THIS ARTICLE WAS UPDATED ON APRIL 30, 2019.
California is always a good idea. Endless Summers. Sandy beaches. Wind-swept hair. No cares – the only way to explore the Golden State.
I have spent many vacations in California over this past decade, which includes driving along the coast and heading inland whenever I drive from San Diego to San Francisco (or anywhere around these). Thus, driving a California roadtrip has been a major itinerary in all of my USA travels since 2008, and will continue to be so. My last drive along here was when I spent a week driving from San Diego to San Francisco in October 2018, so it truly never gets old no matter how many times you do it. I go every year it seems now.
The Ultimate Californian Roadtrip
As a seasoned California traveler, I have been to many of these places more than once. And I completely recommend you consider making these stops part of what you see on your own California roadtrip – whether you start in San Diego or Los Angeles, and drive up to San Francisco; or start in the middle and do a circle returning back to San Francisco or LA.
There are so many iconic places to see in California, so it really is dependent on what you’re interested in and how far inland you want to drive into California. But these stops are pretty amazing – and have been given the local seal of approval from the various California natives I know who live there – because they often took me to them first! The question you really need to ask yourself is how long do you need to drive from San Diego to San Francisco?
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Driving In The USA As A Foreigner
I REALLY don’t recommend foreign travelers, particularly Australians start driving in Los Angeles the very first time you ever drive in the US. Or even hiring a car immediately after landing on an international flight. The main reason being that even I can get freaked out about navigating Los Angeles roads until I am used to the environment again; and being tired and out of it, is not safe. Plus, we aren’t used to driving on the other side of the road – so that takes a decent chunk of time to get used to.
I find it far more beneficial when fighting jet lag to have an overnight in LA, connect to another smaller city and pick up a car from the airport the following day. Las Vegas in Nevada is an easy adjustment, as is San Francisco. But San Diego is a great city in California to gain your bearings if you’re doing a California roadtrip, so I would either pick up a car in LA and drive out that way and come back, or Amtrak out to San Diego if you’re really worried. The smaller the city, the better it is to adjust to driving – especially the first time.
P.S. If you drive in San Francisco – be aware of the are MANY hills – and be ready to gun them with your accelerator to get up them! Scares the life of me every single time! Some of these are so steep – even walking down them can be scary!
I have included a lot of coastal towns in this itinerary, as well as detours and things to consider if you want to leave the coast – even for a little while. In awesome news – the landslide closure of Big Sur in 2017 re-opened in late 2018 within the Mud Creek area. So no closures currently exist.
The California Roadtrip Itinerary Map
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 1: San Diego
San Diego otherwise known as “the birthplace of California” is renowned for its harbour views, beaches, navy presence and world famous attractions. San Diego is a necessity for any California roadtrip itinerary and in my view, is the very best place to begin such a trip.
What Can You See In San Diego?
San Diego is one of the best family friendly destinations in the United States, being very popular with families who want to visit the San Diego Zoo, Legoland, Sea World and Balboa Park – but also has a cool nightlife and stunning views for those traveling in couples or solo like I generally do. The Gaslamp quarter is nice, but my favourite place is the Seaport Village. I love the vibe of it, and the views of the marina are stunning too. Little Italy is a great place to have dinner as is Kansas City Barbeque – aka the Top Gun bar. This should be on every list in San Diego just because.
If you want a meal with a view – or a room with one, or just a relaxed escape with city vibes; San Diego is where you’ll find it. If you love Top Gun this town is right up your alley with a clear Naval presence and film locations from the movie to enjoy.
Beginning your California roadtrip in San Diego is a great place to start as well.
Where Should You Stay In San Diego?
When it comes to accommodation in San Diego, staying in the Gaslamp area is great as you can walk around on foot. But I prefer to hire cars in San Diego so I have more choice at finding rooms with an up-close water view – which is why I was really happy with my stay at the Bay Club Hotel and Marina, in October 2018, which is a few minutes drive from the main city area and located on Shelter Island. The marina made for a very relaxed stay here, which not many other hotels can beat. Plus all of the hotels were quite expensive at the time, so I saved money staying here and only paid $128 USD – which is cheaper than a hotel in Melbourne, as I found a deal of 20% off with Hotels.com. Bargain!
In 2011, I stayed at the Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, which was also quite good and was centrally located, it was just too expensive when I was there again in 2018. Parking wasn’t hard to find in San Diego so I am glad I had a car to get around – especially since I was only in San Diego for 2 days and was very short on time.
San Diego Summary
How Many Days Should You Spend In San Diego? 2-4 days.
Where Have I Stayed? Bay Club Hotel & Marina, San Diego, Best Western Plus Bayside Inn.
Don’t Miss In San Diego: Waterfront Park, Gaslamp Quarter, Seaport Village, Little Italy, San Diego Zoo, USS Midway Museum and Balboa Park
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 2: La Jolla
Drive time from San Diego – 18 minutes (14 miles)
La Jolla is a real hidden gem just outside of San Diego. I never really read anything about it prior to my last visit in 2018, but passed through because of the Bring It On filming locations that I wanted to see there after I left San Diego. Who knew a teen movie would bring me to such a beautiful place? I didn’t!
What Can You See In La Jolla?
La Jolla has a lot of scenic beauty and more than one stop on offer – so you can really spend a day here if you have the time. My 2 hours here was not enough! Whether its the beach at La Jolla Shores Park or the stunning La Jolla Cove, you can’t go wrong. If you want to see wildlife in their natural habitat, there are seals sunning themselves at the Cove on the rocks. Best of all, you can walk on the rocks and snap photos of the waves crashing next to the seals, it’s pretty awesome. I would stay the night here if I had the time, it was a great place to stop for an overnight.
Where Should You Stay In La Jolla?
Having not stayed the night in La Jolla (yet!), I would aim to be at, or a short drive from the La Jolla Cove area. Hotels do appear to be quite expensive though, so you may want to try and do a day trip out here from San Diego and get the best of both cities which would be a good option. Just make sure you leave 3-4 days for San Diego if you do.
La Jolla Summary
How Many Days Should You Spend In La Jolla? An afternoon, full day
Where Have I Stayed? I haven’t (yet!)
Don’t Miss In La Jolla: La Jolla Cove, La Jolla Shores Park
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 3: Oceanside
Drive time from La Jolla – 37 mins (30 miles)
What Can You See In Oceanside?
Oceanside is a nice little detour town to stop and stretch your legs. It is also iconic, given it is the locale of the very house that was made famous in Top Gun. As you can see in the photo, this is the only house left on that strip, which faces the beach; due to the demolition that has taken place to allow for hotels to be built here. This house is protected though, which means that whether it stays in this location or is moved, the house will be preserved and looked after – which fans of Top Gun will appreciate.
Oceanside City Beach is really lovely and well worth a stop too. Parking is easy to find here too, though it is mostly paid. But if you need a 30 minute break on your roadtrip, and want to see a cute as hell town that has a stunning beach – this is it.
