The Ultimate 10 Days in California Road Trip Itinerary
So you’re looking for an Itinerary outlining a 10 day California Road Trip? Well, my friends, you have come to the right place! I have lived in California for over 15 years now and managed to explore most major cities in this beautiful state of ours. Taking an ultimate California coast road trip down the Pacific coast highway is a bucket list trip for most. Whether you want to plan your itinerary relaxing by the beach, adventuring in the mountains, or visiting one of the many major theme parks – California has a little something for everyone to enjoy. Buckle up fam and enjoy this “Ultimate California 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary”.
California Road Trip Map
When starting to plan your itinerary the major thing you want to start with is what airport do I fly into? You can either start in San Francisco and work your way down or in San Diego and work your way up. This California road trip itinerary is designed to start in San Diego. However, it is easy to switch around days and still enjoy everything this road trip itinerary has to offer. Finally, there are 2 or 3 stops that have 2 days in each city. You could easily add on more destinations such as Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, etc. However, I wanted to make this itinerary as leisurely as possible so you can enjoy the California laidback lifestyle.
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days Breakdown
- Day 1 + 2: San Diego
- Day 3 + 4: Los Angeles
- Fifth Day: Santa Barbara
- Day 6: Big Sur
- Day 7: Carmel by the Sea + Monterrey
- Day 8+9: Yosemite
- Day 10: San Francisco
San Diego Itinerary Days One + Two
San Diego is a vibrant coastal city located in Southern California, known for its beautiful beaches, year-round mild climate, and lively cultural scene. With a population of over 1.4 million, San Diego is the second-largest city in California and the eighth-largest in the United States.
Visitors to San Diego can enjoy a variety of attractions, from world-class museums and galleries to iconic landmarks such as the San Diego Zoo and the USS Midway Museum. The city’s diverse neighborhoods offer a range of culinary experiences, with everything from fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine to gourmet burgers and craft beer. Whether you’re a beach bum, a history buff, or a foodie, San Diego has a little something for everyone.
Best Things to Do in San Diego
Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park located in the heart of San Diego, California. Known as the largest urban cultural park in the United States, Balboa Park is home to over 15 major museums, performing arts venues, and cultural institutions, as well as numerous gardens, restaurants, and recreational opportunities.
The park was first established in 1868 as City Park and was renamed Balboa Park in 1910 in honor of the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The park’s distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and lush landscaping make it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Among its many attractions are the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Zoo, and the Old Globe Theatre. Whether you’re interested in art, history, science, or simply enjoying the outdoors, Balboa Park offers something for everyone to enjoy.
Sunset Cliffs is a stunning coastal park located in San Diego, California. With its breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and its iconic sunsets, it is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. Here is everything you need to know about Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.
Location: Sunset Cliffs is located in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego, just a short drive from downtown. For the best views drive to the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd and park. You’ll see a staircase at the end of the street and this is where you’ll go to visit the tide pools.
Scenic views: Sunset Cliffs offers some of the most picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean, with its rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and sea caves. The park is particularly popular for watching the sunset, as the name suggests.
Activities: There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Sunset Cliffs, including hiking, surfing, swimming, and rock climbing. The park has several trails that lead down to the beach.
Wildlife: Sunset Cliffs is home to a variety of wildlife, including sea lions, seals, and dolphins. Visitors can often spot these animals from the shore.
Safety: Visitors to Sunset Cliffs should be aware of the potential hazards, as the cliffs and rocks can be dangerous. It is recommended to stay on designated paths and not to climb on the cliffs or rocks.
Overall, Sunset Cliffs is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to San Diego. Whether you are looking to take in stunning views, enjoy outdoor activities, or simply relax on the beach, this coastal park is a true gem of Southern California.
La Jolla literally translates to “The Jewel” and it sure is the jewel of San Diego. It’s a picturesque coastal community. Known for its stunning beaches, oceanfront parks, and upscale shopping and dining, La Jolla is a popular destination. I’m sharing the best things to do when visiting:
- Beaches: La Jolla has several beautiful beaches, including La Jolla Cove, Windansea Beach, and Blacks Beach. These beaches offer everything from swimming and sunbathing to surfing and snorkeling.
- Parks: There are several oceanfront parks in La Jolla, including Ellen Browning Scripps Park and La Jolla Cove Park. These parks offer stunning views of the ocean, as well as picnic areas, walking trails, and playgrounds. You’ll see the famous Seals and Sea Lions when visiting the cove and it’s important that you keep space. Be respectful since you can get a $10,000 fine if you get too close.
