California Road Trip Itinerary – 2018

Prepare A Road Trip In California

California, the ideal and dreamed place for a road trip! Are you planning a road trip to California soon? This ticket is for you …

Entirely dedicated to the preparations for a road trip in California, this post will allow you to ask yourself all the right questions to prepare your trip and make your road trip on the American roads of California!

In the program ? My advice for booking the right flight to California, where to sleep in California, which route to a California road trip, how to find a car rental at the best price and many other questions to ask when planning a trip in California !

Let’s go for the 10 steps to prepare his road trip in California …

California Road Trip: First Step, The Plane Ticket!

Booking a plane ticket often marks the beginning of a trip. Very often, one reserves his ticket of plane before having established a plan of route, which is the case for a road trip in California but more widely for the majority of the trips that one can make.

And often, so we rush on a cheap plane ticket, without thinking too much. This is not too embarrassing in a small country but can generate useless kilometers in larger countries like the United States.

For a road trip in California, two flight options are possible:

  • a classic return flight to San Francisco or Los Angeles
  • open jaw flight to Los Angeles and return from San Francisco (or vice versa)

The question is: how to choose the best flight based on his California road trip?

In my opinion, the answer depends essentially on the length of your stay in California!

California Road Trip Of 12 Days (Or Less)

For such a short period of time, I think it is better to opt for an open jaw flight to LA and with a return of SFO (or vice versa).

Indeed, this flight will allow you to avoid returning to the original city at the end of your stay and you will save time and kilometers.

We’ll see it later in the itinerary section, but a 10-day road trip to California is short. Very short even. Indeed, we must already spend a day or two in Los Angeles and 2 or 3 days in San Francisco …

California Road Trip Of 2 Weeks Or More

On a California road trip of 2 weeks or more, you have more time and you can opt for a classic return flight to Los Angeles or San Francisco. Just choose the cheapest flight 🙂

On such a long trip to California, you can make a loop by taking the California coast and back by passing more inland.

Book your flight to California at the best price!

Rent A Car At The Best Price For A California Road Trip

The car rental is a key point for a road trip in California or elsewhere! If you are traveling to the US for the first time, be aware that car rentals are rather attractive price side. It’s really the perfect country for a road trip!

To rent your car at the best price, I recommend you to go through RentalCars. The strengths of RentalCars are numerous! You can in a few clicks compare the prices of the main renters for each range of vehicles. In addition, through RentalCars, you benefit from a negotiated rate, more interesting than a direct booking with the renter …

What Kind Of Car For His California Road Trip?

A priori, unless you have planned to go to a specific place that would involve the rental of a 4 × 4 for your road trip, a simple sedan is enough.

Depending on the length of your road trip, renting an SUV may be wise because it is more comfortable. In addition, car rental rates in the US are interesting, the gap is not huge between a sedan and an SUV.

On this point, there is no special prerequisite. The type of car depends mainly on your preferences and your budget.

Insurance zero franchise for a road trip in California? On RentalCars and when you arrive at the rental company, you can opt for zero excess insurance. Again, it depends on your preferences.

However, be aware that if you have a Mastercard Gold or a Visa Premier, you have a guarantee of repurchase of franchise in case of accident with a car rented via your credit card.

In this case, it is unnecessary for me to take an additional zero insurance deductible for your road trip.

Road Trip In California: How Long To Leave?

Given the duration of the flight to reach California from France, going on a road trip for less than a dozen days does not make sense to me. We can consider that 10 days is the big minimum for a road trip in California.

The ideal time to plan a good road trip in California seems to me to be 12 to 15 days. This timing allows you to take your time and make a loop road trip to discover the 2 main cities of California, the coast and the parks of California like Yosemite.

Of course, it is quite possible to go on a California road trip for a longer period. In this case, you will be able to extend your route to neighboring states including Arizona and / or Nevada.

So there is not really an ideal duration for a road trip in California. The only key point seems to me to be to not go to California for less than a dozen days.

