The Ultimate 2 Week California Road Trip Itinerary (Coast, Desert, and Mountains!)

Considering a California road trip? Planning a California road trip itinerary can be challenging and exhilarating at the same time, because the state is so vast, diverse, and jaw-dropping beautiful.

Our 2 week California road trip itinerary takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Golden State, from the rugged cliffs of Big Sur to the granite domes of Yosemite and the majestic desert landscapes of Joshua Tree and Death Valley.

Tunnel View Yosemite National Park California
Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park

We love exploring California on road trips big and small, because the state is just so scenic! Plus, a California road trip itinerary can be crafted for any time of year.

On this epic California road trip, you’ll also explore the iconic California cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, along with charming coastal towns like Monterey and Morro Bay, and beautiful mountain towns like South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes.

While two weeks isn’t anywhere near enough to do justice to California, this road trip is a fantastic sampling of all it offers, and it will make you want to plan return visits, to discover more Golden State destinations.

This California road trip itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors to California, or for international visitors planning a once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list visit to the Golden State.

But, as locals that have done this exact California road trip more than once, we would not hesitate to jump into our car to do this road trip yet another time. There’s always something new and exciting to discover!

Excited? Let’s get started on planning the ultimate 2-week California road trip itinerary!

Two Week California Road Trip Itinerary
Your California Road Trip at a Glance
California Road Trip Map
Modifying the Itinerary for Less or More Time
The Best Time to Do this California Road Trip
Planning Your California Road Trip
Scenic roadway in Buellton, Central California Coast
Scenic highway drive along the Central California Coast

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Best 14-Day California Road Trip Itinerary

Days 1-2: San Francisco (2 Days)

With an international airport, San Francisco is a good place to start and end your 2-week California road trip.

If it’s your first visit to San Francisco, here are some iconic experiences from which to choose:

Visit the Golden Gate Bridge: rent a bike and ride across it and back!

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California
It’s so exciting walking or biking this incredible bridge!

Tour Golden Gate Park. Here you will find the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, and the de Young Museum, among other attractions.

Cruise San Francisco Bay! Book this tour to see Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and Angel Island, and cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Play tourist at Fisherman’s Wharf: see the sea lions at Pier 39, pop inside the Ferry Building for great eats, and finish with Ghirardelli ice cream.

Take a ride on a San Francisco cable car: you can take either the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason lines for fantastic views of the city.

Stroll a San Francisco neighborhood. Colorful Haight-Ashbury is close to the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside Asia, and both Chinatown and North Beach offer great food.

Tour Alcatraz Island: this popular combination tour is a great way to see other sights plus tour the infamous prison.

Snap photos of the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, the handsome Coit Tower, and the graceful Transamerica Pyramid, and walk up or down Lombard Street, the “most crooked street in the world.”

Palace of Fine Arts in san Francisco, CA
The Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning photo spot in SF!

This highly-rated 2.5-hour guided walking tour makes for an excellent introduction to the city. You’ll learn interesting tidbits about San Francisco’s history and culture as you stroll past major sights. Book this tour now!

Where to Stay

San Francisco has an abundance of places to stay, so you won’t want for choice.

While Union Square is central, it has a charm factor of zero, so if ambience is important, you may want to consider a base in another neighborhood.

Here are some of our picks, convenient to shopping and sightseeing in SF:

In Haight-Ashbury, consider the charming Stanyan Park Hotel. Rooms are furnished Victorian style, and some rooms have views of the Golden Gate Park. Breakfast is rated highly and in the evening you can enjoy wine and cheese.
Book a stay here!

In Union Square, citizenM offers an unbeatable location and very cool interiors, including a comfortable lounge. Rooms come with XL king beds, mood lighting, music, and blackout blinds, and are tech-smart.
Book a stay here!

In North Beach, charming Hotel Boheme is walking distance from excellent Italian eateries. The hotel is small and has an intimate feel. Rooms have a European vibe. While some rooms overlook Columbus Avenue, you can ask for a quieter room in the back.
Book a stay here!

Day 3: Monterey (1 Day)

The towns of the Monterey peninsula offer lots of top-notch recreation while oozing oodles of coastal charm.

