Ideas please for a California road trip
Has anyone done a California road trip? We are potentially looking at 3 weeks in May and doing the coast, San Fran, Vegas, Grand Canyon, Hollywood and a few of the national parks too. Any recommendations? TIA
We flew into San Fransico to start with. We stayed near Union Square and it was really easy to get to...train from airport to Union Square stop, short walk with cases to our hotel. Did most of the city on foot / bus - maybe should have done less on foot lol, we were rather tired after the first day. Highly recommend Alcatraz.
After that we picked up a hire car just round the corner from the hotel and drove along to coast road to Monteray. Had a couple of days there - had we have had another day we would have driven down to Big Sur too.
Then it was onto Sequoia National Park. We saw bears here and did a couple of nice walks.
Onwards to Yosemite. Another couple of days here. We stayed a very short drive outside of the park so we had a bit more choice of accommodation.
Then we had one night in Death Valley. It was far too hot for us (Oct) so although we had plans to stop off along the way to see things, we gave up and drove straight to Vegas instead.
We dropped the hire car off at the airport and got a taxi to our Vegas hotel. Had a final couple of days here before flying home. We did a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon and saw a Cirque show.
That was in 2 weeks. It was a great trip but we felt like it was a lot of moving around for us, and some of the drives were quite long. Our next USA trip was a little more chilled.
Are you outdoorsy or do you prefer cities? How much driving do you want to do? I planned ours by planning stops around driving time.
If you like the outdoors I don't think you should miss Yosemite, it's amazing and in May the waterfalls are at their best. We loved the drive down from Yosemite to Death Valley, the scenery is beautiful. In in May you'll probably have to drive the long way round because the Tioga road will be closed. You could go via Lake Tahoe instead and stay there too.
You'd have to book soon for Yosemite if you want to stay in the park, it books up months in advance.
We also loved Alcatraz, it was the best part of San Francisco. We liked the sea lions on Fisherman's Wharf too!
We didn't really like LA. With hindsight I'd have skipped it. Santa Monica was quite nice but Hollywood was underwhelming and the driving is horrendous.
In 3 weeks you could do SF to Yosemite, down through Death Valley to Vegas and then back to LA to drive up the coast back to SF. You'd have some long drives but you'd see a bit of everything and it would avoid one way fees on the car rental, they're expensive!
California is amazing. It's literally got everything and you don't appreciate how big it is until you're there. I can see why a lot of Americans don't have passports. It has beaches, mountains, forests, desert, ski resorts and cities so there's something for everyone. It's surreal because it feels like you're in a different country and you've only driven 4 hours.
Everyone I know who has been says not to bother with LA.
Thanks all that's really helpful! I went to San Fran years ago as a kid and remember loving it so would love for J to see it too. I've heard similar things about LA and the Hollywood tourist things too so not sure if they are for us, I think we would only put them on there to tick off as something we've seen if that makes sense - not sure they'll be worth the drive!
Definitely put Yosemite on your list as a national park to visit if you like nature and outdoors- I think it might be one of my favourite places in the world. Simply stunning scenery.
I often say the same about understanding why so many Americans don’t have passports- there is such variety in their own country on a scale that we simply don’t have in the UK.
Hello, your thread caught my eye as we did a Californian Road Trip for our Honeymoon
We drove from San Fran down to Los Angeles on Highway 1, over 2 weeks.
Fave things to see/do in San Fran:
Golden Gate Park (loads to explore, particular must-see is the Japanese Tea Garden!)
Alcatraz Boat Trip
Walk around Fishermans Wharf/Pier 39/Ghiardelli Square area
Walk along Ocean Beach to the San Fran zoo (particularly at Sunset)
Dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (top of Macys in Union Square)
Muir Woods (Redwood trains - short drive out of San Fran, many organised excursions go there)
Would agree that Union Square is the best area - we stayed at the Pickwick hotel which is affordable but perfectly nice and very central. Didn't feel like the safest place to walk around at night - I would suggest researching trams/metro/buses before you go as we didn't and then felt totally confused by all the (many) types of transport.
After San Fran, we stopped at:
Def recommended, lovely coastal town with a surfy vibe, particularly good for the wildlife as we saw loads of sealions and hummingbirds. Only need 1-2 days there.
Famous for the aquarium, we didn't like it as much as Santa Cruz as it was bigger/less friendly feel, but worth a look in if you have time.
Just breathtaking stretch of coast to drive along
Stayed here for 1 night to visit Hearst Castle which I can def recommend (must book in advance). Tiny place, not much else to see but really relaxing as the little hotels are all right on the beach and there is a beach full of elephant seals which are huge and amazing to see!
Quirky danish themed town (complete with Little mermaid statue, windmills, dutch bakeries etc), def recommend for 1-2 nights
Then we finished up with a few days in LA. We spent one of those at Universal, which wasn't really our thing (too overpriced and commercial after the relaxing coastal sightseeing we'd done), and 1 just generally exploring (saw the Hollywood Sign, walk of fame, Griffith Observatory etc). I would say you don't need more than 1-2 days there as we ran out of stuff to do and, as others have said, just generally found LA quite grubby/run down/boring...
I also recently did a separate trip driving Route 66 between Phoenix (Arizona) and Las Vegas (Nevada), stopping at the Grand Canyon (please note none of these places are in California - don't underestimate the size of that state, I would say you'd be hard pushed to see all the places you've mentioned in just 3 weeks). For what its worth, we enjoyed this trip more than the California trip, the Grand Canyon was just breathtaking and so relaxing. We stayed at Sedona (red rock county) and Williams (amazing place) along the way and can def recommend these. Vegas is somewhere I would only want to stay a couple of days as its so cheesey/commercial but its worth seeing and def preferable to LA.
My top tip would be to spend more than 1 night in places, as we only spent 1 in some places and it ended up feeling quite rushed and not relaxing, as we were constantly packing up and moving on. It's a fine balance between seeing/doing lots and remembering you're on honeymoon and need to be chilling out too
I would also add that driving in the big cities (Vegas, LA is horrifically stressful, but on the open roads like Highway one its great).
Happy planning and let me know if you have any qs
I also plan to spend my honeymoon in California. So I wanted to ask, where can I rent a car in California? Do I need to contact car rental companies in advance or after arrival?
edited 22 July
We also plan a little trip to California this fall
Personally I love would definitely go to San Francisco and along the coast. Yosemite National park is also AMAZING. Vegas is good for a fun weekend but you don't need more than a couple if days.
Have a great time!