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10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary: An Epic Los Angeles To Big Sur Road Trip

By Jessie Festa. This Southern California road trip itinerary includes affiliate links to trusted partners!

Planning a 10 day California road trip itinerary?

Then you’re in the right place, as this guide shares an epic Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip!

Southern California has so much to offer; national parks, hiking, wine, scenic drives, delicious local food, and more. Luckily, the below itinerary includes all this and more.

Bonus:

If you’ve got time to spare, this guide also shares a suggested California road trip itinerary for 14 days — which is highly recommended as it includes an immersive visit to beautiful wine country as well as a Danish village that transports you to Europe.

Along with advice on where to stop, the California road trip plan includes important tips and travel information to help ensure the perfect trip!

Table of Contents

Plan Your California Road Trip (Free Resources!)

But first, before we dive into our 10 day road trip from Los Angeles, I invite you to grab my free Ultimate Travel Planning Kit — which also includes a downloadable Google Map of my full Southern California road trip itinerary (with 80 attractions, hikes, and hotels pre-plotted!).

There isn’t great cell reception in many of the places on this route, so downloading the Google Map will save you time as you can simply pull it up before you leave your hotel for the map to work offline.

Simply add the map to your phone to have it ready to go for your road trip.

Bonus: The kit comes with 40+ other travel resources — from printables to quizzes to itineraries — all meant to help you explore the world beyond the guidebook!

On that note, let’s go over an unforgettable California itinerary for 10 days in the Golden State!

Renting A Car For Your Southern California Road Trip

To do this Southern California trip itinerary, you’ll need a car. And if you need to rent a car, I highly recommend using Discover Cars to quickly compare your rental options.

Their comparison tool does the homework for you, so there’s no need to have 10+ tabs up trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. Actually, you can save up to 70% using their tool!

10 Day California Road Trip Itinerary: Quick Overview

Here is what I recommend for a 10 days in California itinerary. For this schedule, you’d fly into Los Angeles International Airport and out of San Jose International Airport.

  • Los Angeles (1 day)
  • Joshua Tree National Park (2 days)
  • Sequoia National Park (2 days)
  • Yosemite National Park (3 days)
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea & Big Sur (2 days)

Want to make this a 2 week California trip itinerary? I suggest adding on the following. For this schedule, you’d fly round-trip to and from Los Angeles International Airport.

  • Paso Robles (2 days)
  • Solvang (1 day)
  • Los Angeles (1 day)

And if you only have time for a 1 week road trip in California, I recommend either choosing to explore the national parks and leaving from Fresno-Yosemite International Airport or flying into San Jose International Airport and doing Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Paso Robles, Solvang, and Los Angeles and then leaving from Los Angeles International Airport.

Ultimate California Road Trip Map Planner

Looking for a California road trip trip planner map? Here you go:

ultimate California road trip map planner

You can also click here for the interactive version.

Note that while this map provides general stops for an entire 14 day California road trip, you can get a larger Google map with 80 specific attractions and experiences pre-plotted in my free Ultimate Travel Planning Kit.

Los Angeles To Big Sur Road Trip Itinerary (In-Depth Guide)

So, what is there to do on a Big Sur road trip from Los Angeles? That is what we’ll cover in this section!

Keep in mind, Los Angeles to Big Sur drive time can be as little as 5 hours and 45 minutes if you drive there directly. Moreover, if you drive from Los Angeles to Carmel-by-the-Sea via Highway 1 you can be there in just 5 hours.

However, for this Big Sur itinerary from Los Angeles we’re extending that time and also including three incredible California national parks for a truly epic trip.

I’ve highlighted each stop in yellow so that you can visually differentiate it from the next in case you want to skim the guide.

Note that this Southern California road trip itinerary is the exact route Andy (my husband) and I took for our honeymoon. We absolutely loved it!

Road Trip Stop #1: Los Angeles (1 night)

Our flight from JFK to Los Angeles International Airport got in pretty late, so we honestly just booked a night at the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham LAX.

It was perfect for our needs as it was simple, clean, comfortable, quiet, and included breakfast in the budget-friendly room rate.

Spoiler: If you have more time your first day and are looking for a fun and hip place to stay, we booked The Kinney Venice Beach for the last night of our trip and it was amazing. More on that below!

You can also click here to view a full list of Los Angeles hotels as well as here to see a list of local LA tours.

Road Trip Stop #2: Joshua Tree National Park (2 nights)

Driving time from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park = About 2 hours and 20 minutes (131.3 miles) via I-10 E

Encompassing 1,235 square miles, Joshua Tree National Park features otherworldly desert landscapes dotted with prickly cacti, twisting shrubs, and quirky Joshua Trees that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Spending a few days hiking here is a must. And even if you’re not into hiking, simply driving the park, seeing the scenery, and stopping at the numerous exhibits and attractions — from giant rock formations to cactus gardens — makes it worth the trip.

Things To Do In Joshua Tree National Park On A California Road Trip

Hike the Lost Horse Mine Trail. This moderate 4-mile trail is one of the best in the park, as it brings together breathtaking natural beauty with history as you trek to a mine that is over 100 years old.