- Shopping: La Jolla is home to several high-end shopping destinations, including the upscale outdoor mall, The Shops at La Jolla Village. Here you’ll find designer stores and boutiques selling everything from clothing and jewelry to art and home decor.
- Dining: La Jolla has a wide variety of dining options, ranging from fine dining restaurants to casual cafes. Some popular spots include George’s at the Cove, The Cottage, and Piatti.
- Attractions: La Jolla has several attractions worth checking out, including the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the La Jolla Cove Sea Caves.
Overall, La Jolla is a beautiful and vibrant community that offers something for everyone. Whether you are looking to soak up the sun on the beach, indulge in some high-end shopping and dining, or explore the local attractions, La Jolla is definitely well worth a visit when in San Diego
Little Italy is known for its vibrant Italian heritage, lively atmosphere, and bustling food scene. Some of my favorite restaurants in San Diego are located in Little Italy and it’s a must-visit for everyone! Below I’m sharing my top picks for places to dine in Little Italy:
- Davanti Enoteca
- Kettner Exchange
- Craft + Commerce
- Morning Glory (brunch)
Finally, every Saturday Little Italy has a farmers market with ocean views. It’s a great way to experience the local community and taste some of the best local flavors.
Coronado is known for its beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels, and the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which is a National Historic Landmark. I have a full visiting guide on the best things to do when visiting Coronado.
San Diego Itinerary Breakdown
- Morning in Balboa Park
- Coffee at Craft Cafe by Mingei
- Visit Little Italy
- Walk around and have brunch at Morning Glory
- Head over to Seaport Village (a 30-minute walk from Little Italy)
- You’ll pass the USS Midway and the famous kissing statue
- Explore Seaport Village
- Head to Harbor Island for an early dinner (Coasterra or C Level)
- Visit Sunset Cliffs for Sunset
- Morning at the San Diego Zoo
- Brunch in Coronado
- Drive to La Jolla
- Visit the Cove, lunch at Cody’s or Caroline’s Seaside Cafe
- Explore the beaches and relax for an hour
- Walk the Scripps Coastal Meander
- Visit Torrey Pines Gliderport
- Drive to Los Angeles (2-2.5 hours)
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Recommended Accommodations
La Valencia Hotel – the iconic pink lady as they call it. This hotel is an institution in San Diego. It’s located right on the main street in La Jolla and has stunning ocean views. It feels as though you were transported to Italy. Finally, it’s a bit pricey but if you’re looking for a splurge this is your hotel. Book your stay Here!
Hilton Bayfront – if you’re looking to be more centrally located then consider staying downtown San Diego. This hotel is great because it feels like you’re on a tropical vacation and is set on a corner downtown that is a bit quieter. It’s also located on the water and the pool is one of the best pools in San Diego. Book your stay here!
Paradise Point Resort & Spa – this tropical oasis is located on an island near Mission Bay. You feel as though you are on your own private island. This resort has it all and is perfect for a family vacation. Book your stay here!
Los Angeles Days Three + Four
Los Angeles is commonly referred to as LA or The City of Angels. Known for its iconic landmarks, sunny weather, and vibrant cultural scene, LA is a destination that offers something for everyone. From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the laid-back beaches of Santa Monica, LA is a city that never fails to impress.
Arguably it’s one of the most popular cities in the US. With its diverse neighborhoods, world-class museums, and endless entertainment options, Los Angeles is a must-visit destination for any traveler seeking an unforgettable experience. You can skip visiting Downtown Los Angeles as there is not much to do down there and unfortunately is home to many homeless encampments. Finally, the traffic in LA is not a myth, so do take that into consideration when traveling here.
Best Things to Do in Los Angeles
The Griffith Observatory is a beloved Los Angeles landmark located in Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. The observatory offers visitors a chance to explore the wonders of the universe through its state-of-the-art exhibits, planetarium shows, and telescopes.
Built in 1935, the observatory has played a significant role in advancing public understanding of astronomy and space science. Its iconic Art Deco architecture and stunning views of the Los Angeles skyline have made it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. You can also view the iconic Hollywood Sign from here. It has also been featured in a ton of movies throughout the years including Lalaland and Rebel without a Cause. You have to pay to park here and can get extremely busy mid-day so try and visit in the early morning or for sunset.
