California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary

California. It’s the third-largest state in the united states and home to over 40 million people and a variety 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 on the coast and central valley.

And it’s ideal for road trips.

I’ve already outlined an incredible seven-day itinerary for Southern California, but today I needed to share an extended, more comprehensive route for anybody who has a couple of weeks to explore more of the state’s cities and landscapes.

Despite having three weeks, you’ll still miss a whole lot of great spots in this state (After all you could dedicate months traveling California) but this recommended itinerary hits a few of the best major — rather than so major — places.


SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA is probably the most recognizable cities in america. Home to hippies, yuppies, techies, students, and a sizeable immigrant community, it’s a captivating and diverse city. It really is an eclectic destination to go to. Here’s a listing of some of my favorite what to see and carry out:

  • Walk the Golden Gate Bridge — When it opened, it had been the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge, stretching some 4,200 feet. It provides incredible views of the bay and the ships approaching and heading. You can walk across it too.
  • Tour Alcatraz — Alcatraz is probably the most infamous former prisons in the united states. It housed a number of the nation’s worst criminals, such as for example Al Capone. Today, it’s a national landmark where you could take tours of the prison, step foot in the cells, and find out about its history.
  • Go to the Beat Museum — Focused on the 1950s Beat Generation, this original museum houses original manuscripts, rare books, letters, and more from authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In addition, it retains regular events, so check the web site to look at if anything is going on throughout your visit.
  • Have a food tour — SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA is well known because of its foodie culture. If you would like to cast a broad culinary net and get one of these large amount of different cuisines and dishes, consider going for a food tour. Some companies to look at will be Wild SF Tours, Secret Food Tours, and TasteBud Tours.
  • Explore Chinatown — When immigrants from China first found America, many setup shop in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. Today, in the largest Chinatown in the U.S., you’ll find among the best Chinese food in the united states, and wonderful teahouses, bars, souvenir stalls, and fortune cookie makers.
  • Take it easy at Golden Gate Park — This gigantic park an excellent spot to walk or rest. It includes a Japanese garden, museums, an arboretum, a carousel, and several hiking and strolling trails. It’s 20% bigger than New York’s Central Park and that means you easily could spend a whole day here!

For more suggestions, here’s an in depth list of what to see and perform in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA.

Where you can Stay

  • HI SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA — Downtown — HI Downtown possesses some standard perks, like free breakfast and free towels, however the staff also organize a whole lot of events, incorporating pub crawls, trips to Muir Woods and Yosemite, and bike tours over the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Green Tortoise Hostel — This lively hostel is the best in the city. It provides free breakfast, free dinners multiple times weekly, and a good free sauna! It’s a celebration hostel, so make sure to stay here only when you’re seeking to meet people and obtain rowdy.

For more suggestions, here’s a complete list of the best hostels in SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA!

Day 4: Big Sur

On the coast just over two hours south of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA is definitely a 90-mile expanse of stunning views and massive redwoods referred to as Big Sur. There are many beautiful beaches, walking trails, viewpoints, and campgrounds if you happen to want to remain overnight (that i recommend). It’s just about the most beautiful stretches of craggy, unspoiled coastline in the state, so invest some time discovering as you head south.

Where you can Stay It is suggested residing at least one night around Big Sur (or simply south of the spot) to split the drive to LA. In the event that you don’t possess camping gear, Airbnb includes a large amount of places around the region. You may also just pop into some of numerous cheap motels in the region too.

Days 5-7: LA

Though I hated it when I first visited, I’ve come to love LA. It’s not really a “tourist” city: everything is definitely disseminate and there aren’t many attractions as you’d expect. But, in the event that you arrive to LA and move with the flow just like a local, you’ll understand why people think it’s great so much. That is a city where you take in, drink, hike the countless trails in the region, and linger in a coffeeshop.