Other highlights of the hike include beautiful desert scenery, gorgeous views over the Lost Horse Valley, and seeing wildlife like lizards, ravens, white-tailed antelope squirrels, and giant caterpillars.

It’s quite a gorgeous hike, as you can see in this short video:

Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden. I loved doing the short hike through this garden — though don’t be fooled by the fuzzy-looking cacti, as they are very painful if you get pricked.⁠

Basically, look but don’t touch and you’ll have an enjoyable experience while getting some beautiful nature photos you won’t be able to get at home!

Create a DIY rock formation scavenger hunt. There are so many “exhibits” in Joshua Tree National Park, which are essentially rock formations and other natural sites you shouldn’t miss.

Interestingly, the rock piles you see began forming underground eons ago due to volcanic activity. Today, they allow visitors to use their imagination to see unlikely yet familiar shapes. My favorite is Skull Rock, a giant rock that looks like a humongous skull — eye sockets included!

See the vista from Keys View. Keys View is the highest point in Joshua Tree National Park, making it a must-stop for anyone who loves beautiful scenery.

From the lookout, you can take in panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.⁠

Hike the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This easy 1-mile trail is known for showcasing all of the natural features that Joshua Tree National Park is known for, like Joshua Trees, giant rock formations, pinyon pines, beavertail cacti, California juniper, and yucca.

It takes about an hour to hike. During this time, you’ll feel like you’ve been swallowed up by the valley with its towering boulder walls and immersive Mojave desert beauty.

The panoramic views are truly incredible, as you can see in this quick video:

Eat at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. This fun and delicious eatery is known for their live music, mason jar cocktails, American and BBQ dishes made with sustainable ingredients, and Old West decor that shares the interesting history of the establishment.

In fact, Pioneertown — where Pappy & Harriet’s is located — was built by a group of filmmakers and Hollywood investors to act as a living movie set with stables, saloons, jails, and a cantina.

It’s this cantina that eventually became the beloved eatery and event space that is now called Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

Andy and I shared a full rack of ribs that was absolutely delicious. I also got a mezcal cocktail called the “Highway Queen” that was super spicy and refreshing — perfect after a day of hiking in the hot sun.

Joshua Tree Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of tours near Joshua Tree.

Visiting Keys View in Joshua Tree on a 10 day California road trip itinerary
Keys View vista. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Stay: Romantic Glamping Site (Yucca Valley, California)

As we were on our honeymoon, we booked this romantic glamping site from GlampingHub — though even if you’re enjoying a solo getaway in California or with friends you will absolutely love this accommodation.

The unique glamping site was the perfect way to mix luxury with desert camping. In fact, we had our own hot tub, fire pit, kitchen, and bathroom — all outdoors!

Another highlight was the stargazing platform on the property with mats and a hammock. We saw many shooting stars from here.

Our hosts also gave us a bottle of California sangria, a nice touch to our romantic Southern California road trip.

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of Joshua Tree hotels and click here for a list of local rentals!

Important California Road Trip Tip For Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park has almost no shade, so it’s important to know what to wear hiking and to be prepared for the elements.

Having extra water as well as the proper hiking attire like moisture-wicking clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat that covers your head and neck will help keep you temperate and safe.

Road Trip Stop #3: Sequoia National Park (2 nights)

Driving time from Joshua Tree National Park to Sequoia National Park = 5 hours 20 minutes (311.1 miles) via CA-58 W

Sequoia National Park showcases 631 square miles of stunning nature, and the beauty begins as soon as you enter the park. The drive along the steep winding road into Sequoia NP showcases dramatic high-altitude views.

Moreover, hiking among California’s giant sequoia trees is a magical and humbling experience, as you trek through fairytale forests that remind you just how small you are in this big beautiful world.

In fact, sequoias are the world’s most massive tree, and the park is home to the world’s largest! More on that below.

Visiting Sequoia National Park on a California road trip itinerary
The sequoia trees are huge in Sequoia National Park! Photo via Jessie Festa.

Things To Do In Sequoia National Park On A California Road Trip

Get acquainted with the park at the Giant Forest Museum. Here you can view exhibits on the park and buy souvenirs like postcards, maps, and books.

Hike the Big Trees Trail. Whether you have one day in Sequoia National Park or a few, hiking the Big Trees Trail is a must! This 1-mile paved and wheelchair-accessible trail takes you around a stunning meadow (called Round Meadow) framed by giant sequoias.

Hike to Crescent Meadow. If you’d like to continue hiking, I recommend connecting a few trails — including the Hazelwood, Alta, and Huckleberry trails — and heading to Tharp’s Log & Crescent Meadow.

In total, you’ll hike 2.9 miles with an elevation gain of 748 feet for a lovely sequoia-filled hike that takes you away from the crowds.

Crescent Meadow, with its golden grass and towering trees, is particularly lovely, which is why author and environmental philosopher John Muir called it the “Gem of the Sierras”.

