And if you’re thirsty, there’s no shortage of wine tasting throughout this region.

On the southern end of this road trip, notable stops include Muir Woods (reservations in advance are required), the Marin Headlands and dog-friendly Stinson Beach (one of our favorite CA hippie towns .)

Point Reyes National Seashore boat wreck.

In the mid section, Point Reyes National Seashore is worth at least a full day, with tons of hikes, Tule elk, elephant seals and the lovely cypress tunnel. There are also wine and cheese tasting rooms nearby. Cute Bodega Bay is worth a stop, as are the Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross and Salt Point State Parks.

There’s also a ton to do in and around Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Detour onto Highway 128 to visit the Anderson Valley vineyards and take a stroll through the Hendy Woods redwood groves. You can also find coast redwoods and a fern grove in Van Damme State Park , killer sunsets on the Mendocino Headlands, a quiet cove at Jug Handle beach and the skunk trail and rail bikes in Fort Bragg.

We are (arbitrarily) ending this routing in Leggett on Highway 101, but you can combine this California road trip plan with the one for the North Coast redwoods and do both as a loop.

When to Do the North Coast

This part of California receives a ton of rain between December and March. Any other months are fine and April/May and Sept/Oct are quieter times to go.

Notable Places to Stay on the North Coast

The Palace Hotel in SF is one of the city’s oldest and it offers afternoon tea in their stunning atrium lobby. For some oceanfront bathing, the Seamist cottage in Bodega Bay has an ocean front hot tup and the North Cliff hotel in Fort Bragg has ocean view bathtubs with a fireplace.

San Francisco to Redwoods National Park road trip. giant coast redwood trees

  • End : Crescent City
  • Miles : 355
  • # of Days : 4-7 days
  • Route : Highway 101/Highway 1 all the way up

This is one of our favorite California road trip itineraries for all of the forest bathing opportunities. California’s North Coast Redwoods can easily be done as a loop in conjunction with the coastal route just above. Or, if you are keen for some serious me-time in the trees, you can just focus on this particular itinerary.

This road trip covers 13 state parks, one national park and some whacky roadside attractions…all focused on Coast Redwoods. We have a very thorough redwoods road trip itinerary with a full FAQ, map, advice on the best time to visit the redwoods , and trip planning ideas.

But here are some of our favorite highlights: The Avenue of the Giants scenic drive in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the scenic Drury parkway drive in Prairie Redwoods State Park, the Roosevelt Elk in Prairie Redwoods, the wacky Trees of Mystery , the Lady Bird Johnson grove in Redwoods National park, and the groves and Boy Scout hike in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Phew, that’s a lot of trees!

Roosevelt Elk in Prairie Redwoods State Park

When to Do the North Coast Redwoods

Notable places to stay in the redwoods.

There aren’t a lot of fancy hotels in this part of California. You’ll want to look for cozy inns and places that give you forest or ocean views. You can go glamping in the woods near Trinidad, or at the Mendocino Grove , or lodge at the Lighthouse Inn in Crescent City is near Jedediah Smith and close to downtown restaurants and the actual lighthouse.

California Morro Bay beach

  • Loop : Between Monterey and Santa Barbara
  • Getting There : ~2 hours from LA to Santa Barbara or SF to Monterey
  • Miles : 506
  • #of Days : 3-5
  • Route : Highway 1, Highway 101, Highway 33

Many folks just drive down Highway 1 through Big Sur, which is certainly worth the views and the beaches. But there are some really great things to see and do on the Central Coast’s interior.

This itinerary goes down (or up) the coast and then laps back, taking some little known scenic roads. This whole region has a chill vibe and you can use that to set a leisurely pace for your road trip.

Drive…stop at a beach…drive…stop for a walk…drive…have a long lunch…drive…do a wine tasting…wash rinse repeat.

All of the key stops that we noted on the PCH itinerary above are still relevant. But some of our favorite interior stops include: wine and olive oil tasting in Paso Robles , the San Luis Obisbo Mission, eating danish in Solvang, and the Carrizo Plain National Monument (if the spring flowers are blooming).

We also recommend taking a winding scenic drive through Los Padres National Forest. It goes from Ventacopa to Ojai on Highway 33. And for that matter, it’s really fun to wander around the wine country backroads in Paso Robles and Los Olivos. Even if you aren’t into wine, the countryside is really beautiful.

Paso Robles sunset Adelaida road.

When to Do the Central Coast Loop

This route is really fun in the summer, after the June gloom fog clears. The Carizzo Plain often blooms in early April. And there are fall wine harvest festivals, which is a great time to visit Pismo Beach .

Notable Places to Stay in on the Central Coast

There’s the completely over the top Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, the Ojai Valley Inn (with spa!), and yet more glamping tents and trailers at the Flying Flag in Buellton (near Solvang).

Sonoma County vineyards and trees.

  • Start/End : Loop from San Francisco
  • Mile s: 213
  • # of Days : 3-4
  • Route : Highway 101, Highway 29, Highway 128, Highway 116

Many people just go to either Napa or Sonoma and hang out in one spot for wine tasting. But it’s worth extending your wine country stay and doing a wider loop because you’ll find lovely country drives, state parks, fine cheeses and fun on the water.

This wine country drive is a loop which starts in SF, goes up Napa Valley and down through Healdsburg, with a side trip to Guerneville before heading down Sonoma Valley. If you want to go wine tasting, especially on a weekend, it’s best to get reservations in advance.

In Napa Valley, start by taking a wander around Napa’s downtown shopping and art district. The Oakville Grocery is a great place to pick up picnic provisions and you can do a mud bath in Calistoga. From there, branch off of Highway 128 and take the slow road to the Petrified Forest and Safari West, before heading into Healdsburg.

Healdsburg has a really cute downtown with galleries, boutiques and a great indy bookstore. Heading southwest on Westside road will take you along the Russian River and past the Armstrong Woods State Park (redwoods!) to quirky Guerneville . If it’s summer you can do a lazy river float along the Russian River, or take a cedar bath at the Osmosis Day Spa. Then head south to groovy Sebastopol where there are three dairy tasting rooms from the California Cheese Trail , Finally, heading back east, taking Highway 12 down Sonoma Valley.

Take a hike in the Trione Anondel State Park or visit the Jack London State Historic Park , then taste some yummy private label Jack London wine at the Kenwood Winery. Sonoma has the well-preserved Sonoma Mission, a chill downtown square and a couple more cheese stops.

Armstrong Woods Hiking. Things to do in Guerneville California

When to Do the Napa/Sonoma Drive

This region gets a lot of rain in the winter. Which is not to say that you can’t visit during that time, but pay attention to the forecast. The fall is a fun time because of the wine harvest festivals. Any weekend from May to September is going to be very busy, so book ahead.

Notable Places to Stay in Napa/Sonoma

Go for some Buddhist vibes at Bann in Oak Knoll , Dr. Wilkinson’s spa is a quirky boutique motel with mud baths, Autocamp Russian River has the full glamping experience with luxury tents and Airstreams, or a historic ranch stay at the Beltane in Glen Ellen .

Hangtown mural in Placerville.

  • Start : Mariposa
  • End : Nevada City
  • Miles : 186
  • # of Days : 2-4
  • Route : Highway 49 all the way up

By most measures, California’s economy is one of the largest in the world. And it all started when, in 1849, gold was found in them thar hills. This historic Highway 49 route, also known as the Golden Chain Highway, takes in some of California’s well-preserved gold rush history and it has a lot of fun activities for kids and history buffs.

The key on this itinerary is to take it slow and take advantage of the many historic markers and tiny little towns along the route. Start in Mariposa, which is also the western gateway to Yosemite National park. It also has a historic park with gold rush exhibits and one of the oldest (and loveliest) county courthouses in the state.

There’s another small county museum in Coulter and a nice vista along the Don Pedro reservoir. If you’re keen on covered bridges, you can take a detour to Knights Ferry. Otherwise continue to Jamestown for the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, and then through Sonora to the Columbia State Park. It’s an oldey timey gold rush town and living museum.

Take a side trip up Highway 4 to Calaveras Big Trees State Park for some Giant Sequoia trees. Then north to Indian Grinding Rock State Park and then the adorbs little town of Sutter Creek. If you are into wine, there are a lot of places to stop in the stretch between Sutter Creek and Placerville.

North of Placerville, you’ll find the Gold Bug Park and Mine and Sutter’s Mill, which is where gold was initially found. You’ll find the Empire Mine State Park near Grass Valley along with a cute historic downtown in Nevada City, before ending the trip at Malakoff Diggins State Park .

If you have extra time, stay on Highway 49 and then take the Gold Lake Highway scenic byway to Highway 395.

Malakoff Diggins state park terrain red cliffs and trees

When to Do the Gold Country

Unless there have been heavy winter storms, you can do this drive any time of year. Although expect to find cold winter temps in some of the state parks and Nevada City.

Notable Places to Stay in Gold Country

Bed, breakfast and wine at the Hanford Inn in Sutter Creek. The National Exchange Hotel was built in the throes of the gold rush and it occupies a sweet spot in downtown Nevada City. Or you can go glamping at the Autocamp Midpines , which is just 5 miles from Mariposa.

Mount Shasta California-volcano and misty lake

  • Start : Mount Shasta
  • End : Lassen National Park
  • Route : Highway 89

The official Volcanic Legacy Scenic Highway actually starts at Crater Lake and the full drive is 500 miles. But this alternative routing is shorter and takes in the best bits of the California section. On this drive, you get a lovely mix of volcanic geology, waterfalls and charming historic communities.

This part of northern California is not nearly as popular as places like Lake Tahoe or the PCH, so you can enjoy a relaxed pace and a strong dose of outdoorsy vibe with this itinerary.

Key stops include historic Dunsmuir, Weaverville Joss House State Park, Shasta State Historic Park, Burney Falls, Bumpass Hell hydrothermal pool, Devastated Area interpretive trail and Lake Almador.

Lassen National Park Boardwalk

When to Do the Lassen/Shasta Drive

Late May through late October. The waterfalls are best in spring, but the main road through Lassen is  closed in the winter .

california road trip april

National Park Trifecta: Yosemite, King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

  • Start : Three Rivers
  • End : Groveland
  • Miles : 276
  • # of Days : 4-6
  • Route : Generals Highway, Highway 180, Highway 41, Highway 120

This California road trip itinerary is optimized for sheer awe inspiring nature.

Sequoia National Park is famous for their giant Sequoia trees and Kings Canyon has conifer forest and the deepest canyon in North America. There’s a scenic route connecting the two parks. The Generals Highway covers the best-of Sequoia National Park and Highway 180 covers the best-of Kings Canyon, including the Giant Forest, Grant Grove, and trails to Mist Falls and Zumwalt Meadow.

Yosemite is California’s most popular national park, and for good reason. It presents the best of the Sierra Nevada mountain range with pine forests, giant Sequoia groves and soaring granite peaks.

Valley highlights include the Mariposa grove, Glacier Point overlook, Vernal Falls, Mirror Lake loop, and Yosemite falls. In the upper reaches, there’s the scenic drive over Tioga pass, tons of hikes and the Merced grove. Consider cribbing part of this SF to Yosemite itinerary if you’re also keen to add on some Gold Country.

California scenic road in Kings Canyon National Park.. rocky canyon wall

When to Do the National Park Trifecta

Mid-spring through late fall is best. The parks are open throughout the year, but Tioga Pass and the higher elevations will be closed for snow. You can do Yosemite Valley in the winter , but keep an eye on the National Parks site for closures.

Notable Places to Stay on the Trifecta

The Ahwahnee is Yosemite’s historic inn and it has great views and lovely architecture. They Tenaya Lodge is located in the southern section of Yosemite, offering free park entrance and amenities for the kids. And Autocamp in Midpines is a cool glamping option near-ish to Yosemite Valley.

However you stay, even if it’s a modest motel, book early for these parks.

Dawn in the Alabama Hills Eastern Sierras

  • Start : Bridgeport
  • End : Lone Pine
  • Miles : 147
  • # of Days : 4-6 days
  • Route : Highway 395

The Eastern Sierra doesn’t get as much love as the Western Sierra (and Yosemite), but there’s a lot there for people who like crazy geology, hot springs, ghost towns and sparsely populated forests.

This drive is a straight down (or up) Highway 395 and can easily be combined with a visit to Lake Tahoe, the higher elevations of Yosemite National Park or Death Valley. We’ve got a full 5 day Eastern Sierra itinerary along with detailed stay and play guides for both Bishop and Lone Pine .

Some highlights on this itinerary include: Mono Lake and its moonscape, Bodie Ghost Town State Historic Site, the June Lake Loop, Mammoth Lakes, the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Convict Lake , Hot Creek Geologic site, the Laws Railroad Museum, Manazar National Historic site, and the Alabama Hills.

And if that isn’t enough for you, there are about 2 million acres of National Forest lands which feature alpine lakes, scenic canyon drives and more hiking and fishing than you’ll ever have time for.

Convict Lake Highway 395 in fall

When to Do the Highway 395 Drive

Unless you are a skier, winter is not a great time as many of the forest areas and Tioga Pass (via Yosemite) will be closed. Summer is a great time to visit, but it will be hot in the southern end. This is one of our favorite California road trip itineraries for October because the fall color is unbelievable.

Notable Places to Stay in the Eastern Sierra

Just for grins, you can rend a covered wagon at the Virginia Creek Settlement motel . And if you want to pick a central spot for your base, there are tons of condo rentals in Mammoth Lakes .

Torrey Pines state park San Diego, with ocean view.

  • Start /End: Los Angeles or San Diego
  • Miles : 120
  • Route : Highway 1, I-5, Coast Highway/El Camino Real

Forget Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo and the California Missions. This SoCal road trip itinerary is all about the shoreline. And there’s 120 sweet, sweet miles of it between the Los Angeles and San Diego airports.

For this road trip, be sure to override the Google mapping instructions. It will always steer you on the large freeways and this itinerary is best done on the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) and the slower surface roads.

Key stops in greater LA include: Manhattan Beach (stroll or bike The Strand), Huntington Beach (10 miles of uninterrupted sand), Newport Beach (electric Duffy Boat rentals), Catalina Island (old school beach resort) and Laguna Beach (Crystal Cove State Park), and Dana Point (whale watching).

Key stops in greater San Diego include: Carlsbad (spring ranunculus flowers), Encinitas (Moonlight Beach), Solana Beach (San Elijo Lagoon), Torrey Pines State Reserve, and La Jolla (sea lions and tide-pooling).

Dana Point beach and coastline

When to Do the South Coast Beaches

Try to avoid the May/June gloom season. Otherwise, go for it!

Notable Places to Stay in on the South Coast

Laguna Beach House , is a unique surf-themed ocean-front stay. The Hotel del Coronado is an old-school 130 year-old luxury resort hotel with historic architectural features and a prime spot on the beach. The Sea Bird is an oceanfront hotel in Oceanside, with a spa!

Death Valley trip- Mesquite Dunes at dawn. Sand dunes in shadow

  • Start/End : San Diego
  • Miles : 822
  • # of Days : 7-8
  • Route : San Diego, Julian, Salton Sea/Bombay Beach, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, Kelso Dunes, Death Valley National Park, Ballarat, San Diego

This is one of the best winter California road trip itineraries for its vast open landscape. The southeastern California deserts include both the Sonoran and Mohave deserts. And what to some people is a whole lot of brown, to us is a surprisingly diverse ecosystem with a lot of subtle beauty.

And this lap from San Diego (or LA) shows off the best of CA’s deserts. This itinerary has a fun mix of forest, desert, weird geology and even offbeat art projects.

The first section includes Julian (apple cider and pies), Anza Borrego (hiking and metal sculptures), Slowjamistan (a weird micronation), the Slab City squatter community and the East Jesus art installation .

Center yourself in Palm Springs, taking in the mid-century vibe, palm oasis’ and a scenic lap around the Palms to Pines drive .

Spend at least a day in Joshua Tree (two is better), using our Joshua Tree hiking guide to prioritize which areas to explore, then head into Joshua Tree town for more quirky art projects.

Ignore the Google mapping instructions for how to get to Death Valley and instead, take the slow way to Death Valley via the Amboy Crater and Kelso Dunes. Then use our Death Valley visitor’s guide to plan your time there.

On the way back to San Diego, take the Trona Wildrose road out via Ridgecrest, stopping at Ballarat Death Valley Ghost town on the way out.

Scenic vista of the Palms to Pines scenic byway. curving road in desert

When to Do the California Deserts Loop

This whole region is volcanically hot in the summer. October to April is best and going between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a very quiet time to be in the National Parks.