Boats in Monterey Bay California
Boats in Monterey Bay

Here are some top things to do in Monterey (and nearby):

Go whale watching. Monterey Bay is a world-class whale-watching location, and you can see whales year round. This highly-rated tour is led by a naturalist. Also look for dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and more!

Stroll Cannery Row. Once a sardine-packing location, the area now bustles with restaurants, cafes, shops, hotels, and even beaches right off the street!

Do the renowned 17-Mile Drive through picturesque Pebble Beach. In nice weather months, Spanish Bay Beach is great for sunbathing and strolling. Even on a brief visit, stroll the boardwalk trail at the beach for stunning views.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a European-feel village with charming architecture and excellent shopping and wine tasting. Carmel’s restaurants are renowned.

Visit the historic mission, founded by Spanish missionaries, and enjoy the beautiful crescent beach.

Enjoy this well-reviewed small group walking, food, and culture tour of Carmel-by-the-Sea! The 3-hour tour includes wine tastings and sampling of gourmet foods, from chocolates to pasta and olive oils. Learn about Carmel’s history and architecture as you walk. Book this tour now!

Careml-by-the-Sea Village, CA
Shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Walk the scenic coastal trail at Asilomar Beach in Pacific Grove. The drive along the ocean here is spectacular as well, with rock formations, tide pools, and birds, and it’s free!

The acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases marine life. Huge tanks make you feel like you are on the ocean floor, and the variety of exhibits is impressive.

Where to Stay

You can stay in any of the little towns clustered near one another in the Monterey area. Here are some of our top picks:

In Monterey, Intercontinental The Clement Monterey is located on Cannery Row, right in the midst of all the action. Rooms are elegant, and bathrooms offer soaking tubs. There is an onsite spa, and an outdoor pool.
Book a stay here!

In Pacific Grove, known for its Victorian homes, Green Gables Inn, a Four Sisters property, offers well-appointed rooms with fireplaces. Some rooms offer partial ocean views, and some baths feature jetted tubs. The inn offers a full breakfast and afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Book a stay here!

In Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carriage House Inn is located in the village, a short walk from the beach. Rooms are beautifully furnished, and some rooms feature lofted ceilings. Some suites have a two-person spa tub. Breakfast and afternoon hors d’oeuvres are highly rated.
Book a stay here!

Day 4: Big Sur (1 Day)

Arguably the most spectacularly scenic section of the California Coast, Big Sur absolutely deserves a full day of your California road trip! The 90-mile stretch is one of California’s most scenic drives.

With six beautiful state parks, one state historic park (Point Sur Lighthouse), and countless scenic overlooks, the Big Sur drive is bucket-list material. Spending a full day here will allow you to do a few short Big Sur hikes and take tons of photos.

View from Garrapata State park Bluff Trail in Big Sur, California
The beautiful bluff trail in Garrapata State Park

In Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, all the water-view hiking trails are super scenic, and you may see marine life and birds as you walk, and wildflowers in season. At a minimum, walk the short and picturesque Bird Island Trail!

Garrapata State Park offers many hiking trails on the ocean side, and a stretch of sandy beach as well. The short Garrapata Bluff Trail packs a mighty punch when it comes to views.

Bixby Creek Bridge, a civil engineering marvel, has a dramatic setting right at the edge of the ocean. It’s a must-stop spot for photos! Past the bridge, just after you ascend the hill, there are a few more stunning overlooks for photos.

In Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you can admire beautiful old-growth coastal redwoods. The Big Sur coast is the southernmost place in the state you can see the towering trees.

Coastal redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, CA
Coastal redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Beach involves a short detour, but it’s such a picturesque beach that you’ll want to stop for a bit. It has purple sand!

A little further south, McWay Falls is another must-stop spot for photos. A very short trail leads to an overlook from where you get a clear view of the ribbon of water framed by cliffs, and the gorgeous aqua cove below.

McWay Falls in Big Sur is a must-visit on a California road trip!
Beautiful McWay Falls

Ragged Point is a good place to stop and stretch your legs at the south end of the drive. Ragged Point Inn offers beautiful water views, and the gardens look lovely when in bloom.

Where to Stay

Spend the night in Cambria, just a few miles south of Big Sur. Here are some considerations for places to stay:

Cambria Shores Inn is located across from Moonstone Beach. The property has gardens and a terrace, and rooms are well-appointed. Some rooms have patios and ocean views.
Book a stay here!