You can see Crescent Meadow — as well as this entire hike — in this short video:

Visit the world’s largest tree by volume. The famous General Sherman Tree is:

  • 52,500 cubic feet in volume
  • 2,200 years old
  • 1,385 tons in weight
  • 275 feet tall
  • 102-foot circumference at the ground
  • Its branches are almost 7 feet in diameter

You can reach the tree via a 1-mile-round-trip paved trail or a shorter wheelchair-accessible trail.

Hike the Lakes Trail. If you’re up for a challenge, the hard but stunning Lakes Trail takes you to three mountain lakes, including Heather Lake, Emerald Lake, and Pear Lake.

The hike is 12.2 miles and totally worth the trek for the scenery and the panoramic views across the Tokopah Valley.

Sequoia NP Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park experiences!

Hiking in Sequoia National Park on a California road trip itinerary
Hiking to Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park on a California road trip! Photo via Jessie Festa.

Stay: Country Guesthouse At An Animal Rescue (Exeter, California)

If you love animals, this Airbnb will be absolute heaven. Hosts Penni and Steve run an animal rescue onsite with 26 cats and more than 10 dogs to play with.

Andy and I are huge cat people and were missing our two fur babies, so getting to play with all of the kitties was a lot of fun for us. Plus, we bonded with one cat in particular, Jazzy, who ended up snuggling with us at night.

Other highlights include yard games like bocce and ping pong, a private patio, an additional outdoor seating area with grill, a full kitchen, a Keurig with loads of flavors to choose from, and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in!

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of hotels near Sequoia National Park and click here to view unique local rentals!

Important California Road Trip Tip For Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is right next to Kings Canyon National Park, so try to make time to visit both if possible. Technically if you start early you can visit both in one day if you plan to spend about 4-to-6 hours in each park.

Road Trip Stop #4: Yosemite National Park (3 nights)

Driving time from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite National Park (South Entrance) = 3 hours 21 minutes (154.6 miles) via CA-41 N

Showcasing 747,956 acres of woodland, waterfalls, and massive granite peaks, Yosemite National Park is a must-visit on your California road trip.

Exploring this park allows you to take in the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the views are the kind that will literally leave your mouth hanging open in awe.

Since this California road trip itinerary has limited time, we’ll be sticking to the Yosemite Valley section of the park near the South Gate Entrance.

Note that if you have more time or want to explore something less traversed you can drive along Tioga Road toward the Tioga Pass, the highest highway pass in California! There are some truly incredible hikes over here, like Cloud’s Rest and Lembert Dome — both of which would be great additions to an unforgettable itinerary for Yosemite National Park!

Hiking in Yosemite National Park on a California road trip itinerary
On the top of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Things To Do In Yosemite National Park On A California Road Trip

Hike Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. Yes, this 5-mile-round-trip hike is challenging, but it’s so worth it to see not one, but two beautiful waterfalls (Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls). You’ll get to stand below, to the side of, and above both for an array of views.

Pro tip:

Taking the John Muir Trail back down adds 1.5 miles to the trek, but is recommended as it’s both easier on your knees and extremely scenic. In fact, it features my favorite view in the whole park, which you can see at the very end of this video:

Do a few easy hikes. While you can certainly find challenging treks in Yosemite National Park, there are also a number of easy ones like Bridalveil Fall (0.5 miles round-trip), Lower Yosemite Fall (1.1 miles round-trip), and the Cook’s Meadow Loop (1 mile).

Drive through the Wawona Tunnel. At 4,233 feet long, Wawona Tunnel is the longest highway tunnel in California. Have your camera ready as you exit the tunnel, as with the light brings an amazing view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.

Also make sure to pull over to the side at the Tunnel View Overlook to really take in the greatness of the park’s towering granite monoliths.

Pro tip: this viewpoint is particularly beautiful at sunset!

Taking in Tunnel View on a California road trip
Enjoying the vista from the Tunnel View Overlook on a California road trip! Photo via Jessie Festa.

Go swimming at Sentinel Beach. Yes, you read that right. The sandy Sentinel Beach sits on the Merced River and is a great spot for swimming and rafting.

You can visit the adjacent Swinging Bridge for views of the Three Brothers, El Capitan, Columbia Rock, and more!

Hike to Columbia Rock. Speaking of Columbia Rock, you can hike to it!

The 2-mile round-trip trek involves a difficult uphill ascent the entire time, though there are various lookouts along the way. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view from 5,031 feet high at the Columbia Rock viewing platform.

Hike Sentinel Dome to Glacier Point. If you like stunning views without a ton of effort, this moderate trek is for you. While this 5-mile-round-trip hike is beautiful the entire way, there are two major viewpoints to get excited about:

  • Sentinel Dome, where you’ll get a true 360-degree view of Yosemite landmarks like Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls in the background.
  • Glacier Point, where you’ll have a front-row view of Half Dome.

You can see how stunning this California hike is in this short video:

Have dinner at South Gate Brewing Company. It’s always fun to try locally-made food and drinks, and since this is also a brewery you can sample some local IPAs, porters, pilsners, and more.

Not only that, but South Gate Brewing Company makes many of their food dishes from scratch, too, often weaving their beers into the recipes.

We started with a crab and beer cheese dip that was scrumptuous. From there, I took a healthier turn with a homemade black bean burger was absolutely delicious.

Yosemite Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of Yosemite National Park tours.

10 day California road trip itinerary including the John Muir Trail in Yosemite National Park
Enjoying the beauty of the John Muir Trail in Yosemite National Park, California. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Stay: Eagle Nest Rental With Hot Tub (Ahwahnee, California)

We loved our comfortable Airbnb property in Ahwahnee, which was about a 40-minute drive to the South Gate of Yosemite National Park.

This property included a fully-equipped house with upstairs bedroom, full kitchen, a grill, and a living room featuring games like a wall dart board and a checkers table.

Of course, after a long day of hiking, nothing is better than a soak in the hot tub, which the Eagle Nest includes. In the morning, it was also nice to eat breakfast outside with a view of the surrounding mountains.

I have to say, though, my favorite part of this Airbnb was the cats, including an adorable and energetic kitten named Peaches and his buddy Gabriel, an older cat who seemed to be used to Peaches jumping on his legs.

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of hotels near Yosemite and click here to view unique local rentals!

Important California Road Trip Tip For Yosemite National Park

When booking your Yosemite National Park accommodation, do your research to make sure you’re staying near your desired entrance gate. The park is massive and it can take hours to drive to a particular trailhead if you’re not staying in the right location.

Road Trip Stop #5: Carmel-by-the-Sea & Big Sur (2 nights)

Driving time from Yosemite National Park (South Entrance) to Carmel-by-the-Sea = 3 hours 41 minutes (186.6 miles) via CA-152 W

Although Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur are technically two different places, they’re located very close to one another and are easy to explore from the same homebase.

While Carmel-by-the-Sea is a walkable seaside city with loads of restaurants, bars, art galleries, and shops — not to mention beautiful beaches — Big Sur is best known for its many outdoor adventure opportunities and. Spending time in both during your Southern California road trip offers the chance to have two unique experiences in one.

Keep in mind, driving Big Sur is a California road trip in itself, so if you can spend more than 2 nights that is ideal. To help you craft your itinerary, here are some of my favorite things to do in Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur.

Pacific Ocean views along Big Sur Highway 1 on a California road trip
Beautiful Pacific Ocean views along Big Sur Highway 1. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Things To Do In Big Sur & Carmel-by-the-Sea On A California Road Trip

Explore Carmel-by-the-Sea’s galleries & cottages. Along with being one of the best beach towns in California, it’s also very creative. In fact, Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to almost 100 art galleries, so you’ll have plenty of options for this. Of course, you shouldn’t miss visiting the Thomas Kinkade Gallery — the artist’s first-ever gallery, which also has a lovely courtyard with paintings to peruse.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is also known for its many fairytale cottages known as Comstock Cottages, as they were designed and built by Hugh Comstock. You can explore these on your own or with the help of a self-guided audio tour that takes you to 11 of these unique bungalows and shares interesting information about each.

See the viewpoints that every iconic Highway 1 road trip itinerary is known for. One neat thing about Big Sur’s Highway 1 is there are loads of vista points where you can pull over and take in a stunning view of the rugged coastline, Pacific Ocean, and jagged cliffs all in one postcard-worthy scene. Many of these vista points also have hiking trails that take you to other beautiful settings.

While you’ll simply see the vista points as you drive and can pull over, a few not-to-miss include:

  • Kasler Point, a cape with some of the most fantastic views along Highway 1
  • Bixby Creek Bridge, an iconic Big Sur attraction dating back to 1932
  • Seal Beach Scenic Overlook, where you can look over a cliff to see elephant seals on the beach below
Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip from Los Angeles
Stopping for a photo at Bixby Creek Bridge along Big Sur Highway 1. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Hit the beach. You can’t explore California travel without spending time at the beach. Luckily, you’ve got a few options to add to your itinerary for your California road trip.

These include Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea — a large and beautiful free beach — as well as Sand Dollar Beach, a popular spot for swimming, photographing unique rock formations, and beachcombing for sand dollars, serpentine, and jade.

There is also Pfeiffer Beach, a secluded beach with soft sand, a secluded cove, and a very interesting rock arch in the water near the shore.

Go hiking in Big Sur. If you’re always on the lookout for the best trails in the world, you’ll love Big Sur. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many state parks and nature reserves as close together as along Highway 1.

Here you’ll find Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (full of flat and easy trails and coastal views), Garrapata State Park (featuring 4.6 square miles of coastal trails and beachfront), Andrew Molera State Park (4,766-acres of mostly undeveloped land), Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (sometimes referred to as “mini Yosemite”), Julia Pfeiffer State Park (home to the famous 80-foot McWay Falls), and Limekiln State Park (where along with scenic hiking you can learn the cultural history of limekilns).

Hiking in Pfeiffer State Park on a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip
Enjoying the view from the Buzzard’s Roost in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Photo via Jessie Festa.

One hike I love in this area is the Buzzard’s Roost Trail Loop in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, a moderate 2.6-mile loop that ends with coastal and mountain views. When hiking it ourselves, we saw a number of California condors, too!