Notable Places to Stay on the California Deserts Loop

In Palm Springs, go for the Fleur Noire , a low-key spot with floral murals and rosé all day. Joshua Tree town has a ton of quirky trailers and cabins to rent , and the Inn at Death Valley is a fancy historic inn right in the heart of the park.

We’ve also got camping guides for Death Valley , info on hotels and motels in and near Death Valley , and also for Joshua Tree campgrounds .

Emerald Bay Scenic Lake Tahoe Drive lake and pine trees

The two CA road trip itineraries below combine several of the plans noted above into one larger itinerary.

  • Start/End : Anywhere along the loop
  • Miles : 900-1,000
  • # of days : 12-14 days

Glue together the Yosemite/Sequoia, Highway 49 and Highway 395 road trips into one epic, mountain adventure. This itinerary does a full lap around the Sierra Nevada range, with Lake Tahoe at the north end and Lake Isabella at the south end.

After you finish up Highway 49, head over to Lake Tahoe, where you can do a scenic drive around Tahoe . Head over to Highway 395 via either historic Carson City or take Highway 88 over Monitor Pass.

Once you’ve lapped Highway 395, ignore the Google maps instructions and head back over to the western Sierra via Highway 178 and Lake Isabella.

Yosemite National Park Hetch Hetchy

When to Do the Best of the Sierra Nevada Scenic Drive

This drive is best done between late May and early November. You’ll avoid snowy road closures. For any portion of the trip that occurs on a weekend (especially in Yosemite and Tahoe), be sure to book lodging ahead.

Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway

  • Start/End : San Francisco or LA
  • Miles : ~1,000 miles
  • # of Days : at least 14, more is better

This loop combines two of the most popular road trips in California: Yosemite/Sequoia and the Pacific Coast Highway from SF to LA.

You can do the drive in either direction, however we like doing the PCH from north-to-south as it’s easier for the scenic pullouts. Do not underestimate how much driving this is, so get an early start everyday and bake in some down time.

If you have extra days and want to spend some time in San Francisco, we have travel tips for SF first timers and a local’s guide to San Francisco .

If you don’t care to visit SF, just use Highway 152 to cut over from Yosemite directly to Monterey and start down Big Sur. If you don’t care to visit LA, head northeast from Ventura, on the scenic Highway 33 through the Los Padres National Forest to Ventacopa, then east from there.

When to Do California’s Most Epic Road Trip

November through April are the worst weather for both the Sierra Nevada range and Big Sur. You’ll also get some June gloom along the coast. We like April/May or July-October for this route.

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. Jack Kerouac

Got that right Jack! Enjoy your epic California road trip. Whichever of these routes you take, you are sure to have a most grant adventure.

Share these best California road trip itineraries with your friends:

California's best road trips, 13 epic itineraries.

Share with your friends

Leave a Comment Cancel reply

Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary

An arched bridge set against the rugged coasts and blue waters of Big Sur, California

California is the third-largest state in the country and home to over 40 million people, as well as a range of environments and landscapes: dense forests in the north, rugged mountains in the east, majestic deserts in the south, world-class beaches on the coast, and the fabulous wine regions in the west and in the Central Valley.

And it’s perfect for road trips.

I’ve already outlined an awesome seven-day itinerary for Southern California , but today I wanted to share a longer, more comprehensive route for anyone who has a few weeks to explore more of the state’s cities and landscapes.

Even with three weeks, you’ll still miss a lot of great spots in this state (I mean, you could spend months traveling California), but this suggested itinerary hits some of my favorite major — and not so major — places.

Table of Contents

Days 1–3: San Francisco

Day 4: big sur, days 5–7: los angeles, days 8–9: san diego, days 10–12: joshua tree national park, days 13–15: sequoia national park & kings canyon national park, days 16–18: yosemite national park, days 19–20: napa valley, day 21: back to san francisco.

The famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA at sunset

  • Walk the Golden Gate Bridge – When it opened, the Golden Gate Bridge was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge, stretching some 4,200 feet. It offers incredible views of the bay and the ships coming and going. You can walk across it too.
  • Tour Alcatraz – Alcatraz is one of the country’s most infamous former prisons. It housed some of the worst criminals, such as Al Capone. Today, it’s a national landmark in which you can take tours of the prison, step foot in the cells, and learn about its history. Admission is $53.25 USD (this includes round-trip transportation by boat, entrance fees, and an audio guide).
  • Visit the Beat Museum – Dedicated to the 1950s Beat Generation, this unique museum houses original manuscripts, rare books, letters, and more from authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It also holds regular events, so check the website to see if anything is happening during your visit. Admission is $8 USD.
  • Take a food tour – San Francisco is known for its foodie culture. If you want to cast a wide culinary net and try a lot of different cuisines and dishes, consider taking a food tour. Some companies to check out are SF Native Tours and Secret Food Tours . Tours are generally around $79 USD.
  • Explore Chinatown – When immigrants from China first came to America, many set up shop in San Francisco. Today, in the biggest Chinatown in the US, you’ll find some of the best Chinese food in the country, as well as wonderful teahouses, bars, souvenir stalls, and fortune cookie makers.
  • Relax at Golden Gate Park – This gigantic park is a great place to walk or relax. It features a Japanese garden, museums, an arboretum, a carousel, and many hiking and walking trails. It’s 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park, so you easily could spend an entire day here!

For more suggestions, here’s a detailed list of things to see and do in San Francisco .

Where to Stay

  • HI San Francisco – Downtown – HI Downtown has some standard perks, like free breakfast and free towels, but the staff also organize a lot of events, including pub crawls, trips to Muir Woods and Yosemite, and bike tours across the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Green Tortoise Hostel – This lively hostel is my favorite in the city. It offers free breakfast, free dinners multiple times per week, and even a free sauna! It’s a party hostel, so be sure to stay here only if you’re looking to meet people and get rowdy.

For more suggestions, here’s a full list of my favorite hostels in San Francisco!

And if you need a rental car to kick-start your trip, check out Discover Cars . They search rental agencies big and small to find the best deals.  

The rugged coasts and blue waters of Big Sur, California

Where to Stay I suggest staying at least one night around Big Sur (or just south of the region) to split up the drive to LA. If you don’t have camping gear, Airbnb has a lot of places around the area. You can also just pop into any of the numerous cheap motels nearby too.  

Street in Los Angeles lined with palm trees and expensive shops

Here are some suggestions on how to fill your days:

  • See the Hollywood Sign – You can snap pictures of the sign from pretty much anywhere in Hollywood. However, it’s also possible to hike up to the sign itself to take in the view. The three trails that you can take (from easiest to hardest) are the Mt. Hollywood Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail. Bring water, because the hike will take a few hours.
  • Visit LACMA – Home to some 150,000 works, the LA County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western USA. It has collections from pretty much every era throughout history and every region of the world. Admission is $25 USD.
  • See The Last Bookstore – This is one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It also sells records, has art displays, and features a cool upstairs area with cheap used books. Browse the shelves, grab a coffee, and buy a book for your journey.
  • Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard – Don’t miss the Walk of Fame (where celebrities have their names engraved in the sidewalk) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (featuring stars’ handprints and footprints).
  • Tour the Getty Museum – This art museum opened in 1997 and boasts a diverse collection of paintings, manuscripts, drawings, and other artwork. The collection runs from the 8th century to the present day, so there is something for everyone. Admission is free.
  • Go hiking – Get out and stretch your legs on the city’s hiking trails. Some worth checking out are the Charlie Turner Trail (90 minutes), Baldwin Hills (30 minutes), Runyon Canyon (45 minutes), Portuguese Bend Reserve (3 hours), and Echo Mountain (3-3.5 hours).
  • Visit The Broad – This contemporary art museum is one of the city’s newest. Opened in 2015, it has over 2,000 pieces of art. It also has a rotating series of temporary exhibitions too (check the website to see what’s on during your visit). Admission is free, though you must reserve a timed entry slot in advance.

For a much longer list on what to see and do in LA, check out my Los Angeles travel guide .

Moreover, the city also has innumerable world-class food options. Some places I really like are Musso & Frank Grill, Dan Tana’s, Meals by Genet, The Butcher’s Daughter, and Sugarfish.

  • Banana Bungalow Hollywood – A laid-back but social hostel that organizes lots of activities and makes it easy to meet people. If you want to party and have fun, this is the place for you!
  • Freehand Los Angeles – This hostel/hotel features designer rooms with comfortable beds, a rooftop pool and bar with amazing views of the city, a lobby bar, a restaurant, and even a fitness center.

For more suggestions, here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Los Angeles.  

A sunny day along the beautiful coast of San Diego, California

Here are some suggestions for things to see and do during your visit:

  • Visit the USS Midway Museum – This aircraft carrier, commissioned right after World War II, was the largest ship in the world until 1955 and saw action in numerous conflicts, including Vietnam. It was decommissioned in 1992 and became a museum. You can explore the flight deck as well as many of the rooms below. Admission is $32 USD and you can get them in advance here .
  • Hike Point Loma – Walk out to the tip of the peninsula where Europeans first arrived in California and enjoy the serene views, visit the lighthouse (built in 1855), and watch locals climb the rocks and cliffs of Osprey Point.
  • Explore the San Diego Zoo – This is one of the best zoos in the country. Located in Balboa Park (see below), it has over 3,500 animals and 700,000 plant species. It’s a massive, 1,800-acre park where you could easily spend an entire day. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss it. A one-day adult pass is $72 USD.
  • Admire Balboa Park – In addition to the zoo, Balboa Park also offers dozens of museums, as well as walking paths, sports fields, gardens, greenhouses, stadiums, theaters, and much more. It’s one of the oldest recreational parks in the country.
  • Enjoy Pacific Beach – If you want to soak up the sun, swim, or surf, head to Pacific Beach. If you’re a night owl, the area also has lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants.
  • Go whale-watching – California gray whales, which can grow up to 49 feet and live for over 70 years, migrate from Alaska to Mexico each year between December and April. They are incredible to see up close, and tours are quite affordable (usually around $39 USD).
  • Relax in Belmont Park – This is a kitschy amusement park right next to the ocean. It has a few classic rides, as well as games and lots of greasy (and delicious) snacks. It’s cheesy but fun!
  • Go surfing – Whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, grab a board and hit the waves. There’s some awesome surfing here. You can usually rent a board for around $60 USD a day. Lessons cost around $130-150 USD and last 90 minutes.
  • HI San Diego – HI San Diego organizes lots of events and tours that make it easy to meet other travelers. Breakfast is included, and there’s also a big kitchen so you can cook your own food to save money.
  • ITH Adventure Hostel – This is an eco-friendly hostel with a vegetable garden (guests get free veggies), a recycling and compost program, and even backyard chickens. There is lots of outdoor common space to relax in too.

If you’re on a budget, here’s a list of the best hostels in San Diego for you.  

The open road cutting through Joshua Tree Park in the rugged desert of California during a road trip

The park was declared a national monument in 1936 and designated a national park in 1994. There are a lot of trails here, so consult the trail map when you visit. Some of my favorites are:

  • Barker Dam Trail – A quick 1.1-mile loop on which you can see wildlife such as rabbits, bighorn sheep, and all kinds of birds.
  • Wall Street Mill – An easy 2.8-mile hike that leads to an old mill used to refine ore from nearby gold mines.
  • Ryan Mountain – A steep 3-mile hike offering some incredible views.
  • Split Rock Loop – A quiet 2-mile hike with lots of neat rock formations.

A seven-day vehicle pass for the park is $30 USD (it allows multiple entries in case you stay in one of the nearby towns).

Where to Stay Airbnb is the best option if you don’t have your own camping gear, although there are also glamping and more rustic options.  

Trunks of two massive sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park in California, USA

Start your visit at the Giant Forest Museum to learn about the history, geography, and importance of the park and its flora and fauna. Afterward, walk the Big Trees Trail, a short loop that will get you in and among the trees so you can see them up close.

For a sweeping view of the forest and surrounding landscape, hike up Moro Rock, a massive 250-foot granite dome that juts out of the surrounding hills and forest. Stairs and a concrete viewpoint were built into the rock itself, so you can safely climb to the top and enjoy the magnificent vista.

And for more hiking options and beautiful scenery, visit nearby Kings Canyon National Park. Here you’ll find “General Grant” (the third largest tree in the world). For a scenic drive, cruise along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

Both parks are around 4-6 hours from Joshua Tree. Combined admission for both parks is $35 USD. If you plan on visiting a lot of national parks and federal lands on your road trip, you might want to get an America the Beautiful parks pass ($80 for a one-year pass).

Where to Stay There are tons of places to camp here (both inside and outside of the parks). However, there are also lots of lodges and hotels if camping is not for you. is the best place to search for affordable options.  

A rugged mountain with a streaming running in front in Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite is also where you’ll find El Capitán, the towering granite cliff you’ve likely seen on social media (it was also featured in the documentary, Free Solo , where elite rock climber Alex Honnold ascended the cliff face without ropes or other protective gear).

Here are a few hiking suggestions to help you get started:

  • Mirror Lake – An easy 2-mile hike to the lake. Takes 1-2 hours.
  • Nevada Falls Trail – A challenging 5.8-mile hike to the top of the Nevada Falls waterfall. Takes 5–6 hours.
  • Tuolumne Grove Nature Trail – An easy 2.5-mile hike around a grove filled with massive giant sequoia trees. Takes 1–2 hours.
  • Elizabeth Lake Trail – A moderate 4.8-mile hike that leads to a glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. Takes 4–5 hours.
  • Eagle Peak Trail – A difficult 6.9-mile hike to the top of the peak and back. Takes 8 hours.

Be sure to visit the visitors’ center on arrival to get information on activities, prices, and the latest weather. Admission is $35 USD and reservations to enter the park are required for peak hours and seasons.

Where to Stay If you aren’t planning to camp, there are actually many other options here. Lodges, resorts, and hotels can be found both inside the park and all around it. Use Airbnb or to find a place to stay.  

A hot air balloon floating over vineyards in Napa Valley, California

While it’s a particularly expensive region of the state, it is possible to visit Napa Valley on a budget if you plan ahead and share costs with other people.

If you’re on a budget, stick to the markets and sandwich shops. Gott’s Roadside has locations in both Napa and St. Helena and serves yummy burgers for $10-15 USD , while Ad Hoc runs a lunch-only food truck called Addendum offering delicious fried chicken made by a Michelin-star chef (only open Friday & Saturday).

Where to Stay While some vineyards offer accommodation, they are usually super expensive. Unless you’re looking to splurge, use Airbnb . I find the best value accommodation in the area on that site.  

It’s time to head back to San Francisco. The drive is around 90 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to make stops along the way if you see anything that piques your interest.

This three-week itinerary will help you cover a lot of ground without being too rushed. Adjust the route as you go (or based on the amount of time you have). But no matter the route you pick, the diversity and beauty of California will ensure you’ll have a wonderful road trip.

Book Your Trip to the USA: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned!

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • Safety Wing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Need an Affordable Rental Car? Discover Cars is a budget-friendly international car rental website. No matter where you’re headed, they’ll be able to find the best — and cheapest — rental for your trip!

And if you need an RV, RVshare lets you rent RVs from private individuals all around the country, saving you tons of money in the process. It’s like Airbnb for RVs, making road trips fun and affordable!

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on the United States? Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to the US for even more planning tips!

' src=

Hi, I’m Nomadic Matt, the New York Times best-selling author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and Ten Years a Nomad, as well as the founder of this website! And I’m here to help you save money on your next trip.

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

Related Posts

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California


Enter your email and get planning cheatsheets including a step by step checklist, packing list, tips cheat sheet, and more so you can plan like a pro!


The top 5 road trips in California

Alexis Averbuck

Sep 10, 2023 • 4 min read

Bixby Bridge on the way from San Franciso to L.A.

The ultimate California road trips take you from sea to mountains and through desert and redwoods © Oleksandr Telesniuk / 500px

Road-tripping is the ultimate way to experience California , so fill the gas tank and buckle up for unforgettable drives through scenery that tugs at your heart and soul.

Get ready for memory-making encounters as you wheel through sensuous wine country, humbling redwood forests, epic desert expanses, endless miles of coastal highway and sky-touching Sierra Nevada peaks. Just make sure that rental car has unlimited miles – you'll need 'em all.

California is the third-largest state in the US , and you could easily spend weeks navigating its rural byways, safely distant from the nerve-jangling, often-jammed interstate system. These five classic road-tripping routes are soaked in enough epic scenery to make each deliciously slow, winding mile worthwhile.

A late afternoon view of Pacific Coast Highway (aka Highway 1) on the Central California coastline in the Big Sur area.