Where Should You Stay In Oceanside?
There is not a need to stay in Oceanside, but should you wish to, I would recommend staying near this area of the Oceanside City Beach and pier area.
How Many Days Should You Spend In Oceanside? An afternoon
Where Have I Stayed? I haven’t yet!
Don’t Miss In Oceanside: Oceanside City Beach, Top Gun House, California Surf Museum
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 4: Palm Springs
Drive time from Oceanside – 2 hours (111 miles)
Palm Springs is a real treat of a town for any visitor.
If you want to go off-coast and enjoy true American desert – or plan to see places like Joshua Tree National Park and the Coachella Valley – Palm Springs is the gateway to this whole area.
What Can You See In Palm Springs?
Palm Springs has an old world charm, which decades ago saw the likes of Hollywood royalty purchase homes like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Cary Grant. Frequent visitors to Palm Springs included Marilyn Monroe, Lily Tomlin and Elizabeth Taylor which only adds to it’s allure.
Palm Springs is very hot in Summer, and warm throughout other seasons – so bear that in mind when roadtripping through Palm Springs, or anywhere in this vicinity. But for a city surrounded by mountains and historic architecture right out of the 1950s and beyond, this is one cool place to explore, even just for an afternoon. Palm Springs is true Americana right here – and I would take the detour if I had time to get there any day.
Highlights in Palm Springs include the Cabazon Dinosaurs (which you can see if you drive from LA to Palm Springs), and the pink door house which is located at 1100 Sierra Way.
Where Should You Stay In Palm Springs?
I am yet to stay in a hotel in Palm Springs. When I traveled here in 2017, I stayed in an Airbnb with friends, but I am not sure that the house we stayed in is available on Airbnb anymore due to their co-op board possibly not wanting to allow Airbnb guests in the area. You can read more about the best Airbnb stay I have ever had right here.
I would recommend looking into hotels that are located around Palm Canyon Drive, which is the main street area of Palm Springs. But with a car, you can pretty much be located anywhere. There are tons of Airbnb’s in Palm Springs though so you can definitely find the accommodation you desire based on whatever budget you have. It all looks good. Our Airbnb was a great experience and I would love to have that again, even if it was at another property.
Palm Springs Summary
How Long Should You Visit Palm Springs? Afternoon, full day or an overnight
Where Have I Stayed? Airbnb
Don’t Miss In Palm Springs ‘The Pink Door’, Cabazon Dinosaurs, Joshua Tree National Park, Aerial Tramway
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 5: San Clemente
Drive time from Oceanside – 23 mins (22 miles); Palm Springs – 2 hours (110 miles)
San Clemente is the entry point into the Orange Country region when coming in from the San Diego area. Priding itself on being the “Spanish Village of the Sea”, San Clemente is known for its architecture, ocean and mountainside views. It is a pretty cool city to explore as well.
What Can You See In San Clemente?
San Clemente is not too busy, and has some nice pedestrian walkways from the North Beach parking lot which lead in to the San Clemente Pier area (see photo below). The San Clemente Pier is a highlight – and one of the longest piers i’ve seen in California. You can easily spend a relaxed afternoon here. There are many eateries in the main area of San Clemente, as well as what is located on the pier for the ultimate meal with a view. I really enjoyed it here and was pleasantly surprised by how much it offered, even if only for an hour or two.
Given I have spent a limited amount of time here, I look forward to returning to San Clemente so I can see more and gain even more of an understanding on what is on offer.
Where Should You Stay In San Clemente?
As San Clemente is a thoroughfare for the San Diego to Los Angeles drive, having a car means you can really stay anywhere. If I were to stay in San Clemente, I would aim to be as close to the pier area with a water view – but that will come at a price. Plus a lot of places will be up higher on the cliffs above, so being close to the water won’t really be a viable option.
San Clemente is not a town you have to stay in, but as long as you are located within driving distance to it, you can still enjoy it when you’re in the region. Just make sure you don’t miss it!
San Clemente Summary
How Long Should You Visit San Clemente? – Afternoon, full day, 1 night
Where Have I Stayed? I Haven’t (Yet!)
Don’t Miss: San Clemente Pier, San Clemente Pedestrian Beach Trail, North Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 6: Dana Point
Drive time from San Clemente – 11 minutes (6.7 miles)
Dana Point is a real hidden gem with a notable surf history, and remains one of the few harbors in the Orange County area.
What Can You See In Dana Point?
From the scenic views which can be found atop the ‘Bluff Top Trail’ walk, which looks down on the harbor and coastline below, to walking around the harbour area and taking a dip at Doheny State Beach – which people can swim, paddleboard and relax on; Dana Point is a very family-friendly stop. There have been plans for re-development within the marina area, so it will be interesting to see how they change that once it’s all finished, but for now it’s everything you could want in a pit stop on your California roadtrip.
If you’re driving from San Clemente, a detour here is 100% necessary. If you want to visit Catalina Island, the Catalina Express departs from here too.
Where Should You Stay In Dana Point?
Dana Point is a nice place to be, but like San Clemente, it is not vital that you stay the night as long as it is a place you can spend a few hours and detour to.
If you do want to stay here though, I would suggest locating yourself near the Harbor so you have access to restaurants with water views and the beach during your stay. But as you would have a car, it really wouldn’t matter if you are staying outside of it, or within San Clemente or even Laguna Beach while you are there.
Dana Point Summary
How Long Should You Visit Dana Point? – An afternoon stop, half a day
Where Have I Stayed? I Haven’t (Yet!)
Don’t Miss: Dana Beach Bluff Top Trail, Dana Beach Harbor & Marina, Doheny State Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 7: Laguna Beach
Drive time from Dana Point – 17 minutes (7.6 miles)
Laguna Beach is one of the prettiest towns in Orange County, which is also known for its environmental preservation.
What Can You See In Laguna Beach?
I love Laguna Beach. Not just because it is relaxed and idyllic, but also because it is home to the show which launched the reality MTV hit The Hills; teenage “reality” show Laguna Beach. The views here are incredible. The beaches are amazing. The stretch along North Coast Hwy (Highway 1) offer many great views of the ocean, including Heisler Park.
There are many restaurants scattered along the main part of town, or you can just walk along enjoying the views with some ice cream. But a lunch or dinner stop here would be a good option if you’re exploring Orange County.
Where Should You Stay In Laguna Beach?
I really do recommend all California itineraries spend 1 night in Laguna Beach. It is a great town to locate yourself and it has endless options – which are easy to get to, unlike some of the other Orange County towns that are also worth stopping in on. But it is expensive here.
On my last visit to Laguna Beach, I drove through it. But I did stay in 2014 with my mum, and we loved the hotel we had which was the Laguna Beach House – though it was before I created this site so I don’t actually have a photo of our room. But for the price, it was good value given how expensive Laguna Beach can be. Current pricing on their official site has it around $260 USD including tax, but will depend on the time of year you visit for what promotions are happening. There are a number of hotels around the North Coast Highway area of Laguna that you can stay at though which are also value for money and cheaper than this – plus check out the 3rd party booking apps for their prices.
