Self Drive USA: San Francisco to Los Angeles

Trip ideas
Duration (in days): 10

From: San Francisco

To: Los Angeles



Exc. International flights (per person, based on 2 sharing) 
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Kick back and enjoy the Californian pace of life on this west coast road trip along the classic route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This 10-day itinerary starts in the quirky city of San Francisco, with a day trip to the stunning wine country included, before heading along the coast. You'll stop off in the seaside town of Carmel and travel along the famous 'Big Sur' stretch of coastline, before ending your trip in the celebrity hotspot of Los Angeles, famous for its fabulous beaches and beautiful people!

Your trip starts with two nights in San Francisco and the chance to explore this vibrant and edgy city, make your way over to Alcatraz island to check out the world-famous prison or hang out in Union Square people watching over a cup of coffee. You will then get to drive along some of the USA's most beautiful stretches of coastline staying in the little towns of Carmel and San Luis Obispo before ending your American road trip in the sunshine capital of Los Angeles.


  • Visit the famous prison of Alcatraz during your visit to San Francisco
  • Try delicious Californian wine on a day trip to the Napa Valley
  • Explore the charming seaside town of Carmel
  • Drive along the rugged coastline of the Big Sur
  • Go star-spotting on the Hollywood Walk of Fame





Itinerary in brief:

  • 4 nights San Francisco
  • 2 nights Carmel
  • 1 night San Luis Obispo
  • 2 nights Los Angeles

Day 1: Arrive in San Francisco

Upon your arrival in San Francisco, you will be driven to your hotel in a shuttle bus, where you will check in for a 4-night stay.

You’ve got plenty of time here to explore so check-in, relax, recharge and then why not head to the Bay, an area popular for eating and drinking with a wide variety of cuisines on offer and a vibrant atmosphere.

Day 2: Free day in San Francisco

Today is your first full day to explore this exciting city! Your options are endless, and the hardest decision you’ll have to make is what to do next!

The city is made up of lots of quirky little neighbourhoods, and fortunately, it’s easily walkable – and with the trams, you can explore without the need for a car.

First stop is usually Fishermans Wharf, a popular tourist spot and rightly so. Visit the pier for tickets to ‘The Rock’, also known as Alcatraz, the infamous prison in the Bay (pre-booking is essential as this gets booked out way in advance).

Hire bicycles and spend the morning riding across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. You don’t need to be an advanced cyclist for this as the paths are clear, wide, and (mostly!) flat. If you make it across to Sausalito (around 8 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf) you’ll be rewarded with great views across the Bay, plenty of lovely restaurants and cafes to stop at to refuel, and there’s even a ferry you can catch back if all that has worn you out.

If you’d like wheels with a difference, why not join a Segway tour?

Stop at Chinatown for some dim-sum later in the day, or the Mission district for some excellent Mexican food. It’s a melting pot of cultures and cuisines in this city, so you’re bound to find something new to try.

Day 3: San Francisco and Napa Valley

Today we have included a full day trip to Napa Valley. This bus tour allows you to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Californian Wine Country, and enjoy stops in a variety of wineries in both Napa and Sonoma Valley for tastings and informative tours. A leisurely lunch will be provided in a cosy restaurant, and at the end of the day you’ll be dropped back at your hotel (no doubt a little fuller and sleepier than when you left!)

Day 4: San Francisco to Carmel (200km, approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes)

It’s time to leave San Fran today, so after collecting your car, you will be heading south to the quaint and original town of Carmel. An early start means you can take your time over the scenic drive out of San Francisco and onto the Pacific Highway.

This drive takes approximately 2 and a half hours, although realistically it will take you more like 4-5 hours as you take in the beauty of the coast - coming across a bay that catches your eye, pulling in, and watching a few surfers catch some waves. And of course, the benefit of heading south on this road-trip means you will hug the coastline and get the best views.

After about an hour of driving, you will reach Half Moon Bay, which is a wonderful place to stop – squeeze in some kayaking or drop in at a local farmers market if you get the chance.

For lunch, we think Santa Cruz is a great bet with its famous Boardwalk, and what feels like miles of white sandy beach. If you want to embrace the American lifestyle, along the boardwalk, you can find donuts as big as your head and even deep-fried cheesecake.

The final stretch brings you to Carmel, where you will check in to your hotel for two nights and spend the rest of the day exploring the gorgeous tree-lined streets and boutique shops.

Day 5: Day trip to Monterey

Today you are free to spend your day wandering around Carmel; however we love nearby Monterey – it’s a 20-minute drive back up the coast and well worth a day trip – especially if you’re a literary lover! Salinas was the birthplace of John Steinbeck and the National Steinbeck Museum is just a few miles east from Monterey.

From the Bay itself, you can go out on a boat and do a spot of Whale watching in the sunshine. Another highlight is the enormous clam chowder served in a bread bowl, and the fresh crab sandwiches, both are an absolute delicacy.

Back in Carmel, and you will find yourself getting lost in the European style town filled with charming little shops, or walking down to the stunning white sandy beach and simply relaxing in the Californian sun.

Day 6: Carmel to San Luis Obispo (215km, approximately 3 hours)

You are now lucky enough to be embarking on the most picturesque drive of your whole trip. This is another day that benefits from an early start, as there are countless places to stop and enjoy. You will soon reach the famous Big Sur, where you will drive over enormous bridges, with cliff faces plunging into the Pacific Ocean, hidden coves and bays, and luckily, some handy lay-bys to pull into.

A great place to stop is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can go to 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.

Upon 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 to it, and some lovely restaurants to enjoy after a hard days travel.

Day 7: San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles (305km, approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes)

Your final drive day is quite a big one, through lush green landscapes and coastal towns. Drive through scenic Lompoc, Goleta, and Santa Barbara, stopping along the way for lunch with a view.

Eventually, you will leave the coastal road to drive through the LA suburbs, dropping back down to your final stop at Santa Monica Beach.

You will then check into your hotel for two nights, where you can relax after a long day.

Day 8: Free day in Los Angeles

Your options for today are vast. Stroll along the boardwalk at Santa Monica and ride the wheel on the pier, venture into Los Angeles and visit Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, explore Beverly Hills, go on a Movie Stars homes tour, shop till you drop in Rodeo Drive, or maybe even go to the Getty Center and marvel at the artwork and sculpture garden. You could even indulge your inner child and head to the rides and excitement of Universal Studios.

LA comes alive at night – grab some sushi, catch a comedy show, check out the concert listings or just relax at a hotel bar with a view; there is plenty to keep you entertained.

Day 9: Depart Los Angeles

Your Californian adventure has come to an end after 10 days of exploring, experiencing, and enjoying all that San Francisco, the Pacific Highway, and Los Angeles have to offer. Drop your hire car off at LAX Airport and check-in for your onward flight.



This itinerary is suitable for the whole year round, peak season is in the summer months (May-September) with prices at a premium and availability limited at this time. Prepare for crisp, clear days in the autumn and winter, heating up through spring to make way for scorching summers. Our tip is to drive south from San Francisco if you can, as the road clings to the ocean and will offer you some spectacular views.

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.

What's included: 

  • 9 nights’ accommodation
  • Shared arrival transfer
  • 5 days car hire – Compact car with standard insurance (pick up in downtown San Francisco, drop off at LAX airport)
  • Napa Valley day trip

Not included: 

  • Meals other than those mentioned
  • One way fee of £120
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Personal expenditures
  • Excursions other than the Napa Valley day trip
  • Parking and tolls


9 nights in 3* standard accommodation.

Hotels in this category include:

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