Eat up — and don’t miss Nepenthe. There are loads of great local restaurants to enjoy, like From Scratch, which serves hearty made-from-scratch breakfasts; La Bicyclete, a Michelin-starred French restaurant with delicious gnocchi; and the adorable Big Sur Bakery where you can get everything from homemade pastries to woodfire oven-baked pizzas.

This being said, if you only have time for one restaurant, you can’t miss Nepenthe.

Not only does Nepenthe serve delicious food and great drinks, but it offers incredible panoramic views to pair.

They’ve also got loads of seating options, from their funky waiting area with wooden bleachers and pillows to their al fresco viewing platform. Order a spritz and a cheese platter and enjoy the ambiance!

Visiting Nepenthe on a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip
A drink with a view at Nepenthe in Big Sur. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Big Sur Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a list of fun tours in Big Sur as well as nearby Carmel and Monterey!

Stay: Carmel River Inn (Carmel-by-the-Sea, California)

When planning this part of our trip our goal was to stay right in Big Sur, but after researching accommodation we realized that staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea would be more affordable.

Not only that, but the Carmel River Inn had glowing reviews — and after staying for ourselves it’s easy to see why!

Along with hotel rooms, they offer a village of cottages, which is where we stayed. The room was spacious with amenities like a fireplace, private patio with table and chairs, and a deep soaking tub for two.

Bonus: There was a nightly bonfire where you could hang out and meet other guests, too!

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of Big Sur hotels and click here for a full list of local rentals!

Visiting Carmel Beach on a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip
Beautiful Carmel Beach near Big Sur. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Important California Road Trip Tip For Big Sur

When doing your Big Sur road trip itinerary, know that there isn’t cell service along Highway 1. For this reason, it’s best to pre-plot your points of interest into a Google Map before you leave your hotel.

I also have a free pre-plotted Big Sur road trip Google map in my Ultimate Travel Planning Kit here.

California Road Trip Itinerary For 14 Days (Bonus Stops!)

If you have time to make this a 14 day Southern California road trip, I highly recommend adding on the following experiences:

Road Trip Stop #6: Paso Robles (2 nights)

Driving time from Big Sur to Paso Robles = 2 hours 25 minutes (104.7 mi) via CA-1 S

If you like wine, a weekend in Paso Robles or even a day or a few weekdays is a must. The region is outstandingly beautiful, not to mention that time just seems to slow down while serotonin levels rise as you sip wine in the vines under the hot California sun.

Paso Robles — which is located in the northern half of San Luis Obispo County along Highway 101 — is home to over 200 wineries and vineyards, many of which are family-owned and operated; though, even if you don’t drink, there are other fun Paso Robles activities to add to your California driving vacation itinerary.

Visiting Sculpterra Winery in Paso Robles on a 10 day California itinerary
Walking through the vines at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden in Paso Robles. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Things To Do In Paso Robles On A California Road Trip

Meet the makers at Tin City. This is possibly my favorite attraction mentioned in this entire itinerary for a California road trip! It’s an industrial complex home to over 40 wineries, breweries, cideries, creameries, restaurants, and other local producers.

You can easily spend a day eating and sipping your way around Tin City getting to know Paso Robles through the palate.

Our favorite producer was Field Recordings Winery, who offer delicious wine, a spacious indoor tasting room with album cover art and games, and an outdoor balcony with tables.

Bonus:

They’re open later than the majority of the other businesses, too!

Tin City in Paso Robles on a Southern California road trip
Cheers from Field Recordings Wine in Tin City! Photo via Jessie Festa.

See a light show. If you’re looking for a fun evening experience to add to your 10 day California itinerary, check out Field Of Light at Sensorio, an immersive sensory experience showcasing 60,000 fiber-optic stemmed spheres over 15 acres. It’s a really interesting way to explore Paso Robles, especially as the lights illuminate the landscape in unique ways.

Choose your own meal adventure. There are many great restaurants to choose from in Downtown Paso Robles, though one unforgettable dining experience is TASTE! Craft Eatery.

Their menu is hyper-customizable, as you pick how many items you want and then fill the order with your choice of sliders, salads, Brussels sprouts, and mac and cheese (you can even select your own cheese and toppings!).

Not surprisingly, they’ve also got a huge menu of creative cocktails, beers, and wines to pair, including many local libation options.

Tour the vineyards. You can book a wine tour — like one of these — or use Uber to get around on your own without having to worry about having a designated driver. A few wineries to get on your radar include:

  • Le Cuvier, which offers a delicious lunch and wine flight experience
  • Whalebone Vineyard, where great wine meets history as whale bones and fossils from 30 million years ago were found on this property
  • Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden, where you can walk in the vines, listen to live music, and stroll among enormous sculptures of playful cats and pre-historic creatures
Visiting Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden on a Southern California road trip itinerary
Wine meets art at Sculpterra Winery & Sculpture Garden. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Paso Robles Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of Paso Robles wine tours!

Stay: Wild Women Ranch (Templeton, California)

We stayed for 2 nights at the heaven-on-earth Wild Women Ranch Airbnb, and I really wish we could have stayed an extra day just to relax on the giant porch overlooking the Paso Robles countryside and play with the resident kitty named Shop Cat.

