A 10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary

Taylor Hearts Travel, TaylorHeartsTravel, Travel Lifestyle Blog, San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Dream Travel, Travel Dream

Ready for the adventure of a lifetime? This California road trip itinerary is spread over 10 days, including a Big Sur road trip, national parks, coastlines and more.

There’s a reason Highway One is on so many wish lists. It’s a dreamy photogenic road trip that everyone needs to experience for themselves.

A Perfect California Road Trip Itinerary

California Road Trip 10 Day
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Disclosure: Escape Campervans provided the vehicle for my road trip.

Day 1 – Fly to San Francisco

You can get really cheap flights to San Francisco, so it makes sense to start here. You’ll also find lots of vehicle rentals available.

Where to stay in San Francisco? Try Clift Hotel or Diva or Hotel Palomar. Prefer an apartment, get £25 off your Airbnb stay.

Day 2-3 – San Francisco

Don’t attempt to drive with jet lag. Instead, use these few days to explore San Francisco. You don’t need a car to get about. Just hop on the trams or hire a bike. You can easily pick up a taxi if you really need to. Parking is expensive in the city so it just makes sense to wait until you’re ready to hit the road before you get your car or camper.

There are so many things to do in San Francisco, so if you have a bit more time an extra day or two could easily be filled up – especially if you like eating!

Recommended reading: 7 of the best places to eat at in San Francisco

Day 4 – San Francisco to Sonoma

Pick up your rental car or camper first thing in the morning. No road trip in California would be complete without driving over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s in countless films and is one of the most famous landmarks in the state.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Tip: If you’re heading southbound you’ll need to pay a small toll (less than $10). Your registration will be scanned as you enter and you’ll then need to go online or visit one of the pay stations within 48hours to pay the fee. FYI – different rules apply for locals.

Head north of San Francisco up to Sonoma. It should take around 1hr 30mins.

Stop for lunch at The Girl & The Fig then head to your place for the night.

I whole heartedly recommend staying at Farmhouse Inn. The service, style and experience is second to none. Spend the afternoon and evening enjoying wine tasting, s’mores and stargazing.

Recommended reading: You’ll Never Want to Leave Farmhouse Inn

Day 5 – Sonoma

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast – the bear claws at Farm House Inn are incredible!

Now it’s time to see what Sonoma County, otherwise known as the wine region or wine country, is all about.

Leave your vehicle and grab a taxi so that you can enjoy the local wines.

For dinner head to Willi’s Wine Bar for one of the most amazing meals you’ll have during your entire visit to California. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the food and wine are incredible.

Recommended reading: Dining at Willi’s Wine Bar in Sonoma

Day 6 – Sonoma

It’s time to work off all that food and wine! Head to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve to see the insanely huge redwood trees.

There are a few different circuits for different levels of fitness and/or timeframes. It’s home to some of the oldest and largest trees, which need to be seen to be believed. Allow half a day for this.

Armstrong Redwood Nature Reserve, Armstrong, California

After lunch head down south to Moss Landing. It should take around 2hrs 30 mins.

Look out for the power station and stop in the car park just before. From here you’ll be able to see lots of sealions and if you’re lucky you might see an otter or two as well.

Moss Landing
Moss Landing
sealions at Moss Landing in California
Sealions at Moss Landing
Sunset at Moss Landing, California
Sunset at Moss Landing, California

Continue your drive to Monterey. It should take about 25 minutes. Travelling with kids or want to avoid the rain? Head to the famous Monterey Aquarium.

Head to Monterey’s Fish House or The Sardine Factory for dinner.

Stay at the ever so gorgeous Portola Hotel & Spa or The Clement Monterey.

Recommended reading: Car Activities for Toddlers

Day 7 – Monterey – Carmel-by-the-Sea

Grab a coffee at ocean-front Tidal Coffee before driving 10 minutes to Carmel-by-the-Sea.

It’s not hard to see why both locals and visitors harp on about this small seaside town. It’s fairly compact, offering pretty rows full of boutiques and people with plenty of money.

