Surf, desert, mountains, forest and cities by road
What better way to truly embrace the spirit of California’s state motto ‘eureka!’ than by embarking on a memorable road trip of discovery?
Here are four suggested itineraries – featuring both iconic sites and attractions and a few ‘unknown’ insider tips – that will keep your clients returning to the Golden State time and time again.
Seaside to Desert Oasis: San Diego to Palm Springs
Start in San Diego, with a two-night stay.
Explore the waterfront, including a visit to the USS Midway, with its decks laden with fighter planes.
Visit the world-famous San Diego
Zoo and Safari Park to experience wild creatures up close. Hang out for a while in the huge (1,200 acres) and beautiful Balboa Park, before hitting the lively Gaslamp Quarter for an evening of food, drink and entertainment.
Then head east, on Highway 78, and wend your way to Julian, an alpine anomaly in warm Southern California.
Here, at the northern end of the Cuyamaca Range, it gets cold enough to grow flavourful apples and the town (entirely a Recognised Historic District) celebrates with a popular Apple Festival each October, when a whopping 10,000 apple pies are baked each week.
Before arriving in Julian for your onenight stay, make a lunch pitstop in Ramona, and then check out Oasis Camel Dairy, the only one of its kind in America.
Ride a camel, pet some farm animals, shop for rare camel’s milk-based products – in short, enjoy a Californian experience with a difference!
From Julian, take a northerly tack on Highway 79, admiring the eastern flank of Palomar Mountain on your left, then hit Highway 371. Keep an eye out for Paradise Valley Café, at the junction of 371 and Highway 74, also called the ‘Palms to Pines Highway’ – it’s the perfect spot for another of those lunch stops.
From here, the highway winds through the San Bernardino National Forest before dropping down into Palm Desert to meet Highway 111. Be ready with your camera, as there are some spectacular vistas along the way!
The Living Deserts: The communities of the Greater Palm Springs area pepper Highway 111, providing a variety of accommodation, dining and entertainment. Spend a few nights in any one of them and enjoy all the area has to offer.
Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (the world’s largest rotating tram car) to the top of San Jacinto Peak, where you can enjoy a bite to eat, take in expansive views and even do some hiking.
Alternatively, explore The Living Desert, a botanical garden and zoo where the desert flora and fauna truly come alive, hit the links on one (or more) of the area’s fabulous golf courses, or simply relax by a sparkling pool, soaking up the sun for which Greater Palm Springs is famous as you wind down this leg of your California adventure.
The Icon: Downtown Los Angeles to the Central Coast
Spend a night in downtown Los Angeles to see the urban revitalisation that’s well underway. Until recently, DTLA had little to offer tourists, but that is changing fast with the list of dining, art, and entertainment
options now an impressive one. For example, check out the Grand Central Market, a hip, multi-restaurant destination at LA’s oldest farmers’ market for dinner, breakfast… or both.
From here, head north to Burbank, home of fabled movie studios like Disney, Universal and Warner Brothers.
Embrace your adventurous side with an afternoon at Universal Studios, where you can raise your heart rate on exciting coasters and explore the backlot with a behind-the-scenes tour.
For a mellower peek behind the curtain of movie magic, consider a studio tour at Disney or Warner Brothers or a visit to NBC’s broadcast studios, before moving on to West Hollywood for a night.
This trendy, LGBTQ-friendly area is known for its vibrant nightlife and the energy is infectious.
‘WeHo’ is home to famous hot spots like the celebrity hideaway Chateau Marmont, Whisky a Go-Go and The Viper Room night clubs, plus several live comedy venues.
Take your pick of famous streets to stroll: Sunset Boulevard, Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica Blvd… they all run through West Hollywood and all are lined with interesting shops and restaurants.
On your way out of town, roll west to Santa Monica, where you can roam the iconic Santa Monica Pier, with its classic seaside funfair. Get a bite by the beach before jumping on the fabled Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1, or PCH to the locals) and head north toward Malibu.
