I spent the final two weeks of October 2017 in California, road trippin’, trying to see as much as possible in a short space of time. This has been a trip I have dreamt about since I was young and ideally I wanted to spend at least month doing it, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to work related reasons – so we gave ourselves the challenge to fit it into two weeks – and best believe we DID IT (although I felt like I needed a week to relax when I arrived back in England) but I had THE BEST TIME EVER and would do it again in a heart beat!
Keep reading to find out how we managed to road trip around California and visit San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park and Yosemite National Park all in the space of 14 days! I will list our whole 14 day California road trip Itinerary and any tips/tricks along the way!
- Take the BART (train) into San Francisco from the airport. (Powell Street station was closest to our hostel)
*The BART is the easiest and cheapest way to travel to and from Oakland and San Francisco airports into Central San Fran! It is super easy to use and only takes around 30minutes from both airports*
- Check in to USA Hostel (highly recommend to young travellers, fab location and reasonably priced if booked in advance).
- Latin American street food dinner at rooftop restaurant El Techo – in the trendy Mission area of San Fran, the food was INCREDIBLE and a beautiful view of the city from the rooftop patio (wrap up warm, San Francisco gets extremely cold at night!)
Day 1 – San Francisco
- Street car F from Powell street station to pier 33 (very cool, traditional way of getting around San Fran, similar to their cable cars but cheaper) for our Alcatraz tour.
- Alcatraz Island tour (book through Alcatraz Cruises, they are the only official/direct company you can book through). Our tour started at 11am, (cost about $40) and you can spend as much or as little time on the island as you like, as long as you get on the last ferry back to San Fran (free ferry included in the ticket). I can’t recommend this tour enough, it comes with a great free audio tour that you can listen to at your own pace.
- Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. From pier 33 we walked to the famous Pier 39 where we wondered round and looked at the cute buildings, restaurants and shops (this area is very touristy but I still loved seeing it) we got some lunch from one of the many fish and chip takeaways and sat and watched HUNDREDS of Sea Lions laze around by the pier!
- Cycle over Golden Gate Bridge. We walked further down fisherman’s wharf and stopped at one of the many bike rental stalls. (2 hours for $16 – or 24 hours for $33) – this was the perfect afternoon, with some steep parts of the cycle path but majority is flat and amazing views of San Fran along the way
*Don’t leave it too late in the day to hire bikes because most shops will close at 7pm and then you’ll have to take it with you until the next day*
- Lombard Street. Returned our bikes and walked to Lombard street (the steepest street in the world so prepare for leg burn!) watched the cars struggle down the famous zigzagged street!
- Cable car to Union Square. We couldn’t visit without getting on one! We did the touristy thing and hung off the side – it was great fun cruising up and down the hills of San Francisco
- Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s Union Square – we were recommended this place and now I would also recommend it! The restaurant is at the top of Macy’s with an amazing view of Union Square! Ridiculous amounts of food to choose from on the menu – amazing food, we ate too much and didn’t have room for cheesecake! *The Korean style cauliflower is BANGINGGGG*
Day 2 – Monterey and Carmel
- Pick up car from Alamo office in Union Square
- Drive to Monterey (about 2 hours drive).
- Monterey bay whale watching tour. We arrived in Monterey just in time for our 3 hour Whale Watching tour. This company were amazing, 2 hours into the tour we came across TWO hump back whales and lots of Sea Lions. We stayed with the whales for almost 45 minutes before heading back. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip (except to see wild Orcas obv), the hump backs were definitely entertaining us, an incredible sight and something I will remember forever!
Watch a short whale video here > http://www.finchie-jo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/IMG_4923.mov
- Walk down Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf, look at all the cute colourful fish restaurants. The buildings look like something from a cartoon!
- Cannery row – a street in Monterey which used to be the home of old sardine canning factories
- The Fish Hopper restaurant – AMAZING fish restaurant on stilts looking out over the sea, the perfect spot for beaut sunset views and DELISH food! *I had the Salmon in a thai style sauce*
- Drive to Carmel – (about 10 minutes drive) such a beautiful town, I would highly recommend visiting if you are passing! It reminded me of a little French skiing village with fairytale-like shops and cottages.
- Checked into Carmel Oaks Inn which was the best value for money considering we only booked that morning! Very clean and good sized private rooms with a cute breakfast basket delivered in the morning!
- Drinks at Barmel dive bar – the only dive bar in Carmel, it was a good atmosphere but not busy as it was a Tuesday night!
Day 3 – Big Sur, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara
- Walk to Carmel Beach – through the cute cafe’s and shops it is about a 10 minute walk down hill to Carmel beach which is absolutely beautiful, I wish we had longer to stay here but I’m glad we got to see it!
- Drive down the Big Sur. A large part of the Big Sur (a beautiful 90 mile coastal road) has been closed for over a year – so you are unable to drive the whole way down from Carmel to San Simeon but you CAN drive about an hour of it and then drive back up to Carmel. We decided to do this and it was so worth – the coastal views are breath taking and there are so many opportunities to stop the car and get out!
- Drive to Santa Barbara. (about 5 hours drive) As we were unable to drive the full length of Big Sur, we took the 101 from Carmel and made a stop in San Luis Obispo to break up the long journey.
- The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo – a wildly decorated inn and cafe famous with road trippers doing similar journeys to us. We stopped for a look around and then drove a few minutes into San Luis Obispo town. We had some lunch, visited the very weird and wonderful Bubblegum alley (yes, an alley covered head to toe in chewed bubblegum).
- Arrive at Santa Barbara. Check into IHSP Hostel – this hostel had a good atmosphere, fun guests but not the best place to say facility-wise. Unfortunately there are only two hostels to choose from in Santa Barbara and the other was EXPENSIVE (we booked last minute again) so we had little choice – we had a great time with the other guests so it worked out well!
- Eat at Your Place – Thai restaurant across the road from the hostel (we were tired from a long day or driving so decided to eat close by and chill/drink at the hostel for the evening.
Day 4 – San Diego
- Drive to San Diego. (About 4 hours drive) Our friends met us later in the trip for Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which is why we had to do San Diego first (meaning we had to pass LA on the drive from Santa Barbara to San Diego), most people doing this route would do LA first then San Diego.
- Check in to USA Hostels San Diego Downtown. We had already stayed with this company in San Francisco and had a great time – and we had been recommended this hostel (and the sister hostel at Ocean Beach) by other people prior to our trip.
- Eat at C Level & Island Prime Restaurant on a pier with an amazing view of San Diego’s skyline during sunset! We had a selection of small plates to share which were delicious!
- Rooftop drinks at Altitude Sky Lounge – go during Happy Hour and sunset for better prices and amazing views, and try to grab a seat next to their massive fire pit to keep yourself warm!
- McFadden’s Irish bar for $1 drinks (Thursday night) – a night organised by our hostel (hostel guests get all drinks for $1), but it is also open to the public who get $1 beers. It is safe to say we had our cheapest and messiest night of the whole trip. A great night with hundreds of young travellers making the most of cheap drinks!
Day 5 – San Diego and Tijuana Mexico
- Free shuttle to Ocean Beach. We took the daily shuttle from our hostel to the sister hostel at Ocean Beach to spend the day drinking on the beach.
- Breakfast republic for the best breakfast I think I’ve ever had – I had the Mexican style breakfast with rice, nachos, black beans and scrambled egg. It was so huge I wish we had shared a portion – I couldn’t eat it all but it was the tastiest breakfast!!
- Day trip to Tijuana, Mexico. A rapid change of plan was made to our day because the weather took a turn and started to rain. A day on the beach wouldn’t be possible so we decided to take advantage of the organised trip to Tijuana through USA Hostels. The company, Tijuana Tours were amazing, they taught us all about the city and took us round to their favourite spots. It took 40 minutes on public transport to reach the Mexican Border – the trip left at about 1pm and arrived back at around 10pm. ($20 for the trip, $5 for public transport plus your choice of amount of spending money while in Mexico – I spent around $15)
- Ate proper/traditional Mexican tacos in a buzzing roadside taco joint filled with a mixture of locals and tourists
- Drink tequila – you can’t really visit Mexico and not drink their favourite drink. Tijuana Tours took us to a cheap bar where the locals go for some Tequila and Margaritas.
- Spice market – we visited a massive spice/food/toy market, it was amazing to see all the spices and even more impressive to see the array of MASSIVE hand made Piñata’s – which are such a big part of Mexican culture.
Day 6 – Los Angeles/Venice Beach
- Drive to LA (around 3 hours)
- Check into Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach. Where we met up with our two friends for the LA and Vegas leg of the trip. The location of this hotel couldn’t have been better, less than 10 ft to Venice Boardwalk and a view of the Beach from the rooms and hotel rooftop! The hotel itself was slightly outdated but we had no complaints with such a great price and location!
- Hire skates from one of the many places along Venice Boardwalk ($12 for two hours). We skated along the cycle path to Santa Monica Pier, it was so much fun I would DEFINITELY recommend it, or even just hiring a bike, its a great way to see the beach and get to Santa Monica. There are lots of weird and wonderful people around Venice and it was one of my favourite days of the trip!
Watch my YouTube video of us skating here:
- Lunch at Bubba Gump. We stopped at Santa Monica pier for some lunch, Bubba Gump is a famous chain restaurant themed around the film Forrest Gump – its great if you love the film or if you love eating fish! We then walked around the pier – it is extremely busy and touristy, suited more to younger children and families because of the fairground rides.
- Skate back to return the skates and for a chill on the beach
- Muscle beach and Venice Skate Park. We walked to the opposite end to see the locals work out at the outdoor gym and show us their skate boarding skills at the skate park.
- Dinner on Abbot Kinney at Hal’s Bar and Grill – The hummus was really good, and so was the Sausage Pasta!
- The Bungalow for drinks – an awesome venue for Saturday night drinks, the layout makes it feel like you’re at an actual house party with sofas and pool tables, book cases etc it was decorated head-to-toe in halloween theme as well which made it even more awesome! Couldn’t recommend this place enough!
Day 7 – Los Angeles/ Malibu and West Hollywood
- Malibu beach and pier. We drove our car to Malibu and had a much needed chilled afternoon on the beach. Make sure you take a good look at all the amazing houses on the water front!
- Checked into our West Hollywood Airbnb – a beautiful two bedroom apartment less than a minute walk from Santa Monica Blvd, Wholefoods and lots of cool restaurants! Very reasonably priced and an amazing host!
- Dinner at Laurel Hardware on Santa Monica Blvd. A very hipster restaurant with the exterior looking like a hardware store, you wouldn’t have a clue that its a restaurant until you went inside – definitely recommend! I had the jerk shrimp with cauliflower and polenta – was yumm!
Day 8 – Los Angeles/ Hollywood
- Breakfast at MoCafé – great for breakfast, so much choice and HUGE portions! I had the breakfast croissant with scrambled egg and feta cheese with potatoes.
- Hop-on hop-off bus around Beverly Hills and Hollywood. $49 for 24hours with CitySightSeeing. Unless you have a long list of places you want to see around Hollywood, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending the money on the hop-on hop-off bus – it may work out cheaper to get a normal bus to the Walk of Fame or even an uber.
- The Grove shopping street (cute street that looks like Disney!) We had a wander round the shops and had a drink to get out of the 39degree heat!
- Got back on the bus to the Walk of Fame. I didn’t realise just how far the Walk of Fame goes on for, you can be walking miles before you find the name you’ve been looking for! *Check online before you go to see what number/street your favourite famous person’s star is on, this will save you lots of time*
- Uber to Griffith Observatory (the observatory is closed on Mondays which we didn’t know, luckily we could still drive up there and see the amazing views of Los Angeles).
- Hiked to the Hollywood Sign. There are lots of hiking routes from the Observatory to the Hollywood sign, you will find maps dotted around so you can follow certain routes (the maps have estimated times that each route should take, which is helpful!) It took us around 2 hours to get to the sign, we wanted to see it at sunset but we left it a bit too late and it was dark by the time we got there! (If we had started even 10 minutes earlier it would’ve been perfect timing!)
- Dinner at Stout Burger and Beer. For proper American dirty burger this is the spot – I had the Veggie Burger which was really good and another recommended by the group was the Goombar Burger! *The side dishes are huge so don’t over order and try sharing!*
Day 9 – Los Angeles/ Shopping
- Breakfast at Joeys Cafe – I totally recommend – pancakes or waffles with fruit, egg AND bacon! Yum!
- Drive to Citadel Outlets for some serious shopping! The weather was too hot to be outside so it was the perfect excuse to take advantage of the air conditioned stores!
- Lunch at Ruby’s Diner at Citadel Outlets – a proper old school diner with fried food in massive portions! Recommend the Shrimp Bites, Potato Tots, Calamari and OF COURSE a milkshake the size of your head!
- Back to West Hollywood for Drinks at Delilah’s on Santa Monica Blvd – another drink and dining spot with discreet and plain exterior but inside is amazing 20’s decor, live music and amazing service. The drinks and food are expensive but worth it!
Day 10 – Las Vegas
- Breakfast at iHop – America’s famous pancake chain. We learnt our lesson by now and decided to share a breakfast between two’s – this was the perfect amount for all of us! iHop is worth a visit if you’ve never been and you’re a fan of pancakes!
- Drive to Vegas. A stunning drive that takes around 4 hours without stopping. You’ll be totally shocked at some of the views, something I will always remember!
- Check into the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino
- Walk through Caesars Palace to see the amazing decor of the most famous hotel on the strip
- Dinner at the Cheese Cake Factory (Again)! The two that met us half way through wanted to go here and because we had had an amazing first experience in San Francisco we were totes happy to visit again in Vegas!
- Watch the Bellagio Fountains (they are on every half an hour from 3pm – 8pm, every 15minutes 8pm – midnight)
- Chateaux night club under the Eiffel Tower in Paris hotel. An amazing night dancing under the Eiffel Tower with a view of the Bellagio and the fountains.
Day 11 – Las Vegas
- Booked tickets for a show that evening at Tix4Tonight (kiosk next to Bally’s), this is the best place to buy last minute discounted tickets for Las Vegas shows. We booked Circus 1903 for just $40 each.
- Walk around Bellagio and look at the beautiful indoor flower gardens
- The Paris Hotel swimming pool for some much needed chill time
- Watch Circus 1903 show in Paris Hotel theatre, an amazing circus show set in 1903 – the acts were out of this world and the show was funny – I would definitely recommend if you want to see some incredible circus skills at a reasonable price.
- 2 for 1 drinks at Fuel Bar – we had the best time being entertained by some of the best flair bartenders I have ever seen (especially Sooshey Rholes, he was HILARIOUS), guys if you want a fun place to pre drink DEFINITELY go here (pick up some 2 for 1 drinks tickets from the street team beforehand).
Watch a video of Sooshey Rholes’ skillzzzzz here > http://www.finchie-jo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/IMG_5592.mov
- Hakkasan night club in MGM Grand to watch Steve Aoki, we were approached earlier in the day by a promoter and given free guest list tickets for the show! We LOVED it obviously and are now Steve Aoki’s biggest fans 😉
Day 12 – Las Vegas/ Grand Canyon
- Pick up at 10am for Grand Canyon West Rim Airline tour. Driven to the small airport (about 30 minute drive). We booked this tour through Papillon. There are so many different tours at different prices and durations, you should do some research and find out which one works best for you.
