17 Mile Drive Carmel California
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3 Weeks in California – An Epic Road Trip Itinerary

Have you been dying to take an epic California road trip but don’t want to deal with all that planning? I’ve done the hard work for you!

Last September me and hubby took a road trip taking in the best California has to offer. Below is our exact itinerary with slight tweaks to make it even better for you. If I had the chance to do it again this would be it!

Itinerary – Breakdown

  • 2 nights – Los Angeles
  • 2 nights –  Santa Barbara
  • 1 night – Solvang
  • 1 night – Cambria
  • 2 nights – Carmel & Monterey
  • 3 nights – San Francisco
  • 2 nights – Napa Valley
  • 3 nights – Yosemite
  • 1 night – Lone Pine incl. Death Valley
  • 3 nights – Las Vegas


Itinerary – Day by Day

Day 1 – Los Angeles

Hollywood Walk of Fame at Sunset

Today you arrive in sunny Los Angeles for the start of an epic road trip! If you don’t have your own car collect your rental and drive to your hotel. Let me warm you, you will get stuck in traffic! Check in to your room for a 2 night stay then head out to explore the area. I’d recommend booking a hotel close to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then you can spend the evening exploring nearby before tomorrows busy day.


Day 2 – Los Angeles

Santa Monica Pier and Beach

Get up early as it’s a busy day! Head to Venice beach and take a stroll along the boardwalk. If you are here early it won’t be busy. You can enjoy a peaceful walk on the beach dipping your toes in the ocean. Jump back in the car and head for Santa Monica pier. Enjoy the rides, people watch or grab a bite to eat. Don’t get too comfy though as you are off to the Griffith observatory. Make sure you arrive before sunset to catch an amazing view over the city.


Day 3 – Santa Barbara

Boats at Santa Barbara

Today begins the road trip! You will be heading off on Highway 1 towards Santa Barbara. Drive through star studded Malibu admiring the houses lining the beach. After a brief drive on Highway 101 you arrive in beautiful Santa Barbara. Check into your hotel before heading into town to do some shopping and grabbing some dinner.


Day 4 – Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Pier

Today is a relaxing day! Enjoy what Santa Barbara has to offer. Visit the pier, stroll along the beach or visit the marina. If your hotel has a pool why not spend some time lounging around it.


Day 5 – Solvang

Danish Town of Solvang California

Before heading off along the coast again, today you will drive a short while inland. There is a little gem that you don’t want to miss called Solvang, a Danish town in California. Check in to your hotel for your overnight stay before heading out and exploring this quaint little town.


Day 6 – Cambria

Moonstone Beach Cambria California

Today you rejoin Highway 1 and head for Cambria. Enjoy the coastal scenery along the drive. You might want to stop at Morro Bay to stretch your legs. Don’t forget to admire the giant rock! Once you reach Cambria check into your hotel before heading out for dinner. I’d recommend staying at one of the Inns lining the seafront on Moonstone Beach Drive. Firstly, so you can enjoy the view from your bedroom and secondly so you can take an early morning stroll on the beach.


Day 7 – Carmel

Bixby Bridge Big Sur California

Today you should be excited because you get to experience the beauty of Big Sur! After your early morning stroll on the beach head back onto Highway 1 towards Carmel. You could at this point visit Hearst castle. Personally I’d rather spend more time enjoying the coastal road. Make sure you stop often to take photos and enjoy the views. Must see stops are Elephant Seal Beach, Ragged Point, Mcway Falls and the Bixby Bridge. Today’s journey ends in Carmel so check into your hotel for a 2-night stay.


Day 8 – Carmel

17 Mile Drive Carmel California

It’s an early start again today as there is a lot to see. Start off by doing the 17 mile drive for some gorgeous scenery. Next head over to Carmel by the Sea to visit this cute little beach town. You can either head to the beach and relax or wander around the shops. Finish off the day with a quick trip to Monterey to see Cannery Row and the aquarium.


Day 9 – San Francisco

Pigeon Point Lighthouse California

Hit the road again today as we are heading to San Francisco. A nice stop along the way is Pigeon Point lighthouse. If you are lucky you will get to experience the thick fog rolling in and clearing just as quickly! A surreal experience. Once you reach the city be prepared for traffic and lots of it. I’d recommend staying in Fisherman’s Wharf as its nice and close to the Piers. Check in to your hotel and head out to get your first taste of San Fran and grab some dinner.


Day 10 – San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Make sure you have booked onto the first tour to Alcatraz today so you arrive before the crowds. Spend some time exploring the island before heading back to the mainland on the ferry. If you are feeling energetic hire a bike from Blazing Saddles and head towards the iconic Golden Gate bridge. Cycle across to the pretty little village of Sausalito, then head back over on the ferry.