At Moonstone Landing, all rooms feature either partial or full ocean views. Rooms have sitting areas and gas fireplaces. There is a hot tub and a shared outside patio. The beach is across the street.
Book a stay here!

Creekside Inn Downtown is located in downtown Cambria, and offers a garden bursting with colorful blooms in season. You are close to dining, wine tasting, and shopping. Rooms are spacious and well-appointed, with sitting areas.
Book a stay here!

Landscape at Big Sur in California
Landscape at Big Sur

Day 5: San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara (1 Day)

The stretch between Big Sur and Santa Monica has many charming cities and small towns to visit.

If you enjoy the coast and have an extra day, this is where we’d add it, spending one night each in SLO and Santa Barbara.

Bluff Trail in Montana de Oro State Park in Los Osos CA
Wildflowers at Montana de Oro State Park in early June

If Hearst Castle is on your must-visit list, drive back the few miles to catch the first tour of the day. The main house at William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop estate has lavish interiors and there are two stunning pools. The gardens are gorgeous.

Cambria is a charming seaside village with a very walkable downtown. The Moonstone Beach Boardwalk or the bluff trail at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve make for great strolls with ocean views.

Just south of Cambria stop in for a couple of hours at the tiny hamlet of Harmony, or enjoy the stunning beach in Cayucos.

Morro Bay is known for marine life and is a birding hotspot. Stroll the Embarcadero, admire Morro Rock, go kayaking in the estuary, and enjoy fresh seafood.

At Los Osos, just south of Morro Bay, hike the beautiful bluff trail at Montana de Oro State Park, or walk the boardwalk trail at the Elfin Forest.

At Cayucos, just north of Morro Bay, enjoy the sandy beach and the charming little downtown.

San Luis Obispo is known for its excellent dining: try Santa Maria style barbecue! Downtown SLO is very walkable. Shop, tour the historic Mission San Luis Obispo, one of California’s 21 missions, and visit a museum or two.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in SLO, CA
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Avila Beach and Pismo Beach offer sandy beaches and lively piers, and many oceanfront parks and trails. You can drive on the beach at Oceano Dunes.

If you visit between mid October and February, stop to see the monarch butterflies at Pismo State Beach.

From Pismo Beach, veer inland to the towns of the Santa Ynez Valley for picturesque scenery, charming little downtowns, and excellent food and wine.

In Solvang, admire the Danish architecture, gorge on Danish pastries at one of the many bakeries, visit Old Mission Santa Ines, shop for gifts and souvenirs, and go wine tasting.

Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, and Los Olivos also offer excellent wine tasting and eateries. The Old West facades and one-of-a-kind stores make for fun browsing. In Buellton, you can tour several Sideways filming locations.

Santa Barbara, with its Mediterranean rooftops, is both beautiful and gracious. Enjoy sandy beaches, a fun downtown, the unique and lively Funk Zone, and a wealth of water- and land-based activities.

County Courthouse in Santa Barbara California
The County Courthouse in Santa Barbara is a must-visit!

Where to Stay

If you plan to spend the night in San Luis Obispo, here are some great accommodation choices:

Located in the heart of downtown SLO, Hotel San Luis Obispo has an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, and garden. Rooms are spacious and feature contemporary decor with bright pops of color.
Book a stay here!

Garden Street Inn is a boutique hotel located in downtown San Luis Obispo, walking distance to sights and dining. Rooms feature French country decor and have sitting areas. The breakfast is rated highly.
Book a stay here!

Granada Hotel & Bistro offers a rooftop terrace with a fireplace and a location close to shopping and dining. There is an indoor lounge with a fireplace, and a book library. Select suites feature private balconies. Rooms feature traditional furnishings.
Book a stay here!

And if you pick Santa Barbara, here’s where to stay:

Brisas Del Mar Inn at the Beach is just a couple blocks from beaches and the harbor. The property features an outdoor swimming pool and a hot tub. Rooms and suites are spacious and well-appointed. Some suites have a full kitchen.
Book a stay here!