Run by a mother-daughter duo, there are multiple rental types to choose from that vary in size. We stayed in the Studio, and it was spacious and amenity-rich with air conditioning, comfortable bedding, giant windows, a big shower with great water pressure, a mini fridge with a local bottle of wine, and plates and cutlery for cooking on the outdoor grill.

The peacefulness of the place makes the perfect homebase for exploring tranquil Paso Robles.

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of hotels in Paso Robles and click here for a full list of local rentals!

Visiting Elephant Seal Vista Point on a 10 day California road trip itinerary
Don’t miss Elephant Seal Vista Point on a California road trip! Photo via Jessie Festa.

Important California Road Trip Tip For Paso Robles

When making the drive from Big Sur to Paso Robles, make sure to stop at the Elephant Seal Vista Point! During birthing and breeding seasons, you can see loads of elephant seals — which can weigh more than 8,000 pounds — laying on the beach and rolling around in the sand.

A few other top attractions on the way include Hearst Castle — the former over-the-top residence of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst — and the Piedras Blancas Light Station, a historic lighthouse and California Coastal National Monument.

Road Trip Stop #7: Solvang (1 night)

Driving time from Paso Robles to Solvang = 1 hour 37 minutes (96.3 miles) via US-101 S

Did you know you can travel to Europe — without even leaving California? More specifically, in the city of Solvang, you can visit an authentic Danish village that transports you to Denmark through food, architecture, and culture.

Solvang dates back to 1911, when it was founded by a group of Danish immigrants on 9,000 acres. Because it was important for them to retain their culture, these immigrants built a Danish folk school, a church, and an educational and Danish cultural institution called Atterdag College.

After World War II, plans to create a genuine Danish village were brought to life, which is what you can explore today.

There are so many fun things to add to a Solvang itinerary if you have the time, which can be worthwhile as there truly isn’t another city like this in California.

Admiring Danish architecture in Solvang on a Southern California road trip
harming Danish architecture in Solvang CA. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Things To Do In Solvang On A California Road Trip

Visit the many museums. Solvang is home to a number of interesting museums!

Love fairytales? The Hans Christian Andersen Museum celebrates the famed author — who penned classics like “The Little Mermaid” and “The Princess & The Pea” — by showcasing informative exhibits, his books, and his paper scene cuttings.

Prefer local history? The Elverhøj Museum of History & Art has Danish cultural exhibits, historical displays, handmade toys, photographs, and paintings.

A few other Solvang museums include the Old Mission Santa Ines, the Vintage Motorcycle Museum, and the Wildling Museum of Art and Nature.

Go wine tasting. Solvang is located within the Santa Ynez Valley, which is home to over 120 wineries and vineyards mainly growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. Within Solvang’s walkable Danish village, you can stroll to numerous tasting rooms for a guided tasting or just to buy wine by the glass or bottle.

Personally, I loved sitting on the outdoor patio at Lion’s Peak Winery Tasting Room and sipping their rose, which is interestingly made with Cabernet grapes!

Explore the vineyards. If you don’t mind leaving the walkable village, you can be at a gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley vineyard within 10 minutes.

A few nearby include the lavish Sunstone Winery, the sustainable Brave & Maiden Estate, and, my personal favorite, the laid-back surf-themed Kalyra Winery where you can lounge on an Adirondack chair and enjoy views of the vines.

Kalya Winery on a California road trip itinerary 14 days
Relaxing at Kalyra Winery on a California road trip. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Admire Danish architecture. If you’re looking for unique ideas for your California road trip, exploring the architecture of Solvang is certainly unlike anything else you’ll do along your route.

Bring your camera and keep your eyes wide open to take in windmills and buildings with features like thatched roofs, half-timbered facades, and hand-painted panels.

Shop for Danish goods. After grabbing a pastry from the old world Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, explore local Danish shops like The Copenhagen House for jewelry, furniture, and housewares showcasing contemporary Danish design; Hanson’s Clock Shop Jewelers for jewelry, watches, and clocks (including Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks); and Jule Hus, a European Christmas store (that feels like a lot like visiting the Christmas markets in Europe).

Eat and drink under a windmill. Not only does Solvang Brewery have tasty craft beer, homemade pizzas, and yummy burgers, but you can enjoy your meal inside — or outside under a windmill. It’s a delicious and adorable experience!

Solvang Brewery should be on your California road trip plan
Having a beer under a windmill at Solvang Brewery. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Satisfy your sweet tooth (and inner viking) by eating aebleskiver. If you’re looking for delicious Danish food, head to Solvang Restaurant.

Along with typical American diner fare, you can order Danish delights like Danish-style meatballs with red cabbage as well as smørrebrød — open-faced sandwiches on pumpernickel bread with ham, Danish cheese, roast beef, or meatball and served with potato salad.

End your meal with a plate of aebleskiver (sometimes spelled aebleskiver). While the recipe varies, at Solvang Restaurant you can expect round pancake balls topped with jam and powdered sugar.

Interestingly, it’s believed the treat came from the vikings, who were hungry for pancakes after a particularly exhausting fight. They didn’t have cooking supplies, so they used their dented shields as cookware and thus aebleskiver was born.

