There is no better way to explore the American dream than by hopping from one city to another – all in your own sweet time. From the travel experts here at The Peaks, we have customized (and simplified) our very own road trip route for you to drive straight into! From the most photographed bridge in the world to the A-listers of Hollywood, we have it covered.
Catch a flight into San Francisco International Airport, hire a car and head North to Napa Valley – the journey should take around 1 hour.
If you’re partial to a tipple or two then this is the place for you. With numerous wineries to choose from, spend a day playing wine connoisseur whilst taking in the blissful surroundings. To name a few: Hess Persson Estates, V. Sattui Winery and Darioush Winery all offer unique packages with the chance to sample some of the best wines in America.
If wine isn’t for you, there are plenty outdoor alternatives to choose from including a bike riding tour, walking tour, cooking class, or why not practice yoga in the vineyards, paddle board down the river Napa or sample some of the local bakery delights.
Courtesy of Timeout
The most symbolic bridge of them all – The Golden Gate Bridge never fails to impress, even when veiled in the city’s famous fog. Standing tall and proud in San Francisco Bay since 1937, the tower-like bridge is the ultimate tourist hotspot for those wanting to catch the perfect panoramic pic.
Alcatraz- once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals lies within the waters of San Francisco Bay. Converted from a lighthouse station to a military prison from its years of operation from 1934 to 1963, you can experience a self-guided tour narrated by former inmates and guards. If you want to play safe, book your tickets in advance as the day tours can sell out fast.
Whether you plan to stay for a week or just the weekend, you can do as little or as much as you like in this city. To utilise your time wisely, I have listed some of my favourite half day trips to keep those San Fran feels flowing…
– Visit the sealions at Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf.
– Pick out your favourite artisan goods as you stroll through the city’s largest farmer market, The Ferry Building Marketplace.
– Visit the iconic ‘Painted Ladies’ and witness an array of colourful Victorian houses.
– Pass through Pacific Heights and to take a few snaps of Mrs. Doubtfire’s house (a 90’s born favourite!)
– Hop on-board a whale tour. A short ride out of San Francisco Bay, the best time to catch a glimpse of the Humpbacks is from April – November, however, it’s still possible during other months.
The drive from San Francisco to Silicon Valley is around 40-minutes and approximately another 1 hour 40 minutes south to reach Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is more than doable to see both in the same day if you’re wanting to briefly pass through.
Silicon Valley spans over 20 miles of parks, museums, mountains, and of course technology. From natural landscapes to historic attractions, there’s enough to keep you on your toes. The Tech Museum of Innovation, NASA Ames Research Centre, Apple Headquarters are all within reach with tech-savvy activities to offer.
If you wanted to deviate slightly, and when I say slightly, I mean a 3–4-hour drive East, I would highly recommend a visit to Yosemite National Park. If you enjoy hiking, there are many different routes to take that suit all ability levels and offer truly breath-taking views. You can opt to stay over, camp or if you’re short on time, it’s possible to see enough in a day if you don’t mind the commute.
From Silicon Valley to Carmel-by-the-Sea, you can expect around a 1-hour- 20-minute drive. It is the ideal spot to wind down for a day or two before heading back on the road. Carpeted with soft-white sand, Carmel Beach is within walking distance from the town center. Whether you visit the theatre, walk the quaint Californian streets, or dine in a fancy restaurant, it’s time to take your foot off the pedal and enjoy the serenity that this place has to offer.
A short 25-mile drive south, spanning a 90-mile coastline in central California, Big Sur has the ultimate postcard appeal. Plummeting waterfalls aligned with towering rock formations bring the wow factor to this place. Expect to spend a full day or more driving the coastal highway, stopping off as you please at places like Ragged Point, Pfeiffer Beach, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns Skate Park. You may want to find a camping spot or book a night stay as the views are not to be rushed.
South is Elephant Seal Vista Point; San Simeon takes around 1-hour-30-minutes to drive to. The Northern Elephant Seal migrates to the Rookery, twice each year. The viewing is open all year round and unless it’s changed very recently, it is free to enter. The best times to visit are late January, late April, and late October.