Santa Barbara Inn has a beautiful location right across from East Beach. The hotel offers an outdoor pool and hot tub. Some rooms have partial or full ocean views. The outdoor fire pits and sitting areas are lovely. Rooms are beautifully appointed.
Book a stay here!

Hotel Californian is located next to the Funk Zone, and is also close to the beach. The property has a rooftop swimming pool and onsite spa. Rooms are elegantly furnished, and some rooms offer private balconies.
Book a stay here!

Days 6-7: Los Angeles (2 Days)

From Hollywood to Santa Monica, the attractions of the LA area are diverse and numerous. The metropolitan area is also spread out, so plan your time with care to avoid traffic frustrations.

Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California
A view of the famous Hollywood sign

If it’s your first time in Los Angeles, here are some top attractions and activities from which to choose:

Snap that iconic photo of the Hollywood Sign. Lake Hollywood Park offers great views from below. You can also hike up to the sign, and there are several trails from which to pick.

Tour Hollywood. Stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame, photograph the TCL Chinese Theatre, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy the nightlife.

Museum lover? In downtown LA, the Broad is a famous museum of contemporary art. The LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) has stunning outdoor installations. The renowned Getty Museum and the Getty Villa are other must-visits.

Urban Light Art Installation at LA County Museum of Art in California
The Urban Light installation at LACMA

Visit the Griffith Observatory for fabulous views over the city and a great view of the Hollywood sign. Enjoy a live show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.

Gawk at the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier. It looks sensational lit up at night. Walk the Santa Monica Bluffs Trail in Palisades Park during the day for ocean views.

Stroll the boardwalk at Venice Beach for excellent people-watching. It’s a fascinating walk, with lots of street performers to enjoy and vendors to browse.

Take a break from sightseeing in one of LA’s fabulous gardens. Near Pasadena, the Huntington boasts more than a dozen themed gardens, an art museum, and a library that houses rare books and manuscripts.

Where to Stay

You have lots of choices for where to base yourself in LA. Here are some options:

In Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Proper Hotel is a stylish and trendy hotel located just a 10-minute walk from the beach. Rooms feature upscale furnishings and amenities. The property offers a rooftop pool, deck, and restaurant bar, and an onsite spa.
Book a stay here!

In West Hollywood, The London West Hollywood offers rooftop cabanas and restaurant. The hotel is located close to nightlife in Hollywood, and shopping on Rodeo Drive. Suites feature soaking tubs and many have balconies with views.
Book a stay here!

In Downtown LA, citizenM Los Angeles Downtown is conveniently located to downtown sights, shopping, and dining. Rooms come with king beds, and the furnishings are bright and contemporary. We love the citizenM hotels!
Book a stay here!

Day 8: Joshua Tree National Park (1 Day)

Leave the coast behind as you head inland to experience other aspects of California’s beauty in the desert and mountains. It’s time to explore some of the most iconic national parks in California!

Joshua Tree National Park is one of those few US national parks that you can explore in one day and not feel like you’ve missed out on major sights and experiences.

Cholla Cactus Garden at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California
Sunset at the Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree NP

Joshua Tree’s hiking trails are the perfect way to get up close to the massive boulder formations in the park, as well as its diverse flora (and fauna if you are lucky!).

Many trails are short and easy and scenic: stroll the boardwalk at the Cholla Cactus Garden, hike to Arch Rock, see fan palms at the Cottonwood Oasis, do the popular Hidden Valley Trail, or look for bighorn sheep at Barker Dam.

If you enjoy historical sights, the guided tour of Keys Ranch is fascinating. Bill Keys was one of the prominent settlers in the area, and a colorful character by all accounts. Reserve your spot in advance.

At sunset, head to Keys View for spectacular views over the Coachella Valley. On clear days you can see the Salton Sea shimmering in the distance.

The night skies over Joshua Tree are some of the darkest you’ll find anywhere, making for excellent stargazing on clear moonless nights. In the summer, you may see the Milky Way.

Stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park should definitely be on a California road trip itinerary!
Night skies at Joshua Tree National Park

Where to Stay

There is no lodging inside Joshua Tree National Park, but there are plenty of campgrounds. Reserve a campsite well in advance of your visit, especially if you visit in high season: late fall through mid spring.

Just outside the park you will find the small quirky towns of Joshua Tree (close to the west entrance to the park) and Twentynine Palms (close to the north entrance).

