21 days´ California round trip
Arrive in Los Angeles
If you arrived after flying overseas it is always a recommendation to stay one night before driving tired and affected by the time difference. Airport hotels are also cheaper compared to hotels along, for example, the Highway 1.
Drive along Highway 1 to Santa Barbara (1,5 hours) and stay there for two nights.
In the morning you leave the hotel and take the Hightway 1 passing by Santa Monica. It is a really short drive to Santa Barbara so take your time and stay a few hours in famous Santa Monica. It is a really small town with some nice boutiques. Eat a healthy lunch and take a swim in the Pacific Ocean.
"Santa Barbara is really nice to spend a few days in,
there are beaches, wine yards close by and the city is nice."
Santa Barbara is really nice to spend a few days in, relaxing before heading up north to Big Sur. There are beaches, wine yards close by and the city is nice. The atmosphere is relaxed and there are several little shops and restaurants in the city.
You can feel that people are actually living here, even though there also are a lot of week-end houses and apartments.
Where to stay: We chose Four Seasons Santa Barbara for our stay in Santa Barbara. It costs a fortune but is simply iconic and the rooms are large enough for four people. This place is characterized by lovely mexican houses spread out in a large and beautiful garden just by the beach.
The service is exceptional and the breakfast is fantastic. It is a few kilometers outside the city center and you can easily find a hotel or a bed and breakfast in Santa Barbara.
Where to Eat: There are lots of nice restaurants in the city center. The restaurant at the hotel is just fine but not exceptional.
Drive along Highway 1 to Big Sur (4 hours) and stay here for 2 nights.
After a few days of relaxing we are ready to start the real road trip! After a long breakfast outside we head off for the scenic Big Sur. Take your time and enjoy the magnificient views of the ocean and mountains. Remember to fill up gas before heading for Big Sur. It is double the price once your are there and realize you might not have enough gas until Carmel.
"Take your time and enjoy the magnificient
views of the ocean and the mountains."
Many just drive past Big Sur heading up to Monterrey or San Fransisco, but we really do recommend you to stay here a couple of nights. It is very peaceful, beautiful and there are several really nice hikes to do.
After a lot of research, we found the most fantastic gem to stay at with stunning views of the ocean and the mountains – the Treebones Resort. This place offers glamping and is a great contrast to Four Seasons in Santa Barbara. At Treebones you become a happy hippie!
You sleep in large, comfortable tents with ordinary beds, a water sink and everyday cleaning. Treebones cultivates vegetables in their own garden, offers free yoga once a day and there is a fabulous sushi restaurant.
Since it is a really small glamping you need to book a year in advance, especially if you are a family of four or want a tent with ocean view. Or if you choose to book one of the treehouses. This place is never to be found at booking.com.
Drive along Highway 1 to Carmel (1 hour) and stay here for one night.
After a healthy breakfast drive north to Carmel, a fairytale. Lovely, personal cute little houses like from a children´s book. It is also a city where you can leave your car and actually walk around.
On the way to Carmel you cross the famous Bixby bridge and we absolutely recommend you to stay at Pfeiffer Beach. It is not easy to find but well there you find this iconic Instagram moment. To find it, turn left about 10 kilometers after the post office close to Los Padres National Forest. The turnoff is somewhat hidden and not signed or marked on Highway 1. Drive the small road until it ends at a parking lot and walk from there.
We also recommend a stop in Point Lobos State Reserve, a National Park just south of Carmel.
McWay Falls, Big Sur
Highway 1 north of Monterrey
Fairy tale houses in Carmel
Continue along Highway 1 north to San Fransisco (2 hours) where you will stay for 4 nights.
Just north of Carmel is Monterrey. If you want to see the famous aquarium or its Fisherman´s Wharf stay here for a couple of hours. If not, pass by. It is well worth to drive the famous 17 mile road since you are passing anyway. Ideally this is a road you should go by bike if you decide to stay in Monterrey.
If you are a golfer, a visit at the famous Pebbles Beach Golf Club is probably a must. Have a snack or lunch there before you head on. You do not have to be a member to visit the restaurant.
"If you are a golfer, a visit at the famous
Pebbles Beach Golf Club is probably a must."
North of Monterrey, most people head off for the highway 101 going straight to San Fransisco. We were a bit tired of the traffic and chose to follow the Highway 1 as far up north as possible. That was a great choice! It is a simply beautiful road and we were there just in time for a fantastic sunset.
In the evening you arrive in San Fransisco.
Where to stay: After several nights in hotels it is really nice to have your own apartment, especially if you are travelling with your kids. An apartment gives you more space, you can cook your own dinner if you like and it makes you feel a little more like a local.
An option is staying in Sausalito 15 kilometers from San Fransisco just accross the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a beautiful suburb. Calm, close to the city center where you easily can go by boat, close to Muir Woods and cheaper than San Fransisco.
Where to eat: Vegetarian food at Greens in the Marina District, tea in the Japanes Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park
Wow! This city is just as great as you imagine! The houses, the hills, the steep streets, the cable car, chinese town. Take a walk just strolling around the city, down to the seaside. Feel the city puls and enjoy!
What to do?
Going with the cable car is a must. It starts where the streets Powell and Market cross and end by the ocean close to Fisherman´s Wharf. The queu to get on the cable car is long. A tip is therefore to go up along the street to the next stop. They always leave a few places left at the starting point in case there are people waiting on the second stop. This is since the locals are really using the cable cars for transportation. It is not only a tourist attraction. Tickets are sold on the internet and you need to buy them in advance at www.sfmta.com.
Biking around the bay in San Fransisco is a really nice thing to do and if you want to see more of the bay this is time well spent.
Spend the morning hiking in Muir Woods close to the Atlantic Ocean and admire the redwood trees. The park can get busy during the day so try to arrive early or late. The park is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. during the period of May-September. On your way back visit the charming Japanese garden and the Botanical garden in Golden Gate Park.
Walk from the city center through Chinese Town, climb up the stairs in the Coit Tower and admire the views of Bay Bridge, walk the Lombard Street and head off to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies (houses).
Drive to Yosemite (4 hours) and spend 4 nights.
The drive to Yosemite takes you from the Atlantic passing the hot inland and on to Yosemite. The last part of the drive goes upwards for quite some time before you enter the gates of Yosemite. This place is popular som be sure to book lodging well in advance especially if you want to stay at the famous Ahwahnee hotel.
Since you are driving from San Fransisco you wil probably arrive in late afternoon which is a good thing since when you arrive the visitors in Yosemite are leaving for the day.
Before dinner you might want to take a swim in the Merced River running through Yosemite.
The center of Yosemite is the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Here you get information, maps and you can buy some really nice sandwiches for you hike. There is also a pizzeria and a simple restaurant.
Getting around in Yosemite
You are strongly adviced not to go with your own car around Yosemite Valley. If everyone did that it would be crowded in no time. There are shuttle buses to all the places you want to go from the hotels and the camping.
Where to stay: Ahwahnee is an iconic hotel and well worth a visit even if you choose not stay here. Take a look at the garden, the beautiful saloons and the exterior of this granite building.
In Yosemite village you find a few other hotels and a camping. Be sure to book well in advance at least a year ahead.
Where to eat: Buy a sandwich of your choice in the Yosemite Center for lunch on your hike. For dinner you have two restaurants at the Ahwahnee hotel, the grand room and a simpler but really nice cafe/restaurant. You can also buy a pizza or a salad at the pizzeria close to the Visitors Center.
What to do in Yosemite?
Yosemite offers a lot of activities. It is a very popular place for climing and free climbing. The are also offers a lot of different hikes of which climbing the summit of Half Dome is the most famous one. Other popular hikes are hiking up to Yosemite falls and hiking up to Vernon and Nevada falls.
Drive to Death Valley (6 hours ) and spend 1 night in the amazing Death Valley.
The drive from Yosemite to Death Valley is beautiful and Death Valley is one of the most amazing places we have visited. So scenic and varied. From Yosemite Valley you turn off to Highway 120, the Tioga Pass Road. Just before you reach the Highway 395 there is a really nice restaurant.
Just after passing Lone Pine and reaching the Owen´s Lake, turn left on Highway 190 and get ready for your first stop at Stovepipe Wells, an endless desert of sand. Spend half an hour there in the sunset before you continue along Highway 190 to Furnace Creek and your hotel for the night. The supply of lodging or restaurants is not large and perhaps you shall not have too big expectations for a culinary experience.