Finally, very close by is a view of the Hollywood Sign. In order to view this spot put Lake Hollywood Park into your GPS. You will then walk a bit uphill to get to the area pictured above.
Beverly Hills is a world-famous neighborhood located in Los Angeles, California. Known for its opulence and exclusivity, Beverly Hills is home to some of the most luxurious homes, hotels, and shopping destinations in the world. Visitors to Beverly Hills can explore a variety of attractions, including Rodeo Drive, a world-renowned shopping district that is home to designer boutiques and high-end retailers.
In addition to its shopping and dining options, Beverly Hills is also home to several iconic landmarks, including the Beverly Hills Sign and the Beverly Hills Hotel. You can visit the Beverly Hills Hotel for lunch. It’s quite pricey however the chance of running into a celebrity is quite high (they all love the BHH). Finally, I ran into Robert Pattinson and it was the highlight of all my Los Angeles visits.
Malibu is a stunning coastal city located in Los Angeles County. It’s quite different from most other areas in LA as it has more of a small-town feel. One of the most popular attractions in Malibu is its beaches. With over 21 miles of coastline, Malibu is home to some of the most picturesque beaches in Southern California, including Surfrider Beach, Zuma Beach, and El Matador Beach (featured in tons of movies such as Grease and The Notebook). Visitors can swim, surf, sunbathe, or simply enjoy the stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to its beaches, Malibu is also home to several iconic landmarks, including the Malibu Pier and the Getty Villa, an art museum dedicated to the ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, and Etruria. The Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum is another popular destination, offering a glimpse into the history and culture of the Malibu area. When visiting I highly suggest The Getty Villa and El Matador State Beach.
When most people think of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is usually top of mind. The city is home to several iconic landmarks, including the Santa Monica Pier, which boasts an amusement park, an aquarium, and a variety of restaurants and shops. The pier is also a popular spot for fishing and enjoying stunning views of the ocean and the coastline. Furthermore, Santa Monica is also known for its beaches, which offer visitors a chance to swim, sunbathe, and surf in the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, there are a variety of options for shopping in Santa Monica. Including the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian-only street that is home to numerous shops, restaurants, and street performers. The city is also known for its vibrant nightlife, with a variety of bars, nightclubs, and live music venues.
Venice Beach + Canals
Venice Beach is a popular destination for its wide sandy beaches, lively boardwalk, and street performers. Visitors can take a stroll down the boardwalk, which is lined with shops, restaurants, and vendors selling a variety of goods. Along with that, this area is mostly occupied by the artist community and loads of street art can be found throughout the community. Abbot Kinney is the most popular street in Venice known for its boutique shops and chic eateries.
The Venice Canals, on the other hand, offer a peaceful escape from the bustling boardwalk. The canals were created in the early 1900s by developer Abbot Kinney, who sought to create a replica of the famous canals in Venice, Italy. Today, visitors can take a walk along the canals and enjoy the serene atmosphere, as well as the charming homes and gardens that line the waterways.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is a premier art museum located in the heart of Los Angeles, California. With over 120,000 objects spanning from ancient times to the present day, LACMA is one of the largest art museums in the United States. LACMA’s collections cover a wide range of art forms, including painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, and more.
Some of the most notable pieces in the museum’s collection include works by renowned artists such as Diego Rivera, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso. LACMA’s campus also includes several outdoor installations and sculptures, including the famous “Urban Light” installation by Chris Burden, which features a collection of restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. The Urban Light Installation is free to the public and can get quite busy throughout the day so it’s best to visit in the morning.
Disneyland is an iconic amusement park built by Walt Disney in 1955 and is located in Orange County. Most Disney fanatics travel to California to visit the original Disneyland Park also known as “The Happiest Place on Earth”. One of the main attractions of Disneyland is its rides, which range from thrilling roller coasters to family-friendly attractions.
Some of the most popular rides include Space Mountain, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Pirates of the Caribbean. But the park has so much more than rides and offers tons of culinary experiences, shopping, and restaurants. If you are able to add an extra day to your itinerary I would highly suggest either visiting Disneyland, Palm Springs, or Joshua Tree National Park.
