Two Week California Road Trip
So, to be honest California wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The OC back in the day and I’m not averse to a beach or two but I really had no idea what an amazing state California is. For starters I hadn’t realised how big it was (embarrassing as I have a geography degree!), I’m ginger so don’t cope with sunlight well and I didn’t think Yosemite would beat the other national parks we’d visited. Well I’ll admit I was wrong, we had an amazing California road trip and I honestly can’t wait to go back!
We had two weeks to fit in as much of California as possible, with a wedding in the Napa Valley (the reason for our trip) to squeeze into the mix. We’re trying to tick off as many national parks as we can (whilst trying to make sure we’re not just passing through) so Yosemite and Joshua Tree made the list for this trip. I couldn’t throw up the chance of a rodeo, Route 1 down the coast looked pretty amazing and I was desperate to go to Hogwarts at Universal Studios, so… route planned! I should say at this point there are a lot of places we missed. We think our route gave us a great mix of what California has to offer, but there are still a lot of places we’d love to visit. This post gives a whistle-stop tour of what we did, i plan on writing about some of the places in more detail over the coming months.
The below map gives an overview of our route, with the main places we visited, it’s not necessarily the roads we took (especially the route between Carmel and Cambria, head down Route 1) as we’re really bad for spotting something and heading off on a tangent!
As with a lot of our trips we plan the main places we’re staying and areas we want to see and work out where to go when we get there. We started in a very foggy and cold San Francisco (and yes, this is the only place on our trip I managed to get sunburnt!), headed to China Town, rode the cable cars round Downtown, took a boat trip round Alcatraz/Golden Gate Bridge and warmed up with soup in a bread bowl at Boudin Bakery. I’d seen lots of pics of San Fran and watched Mrs Doubtfire plenty of times but I’d never appreciated quite how steep the streets were, walking is definitely good for you in this city! The next day we decided to explore the Bay Area a bit more, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean and headed to Muir Woods to gaze at the redwood trees.
After an incredible few days in the Napa Valley at a wedding of some friends (a beautiful place but not for budget travellers!) we headed up to Truckee for their annual rodeo. It’s not a huge event but great fun and it got us nicely warmed up for our trip to Vegas and the National Finals Rodeo a couple of months later; cowboy fill achieved and on to Lake Tahoe. We drove down the west shore of the lake and admiring the scenery pledged to definitely come back and explore more at some point (preferably on skis!).
The trip between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite was stunning and a stop off in Bodie Historic State Park is definitely worth it if you’re nearby. This ghost town was once a bustling gold mining city and is left as it was when the last residents moved away. It’s great fun peering through windows and imagining life as it once was. We entered Yosemite via the Tioga Pass, which gave us a chance to explore the northern end of the park before heading into the main valley. Wow! We’ve been to some incredible National Parks so far and Yosemite really is up there with the best. It’s even worth the plague warnings, bear precautions and having to sleep in a tent (not my idea of luxury!). We spent most of our time hiking, first day to Vernal and Nevada Falls and second day up Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. We planned on driving up here but the road was closed due to fires in the park and I’m so glad we ended going up the hard way. It’s a slog uphill but the views are incredible and definitely not to be missed.
We hit the road again late afternoon and headed over to Carmel on the coast (via Boot Barn for some amazing new cowboy boots!), which turned out to be a beautiful little town that I wish we’d had more time to explore. Our next couple of days was spent heading down the coast to Los Angeles. Route 1 was closed in various parts due to a bridge being out at Big Sur and landslides damaging (or completely wiping out) the road. We headed down to Big Sur as far as we could get, turned around and then cut back in further down the coast to do the middle section. The cut in was a very long and windy road but beautiful none the less, and McWay Falls at the other end was 100% worth it. I can’t imagine the financial loss to businesses in the area with the road being closed but we were so lucky as it meant we virtually had the place to ourselves and it felt a lot more like we’d earned the incredible views!
After a stop over in Cambria we hit the saddle for a ride around wine country followed by wine tasting at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita (maybe a little too early in the day but hey, what are holidays for?!) and the most delicious olives I’ve ever had! Then the final part of our Route 1 road trip took us down the coast and into Venice Beach to watch the sun set over the sand. Our Los Angeles stay consisted of all the tourist essentials, including the Grifforth Observatory to see the Hollywood Sign (way too busy to move!), Hollywood Boulevard, Beverley Hills etc.
That was enough city for me so the next day we headed to Joshua Tree National Park and although we only had a day here we enjoyed exploring, avoiding rattle snakes and visiting the cactus gardens. We followed this by a fun little throw back to the Wild West; Pioneertown. This quirky little town was created as a set for Westerns but is now a real living town in the Mojave Desert.
A few flash floods later (why does this always happen when we visit the desert?) and back to LA for Universal Studios. We splashed out on a front of line pass which was definitely worth it to avoid the queues and had a great time here on our last day. The studio sets were really interesting, the rides were lots of fun (Walking Dead not so much!) and Hogsmeade/Hogwarts ensured my Harry Potter fill. The Hogwarts at Night light show was stunning and the perfect last evening for our two week California road trip.
California I’m 100% converted. The above itinerary gave us a great flavour of such a varied state with incredible scenery and so much to explore, and i’d definitely recommend a similar route if you’re in the planning stages of a trip. I can’t wait to go back!