Here are some choices if you prefer lodging over camping:

Fairfield Inn & Suites Twentynine Palms features spacious air-conditioned suites with contemporary decor, and an onsite laundry. There is a heated pool open year round. There are several restaurant choices nearby.
Book a stay here!

Rancho Deluxe is a beautiful one-bedroom vacation home in Twentynine Palms, close to the park entrance. Close to 1,000 square feet, the home has a full kitchen, air-conditioning, and a hot tub. Furnishings are comfortable and there is lots of light.
Book a stay here!

The Cherokee House is a beautiful, well-appointed house in Joshua Tree, convenient to the national park and dining. The house, 1,500 square feet large, has a full kitchen, 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms, perfect for a family.
Book a stay here!

Popular Homestead, in Joshua Tree, has three units: a studio, a one-bedroom, and a 2-bedroom unit, all with full kitchens. Each unit has a private entrance and a private yard. The property is a short drive from the park entrance.
Book a stay here!

Day 9: Death Valley National Park (1 Day)

From one epic desert national park to another! Death Valley National Park has the distinction of having recorded the hottest ever temperature on the planet, and it is also home to the lowest point in North America!

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park California
Zabriskie Point is a must-visit overlook in Death Valley

The landscapes of Death Valley are magnificent, and there are many scenic overlooks and sights if you do not want to hike, or if you happen to be roadtripping California during the summer and it’s too hot to hike.

Catch sunrise at Zabriskie Point. You’ll be glad you woke up early, when you see the sun’s rays progressively light up the badlands around the viewing area in a breathtaking display.

Drive up to Dante’s View for panoramic views over the valley and Badwater Basin. It’s the highest point in the park that you can reach by auto.

Walk the salt flat at Badwater Basin. The vast expanse of white salt will leave you awe-struck. You can also pose for a photo by the sign that says “282 fee below sea level.”

Explore the Mesquite Flat sand dunes. You can see the dunes right from the road, but you can also walk in as far as you like, and climb the dunes. Visit at sunrise or sunset for beautiful light-and-shadow effects for photos.

Do the scenic Artist’s Drive, a 9-mile loop with amazing views. Artist’s Palette, the major sight along the drive, features multi-colored mineral deposits on the hillside.

Artist's Palette in Death Valley National Park, California
Snapping photos of the beautiful colors of Artist’s Palette

Death Valley hikes worth considering for your one-day visit include the Golden Canyon hike or the Mosaic Canyon hike. In each case, you can do a part of the trail if time is short or you feel the whole trail is too challenging for you.

Where to Stay

Death Valley National Park offers both lodging and camping inside the park. Because the park is so vast, we suggest staying inside the park to maximize sightseeing time!

The Inn at Death Valley offers air-conditioned rooms and casitas. There is a gorgeous pool, and outdoor seating areas to enjoy colorful desert sunsets. The onsite restaurant serves American cuisine.
Book a stay here!

The Ranch at Death Valley also offers an outdoor swimming pool. The property has a garden, terrace, and an onsite restaurant and bar. Rooms are air-conditioned and comfortably furnished.
Book a stay here!

Day 10: Mammoth Lakes (1 Day)

The drive along Highway 395 from Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes (and beyond) is incredibly beautiful, with views of the jagged peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, CA
Sunrise at stunning Convict Lake!

If you start early, you may want to drive Whitney Portal Road at Lone Pine for a look at the beautiful rock formations of the Alabama Hills. The views of the Owens Valley from the higher points of the drive are expansive.

Bishop Creek Canyon is another beautiful place to explore en route.

Take Highway 168 West at Bishop for a scenic drive (alongside the creek in many places!) to a trio of scenic lakes. Highway 168 East leads to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Mammoth Lakes is a renowned California ski resort, but it offers year-round recreation. The scenery is spectacular no matter when you visit!

Convict Lake, just south of town, is one of the most beautiful lakes in California, with a picture postcard setting.

Also south of town, the Hot Creek Geological Site features steaming pools and vents in a gorgeous setting. And in town Earthquake Fault is a quick but scenic walk along a huge chasm in the ground.