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Los Angeles Itinerary Breakdown
- Morning at Griffith Observatory
- Beverly Hills for Brunch
- Shopping on Rodeo Drive
- Visit the LACMA
- Venice Beach
- Venice Canals
- Dinner on Abbot Kinney
- Morning in Santa Monica
- Santa Monica Pier
- Drive to Malibu
- Brunch at Malibu Farm
- Visit the Getty Museum
- El Matador State Beach
- Drive to Santa Barbara (1.5 hours)
- Belle’s Beach House
- Sunset Bar
- The Butcher’s Daughter
Andaz West Hollywood – Boutique hotel located on the Sunset Strip. Offering a rooftop pool and stunning city views. This hotel is very centrally located Book your stay here!
Santa Monica Proper – The most stunning interiors I have ever seen in a hotel, and I travel A LOT. The proper hotels are architectural masterpieces. This particular one offers a rooftop pool and is centrally located. They are pricey however if you’re looking to splurge this is the hotel for you. Book your stay here!
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Santa Barbara Day Five
Santa Barbara is another famous southern California city on the coast. It’s known for its beautiful beaches, scenic views, and Mediterranean-style architecture. The city has a rich history that dates back to the 18th century when it was established as a Spanish mission. Over the years, Santa Barbara has evolved into a thriving city with tons of things to do!
Since it’s such a small town, I would recommend spending one night here. You can spend a full day sightseeing and knock the majority of the best things to do off your list. Furthermore, most of the below recommendations are very close to each other.
Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Mission
The Santa Barbara Mission is one of the most historic and iconic landmarks in Santa Barbara. It was founded by the Spanish Franciscan friars in 1786 and is known for its beautiful architecture, cultural significance, and role in the history of California.
The mission is located on a hill overlooking the city of Santa Barbara and is surrounded by lush gardens, historic buildings, and beautiful fountains. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the mission, which includes a visit to the church, cemetery, museum, and various other buildings on the grounds. Finally, it’s open every day from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
Santa Barbara Courthouse
I know you’re probably thinking why would I want to vacation at a courthouse? Well, when it looks like the Santa Barbara courthouse you give it a visit! It’s a historic landmark and one of the most visited tourist attractions in Santa Barbara. Located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara it’s widely known for its beautiful Spanish colonial revival architecture and stunning gardens. Finally, it’s hands down the most beautiful place in Santa Barbara so add it to your list!
Stearns Wharf is a long wooden pier that extends into the Pacific Ocean and is known for its ocean views, shops, restaurants, and recreational activities. To be completely honest I was a little underwhelmed when we visited. For my best advice walk past the pier (don’t walk down it) and visit the beautiful Chase Palms Park instead. It was much more quiet and serene.
Right across from Chase Palms Park is the unique art sculpture, Chromatic Gate. The Chromatic Gate is a striking piece of art, created by Herbert Bayer, that consists of two towering steel structures. Each structure is painted in a different bold color making a rainbow. The structures are positioned to form an archway and are connected by a series of cables and wires.
The colors used in the Chromatic Gate are intended to symbolize the diverse cultural heritage of Santa Barbara and to create a sense of vibrancy and energy in the surrounding space. The installation is particularly stunning when the sunlight hits the structures, casting vibrant and dramatic shadows on the ground. Finally, it’s completely free to experience. I especially love the ocean views through the gate.
Visit the Funk Zone
Since Santa Barbara is a huge college town, The Funk Zone is a unique and vibrant neighborhood. It’s widely known for its artistic and creative community, trendy shops, wine-tasting rooms, and eclectic restaurants. The Funk Zone is also home to a number of galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists and designers. Visitors can explore the galleries, meet the artists, and purchase one-of-a-kind pieces of art.
In addition to the wine-tasting rooms and art galleries, the Funk Zone is also home to a variety of restaurants and cafes, offering everything from gourmet sandwiches to seafood to tacos. The neighborhood is a popular destination for foodies, who come to sample the local cuisine. Highly recommend spending your evening here!
State Street is the main drag in Santa Barbara and is known as the cultural hub of town. It’s lined with shops, restaurants, theaters, museums, and art galleries. The shopping scene is elite as it has everything from high-end shops to local artisan boutiques. There are also tons of restaurants and cafes to choose from when exploring.
Santa Barbara Itinerary Breakdown
- Morning at The Funk Zone (coffee shop)
- Santa Barbara Courthouse
- Santa Barbara Mission
- Stearns Wharf + Chase Palms Park
- Chromatic Gate
- Dinner on State Street
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Recommended Restaurants
- Loquita Santa Barbara
- Finney’s Crafthouse
- Milk + Honey
- Convivo Restaurant + Bar
Kimpton Canary Hotel – Kimpton provides the quintessential Santa Barbara hotel experience, with luxurious accommodations and a staff focused on delighting you at every turn. The crown jewel of this Spanish-style hotel is its rooftop pool, which affords stunning views, particularly at sunset. Book your stay here!