1. Pacific Coast Highway

Best road trip for world-class ocean views & autumn trips Dana Point at Interstate 5–Hwy 101 in Leggett; 656 miles

No matter if you follow the entire 656 miles or just a short stretch of coast-hugging Hwy 1 , you'll hit the Insta jackpot. Posing options include dramatic sea cliffs, sun-soaked surfing towns, playful harbor seals and the Golden Gate Bridge .

Our top pick for classic California dreamin’ snakes along the Pacific coast, although officially, only the short, sun-loving stretch of Hwy 1 through Orange and Los Angeles Counties can legally call itself Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH). Never mind those technicalities, because equally bewitching ribbons of Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 await all along this route.

Local tip: For best results, avoid driving the PCH in the spring and summer months, when the central and northern coastline can be socked in by fog and the rainy season can initiate landslides. Instead, September and October will yield the sunniest skies and some of the best weather as you spend a week checking this beaut off your bucket list.

Scenic road in the Mojave National Preserve

2. Route 66

Best for iconic drives & weekend drives Arizona border near Needles–Santa Monica; 315 miles

Get your kicks on America's “ Mother Road ,” which brought Dust Bowl refugees, Hollywood starlets and hippies to California. Cruise from the desert to the Pacific Ocean, pulling up alongside retro relics, sleeping in a tipi hotel and fueling up in neon-lit diners.

The Golden State was the promised land at the end of a long and sometimes lonesome road. Today you motor across the Mojave Desert – a relative breeze compared to times of yore – through famous western towns, like Barstow and Daggett, into the San Bernardino National Forest. Emerge in Pasadena and Los Angeles before dead ending into Hwy 1 in Santa Monica for a grand coastal-view payoff.

3. Gold Country and California Highway 49

Best for historic hills & family road trips Oakhurst–Nevada City; 200 miles

Follow Hwy 49 through the rough-and-tumble Sierra Nevada foothills, a stronghold of gold-rush history with thrilling, mostly true tales of banditry, bordellos and bloodlust.

That highway number is significant: it commemorates the ’49ers who came seeking fame and fortune in California’s original Gold Rush. Today the route winds through Gold Country towns such as Placerville and Nevada City, past ghostly Old West mines and Victorian buildings housing inns, restaurants and museums.

You won't want to miss the blend of western history and charming wineries strung along stunning views of the Sierra Nevada. Give yourself three to four days to enjoy this outdoorsy, family-friendly road trip. Summer and early fall are ideal times to go.

Detour: Hwy 49 comes mighty close to Yosemite National Park (15 miles) and Lake Tahoe (75 miles), both wonderful jumping-off points for family camping and natural majesty.

Avenue of the Giants California

4. Avenue of the Giants

Best for road trips with kids & raw redwood brilliance Stafford–Highway 101 junction; 32 miles

The incredible 32-mile road at Humboldt Redwoods State Park is canopied by the world's tallest trees, some of which were seedlings during the Roman Empire. It’s one of the most justifiably celebrated drives in California, a place where travelers stand with jaws agape and necks craned upward. The best time is in the morning when sunlight glints off dew-drenched ferns.

The route connects a number of small towns with mid-20th-century motels, diners serving “lumberjack” meals and pull-offs packed with Harleys.

Among the majestic groves along the Avenue, like the rightly famous Rockefeller Grove and the Founders’ Grove, the California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove is home to an interesting four-sided hearth, designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan. Walking trails wind through all the groves for proper tree-hugging.

A road in Death Valley disappearing into the horizon

5. Desert Solitaire in Death Valley

Best road trip for moody moonscapes & winter or spring driving Palm Springs–Death Valley; 290 miles

Tank up and load the water onboard as you road-trip from Palm Springs through Palm Desert and Joshua Tree up to Death Valley . You’ll drive where California pioneers and gold miners once rolled their wagons. 

In Death Valley National Park the magnum forces of natural and human history collide. Artists Drive is nine miles of vividly variegated desert hills, a taster of the area’s sensuous sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, rocks moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases, soaring mountains and endemic flora.

Local tip: Go between February and April for spring wildflower blooms and cooler temperatures. Give yourself three days to soak up sites like Badwater Basin (the lowest elevation in the US), Mesquite Flat and Emigrant & Wildrose Canyons .

This article was first published Jan 19, 2011 and updated Sep 10, 2023.

Explore related stories

california road trip april

Wildlife & Nature

May 5, 2024 • 5 min read

There is a sense of humor around every corner when you're driving in the USA – extraterrestrial landing sites and energy vortexes are just the beginning.

california road trip april

Apr 29, 2024 • 11 min read

california road trip april

Apr 28, 2024 • 7 min read

california road trip april

Apr 14, 2024 • 8 min read

california road trip april

Apr 12, 2024 • 7 min read

california road trip april

Apr 10, 2024 • 6 min read

california road trip april

Apr 2, 2024 • 8 min read

california road trip april

Apr 2, 2024 • 7 min read

Magnificent view of the Grand Canyon with RV making a stop in the mountain heights at sunset

Mar 29, 2024 • 6 min read

california road trip april

Mar 25, 2024 • 8 min read

Your One Stop Shop For Travel Planning

California road trip itinerary – 7 days along pch.

Are you ready for the ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary in 7 days?! This one week guide will give you a taste of every part of California, all the way from quirky San Francisco to trendy and fast paced Los Angeles!

California is such a beautiful state, each city being so different from the rest. You can’t say you’ve fully experienced California without spending some time experiencing the wildly different landscapes and cultures.

Even though this is a fast paced road trip with a lot of driving, the driving distances in between are relatively short and include a lot of fun stops to break up the drives. If you want to turn your one week in California to a longer trip, I also recommended some bonus ideas to extend your trip at the bottom!

Okay… let’s get started! 🙂

There is a chance my free guides contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through these links, I might make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that goes towards little Rosie’s dog treats!

Itinerary Overview

Day 1: Travel Day + San Francisco sight seeing

Day 2: San Francisco sight seeing

Day 3: Drive to Monterey + Cannery Row

Day 4: Big Sur Road Trip

Day 5: Day trip to Paso Robles Wine Country

Day 6: Drive to Los Angeles

Day 7: Los Angeles sight seeing + Travel home

Day 1: Fly into San Francisco

San Francisco has a major, international airport , which means that flights are usually inexpensive! Once you arrive in San Francisco, you will want to either grab a taxi / Uber or take the BART (an above ground subway system) to head into downtown San Francisco.

This city is bustling with things to do and so much history, so I would be prepared to have a jam-packed few days in the city in order to squeeze everything in.

Since you only have a few days in the city, I would recommend as close as possible to the things you want to see so you can save time walking / driving. Once you decide what area of San Francisco you want to stay in, be sure to read my guide on best hotels in San Francisco with a view!

TIP: Have an extra day to spare on your California Road Trip itinerary?! You can start the trip in Lake Tahoe to explore the beautiful scenery before heading to San Francisco! Click here to read my Lake Tahoe Winter Itinerary !

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Day 2: San Francisco

On this California road trip itinerary, you only have one day in San Francisco, which means you will need to make the most of it! I have visited this quirky city numerous times, and here is my list of absolute must-sees!

Lombard Street

This unique and winding street is not far from most of the tourist attractions and is one of the staples of San Francisco! Located on Lombard Street between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street, you can see the 8 sharp turns that cars will have to take down the steep street.

TIP: You can hike up the street to get closer to the view, but it is FLOODED with people on the narrow sidewalk. I would recommend just picking which view you want to see (from the bottom looking up or the top looking down) instead of attempting to see both. 

Lombard Street in San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is easily the  most touristy area of San Francisco, but if it’s your first time in the city, it is definitely worth checking out! This area has a ton of individual sites to see, all within walking distance. You could easily spend half the day exploring this area! Be sure to check out Pier 39 to see all the seals / sea lions, Ghirardelli Square , Alcatraz and more!

TIP: I would recommend going to this area in the morning to beat the crowds and enjoy some lunch / breakfast on the water front!

Seals at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

You can’t go to San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge , you just can’t! This red staple can be seen from many areas of the city, but here is the ultimate way to experience the bridge…. Go to china town to pick up some to-go lunch and head over to Crissy Field (a grass area at the base of the bridge), and enjoy your lunch with the best view in the world!

After you stuffed yourself with yummy Asian food, spend an hour or so walking along the bridge and taking some photos! I wouldn’t recommend walking the entire thing because it is 1.7 miles each way and it might be difficult to find a ride back on the other side.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

This photo was edited in ONE CLICK using my Lightroom Presets! Click here to check them out!

Sausalito + Muir Woods

If you want to experience the slower paced and nature side of Northern California, then you will want to spend your afternoon out of the city and in Sausalito ! This waterfront, yacht-lined city has tons of walking trails, shopping, and restaurants with beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline.

Close to this area (about 25 minutes past), you can also spend some time with the massive Redwood trees in the Muir Woods National Monument . You will need to purchase tickets online in advance and tickets cost only $15.00 per person.

Sausalito in San Francisco California

The Painted Ladies

If you’re a Full House TV show fan (which, who isn’t?!), then you will want to make sure you stop at Alamo Square Park to enjoy the views of the Painted Ladies ! This string of colorful houses appeared on the show almost every episode, and now is a huge tourist site in San Francisco.

There is not much to do in this area other than see the houses, but if you want to enjoy a picnic lunch / dinner here, there is a large grass area to sit at.

Unique Things to do in San Francisco - The Painted Ladies

There are obviously a ton of other things to do in San Francisco, but these are just the top sites that I have personally done and recommend seeing! If you want some more ideas, be sure to check out my guide on Things to do in San Francisco !

Click here to search hotel options in San Francisco.

Day 3: Drive to Monterey (2 hours)

Day three will consist of driving from San Francisco to Monterey or Carmel-by-the-sea . These two neighboring, coastal towns are the beginning of the Big Sur! You will want to stay the night here so you have a full day enjoying your Big Sur Road Trip. 

The drive from San Francisco to Monterey is just under two hours, and if you want to break up the drive while getting to see a cute beach town, stop in Santa Cruz for lunch on the beach! They have a huge pier with carnival rides, arcade games, and roller coasters, but it is only open Saturday / Sunday.

During the afternoon, enjoy Monterey & Carmel by going to the beaches, hopping around the many wine bars, seeing cannery row , or going on a sunset dinner cruise ! Click here for a quick guide to visiting Monterey Bay, California!

Cannery Row in Monterey

Day 4: Big Sur – Cambria (2 hours – full day)

This will be by far the best day of your entire California itinerary!

The Big Sur is the #1 road trip in the USA , well.. maybe in the world! This small stretch of California coastline will make your jaw-drop time and time again. I would highly recommend not “squeezing this day in” or combining it with anything else because you will want to take your time stopping at every pull out and soaking in every viewpoint!

The drive from Monterey to Cambria (your ending point) is roughly 2 hours without stopping. However, you will be stopping… A LOT. So I would plan to spend at least 5-6 hours driving and enjoying the coast before arriving in Cambria.

I have an extremely detailed guide on how to tackle this Big Sur Road Trip , which includes the best stops along the way, how long to spend at each stop, best time of year to go, photography tips and a map of all the stops to save for later. So be sure to check that out before you go!

Recommended Read: 10 Common Mistakes People Make When Traveling to Big Sur!

Bixby Creek Bridge on Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary

Day 5: Day trip to Paso Robles (45 minutes)

Here is where you customize your California road trip itinerary!

If you like wine tasting, there is a really great spot just inland of Cambria. You can either drive straight there after the Big Sur, or stay the night in Cambria and just do a day trip to the wine area. This area, called Paso Robles, is only 45 minutes from Cambria and an easily doable day trip.

I have gone wine tasting in many famous areas ( Napa Valley , Sonoma, Champagne France , Willamette in Oregon to name a few), and Paso Robles is just as beautiful but a fraction of the cost! Click here for my guide on wine tasting in Paso Robles!

If you want to enjoy the wine and take a break from driving, you can sign up for wine tours that will pick you up either in Cambria or from your hotel in Paso Robles! Click here to view tour options.

If you do NOT like wine tasting, I would still stay the night in Cambria to break up the drive and then drive straight to Los Angeles to have an extra day in this famous city to explore the sites!  Click here to view hotels in Cambria, California! 

Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

Day 6: Cambria to Los Angeles (4 hours)

This will be your longest stretch of the trip, but lucky for you, this stretch of coastline is SO beautiful! Plus, there are tons of tiny beach towns worth stopping at to break up your drive.

I would recommend stopping for lunch in one of the cute beach towns like Santa Barbara , Malibu, or Ventura. That way you get to soak in the last hours of quiet, coastal life before arriving in the bustling and fast-paced city of Los Angeles!

Once you arrive in Los Angeles, check into your hotel and try to squeeze a few sites in before getting dinner at a trendy and unique restaurant. LA is known for being a creative and unique city, not just with the sites and the people, but with the food too! Here is a great guide on unique restaurants in Los Angeles. 

TIP: Avoid driving in Los Angeles during rush hour traffic! California traffic (especially downtown LA) is the worst in the world!!

California Road Trip Itinerary Ending in Los Angeles

Day 7: Explore Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the city that truly has everything! Beautiful weather, jaw-dropping scenery, greenery, beaches, culture, food… you name it! You could easily spend the entire one week in California visiting all the sites that LA offers.

There are activities for every taste, but here is my ideal day in LA that gives you a little taste of everything! If any of these don’t sound appealing to you, I have a little bonus section at the end for you to swap out activities.

Click here to view hotels in Los Angeles.

– Morning –

Start your morning off with a hike to the famous Hollywood Sign up on the hill! There are a few hike options to choose from, all different lengths and elevation changes, but the most popular is called the Hollyridge Trail . This 2 hour, 5 mile round trip hike will give you views of the front of the sign, back of the sign and the entire city! Plus, it will feel extra good to stretch your legs after all that driving. 🙂

TIP: Make sure you go early in the morning to beat the crowds & the heat! There is almost no shade on this trail. 

Next up, head to the famous Beverly Hills for an instagrammable brunch at The Ivy Restaurant. This adorable restaurant has colorful cocktails, fresh flowers all over, and a beautiful outdoor patio!

Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles California

– Afternoon –

In the afternoon, I would recommend hanging out in downtown LA to see famous sites like Hollywood Blvd, Walk of Fame , or one of the many museums. Los Angeles can be very hectic to drive through and find parking spots, so I would recommend picking a few sites close to each other and just walking between them.

Rather skip the city and head to an amusement park? Consider doing a day trip to Buena Park to visit Knott’s Berry Farm or Disneyland!

California Road Trip Itinerary Ending in Los Angeles

– Evening –

After you’ve had a busy day squeezing in as much as possible, it’s time to unwind on the beach and enjoy the beautiful California sunset! There are beaches lining the entire coast of Los Angeles, but the most popular and picturesque is Venice Beach / Santa Monica Beach.

Grab some food to go from the adorable Santa Monica Pier and have a picnic dinner on the beach to enjoy the sunset.. magical!

Carmel Beach Big Sur Road Trip

BONUS: More things to do in Los Angeles

  • Day trip to Catalina Island
  • Spend the day at Universal Studios
  • Go on a food tour
  • Celebrity Homes tour
  • OUE Skyspace SkySlide (glass bottom slide on the top of an observation deck)
  • Rent beach cruises to ride down the board walk
  • Surfing lesson on Venice Beach
  • Ride the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier
  • Go shopping at the adorable boutiques along Melrose Ave

Click here for more ideas!

Even though Los Angeles is the stopping point for most California road trip itineraries, I would recommend spending an extra day going even farther south to San Diego! This is my favorite beach town in California and is only an extra 1.5 – 2 hours more of driving. If so, check out my 4 days in San Diego or Girls Weekend in San Diego guides for some ideas!

Okay, that’s a wrap! I hope this California road trip itinerary (7 Days) gives you tons of ideas for this bucket list trip! In this one week itinerary, you get to experience the quirky culture of San Francisco, the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the California coast, quaint beach towns, and the most famous city on the west coast!

If you have extra time to see more of California, you could also spend a few days going inland to see Yosemite National Park. Here is my 2 Days in Yosemite itinerary for you to check out !

If you want more ideas for California travel, be sure to check these out:

  • Big Sur Road Trip – One Day Itinerary
  • 27 Things to do in Buena Park – A Perfect Girls Weekend!
  • Day Trip to Santa Barbara!
  • A PERFECT Lake Tahoe Itinerary – Winter Guide!
  • Quick Guide to visiting Monterey Bay, California
  • Girls Trip to San Diego
  • Celebrating a birthday in Napa Valley
  • Unique things to do in San Francisco
  • Spring Itinerary to Carlsbad, California

Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

Like this guide pin it here.