Laguna Beach Summary
How Long Should You Visit Laguna Beach? – Half a day, 1 night
Where Have I Stayed? Laguna Beach House
Don’t Miss: Heisler Park, Laguna Main Beach, Crescent Point Bay Park, Victoria Beach, Thalia Beach, Thousand Steps Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 8 & 9: Newport Beach & Balboa Island
Drive time from Laguna Beach – 18 minutes (8.8 miles)
Newport Beach aka the setting of shows like The OC and Arrested Development is the ultimate “how the rich live” snapshot – which makes Newport one interesting place to visit on any California roadtrip.
What Can You See In Newport Beach & Balboa?
Newport has its harbor areas to enjoy, as well as the awesome ‘Fashion Island’ outdoor shopping mall – which is well worth browsing in. The mall is one of the prettiest i’ve seen, with water features everywhere, outdoor walkways and endless things to do.
Newport isn’t the only highlight here, with neighbouring Balboa and Balboa Island also on offer. Thanks to the recent Netflix series, Dirty John – it has never been more popular, because Dirty John used Balboa as the setting and filmed on location here too.
Balboa is also home to the famous ‘frozen banana’ which dates back to the 1960s, (and was also made famous in the series Arrested Development). But Balboa also has some of the most beautiful coastal houses you will ever see when walking along the Balboa Bay Front Streets where the Ferry departs. I could get lost here all day.
Balboa Island is very easy to get to from Balboa – it’s $1 per foot passenger each way on the small ferry (cash only), $2 per car (plus passenger fees). The ferry takes you right to the Balboa Island pier and beach, along with the Balboa pavilion and boardwalk area which also has an arcade and ferris wheel, which were also featured in Dirty John and among others, The Bachelor (US)I during Nick Viall’s season. There are heaps of cool eateries and shops to explore around here too – so Newport and Balboa can easily be a full day adventure for the family right here.
Where Should You Stay In Newport/ Balboa?
Newport and Balboa are a lot more closer to the LA area than those which are further out in the Orange County area. So if money needs to be budgeted, I would suggest staying out near Irvine or Santa Ana, or even Anaheim but there are other coastal options along Huntington Beach as well which seem affordable too.
Ultimately, it is up to you, but there are accommodations all over Newport and Balboa – which makes them very central for those wanting to spend a night in “The OC”, which don’t have to break the bank. Just find one which suits your budget and needs – and ensure it’s central to the area.
Newport Beach & Balboa Summary
How Long Should You Visit Newport Beach & Balboa? – Half a day, 1 night
Where Have I Stayed In Newport/Balboa? I Haven’t (Yet!)
Don’t Miss: Fashion Island Shopping Mall, Balboa Pier, Eat A Frozen Banana, Balboa Bay Walk
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 10: Huntington Beach
Drive time from Balboa – 17 mins (8.5 miles)
Huntington Beach is the most populous place in the OC – which you can spend a whole day exploring. It is usually at the top of everyone’s list as it is easy to get to and has a lot going on.
What Can You See In Huntington Beach?
From the pier, to the happening main street of Huntington Beach, this is one beach town worth detouring to. Local food haunts here include “The Sugar Shack” on Main street, which has served breakfast and lunch daily since 1967. The food is so good here – it was locally recommended to me and I am glad I listened!
The shopping precincts in Huntington Beach are also good, with Pacific City, just up from the main area of town, a favourite – and it has great coffee! Huntington Beach is also good for surfing, which explains why it’s often called “Surf City”, due to its consistent waves.
Where Should You Stay In Huntington Beach?
Huntington Beach has a lot of options for visitors accommodation wise. It is one of the most popular coastal areas to base yourself when exploring this area. I am yet to stay here overnight, but I did spend an entire day here, and it was great. I loved the beach, the pier, the restaurants and the vibes. Huntington Beach is well worth a night. So as long as you are within distance to the Huntington Beach pier, you are in the best place for really gaining a feel for what this town is about.
Huntington Beach Summary
How long should you visit Huntington Beach? – Half a day, 1 night.
Where Have I Stayed? I Haven’t (Yet!)
Don’t Miss: Main Street, Pacific City Shopping Mall, The Sugar Shack, Huntington Beach Pier
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 11: Anaheim
Drive from Huntington Beach – 30 mins (18 miles)
Let’s face it – no California roadtrip can bypass a Disney stop. If you plan on visiting Disneyland though, do not waste your time staying in LA or Hollywood.
You need to stay in Anaheim if you plan to visit Disney, simply to avoid sitting in endless traffic. I can’t understand why anyone chooses to stay in Hollywood and commute out to Disneyland…it makes ZERO sense! You LOSE so many hours of your day – because LA traffic is literally NO JOKE. Expect a 2 hour commute if you choose to do this!
What Can You See In Anaheim?
The best part about Anaheim is it’s not the only place worth checking out in this area, there are tons of places out here that you can see. Old Town Orange is a cute little town worth stopping in on, with a really cute town square. And for outlet shoppers – the Outlets at Orange are one of the best value shopping outlets in Los Angeles – plus the whole vibe of it is awesome being an outlet which is outside.
For dining, the Anaheim Packing House is a must visit. Do not miss this place for a lunch or dinner! It is very much a locals haunt with an open air warehouse feel and market style eateries. I really love the ambiance here, especially at night.
If you want to stock up on GOOD food, that is so CHEAP for your road trip – a visit to the iconic and busy Porto’s Bakery is in order. Luckily for locals and visitors, there is more than one location so not only is there one in Buena Park, you can also find them in Burbank, Glendale and Downey. I stocked up at Buena Park last year when heading to San Francisco from Los Angeles and paid less than $10 for an iced coffee and 4 freshly baked items (they were giving people one for free to try too!) – it is a must stop in LA!
If you’re visiting California to see Disney, be sure to dedicate at least 2 full days here – more if you are traveling with family. But it can be VERY overwhelming if you do more than 3 days. So bear that in mind. Even one day can get exhausting!
A very big reminder for those visiting Disneyland – in Adventureland there is a Dole Whip stand that must be purchased from! What is Dole Whip? Dole Whip is pineapple flavoured soft serve ice cream which is so amazing i could eat it all day, every day, until the day I die.
Dole Whip is only available in Hawaii at the Dole Plantation, which I have also been to. Beyond Hawaii, Disneyland is the only place I am aware of who can legally sell this. Do not miss out on eating this – and it is not expensive at all to purchase one either. I had 2 last time! (They also have Dole Whip Floats.)
Where Should You Stay When Visiting Disney In Anaheim?
I have stayed in a few places close to Disneyland previously, as well as with friends who live in Garden Grove – you could see the fireworks from their house.
As I said before, if you are planning to see Disneyland, you must situate yourself here. LA is known for it’s traffic woes. Don’t waste 2 hours minimum sitting in that parking garage trying to get in from Hollywood.