El Encanto – This Belmond property is timeless Californian glamor. Rooms invite coastal-style serenity with a blend of light, airy textures, and locally carved furnishings that echo the tranquility outside. Book your stay here!
Palihouse Santa Barbara – Palihouse Santa Barbara offers guests an intimate and elegant coastal hideaway in the heart of Santa Barbara’s downtown Historic Presidio Neighborhood. Offering 24 spirited and handsomely appointed guest Rooms and Suites, all situated amongst a tranquil Mediterranean-style courtyard. Book your stay here!
Solvang + Big Sur Day Six (Driving Day)
* If you’re more of an outdoor enthusiast you can choose to visit Death Valley National Park aside from Big Sur and Carmel on the 10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary. You would skip this portion and head straight to Yosemite from Death Valley. However, coming from a California local I would advise going the route of visiting Big Sur.
Big Sur is a rugged and breathtakingly beautiful stretch of coastline located along the central coast of California, between Carmel and San Simeon. The area is known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, towering cliffs, rugged beaches, and lush forests, making it a popular destination for nature lovers, hikers, and artists.
It’s one of my favorite parts of California as the views will take your breath away. When driving to Big Sur it’s. a bit of a trek coming from Santa Barbara. Most of the day will be spent in the car as it takes roughly 5 hours. And you most definitely do not want to miss the most charming town in California, Solvang on your way up. It’s a small town so spending an hour or two here you can easily see the highlights. Check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Solvang for details there. Furthermore, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo are popular spots to visit as well on the way up.
Once you arrive in Big Sur do know that is home to several state parks and preserves, including Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. These parks offer a variety of hiking trails, camping options, and picnic areas, as well as stunning views of the coastline and surrounding mountains.
Best Things to Do in Big Sur
If you’re a fan of cinema, you may recognize this bridge from the famous book to movie adaptation, Big Little Lies. Bixby Bridge is an iconic landmark located on the scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur. It is one of the most photographed bridges along the Pacific Coastline and is renowned for its architectural beauty and dramatic setting.
The bridge’s location on the rugged coastline provides breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, the surrounding cliffs, and the picturesque landscape. The combination of the bridge’s design and its scenic backdrop makes it a popular spot for photographers, tourists, and nature enthusiasts. Finally, it’s worth noting that road conditions and access to the Bixby Bridge may vary due to factors such as weather, maintenance, or construction. When you are planning to visit, it’s best to check for any updates or advisories before your trip.
If the Little Mermaid lived in Big Sur, it would be McWay Falls. McWay Falls is a picturesque waterfall that cascades directly onto a pristine sandy beach, creating a stunning sight where the waterfall meets the ocean. The waterfall drops from a height of around 80 feet into a small cove, making it one of the few waterfalls in California that fall directly into the ocean.
In order to access the trail leading to McWay Falls there is a parking lot that you can pay a small fee to park at. Then it is a short, well-maintained path that is accessible to visitors. However, the trail leading down to the beach and the cove is closed to the public to protect the sensitive habitat and ensure visitor safety. Nonetheless, there are designated viewpoints that provide excellent vantage points to admire the vibrant turquoise water of the falls and the surrounding scenery.
Pfeiffer Beach is known for its stunning natural beauty and unique features. The beach is famous for its picturesque rock formations, including the Keyhole Rock, which creates a natural archway that frames the ocean and provides a popular photo opportunity. The sand on Pfeiffer Beach is a distinctive purple color, resulting from manganese garnet deposits in the cliffs that surround the beach.
For the best time to visit, Pfeiffer Beach is particularly renowned for its breathtaking sunsets. The combination of the rugged coastline, the unique rock formations, and the vibrant colors in the sky create a magical atmosphere during the evening hours (as long as it’s not overcast). Finally, Pfeiffer Beach is a relatively undeveloped beach with limited facilities. There is a small parking area near the beach, but it can fill up quickly, especially during peak times. Restrooms and drinking water are available near the parking area.