Then, we will see later in this post, the main thing is to plan a route of road trip in agreement with the duration of the trip. If you are leaving 12 days to visit San Francisco, Los Angeles and take a road trip on the California coast, the timing is top! On the other hand, if you want to add Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon over the same period and … it’s way too busy!

In the following of this post, I give you my advice to plan a good road trip itinerary in California.

Reservations To Remember For A California Road Trip?

To make a successful California road trip, some reservations are essential. To avoid waiting and / or having the time slot of your choice for a visit and / or to save on expenses.

Here, according to me, reservations are absolutely necessary on the internet, before departure. Of course, these bookings are to be made if you plan to do these tours / activities during your California road trip.

Reservations For Los Angeles

For Los Angeles, I recommend you book only this:

  • The ticket for Universal Studios in Hollywood if you plan to go there ( online booking here )

Not being a big fan of this city, I recommend you do not spend too much time there to save time for the other stages of the road trip and in particular for the visit of San Francisco, city much more interesting in my opinion.

Reservations For San Francisco

San Francisco deserves a much longer leg during a California road trip. I will talk about it later in the ticket but I think we have to spend 3 days there. Here are the reservations to make online for San Francisco:

  • If you plan to visit San Francisco seriously, the San Francisco City PASS is in my opinion because it includes transportation including Cable Cars and a cruise on the bay among other things (duration 3 days seems ideal). By booking here, you save a few euros on the price of the pass
  • if you’re in a hurry to enjoy the pass, a cruise in San Francisco Bay seems like a must. You can book it here for a day cruise. It is also possible to cruise at sunset, it’s more fun but it’s also more expensive … ( reservation here )

Absolutely unavoidable in San Francisco, visit the Alcatraz prison. You should know that this tour is not included in any pass in San Francisco … It is strongly recommended to book as soon as possible because the slots fill up quickly. This is a must visit during a road trip in California! You can book your visit here .

Pass America the Beautiful! The America the Beautiful Pass is a must if you plan to visit several national parks during your California road trip. This pass can not be bought online. It costs $ 80 and is valid for all passengers in a vehicle.

Just ask the first park visited instead of paying the park’s simple entrance. Nothing’s easier !

During your trip to California, it will allow you to return to all national parks, including other US states if you extend your road trip beyond California.

Which Route For His California Road Trip?

Vast question as that of the route of a road trip in California! There are many things to do in California and the temptation to encroach on neighboring states is strong.

To build your road trip itinerary, there are first several rules to follow:

  • better to see some places and enjoy them rather than flying over dozens of cities / parks
  • to set a limit of kilometers per day (that does not mean that you must absolutely reach this limit always huh …)
  • alternate discoveries: hikes in the parks, relaxation, discovery of cities, …

In my opinion, on a road trip in California, do not exceed the limit of 200 to 250 kilometers on a day. And do not rely on these distances every day!

For information, to better understand the geographical California, here are some examples of distances / time of road for a road trip:

  • San Francisco / Los Angeles: 600 kilometers for a good 6 hours drive via Interstate 5
  • San Francisco / Los Angeles via the famous Highway 1: approximately 800 kilometers for 11 hours drive (non-stop)
  • San Francisco / Yosemite Valley: 300 km / 4h30
  • Yosemite Valley / Sequoia National Park: 320km / 4h30

Even if the distances are not astronomical, we can quickly realize that we should not neglect road times during a road trip in California.

Here are some suggestions of routes in California. Note, it is better to do your own route, even if you can take inspiration from an existing road trip itinerary. Building your own itinerary allows you to have a tailor-made trip, according to your desires and preferences.

California Road Trip Itinerary In 10 Days

For this 10-day California itinerary, I assume that the ideal is to book an open jaw flight to Los Angeles and leave San Francisco, or the other way around.

Here is my suggested itinerary to visit California in 10 days:

  • D1 – arrival in Los Angeles and visit of the city
  • D2 – a day at Universal Studios – Hollywood
  • D3 to D5 – 3 full days for Highway 1 to San Francisco stopping at Monterey Bay
  • J6 & J7 – Yosemite National Park
  • J8 – return to San Francisco + start of San Francisco visit
  • J9 & J10 – visit of San Francisco (must do: cruise in the bay + Alcatraz)

This route allows you to enjoy without making too many kilometers. You will have time to enjoy the famous Route 1, mythical road of California.