The first time I went to Disneyland, I stayed at the Best Western Plus Pavillions. It was a great hotel that was central to Disneyland and had the Disney shuttle right outside from memory, which made getting to and from there easy. It wasn’t fancy, but a simple motel style room but more upmarket. For a Disney stay it is all you need for a place to sleep and unwind after a long day.
In 2017, I stayed at the Radisson Buena Park with friends who had been in town a few days, before we roadtripped to San Francisco, and that was a great hotel. I would definitely stay there again. The Radisson Buena Park is also central to Disneyland, but more so to Knott’s Berry Farm. I really loved the feel of the rooms here, and just the decor itself. It was a fun but pretty hotel, which you don’t often get. They picked that one, I just crashed for the night and really liked it. They had a 2 double bed suite, which was separated so one bed was in a room and the other bed was in the lounge area. I just really loved the whole feel of this place.
I don’t have photos of either hotel, but the photos you see online are exactly what the rooms and hotel grounds are like. If you do want to be very central to Disneyland though, the Howard Johnson is well regarded too, which you can read about more here.
How long should you visit Anaheim? – 2 nights minimum; 3-4 days if you want to enjoy Disneyland and other areas too.
Where Have I Stayed? Radisson Buena Park, Best Westen Plus Pavillions
Don’t Miss: Old Town Orange, Disneyland, Outlets at Orange, Dole Whip, California Adventure Park, Anaheim Packing House, Porto’s Bakery.
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 12: Redondo Beach
Drive from Anaheim – 48 minutes (31 miles)
What Can You See In Redondo Beach?
Redondo is a beach which is often overlooked…but it shouldn’t be!
If you’re a fan of the hit show, The OC, this is a pier worth seeing. Numerous scenes were filmed on the Redondo Beach pier and the restaurant, Redondo Coffee Shop & Bait at the back of the pier was used in The OC as the location Ryan Atwood worked. So that one is a real life set! If you’re a fan of this show, you will appreciate this pier more than anyone.
The beach alongside the pier is also lovely and worth a walk – and if you’re lucky you might even see some wildlife swimming in the waters too. There are a number of eateries located on the pier (which holds a triangle shape), so if you’re looking for a meal or quick bite, you can easily find it here on a night out, or for a quick lunch.
It is not overly busy here, like Santa Monica or Huntington Beach can be, but it is definitely a favourite for many doing a California roadtrip.
Where Should You Stay In Redondo Beach?
I did stay a night here – and I recommend it as a place to stop for the night because of what Redondo offers. My mum and I stayed here overnight, and we even went to the movies before leaving Redondo, which was a nice luxury!
We stayed at the Best Western Plus Redondo Beach Inn, and it was all we needed. Best Western’s are great because you usually get a free hot breakfast, free parking and free wifi at their US properties, which is what we received here. Since I had a Silver membership status with Best Western at that time, I also scored a free bottle of wine, which was cool. I don’t have a photo but the room was large and had 2 double beds, so we had a lot of room between us.
Redondo Beach Summary
How long should you visit Redondo Beach – Lunch stop, half a day, overnight
Where Have I Stayed? Best Western Plus Redondo Beach Inn
Don’t Miss: Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Landing, Redondo Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 13: Los Angeles
Drive from Redondo Beach – 38 minutes (22 miles)
Los Angeles is a city with so much on offer – and so do it’s outskirts. LA is not just one city, but a place comprised of many areas that are worth exploring.
Whether you want to enjoy upscale areas, like Beverly Hills and Bel Air, metropolitan areas of Downtown LA or the celebrity areas of Hollywood and Studio City – to name just a few; LA has everything one could need and more.
What Can You See In Los Angeles?
LA is a huge city – so if you are planning to stay and see different areas, it would be wise to position yourself in Downtown LA if you are looking to explore things around this area – especially if you are taking a train from Union Station. If you plan on seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, West Hollywood is a good choice to stay in for anything within this area. Beverly Hills is accessible from Hollywood as well, but Hollywood does also link out to Santa Monica beach and those regions too thanks to the Santa Monica Metro Expo Line Tramway – it is just a little bit of a trek to make if going by public transport, as it takes about an hour. Look at a map of Los Angeles before booking accommodation to ensure you are in the best area for what you plan to see, otherwise you will be sitting on a bus/train/tram for way too long just to get from A to B. It’s honestly NOT worth it.
Traffic can also take hours in LA. So why waste the precious ones you have sitting in it? Just like when visiting Disney, staying in Anaheim is a far better choice than anywhere near Hollywood – because sometimes it can completely back up your whole day with delays and traffic jams. I still don’t understand why anyone commutes from a Hollywood hotel to Disneyland – but so many do. It’s mind boggling!
Where Should You Stay In Los Angeles?
I have spent so many vacations in Los Angles, and it seriously never gets old.
The one hotel I have spent the most time staying at is the Best Western Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood. This hotel has increased in price since the last time I stayed here, but I have been here three times and it was always great. This hotel is straight out of Melrose Place. With a pool in the middle of all of the rooms, and rooms which open out onto the pool itself.
The best part about this hotel is that it is within the Hollywood and Highland area, as it is smack bang on Sunset Blvd, with a bus stop right outside, it is right across the road from the Saddle Ranch Chop House – a great place to eat dinner. The meals here are HUGE, and they also have a mechanical bull – which was the same one Miranda rode in the LA episodes of Sex and the City. There is also a cool tramcar restaurant which sells hot dogs and burgers etc, which is also worth eating at. Beverly Hills is accessible from here, and even Santa Monica, as well as the Beverly Center shopping mall which is a great place to shop!
Additionally I have stayed in Santa Monica – see that for where I stayed. But I most recently enjoyed a 2 night stay in October 2018, in Burbank, because I had a car and this was accessible to a lot of the areas I was planning to travel in – Pasadena, Altadena, Northridge, Universal City and surrounds. The hotel I stayed at was the Safari Inn.
This is one cool hotel. Set up like a motel, but refurbished to be more modern, this hotel is full of Hollywood history given it is smack bang within Universal and Warner Brothers, plus it’s within Burbank where so much film and tv takes place. The Safari Inn has been featured in a number of films and tv shows, including Prison Break, Apollo 13, Highway To Heaven, True Romance, Lethal Weapon (Series), Monk, Desperate Housewives and so much more. I love the neon sign outside and it also has a pool, which makes it really family friendly.
For Aussies, many families do stay at the Magic Castle, which I have never stayed at, but there are a lot of people happy with it. It’s location is smack bang within Hollywood – but do be aware that Hollywood is not pretty like the movies make it out to be. It’s actually quite seedy, particularly at night, but Magic Castle is central to this area which is a plus. The incentives of staying are good, but really depends on if you want to shell out the cash to stay there over others. They offer free full sized candy bars, free soft serve everyday from 2.30pm, plus they have a free popsicle phone line at the pool. They also offer free laundry – the entire works: wash, dry and fold. If you book direct you get access to their Magic Castle private club, which is supposedly popular, but it looks to have a restaurant and activities for the kids during the day, plus 21 and over options as well – a dress code applies. Guestrooms on offer include standard rooms or suites, the rooms look ok, they are slightly dated, but if you’re on a budget it’s probably on the lower end of the scale. Free wifi and complimentary breakfast is also offered.