A further 60-miles south, you will find the traditional city of Pismo Beach. Recently renovated to modernise its safety structure, Pismo Beach Pier makes the perfect day for those who enjoy a casual stroll without having to clock watch. There are many shops and restaurants nearby, with a Farmers Market each Wednesday evening.
You may want to use this as a stop-off point to break up a long journey, however, if you fancy staying longer, I recommend visiting the Monarch Butterfly Grove, Pismo State Beach, or grab yourself a bargain at the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets.
148 miles down the 101, you will find Malibu, or, if you want to continue, you can head straight to Santa Monica which is approximately 173 miles from Pismo Beach (just over a 3-hour drive).
If you’re anything like me and fantasize about all things blue, the beaches in Malibu are pretty darn good! Zuma Beach is one of the largest and most popular in California and is known for its long stetch of white sand and gatherings of the hottest surfers around. To name more, El Matador State Beach, Point Dume, Leo Carrillo and Paridise Cove are equally as good.
If you didn’t get chance to visit Yosemite National Park, Malibu Creek State Park is considered the Southern California’s version (not quite as spectacular but still worth a visit). Once owned by 20th Century Fox Studios and with over 8,000 acres of land, there are countless things to see as you explore the thick forests, hill peaks, and mountain tops.
If you have more time, or simply want to mix-it-up, I recommend visiting the highly reputable museum, The Getty Villa whilst en route to Santa Monica. With over 1,200 different artifacts on display dating back from 6,500 BC, it’s clear to see why this is the historical hotspot for so many. Although the entrance is free, booking is required.
West of Downtown LA, Santa Monica is predominantly known for its love for outdoor attractions, dining expertise and unique bars. From the Original Muscle Beach to Third Street Promenade, this quirky little town offers more than the standard. The emblematic image of LA’s coastline lies within the heart of Palisades Park and it’s just short walk away from Santa Monica Pier and Beach minus the tourist crowds.
With many happy hour spots lingering amongst the lined palm tree streets, there’s nothing better than sipping a Pina Colada whilst watching the world go by. For the best dining experiences, I recommend The Lobster, Father’s Office, and Birdie G’s – there’s also Sunny Blue for a budget friendly, yet hits-the-spot Japanese lunch.
This city is BIG! With so much to offer and so much love to give, whether you’re passing through or biding your time here – there is always something memorable to experience, plus, it’s just a short 25-minute drive from Santa Monica.
The obligatory walk of fame is a pretty ‘pinch yourself’ experience when you see the biggest names in showbiz beneath your feet, although not as glamourous as you may think – don’t expect much more from the area as, ironically, I don’t think it would achieve more than 2-stars for its appearance.
Once you’ve had a feel for the A-List lifestyle, you can visit their homes with a Hollywood Homes Tour – yes, it’s cliché but who doesn’t love a nosey!
With too many to choose from, I have made a quick list of some favorite L.A spots:
– See L.A from above at Griffith Park by driving or hiking up to the grounds of its Observatory.
– Shop (or window-shop in our case) Julia Roberts style on Rodeo Drive.
– Visit Downtown and experience the urban heritage from up close. Here, you can visit Grand Central Market and Walt Disney Concert Hall too.
– Ride with the movies at Universal Hollywood Studios (Harry Potter and Jurassic World being the biggies)
– Take a sandwich break at Phillippe the Original – the best in town, literally!
– Visit the Warner Bros. Studio and get a close-up look at iconic TV and film set-ups.
– Sunbathe, surf, dine or simply people watch along Venice Beach
– Explore innovation and enjoy a day of educational fun at the Californian Science Centre – the ‘Air & Space’ section is particularly well-reviewed.
– Visit one of the most iconic streets of America, Sunset Boulevard – connecting Downtown L. A to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Pacific Highway.
As the trip comes to an end, located 130 miles East of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park offers you the chance to explore the majestic wonders of the desert all in one day. There are countless hiking trails and adrenaline-infused rock-climbing routes amongst the outcroppings. The Hidden Valley area of Joshua is one of the most popular, its easily accessible and ideal for those who prefer a gentle climb.
From Joshua Tree, you can catch an internal flight from Palm Springs to your preferred international airport.