- Nepenthe: a Big Sur institution, Nepenthe has been serving visitors since 1949. Perched on a hilltop, it offers panoramic views of the coastline. The menu features a variety of dishes, including burgers, salads, and seafood, with an emphasis on fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Don’t forget to try their signature Ambrosia Burger.
- Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn: Deetjen’s is a historic inn with a renowned restaurant that serves up hearty and comforting meals. Their menu features dishes like steak, lamb, seafood, and vegetarian options, prepared with care and attention to detail.
- Coast Big Sur: Located within the iconic Ventana Inn and Spa, Coast Big Sur offers a relaxed and elegant dining experience. The menu features dishes inspired by the coastal region, showcasing local seafood, farm-fresh produce, and artisanal ingredients.
I would recommend staying in Carmel by the Sea for two nights so you can catch your breath. It’s hard moving hotels every night so being that Carmel is close to Big Sur that is the best option.
La Playa Carmel: This historic hotel combines elegance and coastal charm. It features beautifully landscaped gardens, luxurious rooms, and attentive service. Guests can enjoy amenities such as a heated outdoor pool, complimentary breakfast, and evening wine and cheese receptions. I’ve personally stayed here and it’s my favorite hotel in this California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days. Book your stay here!
L’Auberge Carmel: Situated in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, L’Auberge Carmel exudes sophistication and European-style luxury. The boutique hotel offers individually designed rooms, a renowned on-site restaurant, and impeccable service. Book your stay here!
Carmel Valley Ranch: Located 15 minutes from the main street in Carmel however if you like to have quiet and privacy this is the hotel for you. It’s so peaceful and serene with outdoor bathtubs in the suites as well as swings adorning the property and rows of lavender and they really do take farm to table seriously here as they have a small working farm. Book your stay here!
Day 7 Carmel by the Sea + Monterrey
Carmel-by-the-Sea, often referred to simply as Carmel, is a charming coastal town located on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Known for its picturesque beauty, artistic heritage, and European village-like atmosphere, Carmel attracts visitors from around the world.
Carmel was founded in 1902 as an artist colony. Many artists, writers, and intellectuals were drawn to the area’s natural beauty and tranquility. The town’s founder, Frank Devendorf, envisioned Carmel as a haven for artists, and it has maintained its artistic and cultural character over the years. It gives off major fairytale vibes. It’s unique because the houses here are not numbered instead they each have a name. It’s most definitely a small-town vibe and one of my favorite places in all of California.
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Best Things to Do in Carmel
The downtown area of Carmel is full of charming shops, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Take a leisurely stroll along Ocean Avenue and explore the hidden courtyards and passageways that make Carmel unique. Do note that the village to the beach is quite hilly so prepare for that!
Visit the Carmel Mission Basilica, also known as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. This historic mission, founded in 1770, is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved missions in California. Explore the mission grounds and learn about its history and significance.
17 Mile Drive
The 17-Mile Drive is a picturesque route that takes you through stunning coastal landscapes, including rocky shorelines, cypress groves, and beautiful beaches. The drive offers breathtaking ocean views and opportunities for photography.
Along the drive, you’ll encounter several iconic landmarks and points of interest. Some notable stops include:
- The Lone Cypress: One of California’s most enduring landmarks, this solitary cypress tree perched on a rocky outcrop is a symbol of the Monterey Peninsula.
- Bird Rock: A large offshore rock formation that serves as a rookery for a variety of seabirds, including cormorants and seagulls.
- The Ghost Tree: A striking, gnarled cypress tree that stands as a testament to the harsh coastal conditions.
- Cypress Point Lookout: This viewpoint offers stunning vistas of the rugged coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
- Pebble Beach Golf Links: Renowned as one of the world’s most famous golf courses, Pebble Beach offers picturesque views of the coastline.
Entrance to the 17-mile drive costs $10. If you prefer to ride your bicycle through for an epic experience I believe you can enter for free. Finally, it takes an hour or two to drive with proper stops so prepare for that.
Point Lobos Natural Reserve
Just south of Carmel, Point Lobos is a breathtaking nature reserve known for its scenic coastal trails, diverse wildlife, and beautiful coves. Go hiking, birdwatching, or even scuba diving to explore the marine life in the reserve. The coast here is stunning!
When ending the 17-mile drive you will end up in Monterrey California. Downtown Monterey has a significant place in California’s history. It was the capital of both Spanish and Mexican California in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and it served as an important center for trade and government. Furthermore, many historic buildings and landmarks still stand, preserving the town’s heritage.