California Road Trip Itinerary 7 Days


43 romantic things to do in vegas for couples – a local’s guide, the ultimate girls weekend in san diego ideas, you may also like, a perfect weekend in scottsdale: 3 jam-packed days, best things to do in scottsdale for couples, 23 unique things to do in la fortuna..., 10 days in costa rica – explore the..., 27 things to do in buena park for..., weekend in vegas itinerary – a perfect 3..., a jam-packed capri day trip from the amalfi..., an epic 2 week italy itinerary (with amalfi..., a romantic lake como itinerary for your italian..., utah national parks road trip – 14 epic..., 23 comments.

' src=

This road trip sounds amazing! I’ve visited both LA and San Francisco but I’d really love to do a road trip to visit the destinations in between. Big Sur looks phenomenal! Thanks for the wonderful guide!

Thanks for reading Hannah! Big Sur is my ultimate favorite spot in the USA, so much beauty in such a small stretch of coastline!

' src=

Incredible! More and more I see more about California’s coast….I’d love to come here one day – when I think of Cali I think of “big city” but not insanely beautiful coastline! Definitely adding to my bucket list!

California truly has it all! But I would say I definitely prefer the jaw-dropping coastline 🙂

' src=

It’s a classic drive … and every time we had people visiting us in Los Angeles, they always wanted to do the coastal drive to San Fran. There’s some epic bits of coastline … I love the area around Hearst Castle, San Simeon, and Moonstone beach.

I have never seen Moonstone Beach, I will have to look into that for my next trip! Thanks for the tip Jay! 🙂

' src=

I had never really considered a road trip in California, but after reading this post I feel like booking a trip, it sounds so amazing! I love the sound of the wine tasting in Paso Robles and that Big Sur road trip looks beautiful!

That’s definitely my favorite part!! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the guide!

[…] 7 Day California Itinerary – San Francisco to LA! […]

[…] my recent 7 day California road trip, I spent a few days in Monterey and did a day trip to the Big Sur. Out of everything I saw on this […]

[…] Have more than a weekend? Do a 7 day road trip down the entire California coast! Click here to read my California Road Trip Itinerary (7 Days)! […]

[…] to extend your road trip from Las Vegas into California, be sure to check out my Big Sur Road Trip, California Road Trip Itinerary 7 Days, and 4 Days in San Diego […]

[…] you are doing a PCH road trip and are planning to just do a day trip to Santa Barbara, I got you covered with a jam-packed […]

[…] you plan to see San Diego while exploring more of California, be sure to check out my 7 day California itinerary! It squeezes in all the best sites from San Francisco to San Diego! OR if you are planning a trip […]

' src=

Nice Piece of Information for planning… Great going.

Thanks for reading!

' src=

I’m doing this trip in August with my family. We are from PA and my daughter is headed to college in San Diego so our family vacay is flying out to SF and driving the coast to SD. We are doing a night in each town to explore the state and this guide is such a help.

That makes me so happy to hear, Susan! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you have an amazing trip! 🙂

[…] If you want to explore from San Francisco to Los Angeles, be sure to check out my 7 Day California Road Trip itinerary! […]

' src=

The Road Trip is the best way to take in all the sights a place has to offer. And when it’s California, it has to be exciting. I will love to drive through the legendary Golden Bridge.

Absolutely! California is gorgeous!

[…] California Road Trip – 7 Days along PCH […]

' src=

Between Cambria and Santa Barbara there are soooo many cute beach towns like Morro Bay and the namesake Rock.

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

California's Springtime Road Trip: Exploring 10 Of The State's Best Scenic Routes

There is no better way to experience California's beauty and rich culture than a road trip! Here are the top ten scenic routes to explore in spring.

California is brimming with beautiful landscapes, hip cities, quaint towns, and surprising roadside attractions that one must see to believe . There is no better way to see more of California than to hit the open roads, which will take a road tripper past rocky coastlines, the wildflower super blooms, serene Californian lakes (besides the obvious one, Tahoe) , peculiar Joshua trees, stunning deserts, and imposing mountains. There are many options available depending on one's preferences, such as whether they prefer the beach or the mountains.

Nothing compares to a California road trip in the springtime! During the spring in California, wildflowers begin to bloom, drizzles turn into sunshine and clear skies, and the desert becomes a little cooler, allowing a road tripper to have the experiences of a lifetime. Here are the top ten scenic routes in California to enjoy the best of springtime. Whatever the choice, it will be an unforgettable trip because it will take the traveler to fascinating places to celebrate spring in California besides Los Angeles .

Related: 10 Perfect & Beautiful Lakeside Road Trips

10 San Francisco To San Simeon

  • Total Distance : 217 miles
  • One-Way Driving Time : 4 hours and 45 minutes
  • Route : San Francisco → Half Moon Bay → Santa Cruz → Monterey → Carmel-by-the-Sea → Big Sur → San Simeon

The drive between San Francisco and San Simeon is more appealing than one might imagine. There is a lot to discover and experience on this route, with breathtaking coastal views, lovely beach towns, and popular California cities.

Starting in San Francisco, this route lets the traveler experience the surreal scenery of Half Moon Bay , Santa Cruz's Boardwalk, and wine tastings in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Additionally, the route passes through Monterey, known as one of the best whale-watching locations in the world, and Big Sur, which has many Instagram-worthy locations . The route concludes in San Simeon, where watching elephant seals is an ethereal experience.

9 Los Angeles To South Lake Tahoe

  • Total Distance : 453 miles
  • One-Way Driving Time : 7 hours and 44 minutes
  • Route : Los Angeles → Red Rock Canyon State Park → Lone Pine → Death Valley National Park (optional) → Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (optional) → Bishop → Mammoth Lakes → Yosemite National Park (optional) → Lake Tahoe

Highway 395's scenic route from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe offers breathtakingly diverse scenery and unending natural beauty, as well as everything else one could want from a memorable road trip.

Beginning in the fabled City of Angels, this Highway 395 road trip takes visitors to Red Rock Canyon State Park's beautiful canyons and hiking trails, Lone Pine, and Bishop's Buttermilks. Two of the country's best national parks and an ancient pine forest are a slight detour from the highway but worth exploring. The final stop is South Lake Tahoe, which has numerous leisure activities , giving this road trip a beautiful end.

8 San Francisco To Crescent City

  • Total Distance: 398 miles
  • One-Way Driving time: 9 hours and 30 minutes
  • Route: San Francisco → Point Reyes National Seashore → Sonoma County → Mendocino Village → Fort Bragg → Redwood National and State Parks → Crescent City → Lassen Volcanic National Park (optional)

A thrilling drive along California's wild and breathtakingly beautiful North Coast is highly recommended to see historic lighthouses, captivating beaches, redwood forests, and beachside towns.

After leaving San Francisco, visit Point Reyes National Seashore to see Point Reyes Lighthouse and sample the local cheese. Further on this route, explore the scenic Sonoma County coastline, Mendocino Coast, Mendocino Village, Mendocino Headlands State Park, Cabrillo Light Station, Mendocino Coast Botanic Gardens, Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, and Redwood National and State Parks. This journey ends at Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. Take a detour to see Lassen Peak and have some incredible hiking experiences in Lassen Volcanic National Park .

7 Route Through California's Deserts From Los Angeles To Los Angeles

  • Total Distance : 831 miles
  • Driving Time : 14 hours and 30 minutes
  • Route : Los Angeles → Palm Springs → Joshua Tree National Park → Salton Sea → Salvation Mountain → Anza Borrego State Park → Temecula → Los Angeles

This LA Loop route via the California Deserts highlights a different facet of the Golden State’s incredible diversity of breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. The awe-inspiring scenery of these expansive desert parks can leave anyone astounded.

The first stop on this route, which begins in Los Angeles, is Red Rock Canyon State Park , featuring dramatic desert cliffs. Other fascinating stops include the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area to see wildflower blooms; Death Valley National Park for hiking; Mojave National Preserve to see the Kelso Sand Dunes; Joshua Tree National Park for rock climbing; and Palm Springs, one of America's most remarkable desert resort cities . The Salton Sea, Anza-Borrego State Park, and Borrego Palm Canyon are the next stops before returning to Los Angeles.

6 Route Through The Wine Region Of Northern California From San Francisco To San Francisco

  • Total Distance : 273 miles
  • Driving Time : 6 hours
  • Route : San Francisco → Napa Valley → Calistoga → Chinese Jade Lake → Sonoma Lake → Healdsburg → Sebastopol → Sonoma County → San Francisco

This epic California countryside road trip is ideal for those who love nature, food, and, above all, wine, as it takes visitors to two of the state's best wine regions: Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

The route runs directly from San Francisco to Napa Valley, where travelers can visit the region's not-to-miss vineyards and restaurants. They can also try a volcanic mud bath in Calistoga and visit the Chinese Jade Lake, Berryessa Lake, and Sonoma Lake. Other attractions include Healdsburg for exciting Russian River activities and Sebastopol for quirky art. The return journey to San Francisco begins in Sonoma County, famous for the last of California's missions built by Spanish missionaries and many stunning wineries.

5 Carmel-By-The-Sea To Los Angeles Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway Route

  • Total Distance : 348 miles
  • One-Way Driving Time : 5 hours and 34 minutes
  • Route : Carmel-by-the-Sea → Big Sur → San Simeon → Santa Monica → Los Angeles

This Big Sur route is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of California's most spectacular stretches of coastline.

Stop by Point Lobos Natural Reserve and Garrapata State Park, which are near Carmel-by-the-Sea and have hiking trails that cross Highway One and the ocean. Other fantastic stops along this route include the historic Point Sur Lightstation, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur State Parks, Ragged Point, and the Piedra Blancas Rookery in San Simeon, famous for watching elephant seals. The next destinations are the Santa Ynez Valley, featuring charming towns; Santa Barbara, with a hopping gastronomy scene; and Santa Monica, offering fun activities on the beach and the shopping streets . Last but not least is Los Angeles.

Related: These Are The 10 Best Glampsites In Scenic Big Sur

4 San Francisco Loop Through The Eastern Sierras And Three National Parks

  • Distance : 643 miles
  • Total Driving Time : 12 hours and 34 minutes
  • Route : San Francisco → Sacramento → Truckee → Lake Tahoe → June Lake → Mammoth Lakes → Yosemite → Kings Canyon National Park → Sequoia National Park → San Francisco

This is one of the most scenic springtime California routes, passing through Northern California, the Eastern Sierras, and three national parks, all of which boast incredible natural elegance.

This route from San Francisco covers Sacramento, Truckee, Lake Tahoe, Bridgeport, Lee Vining, and June Lake. After Mammoth Lakes' hot springs, it continues to Yosemite National Park, renowned for the supernatural Horsetail Fire Fall . Next up is Kings Canyon National Park, known for General Grant, the world's third-largest tree, and Redwood Canyon, with meadows full of wildflowers in spring, and then Sequoia National Park, which has the General Sherman Tree , the world's largest tree by volume, and finally a U-turn to San Francisco.

3 Route 66 From The City Of Needles To Santa Monica

  • Distance: 315 miles
  • One-Way Driving Time: 5 hours and 50 minutes
  • Route: Needles City (Arizona-California Border) → Goffs and Essex towns → Amboy → Daggett → Calico Town → Barstow, → Pasadena → Los Angeles → Santa Monica

The iconic Route 66 from the city of Needles to Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast is a must-drive to experience both natural and man-made attractions, as well as an amazing desert drive.

After leaving from Needles City on the border of Arizona and California, the route passes through the ghost towns of Goffs and Essex, Amboy, Amboy Crater, and Daggett before detouring to Calico Town to discover spooks that are worth seeing . Additional stops include Barstow, Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch, San Bernadino, the birthplace of McDonald's, Rancho Cucamonga, Pasadena, and Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Pier is the last stop, where visitors take pictures with the sign "The End of the Trail" as a memento of the journey's memorable end.

2 Redding Loop Through Lassen Volcanic National Park And Mount Shasta

  • Distance: 553 miles
  • Total Driving time: 8 hours and 46 minutes
  • Route: Sacramento → Redding → Lassen Volcanic National Park → McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park → Shasta-Trinity National Forest → Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area → Castle Crags State Park → Redding → Sacramento

This route offers some of the most breathtaking hydrothermal features and natural wonders like volcanoes and stunning waterfalls, making it a must-do for those who enjoy adventures and nature.

The route starting from Sacramento heads to Redding, known for the unique Sundial Bridge and Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Lassen Volcanic National Park is the next stop, where visitors can see the boardwalk, fumaroles, hot springs, and go cross-country skiing. Subway Cave, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, McCloud Falls, and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest are the next stops. Mount Shasta is an inactive volcano that offers a lot of exciting activities and is absolutely picturesque. The journey back to Redding and then to Sacramento continues after stops at Whiskeytown Lake National Recreation Area and Castle Crags State Park.

1 Los Angeles To San Diego Via The Southern Coastline

  • Distance : 160 miles
  • One-Way Driving Time : 4 hours and 20 minutes
  • Route : Los Angeles –> Long Beach –> Huntington Beach –> Laguna Beach –> Dana Point –> Carlsbad –> San Diego

With all the majestic Southern California beaches between Los Angeles and San Diego, this road trip is ideal for beachfront and adventure enthusiasts.

Starting in LA, this route covers all spectacular beaches, including Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Anita Street Beach, and Thousand Steps Beach. Further stops are Dana Point, the first Whale Heritage Site in the US, Doheny State Beach, San Clemente, San Onofre State Beach, Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, and Carlsbad Flower Fields, which are beautiful in spring . The tour's final stop is San Diego, where visitors must watch the sunset at the Point Loma Tide Pools to end it on a beautiful note.

logo with a sun and stars over mountains


9 Jun 2022   ||    UNITED STATES

The outdoors is forever calling in California; with record-breaking trees and deserts, jaw dropping coastlines, volcanoes, and high-altitude lakes; it is one of the most astoundingly diverse places on Earth. If you want to experience all of this in a single, budget trip, a California road trip with camping is the solution.

Have you already visited the popular California sites like Yosemite, the Pacific Coast Highway, San Francisco, and Los Angeles? Maybe you just crave a quieter, outdoor-oriented road trip; if so, then this is the itinerary for you. It includes lesser known but equally as remarkable destinations where the crowds are (often) thinner, but the adventure is just as breathtaking.











Honestly, there must be enough ‘Cali Road Trip’ posts for everyone in the world to have one each, so this itinerary takes a different, more ‘outdoorsy and quiet’ perspective instead. 

Each location has camping suggestions. If you would like more general camping information, check out our tips for national park camping . Every location mentioned on the itinerary has hotels, motels and lodges available if that is your preference. 

This itinerary can be cut into segments and include the more famous California locations along the way. See the coloured routes on the map below.

Included are some suggestions for things to do around the major cities that involve less ‘city’ too. 

TIP:  pop into the visitor centre for any parks you visit. The rangers are always super knowledgeable and can provide maps, suggestions, and updates on road and trail conditions. 

TIP:  as this itinerary is heavy on National Parks, it is worth purchasing an ’ America the Beautiful ’ pass that provides free entry to all lands managed by the National Park Service. Individual parks cost $10-$30 for entry and the pass costs $80 per car per year. It’s a no-brainer.


Map of a Californian road trip itinerary by the Restless Beans


As the climate and terrain varies so much across California, there is no perfect time to visit the entire region. It also depends on what type of weather you are comfortable camping in. I have done the above road trip itinerary several times, always between May – October. My favourite months are September into October. Here are some things to consider:

The southern itinerary (in orange on the map above) is better towards the wintertime; the green northern route is better either side of the summer months. 

As a camping trip, it is important to have three-season gear , almost all year around, due to the high elevations. To see what we use, check out our lightweight backpacking and camping gear . In the wintertime, it will be almost impossible to camp in the mountains without specialist four-season equipment.

Southern California , especially inland, is scorching hot in summer. If you intend to do any extensive hiking, avoid the warmer months. Choose the direction of your trip to coincide with the weather. Ensure the desert segment is done in the coolest time of your chosen month(s).

Crowds are greatest in most places during July and August. Shoulder seasons can still be busy in some popular regions, like Yosemite, Tahoe and Joshua Tree. Winter is by far the quietest (apart from the southern California deserts). Peak summer can be extremely challenging to acquire camping reservations and permits for too.

There is the risk of forest fires after the summer season. The National Forests shut, permits were cancelled, and campgrounds closed during our 2021 trip. Visibility can be reduced as far south as Joshua Tree and further north than Tahoe during particularly bad years (although awful, the smoke makes for epic sunsets).

May – June is an excellent choice for this road trip, but some higher elevations can still have snow and the Tioga Pass access to Yosemite is sometimes shut until late June (requires a long diversion).