Though this area sustained considerable damage in last November’s terrible Woolsey Fire, recovery is progressing well and the spectacular coastline scenery remains unspoiled. Continue north along the coast to Highway 101 west and Ventura, with its jaw-dropping beaches.
Make a lunch stop here on Ventura’s bustling Main Street, where you’ll also find a piece of California history: Mission San Buenaventura, founded in 1782.
American Riviera: Ahead of you lies lovely Santa Barbara, which warrants a two-night stay.
Known as the American Riviera, this Mediterranean-style city, with its white stucco buildings with their red-tile roofs, is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains. With a vibe of relaxed elegance, Santa Barbara boasts upscale shopping, great dining, welcoming beaches and loads of outdoor pursuits.
Depart Santa Barbara before breakfast, because you’ll want to enjoy that in the picturesque village of Solvang.
Full of Danish flavour, you’ll find classic half-timbered buildings housing shops carrying Danish wares and restaurants featuring traditional Danish delights – from herring to ebelskivers.
From here, follow Highway 101 back to the coast, where you will arrive in Pismo Beach, your last stop on this Los Angeles to the Central Coast adventure.
Enjoy the relaxing, small town feel, visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove, discover a favorite bottle at one of the many wineries, and walk the scenic beaches –“chill” is definitely the watchword here.
Drive the Golden Chain
Start in the state capital, Sacramento, where two nights will allow enough time to tour the Capitol building, discover historic Old Sacramento, the State Railroad Museum, enjoy a peaceful river cruise and savour the tasty fare of the nation’s farmto-fork dining capital.
“What better way to truly embrace the spirit of California’s state motto ‘Eureka!’ than by embarking on a memorable road trip of discovery?”
Then, head east on Highway 50 to Placerville, with a stop in Folsom to take in the new Johnny Cash Trail, around the prison he made famous in his song.
In Placerville, explore historic Main Street, visit the Gold Bug Park and Mine and, if it’s fall, don’t miss Apple Hill, a harvest season heaven filled with apple treats of all kinds.
Take a turn to the south and set out on Highway 49, California’s Golden Chain Highway, linking the towns of the Gold Country. Your destination is the quaint hamlet of Murphys, where you’ll spend a night (try the namesake Murphys hotel).
Stop off along the way in Sutter Creek, in the heart of Sierra Foothills Wine Country, to wander historic Main Street, which retains it Gold Rush facade.
In Murphys, you’ll find a delightful main street, with eclectic shopping and delicious dining. Just outside town is Ironstone Vineyards, a popular winery complex with a tasting room, western history museum, performance venue and, the piece de
resistance, the world’s largest crystalline gold nugget, weighing in at 16.4kg!
A stone’s throw from Murphys on Highway 4 is Calaveras Big Trees State Park, founded to preserve a large stand of towering giant sequoias. Lace up your walking shoes, take a stroll through these ancient wonders, and feel dwarfed by the majesty of nature.
Make your way back to Highway 49 and continue south, stopping in the classic Gold Rush town of Sonora, known as ‘The Queen of the Southern Mines’ for lunch and a peek at its historic opera house before heading for Mariposa for a onenight stay.
Gear up for some engaging, classic mountain driving and breathtaking views along the way!
While there, don’t miss the Mariposa Museum and History Center, offering a look at everyday life in the gold rush era, along with a functioning stamp mill.
“Spend a day in the City by the Bay, riding the cable cars, climbing Lombard Street, exploring Golden Gate Park, and filling up on fresh seafood at Fisherman’s
National parks: From Mariposa, follow Highway 49 south to the well-equipped town of Oakhurst, where you’ll make a left on Highway 41 to get to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite shouldn’t be rushed so spend at least two nights in the park or surrounding area.
If a self-catering stay is planned, suggest a rental home at The Redwoods in Yosemite. Once in Yosemite, explore its spectacular natural attributes, from the heights of Glacier Point and Half Dome to the recently re-opened Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and the valley’s many enchanting waterfalls.