Here are several suggestions on how exactly to fill your days:

  • Struck the beach — Venice Beach can be an iconic LA hotspot where you’ll encounter lots of street performers, surfers, rollerskaters, and both locals and tourists alike bathing in sunlight. Other beaches worth looking into will be Carbon Beach, Santa Monica State Beach, Huntington City Beach, and El Matador.
  • Start to see the Le Brea Tar Pits — Situated in Hancock Park, these natural asphalt pits possess existed for over 50,000 years. A great deal of fossils preserved for years and years have been within the pits, and there’s a museum nearby which has lots of interesting information regarding them and how they had become.
  • Start to see the Hollywood Sign — You can snap pictures of the sign from virtually any place in Hollywood. However, it’s also possible to hike up to the sign itself to take the view. The three trails you could have (from easiest to hardest) will be the Mt. Hollywood Trail, the Brush Canyon Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail. Bring water, as the hike will have a couple of hours.
  • Visit LACMA — Home for some 150,000 works, the LA County Museum of Art may be the largest art museum in the western USA. They have got collections from almost every era throughout history and every region of the world. Admission is $25 USD.
  • GO TO THE Last Bookstore — That is one of the best bookstores on the planet. In addition, it sells records, provides art displays, and includes a cool upstairs area with cheap utilized books. See the shelves, pick up a coffee, and purchase a book for your journey.
  • Stroll down Hollywood Boulevard — Don’t skip the Walk of Fame (where celebrities possess their names engraved in the sidewalk) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (offering celebrities’ handprints and footprints).
  • Go to the Getty Museum — This art museum opened up in 1997 and has a diverse collection paintings, manuscripts, drawings, and other artwork. The collection runs from the eighth century for this day, so there is definitely something for everybody. Admission is definitely free.
  • Go trekking — Acquire out and extend your legs on the city’s trekking trails. Some worth looking into will be the Charlie Turner Trail (90 minutes), Baldwin Hills (thirty minutes), Runyon Canyon (45 minutes), Portuguese Bend Reserve (3 hours), and Echo Mountain (3-3.5 hours).
  • GO TO THE Broad — This contemporary art museum is among the city’s newest. Opened in 2015, it provides over 2,000 works of art. It also includes a rotating group of temporary exhibitions too (check the web site to discover what’s on throughout your visit). Admission is normally free.

For a a lot longer list on what things to see and carry out in LA, have a look at my LA travel guide.

Moreover, the town also offers innumerable world-class food options. Some places I like happen to be Musso & Frank Grill, Dan Tana’s, Meals by Genet, The Butcher’s Daughter, Sugarfish, and Thai Pepper.

Where you can Stay

  • Banana Bungalow Hollywood — A laid-back but social hostel that organizes plenty of activities and helps it be easy to meet up people. If you wish to party and also have fun, it is the place for you personally!
  • Freehand LA — This hostel/hotel features designer rooms with comfortable beds, a rooftop pool and bar with amazing views of the town, a lobby bar, a restaurant, and a good health and fitness center.

For more suggestions, here’s a listing of the best hostels in LA.

Days 8-9: NORTH PARK

NORTH PARK, just two hours down the coast, has as much to offer. It’s better to navigate (it’s smaller), the elements is definitely always perfect, the beaches will be better, and it’s cheaper too. After LA, it’s the best city in the state. Dedicate a day or two bathing in the town.

Below are a few suggestions for what to see and perform throughout your visit:

  • Go to the USS Midway Museum — This aircraft carrier, commissioned immediately after World War II, was the biggest ship on the planet until 1955 and noticed action in various conflicts, incorporating Vietnam. It had been decommissioned in 1992 and started to be a museum. You can explore the flight deck and a lot of the rooms below.
  • Hike Point Loma — Here is the peninsula where Europeans first found its way to California. Go out to the tip and revel in the serene views, go to the lighthouse (built-in 1855), watching locals climb the rocks and cliffs of Osprey Point.
  • Go to the NORTH PARK Zoo — That is among the best zoos in the united states. Situated in Balboa Park (observe below), it offers over 3,500 animals and 700,000 plant species. It’s an enormous, 1,800-acre park enabling you to easily spend a whole day. If you’re touring with kids, don’t miss it.
  • Explore Balboa Park — As well as the zoo, Balboa Park offers dozens of museums and jogging paths, sports fields, gardens, greenhouses, stadiums, theatres, plus much more. It’s among the oldest recreational parks in the united states.
  • Enjoy Pacific Beach — If you wish to absorb sunlight, swim, or surf, check out Pacific Beach. If you’re a night owl, the region also has plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants too.
  • Go whale viewing — California gray whales, that may grow up to 49 feet and live for over 70 years, migrate from Alaska to Mexico every year between December and April. They will be incredible to see close up, and tours are very affordable (usually around $35 USD).
  • Relax in Belmont Park — That is a kitschy amusement park right next to the ocean. It includes a few classic rides, and games and a lot of greasy (and delicious) snacks. It’s cheesy but fun!
  • Go browsing — Whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, grab a board and struck the waves. There’s some awesome surfing here. You can usually rent a board for about $30 USD a day. Lessons cost around $70 USD and last 90-minutes.

Where you can Stay

  • HI NORTH PARK — HI NORTH PARK organizes plenty of events and tours which make it easy to meet up other travelers. They contain free breakfast and possess a big kitchen so that you can cook your own food to save lots of money.
  • ITH Adventure Hostel — That is an eco-friendly hostel with a vegetable garden (guests obtain free veggies), a recycling and compost program, and even backyard chickens. There is usually plenty of outdoor common space to relax in too.

If you’re on a budget, here’s a listing of the very best hostels in NORTH PARK for you personally.

Days 10-12: Joshua Tree National Park

Located slightly below three hours from NORTH PARK and sandwiched between your Mojave and Colorado Deserts, that’s where you’ll locate the iconic Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), twisted multibranched trees. Towering boulders dot the arid landscape and swaths of cacti poke up from the hard dirt. It’s an otherworldly place ideal for walking, camping, and escaping the busy cities along California’s coast.

The park was declared a national monument in 1936 and specified a national park in 1994. There are a great number of trails here, so consult the trail map when you visit. A few of my favorites happen to be:

  • Barker Dam Trail — An instant 1.1-mile loop which you can view wildlife such as for example rabbits, bighorn sheep, and all sorts of birds.
  • Wall Street Mill — A straightforward 2.8-mile hike leading to a vintage mill used to refine ore from nearby gold mines.
  • Ryan Mountain — A steep 3-mile hike providing some incredible views.
  • Split Rock Loop — A quiet 2-mile hike with plenty of neat rock formations.

A seven-day vehicle pass for the park is usually $30 USD (it enables multiple entries in the event you stay in among the nearby towns).

Where you can Stay Airbnb is the foremost option in the event that you don’t possess your own camping gear, although there’s also glamping and more rustic options.

Days 13-15: Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park, established in 1890, is normally where you’ll get the biggest single-stem tree in the whole planet. Known as “General Sherman,” this giant sequoia tree stands an impressive 275 feet tall and includes a diameter of 25 feet (that’s a 103-foot circumference). It’s so big that among its branches is normally bigger than nearly every single tree east of the Mississippi.

Begin your visit at the Giant Forest Museum to understand about the annals, geography, and need for the park and its own nature. Afterward, walk the Big Trees Trail, a brief loop that will acquire you in and between the trees to help you find them close up.

For a sweeping view of the forest and encircling landscape, hike up Moro Rock, an enormous 250-foot granite dome that juts from the encircling hills and forest. Stairs and a concrete viewpoint had been included in the rock itself, so that you can safely climb to the very best and revel in the magnificent vista.

