When you think of a “road trip” the images of palm trees, sunny days and awesome scenery come to mind. This is exactly what you get on a California road trip.
Two weeks is the ideal time for a road trip around California. It gives you time to really get under the skin of the State and explore a number of destinations, while maximising your time off work. Of course, you can always extend it by a few days if you wanted to visit different destinations, spend a little longer in places, or add on a trip to Disney!
This is the same trip we did, so we know it’s a great one with plenty to see along the way.
If you’re planing your trip from late autumn to the start of spring, please check your driving routes before booking anything. Many of the mountain roads are closed by snow, especially the road from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite. You might find it is worth cutting out Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes, unless you are interested in winter sports, so you can explore Yosemite. Check ahead on the National Park Service website.
Two weeks in California overview
A great first stop on any road trip, especially when coupled with cheap flights from the UK and Europe, its the perfect start to your Californian adventure. LA is also the perfect place to adjust to the new time zone. There’s plenty to do in the city so no matter what time of day you’re awake, there’ll be something going on.
We didn’t use the car much in Los Angeles either, and opted for the open top tour bus. The traffic in the city is crazy too so any excuse not to drive is a good excuse.
Top thing to see and do in Los Angeles
- Griffith Observatory for an amazing view over the city and the famous Hollywood sign. Griffith Park also has some great hiking routes up to the Batman caves and the sign.
- Hollywood, explore the famous theatres, find your favourite actor’s name on the Walk of Fame and see the street performers.
- Warner Bros Studio Tour, Disney or Universal Studios Hollywood. Get a bit of Hollywood magic at one of the three major movie studios. Disney and Universal are theme parks, whereas Warner Bros focuses on the film making process and back lot tours. Or why not check out all three if you have time!
- Santa Monica the end of the world famous Route 66. Check out the pier and the stunning beaches and walkways.
- Venice Beach for it’s explosion of colour and character, and of course, Muscle Beach.
- Getty Centre has a collection of furniture, decorative arts, and paintings including Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt.
Being around an hour and half drive from Los Angeles, depending on where you’re staying, means Santa Barbara is a great first stop on a California road trip. It’s far enough to get used to driving your car and using the American roads, but not too far to be a daunting prospect.
The city itself is very quaint with lots of Spanish influence and was even named by a Spanish explorer in 1602, after he survived a huge storm on the seas around the city on the eve of Saint Barbara’s feast day. The state joined the United States in 1850, but the city still celebrates it’s ‘Old Spanish Days’ with a five day festival each year in August.
Top things to see and do in Santa Barbara
- County Courthouse is free to visit and inside there’s some beautifully painted murals and there’s stunning views over the city from the court’s tower. Please note, this is still a working courthouse.
- Old Mission is also known as the ‘Queen of Missions’ and was founded in 1786. The small museum gives you an insight into life in the monastery, Santa Barbara and the traditions of the Native American Chumash-Barbareño tribe, who lived in the area long before the Spanish arrived.
- Maritime Museum on the waterfront celebrates Santa Barbara’s fishing history, with a collection of artefacts and hands on exhibits.
- Botanical gardens is 40 acres devoted to California’s native plants and flowers, such as redwoods, cacti and wildflowers.
Also known as the American Riviera, Monterey was the capital of Northern California, before the state joined the United States. But the town is probably most famous for its fishing and canning industries and its abundance of sea otters, seals and sea lions.
Top things to see and do in Monterey
- Whale watching is one of the most popular activities in Monterey. You don’t need to book ahead, there’s plenty of companies offering trips from the Wharf. Don’t forget to take something warm to put on.
- Fisherman’s Wharf is lined with gift shops and restaurants. The pier is also a great place to spot sealions.
- Cannery Row during the early 20th century, would have been teeming with people, and lots of sardines, passing through the warehouses and canning factories. Many of these have now been converted into shops and tourist attractions but it’s a good place to wander round and absorb the atmosphere.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in North America and has a large selection of fish, sea creatures and even penguins. You definitely need to book in advance for this popular attraction.
An absolute must on any California road trip. There’s so much to see and do in and around San Francisco, you could easily spend a week here and not see everything.
Top things to see and do in San Francisco
- Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco’s iconic landmark. You can walk, cycle or drive over the bridge. We chose to drive. You need to pay to drive or ride a motorcycle over the bridge, but only on your return visit from Sausalito. You need to pay online either before crossing, or within 48 hours of going over on the Golden Gate website.
- Alcatraz is arguably the world’s most famous prison and held inmates from 1934 to 1963, when it was shut down. Only book your tickets on the Official Alcatraz Cruises website, available up to 90 days in advance. Stuck between whether to visit on a day or night tour? Read our blog about the night tour here.