Where to stay: Furnace Creek Ranch Hotel (There is not much to choose from in Summer time.)
Where to eat?: Furnace Creek Ranch offers some restaurants
Death Valley and Las Vegas
Sightseeing in Death Valley and drive to Las Vegas (2,5 hours plus sightseeing time).
Death Valley is the land of extremes. It is warm, in Summer often above 40 degrees Celsius, you have the lowest spot below sea-level in North America - Badwater Basin and sudden rain storms may surprise you even in the Summer.
There is a lot to see within a short distance from Furnace Creek. Follow Badwater Road 9 kilometers and turn left to Artists Road. This is a scenic 15-minutes loop drive of about 14,5 kilometers passes by the Artists Palette.
Back on Badwater Road turn right to Devil´s Golf Course after a few kilometers. Then admire the Natural Bridge before you head on to Badwater 86 metres below sea-level, a lake of salt flats.
Turn back to Furnace Creek for a short lunch break before you head on to Highway 190 to Las Vegas. Stop after around 8 kilometers at Zabriskie Point, golden colored badlands.
Continue 10 kilometers and then turn right on Dantes View Road. Follow the road upwards for another 21 kilometers to Dante´s Peak at 1500 metres which provides you a scenic view of Death Valley from above.
Turn back to highway 190 and head on to Las Vegas! Las Vegas is hotels, shows and gaming. If you are lucky your favorite artist may perform. Do go and see the show in that case. It is probably amazing!
Las Vegas offers lots of huge 5-star hotels along the Strip: Bellagio, Venetian, Ceasars Palace, MGM, each one worth a visit themselvs. They are not that expensive during week-days. Stroll through the lobbies, visit the restaurants and shops and be impressed by the supply. We we´re stunned by just walking around and the nights are lovely.
Where to stay: We chose to stay at the Bellagio simply because it is super famous and we like the movie Ocean´s eleven. If you go here in weekdays it is sometimes a lot cheaper compared to weekends.
Where to eat: You can find more or less anything in this place. From really expensive restarants to coffe shops, McDonalds and Starbucks.
Being in Las Vegas and the state of Nevada it is tempting to drive or fly to Grand Canyon in the state of Arizona.
Grand Canyon is South rim, North rim and West rim. The most spectacular rim is the South rim, in depths as well as width. It is a oneway 4,5 hours drive so unless you stay there for the night (probably fantastic!).
Another option is flying there. You can also go by helicopter to the West rim. We chose to fly to South rim, an hours flight and superbly arranged by Maverick including all transportation and a lunch pack. It will cost you a fortune but unless you are coming back here soon it might be worth it. We also really wanted to see the South rim.
Grand Canyon is a truly impressive place to see. If you visit another time than Summer, which is really hot, it is probably great to hike from rim to rim. We will do that the next time!
After breakfast you can either drive to the Las Vegas airport, return your car and fly to Los Angeles, especially if you won´t be needing the car in LA. Well in LA you could go by Uber instead and will not have to bother about parking.
The other option is to drive to LA. It is at least an 4,5 hours drive through a somewhat endless flat desert. From Barstow you can turn off to Highway 66 to get away from the traffic jams and see more of the landscape.
Where to stay: There are so many hotels in LA to choose from. Perhaps you want to see more of the beaches? Or experience more of Hollywood?
There are several famous (and very expensive) hotels such as the Chateau Marmont or Fairmont hotel in Santa Monica. After staying in hotels for several nights a nice option might be to rent an apartment or bungalow close to the beach?
We stayed in Santa Monica at Hilton. The hotel is ok and has a pretty good location with a large parking outside the hotel which is pretty cheap (the valet service at the hotel is not!), but this hotel will not surprise you.
We biked along the beach to Manhattan beach and liked that place a lot. So if you still have your car that might be an option. You will need your car anyway if you want to got to Santa Monica Hills or Hollywood.
What to do: There are an endelss number of things to do in LA and you will have to choose. Spending hours on the beach, perhaps trying surfing is one option.
There are also some "must see" like the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica. What differs LA from San Fransisco is that you can not walk around and we really missed that. There is always a risk of ending up in a traffic jam no matter at what time you go so even the shortest distance will take time.
We rented bikes in Santa Monica and biked along the coast to Manhattan beach and that was really fun.
Leaving Los Angeles
Maybe you are also interested in