Explore an amazing slice of the USA with our ultimate California road trip! Starting in San Francisco, you’ll wander through Chinatown and cruise across to Alcatraz before heading down the Pacific Coast Highway. Watch whales in Monterey and drive along Route 1 enjoying the rugged coastline before you arrive in Los Angeles to explore the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. After a break on the beautiful beaches of SoCal, you’ll drive inland to explore 3 of the states mountainous national parks – ending your trip in the winelands of Napa Valley. A trip that takes you from cities to beaches, through national parks to vineyards - this Californian holiday has it all!
Depart the UK from your chosen airport. On arrival in San Francisco, you will make your own way to your hotel and check in for three nights.
You’ll have two days to explore “the city by the bay”. Make sure you take the cable car down to visit the sea-lions at Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, before jumping on a boat over to Alcatraz Island where you can learn about the prison’s history. Spend your afternoons uncovering the rest of the city - why not browse City Lights Bookstore for a glimpse into Beat Poetry history before strolling into Chinatown for some dumplings? Or you could explore the Mission District with its colourful murals and famous burritos, before renting a bike and cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge for iconic views back over the city.
This morning you’ll pick up your hire car in the city and head south along the Pacific Coast Highway towards Monterey. Drive along the famous Route 1, and you’ll be able to hop between pretty beaches and tiny coastal towns, and still be in Monterey by lunchtime. Grab a quick bite by the harbour before heading out on a whale watching cruise, where you’ll hopefully spot the splashing tails of blue whales and humpbacks.
Start today with a walk along the wharf, stopping at the little shops and restaurants that line the colourful front. Make sure you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where you can spot sea otters, sharks and thousands of other beautiful marine creatures – we’ve included admission as we wouldn’t want you to miss it! This afternoon, why not drive along ‘17 mile drive’; the pretty coastal route that will take you round the rocks to the neighbouring town of Carmel, where boutique shops and gourmet restaurants await. Enjoy the sunset from the sandy beach before tucking into a delicious seafood dinner in one of the local restaurants.
You are now lucky enough to be embarking on the most picturesque drive of your whole trip. This is another day that warrants an early start, as there are endless places to stop and enjoy. You will soon reach the famous Big Sur where you’ll drive over enormous bridges, with cliff faces plunging into the Pacific Ocean, hidden coves and bays, and plenty of lay-by’s to pull into. A great place to stop is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can see the 80-foot waterfall, enjoy panoramic ocean views, and walk some of the trails. This drive really is spectacular, so take your time and enjoy the ride.
On arrival in San Luis Obispo (the happiest town in America!), you will check into your hotel for one night. The town has a great feel and some lovely restaurants to enjoy after a hard day’s travel.
Your final drive day is quite long; through lush green landscapes and coastal towns. Drive through scenic Lompoc, Goleta, and also Santa Barbara, where we recommend you stop for lunch and a quick visit to the beautiful Old Mission church. Finally, you will leave the coastal road to drive through the LA suburbs, dropping back down to your final stop in Hollywood!
Spend the day exploring the city! You could stay in Hollywood in search of your favourite stars on the Walk of Fame, or head to Venice Beach where you can people-watch to your heart’s content while cycling along the oceanfront. In the early afternoon, why not take a hike through the Hollywood Hills from the Griffith Observatory to get 365-degree views over the twinkling city as the sun sets. This is the heart of LaLa Land!
Why not make today a beach day and combine the sands of Santa Monica and San Diego? Start at the Santa Monica Pier where you can ride the big wheel for epic views along the coast to Malibu, then hop in the car and drive south to San Diego, where you can enjoy a delicious dinner of the Mexican-influenced food that San Diego is famous for!
Enjoy the laid-back city of San Diego today. We’ve included admission to the zoo - one of the most famous in the world. You’ll find over 650 species here, from cuddly pandas to mysterious clouded leopards. It’s a great place to spend the morning before heading to the beach in La Jolla and filling your afternoon with snorkelling, sunbathing and volleyball.
Spend the day beach hopping up the coast. The endless sands at San Elijo, the bright blue water at Laguna Beach and the wild surf of Newport make this journey a beautiful one. Top off this relaxed day with drinks on Huntington Beach at dusk, watching the red and gold sunset spill across the sky.