Los Angeles Summary
How long should you visit Los Angeles? – 4 nights minimum, but more depending on what you want to see
Where Have I Stayed: Best Western Sunset Plaza, Safari Inn Burbank, Airbnb Santa Monica
Downtown LA: Union Station, Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Staples Center, Koreatown
Hollywood: Walk of Fame, Hollywood Sign, Paramount Pictures Studio Tour, Griffith Observatory, Runyon Canyon, Universal Studios
Burbank – Warner Bros Studio Tour (the best set tour in LA!)
Beverly Hills: The Grove, Original Farmers Market, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills City Hall, Beverly Hills Sign, LACMA, Getty Center.
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 14: Venice Beach
Drive from Los Angeles – 30 minutes (18 miles)
What Can You See In Venice Beach?
Venice is a real treat. Although less desirable and more sketchy in some areas unlike Santa Monica, Venice is home to some really well known icons, and filming locations. It has a great vibe, and is quite family friendly during the day – not as much at night in some areas, but it’s like anywhere else.
If you are a film buff, you’ll recognise places including the restaurant James’ Beach from I Love You Man (don’t forget to eat their renowned fish tacos like Jason Segel and Paul Rudd did in the film!); and Venice High School which stood in for the exterior of Rydell High in Grease. Those who are fans of the rom-com Valentine’s Day will also spot the Venice Canal which appeared in that film – and is one of my favourite places in the Los Angeles area. It’s hard to believe you are in California here.
The Venice Boardwalk is the most popular place to explore here, with 2.5 miles of restaurants, endless souvenir shops and muscle t’s – which makes sense given this is the home of Muscle Beach – the world’s most well-known beachside gym. Be careful when buying t-shirts and tanks in Venice. A $10-20 shirt can cost over $50 if you get a stencil put on it with a protector. Buy one that already has a stencil and save the money. I see a lot of that kind of thing here.
Where Should You Stay In Venice?
I haven’t stayed in Venice, but as you can see in the Santa Monica section, I did stay in an Airbnb there and it was great. Being able to walk from Santa Monica into Venice, made seeing these areas that much easier. Plus, being anywhere within walking distance of the beach is always a winner. I personally would stay in Santa Monica on any day over Venice. It’s just a little nicer.
Venice Beach Summary
How long should you visit Venice? – Half a day, a full day
Where Have I Stayed? (I Haven’t Yet!)
Don’t Miss: Venice Boardwalk, Venice High School, Venice Canals, Muscle Beach, Marina Del Rey, James’ Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 15: Santa Monica
Drive time from Venice – 17 minutes (3.5 miles)
What Can You See In Santa Monica?
Santa Monica is located right next to Venice Beach – though many people prefer Santa Monica because it feels more friendly. Venice can have a sketchy aspect, but Santa Monica is more busy and suits families a lot more, mainly because of the Santa Monica Pier and it’s attractions, plus its upscale shopping district.
Santa Monica has a really nice beach with what feels like a huge chunk of sand. It really is a place that you can spend a whole day – particularly if you like dining and shopping as well. The 3rd Street Promenade is a highlight here, so there truly is more to Santa Monica than just beach which is why it is so popular.
When I stayed there was a great farmers market on in town, and also a 4th of July parade, so that was a really elaborate event. If you’re here on July 4th, definitely aim to enjoy all of that.
Where Should You Stay In Santa Monica?
I was here in 2016 for a 4 night stay. All of the hotels were out of my price range given it fell on July 4th and I travel solo so much – so have to foot the bill. So I opted to stay in an Airbnb on 4th street, which the owner also lived in. It was a bungalow style place and great value with a perfect location. I really enjoyed it here. I am always wary of Airbnb overall, only because of security concerns, the short notice cancellations and the check-in issues that can happen, depending on who you stay with. I have not had a bad airbnb experience so it has been good, but always read the reviews and trust your gut before booking.
Please also be mindful that regulations continue to change regarding Airbnb properties and what you legally can rent. In Santa Monica as of April 2019, Airbnb remains legal in Santa Monica. The city does prohibit whole home short term rentals in properties where the host is not present. The host must live on the property for this to be an authorised rental.
A friend of mine just visited Santa Monica in April 2019, and she stayed at the Shore Hotel, which was as central to Santa Monica as possible. It does have a resort fee of $25 per night, however their stay included a $10 voucher to spend on a ride on the Santa Monica Pier. Plus they have some nice amenities like warm cookies, free bicycle hire, free wifi, a welcome drink and early check-in if available. I will definitely look at staying here on my next visit, given the value of the stay and it’s location to Santa Monica attractions.
Santa Monica Summary
How Long Should You Visit Santa Monica Beach? – Full day, 1-2 nights
Where Have I Stayed? Airbnb
Don’t Miss: Santa Monica Pier, 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica Beach.
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 16: Malibu
Drive from Santa Monica – 30 minutes (18 miles)
What Can You See In Malibu?
Malibu is one of my favourite drives when leaving LA because it is so beautiful.
As one of the most affluent areas of California – it stands as the locale where many in the entertainment industry reside with houses perched a top the cliffs above, or alongside the beach itself.
Not only are there amazing views as you drive along the highway, but seeing all of the houses scattered along the coast makes this a memorable drive too. There are beaches to enjoy along this stretch, but if you only have time to see it through the car window – it’s well worth the detour just to experience it. Traffic does back up in the afternoons – so keep that in mind.
Last time I was therein 2018, I stopped along a few stretches of beaches which were nestled within all of the houses that sit on the beach. I also managed to find three filming locations – one house which was used as Samantha and Smith’s house in the first Sex & The City movie, the Friends With Benefits beach house and the house that was used as both the house exterior for Hannah Montana and Reese Witherspoon’s house in Big Little Lies. I also made a stop at El Matador State Beach and Leo Carrillo State Park before continuing on to Santa Barbara.
Where Should You Stay In Malibu?
If you have money to splurge, Malibu is a great place to stay. However, it is so close to so many areas, including Santa Monica, so even staying out there wouldn’t be too bad.
I am yet to stay in Malibu, because I always drive through it, but it really is a great place to be – so if I found something affordable, I would definitely stay there – maybe on the next trip?
How long should you visit Malibu? – Drive through it; lunch stop, half a day
Where I Have Stayed: I Haven’t (Yet!)
Don’t Miss: Driving Along Highway 1, Beach Houses, El Matador State Beach, Leo Carrillo State Park
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 16: Santa Barbara
Drive from Malibu – 1 hour, 10 minutes (67 miles)
What Can You See In Santa Barbara?
I love Santa Barbara. It feels so Mediterranean here, but there is also a clear Spanish influence down to its old town area and the architecture in general. All the red roofs and white buildings.