- Haight Ashbury, the birthplace of the hippy and epicentre of the psychedelic 60s and free love.
- Painted Ladies, these famous wooden houses with peaked roofs can be found on Alamo Square.
- Muir woods, escape the city and explore the redwood lined paths of Muir Woods. Find out about the hike we did to the world’s most wonderful view here.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and the second deepest in the States, at over 1,600 feet deep. It is also one of the coldest. In fact, it is so cold that perfectly preserved cowboys have been recovered from the bottom.
Many travellers, including us, chose to stay at South Lake Tahoe. You may decide to venture around the lake’s 72 mile shore to stay in the north, which has a quieter, small town feel.
Top things to see and do in Lake Tahoe
- Emerald Bay gives you stunning views across the lake, and doesn’t take too long to drive here from South Lake Tahoe.
- Vikingsholm Castle, in Emerald Bay, is a summer home inspired by Scandinavia. It was built in 1929 and open to visitors from May to September.
- Hiking. There’s plenty of hiking routes around the lake, including Rubicon Trail, which starts in Emerald Bay.
- Get on the lake. There are plenty of options for renting a boat, paddleboards or kayak, or jump on an organised boat trip around the lake.
Mammoth Lakes really is a paradise for people who love the outdoors. There’s plenty of hikes, bike trails and lakes to rent boats on nearby. In the winter, the resort is really popular with skiers, snowboarders and other lovers of winter sports. The surrounding area also boasts dramatic scenery and excellent hiking and biking trails. Pack your walking boots and get ready to explore.
Mammoth Lakes is also a perfect stopping point from Yosemite, Lake Tahoe or anywhere else in the north west of California, to Las Vegas.
Top things to see and do in Mammoth Lakes
- Convict lake is a picturesque and peaceful area 11 miles from the ski resort. A great place for a leisurely walk.
- Devil’s Postpile are vertical formations, made of basalt, created when lava slowed, cooled and cracked into hexagon shaped columns. Another lovely place for a walk.
- Skiing and winter sports. If you’re here in winter, grab some skis and head for the slopes.
- Mono Lake is North America’s second oldest lake and looks like it belongs on another planet. The shallow, saline lake houses tufa towers, which forms when calcium bubbles up and mixes with carbonates in the alkaline water.
Yosemite Valley is a truly beautiful place, surrounded by majestic chunks of granite rising like giants out of the ground. The most famous of these are El Captian, the world’s largest single upright block of stone, and the Half Dome and it’s unmistakable silhouette. Yosemite is a worthy stop on any California road trip, whether you want to hike or merely gawp at the views from the valley.
Top things to see and do in Yosemite
- Hiking. There’s so many different treks and routes to choose. We chose the Vernal Falls hike and was quite a challenge. Ideal for people with children, or who want a more laid back walk, could try the flat 2 mile Mirror Lake trail. If you are a more experienced hiker and wish to tackle the 17 mile Half Dome, you need to book your permit in advance.
Although outside of California, Las Vegas is a hugely popular destination on a California road trip. Arguably the entertainment capital of the world, there’s so much to do in Sin City that suits everyone, whether you’re here to party, or to soak up the buzzing atmosphere.
Top things to see and do in Las Vegas
- Walk along the strip. Each of the casinos have their own unique pull to get in the punters, whether it’s a giant fish tank, Egyptian tomb or a Venetian canal. With almost 50 casinos on the 4 mile strip, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
- Have a flutter. The first thing that springs to mind when you say Vegas, apart from maybe Elvis, is gambling. If you want to take part, always be sensible and only gamble what you’re happy to lose.
- See a show. There’s plenty of shows to pick, from cabaret shows, to concerts and aerobatics.
- Mob Museum tells the story of Vegas, and how mobs came to rule Sin City. It also looks at organised crime across America and globally, all inside a former courthouse and post office.
- Grand Canyon is a perfect day trip from Las Vegas. There’s plenty of companies who run helicopter trips and coach trips here.
Two weeks in California
This is the itinerary we did on our two weeks in California. We had an amazing time driving the 1,500 miles from start to finish in our hired Mustang. We then drove back to Los Angeles from Vegas to catch our flight onto Mexico.
There are so many destinations to add in and swap for your perfect road trip. San Diego is a popular stop, the self confessed “Finest City” in America. There’s loads of attractions here, including the zoo, Legoland, museums of Balboa Park and SeaWorld, as well as stunning beaches and historic downtown.
Where ever your road trip around this beautiful state takes you, you are sure to have an incredible time. If you think we’ve missed out a great place, let us know about it in our comments section.