You will take the time to discover Los Angeles and San Francisco and you will have a nice overview of the American parks with Yosemite NP, surely one of the most beautiful parks of the USA. 10 days in California is still relatively short and no doubt you will leave with the desire to come back and plan a new road trip on the Californian roads … 😉

15-Day California Road Trip Itinerary

A 15-day California itinerary allows you to enjoy a little more and add some nice steps.

Here is my suggestion of a 15-day California road trip, this time in a loop with a Paris / Los Angeles or Paris / San Francisco return flight. In my example, I leave Los Angeles:

  • D1 – arrival in Los Angeles and visit of the city
  • D2 – Universal Studios in Hollywood
  • D3 – route to Sequoia National Park + park tour
  • D4 – end of visit of the park + road towards Yosemite NP
  • D5 & D6 – Yosemite NP
  • D7 – Lake Tahoe Road with stops at Mono Lake and Bodie
  • D8 – Lake Tahoe
  • D9 – road to San Francisco with visit of old Sacramento
  • D10 & D11 – visit San Francisco (cruise on the bay & Alcatraz not to be missed)
  • D12 to D14 – Highway 1 with many stops to Los Angeles
  • D15 – return flight from Los Angeles

This 15-day California road trip itinerary is balanced between cities and parks. It will allow you to see the most beautiful places in California in 2 weeks.

California Road Trip Itinerary Over 3 Weeks

For a 3 week California itinerary, you can start from the previous route.

I recommend you to add a week to visit by making a loop:

  • Death Valley NP
  • Valley of Fire State Park
  • Las Vegas
  • Grand Canyon
  • portion of Route 66


Where To Sleep In California During His Road Trip: My Good Addresses!

Not having gone anywhere in California during my road trip, I can not necessarily recommend addresses in all corners of California. In addition, I spent nights camping, others in very average motels and finally nights in motels or lodges that I can advise you.

Here are my good places to know where to sleep in California!

  • In San Francisco, I recommend the excellent Handlery Union Square Hotel , ideally located to visit the city in 24/48 hours without wasting time being out of town … The hotels are expensive in San Francisco and it offers excellent value for money / price!
  • In Los Angeles, you can turn to the Shore Hotel in Santa Monica if you want to indulge yourself. If your budget is limited, it will be necessary to see away from known districts of Los Angeles where prices climb very quickly …
  • At Yosemite National Park, prices are crazy and hotels fill up very quickly. You really have to book early. If your budget is limited, you will have to move away from the park and sleep on the side of Mariposa . It’s an hour’s drive from the Yosemite Valley but for cheap accommodation, there are really no other alternatives (except camping)
  • On Highway 1, the ideal to make stops in different cities. I recommend staying at Bernadus Lodge & Spa for one night . It’s close to Big Sur and the place is magical! A stop on your California road trip that you will not regret …

Note, the further you get from famous places or famous parks, the lower the prices … If your budget is limited, it will be necessary to move away from the parks. Nevertheless, it is much more convenient to stay near the parks especially to enjoy early morning or late evening …

Finally, camping is a very good option for a California road trip. Depending on your desires, it is quite possible to mix night in motel, night in lodge and overnight camping. That’s what I recommend.

What Budget For A California Road Trip?

If you’ve read several posts on my blog, you should know that I’m not used to giving a global travel budget. My logic remains the same for the budget of a road trip in California.

Indeed, depending on the duration of the trip, the route (number of kilometers), the type of car or accommodation, the budget of the road trip can vary from simple to triple.

