Los Angeles to San Francisco
- 1 Week
You've got one whole week to settle California's longest-running debate: which is California's better half, North or South? Try not to be distracted by the dazzling ocean views along the glorious 450-mile coastal drive stretching from the 'City of Angels' to the 'City by the Bay' – you've got highlights galore to consider.
Start in Los Angeles for Hollywood star-spotting, movie premieres and live music at legendary Sunset Strip venues. Cruise north to the idyllic beaches of Malibu, and hop a boat from Ventura to explore island wildlife at Channel Islands National Park. Arrive just in time for happy hour at sophisticated seaside Santa Barbara, conveniently located at the edge of SoCal wine country.
Follow the monarch butterfly trail to retro-1950s Pismo Beach, and plan to arrive in San Luis Obispo good and hungry for legendary local BBQ. Take coastal Hwy 1 past offbeat beach towns like Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria before you stop and stare at the sprawling landmark to eccentricity known as Hearst Castle.
Wind north along dizzying cliff edges through soul-stirring Big Sur, where redwood forests rise and waterfalls crash onto the beach in a rainbow shimmer. Dive into California's best aquarium in maritime Monterey, and take a bone-rattling antique roller-coaster ride over the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
Hwy 1 leads you past lighthouses and strawberry farms, staggering bluffs and fishing harbors to the countercultural capital of San Francisco. Here you'll discover out-there inventions already in progress: extreme tiki cocktails and Burning Man art cars, wearable meditation technology and vegan meat that bleeds. Now that you've arrived, you may not have settled the great North/South debate – but you can definitely see both sides.
- 3 Weeks
Cover the Golden State's greatest hits on this grand tour, starting with your head in the clouds in foggy San Francisco and ending up over 1400 unforgettable miles later with your toes in the warm sands of San Diego.
Jump aboard a cable car in San Francisco, take a walk on the wild side in Golden Gate Park, and hop a ferry to infamous Alcatraz prison. Plan your jailbreak in time for dinner at the Ferry Building, San Francisco's local food landmark.
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge into the rolling hills of Marin County. California’s most famous grapes grow just east in down-home Sonoma Valley and chichi Napa Valley. Detour west through more vineyards and apple orchards in rural Anderson Valley, and head through redwood forests to emerge in Mendocino, a postcard-perfect Victorian seaside town.
Swing onto Hwy 101 at Leggett, where your magical mystery tour of the Redwood Empire really begins. In Humboldt Redwoods State Park, you'll stand in the shadows of the tallest trees on earth. Kick back in the candy-colored Victorian harbor town of Eureka, or head north to hang out with artists and environmentalists in the outlandish outpost of Arcata.
Turn east on Hwy 299 for a long, scenic trip to hidden Weaverville, skirting the lake-laced Trinity Alps. Keep trucking east, then south on I-5 to Redding, where families throng Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Climb east on Hwy 44 to the otherworldly moonscapes of Lassen Volcanic National Park, at the southern tip of the Cascades Range.
Go southeast on Hwy 89 to Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Nevada's scenic outdoor playground. Roll down the Eastern Sierra’s Hwy 395, taking the back-door route via Tioga Rd (open seasonally) into Yosemite National Park. Feel your jaw drop as you watch waterfalls tumble over granite cliffs, and enjoy moments of profound silence in groves of giant sequoias, the world’s biggest trees.
Zoom south to Los Angeles to find as-seen-on-TV beaches, fleets of food trucks and colorful neighborhood characters. Walk in stars' footsteps through Hollywood, then sprawl on the sand in hip Santa Monica or quirky Venice Beach. Cruise south past the beautiful beaches of swanky Orange County to hang-loose San Diego for epic surf and serious fish tacos. Dude, you've totally got the hang of California.
LA & Orange County
- 5 Days
All-star attractions, bodacious beaches and fresh seafood are yours to discover on this Southern California sojourn, covering 100 miles of sun, sand and surf.
Kick things off in Los Angeles. Skate north from oddball Venice to oceanfront Santa Monica for sunset carnival rides on the pier. Cram your social feeds with selfies on the star-studded sidewalks of Hollywood, then go highbrow with art musuems in Mid-City, and the symphony hall and Grammy Museum in downtown LA.