One of the main attractions in downtown Monterey is Cannery Row. Once the center of the sardine canning industry, it has now transformed into a bustling waterfront district filled with shops, restaurants, galleries, and hotels. It’s a popular destination and has been made popular by the popular novel Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Other things to do in the area include:
- Monterrey Bay Aquarium
- Fishermans Wharf
- Alvarado Street
- Monterey State Historic Park
- La Bicyclette
- Grasing’s Coastal Cuisine
- The Tuck Box
- Dametra Cafe
Big Sur + Carmel by the Sea Itinerary Breakdown
- Leave Santa Barbara early morning
- 1-hour drive to Solvang to have breakfast at Paulas Pancake House
- Walk around Solvang village for 30 minutes
- 4-hour drive to McWay Falls
- 25-minute drive to explore Pfeiffer Beach
- 35-minute drive to Bixby Bridge
- Dinner at Nepenthe Big Sur
- End the evening at Carmel by the Sea
- Spend the morning in Carmel by the Sea Town
- Relax at Carmel Beach
- Take a leisurely 17-mile drive in the afternoon
- Explore downtown Monterrey
- Dinner at La Bicyclette
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Day 8 + 9 Yosemite National Park
When visiting California, you must stop at the iconic. Yosemite National Park. Yosemite’s human history dates back over 3,000 years to the indigenous Ahwahneechee people. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which protected the area and set it aside for preservation and public use. In 1890, Yosemite became the third national park in the United States.
It takes roughly 4 hours to get to Yosemite from Carmel by The Sea so I would plan on spending two nights here as well. Yosemite boasts several famous landmarks and natural features. Some of the notable ones include:
- Half Dome: A granite dome that attracts rock climbers and offers breathtaking views from the top.
- Yosemite Valley: A glacially carved valley known for its towering granite walls, waterfalls (such as Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall), meadows, and the Merced River.
- Mariposa Grove: Home to around 500 mature giant sequoia trees, including the famous Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.
- Glacier Point: A viewpoint that offers stunning vistas of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and numerous high peaks.
Make sure to check out my Full Visiting Guide to Yosemite for more information on visiting.
Day 10 San Francisco
San Francisco is a vibrant and cultural city known for its hilly terrain, landmarks, delicious cuisine, and technology culture. The Golden Gate Bridge, which is an internationally recognized symbol of the city is the biggest claim to fame. Other notable sites include Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street (known as the “most crooked street in the world”), and the historic cable cars that traverse the city’s hilly streets.
San Francisco is also known for its diverse neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and atmosphere. Some popular neighborhoods include Union Square, known for its high-end shopping and theaters; Chinatown, the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America; the Mission District, a vibrant area with a rich Latino culture; and Haight-Ashbury, famous for its association with the 1960s counterculture.
Best Things to Do in San Francisco
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning architectural gem located in the Marina District of San Francisco. It was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair that celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and showcased San Francisco’s recovery from the devastating 1906 earthquake. The palace was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck and served as a temporary exhibition hall.
Visitors can stroll along the pathways, taking in the architectural details and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. The palace is a popular spot for picnics, leisurely walks, and photography. The tranquil surroundings provide a serene escape from the bustling city.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is iconic in California and one of the most recognized landmarks in the world. There are many vantage points to enjoy the view of this stunning landmark. The most iconic one is Battery Spencer. Which is located in Marin County. Battery Spencer offers panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge. From this elevated viewpoint, you can see the bridge with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
Another popular one is Baker Beach. This popular beach on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge provides a unique perspective. You can capture stunning photos of the bridge with the ocean in the foreground or take a leisurely walk along the shore. Be aware that this is a nude beach. Finally, remember to check the weather conditions, as the bridge can sometimes be shrouded in fog.
Haight-Ashbury played a pivotal role in the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s. It attracted thousands of young people seeking alternative lifestyles, free expression, and experimentation. The neighborhood became known for its vibrant music scene, cultural activism, and communal living.
While the neighborhood has evolved over the years, there are still some iconic landmarks that harken back to the 1960s. The Red Victorian, a colorful guesthouse, and the Psychedelic Shop, which was the first store in the United States to sell psychedelic merchandise, are notable reminders of the era. The famous Amoeba Music record store is always a fun stop along your journey.
Finally, the neighborhood is surrounded by several green spaces. The nearby Golden Gate Park offers opportunities for leisurely walks, picnics, and visits to notable attractions like the Conservatory of Flowers and the Haight-Ashbury Peace Sculpture.
