A popular self-drive route through California, calling at some popular and lesser-known locations. Explore the scenic towns that dot the Pacific coast, including Monterey, Carmel, Solvang and San Luis Obispo. Continue south through Malibu and Santa Monica (marking the end of the famous Historic Route 66, which is well worth following for part of your journey), not forgetting to enjoy some gorgeous beaches, before arriving in Los Angeles. Spend a couple of days enjoying the city before heading inland to experience flamboyant Las Vegas. Finish your trip off with a day or two enjoying the entertainment parks and beaches of San Diego.

Key information

Destinations Destinations San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Grand Canyon, Monterey Peninsula
Activity Activity Nature & Wildlife, Culture
Physical Level Physical Level Easy
Season Season January - December

Suggested itinerary

Walk the hills of San Francisco

Walk the hills of San Francisco

Day 1–3 in San Francisco

Crammed into less than 50 square miles and with a population of less than a million, small San Francisco packs a mighty punch. Its patchwork of different neighbourhoods -- Mission District, Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown and many more -- all offer a different side to the city, while the big attractions -- Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf -- are all worth the visit.

This is also a city of culture. There are Michelin-starred restaurants. There are pop-up diners and incredible food trucks. There is a world-class music scene and plenty of outdoor adventures, from whale-watching at Land's End to hiking in Mount Diablo. Just watch out for the earth tremors -- San Francisco's proximity to the San Andreas faultline means it experiences several hundred tremors a year.

Don't miss

Enjoy the coastline of San Fran

Enjoy the coastline of San Fran

Take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf, explore the Marina District before experiencing the lively city at night. Stop at the spectacular Golden Gate bridge that connects San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean to enjoy a classic view of the skyline. Perhaps even take a boat to the infamous Alcatraz.

Explore the central coastline

Explore the central coastline

Day 4–6 in Monterey Peninsula

Monterey Peninsula offers a mix of wind-whipped beaches, hidden coves and delicious seafood. The towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are laid back seaside towns showcasing the region's sea trawling history, replete with cosy restaurants and excellent gastropubs.

This is a perfect stop for those wanting a getaway from San Francisco's bright lights.

Don't miss

Tour California’s scenic central coast

Tour California’s scenic central coast

After exploring Monterey Peninsula, take a drive to the pretty resort of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Continue along Big Sur to San Simeon and Solvang. After a drive of 350 miles, enjoy the bakeries, wineries and boutique shops in this quaint town which was founded by Danish immigrants. You could then continue driving to Malibu and the bright lights of L.A.

Relax on Santa Barbara's beaches

Relax on Santa Barbara's beaches

Day 7 in Santa Barbara

Backed by the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, is a hot-spot for white-sand beaches and palm-lined promenades. Look out for A-class celebrities, many of which have extravagant homes here.

Experience Hollywood

Experience Hollywood

Day 8–9 in Los Angeles

Stroll along Hollywood Boulevard, spot your favourite TV and film stars on the Walk of Fame, and you can’t miss the hillside Hollywood sign. Kids can also get up close to their own entertainment stars in Disneyland.

Drive through the desert to Las Vegas

Drive through the desert to Las Vegas

Day 10–11 in Las Vegas

Spend a day or two discovering the grandeur of Las Vegas and its famously flamboyant attractions. Stroll along the Strip, visit casinos, enjoy a Broadway-type, and relax at one of the popular restaurants and bars with city-scape views, such as Top of the World at The Stratosphere or Skybar at the Waldorf Astoria.

Don't miss

Enroute from Los Angeles to Las Vegas

Enroute from Los Angeles to Las Vegas

Travel 280 miles east through the Mojave Desert until you reach the gambling capital of the world--once a quiet Mormon settlement in the desert. A little off route, but well worth a visit, is the ghost town of Calico.

Marvel at the world's most famous canyon

Marvel at the world's most famous canyon

Day 12 in Grand Canyon

Follow the trails to explore Grand Canyon National Park and be sure to stop at the canyon edge to fully appreciate its enormity. At 446km long, up to 29km wide and 1,857m deep, the yawning gorge is full of caves and crevasses in which Native Americans built settlements. You can learn about this rich culture and history by visiting a reservation on the Canyon's south rim or inside the canyon.

Don't miss

Visit a Navajo Indian reservation

Visit a Navajo Indian reservation

The Navajo is one of the eleven affiliated American Indian tribes that are deeply embedded in the history and culture of the Grand Canyon. Learn about its cultural and spiritual traditions at the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Journey to San Diego

Journey to San Diego

Day 13–14 in San Diego

A two hour drive south from L.A. is San Diego, the second largest city in California, which is renowned for its entertainment parks, including Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the latter of which boasts some stunning historic buildings and green spaces. Leave some time to relax on some of California’s most beautiful palm-lined beaches.

Don't miss

Enjoy the ride from Las Vegas to San Diego

Enjoy the ride from Las Vegas to San Diego

Driving south past Lake Elsinore you will reach the town of Temecula with its rolling hills and vineyards before ending your 336 mile drive in San Diego — the perfect place to relax in the sunshine.

A spot of shopping in the Seaport Village

A spot of shopping in the Seaport Village

Seaport Village, on the waterfront of downtown San Diego, is a recreation of a historic harbour with meandering walkways that take you to its 70 shops, galleries, and eateries spread across 14 acres.

Other itineraries you might like

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.

Loading...