Are you ready for the ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary in 7 days?! This one week guide will give you a taste of every part of California, all the way from quirky San Francisco to trendy and fast paced Los Angeles!
California is such a beautiful state, each city being so different from the rest. You can’t say you’ve fully experienced California without spending some time experiencing the wildly different landscapes and cultures.
Even though this is a fast paced road trip with a lot of driving, the driving distances in between are relatively short and include a lot of fun stops to break up the drives. If you want to turn your one week in California to a longer trip, I also recommended some bonus ideas to extend your trip at the bottom!
Okay… let’s get started! 🙂
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Day 1: Travel Day + San Francisco sight seeing
Day 2: San Francisco sight seeing
Day 3: Drive to Monterey + Cannery Row
Day 4: Big Sur Road Trip
Day 5: Day trip to Paso Robles Wine Country
Day 6: Drive to Los Angeles
Day 7: Los Angeles sight seeing + Travel home
Day 1: Fly into San Francisco
San Francisco has a major, international airport, which means that flights are usually inexpensive! Once you arrive in San Francisco, you will want to either grab a taxi / Uber or take the BART (an above ground subway system) to head into downtown San Francisco.
This city is bustling with things to do and so much history, so I would be prepared to have a jam-packed few days in the city in order to squeeze everything in.
Since you only have a few days in the city, I would recommend as close as possible to the things you want to see so you can save time walking / driving. Once you decide what area of San Francisco you want to stay in, be sure to read my guide on best hotels in San Francisco with a view!
TIP: Have an extra day to spare on your California Road Trip itinerary?! You can start the trip in Lake Tahoe to explore the beautiful scenery before heading to San Francisco! Click here to read my Lake Tahoe Winter Itinerary!
Day 2: San Francisco
On this California road trip itinerary, you only have one day in San Francisco, which means you will need to make the most of it! I have visited this quirky city numerous times, and here is my list of absolute must-sees!
This unique and winding street is not far from most of the tourist attractions and is one of the staples of San Francisco! Located on Lombard Street between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street, you can see the 8 sharp turns that cars will have to take down the steep street.
TIP: You can hike up the street to get closer to the view, but it is FLOODED with people on the narrow sidewalk. I would recommend just picking which view you want to see (from the bottom looking up or the top looking down) instead of attempting to see both.
Fisherman’s Wharf is easily the most touristy area of San Francisco, but if it’s your first time in the city, it is definitely worth checking out! This area has a ton of individual sites to see, all within walking distance. You could easily spend half the day exploring this area! Be sure to check out Pier 39 to see all the seals / sea lions, Ghirardelli Square, Alcatraz and more!
TIP: I would recommend going to this area in the morning to beat the crowds and enjoy some lunch / breakfast on the water front!
Golden Gate Bridge
You can’t go to San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, you just can’t! This red staple can be seen from many areas of the city, but here is the ultimate way to experience the bridge…. Go to china town to pick up some to-go lunch and head over to Crissy Field (a grass area at the base of the bridge), and enjoy your lunch with the best view in the world!
After you stuffed yourself with yummy Asian food, spend an hour or so walking along the bridge and taking some photos! I wouldn’t recommend walking the entire thing because it is 1.7 miles each way and it might be difficult to find a ride back on the other side.
This photo was edited in ONE CLICK using my Lightroom Presets! Click here to check them out!
Sausalito + Muir Woods
If you want to experience the slower paced and nature side of Northern California, then you will want to spend your afternoon out of the city and in Sausalito! This waterfront, yacht-lined city has tons of walking trails, shopping, and restaurants with beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline.
Close to this area (about 25 minutes past), you can also spend some time with the massive Redwood trees in the Muir Woods National Monument. You will need to purchase tickets online in advance and tickets cost only $15.00 per person.
The Painted Ladies
If you’re a Full House TV show fan (which, who isn’t?!), then you will want to make sure you stop at Alamo Square Park to enjoy the views of the Painted Ladies! This string of colorful houses appeared on the show almost every episode, and now is a huge tourist site in San Francisco.
There is not much to do in this area other than see the houses, but if you want to enjoy a picnic lunch / dinner here, there is a large grass area to sit at.
There are obviously a ton of other things to do in San Francisco, but these are just the top sites that I have personally done and recommend seeing! If you want some more ideas, be sure to check out my guide on Things to do in San Francisco!