Trying aebleskiver at Solvang Restaurant on a 10 day California road trip itinerary
Enjoying some aebleskiver at the Solvang Restaurant. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Solvang Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of tours in Solvang CA.

Stay: King Frederick Inn (Solvang, California)

The King Frederick Inn is a centrally-located hotel offering the perfect base for your time in Solvang. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, while amenities like a pool, hot tub, fire pit, and complimentary Olsen’s Bakery goodies in the morning enhance the stay.

Bonus: It’s easy to walk to all of Solvang’s many attractions right from the hotel!

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of hotels in Solvang and click here for a full list of local rentals!

Staying at the King Frederik Inn in Solvang on a Southern California road trip
King Frederik Inn in Solvang, California. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Important California Road Trip Tip For Solvang

Solvang is completely walkable and it’s easy to explore without a plan. That being said, you can find a free pre-plotted Solvang Google map sharing the local experiences mentioned above — and more in my Ultimate Travel Planning Kit here.

Just note that the city shuts down early, with many restaurants, shops, and wineries closing between 5pm-8pm, so try to wake up early to really maximize your sightseeing.

If you’re feeling energetic on the way from Paso Robles to Solvang, consider stopping to explore the many beautiful hiking trails in Pismo Beach — another worthwhile California city!

Road Trip Stop #8: Los Angeles (1 night)

Driving time from Solvang to Los Angeles = 2 hours 21 minutes (128.1 miles) via US-101 S

There are so many reasons to add the state capital to your California road trip itinerary, from beautiful beaches to urban hiking to some of the world’s best restaurants and museums — not to mention you can visit famous filming locations or do a movie set tour.

Los Angeles is a driving city and it’s huge, so with just one night it’s best to stick mainly to one neighborhood and explore it fully.

For this LA road trip itinerary, we’re focusing on the neighborhood of Venice Beach.

Things To Do In Los Angeles On A California Road Trip

Spend time at Venice Beach. From soft sand to giant sculptures to colorful murals, there are many experiences to have on Venice Beach.

One of my favorites was hanging out at the Venice Beach Skate Park and watching the incredibly talented skaters do flips and tricks on the half pipes. It’s terrifying yet exciting and very impressive!

Venice Beach in Los Angeles on a California road trip itinerary
Dipping my toes into the Pacific Ocean on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Walk the Venice Boardwalk. You can’t visit Venice Beach without walking its famed Venice Boardwalk, featuring over 2 miles of vendors, performers, and food shops.

Here you can buy every type of food imaginable — from corn dogs covered in Rice Krispies to vegan tacos to carnival treats like funnel cake and shaved ice — as well as clothing, art, crystals, pet rocks, suits, skateboards, and more.

Or, you can simply people-watch, which is also an interesting experience.

See the famous Venice Canals. Along with Solvang, the Venice Canals off 25th Street offer another chance to visit Europe while really traveling California.

Interestingly, the canals were created in 1905 by millionaire developer Abbot Kinney as a way to bring Venice to America; in fact, the project was called “Venice of America”.

While most have been filled in over the years to make way for roads, a few still stand. You can explore them via a 2.9-mile loop with beautiful views, unique bridges, and the chance to see local homes with docks attached and boats off the yard — which is quite an interesting sight when you think about the location.

Savor sunset tacos in a historic bar. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, The Venice Whaler is a tasty spot on the beach with an interesting history that dates back to 1944 when it was the single-story Crab Shell Bar.

In the 60s and 70s, some of its patrons included iconic bands like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Doors.

When visiting today, definitely order some fish tacos and a spicy margarita — and if you’re up for an appetizer, the fried wonton nachos topped with poke are delicious!

They’ve got indoor, outdoor, and rooftop seating — perfect for a beach sunset view!

Dinner at the Venice Whaler on a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip
Dinner & drinks at The Venice Whaler. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Take in a rooftop bar view. If you love rooftop bars, add High Rooftop Lounge to your California itinerary as they offer yummy drinks (and frose!) along with beautiful views of the beach and city.

Hangout at The Kinney Venice Beach. Honestly, you could just visit Venice Beach and not leave your hotel and you’d have a good time. More on the property below, but I could have chilled or played games on the rooftop or enjoyed the plunge pool and hot tub all day and been happy.

Visit the Griffith Observatory. This was our one non-Venice Beach experience. In fact, we set our GPS to drive straight from Solvang to this Los Angeles attraction!

Not only are the exhibits and planetarium at the Griffith Observatory interesting, but you can take in gorgeous views over the city and out toward the Hollywood sign.

Moreover, you can connect with numerous hiking trails from here, as it’s located within Griffith Park — the largest urban-wilderness municipal park in the United States! A few trails include hiking up Mount Hollywood or Mount Lee, which is home to the Hollywood Sign.

Speaking of hiking, there are also a bunch of great hikes with waterfalls in Los Angeles.

Visiting the Griffith Observatory on a Southern California road trip itinerary
Hollywood Sign view from the Griffith Observatory. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Los Angeles Tours & Activities

Looking for other experiences to add to your California road trip plan, or want to meet people while enjoying solo travel in Los Angeles? A few highly-rated local tours include:

Click here for a full list of tours in Los Angeles!