And for more trekking options and beautiful scenery, visit nearby Kings Canyon National Park. Here you’ll discover “General Grant” (the 3rd largest tree on the planet). For a scenic drive, cruise along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

Both parks remain 4-6 hours from Joshua Tree.

Where you can Stay You will find loads of places to camp here (both outside and inside of the parks). However, additionally, there are plenty of lodges and hotels if camping isn’t for you personally. gets the best list of all of them.

Days 16-18: Yosemite National Park

Situated in the Sierra Nevada mountain range two hours from Sequoia National Park and encompassing nearly 750,000 acres, Yosemite is probably the most iconic national parks in the united states. It’s where you’ll get El Capitán, the towering granite cliff you’ve likely found on social media (it had been also highlighted in the movie, Free Solo). It really is just about the most popular parks in america, experiencing over four million visitors every year who enjoy walking, biking, climbing, camping, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking here.

Below are a few hiking suggestions to obtain started out:

  • Mirror Lake — A straightforward 2-mile hike to Mirror Lake. Takes 1-2 hours.
  • Nevada Fall Trail — A demanding 5.8-mile hike to the very best of the Nevada Falls waterfall. Takes 5-6 hours.
  • Tuolumne Grove Nature Trail — A straightforward 2.5-mile hike around a grove filled up with massive giant sequoia trees. Takes 1-2 hours.
  • Elizabeth Lake Trail — A moderate 4.8-mile hike leading to Elizabeth Lake, a glacier-carved lake at the bottom of Unicorn Peak. Takes 4-5 hours.
  • Eagle Peak Trail — A hard 6.9-mile hike to the very best of Eagle Peak and back. Takes 8 hours.

Make sure to visit the visitor’s focus on arrival to obtain information on activities, prices, and information on the most recent weather.

Where you can Stay In the event that you aren’t likely to camp, there are a great many other options here. Lodges, resorts, and hotels are available both in the park and throughout it. Use Airbnb or to locate a spot to stay.

Days 19-20: Napa Valley

Finally, head northwest to Napa Valley, among the world’s premier wine regions, and end your trip comforting at a vineyard. Napa is merely over three hours from Yosemite and will be offering various world-class wine and food to enjoy.

While it’s an especially expensive region of the state, you’ll be able to visit Napa Valley on a budget in the event that you plan ahead and share costs with other folks.

If you’re on a budget, adhere to the markets and sandwich shops. Gott’s Roadside provides locations in both Napa and St. Helena and serves delicious burgers at under $10 USD, while RANDOM runs a delicious food truck giving fried chicken created by a Michelin-star chef for $15 USD with sides.

Whereto Stay Although some vineyards offer accommodation, they’re usually super expensive. Unless you’re seeking to splurge, use Airbnb. I find a very good value accommodation in the region on that site.

Day 21: Back again to SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

It’s time to return to SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. The drive is just about 90 minutes, so you’ll have the required time to help to make stops on the way if you see whatever piques your interest.


This three-week itinerary can help you cover a whole lot of ground without having to be too rushed. Adjust the route as you proceed (or based on how much time you possess). But, regardless of the route you select, the diversity and beauty of California will assure you’ll have an excellent road trip.

Book Your Visit to the united states: Logistical Guidelines

Book Your Flight Look for a cheap flight through the use of Skyscanner or Momondo. They happen to be my two favorite se’s because they search websites and airlines around the world so you always understand no stone is remaining unturned.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you would like to remain elsewhere, use because they consistently return the least expensive rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Looking to discover the best companies to save lots of money with? Have a look at my resource page to get the best companies to use when you travel! I list all of the ones I work with to save lots of money when I travelling — and I believe can help you too!

Need an inexpensive RV for your road trip? RVshare enables you to rent RVs from private individuals all over the country, keeping you the big bucks along the way. It’s like Airbnb for RVs, producing roads trips fun and affordable!

Want MORE INFO on traveling america? Make sure you visit our robust

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California Road Trip: A 21-Day Suggested Itinerary