If you can face an early start, try and make it there for sunrise. Alternatively, if you have time to spare in your California road trip itinerary visit here for sunset.

sunset at Carmel by the Sea
Sunset at Carmel-by-the-Sea

Standing on the beautiful white sand, watching the waves crash whilst the sun performs is perfect.

Tip: Beachfront parking (particularly in peak seasons) is often in demand, so factor in a bit of extra time to find a space.

When you’re ready to leave, continue south, driving over the famous Bixby Creek Bridge until you reach Big Sur. It should only take 40 minutes, but often takes longer because the road hugs the coastline, so you’ll want to stop for photos every two seconds. If you’re not a fan of heights, you might want to shut your eyes!

Have cash to splash? Stay at the luxury Post Ranch Inn. Travelling without the kids? Head to adults-only Ventana Big Sur. If you’re on a budget head to one of the many camps, such as Big Sur Campground or Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground.

Recommended reading: Camping With Kids

Day 8 – Big Sur Road Trip

What should you not miss in Big Sur? Julia Pfeiffer Burns National Park. It’s beautiful.

A half-mile flat walk will lead you to the McWay Falls – a waterfall that tumbles to the beach. The Partington Cove Trail spans one mile and in comparison, is steep. It leads over a wooden bridge down to a 60-foot tunnel and out on to a rocky beach.

California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Day
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Also, look out for migrating whales, sea otters and condors.

It’s about nature in this area of your California road trip, but if you do want to shop head to The Phoenix Shop.

Come dinner time, head to Big Sur Bakery for a gourmet wood-fired pizza or tuck into Nepenthe’s iconic ambrosia burger. If you have cash to splash, head to the Post Ranch Inn’s restaurant, Sierra Mar.

Tip: Head to Esalen in Big Sur for a retreat experience. There are over 600 workshops focussed on change in self and society.

Day 9 – Santa Cruz

Wake up early and drive back north for 1 hour 20 minutes to Santa Cruz. You’ll drive along the same way as you came down, but obviously in the opposite direction, so if the weather wasn’t kind to you on the way down you’ll have a chance to get some better pics.

Grab a light lunch at Linda’s Seabreeze Cafe. Make sure you try the cinnamon rolls!

Take a stroll on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Kids will enjoy this as there are rides.

Head to Natural Slate Bridges to see if you can spot seals. If you’re really into wildlife head out on a dolphin and whale watching cruise.

For dinner, enjoy Mexican food at El Palomar with my favourite brew, Anchor Steam. Vegan or vegetarian? Head to Dharma’s, who offer all different kinds of cuisine.

Recommended reading: Anchor Steam Tour in California

Day 10 – San Francisco

Drive 1hour 30 minutes back up to San Francisco to hand your keys back in. If the Golden Gate Bridge was foggy when you drove over it earlier in the trip it’s worth trying again if you have time.

California Road Trip Logistics

1. Choose a Campervan or Car

If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, book a van with Escape Campervans. They have the most unique and exciting, but equally reliable vehicles.

Escape Campervans
Escape Campervans

Each of the vans in their fleet has been given an edgy makeover thanks to custom paint jobs. No two vans are the same, so you’re sure to turn heads as you cruise the roads (and especially when you’re parked up or at the petrol station).

Escape Campervans
Escape Campervans

It’s not just about looks though. The Ford vans come in a few different sizes and are well equipped with practical kitchens and comfy, spacious seating and sleeping areas. If you’re expecting a hefty price tag in return for such an amazing van, think again. They’re really affordable and are renowned for not having hidden costs like some other rental companies.

Escape Campervans
Escape Campervans

Even if hotels are more your thing, the Escape Campervans are surprisingly comfortable, so it really is a worthwhile experience, even if it is just a quick one-night tick on your travel wish list.