The many lakes of the lower basin at Mammoth Lakes offer boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife and bird viewing. We were taking in the view of Mamie Lake when a large brown bear came out of the water, dripping wet, a few feet from where I was standing!

Take the scenic gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain for spectacular views. At the top, walk out to Geography Point for a beautiful aerial view of the lakes of the Lower Basin at Mammoth Lakes.

Devils Postpile National Monument is open only in the summer, but it is a must-visit if you visit then. Rainbow Falls is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in California, and the basalt column formation is impressive.

Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes CA
Rainbow Falls in July

Where to Stay

The Village Lodge features mountain views, and offers a heated outdoor pool and five hot tubs. It is located walking distance to eateries and shopping. Condos include kitchenettes or full kitchens, a fireplace, as well as a balcony with a view of mountains or the courtyard.
Book a stay here!

Tamarack Lodge is located on the shore of Twin Lakes in an idyllic setting surrounded by mountains. You can opt for rooms in the main lodge or standalone cabins, which have kitchens and fireplaces. The property is one mile from Mammoth Village.
Book a stay here!

Days 11-12: Yosemite National Park (2 Days)

From Mammoth Lakes, drive north to the Tioga entrance to Yosemite National Park. En route, take the scenic June Lake Loop detour, and stop to view the Mono Lake tufa towers.

Tioga Road is a beautiful drive through the highest automobile mountain pass in California and many scenic sites in the national park, such as Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and Olmsted Point.

Tioga Lake in Yosemite National Park, California
A view of Tioga Lake along Tioga Road

Good to know: Tioga Road is generally open from late May or early June through November. If you do this road trip when Tioga Pass is not open, you’ll need to take a longer route to get to the other side of the mountains and the park.

Explore Yosemite Valley, where you can admire El Capitan and walk to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park. It’s a short and easy walk that lets you see both the Upper and the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Visit Tunnel View for an iconic view of Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan. It’s one of the most famous viewpoints in the park and a great place to get photos.

Hike the short trail to Bridalveil Fall. If you visit when the waterfall is in full flow, in the spring or early summer, be prepared to be drenched!

Glacier Point is another must-visit viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. Glacier Point offers stunning views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. The road is generally open between May and November.

The Mist Trail is a more challenging trail, but it lets you get up close to Vernal and Nevada Falls, two of the other famous waterfalls of Yosemite. The views along the trail are spectacular.

Vernal Fall Yosemite National Park CA
Vernal Fall from the Mist Trail

Where to Stay

To maximize sightseeing time, stay inside the park in Yosemite Valley if possible. But lodging and campsites in the park tend to fill up way ahead, so book several months in advance.

The Ahwahnee is a luxury hotel in Yosemite Valley. The property features an outdoor pool and well-appointed, air-conditioned rooms. The onsite restaurant is rated highly.
Book a stay here!

Yosemite Valley Lodge is a traditional lodge close to Yosemite Falls, designed for families and small groups. The lodge offers comfortable rooms and an onsite restaurant. Wifi is free and offered in some public areas.
Book a stay here!

Little Sport Cabin is a vacation rental located inside the park entrance, about 10 miles from Yosemite Valley. the 2-bedroom, 2-bath cabin includes a full kitchen and a balcony.
Book a stay here!

YoBee! is a one-bedroom, one bath apartment in Yosemite West, inside the park entrance. The unit has a kitchenette, and breakfast is included. The patio offers views of the mountains.
Book a stay here!

Rush Creek Lodge is located in Buck Meadows, just 0.5 mile from the west entrance to Yosemite National Park. Set in the midst of forest, the lodge has a seasonal outdoor pool and two hot tubs. Rooms feature sitting areas and are air-conditioned. There is an onsite restaurant. It is about 25.5 miles to Yosemite Valley.
Book a stay here!

Day 13: Napa Valley (1 Day)

Located just under 50 miles from San Francisco, the city of Napa lies at the south end of the famed Napa Valley, and if you enjoy wine and good food, a day in the valley is a fabulous final stop on your California road trip itinerary.

Yountville, Napa Valley, CA
Downtown Yountville in November

In Napa, stroll the downtown commercial area, where you will find many tasting rooms, unique shops, and eateries. Art installations are dotted about the area, and you can admire the architecture of buildings that line the Napa River.