There is so much to enjoy here. Whether it’s a walk along scenic roads, through the old town Santa Barbara area, exploring the Santa Barbara Mission or just a stroll along the wharf – you really can’t go wrong here and cannot miss this place when undertaking any Californian road trip.
Santa Barbara is a great lunch stop, or just a place to stretch your legs. But for me, I prefer to stay the night to allow myself to soak it all in. If you’re passing through anywhere near here – do not miss out on Santa Barbara, no matter how long you can give it. It is one of the most relaxing cities in the US.
Where Can You Stay In Santa Barbara?
Santa Barbara is a city that is walkable – which means it you can stay in various parts of the city and still access it.
My mum and I stayed at a family run inn called Blue Sands Inn, which was one of the best accommodations I have stayed at in California. Located literally 1 block from the beach, and a short walk to State Street – the main street you want to be located around, this motel was all we could have hoped for. The room was lovely and the shower was amazing. It also had a pool. I loved our stay here so much, and will always stay here when visiting Santa Barbara. If you have a family, this is exactly the type of accommodation you want.
Santa Barbara Summary
How long should you visit Santa Barbara? – Lunch stop, Half a day, 1 night
Where Have I Stayed?: Blue Sands Inn
Don’t Miss: Old Town Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Pier, Main Street
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 17: Solvang
Drive time from Santa Barbara – 42 minutes (33 miles)
What Can You See In Solvang?
Solvang is a quirky town located along the California coast – but slightly more inward, as you begin to hit wine country areas of Los Olivos and Santa Maria in particular.
Established in 1911, Danish immigrants looking to set up a home colony for fellow countrymen – in a warmer climate saw Solvang become what it is today. Solvang, is truly a little piece of Denmark in California, which is very apparent as soon as you arrive and see all the little details.
The wine focused classic Sideways – which will make any non-wine drinker appreciate why people love it, filmed scenes right here at the Solvang Restaurant and in the surrounding areas, which makes it even more exciting to explore for people like me.
Solvang is a real treat to stop in no matter what the reason is – and is definitely the most charming city in the area. This will keep your Californian roadtrip interesting in any case.
Where Can You Stay In Solvang?
I have been to Solvang twice now, and the first time I only passed through for a quick visit. The second time I stayed nearby in Buellton at the hotel which was used in the film Sideways which was such a treat! See the Buellton section below to see what that accommodation was like.
How Long Should You Visit Solvang? – Lunch stop, an afternoon
Where Have I Stayed? Sideways Inn (Buelleton) Radisson Santa Maria (Santa Maria)
Don’t Miss: Solvang Town Center, Solvang Restaurant, Mission Santa Ines
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 18 & 19: Buellton & Los Olivos
Drive time from Solvang – Buellton 6 minutes (3.6 miles), Los Olivos 10 mins (5.4 miles)
Right next to Solvang, are the towns of Buellton and Los Olivos (and Santa Ynez as well) – towns which were made famous by the wine focused film (and book) Sideways. If you haven’t watched this film – do so immediately. I saw some incredible wineries while I was here in 2018, and it really made my trip!
What Can You See In Buellton & Los Olivos?
When it comes to Buellton, there are a few things that should be seen – some which are a decent drive like Gaviota State Park ($10 fee, paid in cash), which is about 45 minutes from Buellton, but is well worth a pit stop. This state park has a beach area which has nice, solid waves, and a pier, but it also has an interesting steel framework at it’s entrance too. When I was here, only one other person was there, and it was such a relaxed place. What a way to start the morning.
When it comes to dinner, a meal at the Hitching Post II is in order. I loved my meal here, because this restaurant was in the film Sideways – although it is one of the icons of the area, but also because you get to have a traditional 3 course meal here. I had the tomato soup, garden salad and then a main of roast chicken, roast potato and garlic bread. Patrons also receive a cold vegetable plate as well. The Hitching Post II does make it’s own wine, plus offers a number of others within the area too. I had one of the best meals of my life here – service and food were great! Do not miss a meal here.
Los Olivos is a blink and you’ll miss it place, but has a darling main street. The Wine Merchant Cafe is so cute, and so is their General Store. There are ample places to try wine here too.
Where Can You Stay In Buellton & Los Olivos?
When staying within this region, any of these towns will work. In 2017, friends and I actually stayed higher up in Santa Maria. There, we stayed at the Radisson Santa Maria which was great. There was a restaurant and bar on site, the food was good and the hotel was quite large.
In October 2018 though, I stayed at the Sideways Inn which has been completely redone, renamed (after the film of course) and is one of the best hotels I have stayed in. I LOVE it here and cannot wait to explore more of this wine country staying here again. There was a free breakfast delivered in the morning too which involved yoghurt, fruit, juice etc and was a nice touch.
The wineries in Santa Barbara county are amazing. There is also an Australian winery too called Kalyra – which specialize in desert wines, similar to the Moscato varierties we have back home. Other wineries worth visiting include Fess Parker, Andrew Murray, and Firestone. Almost all of these were featured in Sideways which you can learn more about here.
Buellton & Los Olivos Summary
How Long Should You Visit Buellton & Los Olivos? Full day, overnight, 2 nights if exploring wineries
Where Have I Stayed? Sideways Inn (Buelleton), Radisson Santa Maria (Santa Maria)
Don’t Miss: The Hitching Post II, Los Olivos General Store, Kalyra Winery, Firestone Winery, Fess Parker Winery
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 20 & 21: Pfeiffer Beach & Big Sur
Drive time from Buellton – 3.5 hours (184 miles)
If a 3-4 hour drive is not up your alley between Buellton and Big Sur, I recommend spending a night in or around Pismo Beach and San Luis Opisbo. I haven’t stayed out there, but I did drive through it in 2018, and they are quite nice areas, Pismo beach in particular. In 2020, when I head back to California, I will make sure I spend a night out here at least.
What Can You See In Big Sur?
In 2017, there was a landslide near Gorda, California, which ultimately cut off access to Big Sur from the South until it re-opened. It took more than a year and it finally re-opened in July 2018, so I made it back here last September to enjoy it once again. Any roadtrip in California should come through California’s most renowned coastal drive. It is truly stunning, but quite busy in certain parts of the day.
Major stops along Big Sur include the scenic stops of Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge and Point Lobos to name but a few. Pfeiffer Beach does have a $10 fee per vehicle – but it is so worth it!
What many aim for here at Pfeiffer beach though is the Keyhole Arch light show – when the sun streams through at sunset so visitors can capture the perfect moment. If you aren’t fussed by that – watching the waves push through the arch is relaxing. Most people spend longer here than they expect – and it’s not too busy in the off season which allows for a more relaxed visit. But, either way this is a must see along the Big Sur area.
Overall, the re-opening of the Big Sur scenic drive on the Pacific Coast Highway will help the businesses here get back on their feet. In 2017, we had to detour through Salinas – which is still a great place to visit (and famous for being the setting of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men), so to be able to see the road re-open is a real blessing.