Escape Campervans, Road Trip. Campervan California, Campervan, Cool, Unique, Review, Travel Blog, Travel Lifestyle Blog

Recommended reading: Your Guide to Luxury Motorhome Hire in New Zealand

2. Take It Easy

Most of the rental vehicles are automatics, which is a little unusual if you’re a fellow Brit. Combined with driving on the right-hand side of the road it can take a little while to get used to it.

If you’re starting out in San Francisco bear in mind that you can’t turn right down a lot of the main roads and the city has a lot of steep hills. It’s totally a fun and exciting city to drive in, but just be ready for automatic hill starts!

California road trip

Have you been on a road trip in California or elsewhere? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below. If you have any questions feel free to ask. X

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California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Day
Pin this post on a California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Day
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Comments (12)

  • Lallagrill 12 months ago Reply

    Great Blog!

    Thanks for Sharing Admin!

  • […] Recommended Reading: A 10-Day Californian Road Trip Itinerary […]

  • […] If you have more time to spare, I’d definitely recommend making San Francisco part of a bigger California road trip. […]

  • […] Recommended reading: Road Tripping in California […]

  • Linda Grennan 3 years ago Reply

    Two years ago, we were staying in Half Moon Bay just blocks from Mavericks in October. We woke up one morning to see a Escape Campervan parked nearby. We went over and asked them about it. They were 2 sisters from Australia doing a US road trip. They gave us the grand tour of their van which was the smaller one. We took a photo of the van. This year, we are going to book a trip to drive from SF to Ventura area. It will only be 2 of us but think it will be a great trip. Both of us like to take photographs and my husband does sketching and art. Any tips? Thank you for your page. We are from Oklahoma and hope Escape CamperVans comes to our state.

    Taylor Hearts Travel 3 years ago Reply

    That sounds like such a fun trip – how exciting! My main tip would be to go for as long as you can (not sure if you’re restricted by annual leave). We had a short window, so our trip felt a little rushed. I wish we could have stopped off more and for longer. With your interests, more time would allow for contingencies if the weather isn’t so great one day etc.

    Wishing you all the best for your adventure :)

  • Ali e 6 years ago Reply

    Looks and sounds like a wonderful trip. My husband and I booked a van with the same company and are headed to California in June. Was it hard to find places to stay in the van? Did you have to book campsites ahead of time? Also, where do you suggest staying near the Armstrong Redwoods? Thanks in advance!

    Taylor Hearts Travel 6 years ago Reply

    Wow, that’s so exciting! You’ll have the best time. There are plenty of roadside bays and quiet places you could easily pull over in and chance your luck. However, I guess it depends on how risky you are. Technically, you could be moved along if the police catch you and if your imagination is anything like mine, you might be a bit scared!

    There are loads of campsites with cabins/lodges, bays for campervans with BBQ/shower/toilet facilities and more in the popular spots like Big Sur. If you have your heart set on a particular one, then definitely book ahead. Otherwise, you’d probably be okay to rock up – that’s what we did and we arrived late into the evening, but still managed to get a bay. They’re cheap too.

    Escape Campervans will give you a guide when you get your van and it details all of their favourite spots, with pros and cons for each. It also suggests some spots for roadside parking.

    In terms of Armstrong Redwoods, we took the van to Farmhouse Inn and stayed the night in the most gorgeous hotel room. It’s a really short drive from there and is such an amazing place that it has made one of my top three accommodation spots!

    Hope that helps and even more so, hope you have THE best time. :)

  • My Mom lives in San Diego and Tom’s Mom lives in Sonoma so every year when we visit the US we drive between the two. I love that the beautiful drive up or down the 1 has become a yearly tradition for us! A beautiful drive with amazing tacos on one end, and wineries on the other :)

    Taylor Hearts Travel 6 years ago Reply

    That sounds amazing – such a lovely tradition. Tacos and wineries? Sounds like heaven! Room for a third?!

  • Love this trip! I read this post to simply verify what I know from my own past experiences :D Carmel is incredible, and a CA road trip is a must!!

    Taylor Hearts Travel 6 years ago Reply

    Thanks so much, Dana! I totally agree! Thanks stopping by – hope to see you again soon :D

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