A few miles north, Yountville offers many renowned restaurants and upscale shops and resorts. The main street features an art walk and beautiful leaf color in the fall. Stop at the Bouchon Bakery for a sweet treat!

Saint Helena, in mid valley, has a charming downtown where you can shop for artisanal foods and unique gifts, and wine, of course. And in the north of the valley, Calistoga is famous for its mud baths and mineral pools.

Visit some of Napa Valley’s best wineries, not only for the wine, but also for art, architecture, and beautiful gardens. The drive through the valley is scenic, especially if you choose the Silverado Trail.

Chateau Montelena Winery in Calistoga, California
Chateau Montelena Winery in Calistoga

Be sure to book tables well in advance, for both lunch and dinner, especially if you have your heart set on some of the more popular restaurants.

Where to Stay

Archer Hotel is a sleek contemporary hotel located in the heart of downtown Napa. You’ll be walking distance from restaurants and wine tasting in the city. Rooms have sitting areas, and are elegantly appointed. Some rooms feature balconies. There is a rooftop bar.
Book a stay here!

Napa River Inn is located in the city of Napa, in the historic Napa mill. The boutique hotel offers a free shuttle within the downtown area, and is rated highly for its comfy beds. Some rooms have balconies overlooking the Napa River.
Book a stay here!

Day 14: San Francisco

You did it! Today you complete your epic two-week California road trip. If you’re like us, you are already thinking about your next Golden State road trip!

California Road Trip Itinerary at a Glance

Here’s a quick recap of your 14-day California road trip itinerary:

Days 1-2San Francisco, road trip begins
Day 3Monterey Peninsula
Day 4Big Sur
Day 5Central Coast (San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara)
Days 6-7Los Angeles
Day 8Joshua Tree National Park
Day 9Death Valley National Park
Day 10Mammoth Lakes
Days 11-12Yosemite National Park
Day 13Napa Valley
Day 14Return to San Francisco, end of road trip
Ragged Point Inn in Big Sur, CA
Ragged Point Inn in Big Sur offers fantastic views and colorful gardens

California Road Trip Map

And here is a map of the itinerary for quick reference:

Note that Tioga Road (California Highway 120), the quickest way into Yosemite National Park from Mammoth Lakes, is closed during the winters, generally between some time in November until late May or early June.

If you follow this road trip itinerary when Tioga Road is closed, you’ll have to take a longer route into the park.

Also, California Highway 1 may sometimes be closed due to winter storms, mudslides, or wildfires, or for other reasons. Sometimes the closure can be for an extended period of time.

Check the Caltrans website for current information on road conditions and closures before and during your California road trip.

Mono Lake, California
A view of Mono Lake from Highway 395

Modifying this California Road Trip Itinerary

10-Day California Road Trip Itinerary: What to Cut

Looking to do a 10-day California road trip? You can still keep much of our epic itinerary intact. Here are our suggestions for where to shave off a few days:

On the California coast, choose one of three areas to explore: the Monterey Peninsula, San Luis Obispo County towns, or the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. This will save you one day.

Pick one of the two California desert national parks. If you love rock scrambling and shorter hikes, go with Joshua Tree. Death Valley is better if you are looking to see sights and enjoy views from overlooks. This shaves another day.

Leave Mammoth Lakes and the other towns along Highway 395 for another time, and drive straight from Death Valley to Yosemite, and omit the Napa Valley and return to San Francisco straight from Yosemite National Park to save two more days.

More time in California? Add to your California road trip!

It’s exciting for us when we can add to a California road trip, because the more time you have, the slower you can do the trip and the more places you can see or experiences you can enjoy.

With 15 days, we would do both the SLO County towns and the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. Or you can add in the lively Santa Cruz area, with its many beachside attractions and redwood forests.

Solvang, California
Danish architecture in Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley

Have one more day? Add to your stay in either Yosemite National Park or Death Valley National Park, depending on time of year. Or add another day to the stretch along Highway 395, especially if you do this road trip in the fall.

With three weeks, you can add even more to your trip! Pick from Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Sonoma County, California Gold Rush towns, and Sacramento, the state capital: all of these places are not too far out from the basic loop.

And if you have four glorious weeks for your California road trip, we have a 4-week California road trip itinerary you can follow.