Where Can You Stay In Big Sur?
Big Sur does have a number of options for accommodation, including camping areas. But as I am not a camper – unless you class glamping camping, I tend to stick to hotels around here. But, there are some really cool options. If you plan to stay in Monterey, read below about where I stay there. But if Monterey isn’t your style, look into Carmel and even stay at a property owned by Clint Eastwood himself, or any one of the cute as hell places you can find here. I want to stay at them all!
Big Sur Summary
How long should you visit Big Sur? 1 full day, 1 night, more if needed
Where Have I Stayed? Best Western Victorian Inn, El Castell Motel (Monterey)
Don’t Miss: Pfeiffer Beach, McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge, Carmel By The Sea and Point Lobos
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 22: Monterey
Drive time from Big Sur – 1 hour (28 miles)
What Can You See In Monterey?
Monterey is a prime destination to explore in California.
Since it was the site of California’s first theater, public building, public library, publicly funded school, printing press, and newspaper – it holds a truly iconic place in Californian history. In addition to all this, it houses countless attractions from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Beyond these, fans of one of 2017’s biggest hits, Big Little Lies filmed right here which has brought a lot more tourism to the town. But the signature attraction, lies just outside the city center of Monterey, 17 Mile Drive. This drive costs approx. $10 to enter per vehicle and allows visitors to spend as long as they want exploring the different stops throughout the world famous drive.
Stops on the 17 Mile Drive include Pebble Beach Golf Course, The Lone Cypress – the most photographed tree in the world and Spanish Bay. For $10? It is one of the best value attractions in America. If you love a good scenic view, there are 2 worth venturing to in Monterey – Lover’s Point and Del Monte Beach. Do not miss this if you are in the area. Both are stunning.
Where Can You Stay In Monterey?
In 2014, my mum and I stayed at the Best Western Plus Victorian Inn which was a wonderful hotel. We had our own beds and complimentary breakfast. Parking was paid for $16 per night. This was the perfect place to be considering we had never been to Monterey before and ideally wanted something that was within walking distance.
We were close to everything here, and the hotel was just so charming and historic. I wanted to stay here again in 2018, but the prices on a Friday night were just too expensive for little ole me to be able to afford on my own.
Luckily for me though, I found the amazing El Castell Motel. This was a real winner – although you really do need a car to stay here. But parking is free and it is right near restaurant and food options, gas stations etc. I was pleasantly surprised about this one because it is a motel, but the owners have really done this up nicely.
The room I had was modern and comfortable. I had bought some wine from Fess Parker so I drank that after I had dinner at the nearby Black Bear Diner, which was actually a really great find! I had the meatloaf with potato and vegetables plus a side salad and a biscuit, which was all very generous. All up it cost me $17 plus tax, which was really good value. The motel has an interior pool and an included breakfast, though it was very basic. But as long as I get toast, that’s good enough for me.
I actually really rate the El Castell Motel in all honesty. The money I saved by staying here allowed me to enjoy myself far more than paying triple the price elsewhere. I would not hesitate to stay here again.
How long should you visit Monterey? – 1 full day, 1-2 nights
Where Have I Stayed? Best Western Plus Victorian Inn, El Castell Motel
Don’t Miss: Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf, 17 Mile Drive, Monterey Aquarium, Lover’s Point, Del Monte Beach
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 23: Yosemite
Drive from Monterey – 3.5 hours (183 miles)
There are many National Parks in the US worth seeing. But whenever a visit gets you near San Francisco and surrounds, a detour to Yosemite is a must.
What Can You See In Yosemite National Park?
I have visited so many amazing parks over the years, and Yosemite is one of the grandest I have ever seen. Whether you want beautiful waterfalls, scenic views, hiking options or just to be thrust out into nature.
You can stay here for 2 or more nights if you have the time, but if all you have is 1 full day, then that is still a great option for visiting – but the more time you have here, the better. When we visited, we took in the views of the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, took in a sunset at Taft Point which was incredible and just enjoyed the scenery.
I do need to return here, because there is still so much to see – unfortunately for us, some of the park was still closed in June – so be aware of that when planning accommodation, as you may not be to access everything. It caused us a 4 HOUR DETOUR in order to get to Bridgeport on the second day – and it was June!
On a side note, when we drove back to LA we did stop at the Mono Basin National Scenic area. This is a really cool stop if you can fit it in coming from LA or detouring to it. The Mono Basin is a salt lake, and offers some incredible views. The whole drive back to LA that we took was scenic. We made a stop in Mammoth for lunch too, which was a nice way to break up that drive. The mountains still had snow on them and were just stunning!
Where Can You Stay In Yosemite National Park?
We stayed in Yosemite for 2 nights. The first night we stayed in Fresno, at the Best Western Plus Fresno Inn, which was a great hotel. We had free parking and breakfast which was quite generous. It is a bit of a drive to get from Fresno to Yosemite at around 75 minutes, so I would recommend that you stay closer if you plan to see a lot, because we drove far too much for our liking. But you really are on the cusp of the park staying out here, so it is a great place to start your Yosemite adventure – and keep going.
The second night we stayed at the Paradise Shores RV Park & Campground in Bridgeport. Here were rented an RV on the lake for the night. We were provided with bedding and given there were 5 of us in one RV, it was nice to have some space. Wifi worked well which was great considering how isolated we were. The following morning we left really early to catch the sunrise at the Travertine Springs – natural hot springs in Bridgeport, which were really cool. Completely recommend it, but you will need a car to get to them. But they aren’t far from the RV park so it was a few minutes drive to them.
I didn’t book these accommodations so I am not sure how much they cost, but split between a group of people – it wasn’t too much each. The RV was around $120 USD per night, so split by 5 it’s about $25 each for an accommodation like that.
How long should you visit Yosemite National Park? – 1 full day, 1-2 nights minimum
Where Have I Stayed? Best Western Plus Fresno Inn, Paradise Shores RV Park Bridgeport
Don’t Miss: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Taft Point, El Capitan, Half Dome, Travertine Natural Hot Springs, Mono Basin
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 24: San Francisco
Drive from Yosemite 3 hours (170 miles); Monterey 1 hour 45 mins (110 miles)
What Can You See In San Francisco?
San Francisco is a city that meets all criteria – charming, historic, family friendly, outdoors, has a foodie scene and it’s very scenic.
When visiting there are so many options for visitors to enjoy. I love it for all of the film locations I can see – The Full House house on Broderick Street, The Sister Act church, The Mrs Doubtfire House on Steiner Street – which is around the corner from the Party of Five house on Broadway. Don’t even get me started on rom-com’s like Just Like Heaven and The Wedding Planner!
The city icons beyond this that make up this city are of course Alcatraz, Alamo Square row houses, Lombard Street the crookedest street in America (and so fun to drive down!), the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park, Ferry Building Market is a foodie lovers paradise – and of course Fisherman’s Wharf – though don’t stay there as its way too expensive compared to other areas which are more ‘local’ and in great locations. Stay above Market Street – and you’ll be fine. I usually stay in the Presido region and love it!