In order to help you calculate the budget for your road trip, here are some price ideas for expenses related to a trip to California:

  • round-trip flight Paris to Los Angeles or San Francisco: between 400 and 700 euros
  • rental of a sedan type car: around 25 euros a day
  • rental of a car type SUV: about 30 euros a day
  • price of a gallon of gasoline: about $ 3.90 or $ 1 per liter (0.86 euros / liter)
  • price of the Beautiful the America pass (essential for visiting the national parks): $ 80 (for the vehicle and its passengers)
  • price of a night camping: 10 to 25 dollars a night
  • price of a night in motel: between 40 and 60 euros depending on the city
  • price of a night in a lodge: from 100 euros up to several hundred euros

With these elements and the itinerary of your California road trip (number of kilometers / number of days), you should be able to calculate the budget of your stay.

GPS & Road Trip

I strongly advise you to book a GPS with your rental for a road trip. This is valid for California, for the USA but also elsewhere in the world.

The GPS is charged by the day and in the end, we pay the price of a GPS on a road trip of 2 weeks in California … Aberrant!

The simplest way to me is to use your smartphone and Google Maps application.

If you have a package in France with data included in the US (which is now available), no problem to use Google Maps in California, no extra cost.

If you do not have data, 2 solutions are available to you to use Google Maps for your road trip:

  • use Google Maps offline and download the California map before you leave for the US
  • buy a US SIM card on the spot to enjoy a 3G connection and use Google Maps with info traffic

When To Go To California?

The best season to go on a California road trip depends mainly on your itinerary. Indeed, if you stay on the coast, a road trip can be envisaged all the year even if the spring / summer / beginning of autumn will allow to have temperatures more lenient.

On the other hand, if you plan to go to California parks like Yosemite, summer is preferable. Indeed, some roads are the Tioga Pass are open in summer because snow the rest of the year. The famous Tioga Road is open from May / June (depending on years) to October / November.

For a fairly wide California road trip through the coast, the cities of California and the parks, the best time to go to California is between late May and late September.

To add, the period of July / August is necessarily more attended due to the school holidays.

For Yosemite Park, a must in California, the perfect time for me is June as you maximize the chances of having the Tioga Pass open and the waterfalls in the park will be quite powerful. In September, there will inevitably be less flow in the impressive waterfalls of the park.

In summary, the best time to go on a California road trip is in my opinion:

  • from mid-May to the end of September
  • with a preference for the month of June (or September) to avoid the tourist peak of July / August

If you plan to extend your California road trip to neighboring states, this is even more true.

California Road Trip: Managing Your Money And Reducing Bank Charges

Here are some tips to avoid bank charges on your California road trip:

  • to leave with euros that you will change on the spot (outside the airport if possible)
  • to leave with a credit card coming from a neo-bank for the payments CB with 0% of expenses (I recommend you in particular the bank N26 )
  • do not forget to leave with a second bank card (not prepaid) in case of a glitch but also for the deposit of your rental car

Even though bank cards are accepted in many places in California, it is still useful to have dollars for small payments.

Note, with an N26 card, it is quite possible to withdraw cash in ATM on the spot. Fees are very limited compared to conventional banks.

Moreover, it is better to withdraw cash on the spot, as and instead of taking the risk of going on road trip with wads of notes in the pocket. It is a risk (loss or theft) totally useless because now with the neo-banks, fees are limited on withdrawals and void on payments …

Do Not Forget The ESTA For California / USA

I will not dwell on this point because it is not necessarily the most important of the preparation of a road trip in California even if it is essential.

To enter the United States, it is mandatory to apply for ESTA. The document will then be presented to immigration upon your arrival at the airport.

Getting ESTA is very easy. It can be obtained online by completing the form on the official website:

Beware, the ESTA costs only $ 14. Many unofficial sites, not far from being beautiful scams, charge this form to 60 euros or more. So be careful, go through the official website!

The ESTA application is very often validated in less than 24 hours (often even in a few hours). Nevertheless, to avoid unnecessary stress, do good before you leave. ESTA is valid for one year. I recommend you do it a month before your departure on a California road trip.

This guide on the preparation of a road trip in California is coming to an end! I think I have mentioned here all the questions to ask for good travel arrangements in California.

If you have any questions or comments during the preparation of your road trip, do not hesitate to comment on this post. I respond very quickly to comments posted on my blog. In addition, our exchanges will certainly be useful to other readers who pass on the blog during the preparation of their road trip in California … 😉

Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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