The Best Time for this California Road Trip

California is known for its beautiful weather, but you have to keep in mind that this California road trip itinerary covers coast, desert, and mountains, with wildly different climates.

Wildflowers in California
Wildflowers in the spring along the route

If you do this road trip in the summer, know that you will encounter very high daytime temperatures in the desert parks. Death Valley begins seeing triple digit daytime highs in May and they usually last through September.

So in the summer, it’s best to drive through these parks, stepping out only briefly to take in the views or to snap photos. If you choose to do a short hike or two, do it very early in the day, and stay hydrated.

In the winters, mountain roads may be closed. Tioga Road, the eastern access point to Yosemite National Park, is closed each year between November and May or June. The road to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park is also closed during this timeframe.

Late May or early June is a wonderful time to do this road trip. You’ll see lots of wildflowers along the coast and in the lower elevations in the mountains, and the deserts will not be quite as hot as in the summer

Mountain roads will likely be open by the time you are in the final stretch of your trip, and the waterfalls in Yosemite National Park should be flowing well.

Fall is also a good time in that you’ll likely have fog-free days along the coast and brilliant leaf color in the mountains. But fall is also wildfire season in California, so keep yourself posted on any fires along the route.

Conway Summit Eastern Sierra CA
Conway Summit along Highway 395 in the fall

Planning Your California Road Trip

Where to start and end your California road trip

The route we’ve described is a loop, so you can start and end it anywhere along the loop.

That said, starting and ending in San Francisco or Los Angeles makes the most sense if you are flying into the state, because of the abundance of flights and the ease of renting a vehicle at the airport or in the city.

This also gives you the option to extend your stay in the city, either before or after your road trip, since there’s so much to see and do in both SF and LA.

If you plan to start the road trip in San Francisco, we suggest renting a car only from the date you drive out of the city. In the city, it’s much easier to walk or rely on public transport or Ubers: finding parking can be both problematic and expensive.

Montana de Oro State Park, Los Osos, CA
Bluff Trail at Montana de Oro State Park

Renting a vehicle for your California road trip

Assuming you did not drive into the state, you will need to rent a vehicle for your California road trip.

Rental car rates and requirements can vary widely, so we suggest comparing options across multiple car rental companies. We use Discover Cars to get our rentals when we travel.

Discover Cars is highly rated and they compare car rentals across dozens of car rental companies to get you the best vehicle for your trip at the best price.

Their partners include well-known agencies like Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Sixt.

Check availability and book your rental car now!

If you are considering an RV for your California road trip, check out Outdoorsy. They are like an Airbnb for recreational vehicles, and you’ll find lots of options for short-term RV and camper van rentals.

Check availability and book your rental RV now!

Escape Campervans is another option if you plan to camp, with a range of choices in terms of size.

Good to know: You will need a valid driver’s license from your home state or country to drive in California.

An International Driver’s Permit is not considered a driver’s license. If you driver’s license is in a language other than English, bring an IDP, since it’s a translation, but also always carry your original driver’s license.

Lone Cypress, Pebble Beach, California
The Lone Cypress along the 17-Mile Drive

Booking accommodations for your California road trip

Whether you plan to camp or stay in lodging, we suggest booking stays ahead of your trip, especially if it will be high season for places along the route at the time you plan to travel.

You can reserve campsites at or

We use to book hotels and vacation rentals. Since many of the stays on our suggested California road trip itinerary are one-night stays, hotels are generally the easiest way to go.

Hot Creek Geological Site near Mammoth Lakes, CA
Hot Creek Geological Site near Mammoth Lakes

Consider getting a national parks pass

The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass will save you money if you plan to visit 3 or 4 national parks or other federally managed recreation areas during the 12 months following purchase, as you will on this trip.

Buy the national parks pass online at REI!

Once you have your pass, remember to display it in your vehicle for the duration of your trip. It’s hassle free and will save you time at the national parks on the itinerary.

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Discover the ultimate California road trip itinerary: the Pacific Coast, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Yosemite, Napa Valley and more in 14 days!


Dhara loves to explore her home state of California. With her husband Kishore, she has done numerous road trips in the state in every season. She hopes to share her love of the Golden State with you, and help you find your own exciting experiences here.

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