For clients with additional time and a taste for more nature, from Yosemite take Highways 41 and 99 south to Visalia, gateway to the beautiful and uncrowded Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
San Francisco to Davis: the Long Way ‘Round
From San Francisco International Airport, take Highway 101 north, bypassing downtown San Francisco (for now) and heading to nearby Berkeley for two nights. Skip the commute crowds and hop on a tranquil 25-minute ferry ride to spend a day in the City by the Bay, riding the cable cars, climbing Lombard Street, exploring Golden Gate Park, and filling up on fresh seafood on Fisherman’s Wharf.
On the second day discover the eclectic style of Berkeley, on the eastern shores of San Francisco Bay.
Home to the well-respected University of California at Berkeley, this youthful town with a cosmopolitan spirit has great shopping (Fourth Street), outdoor adventure (Tilden Park), botanical gardens (on campus at UC Berkeley), a wealth of art and culture, and the famous Telegraph Avenue, a bustling extension of collegiate life featuring quirky shops and restaurants.
Next, hop on Highway 80 north, to Highway 29 north. Napa is the destination for night three. Here clients can wine
“Throughout the region known as ‘Yolo’, visitors will find high-quality, locally produced fruit, nuts, honey, wines, and speciality cheeses - the perfect road trip snacks!”
and dine to their heart’s delight at a plethora of provisioners, then simply revel in the beautiful countryside as they make their way from Napa, through Yountville and Rutherford to Highway 128.
Hang a right and follow Highway 128 east, into the undiscovered gem of Yolo County and on to the charming town of Winters.
Then spend two nights at the impeccably renovated Inn at Park Winters, one of the area’s original Victorian mansions.
From this comfortable base, explore the greater area, including Cache Creek Casino Resort, home to a new winery (Seka Hills) and tasting room as well as fine olive oils pressed on-property.
Throughout this region – known as
‘Yolo’, visitors will find high-quality, locally produced fruit, nuts, honey, wines, and speciality cheeses - the perfect road trip snacks and meal accompaniments!
Upon departing the Inn, swing north on Highway 505 and east on 16 to Woodland. A warm and welcoming small town, Woodland has some interesting attractions, like Reiff’s Gas Station Museum, an extensive collection of car culture and gasoline memorabilia, and the California Agricultural Museum, full of fascinating implements and history.
Continue from Woodland south on Highway 113 to Davis, for a one-night stay in the home of the renowned University of California at Davis. A bicyclist’s haven, Davis is full of fun dining spots, interesting boutiques, and engaging night life.
It’s another youthful California town with a vibrant, lively, can-do attitude.
Golden memories : Wherever your clients’ California dreaming takes them, they will find beautiful (and diverse) scenery, spectaular vistas, friendly, laid-back locals living the good life; fabulous food, drink, and diversions aplenty. So set them free on those highways and byways, just waiting to guide them to those Golden State memories.
Where to book it
Premier Holidays – 08444 937 531 A five-night North California and Redwood National Park self-drive that includes two nights in Eureka, two nights in Redding and one night in Sacramento starts from £469pp. Based on two adults sharing, with accommodation and car hire (but not international flights), the deal is for travel in February 2019. Premier also has an 11-night Golden California self-drive, with stays in San Francisco, Monterey, Central Coast, LA, Las Vegas and San Diego, priced from £1,449pp for travel on April 1, 2019.
Funway Holidays – 0208 290 9754 The 14-day 'Completely California' self-drive holiday includes flights, accommodation (with an overnight in Bakersfield), two nights in Cambria, San Diego and Yosemite National Park and three nights in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is priced from £2,479pp, based on two adults sharing.
Above: Balboa Park’s lily pond, San Diego
Opposite page, clockwise from top: Napa’s riverfront; hiking in the Golden State; San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. This page, from top: a Sacramento panorama; San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge