California road trip itinerary: 7 Places you have to visit

5 min readDec 12, 2022


There’s no doubt that a road trip to California leads to some amazing destinations, they are so rich, so varied, and can also be personalized and tailored to suit the individual.

Here are my top 7 highlights that I pick in my 3 weeks road trip with my friend that I would recommend to anyone that asks.

Start your road trip from San Francisco with an Alcatraz Island tour

First up is San Francisco, this was where we started our road trip and had 3 days exploring the city before we picked up the car and hit the road.

We prebooked the Alcatraz tour online before we left, which I highly recommend, so off we went and hopped on the 11 am ferry to the island and spent a few hours exploring and taking the tour. Alcatraz was both haunting and incredible at the same time.

The stories of the inmates and the escapes that were attempted were told so well in and around the island through the headsets that you were able to pause if needed to spend more time in areas of the prison. I didn’t know that the families of prison guards would live on the island with them.

Try the best chowder near Pier 39

After we left the island, we wandered around the area and stumbled across Pier 39 where I had the best chowder served in a bread roll. The restaurant was on the edge of the pier, and we were lucky enough to be sat in a window seat where we could see Alcatraz.

The staff was so friendly and accommodating and we didn’t feel rushed at all despite the restaurant looking very busy. The chowder was creamy, fresh with large chunks of fish freshly brought that morning, the roll was warm and soft with the perfect crust. I would go back to San Francisco just for this!

Yosemite National Park

We then hit the road and headed to Yosemite National Park. As we arrived at Tenaya Lodge, in Yosemite late we decided to wait until morning before heading to the park. The bit no one prepares you for is driving through the forest areas that have been destroyed by wildfire, this was truly heart-breaking to see, we had been lucky to make it to Yosemite as a few months earlier it had closed due to wildfires, this made the visit even more meaningful.

We finally made it to Tunnel View and pulled over to admire El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Bridalveil Fall in all their glory, the bright blue sky and the sea of green trees framing them beautifully. We spent the whole day in the park, hiking trails, animal spotting, and also paddling in the streams. It was incredible and an experience I would encourage anyone to do.

Sequoia National Park

From Yosemite National Park, we then hit the road and arrived at Sequoia National Park to visit General Sherman. Sequoia is so different from Yosemite, everything is bigger. I felt small in Yosemite but I felt tiny walking amongst the huge redwood trees including the largest tree in the world — General Sherman. The sheer size of these beautiful giants was breathtaking and having a picnic amongst them is a memory that will stay with me forever.

The Grove in LA: High-end shopping in Los Angeles

It is very different from my other highlights and it’s the Grove in LA, this was such a change of pace compared to the first week of our road trip and it was a welcome one too. We spent a very lazy day eating and drinking our way around the incredible restaurants, listening to the live music on the promenade, and spending hours chatting and reading by the fountain. This outdoor shopping center had it all and it was right next to the Farmer’s Market which was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours wandering around the stalls.

Pismo Beach

From LA we headed to Pismo Beach, which is a classic beach town on California’s Central Coast. It’s known for its wineries and many beautiful beaches. Again, for us, this was a very chilled part of the holiday where we spent the day reading, sunbathing, and swimming in the sea.

Days like this are needed to recharge the batteries ready for the next few days. My favorite thing about Pismo beach was the uninterrupted sunsets and sunrises. For our meal that night we sat outside on the decking whilst the sunset and blue and orange sunset over the sea is still my phone background to this day.

Whale watching in Monterey Bay

My last highlight of the trip was whale watching in Monterey Bay. This was actually our last day before heading to the airport and we spent the day wandering around Monterey, otter spotting and walking through Old Fisherman’s Wharf and docks before heading to Discovery Whale watch to board our boat. This was the most incredible few hours of my life because we saw a humpback whale feeding.

We had spent some time at sea with not much luck until we turned around to head back to the dock and there was the vast black and white tail of a humpback. We sat on the boat bobbing up and down for ages just watching the whale surface and diving deep under the surface. This experience was everything I wanted and more.

It was so hard to narrow down my top 7 recommendations for a Californian road trip as there were so many highlights but if I was to redo it — these would be top of my list.

🙍‍♀️Sarah from Oxford, UK recently try to take on the world as a solo traveler! She had been away with her friends before but now she enjoys venturing out and exploring the world! She loves to bake too!(Instagram:@sarahtrubes)

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