Sunset over the Grand Canyon behind a leafless tree


CAMPSITE:  $10 – $25

HOTEL/MOTEL:  $75 – $200

BEER AT A BAR:  $3 – $8

GAS PER GALLON:  $5 – $7

CAR RENTAL PER DAY:  $60 – $100

A LARGE PIZZA:  $10 – $20

COFFEE:  $1 – $5



Camping keeps the costs down, as does cooking for yourself at campgrounds. A campsite costs between $10-25 total a night for up to six people.

Car hire (if you do not use your own) is expensive, especially at the moment due to the pandemic. Avoid paying for Satellite Navigation and just use Google Maps – it works perfectly in the United States. Also check with your rental company that you are not being charged automatically for tolls.

Gas is also particularly pricey cross-country due to the  ongoing war in the Ukraine, and California is the most expensive state. Using apps like GasBuddy can help find the cheapest gas station in your area.

Restaurants and bars are not cheap in California, but there are some places that are worth splurging on (especially the California craft beer scene!).

Groceries are more expensive than in Europe, but not excessively so. Walmart is cheapest; Trader Joes and Whole Foods are nicer.

Spirits/Liquor is the cheapest way to drink from a supermarket, although basic beer like Keystone is cheapish too.

As mentioned above, buy your National Park pass to save on entry fees.


We always rent our vehicles all over the world, including our recent trips in USA, with Discover Cars . They’re often the most affordable, plus they paid out immediately on an insurance claim we made when our car took some heavy damage in Sicily. We fully recommend them.

If you book through the link below, we make a small profit, at zero cost to you, which helps us write these posts with no advertising! We only endorse products and companies we *actually* use regularly. For more information, read our position on affiliates .



Northern California – The Trees and Mountains Itinerary





Lassen volcanic national park.



Big pine to lone pine.

Northern california

This route traverses the northern half of California and begins in San Francisco. It can be done alone or combined with the southern deserts itinerary. The trip winds and twists through unique forests, alpine lakes, volcanoes and the Sierra Nevada mountains, all while avoiding the Disneyland/Yosemite crowds.

No California road trip is complete without San Francisco! Here are some suggestions that keep you outdoors and slightly away from the crowds.

Marin Headlands: this is a great option if you like to spend time outside the city. The area has beaches, sweeping views, hiking, and camping. Rodeo Beach is great for a picnic and there are views of the Golden Gate Bridge throughout the area.

Muir Woods: if you continue north past Marin headlands for around 12 miles on the 101 and 1, this National Monument has beautiful redwood trees and is a lovely quick stop with six miles of hiking trails. 

Palace of Fine Arts: before you leave the city, check out this relic of the 1915 world’s fair. The beautifully designed complex is a fantastic place to take a wander plus it’s pretty photogenic (and free). You can find it just off the 101 towards the Golden Gate Bridge, near Crissy Field and the Presidio area (also worth a stop). On the opposite side of the 101 are several beaches with alternative views of the bridge, including Baker and Marshall’s Beach.


Kirby Cove has a particularly fun campground if you can reserve a spot (try to get site 1, it’s competitive!). The highlight is the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and city at night – read more in our comprehensive guide of Kirby Cove campground . There are three other campgrounds in the Golden Gate Recreation Area, the most accessible being Bicentennial campground. All others involve hiking in. All require reservations. 

Heading to Marin Headlands from the Airport means passing through the centre of San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge (in the non-toll direction!). Be aware of the toll in the southbound direction heading into the city. It costs around eight dollars, check up-to-date information on paying the fees .

Suggested number of nights: 3

Skyline of San Francisco with a road dividing the city


Leaving San Francisco northbound, the first thing you notice is the thinning of the crowds. Relative to the Pacific Coast Highway heading down to Los Angeles, this route is so peaceful. It takes you up the California coast to the border with Oregon to hang out with the world’s tallest trees. 

This leg of the California road trip takes you to multiple sites where you can visit these magnificent, mist-topped trees and have some epic camping alongside them. The national park encompasses a cluster of state parks, starting just above Eureka and following the coast up to the northern boundary with Oregon. 

Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Park: On your way north after Fort Bragg (stay overnight here if you need to cut the drive in half), you have the option of checking out Avenue of the Giants. This is a 31-mile road through some of the most impressive redwood groves with walks, fishing, swimming, and picnic areas. If you want to explore the area in more depth, stay overnight at one of the three campgrounds available in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (no entry fee, camping fees apply).

Redwoods National Park: With the tallest redwood in the world towering at 379 feet tall, many often have their heads in the clouds. To get the most immersive experience in this park, hike some of the 170 miles of mostly easy trails, bike some of the 40 miles of coastline and keep your eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife.


There are four developed campgrounds and seven backcountry ones within Redwoods National Park. 

Jedediah Smith is my personal favourite campground, surrounded by old growth redwoods which soar above your tent and make you feel miniscule. I also like Gold Bluffs Beach Campground; it is lovely, adjacent to a beach and surrounded by hills. Be aware that the access road is unpaved so your hire car insurance will be invalidated. Reservations  are recommended all year round for campsites.

It is a long-ish five-hour drive to the Fort Bragg area where it is possible to stay overnight on route to Redwoods, or camp at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Taking route 1 is the most scenic option and I would suggest this over the 101, but it depends on how much time you have. This route takes you along the Pacific Coast Highway and has tonnes of beautiful stops to stretch your legs along the way. I’ve done the entire journey to Redwoods in a day before along the 1, skipping Fort Bragg, so it is doable (but way too long to be fun). 

After Fort Bragg, it is two hours to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and another two hours to Redwoods National Park. 

The coastline is stunning but sometimes moody so be aware it can get a little bit damp and cold. Bring a jacket.

Suggested number of nights: 2-3

A tent at Jedediah Smith, Redwoods National Park


Although technically not in California, if you have time on your road trip, do not miss Crater Lake National Park. It’s the deepest lake in the United States situated inside a dormant volcanic crater.

The park is a three-hour drive from the Redwoods area. There are two campgrounds. I have stayed at Manzama campground which is large with decent facilities and reservable for July, August and September. If you want a real treat, stay in Crater Lake Lodge on the edge of the volcanic rim. It’s expensive and only open from May through October, but the views are outstanding (book a year in advance). 

Suggested number of nights: 2

This park, near the border with Oregon, is perched on the north face of one of the largest volcanoes in the Sierra Nevada area. Often, in national parks you must take an escorted tour for any cave-type activities. Here though, you can roam and wander through tubes made from lava all on your own. There are quite a few and are split into easy, moderate and challenging. It makes for an exciting (and budget) stop on your California road trip.


There is one campground which operates on a first-come first-serve basis and is on the cheaper side at $10. Backcountry camping here is free if you do not need facilities.

The national monument is a four-hour drive inland across northern California, through sprawling pine forests and winding roads. The caves themselves are dark and cold, so make sure you have a decent torch and warm clothes.

Suggested number of nights: 1

California's National Park Entry Fees - why you need a pass

YOSEMITE:  $35 (3 or 7 days)

SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON:  $35 (7 days)

JOSHUA TREE:  $30 (7 days)

DEATH VALLEY:  $20 (7 days)


REDWOODS:  $5 day use (state park fees)

LASSEN VOLCANIC:  $30 (7 days)

PINNACLES:  $30 (7days)

Despite having national park status, this place is astonishingly quiet. For some reason it passes under the radar of most California road trip tourists, and I’ve never visited when it’s been even the slightest bit busy. 

The area is centred around Lassen Peak, a volcano that you can see from numerous angles in the park. The hiking opportunities are fantastic with masses of geological and hydrological features – think Yellowstone without the crowds. 

One of the most popular hikes is Bumpass Hell which leads to the largest hydrothermal area in the park. There are many other trails in this park too, leading to remarkable features such as bubbling lakes and waterfalls. If you’re up for an achievable challenge, take on Lassen Peak itself which shows off views of the Devastated Area, a region destroyed by an eruption in 1915. If you’re not able to hike far, there are stunning blue lakes, meadows, and hydrothermal features next to the main road throughout the park.


There are a several campgrounds to choose from; the most developed is Manzanita. It is $26 a night, so on the upper end of the camping budget for this road trip, but the sites are spacious and right next to Manzanita Lake. It has reservable and first come first serve sites, plus a few cabins.

Lassen is an easy two-hour drive south of Lava Beds National Monument on this California road trip. Be aware of the altitude – most of the park is over 6000 feet and Lassen Peak itself is over 10000 feet. This means it can get a bit chilly overnight so pack sensible camping gear. In the winter, the main road is not ploughed so check the website for access and conditions.

Blue waters of a lake with green trees growing on sloping ground on the far shore

Okay, so this entry on the California road trip itinerary sneaks into Nevada (the lake intersects the boundary between the two states). About two thirds of the lake is in California so that’s how we can justify it! It’s also not that quiet (super busy in summer) but on a northern California road trip through the Sierra Nevada mountains you can’t miss it. Tahoe is also the start of the incredibly scenic California route 365 which stretches all the way down to Death Valley.

Tahoe is a spectacular high-altitude lake, doubling as a world class ski resort in winter and a beach and water sports haven in summer. I’ve never visited in winter, so this itinerary entry is more focussed on outdoorsy stuff in spring, summer, and fall. We’ve always wanted to go skiing there though!


The best beaches are, in my opinion, on the Nevada side.  There’s even a nudist one if you’re into that! The nicest ones take a bit of walking to get to and others are state parks so have a small fee for entry. Check out Secret Cove, Hidden Beach, and Creek Beach (clothing optional although I hear the authorities are cracking down on this?). 

Emerald Bay State Park is impossible to miss on the California side. It is a stunning, beautiful azure blue and a fantastic place for water sports (you can kayak or paddleboard to the little island in the middle!). Be warned, it gets very busy and there is minimal parking. Sometimes people just stop on the side of the road. Don’t be one of those people – get there early.

The Heavenly Gondola in South Lake Tahoe delivers remarkable views from the top of Heavenly Mountain. Here you get views of the entire lake, weather permitting. There’s a lodge, observation deck, activities, and food. Be warned – it is pricey. Coffee is mind-blowingly expensive, activities cost a fortune and the gondola ride is ski-pass rates. Unless you already have your ski pass paid for, you must really want those views to fork out the cash. You can buy tickets online or from the village kiosk.


This California road trip route can take you through Reno, NV if that is your jam, so there is an opportunity to stop there. Reno is a cheap, elderly version of Vegas (in our opinion) and is worth a little time if you are all natured out or need to stock up on supplies. Lodging can be moderately cheap here so it’s a great place to grab a shower and a comfy bed for the night after a camping marathon.


There are various camping locations all around the lake perimeter, but my favourite one is General Creek in Sugar Pine Point State Park on the California side – average campground, amazing location. It’s a 13-minute drive from Emerald Bay which means you can get there early! Be careful of bears; always use the bear lockers provided.

It is a straightforward 3.5-hour drive from Lassen to South Lake Tahoe, where most of the accommodation, restaurants and facilities are. In South Lake Tahoe, you’ll immediately see the border between the states – the Nevada side has giant casinos! The north of the lake is far quieter if you prefer that.

Blue waters surrounded by green trees and mountains in the background at South Lake Tahoe


This detour is only possible if you are travelling in summer as the Tioga Pass to Yosemite is shut seasonally (it is above 10000 feet!). If it is open though, the drive is beautiful. If you’ve never been to Yosemite before, this might be a good optional stop – do not go without a plan though. Accommodation can be tricky to secure and the park is jam-packed during summer. Consider using the shuttle service YARTS to avoid traffic congestion.

Camping in Yosemite is exceptionally competitive, so reservations are essential. Unless you get particularly lucky with first-come first-serve campgrounds you will not find anything at all during summer. There are occasional cancellations online so check regularly – we have obtained reservations this way. The campgrounds are nicest outside of the valley – often more spacious and without fire restrictions.

If you cannot get a campsite, consider Housekeeping Camp instead. It’s a bit like camping but in basic structures and costs a fair bit more so doesn’t sell out as quickly.

Other accommodation options include the lodges inside the park boundaries, such as The Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge. These are beautiful but very expensive.

Suggested number of nights: 3-4

A man standing on a rock ridge at Yosemite looking into the valley below

A renowned ski resort in winter, Mammoth Lakes transforms into an exhilarating summer destination full of outdoor activities like fishing, camping, backpacking, hiking and biking. There are so many routes of various difficulties around the high-altitude lakes – the Welcome Center has maps and details for each. Mammoth has over 300 miles of trails in total – it is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. 

Devil’s Postpile National Monument , a wall of basalt columns 60 feet high (like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Island) is worth a trip from Mammoth Village.

Mono Lake is a great place to take a break between Tahoe and Mammoth but don’t count on swimming! It is a saline lake (2.5 times saltier than the ocean) and is great for bird watching and short walks. It has these crazy calcium-carbonate towers which look super alien!


Bodie Ghost Town – a California State Historic Park preserving an old gold-mining town. The settlement ‘boomed’ when small amounts of gold were found in the hills around Mono Lake in 1876 and grew to encompass around 2000 buildings. By 1880 though, the population began to decline and by 1915, Bodie was first described as a ghost town. It costs $8 per adult without an annual California State Park Pass and is reached by a turning off the 365 which ends in a three-mile dirt road. If you are renting a car this road may invalidate your rental insurance, but many tourists do it with no difficulties.


Mammoth has a lot of car camping options. Lake Mary is my favourite developed campground – the views are lovely, the location is central and there are exceptional facilities. Another beautiful campground is at Convict Lake , which I think might be the prettiest lake of all! Be aware that this area can get busy, and campgrounds can fill up in summer. Reservations recommended.

The drive from Tahoe to Mammoth is under three hours and goes directly via Mono Lake (and the turn off to Tioga Pass for Yosemite). At Mammoth, check in with the Welcome Center to confirm the state of the roads if there is any uncertainty around the weather. Most of the places you will visit are above 6000 feet in this area – be prepared for the weather and altitude.

During summer, you will need to get a shuttle to Devil’s Postpile National Monument from Mammoth Village which costs $8.

View from above Mammoth Lake with blue waters and green trees surrounding

Big Pine and Lone Pine in the Inyo National Forest are not at the forefront of most to-do lists for a California road trip, but that would be an error. With the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a backdrop, the area is stunning, there’s loads to do and it isn’t all that busy. 

There are too many hiking possibilities to list for this post. Highlights include the John Muir Trail , which cuts through the area on route to Yosemite and the Big Pine Lakes ; a priority for any backpacking enthusiast. Hiking Mount Whitney is another very popular activity – it is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet and should be on any hardcore hiker’s itinerary. All these activities require permits – check out for more information.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains is another focal point of the region (I have a tree obsession). At over 4000 years old, these are the oldest living trees on Earth and absolutely floor me every time I see them. There are several hikes, some more family friendly and accessible than others (all above 10,000 feet so can be a bit exhausting).

The scenery around Lone Pine has been used as the location for hundreds of films, such as Django Unchained, Gladiator and several Star Treks. The Museum of Western Film History provides a fascinating overview of the town’s involvement in the film industry and is well worth a visit. 

Manzanar National Historic Site is also an important stop that gives an overview of the Japanese internment camps during World War two. Manzanar was one of ten detention centres in the United States and held 10,000 Japanese Americans.


There is an absolute tonne of camping – too many campgrounds to list. To look through them all, check out the Inyo National Forest site. My favourite campground is Big Pine Creek (perfect for the Big Pine Lakes hike), followed by Whitney Portal and Lone Pine (both great if you are hiking Mount Whitney).

They’re all decent and facilities are generally good – check the website if you are after something specific. They cost in the region of $20-28 and I would recommend reserving a site , especially in summer.

The drive from Mammoth (which is also part of Inyo National Forest) is only around two hours to Lone Pine. Highway 395 is a lovely drive parallel to the Sierra Nevada mountains and the little towns along the route are full of quirky restaurants and places to stay. Take your time on this part of the road trip, it’s beautiful!

Suggested number of nights: 2-4, depending on hiking choices!

Southern California: The Desert Itinerary




Joshua tree national park.





southern california

This segment of the California road trip continues from Lone Pine into the deserts of southern California. This section can be done separately (Los Angeles is a good starting point) or combined with the trees and mountains section above to make one large loop. These have some of my favourite camping backdrops on Earth.

I could write for days about Death Valley .

There is so much to do. The giant Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes; astonishing views from Dante’s View and Zabriskie Point; the lowest point in the U.S. at Badwater Basin; a 600-foot volcanic crater only 300 years old; the ‘geological rainbow’ called Artists Palette; more Canyons than you can count. These are just some of the sites you can reach with a normal low-clearance car. 

This itinerary only provides an overview and I strongly suggest you plan your trip using the National Park Service website (with some assistance from Google Maps). It gives you up-to-date weather and road conditions along with seasonal guidance on what to expect. The visitor centre at Furnace Creek is a particularly good one, and during summer, check the enormous thermometer outside for the temperature!


Rhyolite, an abandoned mining town which at its peak had a population of around 5,000, has been unoccupied since 1920. It has some seriously quirky artwork, remnants of the old town buildings and a pretty weird house made of bottles! There are no tourist traps or entry fees, and I personally felt a curious sense of isolation. It is 35 miles from Furnace Creek and a perfect stop off on route to Las Vegas if you head that way.


Campground selection is seasonally dependent.

The most central campsites are Furnace Creek, Sunset and Texas Springs, which have an elevation between sea level and several hundred feet below. This makes them exceptionally hot during the summer. I’ve stayed at them all during this season; they were empty – the benefit of uncomfortable temperatures (we also did not have to reserve in advance or pay).

In winter , reservations are available and recommended. There are also first-come first-serve sites available (all open campgrounds are FCFS in summer).   

In summer , if you don’t fancy overnight temperatures in triple digits, check out higher altitude campgrounds that are cooler (but busier). There are five in total, none take reservations and four are free. Several need a high-clearance vehicle to access. Check the official website for more detailed information (including elevations) for all Death Valley campgrounds .

O ther options for accommodation include a nice lodge in Furnace Creek if camping seems a bit much.

Death Valley gets hot. I have only ever been in July, August and September (because I’m just a glutton for punishment apparently) and can confirm this. Be prepared – it does not cool down much either (often over 100 F overnight). Camping can be a sticky, uncomfortable experience. The winter is prime season to visit but be aware – other people know this too, so you won’t be alone. 

If you visit in summer, pack extra food and a few spare gallons of water. This seems like overkill, but your car could break down, your aircon could give-in, you could get caught in a flash flood that sweeps all the roads away (these have all actually happened to us in Death Valley). 

Death Valley is unforgiving in summer and people do die.

The number of nights you choose to stay will depend on your car too – there are some seriously cool things to do if you have a decent off-road vehicle (or are willing to rent one with suitable insurance).

Fill up on gas before you enter the park. There is a gas station in the park at Stovepipe Wells but it is justifiably pricey.

A man standing above crags at Death Valley as part of a California road trip.


If you need supplies, a nice restaurant, pool, or comfy hotel room, then Las Vegas is great for a stopover before continuing your California road trip around the deserts. It is a two-hour drive from Death Valley and has a bunch of outdoor activities worth doing while you are there (it’s not all casinos!). Check out Red Rock National Recreational Area and if you want a challenge, climb Charleston Peak (this is a nice respite from the heat during summer).

Tip to keep costs down : only stay in Las Vegas on weekdays. The price tag for hotels often triples (or more!) on Friday and Saturday. Also watch for those sneaky resort fees that can double the price of your room (currently loving the new Virgin Hotel just off strip for having free parking, no resort fee and free WIFI). For more, check out our Las Vegas money saving tips .

We often camp through the weekends when in Las Vegas, generally in the Mojave Preserve or Death Valley , to avoid these costs.

Neon pink sign outside the Flamingo at night, a fun stop on any California road trip

Sandwiched between the two main interstates in the area is the huge Mojave Preserve, encompassing a harsh, moon-like desert landscape. Depending on hiking preferences and season, you could easily only spend one night here, just pass through and see the main sites. However, with a four-wheel drive vehicle or a few days backpacking (no permits required!) you could take far longer. The Mojave has some wonderful campgrounds, singing sand dunes, the best Joshua tree forests (better than Joshua Tree National Park!), and some quirky installations, like the Mojave Road Mailbox.


On the I-40 side of the Preserve, Hole in the Rock is a cool little campground that we regularly use. It’s pretty open but has amazing scenery and is off a paved road (so no worries about clearance). It is also budget-friendly at $12 a night. At an elevation of 1341 metres (4400 feet), the temperatures are excellent in summer. There is easy access to some of the better hikes in the area, including the popular Rings Loop.

Mid Hills is the other campground in the Preserve but does not have paved access. All campgrounds are first-come first-serve.

Call into the Visitors centre in Kelso (Kelso Depot Visitor Center on Google Maps). There’s loads of leaflets and information on the things to do here. Update: this visitor centre is closed until Spring 2023, use the Hole-in-the-Wall one instead. 

The region is unpopulated; apart from a few other cars passing through, you are not likely see many people. 

This is another area, like Death Valley, that is more accessible with a high clearance vehicle. However, on this California road trip itinerary, you do not need one. Just driving through the preserve is spectacular, with scenery that makes me think of the moon.

There is no gas in the preserve, fill up before in Baker, Cima or Primm on the I-15; Ludlow or Fenner on the I-40. For this road trip itinerary, Baker or Primm makes the most sense.

A man striking a pose in the middle of an empty road in the Mojave Desert on a California road trip

This park gets busier, year-on-year, but as with the other desert areas in this California itinerary, it depends on the season. Many Los Angeles residents love this region as a getaway from the city, especially outside of the summer season. Visit during the warmer months to avoid this issue – prepare for very hot days but perfect evening temperatures. 

Despite the name, the park is not only about Joshua trees. There are lots of awesome-looking rock formations, perfect for climbing and scrambling, or simply hiking around. Climbing and bouldering is super popular here, with thousands of routes and problems available. If this is your sort of jazz, add an extra day or two onto the itinerary.  

For a full list of hikes, check out the official website . If you are interested in climbing, read the park service information .


Camping is first-come, first-served during the quiet season (June to September) and is often mostly empty. For the rest of the year, the 500 sites across the park can fill up, especially at weekends and in the spring. Reserve ahead where you can and if you can’t, try for a first-come, first-serve site. This can be competitive, particularly at weekends. The official site has a full list of the campsites .

My favourite campground is Jumbo Rocks . The scenery is amazing, it is $20 a night, reservable and is centrally located, right next to the Skull Rock hiking loop.

Joshua Tree takes longer to reach and drive through than it looks like it should on a map. It is about three hours from the Mojave Preserve to the centre of Joshua Tree, through some amazing but very stark scenery.

Make sure to get gas and supplies in Twentynine Palms before heading into the park. For a park leaflet, stop in the Visitor Center – be aware that it is outside the park on route 62 just past Twentynine Palms.

It is very hot in summer, take more water than you think you will need.

One half of the Restless Beans sat at Jumbo Rocks watching a Californian sunrise


While everyone is flocking to Joshua Tree during peak season, California’s largest state park remains (relatively) under the radar, although that is slowly starting to change. There is an entry fee of $10 (without the California State Park Pass) with various camping options depending on facilities required. 

This is another park that relies on off-road capable vehicles for some areas. If you only have a two-wheel drive car, fear not, for there are lots of things to do in the surrounding area as well visiting the park itself. 


There is some really interesting stuff in the surrounding area outside of the park. 

Julian is a town that exudes charm; as small places go it is up there with the best, but not in a fake, touristy way. It is famous for apple pies; there are at least four cafes and bakeries that serve them all year round! 

Slab City is located on the opposite side of the Salton Sea (also worth visiting – it won’t be there forever). Described as ‘lawless’ and labelled ‘one of America’s last free places’, it is Slab City’s art installations that motivate most people to visit. A community with no water, electricity or trash removal can sound unappealing to some, but the man-made Salvation Mountain has become a huge draw for anyone searching for a unique experience. In fact, the entire community is rather distinctive! If you are considering a visit, read up on the history and culture that surrounds Slab City. Bring a book or two to swap at the library.

Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs has some seriously cool metal sculptures. I thought they were just magic! There are more than 130, made by Ricardo Breceda, including a dragon, giant tortoises, a woolly mammoth and dinosaurs. It’s just so so weird, but excellent. You can drive between the statues, many of which are marked on Google Maps and the visitor center can give you a map of them.

The whole region surrounding Anza Borrego and the Salton Sea is just really wild and empty. Small settlements dot the landscape, with an utterly un-Californian feel to it. Everyone who spends time on a California road trip should witness rural life surrounding Anza Borrego, it is honestly eye-opening. I felt like we were in Mad Max at times.


The state park has four developed and eight primitive campgrounds. Borrego Palm Canyon Campground has the easiest access and best facilities, if a little expensive at $35 (state parks are often quite pricey to camp in). Three campgrounds are available to reserve online outside of the summer season.

There are many areas for dispersed camping in this park and surrounding region, so if you don’t need facilities, this is a good option. 

It is a couple of hours drive between Joshua Tree and Borrego Springs. This journey is one of my favourite parts of the road trip, especially along Box Canyon Road; the area has excellent hiking in the Mecca Hills Wilderness if you have more time in your schedule. There are loads of camping and hiking opportunities off the Borrego Salton Sea Way too.

When leaving Borrego Springs, Montezuma Valley Road has remarkable views from the top of the mountain. The drive is fun too!

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a tricky one to navigate. Pop into the visitor center to get all the information you need.

Suggested number of nights: 1-2

A metal sculpture in the desert sands at sunset found whilst road tripping in California


If you have not visited either of these, please consider it! The laid-back ambiance of San Diego and the rough-meets-glamour vibe of Los Angeles call me back time and time again. There is no space for guides to these two epic cities here but attempt to include them on your California road trip if you have not been. They’re detours-only on this itinerary, mainly because they don’t fit the theme.

The road trip along the coast between both is also worth your time; take a break at the Orange County classics of Newport and Laguna Beach .

Around the Los Angeles area, Pasadena and Glendale often have cheaper accommodation options (in our experience). Santa Monica is amazing if you can afford it! In San Diego, the La Jolla area north of the city is our favourite area to stay,  or alternatively we stay in centrally located Coronado (expensive though).

The Santa Monica Mountains are epic for outdoor activities like hiking and biking in the Los Angeles area. Escondido Falls is an easy hike but has heavy foot traffic. Also consider hiking sections of the Backbone Trail, which is 67 miles long and traverses the area from east to west with top-notch views of Los Angeles, the Channel Islands and the San Gabriel Mountains. There is also camping offered by nearby state parks but getting a spot can be competitive. If you need accommodation, stay in Thousand Oaks or Calabasas for *slightly* cheaper rates. 

Further north in Ventura and Oxnard is the jumping off point for the Channel Islands National Park . This park is comprised of five islands off the California coast with unique wildlife and a wild, rugged landscape. There are campgrounds on each island that cost $15 a night. Advanced reservations and pre-organised transport from the mainland are essential.

Wall art at Ocean Beach one of many stops on a California road trip


From Los Angeles, the most scenic route for the road trip back to San Francisco is via the Pacific Coast Highway . This is the slower but far more picturesque route, so it depends on how much time you have.

At a minimum, I would spend a night in the Morro Bay/Pismo Beach area and then a night around Monterey. This gives you a full day to explore the northern section of the coast which includes the highlight of Big Sur. Any spare time spent in the lovely town of Monterey is never a chore either (our recommendation – Fieldwork Brewing Company – order a flight). 

On route, check out the famous elephant seals (Elephant Seal Vista Point on Google Maps); see the giant rock of Morro Bay and eat some saltwater taffy; stop at the numerous viewpoints and beaches along the way and take your time. The most famous view on the route is McWay Falls , in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There is dedicated parking but costs $10 (you can park on the street but it’s a little sketchy).

In the far north near Monterey, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a beautiful place to stretch your legs with lots of hiking (entry fee of $10). If the weather is good, the water here has a bright aquamarine hue, and you can see sealions and many types of bird.


Camping is difficult along the coast; it books up fast and there isn’t all that much of it compared to demand. Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground is the trickiest so reserve as far ahead as possible. Limekiln State Park is another great choice. 

Logistically, this is the easiest section of the California road trip, although it could be amongst the most expensive too. Fill up your gas before getting to Big Sur; there is gas available, but rates are sky high. The total drive time is around eight hours, which doesn’t sound like much over several days, but the amount of stopping makes it take far longer!

It is hit or miss with the weather. Three times we drove this stretch of road and didn’t see a single cloud, another time we were engulfed in fog.

Grey Elephant seals laying on the sand of the California Coast


This is a small volcanically formed park, the beauty of which is that it’s nearly always quiet with no need for reservations. There is hiking, bat caves, California condors and renowned rock climbing too if that’s your jam. In my opinion, this park has some of the best hiking anywhere, with a few trails leading straight off from the campground. Some hikes lead through cool caves too. 


The park has one campground, which has a few nice private sites (the rest are a bit open). Weirdly for a national park, this campground also has a pool. It is not the best campground ever, but rarely fills up, costs $23 and provides excellent access to the east side of the park. In September, we were the only people there apart from two other groups (it was very hot though). Beware of raccoons at the campground – they steal your stuff.

This park is split into east and west; it is not possible to reach each side by road directly within the park. Check on your GPS to make sure you are going to the side you intend! From Monterey, it is less than 90 minutes to the west or east entrance.

This is also one of those parks with four weather seasons, so is very hot in summer but can freeze in the evenings during winter.

The final leg of the California itinerary is an easy 2.5-hour drive back to San Francisco through the Garlic capital of Gilroy (you can smell the garlic in the air!). 

Signs in a street in Chinatown, San Francisco, California


This California road trip is an ambitious, epic journey. If you have a month and want to experience all the natural diversity California has to offer, then this itinerary provides that in droves, along with some more off-beat options to check out along the route. It is even better suited if you are on a budget road trip and love camping! 

We hope this aids your trip planning. Although we don’t write itineraries very often, California is one of our favourite states. Having spent a lot of time travelling it, we thought we’d share the love.

If this itinerary has been your kind of fun, check out our list of favourite alternative national and state parks across the southwest.

Have a great day!

Hi, thanks for visiting our blog! If this post has been of help to you, or you’ve just enjoyed our random ramblings and musings, say thank you by buying us a coffee ! It helps keep The Restless Beans blog up and running without ads.

Thank you, Claire + Nick

Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “In-Depth One Month California Road Trip Itinerary ~ Budget Camping Edition”

Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?

Thanks so much for your comment, glad to be of help! If you ever want to communicate with us, you can send a message through the ‘contact us’ link at the bottom of any page on this website :). Or, email ‘hello @’.

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Want to read more

Arches vs. Canyonlands ~ which is best if you only have one day?

Looking down at the red tent from a small rocky hill with the trees of Yosemite behind

12 Beginner Tips for Camping in the U.S. National Parks

california road trip april

22 Tips on How to Save Money in Las Vegas (with no Gambling or Comps)

california road trip april

Privacy Policy

california road trip april



Planning a Trip?









If you book through the links above, we make a small profit, at zero cost to you, which helps us write these posts with no advertising! We only endorse products and companies we *actually* use regularly. For more information, read our position on affiliates .

Copyright © 2024 The Restless Beans

Welcome to The Restless Beans!

Sorry for the annoying pop-up. Just click on out if it’s not for you.

Sign up for a monthly round up of new posts, travel updates, guides, tips and quirky travel news – never any junk or spam. We hate that stuff.

 – Upcoming content from: Morocco, Oman, Sri Lanka & Saudi Arabia –

Thanks, Claire + Nick

  • California Tourism
  • California Hotels
  • California Bed and Breakfast
  • California Vacation Rentals
  • Flights to California
  • California Restaurants
  • Things to Do in California
  • California Travel Forum
  • California Photos
  • All California Hotels
  • California Hotel Deals
  • Last Minute Hotels in California
  • Things to Do
  • Restaurants
  • Vacation Rentals
  • Travel Stories
  • Rental Cars
  • Add a Place
  • Travel Forum
  • Travelers' Choice
  • Help Center

California Road Trip -Early April - California Forum

  • United States    
  • California (CA)    

California Road Trip -Early April

  • United States Forums
  • Europe Forums
  • Canada Forums
  • Asia Forums
  • Central America Forums
  • Africa Forums
  • Caribbean Forums
  • Mexico Forums
  • South Pacific Forums
  • South America Forums
  • Middle East Forums
  • Honeymoons and Romance
  • Business Travel
  • Train Travel
  • Traveling With Disabilities
  • Tripadvisor Support
  • Solo Travel
  • Bargain Travel
  • Timeshares / Vacation Rentals
  • United States forums
  • California forum

' class=

Our travel plans for this year have fallen by the wayside so essentially next year we'll have two years worth of holiday budget and fancy doing something different.

Our budget excluding flights and food will be around £3000 / $3750 for 14nts transport, accommodation and activities.

Disneyland / Universal and LA is a must do for us. We're traveling as 2 adults and 14yr old, we lived Disney World Florida and would like to do Disney Land and the LA sights too.

We can fly into San Fran, Los Angeles , Vegas or San Diego and prices are all similar so happy to start wherever.

Places we'd be interested in are:

Grand Canyon

Yosemite (mainly the falls and some hike trails)

Lake Tahoe (potentially Heavenly)

Joshua Tree

Death Valley

San Francisco (think this will be out of budget to be honest as hotels are too pricey)

Pacific Coast Highyway

Initial thoughts were fly into San Fran, head to Tahoe and onto Yosemite and then down to LA (fly home from here) leaving out Vegas and Grand Canyon but with it being Early April I was concerned about the weather and snow.

Alternative idea was to fly into LA, then San Diego, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas leaving from there.

I know we can't fit everything in during one visit so we are looking for a bit of guidance really. We'd rather take it slow and see more of each place than rush through everywhere and not get to actually see anything. Ideally no more than 4 hours driving a day too.

california road trip april

April is not a good time for tahoe--Tioha pass will be closed, You can still get snow thuus needing chains but rentals dont come with chains.

how many days is this trip and how many days for disney?

april is a good time for Death valley and joshua tree NPs

You can do southern Califormia and grand canyon.

the issue is how many days?

With only 14 nights, you'll definitely have to limit your wish list to the top destinations OR to just peek at the destinations rather than fully enjoy them. But it sounds like you'd rather actually enjoy fewer destinations.

A popular itinerary for California might be ....

SFO - SF (3-4 nights) - Yosemite Valley (2 n) - {exit via Mariposa Grove on the way to} Monterey (2 n) - {best bits of Hwy 1 thru Big Sur but not called "PCH" to} Pismo Beach area (1 n) - Anaheim (3 n) - L.A. (3 n) - LAX

If you prefer to visit Southern California + Arizona + Nevada, maybe check on the Road Trips forum. April could be a good time for this, but you'd have some long driving days.

I like PNW’s itinerary. It’s a good amount of time in each place.

Thanks everyone.

I think realistically I'm going to have to split it into two trips and have SFO / Yosemite visit on one holiday and do Vegas / Grand Canyon and Joshua on another.

I like the sound of the above itinerary. That would give us a good mix of city sightseeing and outdoor / coastal scenery too. Would the Mariposa Grove exit be open in April? I presume that doesn't need the Tioga pass ?

Drive down to Monterey for a couple nights, the next morning to Big Sur and back to Monterey, it's the most scenic part of that stretch, IMO. Think Carmel is a little cheaper for lodging.

Keep an eye on the weather but early April should be fine for Yosemite , Tahoe and Hwy. 395.

Yeah you'll miss the Grand Canyon but can't do everything. Save it for 2 week southwest trip in the future.

This is fly in SF and out of LA, shouldn't be much more in cost.

3 Nights - SF

2 N - Monterey/Carmel

2 N - Yosemite

1 N - South Lake Tahoe , curious, why Heavenly??????

1 N - Death Valley , stay in Furnace Creek. A bit over your drive length but very scenic, easy drive down Hwy.395.

2 N -  Las Vegas , yuck, 1 night should be enough and not much to do for a 14 year old. Use the extra night somewhere else.

(I would not give you a sample itinerary using closed roads.)

If visiting in April, I suggest using Hwy 140 / Arch Rock Entrance via the raging Merced River where redbud trees might be in bloom and fields of poppies might be in bloom.

Lodging in Yosemite Valley will be available one year in advance. Folks will be booking one year out!

Thanks so much once again for the replies. Another great itinerary to look at too.

I've just been doing a bit of research and Carmel does come in considerably cheaper than Monterrey so may consider this and then we can have extra budget for elsewhere.

Thanks again.

In answer to the question re Heavenly. No particular reason, it just seemed to have a few good activities for a teenager and I'd read that there was some great views?

california road trip april

Strip. Dine and visit Malibu . Try and see a concert at Hollywood Bowl.And of course all the other great LA sights.

In addition to the Monterey forum, check out MrToy's website.

  • Planning a Yosemite-Wine Country trip 10:52 pm
  • Extended stay – best place to find out about events 10:41 pm
  • Gaberville vs Calistoga 10:34 pm
  • Coastal areas south of SF to Monterey and Big Sur 10:31 pm
  • Beach recommendation for July 10:16 pm
  • Lounges at LAX 10:11 pm
  • recommendation for a short stay 9:57 pm
  • Lee Vining, CA to Seligman, AZ 9:56 pm
  • Cheaper hotels outside of LA? Where? 9:51 pm
  • Combining Yosemite valley lodge reservations 9:41 pm
  • Is tap water drinkable in California 9:26 pm
  • Crashing waves at Point Lobos in June? 9:00 pm
  • Article about Aptos 8:38 pm
  • Tuolumne meadow mosquitoes 8:19 pm
  • Best places to visit in California 10 replies
  • California weather in December .... ??? 12 replies
  • Hotels along I-5 between San Fran and LA 14 replies
  • All inclusive resorts 14 replies
  • redwood forest 6 replies
  • Southwest airlines - wanna get away fare 6 replies
  • Luxury Hotels on Northern Pacific Ca Coast or Or coast 17 replies
  • convertible rental for a coastal drive 12 replies
  • Driving from San Francisco to Vancouver 14 replies
  • Car Rental Las Vegas to Los Angeles - Help 3 replies

California Hotels and Places to Stay

  • FAQ: What you Need to Know Before you drive here
  • FAQ: California Itineraries and Trip Reports
  • Check Major Road Closures in CA via this official Map
  • FAQ: Yanks drive on the wrong side of the road. Can I adjust?
  • FAQ: RVing in California: Is it Right for you?
  • FAQ: My Travel Agent told me

california road trip april

Budget And Invest

Budget And Invest

15 Iconic Road Trip Routes in the U.S.

Posted: June 10, 2024 | Last updated: June 10, 2024

<p>Perhaps you’ve heard others talk about “The Great American Road Trip.” Maybe you even went on road trips with your family while growing up. But now that you’re all grown up, why do any more road trips? Simply put, there’s nothing quite like a leisurely road trip to really delve into the lands and people that make America a uniquely fantastic place.</p> <p>Take a look at our picks for epic road trips, and you might find some inspiration to hit the open road and embark on your own fantastic journey. </p>

Perhaps you’ve heard others talk about “The Great American Road Trip.” Maybe you even went on road trips with your family while growing up. But now that you’re all grown up, why do any more road trips? Simply put, there’s nothing quite like a leisurely road trip to really delve into the lands and people that make America a uniquely fantastic place.

Take a look at our picks for epic road trips, and you might find some inspiration to hit the open road and embark on your own fantastic journey. 

<p>You can’t get much more all-American than riding motorcycles. But if you’re looking to take it up a notch, grab your bike and hop on Route 66. Running from coast to coast of the continental U.S., Route 66 has been a favorite destination for bikers worldwide. </p><p>No other road in the country offers as much sheer Americana as Route 66. The most common starting point also just so happens to be in California, making it a real route hub for bikers and travelers alike. </p>

1. U.S. Route 66 – Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California

First established in 1926, the iconic Route 66 stretches around 2,448 miles across roughly two-thirds of the North American continent. This might not be the best route if you don’t think you can handle a long, multi-day road trip.

If you specifically want an extra long ride to enjoy a magnificent variety of scenery—from the grand Chicago urban skyline and the vast Great Plains to the colorful desert of Arizona and the California coastline at Santa Monica—this is the road for you. 

<p>A true West Coast wonder, the famous Pacific Coast Highway winds down the coast of Southern California, running from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. Mentioned in too many films to name, this historic highway highlights all of the cliche wonders that make Southern California what it is. </p><p>Take a drive down this stretch of highway and treat your eyes to roaring waves crashing on massive cliffs juxtaposing the rolling peaks of the Sierra Nevada. </p>

2. Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) – Los Angeles to San Francisco, California

When you begin to experience the wonders of California’s Pacific Coast Highway , you’ll quickly understand why it’s Highway 1. The Pacific Ocean views can be mesmerizing, and the dramatic scenery changes can feel downright magical.

Highlights include Santa Barbara County’s breathtaking coastline, Big Sur’s unrivaled majesty in Monterey County, and the rugged twists and turns in San Mateo County. Due to constant threats of wildfires, flash floods, and landslides, watch out for notices of road closures in extra sensitive areas. 

<p>This tropical Maui drive tells you exactly where it’s taking you: Hana. With lush vegetation blending on this stretch of highway, you can enjoy watching the waves crash against the coastline. Winding from Kahului to Hana, this stretch of paradise will mesmerize you. </p><p>The residents of Hana take pride in preserving their local traditions, and visitors often find a welcoming atmosphere that allows them to immerse themselves in the authentic Hawaiian way of life without the tourism hustle and bustle of larger cities like Maui. </p>

3. The Road to Hana (HI-36/HI-360) – Kahului to Hana, Hawaii

If you prefer tropical scenery and rugged adventure, you may love this one-lane road that navigates Maui’s northeastern coast’s captivating twists and turns. Since it is one lane and this region is particularly prone to flash floods and rock slides, you’ll need to be extra careful when driving here. But if you’re up to the task, you will be rewarded with a treasure trove of beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, and so much more. 

<p>No matter what time of the year you find yourself meandering through the Smoky Mountains, you will surely be amazed by the rolling hills, waterfalls, and endless foliage. This Appalachian wonder is exceptionally breathtaking not only in the fall but during the winter as well. Blue Ridge Parkway is reminiscent of a winter wonderland during the fall and winter months. </p>

4. Blue Ridge Parkway – Ravensford, North Carolina to Rockfish Gap, Virginia

When you really want to take it slow, take Blue Ridge Parkway . Here, the speed limit is only 45 miles per hour, and this highway winds for 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains to connect North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s especially colorful during peak fall foliage season, but there’s no lousy time (except perhaps during a heavy snowstorm) to do this route. 

<p>Reaching a dazzling elevation of 12,183 feet above sea level, <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">Trail Ridge Road</a> is a great way to experience some of Colorado’s best views. This highway takes you to and through many of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most stunning corners. You’ll likely spot local wildlife like bighorn sheep, marmots, and elk. </p>

5. Trail Ridge Road/Beaver Meadow National Scenic Byway – Estes Park to Grand Lake, Colorado

Reaching a dazzling elevation of 12,183 feet above sea level, Trail Ridge Road is a great way to experience some of Colorado’s best views. This highway takes you to and through many of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most stunning corners. You’ll likely spot local wildlife like bighorn sheep, marmots, and elk. 

<p>If spooky vibes are your thing (or you’re just feeling brave), look no further than the Loneliest Road. Officially known as U.S. Route 50, the forebodingly named road is a disturbingly remote 3,000 stretch of highway across the continental United States. </p><p>Travelers have described the stretch of highway from Lake Tahoe to Great Basin National Park as “eerily remote.” If you’re brave enough to make it through, Lake Tahoe and Arches National Park await you. </p>

6. “The Loneliest Road” (U.S. Route 50) – Ely to Carson City, Nevada

When you’re seeking maximum solitude, you will likely find an abundance of peace and quiet along the highway that Life magazine famously declared The Loneliest Road in America in 1986. From the uniquely “Wild West” towns of Ely and Austin to Nevada’s state capital of Carson City and the majestic blue water of Lake Tahoe, this is a road trip for folks who like desert scenery and love American Western culture. 

<p>Stretching about 217 miles from the Massachusetts state line to a few miles south of the U.S.–Canada border, Route 100 is always a popular route for leaf-peepers to take when they’re out to spot some peak fall foliage. But even during other times of the year, this road is worth taking to reach the charming ski town of Stowe, the foodie heaven of Waterbury, and the tranquil beauty of Green Mountain National Forest. </p>

7. Route 100 (VT-100) – Clarksburg, Massachusetts to Newport, Vermont

Stretching about 217 miles from the Massachusetts state line to a few miles south of the U.S.–Canada border, Route 100 is always a popular route for leaf-peepers to take when they’re out to spot some peak fall foliage. But even during other times of the year, this road is worth taking to reach the charming ski town of Stowe, the foodie heaven of Waterbury, and the tranquil beauty of Green Mountain National Forest. 

<p>If John Denver’s classic hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads” evokes one road trip route, it would be the Natchez Trace. This Rocky Mountain monolith starts in Mississippi and winds through the heart of the South in Alabama and Tennessee. With misty mountains and winding roads through the lush valleys, time will pass quickly on this road trip. </p>

8. Natchez Trace Parkway – Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi

This 444-mile journey may not include tall mountains or rugged coastline, but it does cover a historic travel corridor of the American South that tells the stories of indigenous Native American communities, European settlers, Black Americans striving to escape slavery, soldiers at war, and American presidents. Clearly, this is the ideal road trip for history buffs. 

<p>When you’re ready for even more Pacific Coast adventures, try doing the whole historic Route 101 to Washington State. Farther north, you can reach the verdant rainforests of Olympic National Park, the home of Oregon’s famed Tillamook cheese, the iconic Haystack Rock, Redwood State, National Parks, and much of Northern California’s most beautiful wine country regions. </p>

9. U.S. Route 101 – Tumwater, Washington to Los Angeles, California

When you’re ready for even more Pacific Coast adventures, try doing the whole historic Route 101 to Washington State. Farther north, you can reach the verdant rainforests of Olympic National Park, the home of Oregon’s famed Tillamook cheese, the iconic Haystack Rock, Redwood State, National Parks, and much of Northern California’s most beautiful wine country regions. 

<p>The beautiful Overseas Highway stretches just over 100 miles across the Florida Keys, and the views are as breathtaking as possible. As you cross the Old Seven Mile Bridge, you can see the crystal clear ocean waters straight through to the sand and coral below. </p>

10. Overseas Highway – Florida City to Key West, Florida

Maybe you’ve seen those video clips of people driving convertibles down a highway that seemingly hovers over a vast sea. Those videos were probably filmed on this highway connecting Florida’s mainland to the Florida Keys. It only stretches for 113 miles, but it’s an excellent way to spend a lazy day off, especially if you’d like to cap it off with a beach day or night out in Key West. 

<p>Glacier National Park in Montana is one of the world’s most popular and beautiful tourist attractions for hiking, rafting, camping, and more. If you left your tent at home, you can still enjoy some Rocky Mountain Views by driving down Going to the Sun Road. It’s only safe to travel between July and October due to icy and dangerous road conditions during the winter and spring, but the views of picturesque glacial lakes are well worth the wait. </p>

11. Going-to-the-Sun Road – Glacier National Park, Montana

Going to the sun? OK, maybe that’s not actually possible, but you might feel like you’re doing just that during this 50-mile drive through Glacier National Park. Not only do you cross the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, but you also get jaw-dropping views of mighty mountains, grand glaciers, wondrous waterfalls, and maybe even a mountain goat or two. 

<p>This is another road to take if you want epic mountain views, and this <a href="" rel="noreferrer noopener">105-mile journey</a> through a stunning corner of New Mexico’s Rocky Mountains has long inspired artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams to create memorable masterpieces. The San Francisco de Asis Church is a prime stop for photo ops, as is the view of Truchas Peak in the historic town of Truchas. </p>

12. The High Road to Taos – Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico

This is another road to take if you want epic mountain views, and this 105-mile journey through a stunning corner of New Mexico’s Rocky Mountains has long inspired artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams to create memorable masterpieces. The San Francisco de Asis Church is a prime stop for photo ops, as is the view of Truchas Peak in the historic town of Truchas. 

<p>Since 1928, this route has stretched for 3,389 miles through 14 states to take drivers from one coast to the other. This road trip is certainly not for the faint of heart (or, for that matter, for the easily antsy), but it’s definitely one for the most adventurous roadtrippers who want to see as much of America as possible. </p><p>Highlights include the eastern terminus in NYC’s Times Square, NORAD’s home base at Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, and the western terminus at San Francisco’s Lincoln Park.</p>

13. Lincoln Highway – New York City, New York to San Francisco, California

Since 1928, this route has stretched for 3,389 miles through 14 states to take drivers from one coast to the other. This road trip is certainly not for the faint of heart (or, for that matter, for the easily antsy), but it’s definitely one for the most adventurous roadtrippers who want to see as much of America as possible.

Highlights include the eastern terminus in NYC’s Times Square, NORAD’s home base at Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, and the western terminus at San Francisco’s Lincoln Park.

<p>This highway connects Wyoming’s two stunningly beautiful national parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Named for the legendary conservationist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., this highway may only span 27 miles, but it essentially lets you take your time exploring this marvelous corner of Wyoming, and it provides a great escape route when certain parts of Yellowstone get too crowded. </p>

14. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway – Yellowstone National Park to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

This highway connects Wyoming’s two stunningly beautiful national parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Named for the legendary conservationist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., this highway may only span 27 miles, but it essentially lets you take your time exploring this marvelous corner of Wyoming, and it provides a great escape route when certain parts of Yellowstone get too crowded. 

<p>Whoever said the Midwest was “too boring” and “lacked any landscapes” never traversed South Dakota’s Black Hills. Stretching some 70 miles, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway is a perfect way to explore this unique region. Something about this epic landscape and the verdant pine forests makes this drive one to remember. </p>

15. Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway – Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Whoever said the Midwest was “too boring” and “lacked any landscapes” never traversed South Dakota’s Black Hills. Stretching some 70 miles, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway is a perfect way to explore this unique region. Something about this epic landscape and the verdant pine forests makes this drive one to remember. 

<p>Sometimes, you simply want to bite into a good ol’ sandwich. Fortunately, there is a wide range of specialty sandwich shops operating across America. But which sandwiches are actually worth the trip?</p> <p>This list offers you some of America’s most mouthwatering sandwich shop chains. Not only have they found success between two slices of bread, but they’ve also cultivated true love among fans for consistently adding great ingredients, inventive flavors, and the kind of stuff that will have you coming back for more. </p>

15 Delicious Sandwich Chains Across the U.S.

The sandwich offers a perfect, compact lunch that anyone can make. If you're a sandwich aficionado, here are 15 sandwiches across the country with a reputation for being delicious.

<p>If you’ve ever bought a car, you know how stressful the process can be. Balancing quality and price can be particularly challenging. Even if a deal looks good on paper, you can still get ripped off, so you should always do plenty of research before you sign on the dotted line. Here are some cars that drivers report aren’t worth the price.</p>

22 Cars That Are Notoriously Difficult to Resell

That car you're looking to buy might seem to have everything. But have you thought about its resale value? Unless you plan to drive your car until it crumbles into dust, it's important to consider how easy it will be to resell. Here are 22 cars that struggle on the resale market.

More for You

Fact Check: Trump Allegedly Told Rallygoers, 'I Don't Care About You, I Just Want Your Vote.' Here's the Context

Fact Check: Trump Allegedly Told Rallygoers, 'I Don't Care About You, I Just Want Your Vote.' Here's the Context

Israeli army releases video said to show hostages being rescued Thumbnail

Israeli army releases video said to show hostages being rescued

TV legend ‘brought back to life’ after vaping caused collapse

TV legend ‘brought back to life’ after vaping caused collapse

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood Takes a Tumble During Festival Performance

Buyers Battle Over Sean Hannity’s Long Island Home, Which Sells for Roughly $12.7 Million Cash

Buyers Battle Over Sean Hannity’s Long Island Home, Which Sells for Roughly $12.7 Million Cash

What Does Jeep Stand For?

What Does Jeep Stand For?

Dan Patrick Has Hot Take About Why Caitlin Clark Was Left Off Team USA Roster

Dan Patrick Has Hot Take About Why Caitlin Clark Was Left Off Team USA Roster

17 Reasons Why Women Over 50 Become More Angry

18 Things That Will Happen if 70 Becomes the New Retirement Age in the US


Home Depot launches Amazon-style feature customers will love

3 pieces of information you should never share in a job interview and what to say instead, from a recruiting manager.

3 pieces of information you should never share in a job interview and what to say instead, from a recruiting manager

I Asked 6 Bakers To Name the Best Boxed Brownie Mix—They All Said the Same Brand

I Asked 6 Bakers To Name the Best Boxed Brownie Mix—They All Said the Same Brand

1956 green Chevrolet Pickup truck

10 Of The Rarest Pickup Trucks Ever Built

Buc-ee's Luling

World's Largest Gas Station Opens In Texas

Maddow Blog | Biden-era economic growth leaves Republicans literally speechless

Maddow Blog | Latest great jobs report leaves GOP leaders at a loss for words

Ian Dupre of Embrun, Ontario holds up his winning prize after buying a $100 scratch-off ticket the same day his second child was born. Dupre went on to win $1 million Canadian dollars.

Do we really need $1M in retirement savings? Not even close, one top economist says

Trump got special treatment from NYC probation, and defense lawyers are crying foul

Trump got special treatment from NYC probation, and defense lawyers are crying foul

A clogged bathroom sink

The Common Household Ingredient That Can Unclog Slow-Draining Sinks And Tubs

This 1974 IH Scout Was Pulled From 'No-Reserve' Auction Over Low Winning Bid

This 1974 IH Scout Was Pulled From 'No-Reserve' Auction Over Low Winning Bid

15 of the Most Heartbreaking Tragedies in Classic Rock History

15 of the Most Heartbreaking Tragedies in Classic Rock History

George Lopez walkout prompts apology from central California casino: 'Quite a shock'

George Lopez walkout prompts apology from central California casino: 'Quite a shock'

  • Skip to global NPS navigation
  • Skip to this park navigation
  • Skip to the main content
  • Skip to this park information section
  • Skip to the footer section

california road trip april


Alerts in effect, entrance reservations.

Last updated: June 4, 2024

Park footer

Contact info.


Stay Connected

Security Alert May 17, 2024

Worldwide caution, update may 10, 2024, information for u.s. citizens in the middle east.

  • Travel Advisories |
  • Contact Us |
  • MyTravelGov |

Find U.S. Embassies & Consulates, congressional liaison, special issuance agency, u.s. passports, international travel, intercountry adoption, international parental child abduction, records and authentications, popular links, travel advisories, mytravelgov, stay connected, legal resources, legal information, info for u.s. law enforcement, replace or certify documents.

Get a Passport

Renew or Replace a Passport

Get My Passport Fast

Prepare to Apply

Passport Help

Legal Matters

How to Get my U.S. Passport Fast

Share this page:

Make an Appointment at a Passport Agency

Life-or-Death Emergencies

Courier and Expeditor Companies

Our passport agencies and centers :

  • Process all applications we receive from acceptance facilities and by mail, and
  • Serve customers by appointment only who have urgent travel to a foreign country in the next 14 calendar days, or need a foreign visa in the next 28 calendar days

The U.S. Department of State runs each passport agency and center. An agency and center is different than acceptance facilities which may include post offices, libraries, and local government offices.

Avoid the stress of needing to visit a passport agency or center for urgent travel. Apply early at an  acceptance facility  or  renew by mail .

Steps to Make an Appointment for Urgent Travel

I have not yet applied.

Follow these steps to make an appointment:

  • Go to our  Online Passport Appointment System .
  • Enter information about your travel plans to see if you qualify for an appointment. You may make an appointment for up to seven members of your household.
  • Enter your email address. We will email you a code which you must enter to continue making an appointment. Check your junk or spam folder if you do not see the code in your inbox.
  • Enter your mobile phone number. We will send you a text message with another code you must enter to continue making an appointment.
  • Complete the process of scheduling your appointment. 
  • Check your email for a message confirming the details of your appointment. The system will hold your appointment for 15 minutes. If you do not confirm your appointment within 15 minutes, you will need to start over.
  • If you need to cancel or change the appointment, click the link in the confirmation email to get information about your appointment. 

I have already applied

  • Call  1-877-487-2778  from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Mondays through Fridays, or on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Se habla español. 

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call  1-888-874-7793  for TDD/TTY teletype services. 

  • We will provide you unique information that we will check on the day of your appointment to confirm your appointment is legitimate. If you are not the appointment holder, the passport agency or center will not be able to see you.
  • If you need to cancel or change your appointment, please call us. We will give your appointment to a new customer calling to make an appointment. You cannot transfer your appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do i know which location is processing my application and has my documents.

The first two digits of your nine-digit passport application locator number allow you to know which agency or center is working on your application. You can find your application locator number by checking our Online Passport Status System . 

How and when should I contact a passport agency or center by mail?

You can find an agency or center's mailing address on each agency or center webpage. You can contact our locations by mail if:

We sent you a letter : If we need more information to process your application , we will send you a letter in the mail. Send the information to the full mailing address in Sterling, VA listed on your letter. Do not send information to the agency’s physical address.

Map of Passport Office Locations

Make an appointment at a passport agency or center.

We have two types of appointments: Life-or-Death Emergency Service and Urgent Travel Service . You cannot walk-in. 

Not Yet Applied : Make an appointment online

Already Applied : Call  1-877-487-2778 . Se habla español.

External Link

You are about to leave for an external website that is not maintained by the U.S. Department of State.

Links to external websites are provided as a convenience and should not be construed as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of State of the views or products contained therein. If you wish to remain on, click the "cancel" message.

You are about to visit:


  1. The Perfect Northern California Road Trip Itinerary

    california road trip april

  2. 12 Best Road Trips in California to add to your bucket list

    california road trip april

  3. Ultimate 2 Week California National Park Road Trip Itinerary for 2022

    california road trip april

  4. The Great Californian Road Trip

    california road trip april

  5. Ultimate road trip: California's Central Coast

    california road trip april

  6. 10 Day Itinerary for an Epic Road Trip in Gorgeous Southern California

    california road trip april


  1. California Road Trip Itinerary

  2. Southwest/Southern California Road Trip 2023

  3. California Road Trip

  4. California to Las Vegas Roadtrip

  5. California Road trip to Oregon


  1. California in April: 17 Best Places to Visit for a Spring Vacation

    1. Big Sur in April. If you are a nature lover or outdoor enthusiast, plan a visit to Big Sur in April.. On clear spring days, the coast that's legendary for its beauty is even more jaw-dropping, and it's enormously uplifting to drive the coast, do some Big Sur hikes, or even simply be in Big Sur. . In the spring, the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean is a riveting dark blue, the ...

  2. The Perfect 10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary (2024 Guide)

    The Perfect 10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary (2024 Guide) Plan the ultimate California road trip itinerary with our 10-day road trip itinerary, including all of the best national parks, cities and other attractions! California is instantly captivating. Its major cities twinkle in the spotlight, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco ...

  3. A Two Week California Road Trip Itinerary

    Route 66 ends in California, so take a look at our guide to planning a route 66 trip, as well as our detailed 2 week Route 66 itinerary and 1 week Route 66 itinerary. Fodor's Guide to California, which also includes details on a number of fantastic road trips. The Lonely Planet California Guide, which is great for finding things to do, places ...

  4. Ultimate California Road Trip: Ideas for 7, 10 & 15 Days Itineraries

    The perfect 10 Day California Road Trip itinerary for must-visit places to see in California including San Francisco, Los Angeles, things to do along the Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur, San Deigo, the Californian desert - Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley, the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, Lake Tahoe, etc.

  5. The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

    Complete guide to doing a California road trip, including map, budget, and best things to do. Helpful California road trip itinerary planner. ... We are planning a trip to Santa Cruz/Monterey with our two children in April. So excited and ty for sharing the great info and tips! Reply. Victoria. November 25, 2019 at 2:19 pm . My pleasure 🙂 So ...

  6. The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

    13. Sacramento - Bonus Night. It's about a five-hour drive from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, so if you want to split up the 5-hour drive we suggest stopping in Sacramento. Even if it's not on your California road trip itinerary from the start, it's worth the time to see all of this history.

  7. A Complete California Road Trip Itinerary For 10 Days

    10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary. This guide starts from San Francisco and heads down the coast. If you're starting out in Los Angeles, just do the reverse route. Here's the itinerary: Day 1 & 2 - San Francisco. Day 3 - Big Sur. Day 4 & 5 - Santa Barbara. Day 6 & 7 -Los Angeles.

  8. California Road Trip (A Local's Ultimate Itinerary)

    Day 23 - Los Angeles. How to Get Around in California. CA Road Trip Itinerary Planning Tips. Tip #1 - Download Multiple GPSs for Your Road Trip. Tip #2 - Buy a U.S. SIM if Traveling From Out-of-Country. Tip #3 - Pack Light. Tip #4 - Have Off-Line Car Entertainment. Tip #5 - Pick the Appropriate Road Trip Vehicle.

  9. 11 perfect California road trips to take this spring break

    11 perfect California road trips to take this spring break. By Rachel Schnalzer Audience Engagement Editor. March 9, 2023 5 AM PT. For Subscribers. "Do You Know the Way to San Jose ". " (Get ...

  10. The Ultimate California Road Trip [Itinerary + Local Travel Guides]

    A Vanlifer's Ultimate California Road Trip [With Local Destination Guides] 9 June, 2022 by Megan Bryant. The beauty of van life is the ability to drive wherever, whenever you want. And, in our opinion, a California road trip is one of the best adventures you can go on in the United States. There aren't many places in the world that have ...

  11. The Best California Road Trip Itineraries: 13 Grand Adventures

    Table Of Contents. Our 13 Fave California Road Trip Itineraries. Pacific Coast Highway: SF to LA. Pacific Coast Highway: North Coast. North Coast Redwoods. The Central Coast Loop. Napa/Sonoma Wine Country Drive. Highway 49 Gold Country Route. The Lassen/Shasta Volcanic Legacy Highway.

  12. California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary

    Even with three weeks, you'll still miss a lot of great spots in this state (I mean, you could spend months traveling California), but this suggested itinerary hits some of my favorite major — and not so major — places. Table of Contents. Days 1-3: San Francisco. Day 4: Big Sur. Days 5-7: Los Angeles. Days 8-9: San Diego.

  13. The top 5 California road trips

    3. Gold Country and California Highway 49. Best for historic hills & family road trips. Oakhurst-Nevada City; 200 miles. Follow Hwy 49 through the rough-and-tumble Sierra Nevada foothills, a stronghold of gold-rush history with thrilling, mostly true tales of banditry, bordellos and bloodlust.

  14. 10 Classic California road trips to drive right now

    Take these 10 scenic road trips around California, including winery trails, mountain scenery, desert wildflowers, and the rugged coastline not far from Big Sur. Editor's note: Check out more than 50 amazing road trip itineraries on our California Road Trip Republic hub, filled with inspiration and ideas for your next adventure. ...

  15. California Road Trip Itinerary

    Itinerary Overview. Day 1: Travel Day + San Francisco sight seeing. Day 2: San Francisco sight seeing. Day 3: Drive to Monterey + Cannery Row. Day 4: Big Sur Road Trip. Day 5: Day trip to Paso Robles Wine Country. Day 6: Drive to Los Angeles. Day 7: Los Angeles sight seeing + Travel home.

  16. The Most Beautiful Road Trips in California + Where To Stay

    Read more: How To Road Trip California On A Budget. 3. Yosemite National Park Road Trip. A trip to Yosemite National Park is a must for any California road tripper. Located within the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a wonderland where nature's grandeur stands unrivaled.

  17. California's Springtime Road Trip: Exploring 10 Of The State's Best

    Here are the top ten scenic routes in California to enjoy the best of springtime. Whatever the choice, it will be an unforgettable trip because it will take the traveler to fascinating places to celebrate spring in California besides Los Angeles. Related: 10 Perfect & Beautiful Lakeside Road Trips. 10 San Francisco To San Simeon


    LOGISTICS. Lassen is an easy two-hour drive south of Lava Beds National Monument on this California road trip. Be aware of the altitude - most of the park is over 6000 feet and Lassen Peak itself is over 10000 feet. This means it can get a bit chilly overnight so pack sensible camping gear.

  19. Southern California road trip

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone, greetings from two 63 year old Brits across the pond! I am in the process of sorting out a 6th road trip in the western US, previous trips having been out of SF, Seattle, LV and Denver twice.I had thought that after our August trip that would be the last due to rising prices and the exchange rate but no, seems like I'm addicted, for better or for worse.

  20. California Road Trip -Early April

    Your budget of $268 per night is doable, even for SF where you don't need a car.. Drive down to Monterey for a couple nights, the next morning to Big Sur and back to Monterey, it's the most scenic part of that stretch, IMO. Think Carmel is a little cheaper for lodging.. Keep an eye on the weather but early April should be fine for Yosemite, Tahoe and Hwy. 395.

  21. 15 Breathtaking American Highways for Epic Road Trips

    2. Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) - Los Angeles to San Francisco, California. When you begin to experience the wonders of California's Pacific Coast Highway, you'll quickly understand why it ...

  22. The Ultimate American Road Trip Guide

    The whole country is at your fingertips, you just need to choose. Step 2: Plan your route. A great road trip is more than just the destination, the journey itself is a large part of what makes it ...

  23. Entrance Reservations

    A reservation is required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park on some days from April 13 through October 27, 2024, for those driving into the park between 5 am and 4 pm as follows:. April 13 through June 30: A reservation is required from 5 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and on holidays (May 27 and June 19).A reservation is not required on other days.

  24. Make an Appointment at a Passport Agency or Center

    Our passport agencies and centers: Process all applications we receive from acceptance facilities and by mail, and. Serve customers by appointment only who have urgent travel to a foreign country in the next 14 calendar days, or need a foreign visa in the next 28 calendar days. The U.S. Department of State runs each passport agency and center.