Stay: The Kinney Venice Beach (Los Angeles, California)

The Kinney is a hip hotel full of Instagram-worthy art and design touches, from a “wanderlust” wall with a globe to giant colorful murals throughout the hallways.

Our room was super bright and fun with colorful paint-splattered walls, neon orange-accented phones, and nightstands covered in comic strips.

Not only that, but their outdoor spaces feature numerous amenities like an onsite pool and Jacuzzi, a fire pit, hammocks, lounge chairs, ping pong, and more.

Note that The Kinney is part of the Pacifica Hotels brand, which has other modern properties around California. In Los Angeles specifically, they have The Wayfarer in Downtown LA, the Marina del Rey Hotel in Marina del Rey, the Inn at Venice Beach, and the Golden Sails Hotel in Long Beach.

Looking for additional accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of Los Angeles hotels and click here for a full list of local rentals!

Staying at the Kinney Hotel on a Southern California road trip
The Kinney Hotel rooftop lounge. Photo via Jessie Festa.

Important California Road Trip Tip For Los Angeles

When planning a California road trip, realize that Los Angeles is an enormous sprawling city that often has lots of traffic. For this reason, it’s best to limit the amount of neighborhoods you visit in a day. Pick one or two and really get to know them well.

Also if you have more time to spend in LA, that’s even better. For instance, with 3 days in Los Angeles or longer, you can see much more of the city!

Shorter 7 Days In California Itinerary

As stated above, if you’re looking to create a California road trip itinerary for 7 days, you’ve got a few options. I recommend choosing one of the following.

California National Park Road Trip Itinerary (Option 1)

Day 1: Los Angeles (fly into Los Angeles International Airport)

Day 2-3: Joshua Tree National Park

Day 4: Sequoia National Park

Day 5-7: Yosemite National Park (fly out of from Fresno-Yosemite International Airport)

Big Sur To Los Angeles Road Trip (Option 2)

Day 1: Carmel-by-the-Sea (fly into San Jose International Airport)

Day 2-3: Big Sur

Day 4-5: Paso Robles

Day 6: Solvang

Day 7: Los Angeles (fly out of Los Angeles International Airport)

San Francisco Road Trip Alternative For Option 2

Of course, there are plenty of options for a Southern California road trip itinerary for 7 days, though I can personally vouch for those two routes.

Note that if you want to focus mainly on the Pacific Coast Highway you could modify the second option to be a road trip from San Francisco, as Carmel-by-the-Sea is only 2 hours south of the city.

This is a great idea as you can then visit famous San Francisco attractions like Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park — which features 10 lakes within more than 1,000 acres! Moreover, there are many beautiful beaches near San Francisco.

From there, you can enjoy a scenic coastal drive to Big Sur and/or Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Walking Venice Beach on a Southern California road trip itinerary
Enjoying the California sun on my face in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Photo via Jessie Festa.

California Road Trip Tips

When it comes to how to plan a California road trip, the following tips can help you have the best experience possible!

-A convertible can make your California road trip more fun. We did this and it was a blast!

Being able to take the top down — especially during the California coast road trip itinerary portion when driving Highway 1 — made the trip a lot more fun! Just make sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and, if you have long hair, a ponytail and headband.

-Consider adding more time. I absolutely loved our itinerary, though if you can spend a little more time in each place — a minimum of 2 nights, though better yet 3 — that would be preferable. If I had to choose where I would add an extra day, it would have been Paso Robles!

-Save money on national park visits. Visiting multiple national parks on your California road trip? Get the America The Beautiful Pass! Most national parks charge about $35 to enter and an annual pass is $80, so as long as you visit three parks within the year you’ve saved money.

-Don’t leave food or anything with a strong scent unattended or visible in your car at national parks as you may attract bears. This includes things like meals and snacks, hand sanitizer, cosmetics, trash, and cleaning supplies. Your best bet is to have a bear-proof box, though if you don’t then store items in a locked trunk.

-When visiting national parks know that you’re on Indigenous land. While the specific tribes vary by park, the story is still essentially the same: they were displaced and/or forced to relocate.

Along with educating yourself on the history and culture of these tribes, consider making a donation to causes and charities that directly support them. Moreover, where possible hire Indigenous guides and purchase from Indigenous-owned businesses.

-You won’t have cell service much of the time. The national parks and Highway 1 have almost no cell service, while the other locations also had very spotty service, particularly when driving. Because of this, it’s smart to pre-load your maps, music, podcasts, and anything you’ll else you’ll need while driving before leaving your hotel.

Check your fuel indicator. During certain sections of this road trip, it is quite far between gas stations, so keep an eye on the gas gauge and fill up the tank as much as possible.

Southern California Road Trip Insurance

When visiting California — or anywhere else in the world — it’s wise to get travel insurance.

One of the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

Click here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

What would you add to this 10 day California road trip itinerary?

Have you ever done a Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip?

Enjoyed this California driving itinerary? Pin it for later!

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Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

I'm a conscious solo traveler on a mission to take you beyond the guidebook to inspire you to live your best life through travel. Come join me!

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