When I was planning my route for my roadtrip around California, I did lots of research and came up with a long list of everything I wanted to see. Coming from the UK, I think it was difficult for me to imagine the distances between all of these things I wanted to see (The Redwoods in the North to Death Valley and then back to San Diego for example might look like it’s doable but in reality could take you 17.5 hours, and that’s without any other stops!). When I started to seriously plan things, I had to accept that it simply wouldn’t be possible to see everything I wanted to see in one 15 day trip and I would have to think seriously about my priorites. Hopefully this post will help anyone else who is trying to organise a two week roadtrip around the Golden State!
SF was an absolute must for me. I had been to California twice before but had never made it to SF so I would not have been willing to miss this one out. I was also able to get a good deal on Virgin Atlantic flights from Aberdeen – London – San Francisco so it seemed like a good starting point. We decided on 3 days in SF to give us time to get over our jet lag and see the sights. I didn’t see everything I wanted to see, so if you’re planning on just ‘doing’ San Francisco once and not going back, I think you’d need a couple more days. For us, it was a perfect amount of time before we embarked on our roadtrip.
I would honestly say that Lake Tahoe was one of my favourite places that we went to. It was absolutely stunning and not too touristy at all given that it was June – I think we got in there just before the summer holidays. We only spent one night here, but I would definitely extend this in the future for a nice relaxing time in a scenic location. We also stopped in Sacramento for lunch on our way from SF, which was a nice way to break up the drive and see the state capital.
Travel time from San Francisco: 4 hours 30 mins
Yosemite was beautiful, as you would expect, but one word of warning is that it was absolutely packed. If you zoom in on my photo of the Yosemite Falls, you will see just how many people were climbing over the rocks. It kind of felt like a theme park. If you’re looking for serenity, Yosemite in June might not be the best place to find it. Having said that, we only really went to the main tourist spots and the park is massive so if you have some more time to explore then I am sure you could find somewhere quite to relax, but personally I wouldn’t rush back for another traffic jam in a National Park (yes, really. We were at a standstill for over 30 minutes). It was also ROASTING hot – like over 50 degrees – so be prepared for that if you go in the summer (if you go in the winter though, be prepared for freezing temperatures).
Travel time from Lake Tahoe: 2 hours 11 mins to Lee Vining, where we stayed.
This was a very long day of driving. We arrived into Santa Cruz pretty late so we had kind of wasted the day. Having said that, I loved Santa Cruz and it would be a great place to visit if you were based in SF for most of your trip. We spent the morning at the boardwalk and had a great time. We headed to Carmel-By-the-Sea in the afternoon, which was pretty busy but small. It is the kind of place where the shops close in the middle of the afternoon so bear that in mind if you’re just going for a couple of hours like we did.
Travel time to Santa Cruz from Yosemite: 4 hours 30 mins (Felt like eternity and there were lots of delays for roadworks etc.)
Travel time to Carmel-By-The-Sea from Santa Cruz: 1 hour
I have always heard good things about Monterey, but before I left I spoke to my cousin who said she hadn’t been impressed with it and I am so glad that I did because we cut our time down significantly. I don’t know if we missed something crucial, but after all the other places we had been to it just felt a bit dull. I don’t think I would go back, unless I was using it as a base for Santa Cruz/Carmel or as the starting point of the Big Sur roadtrip.
Travel time to Monterey from Carmel-by-the-Sea: 10 minutes
The Big Sur (or, the Pacific Coast Highway)
We drove down the Big Sur in one day, starting at Monterey and ending in Santa Barbara. The drive wasn’t particularly long (about 4 hours, depending on stops) but it was beautiful. It’s a definite must-do if you’re traveling around California. The only thing I would change was that the weather was a bit foggy, which is apparently common in June so make sure you do your research about the best time to visit to make the most of the views. We stopped at Bixby Bridge and Seal Beach (find out more here).
Santa Barbara was a lovely place. It was very Spanish in its design and there were lots of nice restaurants and shops. We didn’t spend long here because we used it as a place to stay between our day on the Big Sur and heading to LA, which I think was a good way to break up the journey and see a bit of the town.
Travel time from Monterey: 5 hours 30 mins (with lots of stops to admire the views!)
We spent 4 days in LA, which I think was a good amount of time – I get bored of massive cities after more time than that – and we saw pretty much everything we had been hoping to see.
Travel time from Santa Barbara: 1 hour in theory, but traffic can make this much, much worse.
Places I couldn’t go to because of time:
- Death Valley
- The Red Woods
- Sequoia National Park
- Napa Valley