The Perfect Two Week Itinerary in California, USA

Seeing as my ‘The Perfect Two Week Itinerary In Thailand‘ post did so well, I took to the Twitterverse to see if there were any other two week itinerary posts you would be interested in seeing. And it turns out, there are quite a few actually! So I’m going to try to make this a more regular feature, starting with California.

Because most of us can’t just quit our jobs and go galivanting off to the USA for a 5 month road trip now, can we?

I’ve adapted it slightly to the itinerary I did in this part of the world as I combined it with adventures in Arizona and Nevada at the time. And although I saw a bit more of the States, I really felt like I rushed my trip. So here’s a more slowed down itinerary, just focusing on the great state of California.

Let me know what you think!

Two Week Itinerary: California

Start: Los Angeles

It’s easier to start in LA as in my experience, flights tend to be cheaper. Even when I was buying a Round The World trip a few years ago it was about £300 cheaper to stop in LA as opposed to San Francisco.

I also have made this itinerary just 12 days to account for a day of travelling to/from the US either side. Because if your work is anything like mine you can’t actually take any more than 2 weeks annual leave in a row. Don’t worry, I got you.

Day 2: Los Angeles

Okay kids, it’s time to explore LA! And you really only need a couple of days in my opinion. LA isn’t a place I fell in love with to be honest, but it undoubtedly has a few cool things to do.

I’d recommend spending the first day split between West Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Spend the morning in Hollywood strolling along the Walk of Fame, spotting your fave celebs on the pavement. Although be warned that it’s harder than it sounds, there’s plenty I’ve never heard of. You can also check out the hand prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and even see the Hollywood sign from here.

And if it takes your fancy, jump into one of the tacky tours of celebrity homes. It sounds like it’s the worst but I really bloody enjoyed it! Some of it was definitely fake but I saw a few iconic houses, like ones from Fresh Prince and The Hills. Plus they take you through Rodeo Drive and point out a few filming locations; it’s just a nice little drive around this part of LA.

In the afternoon grab a taxi out to Santa Monica and walk along the pier to the infamous fun fair. And if you’re anything like me, pretend you’re in The OC.

Then walk down the beach down to Venice Beach. It’s a really cool place to hang out with lots of shops and people on roller skates and fortune-tellers and all sorts of craziness. It’s quite hippy and I thought it was neat. Plus you can check out Muscle Beach which is an experience. And basically just enjoy the #BeachLife watching the sun set.

Oh and if you’re looking for a hostel to stay at in LA, I’d recommend HI: Santa Monica, it’s a good’un.

Hollywood, LA, California

Day 3: Los Angeles

For your second full day in LA, I’d head to one of the theme parks.

I bloody loved Universal Studios! And not even because of the sick rides, the Studio Tour you go on is insane. You get to go through working TV studios and see sets from your favourite films and shows. You see Jaws and The Bates Motel and even get to experience an earthquake and see a plane crash set. It’s just awesome, trust me. Words don’t do it justice.

And of course there’s awesome rides too, the Jurassic Park one is SO GOOD.

If TV and film isn’t your thing, Disneyland California is also nearby and I had a fab time there too so check it out. Just beware that the Mickey big wheel is much more terrifying than it looks.

Of course there’s plenty to do in LA if you’re not about that theme park life. I’ve always wanted to visit Griffiths Observatory or there’s the Getty Centre for a free museum experience. Your call.

Santa Monica, LA, California

Day 4: San Diego

It sounds a bit weird to go south and then back up north, but San Diego is only a 2 hour drive away and like I said, much cheaper to fly in to LA from Europe.

Anyway, San Diego.

There’s so much to do in San Diego on this day. Try to get to the San Diego Old Town as it’s a place of historic importance as the first settlement in California. But also, it’s really pretty and cool with Mexican restaurants, cute boutiques and mariachis. Pretty neat.

Also check out Mission Beach. It’s California at it’s best with a gorgeous beach, surfers and a 1920’s wooden rollercoaster which is equal parts fun and terrifying.

Then for a laugh, have dinner at Dick’s Last Resort. It’s a novelty restaurant where the waiters treat you like shit. Sounds insane and I know, why would you want to go there? But it’s actually pretty fun if you’re in a group.

San Diego, California

Day 5: San Diego / Joshua Tree NP

There’s loads more to do in San Diego so if there’s anything else you want to do, I’d start early. You could visit the infamous San Diego Zoo, explore Balboa Park or take a boat trip to spot seals and dolphins and even whales! It’s pretty cool.

Get on the road around lunchtime though as it’s a 3 hour drive to Joshua Tree National Park.

Now this is the one place I haven’t been on this itinerary, as I went to Arizona and Nevada instead. But this is the place I’d make a stop when going north.

There’s enough time for a quick hike I reckon, although considering the NP is across over 790,000 acreas, you’re not going to see much of it. But there’s wilderness aplenty, mountains and of course the namesake Joshua trees. Sounds like a pretty place to stop to me and this kind of natural beauty is what California is all about, right?