Day 11 – San Francisco

Cable Car San Francisco

Today grab an early ride on the cable cars before it gets too busy. Hop off at Lombard Street to take a look at the worlds most crooked street. Make sure to take some photos before hopping back on the cable car to Union Square. Spend some time in the shopping district and grab a bite to eat. Once you are all shopped out take a walk up to Coit Tower. Make sure you have your comfy shoes on and remember how steep those streets are! If walking isn’t your thing there is a bus which stops at the tower. Spend some time at the top for amazing views over the city. If you get lucky tonight you might be able to catch a baseball game, be sure to check this out and book before you begin your road trip.


Day 12 – Napa Valley

Muir Woods National Monument Redwood Trees

Say goodbye to San Francisco today and drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge towards Napa Valley. On the way take a detour to Muir Woods National Monument to take a walk among the giant redwoods. Make sure you get here early as the car park is small and it gets busy. Check in to your hotel in Napa for a 2-night stay.


Day 13 – Napa Valley

Napa Valley Vineyards

Today why not go on some wine tasting tours? Take a trip on the Napa Valley wine train or if you prefer to be more active you can even take bike tours of Napa’s wineries.


Day 14 – Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

You will want an early start today as the drive to Yosemite is a long one. Make sure to stay within the park as it is right in the heart of it all. Once you check in make sure to empty EVERYTHING out of your car! You don’t want the bears breaking in looking for food during the night. Spend the afternoon/evening having dinner and relaxing in the bar.


Day 15 – Yosemite National Park

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Head over to the information center early today and book on to an afternoon coach tour up to Glacier Point. Spend the morning doing the super easy hike to the bottom of Yosemite falls. If you visit in September time the falls is going to be completely dry but it’s still worth a walk. Grab some lunch before your afternoon tour starts. You will be driven up tiny windy roads on the cliff edge on a full sized coach so make sure you aren’t scared of heights! You only get a set amount of time up at Glacier Point if you are taking the coach back down, so take lots of photos and enjoy the view. If you are feeling adventurous however you can hike back down to the valley floor.


Day 16 – Yosemite National Park

Vernal Falls Yosemite National Park

Jump on the shuttle bus this morning outside the information center. Get off at stop 16 – the start of the hike for Vernal and Nevada Falls. Take the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and grab a breather at the bottom to enjoy the view. Continue up the steep rocky staircase to the top and celebrate because you made it! Head towards Nevada Falls and enjoy the view from the bottom. Now you can either continue on to the top of Nevada Falls or backtrack and hike back down the John Muir Trail to the valley. (Please note – some parts of the trails are closed in winter)


Day 17 – Lone Pine

Tenya Lake Yosemite National Park

It’s a long drive today to the overnight stop off point in Lone Pine so get an early start. Head further into the park and drive through the scenic Tuolumne Meadows and along the Tioga Pass road (closed in winter). Don’t forget to make frequent stop offs at scenic points along the route. You will want to come back again and stay in the Meadows as Yosemite has so much more to offer. Once you arrive in Lone Pine take a dip in your motel pool if you have one or explore this cute little town.


Day 18 – Las Vegas via Death Valley

Badwater Basin Salt Flats Death Valley

Another long drive today but before you arrive at the final destination on this epic road trip you get to spend some time in Death Valley National Park. Some points along the route towards Las Vegas are the Sand Dunes, Artists Drive and Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Once you arrive in Las Vegas if you have a hire car head straight to the airport to drop it off as you will no longer be needing it. Jump in a taxi to your hotel on the strip and spend the evening relaxing.


Day 19 – Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip Nevada

So much to do and so little time! If this is your first visit to Vegas today spend the day wandering along the strip exploring the extraordinary hotels. If it isn’t, why not have a pool day to relax after all that driving. Spend the evening in the Casinos having some (responsible) fun!


Day 20 – Las Vegas

Grand Canyon National Park Arizona

This is your last day so make the most of it. You could visit a shooting range, do some shopping or even take a day trip to the Grand Canyon. In the evening take a taxi over to Freemont Street and experience downtown Las Vegas. Have a go on the Slotzilla zip lines which take you flying right from one end to the other.


Day 21 – Home Time

Time to pack up and head home today. I hope your road trip was epic!


Phew what a fun filled & scenic California road trip! It can easily be extended or shortened as required. Let me know if you plan on taking this trip or similar in the comments below!

If you have any questions feel free to ask away 🙂


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