In my opinion, if you’ve seen one Fisherman’s Wharf you’ve seen them all. However, this spot tends to be one of the most visited when in San Francisco. It’s known for its seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and lively atmosphere. Don’t miss the chance to sample fresh Dungeness crab or take a boat tour to see sea lions at Pier 39. Finally, you can view Alcatraz Island across the way from this spot.
The Painted Ladies
If you grew up watching Full House you will very much recognize this row of Victorian homes called The Painted Ladies. The Painted Ladies are known for their colorful and ornate Victorian and Edwardian architecture. They showcase the unique and intricate details of the era, featuring elements like decorative trim, bay windows, and steep gabled roofs.
They are situated across from Alamo Square, a picturesque park in San Francisco. This location provides a stunning backdrop for photographs, as it offers an unobstructed view of the row of houses with the city skyline in the background. It almost looks as though they are sinking when you snap a photo with the grass in the foreground.
San Francisco’s Chinatown has a rich history dating back to the 1840s when Chinese immigrants began arriving during the California Gold Rush. It is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and has played a significant role in preserving Chinese culture and heritage in the United States.
The iconic Dragon’s Gate marks the entrance to Chinatown on Grant Avenue. It is adorned with elaborate dragon sculptures, symbolizing good luck and prosperity. Furthermore, you can visit the Golden Gate fortune cookie factory in which most of the fortune cookies in America are made.
Ride a Cable Car
The San Francisco cable car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system and an icon of the city of San Francisco. Riding a cable car offers stunning views of San Francisco’s iconic sights and neighborhoods, including Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Bay.
You can enjoy the city’s picturesque beauty as you ride up and down the hills. As well as experience the nostalgia of the city’s past. Finally, to avoid long lines, it’s advisable to catch a cable car at the beginning or end of the line, or consider riding during off-peak hours.
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: Recommended Restaurants
- Benu: Benu is a Michelin three-star restaurant that combines Asian and American flavors to create innovative and meticulously crafted dishes.
- Saison: Another Michelin three-star restaurant, Saison offers a multi-course tasting menu featuring seasonal ingredients and showcasing the culinary artistry of Chef Joshua Skenes.
- State Bird Provisions: Known for its creative and playful small plates, State Bird Provisions offers a unique dining experience where dishes are served dim sum style on rolling carts.
- Zuni Café: Zuni Café is a San Francisco institution known for its wood-fired cuisine, including its famous roast chicken and Caesar salad. It’s a classic and beloved spot in the city.
- Gary Danko: Gary Danko is an upscale restaurant that serves contemporary American cuisine with French influences. The menu features a range of gourmet dishes, and the restaurant is known for its impeccable service.
- Boulevard: Located near the Embarcadero, Boulevard is a renowned restaurant that offers a sophisticated dining experience with a focus on contemporary American cuisine and a vast selection of wines.
- La Taqueria: For delicious Mexican food, La Taqueria in the Mission District is a must-visit. It’s famous for its flavorful and authentic tacos, particularly the carne asada and carnitas options.
The Ritz-Carlton: Located in Nob Hill, The Ritz-Carlton offers luxury accommodations with elegant rooms, a spa, and impeccable service. It is known for its classic charm and breathtaking views of the city. Book your stay here!
Fairmont San Francisco: Situated atop Nob Hill, Fairmont is an iconic hotel with a rich history. It offers luxurious rooms, a rooftop garden, and stunning views of the city and the bay. Book your stay here!
1 Hotel San Francisco: Overlooking the Embarcadero waterfront, Hotel Vitale offers stylish rooms with bay views, a rooftop terrace with panoramic views, and a spa. It’s a great option for those looking for a contemporary and boutique hotel experience. Book your stay here!
California Road Trip Itinerary 10 Days: San Francisco Itinerary Breakdown
- Morning at the Palace of Fine Arts
- Drive over to Battery Spencer Park
- Golden Gate Park
- Explore Haight Ashbury
- Visit the Painted Ladies
- Explore Chinatown
- Ride a Cable Car to Fishermans Wharf
Well, there you have it fam! Thank you for reading this lengthy “10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary”. I hoped you gained a lot of insight to make your trip easier. If you have any other questions feel free to comment them below. Enjoy the highlights of the golden state! Finally, don’t forget to check out more of my California Guides.