Joshua Tree NP, California

Day 6: Joshua Tree NP / Yosemite NP

Ok it’s a really long drive today but totally worth it. It’s 6 hours from Joshua Tree NP, so start early, but you will arrive in the gorgeous Yosemite National Park!

When I visited I actually stayed just outside at Bass Lake but I would really recommend it. The lake was straight out of a film, like Dirty Dancing or something. We stayed in a log cabin, had pool parties and sang karaoke at the onsite bar. It was SO FUN.

But obvs, the main attraction is the natural beauty of Yosemite.

Yosemite NP, California

Day 7: Yosemite NP

A full day of Yosemite adventure is just what you need after being on the road for most of the day before.

If you’re a hardcore hiker, for sure try one of the hiking trails or even have a go at El Capitan. Why not?

But I am most definitely not… so I took the scenic Yosemite Valley Floor Tour through the park instead! It’s on a cute green little train thing that stops to point out noteable mountains and wildlife. And there are some fabulous photo ops.

But it’s up to as there’s so much to do in Yosemite and the view points alone are ridiculously beautiful.

Yosemite NP, California

Day 8: Yosemite NP / San Francisco

Make your way to San Francisco, kids! It’s a 3.5 hour drive so why not aim to arrive by lunchtime so you can grab some famous clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf?

Spend the afternoon on a boat trip around the bay. You start at Pier 39 where you can see the California sea lions, then see the Golden Gate Bridge up close by cruising underneath it! Just remember to take a jacket because even in the middle of summer I was cold on that boat.

Have dim sum for dinner in Chinatown, it’s incredible. Then hit some cocktail bars in Union Square in the evening and see where the night takes you!

San Francisco, California

Day 9: San Francisco

Today, hire a bike from Fisherman’s Wharf and spend the morning cycling to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s the most beautiful route with stunning views of the bridge. Plus it’s quite flat and easy.

On the other side of the bridge in Sausalito, you can actually get the ferry back to the pier. But I was enjoying it so much that I decided to cycle back again. But that’s your shout.

If you’re not too knackered, spend the afternoon in the Haight Ashbury area. This is one of my fave part of San Fran and is straight out of the 70s with hippy street art and gorgeous vintage shops. I could spend hours here but even if it’s not your vibe, it’s cool to see.

Why not check out the Mission District at night for cool dive bars and live music?

San Francisco, California

Day 10: San Francisco

You’ll notice I’ve given you way more time in SF than anywhere else, and that’s because I really think it’s one of the best places to visit in California. There’s just so much to do there.

On your second full day, I’d get up as early as you can to go to Alcatraz. I’ve heard you should pre-book tickets but instead I got to the pier before it opened to get in line, and managed to get a ticket. But y’know it’s risky if it’s something that you really wanna do.

The boat out to Alcatraz is gorgeous with lovely skyline views and the former high-security prison itself is super interesting. I didn’t think I’d be that into it but listening to the escape stories on the audio guide was fascinating.

Another thing I think you should make sure you do, is get up to Alamo Square. It’s where the gorgeous pastel Victorian houses are (called the ‘Painted Ladies‘) and you get an INSANE panoramic view of San Francisco with the Transamerica Pyramid and the bridges and the whole skyline. It’s gorgeous. This is where I like to pretend I’m in Charmed…

Also make sure you have a proper explore, try out the historic tram, attempt to walk the hills and definitely check out Lombard Street which has one of the steepest inclines. It’s so steep that the road has to make hairpin turns all the way down!

San Francisco, California

Day 11: San Francisco / Santa Barbara

Ok you’re back on the road for another long one – 7/8 hours south to Santa Barbara with stops via the Pacific Coast Highway.

You have to leave very early to do it in a day but this is such a beautiful route that you won’t even care. Stop at Big Sur and Monterey for dramatic coastline and all round gorgeousness.

But I’d recommend doing your research to see where you actually want to stop as there’s definitely no time to see it all. If you’re keen on this perhaps leave the afternoon before and stop overnight enroute.

Spend the night at Santa Barbara.

California

Day 12: Santa Barbara / Los Angeles

The big Cali road trip day yesterday would have likely meant you arrived at Santa Barbara in darkness, so spend most of the day exploring this destination.

I kinda think Santa Barbara is like a chilled LA. It has the same kind of terrain and a nice beach with a similar Santa Monica-esque pier. And some nice boutiques to explore.

But what is different is that you can hire lots of fun bike-type contraptions, from tandem bicycles to golf-cart-like “surreys” and crazy 8-person cycle things! I can’t find the latter on the internet but I remember plenty of multi-person cycle things coming down the street, I swear.

Also try to stop by the Old Mission for beautiful grounds and lots of history about the area.

Then when you’re ready it’s just an hour and a half back down to LA.

Santa Barbara, California

Finish: Los Angeles

Time to fly home!

Hopefully this gives you enough time to get back to reality within your two weeks off, but you could always manage another night in this itinerary, perhaps including Napa Valley or an extra night in San Diego?

What do you think of this California itinerary, anything you’d add/replace?

Let me know in the comments below, tweet me at @HeelsInBackpack or find me on Instagram at @Heels.In.My.Backpack!

California road trip

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