Click here to search hotel options in San Francisco.
Day 3: Drive to Monterey (2 hours)
Day three will consist of driving from San Francisco to Monterey or Carmel-by-the-sea. These two neighboring, coastal towns are the beginning of the Big Sur! You will want to stay the night here so you have a full day enjoying your Big Sur Road Trip.
The drive from San Francisco to Monterey is just under two hours, and if you want to break up the drive while getting to see a cute beach town, stop in Santa Cruz for lunch on the beach! They have a huge pier with carnival rides, arcade games, and roller coasters, but it is only open Saturday / Sunday.
During the afternoon, enjoy Monterey & Carmel by going to the beaches, hopping around the many wine bars, seeing cannery row, or going on a sunset dinner cruise! Click here for a quick guide to visiting Monterey Bay, California!
Day 4: Big Sur – Cambria (2 hours – full day)
This will be by far the best day of your entire California itinerary!
The Big Sur is the #1 road trip in the USA, well.. maybe in the world! This small stretch of California coastline will make your jaw-drop time and time again. I would highly recommend not “squeezing this day in” or combining it with anything else because you will want to take your time stopping at every pull out and soaking in every viewpoint!
The drive from Monterey to Cambria (your ending point) is roughly 2 hours without stopping. However, you will be stopping… A LOT. So I would plan to spend at least 5-6 hours driving and enjoying the coast before arriving in Cambria.
I have an extremely detailed guide on how to tackle this Big Sur Road Trip, which includes the best stops along the way, how long to spend at each stop, best time of year to go, photography tips and a map of all the stops to save for later. So be sure to check that out before you go!
Recommended Read: 10 Common Mistakes People Make When Traveling to Big Sur!
Day 5: Day trip to Paso Robles (45 minutes)
Here is where you customize your California road trip itinerary!
If you like wine tasting, there is a really great spot just inland of Cambria. You can either drive straight there after the Big Sur, or stay the night in Cambria and just do a day trip to the wine area. This area, called Paso Robles, is only 45 minutes from Cambria and an easily doable day trip.
I have gone wine tasting in many famous areas (Napa Valley, Sonoma, Champagne France, Willamette in Oregon to name a few), and Paso Robles is just as beautiful but a fraction of the cost! Click here for my guide on wine tasting in Paso Robles!
If you want to enjoy the wine and take a break from driving, you can sign up for wine tours that will pick you up either in Cambria or from your hotel in Paso Robles! Click here to view tour options.
If you do NOT like wine tasting, I would still stay the night in Cambria to break up the drive and then drive straight to Los Angeles to have an extra day in this famous city to explore the sites! Click here to view hotels in Cambria, California!
Day 6: Cambria to Los Angeles (4 hours)
This will be your longest stretch of the trip, but lucky for you, this stretch of coastline is SO beautiful! Plus, there are tons of tiny beach towns worth stopping at to break up your drive.
I would recommend stopping for lunch in one of the cute beach towns like Santa Barbara, Malibu, or Ventura. That way you get to soak in the last hours of quiet, coastal life before arriving in the bustling and fast-paced city of Los Angeles!
Once you arrive in Los Angeles, check into your hotel and try to squeeze a few sites in before getting dinner at a trendy and unique restaurant. LA is known for being a creative and unique city, not just with the sites and the people, but with the food too! Here is a great guide on unique restaurants in Los Angeles.
TIP: Avoid driving in Los Angeles during rush hour traffic! California traffic (especially downtown LA) is the worst in the world!!
Day 7: Explore Los Angeles
Los Angeles is the city that truly has everything! Beautiful weather, jaw-dropping scenery, greenery, beaches, culture, food… you name it! You could easily spend the entire one week in California visiting all the sites that LA offers.
There are activities for every taste, but here is my ideal day in LA that gives you a little taste of everything! If any of these don’t sound appealing to you, I have a little bonus section at the end for you to swap out activities.
Click here to view hotels in Los Angeles.
– Morning –
Start your morning off with a hike to the famous Hollywood Sign up on the hill! There are a few hike options to choose from, all different lengths and elevation changes, but the most popular is called the Hollyridge Trail. This 2 hour, 5 mile round trip hike will give you views of the front of the sign, back of the sign and the entire city! Plus, it will feel extra good to stretch your legs after all that driving. 🙂
TIP: Make sure you go early in the morning to beat the crowds & the heat! There is almost no shade on this trail.