- Took a small plane to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon (about 25 minute plane ride)
- 3.5 hour self guided walking tour. Once we were off the plane we had time to use the free shuttle bus that drops you off at three different locations; Hualapai Ranch, Skywalk and Guano point. This was the perfect tour for us because we could go at our own pace (we are young girls so obviously had to take a million photos at each point). The Hualapai Ranch was very cool, there are lots of activities you can try whilst you’re there and also a restaurant, gift shops etc. We didn’t have tickets for the skywalk but there are parts of the Canyon you can see and take pictures with without paying. My favourite part of the trip was Guano point, an amazing spot to see the Canyon and take some incredible shots. I would recommend this tour highly, it was a great price and shorter in duration compared to the bus tours so fitted perfectly into our short time in Vegas.
- Lunch at Guano Point at Grand Canyon. The food wasn’t the best, but there isn’t much choice while you’re out there unless you take a packed lunch.
- Bus dropped us back to the Venetian hotel to see the impressive interior made to look just like Venice – indoor canals, gondola’s and even St Mark’s Square.
- Dinner at Mon Ami Gabi, Paris Hotel’s most popular restaurant because of the amazing view of Las Vegas Strip and Bellagio Fountains from the terrace. I would recommend the goats cheese and garlic bread starter, my favourite meal from the whole holiday!
- Uber to Fremont Street, Downtown Las Vegas to gamble on some cheaper tables! Fremont Street is my favourite because of the buzzing atmosphere, especially as it was Halloween so everyone was dressed up! Make sure you watch the Ceiling Light Show (Viva Vision Light Show- 6pm – 1am, on the hour every hour) and try the Zip Line that takes you down the street from Slotzilla!
Day 13 – Death Valley and Mammoth Village
- Up early to drive to Yosemite – (about a 7 hour drive including stops) take the route through Death Valley and Furnace Creek to see the best views you can ever imagine.
- Stop as often as you can (we wish we had longer to stop and maybe spend a night somewhere along the road) but we had to get to Yosemite for the afternoon!
- Stop at Zabriskie Point for the most amazing view of colourful erosional landscape
- Check into Moderne Hostel, Mammoth Village. We booked somewhere to stay very last minute (that morning!) so couldn’t stay in Yosemite itself – we stayed in Mammoth Village at Moderne Hostel (45 minute drive to Yosemite National Park). This was perfect for us because we got to Mammoth at around 3pm and were able to explore the Village and picturesque Mammoth Lakes!
*If you want to stay in Yosemite, you will NEED to book well in advance. Places get booked up months before!*
- Dinner at Slocums – the Village is small so not lots of choice for restaurants but our food here was delish. I recommend the battered Fish and Chips!
Day 14 – Yosemite National Park
- Drive to Yosemite through East Entrance Tioga Pass. Most of the famous view points are accessible by car (which was brilliant for us as we had only half a day to see Yosemite)
- Stop at Olmsted Point for a great view of Half Dome (0.2mile walk from the car park)
- Stop at Yosemite Falls – it was so much fun climbing the rocks up towards the waterfall, if you manage to get up high enough you’ll see a huge pool that people were swimming in! (I tried but the water freezing!)
- Stop at Tunnel View for an amazing view through Yosemite Valley
- Stop at Glacier Point – another different and unbelievable view of half dome and Yosemite. By this time we were starving (driving for 6 hours) we didn’t pack enough food and shops are extremely rare once inside the National Park, so we drove out the west exit and finally found a shop!
*If you enjoy hikes and have longer to explore Yosemite, DO IT! I would have spent much longer here if we had the time!*
- Drive back to San Francisco to drop off the car and stay at Civic Centre Motor Inn before flying back to London early the next morning :'(
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