Today is a long driving day, so we recommend you drive as much as possible of the 4.5-hour journey up to Sequoia National Park in the morning, leaving your afternoon free to explore the beautiful forests. Walk amongst the redwoods, and you’ll be in the company of the world’s largest living things, as well as some smaller wildlifes like chipmunks and marmots scampering around the forest floor.
Spend the day exploring Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, sat snugly in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the middle of the state. The latter is home to the deepest canyon in the country and is made up of vistas and scenery like Yosemite. Visit the General Grant Tree (the “Nation’s Christmas Tree”) and walk to Redwood Canyon, where sequoia trees tower overhead. Both parks are made up of hundreds of miles of hiking trails and riding routes so if you love the outdoors and want to get away from the crowds then get stuck in and experience the peaceful atmosphere that the endless trees create.
Drive north today through small Californian towns before arriving at Yosemite National Park. It’s a lovely drive through the mountains – you’ll be staying inside the valley, so we recommend you approach via the southern entrance. As you wind your way up through Wawona and watch the sun sink lower and lower as it glazes the mountains with pink light, you’ll begin to understand what makes Yosemite so special.
Yosemite National Park is enormous which means you need to plan wisely. First stop will be the valley, where the visitor centre and a couple of hotels sit in the imposing shadow of El Capitan, a favourite of rock climbers from all over the world. Hike up to Nevada Falls, where the water gushes over the granite rock, all the while looking out for chipmunks scurrying along the paths beside you. For the best views of Half Dome, drive to Glacier Point where you can take photos of the mountain, and down into the lush valley, you were previously exploring.
On your second day, you’ll have time to venture further away from the crowds. Wander through the Tuolumne Meadows, hike a section of the Cloud’s Rest Trail, take a swim in Tenaya Lake or drive north to Hetch Hetchy Valley. Your time here will fly by, and by the time you leave, you’ll most likely be planning your next trip!
Heading north today through the Sierra Nevada mountains, we recommend you stop in at Columbia State Historic Park, where you’ll step back in time to 1850 at the height of the Gold Rush. Here you can pan for gold, ride the stagecoach, explore the replica shops and have a drink in the saloon – all part of the Gold Rush experience! After spending the afternoon here, it’s a short drive onwards to Lake Tahoe, where you’ll check into your hotel by the water for two nights.
A mass of shimmering blue-green water, Lake Tahoe is a highlight of any trip to Northern California. Why not spend your day here kayaking on the water? You can explore Emerald Bay, a beautiful section of the southern shore before having lunch at a beach bar and taking the cable car up the mountain for stunning views over the lake. It’s also a great spot to do some fishing or hiking – although a lot of visitors end up relaxing on the tiny beaches that hug the shoreline. Whatever you end up doing, we know you’ll love your time in Lake Tahoe.
Leaving the mountains behind, head west into the vine hills of Napa Valley. Get the 3-hour drive out of the way in the morning so you can spend the afternoon exploring the vineyards and learning about the viticulture in Napa Valley and neighbouring Sonoma, one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Napa Valley is also famous for its food; local chefs raid the farmer's markets for the best produce, resulting in some of the finest restaurants in the USA; a restaurant in Napa called French Laundry was twice voted best restaurant in the world.
Today is your last day in California - drive back to San Francisco Airport in time for your flight home.
The coastal cities of central California sit on the edge of the Pacific Ocean giving them a changeable climate, where you can experience summer and winter in the same day. Coastal breezes keep the cities cool and huge fog drifts can sweep over the San Francisco during the summer meaning winter is usually more reliable with clear days and moderate temperatures. Cooler than most areas of California – you are more likely to be too cold than too hot, so bring a jacket!
Southern California enjoys mild winters with a little rain on the coast and dry cold nights inland. The summer brings a rise in heat, tourist numbers and prices but rain is rare so it’s perfect if you’re looking for consistently sunny weather.
This itinerary is purely a suggestion and can be tailor-made to your requirements, so please contact us with your dates and requests, and we’ll put together a bespoke quotation for you.
19 nights in 4* standard accommodation.
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