Next up, head to the famous Beverly Hills for an instagrammable brunch at The Ivy Restaurant. This adorable restaurant has colorful cocktails, fresh flowers all over, and a beautiful outdoor patio!
– Afternoon –
In the afternoon, I would recommend hanging out in downtown LA to see famous sites like Hollywood Blvd, Walk of Fame, or one of the many museums. Los Angeles can be very hectic to drive through and find parking spots, so I would recommend picking a few sites close to each other and just walking between them.
Rather skip the city and head to an amusement park? Consider doing a day trip to Buena Park to visit Knott’s Berry Farm or Disneyland!
– Evening –
After you’ve had a busy day squeezing in as much as possible, it’s time to unwind on the beach and enjoy the beautiful California sunset! There are beaches lining the entire coast of Los Angeles, but the most popular and picturesque is Venice Beach / Santa Monica Beach.
Grab some food to go from the adorable Santa Monica Pier and have a picnic dinner on the beach to enjoy the sunset.. magical!
BONUS: More things to do in Los Angeles
- Day trip to Catalina Island
- Spend the day at Universal Studios
- Go on a food tour
- Celebrity Homes tour
- OUE Skyspace SkySlide (glass bottom slide on the top of an observation deck)
- Rent beach cruises to ride down the board walk
- Surfing lesson on Venice Beach
- Ride the Ferris Wheel at the Santa Monica Pier
- Go shopping at the adorable boutiques along Melrose Ave
Even though Los Angeles is the stopping point for most California road trip itineraries, I would recommend spending an extra day going even farther south to San Diego! This is my favorite beach town in California and is only an extra 1.5 – 2 hours more of driving. If so, check out my 4 days in San Diego or Girls Weekend in San Diego guides for some ideas!
Okay, that’s a wrap! I hope this California road trip itinerary (7 Days) gives you tons of ideas for this bucket list trip! In this one week itinerary, you get to experience the quirky culture of San Francisco, the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the California coast, quaint beach towns, and the most famous city on the west coast!
If you have extra time to see more of California, you could also spend a few days going inland to see Yosemite National Park. Here is my 2 Days in Yosemite itinerary for you to check out!
If you want more ideas for California travel, be sure to check these out:
- Big Sur Road Trip – One Day Itinerary
- 27 Things to do in Buena Park – A Perfect Girls Weekend!
- Day Trip to Santa Barbara!
- A PERFECT Lake Tahoe Itinerary – Winter Guide!
- Quick Guide to visiting Monterey Bay, California
- Girls Trip to San Diego
- Celebrating a birthday in Napa Valley
- Unique things to do in San Francisco
- Spring Itinerary to Carlsbad, California
Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂
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This road trip sounds amazing! I’ve visited both LA and San Francisco but I’d really love to do a road trip to visit the destinations in between. Big Sur looks phenomenal! Thanks for the wonderful guide!
Thanks for reading Hannah! Big Sur is my ultimate favorite spot in the USA, so much beauty in such a small stretch of coastline!
Incredible! More and more I see more about California’s coast….I’d love to come here one day – when I think of Cali I think of “big city” but not insanely beautiful coastline! Definitely adding to my bucket list!
California truly has it all! But I would say I definitely prefer the jaw-dropping coastline 🙂
It’s a classic drive … and every time we had people visiting us in Los Angeles, they always wanted to do the coastal drive to San Fran. There’s some epic bits of coastline … I love the area around Hearst Castle, San Simeon, and Moonstone beach.
I have never seen Moonstone Beach, I will have to look into that for my next trip! Thanks for the tip Jay! 🙂
I had never really considered a road trip in California, but after reading this post I feel like booking a trip, it sounds so amazing! I love the sound of the wine tasting in Paso Robles and that Big Sur road trip looks beautiful!
That’s definitely my favorite part!! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the guide!
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Nice Piece of Information for planning… Great going.
Thanks for reading!
I’m doing this trip in August with my family. We are from PA and my daughter is headed to college in San Diego so our family vacay is flying out to SF and driving the coast to SD. We are doing a night in each town to explore the state and this guide is such a help.
That makes me so happy to hear, Susan! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you have an amazing trip! 🙂
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The Road Trip is the best way to take in all the sights a place has to offer. And when it’s California, it has to be exciting. I will love to drive through the legendary Golden Bridge.
Absolutely! California is gorgeous!
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