Here’s How To Plan An Epic California Road Trip

There’s nothing quite like a great American road trip. Everything you’ve seen in the movies, from the derelict gas stations to the 1950’s style diners and sinister motels suddenly come to life, and spoiler alert, it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more. California is undoubtedly one of the easiest places to drive in America, the breathtaking views also make it one of the prettiest, too. Discover some of the world’s largest trees in Sequoia National Park, hit the waves in San Diego, discover Hollywood in LA and retrace Lauren Conrad’s footsteps in Laguna Beach (we’re kidding, well, kind of). This wonderful state truly has it all.

Looking to plan a California road trip but not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered.

Choose Your Transport

First things first, you need to decide how you’re going to get around this beautiful but vast state. Public transport isn’t really an option here, especially if you want to visit the National Parks, and believe us, you’re going to want to. In order to take a detour off the beaten track and explore to your hearts content, you’re going to need to hire a car. There are a few options here, you could stick to a typical estate car or 4×4 if you want to fit in with the Cali crowd, or you can set your sights on something a little bigger. A camper van is ideal for road trips, allowing you to save money on accommodation and also experience a taste of the wilderness. There’s nothing quite like an evening spent in a campsite under the stars at Yosemite National Park. You could either opt for a compact modified truck, or if you’re feeling brave then there are tonnes of RV hire options in America.

If you want to experience California at your own pace while on the road but prefer to spend the night in hotels, opt for a vehicle from rental company Hertz, who have luxury vehicles available for all part sizes.

top tips for planning a California road trip

 

 

 

Draw Up A Rough Route

There’s something quite magical and romantic about jumping into the car with nothing but a screwed up old road map and a desire to see where the road takes you. While spontaneity is great, a road trip does require a certain level of planning. For example, many of the National Park campsites sell-out super quick, so you do need to think about your route ahead of your trip. Likewise, many of the popular California-based attractions such as Alcatraz night tours (side note: Alcatraz is an amazing afternoon out!) sell-out in advance. To enjoy the best of both worlds, plan your key stops but leave a few days here and there to leave it up to fate. If your itinerary is too regimented, you’ll lose out on that sense of adventure, so try and strike a balance here.

Route Suggestion: Generally, LA and San Francisco make for the best starting points for your road trip due to the volume of flights. If you’re looking to spend around a month in the Golden State, start by flying into San Fran, enjoy a few nights in the city and then take a drive to Yosemite National Park, from here head south to Sequoia, you could make a stop in Vegas, and then head down to San Diego. Now you’re on the coast, breathe in that fresh ocean air and work your way back up to where it all started, be sure to stop by Laguna Beach, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, and of course, it wouldn’t be a California road trip without an LA pitstop.

How to plan a California road trip top tips

Set A Budget (and then a backup)

You’d be surprised at the number of unexpected costs that creep up on you during your road trip. Parking is a killer in the US, with many car parks and hotels charging up to $50 a night, which can really start to add up after a month on the road. This is why staying in National Parks and researching campsites is a must-do for keeping costs down. Set yourself a spending budget but be prepared to go over and make sure you have a back-up just incase, whether that’s an interest free credit card, or rainy day fund. California isn’t the cheapest of states, and if you want to enjoy every moment then you do need to save up a few dollars.

Take Out All Of The Insurance

You never think it’s going to happen to you, until it does. Just like the time we got a flat tyre and several warning lights in the middle of the Mojave desert and had to call out a mechanic to fix our van under the scorching sun. It’s all part of the fun though, right? What would have been a costly few hours was fortunately covered by the extra insurance we took out on the van for around $70 or so. You can never be too careful, and the last thing you’d want is a financial crisis ruining your road trip. It’s also so, so important that you take out full travel insurance, have you seen the cost of medical care in the USA? You’re not gonna want to.

Plan Out Your Activities

Again, this is about striking the balance between being prepared but also not ruling out any grounds for spontaneity. A little research is often required to find out about the hidden gems, the locals favourite spots and the best food in town. It doesn’t hurt to have a pre-prepared list of activities and sights that you want to tick off, this will also save a lot of time spent Googling ‘things to do in San Diego’ while you’re trying to absorb a new city and take it all in. Here are a few of the key attractions in the big cities that you might want to stop by…

San Francisco

  • Pier 39
  • Union Square
  • Twin Peaks (the views over the city are insane)
  • Alcatraz Island
  • Lombard Street
  • The Painted Ladies
  • The Golden Gate Bridge

Las Vegas (ok not technically California, but a great stop to take en route to San Diego)

  • Cirque Du Soleil Show
  • Bellagio Fountains
  • Breakfast in ‘Paris’
  • Neon Museum
  • Arts District

how to plan a California road trip

San Diego

  • Pacific Beach
  • La Jolla Beach
  • Gaslamp District
  • Seaport Village
  • Balboa Park

Los Angeles

  • Dodgers Baseball Game
  • Universal Studios
  • Melrose Avenue
  • Hollywood Boulevard
  • The Grove
  • Santa Monica
  • Venice Beach
  • Get yourself a Go Los Angeles Card for discounted and exclusive entries into some of the cities best

Accept That You Can’t Do It All

You’re never going to discover the whole of California in a month, six months, even a year. It’s a huge state that you’re likely to only scratch the surface on, but that’s fine, because California will always be there. Spend less time panicking about cramming everything into your trip, and more time enjoying the beautiful stops that you do take. Enjoy the moment and the freedom of being on the road.

Get that road trip playlist at the ready.

 

For more information on planning the Climate Californian Road Trip, visit www.visitcalifornia.com

 

Tilly-Jayne Kidman

Tilly-Jayne Kidman is a freelance blogger and travel writer usually found browsing Skyscanner for the cheapest flights anywhere. A fan of US road trips, European city breaks, and asking "do you have any vegan options?"

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