But enough with all this LA culture: over in Anaheim, you've got a hot date with Mickey at Disneyland and wild rides at Disney California Adventure. If Disneyland Resort isn't enough adrenaline for you, hit the thrill rides over at Knott's Berry Farm, and recuperate afterwards in nostalgic Old Towne Orange.
Cruise west to 'Surf City USA': Huntington Beach, where you can rent a board, join beach volleyball games and make s'mores over a beach bonfire. Swing by Newport Beach for sunset strolls and people-watching by the piers, then roll south to the upscale artists' colony of Laguna Beach. Slingshot back toward the I-5, and see what SoCal looked like before achieving international stardom at historic Mission San Juan Capistrano.
- 10 Days
You might think you've arrived on another planet, with giant sand dunes, palm-tree oases, volcanic craters, and rainbow cinder cones – but you're just a few hours from LA. Go get lost – and find yourself – on this 800-mile desert drive.
Start in glam Palm Springs, where stars from Elvis to Leonardo DiCaprio hole up in sleek mid-Century Modern hideaways. Sip mojitos poolside, hike to palm-studded canyons and ride a tram into cool pine-scented mountains.
Boomerang north to Joshua Tree National Park, with its precariously balanced boulders and iconic namesake trees. Keep motoring north into the Mojave National Preserve, where you can hear sand dunes sing with the wind and wander the world’s largest Joshua-tree forest.
Ready for a change of pace? Las Vegas, baby. Quit while you're ahead at the Strip’s casinos, and take the money and run to Death Valley National Park. These crackled salt flats and marbled canyons make Mars seem overrated – California is totally out of this world.
North Coast & Mountains
- 2 Weeks
Follow the ruggedly handsome coastline north of San Francisco, where Hwy 1 skirts rocky shores, secluded coves and wind-sculpted beaches, before joining Hwy 101. Loop back via the majestic Northern Mountains for a memorable 800-mile journey.
Across the Golden Gate Bridge, hike over the Marin Headlands or around Mt Tamalpais. Locals keep hiding the road signs to Bolinas, but you'll find this eccentric cove north of Stinson Beach. Head up to blustery and poetic Point Reyes National Seashore, and, passing Bodega Bay, picnic at stunning Sonoma Coast State Beach or Salt Point State Park. Next, climb to the tip of Point Arena Lighthouse, step through pot-scented mists into enchanted Mendocino and ride the Skunk Train at Fort Bragg.
Hwy 1 curves inland to Hwy 101, running north into hippie Humboldt County. Hug ancient redwood trees on the Avenue of the Giants or wander further north through misty Redwood National and State Parks.
Cutting east through Oregon to the I-5 southbound, you'll arrive at majestic Mt Shasta. Treat yourself to a restorative rest here before heading southeast to Lassen Volcanic National Park, a geological wonderland. Take a bracing dip in Lake Almanor, near the laid-back mountain town of Quincy, and emerge from your trip renewed, body and soul.
Sierra Nevada Ramble
- 10 Days
Nothing can prepare our tiny human minds for the monumental mountain scenery of the Sierra Nevada, with acres of wildflower meadows, gleaming alpine lakes and sun-catching peaks John Muir called the 'Range of Light.' Take this 850-mile trip in summer, when all roads are open to exploration.
To gaze up at the world’s biggest trees and down at a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon, start in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Go west, then north to Yosemite National Park, where thunderous waterfalls and eroded granite monoliths overhang a verdant valley.
Soar over the Sierra Nevada’s snowy rooftop on Yosemite's high-elevation Tioga Rd (open seasonally). It’s a quick trip south on Hwy 395 to Mammoth Lakes, an all-seasons adventure base camp, and 100 more miles to Lone Pine, in the shadow of mighty Mt Whitney.
Backtracking north, gaze out over Mono Lake and its odd-looking tufa formations, which you can paddle past in a kayak. Head to Lake Tahoe, a deep-blue jewel framed by jutting peaks with hiking trails and ski-resort slopes. Roll across the Nevada state line for casino nightlife in Reno, and return to Tahoe for restorative hot springs.