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How to Experience California in 10 Days

Yosemite, California

I’ve wanted to hit the tarmac on an all-American road trip for as long as I can remember. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but roof down, music up, wind in my hair as I cruised through those iconic Californian destinations was my idea of an unforgettable holiday. So, when we finally got around to booking a two-week trip, I couldn’t wait to start planning our itinerary. However, my boyfriend’s work commitments meant we had to cut the holiday back to 10 days. I was initially panicked; was it achievable in this time? Would we spend days on the road and not have enough time to tick off those all-important sights? Were we trying to cram too much in? But it turns out a West Coast USA road trip is not only doable in 10 days – it was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. Here’s how to do it…

LA to Yosemite

After flying into Los Angeles, we picked up our SUV and hit the road for Yosemite. We had initially planned to stop off at Sequoia National Park on our original trip, however, we reasoned that we wanted three nights to experience the very best of Yosemite – plus, the park has its very own grove of giant sequoias, so we wouldn’t be totally missing out. The longest drive of the holiday – around four-and-a-half hours – passed quickly, and as we got nearer to Yosemite, we were treated to some truly spectacular scenery. I took full advantage of being in the passenger seat and happily snapped away as we followed the winding roads, surrounded by towering trees and jutting granite cliffs. After dumping our bags at the lodge and tucking into an incredible lunch (tomato soup with a side of cheese toastie is something everyone should try at least once in their life), we drove into the park itself and up to Tunnel View – one of Yosemite’s most scenic viewpoints. Gazing down at El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall, flowing dramatically off the cliff edge, I couldn’t wait to get into the valley and experience it all up close. (Top tip: Be prepared for more traffic through Yosemite during the summer months; car parks fill up quickly, so it’s best to arrive early and secure your spot for the day). As we hopped back in the car and made our way down, the scenery was unlike anything I’ve ever seen – photos really don’t do it justice. We spent two full days here exploring, feeling the spray of the waterfalls, and breathing in that fresh mountain air, before treating ourselves to lunch at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel on our final day. Nestled right in the middle of the park, the views here are breathtaking.

Yosemite to San Francisco

After one last delicious breakfast overlooking that epic landscape, it was onto San Francisco. By lunchtime, we were driving over the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge and into the city. We dropped off the hire car, and immediately hopped aboard a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. (Top tip: Parking in San Francisco is seriously expensive, and it’s super easy to get around on public transport, so I’d recommend going without a car here). No trip to San Francisco is complete without swinging by Pier 39 to say hello to the sea lions, who were happily (and noisily) basking in the sun on the marina. A sumptuous seafood lunch set us up for an afternoon of exploring; a stroll through Crissy Field towards the Golden Gate Bridge, before a wander down the iconic winding path of Lombard Street. With three nights here, we had enough time to take in Alcatraz Island (one of the best tours I’ve ever experienced), a Golden Gate bay cruise (an amazing way to escape the crowds and see the bridge up close), and taste some seriously incredible food – Lolo, in the Mission District, is a must for all Mexican lovers, FYI.

San Francisco to Monterey

How many times in your life are you going to experience California’s epic coast drive? I reasoned I was lucky to be here even the once, so I simply had to do it in style – and that meant hiring a Mustang. Roof down, we cruised out of San Francisco and hit the road for Monterey. We kept catching the occasional teasing glimpse of the turquoise ocean from the highway, until we decided to turn off and take the slightly slower coastal road, so we could enjoy those epic views throughout the two-hour drive. We soon reached our destination, where we sought out one of the best seafood lunches I’ve ever tasted at Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar – all served with a side of jaw-dropping scenery. This area feels like it’s made for picturesque drives; we spent the afternoon cruising around the sights of Pebble Beach, which is bursting with dramatic coastal cliffs and beautiful beaches. We soon came across a secluded, white-sandy beach in Carmel which was almost deserted. The sun was beginning to set, so we parked the Mustang, grabbed some cold drinks from a nearby deli and sank our toes into the soft silica for quite possibly the best spontaneous sunset I’ve ever seen.

Monterey to San Luis Obispo

After one night in Monterey, an early start meant we were able to spend a full day taking in the iconic, winding coastal drive to San Luis Obispo. Passing over Bixby Bridge (yes, I may have pretended I was in the cast of Big Little Lies for a minute or two) signaled we had almost reached Big Sur; my boyfriend had to stop me from pulling over at every corner here! There are jaw-dropping viewpoints at every turn and the scenery is hard to describe; towering cliffs on your left, the winding road stretching out ahead and cobalt blue ocean for as far as you can see on the right. We stopped for lunch at an incredible café nestled into the clifftop (more fresh fish? Well, it’d be rude not to) and, once refuelled, spent the afternoon cruising along at our own speed, our favourite tunes on the radio, without a care in the world.

San Luis Obispo to Santa Monica

All too soon, our final day of the trip rolled around. We broke up the journey with a night in San Luis Obispo (Top tip: If you’re here on a Thursday evening, the city hosts an incredible Farmers’ Market, where roads are shut to make way for live music and food stalls – the barbecue is not to be missed!) After an incredible breakfast of avocado and eggs on sourdough toast and fresh juice at Nourish Restaurant, it was time to hit the coastal road once more.  We spent our final afternoon on Santa Monica Pier eating fish tacos, and left California feeling relaxed, refreshed and completely unrushed – and I couldn’t wait to share my 10-day trip of a lifetime with everyone back home.

Fancy booking your own California adventure? Let our friendly Travel Consultants tailor-make you the trip of a lifetime today!

Written by Tessa Watkins

Formerly a local news editor and reporter covering court cases and crime stories, I’m obsessed with all things travel. Often found exploring a new city and seeking out the world’s best beaches, there are a plethora of destinations I remain desperate to discover. Tweet me @tess1977

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