A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to write about our epic road trip around California. I’m not sure why I’ve never put pen to paper about this trip. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t yet started blogging, or maybe it’s because I am the ultimate procrastinator! Probably a bit of both.

Sunset over Yosemite National Park - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

But anyway, I’ve finally gotten around to sharing this amazing trip with you in the form of a 15-day California road-trip itinerary. We spent two weeks driving around California and absolutely fell in love with the US! I cannot wait to return!

Read on to learn more about the ultimate California road-trip and what I’d do differently next time.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Arriving in LA/LAX

After extensive research, we decided to land in LA simply because it was the cheapest option. We only planned this holiday six weeks in advance, and with spontaneity comes a budget! Any cost savings were a bonus, and flying into LA rather than San Francisco shaved pounds off the final flight price.

A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

We were road-tripping around California with friends who’d just spent two weeks in Hawaii and had arranged our flight times to meet at LAX. We landed in LA on 25th December, met our friends in the arrivals hall as they came off their flight from Hawaii and immediately headed to the Hilton Los Angeles Airport to crash for the night.

Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Airport - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Los Angeles – 2 days

I regret not spending longer in LA. We had so much to cram in, LA kinda dropped off our list. We stayed one night in a hotel, headed straight to the car hire in Beverly Hills and hit the road. So, in all honesty, I can’t say I’ve really been to Los Angeles.

A second time around, I’d definitely spend at least two days in LA to check out Hollywood, the beaches and the Griffith Observatory. We definitely missed out here!

Pacific Coast Highway - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Side note: We booked our car hire through Budget Car Rental and received some of the worst service I’ve ever had. I don’t often diss companies on this blog but if I were you I’d stay away from the Beverly Hills Budget car hire! I won’t elaborate as it’s a looong story but it took us near three hours to actually get the car we booked!

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park at Night - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Pacific Coast Highway – Highway 1 – PCH – 3 days

Our plans were to drive the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from LA to San Francisco. We’d heard the coastal views were better when travelling in the opposite direction but it was simply cheaper to fly into LA, so we rolled with the punches.

We spent two days driving the coast, with a one night stop in San Luis Obispo. And managed to see this gorgeous elephant seals along the way. Look out for signs highlighting vista points!

Elephant Seals, Pacific Coast Highway - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

In hindsight, another day would’ve been amazing. We had to rush the PCH a little and didn’t get to stop as often as we would’ve liked. Stopping for two nights along the way would’ve allowed us to take our time and explore a little more. Especially as it got dark so early (travelling in December). Even so, the views were incredible and I will definitely return to drive Highway 1 again!

Top tip: Keep your eyes peeled for migrating whales off the coast! You can even do whale watching trips, so make sure you plan this into your California itinerary.

Don’t forget to grab a fantastic guidebook before you go. Check out my recommendations below!


Pacific Coast Highway - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

San Francisco – 2 days

Ok, I’m ready to be torn apart for saying this, but…I didn’t fall in love with San Francisco. I know…shocker!!! Maybe I had an inflated sense of what SF would be like because so many people told us how AMAZING it is. But I just didn’t see it. The Golden Gate Bridge is pretty impressive, the Palace of Fine Arts is beautiful and the city is obviously iconic with its beautiful hills and architecture but unfortunately, I was a little underwhelmed.

Black and White San Francisco - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

We spent three days in SF and if I did this trip again I’d spend one day/night there or even skip it altogether. But I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this.

Saying that, the tours to Alcatraz were fully booked and we didn’t get to visit, so maybe that would’ve enhanced the experience. I don’t know…did I miss something? Let me know in the comments what you love about San Fran.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Lake Tahoe – 2 days

Until this trip, I’d never even heard of Lake Tahoe! But, oh boy, are we glad we spent some time here. Travelling in December meant it was freezing cold. But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and the snow-capped mountains and crystal clear water framed every scene perfectly. We spent an entire day driving around the lake and were completely mesmerised by its size and beauty!

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

We stayed in a great budget motel in Carson City, Nevada, where a double room cost about $30 a night – with breakfast included! I can’t recommend this place enough if you want a cheap place to crash for a night or two. It was the perfect base to explore Tahoe!

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Yosemite National Park – 6 days

If I could, I’d spend a whole month exploring Yosemite and the surrounding areas. One week is not nearly enough to see everything but you can get a pretty good feel for it. We spent 6 days in a gorgeous cabin about 30 minutes drive outside the national park and absolutely loved it.

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

If you love hiking, you’ll be right at home in Yosemite. Only, make sure you keep your wits about you as bears, mountain lions and a variety of other wildlife calls Yosemite home.

We had the pleasure of meeting a huge stag while hiking and he tracked us through the forest for miles. Such a beautiful creature! Just don’t get too close; respect that this is their home and we are the trespassers!

Sunset over Yosemite National Park - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

Head straight to Tunnel View for the most jaw-dropping views through the valley. Hike to Glacier Point. Spend the day snowboarding or skiing at Badger Pass. Marvel at the Giant Redwoods in Mariposa Grove. Head to Bridal Veil Falls and just explore! There is so much to see, we barely scratched the surface and I’ll definitely be returning for more!

Giant Redwoods, Mariposa Grove, California - A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

On our last day, we drove five hours from Yosemite back to LA, stayed one night in a motel and flew home from there. As a little bonus, we flew over the Grand Canyon on our flight to Chicago and it was the cherry on the cake! The perfect way to finish off a memorable trip.

Grand Canyon Filled with Cloud - A 15-Day California Road-Trip ItineraryA 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary - USA - Cali - Yosemite National Park - Late Tahoe - San Francisco - Los Angeles - Pacific Coast Highway 1

Have you been to California? What did you love? What should I add to my California itinerary next time? Share the love in the comments below.
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8 thoughts on “A 15-Day California Road-Trip Itinerary

  1. Wow wow! What a wonderful trip you had! And your photos … they are enough reason for me to seriously think of going to the US West Coast. I love the blue skies and the sunny weather, although I, just like you, am surprised that San Francisco was rather underwhelming.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. The photo right above the headline for LA….. where is the domed portico along the lake? It’s a beautiful spot that I haven’t seen in my California travels.

    We live in Arizona and visit SF occasionally. Regarding San Francisco, here are a few of my favorites:
    1. Beautiful Japanese Tea Garden along with the Conservatory in the Park that is near the end of the GG bridge in the city. If you visit in the Spring, you might catch the cherry blossoms.
    2. Lombard Street is fun to drive down but you need a very small car to navigate the tight turns.
    3. Cross the GG bridge to the north side to Sausalito where you can find some great restaurants on the hillside overlooking the bay. This is gorgeous on a sunny day with all the sailboats on the water. below.
    4. While on this side, visit Muir Woods to see the Redwood trees.
    5. Head back to the SF side of the bridge and pick one of their great restaurants for dinner.
    6. Ride the cable cars up and down the hills of SF.
    7. Walk the wharf and Cannery Row.


    1. The place in that image is the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It’s a stunning building. We didn’t venture inside but I’ve heard it’s beautiful and very interesting. Great list! Thanks so much for taking the time. I’ll definitely check them all out next time we’re in SF!

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