Where Can You Stay In San Francisco?
I have stayed in a number of hotels in San Francisco. But most recently in 2018, I found it to be WAY more expensive than it used to be, which is making San Francisco very unaffordable for tourists – and will likely cut down how long someone decides to stay there.
In 2008, my mum, grandmother and I stayed at the Americania Hotel. It was a couple of blocks below Market St (where the Cable Car turns) which can get very seedy at night. I don’t recommend staying there on a first visit but I would consider going back if I had a car, because I do know the city well now. Plus with uber and wifi being available, which wasn’t around back then, it would be a lot more easier to get to and from the hotel without relying on buses and walking. We didn’t feel great walking back from Market Street in the dark though, but it was our first visit when we stayed there, so it may not be as seedy an area today.
In 2011, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a nice hotel – but way too loud in the mornings. I remember getting woken up by quite early by garbage trucks on a few mornings, which did impact on my stay. There was nothing to avoid it, and it wasn’t the hotel’s fault, but it was hard to ignore. It is a nice hotel, but I don’t rate Fisherman’s Wharf as a place to stay for many reasons. Far too touristy and overpriced, even some restaurants. But if you do wish to stay here, this is a good choice of a hotel. Nice rooms, central and I did have a slight view of the Bay Bridge outside the window, and a full view of Alcatraz.
In 2014, my mum and I stayed at the Hotel Del Sol. I love this hotel and would happily stay here again. The rooms are modern and hip, the feel of the place is great. They had a free light breakfast and cookies and juice from memory. The place looks like a motel, but it is far more upscale. Has jumped in price, but if you find a good deal get on it. I love that it is so close to the Marina district, Cow Hollow and surrounds. You get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge from this vantage point too, which are only 1-2 blocks walk from the hotel. I wish I had a photo of the room – but it is exactly the same as the photos shown on their website. The photo below was taken in the hotel grounds, which offered a really nice atmosphere.
In 2017, my friends and I needed a cheap place to crash for 1 night. We found it at the Knights Inn. For 1-2 nights it isn’t a bad place to be. We found the price the biggest drawcard, plus it was central to the Presidio area. I would stay here if everything I found was too expensive for me to afford, but if I could find something better, I can’t say I wouldn’t choose that over this place. But, not the worst place I have stayed at all. Just very basic, clean and quite dated. If you’re traveling with friends, it would work. If you are traveling with a family, probably not.
In 2018, I was in San Francisco for one night after flying in from Australia. I had an early flight to Canada the following morning, so staying at the airport made sense. I stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites Airport North. It was a great hotel, nice and comfortable. Had access to the train line into the city – but never go to that train station at night. It would be a scary place. I ubered back which cost $20-25 USD. So getting to and from the city will cost you, so keep that in mind. But a great option if everything is very expensive or you need to be by the airport. I scored this for less than $200 AUD so I was pretty happy considering the Saturday night prices closer in.
Overall, Hotel Del Sol will always be my go-to place if I can afford it. Be careful of Airbnb’s in San Francisco. There are rules surrounding it now so don’t get caught out in staying at an illegal listings. But as of 2019, homeowners must register their property with the city, but they can rent their houses out anytime if they live in the property, if they don’t they have restrictions to how many days per year they can rent out their property – which looks to be 90 days. So please check the legalities on this because San Francisco has strict guidelines.
If San Francisco looks to be too expensive, look at neighbouring towns that are outside of the main areas, like Berkeley, Palo Alto, Daly City, Sausalito, or even South San Francisco near the airport. But a few nights in the CBD of San Francisco will help you see a lot and get a good feel of the city.
San Francisco Summary
How long should you visit San Francisco? – 2-3 nights minimum (or whatever you can afford!)
Where Have I Stayed? Americania Hotel, Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf, Hotel Del Sol, Knights Inn, Comfort Inn & Suites Airport North
Don’t Miss: Alamo Square, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ferry Building Market, Mrs Doubtfire House, Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz
California Roadtrip Itinerary – Stop 25 & 26: Napa Valley & Sonoma
Drive time from San Francisco – 1 hour 15 mins (75 miles)
There are many wine regions in California – which are all great to explore.
However, I constantly return to Napa Valley, and the surrounding areas every few years, because of the towns which are here. Plus – there are endless rolling hills, scenery galore and grapes to take photos with!
What Can You See In Napa and Sonoma?
With it’s waterfront historic areas and of course taking a photo in the ‘Giant Chair’, Napa is the epicenter of wine country in California. Napa is quite large and spread out, and has a wide variety of wineries on offer. To visit here and not try any wine would be a shame.
Sonoma has a lovely town square, complete with wineries, restaurants and stores all around it. It has a large park within the square which houses the Visit Sonoma building. Sonoma has a little bit of pop culture history too, given one of the US Bachelor’s, Ben Flajnik calls this area home, which was featured in his series as he is a winemaker.
Healdsburg, is another small town which featured in the horror classic Scream with it’s small town square included in the film. This is a town that feels a lot like Sonoma – on a far smaller scale. A great little place to stop within the region.
Home of Castello Di Amorosa – an Italian built castle winery which took 20 years to build – the tour here is awesome, be sure to do it! We had a blast. We learnt so much about wine, how it is made, how to taste it and so forth. What an enlightening experience it was.
I can never get enough of this area. If you need any further reason to do a California roadtrip – this alone should get you there. I love San Francisco, but these towns are highlights in their own rights! Read on here for even more Napa inspired itinerary ideas – that don’t involve drinking wine.
Where Can You Stay In Napa & Sonoma?
There are countless places to stay here – Napa and Sonoma are only some of the towns you can stay in wine country. It is expensive to stay in either town, which is why I tend to stay in Santa Rosa, at what used to be the Sandman Santa Rosa. It is now called the Santa Rosa Hotel. I have stayed here twice.
The Santa Rosa hotel has had a massive renovation – which was completed prior to it’s survival of the Santa Rosa wildfires in 2017, which did destroy some hotels and properties, including one right across the road from this hotel. Guests who were staying here were evacuated in the early AM hours. But luckily the property did survive. I haven’t stayed here since the renovation took place, but the rooms like fantastic and I look forward to returning.
Napa Valley & Sonoma Summary
How long should you visit San Francisco’s Wine County? – 1 full day, 1-2 nights
Where Have I Stayed? Santa Rosa Hotel, Best Western John Muir Inn
Don’t Miss: Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa, Healdsburg, Calistoga, Castello Di Amorosa, The Giant Chair
Has this made you want to head up to California?
An editor’s note here, if you want to go higher than wine country – Redwood National Park, Fort Bragg and the Oregon coast are amazing destinations too. So keep on climbing if you can.
I truly hope this helps you plan your own California roadtrip – and where you decide to visit, even if just to drive through it. And don’t forget, if you are heading over soon, be sure to join my US & Canada Travel group to get even more hands on advice about visiting the United States.
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