You can hit the top destinations in 14 days by driving in a rough loop. The day-by-day route below begins in San Francisco, but you can just as easily start in Los Angeles or Las Vegas if that works better for you. All mileage and driving times are approximate.
Days 1-2: San Francisco
It’s easy to fill two days with fun in San Francisco. On the first day, visit the foodie-friendly Ferry Building then walk 1.5 miles down the Embarcadero to the ferry that will take you out to Alcatraz. For dinner, indulge in Vietnamese fare at The Slanted Door or the old-school elegance of Tadich Grill.
On your second day, head west to Golden Gate Park, where you can explore the art of the de Young Museum or the animals at the California Academy of Sciences. Visit the Japanese Tea Garden for tea and a snack before leaving the park. Then head to The Presidio’s Fort Point to see the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun sets.
Rest your head at the tech-savvy Hotel Zetta, homey Golden Gate Hotel, or the Hotel Monaco, with its downstairs spa.
Day 3: Driving from San Francisco to Yosemite (200 Miles/5 Hours)
Grab a coffee from Blue Bottle Café to wake up for the drive to Yosemite. Leave San Francisco at 8am to reach Yosemite by noon. The drive to the Big Oak Flat entrance takes at least four hours; however, traffic, especially in summer and on weekends, can make it much longer.
Days 4-5: Yosemite
Explore Yosemite Valley to see iconic attractions like Half Dome and El Capitan. Make reservations ahead of time to spend the night in the comfort of the Ahwahnee Hotel or in the mountain air at the park’s Tuolumne Meadows Campground, which is only open in the summer. On the second day, plan a hike to Tuolumne Meadows or head to the more remote, less-visited Hetch Hetchy region, where worthwhile hikes include the Wapama Falls Trail.
Day 6: Driving from Yosemite to Las Vegas (415 Miles/8 Hours)
You have a long drive ahead of you, so fuel up with a stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli just east of the park’s Tioga Pass Entrance or at the Silver Lake Resort Café on the June Lake Loop.
For most of the year, the best route is via Tioga Pass (if you’re traveling in winter or spring, check to make sure that it’s open before heading out). The Nevada route is the most direct: the 415-mile drive to Las Vegas takes 7 hours, 45 minutes. Follow CA-120 East to US-6 in Benton. Take US-6 East to Coaldale, where it shares the road with US-95 South to Tonopah, which makes a good stopover. It’s then a 210-mile straight shot on US-95 South to Vegas.
The California route is more scenic. It’s only a few miles farther but 45 minutes longer, traversing Mammoth Lakes, Bishop, and Lone Pine. East of Lone Pine, CA-136 becomes CA-190, which winds through Death Valley. A right turn onto the Daylight Pass Road leads to the Nevada border and CA-374 just before Beatty, which makes a good place to stop. From Beatty, US-95 leads southeast to Las Vegas.
Day 7: Las Vegas
The glitz of the Las Vegas Strip makes it a surreal stopover between the natural wonders of Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Strip off the dust and sweat of the road with a decadent pool party at The Palms. Get some creative comfort food at Culinary Dropout or go upscale at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. Indulge yourself with a stay at the lux Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.
Day 8: Driving from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (280 Miles/5 Hours)
The 280-mile drive to the Grand Canyon takes about five hours. Head south on US-93, breezing over the new Hoover Dam Bypass, and stop over in Kingman, Arizona. Then take I-40 East to Williams (115 miles) and overnight at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.
Day 9: The Grand Canyon
Enjoy a break from your car by taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to Grand Canyon National Park. Enjoy the views from the Rim Trail or descend into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Get an appetizer or a drink at the historic El Tovar Hotel before taking the train back to Williams. For dinner, indulge in a prime cut of meat from Rod’s Steak House.
Day 10: Driving from the Grand Canyon to Los Angeles (500 Miles/8 Hours)
After a good night’s sleep, head out for Los Angeles. The 494-mile drive to Los Angeles takes 7-8 hours. Take I-40 West to Barstow. From Barstow, take I-15 South, then take I-10 West into the heart of L.A. Be prepared to slow down when you hit the L.A. traffic, which may extend your driving time exponentially.
Days 11-12: Los Angeles
After appreciating the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon, it’s time to appreciate the achievements of civilization in Los Angeles. On your first day, see the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center or view the artistic masterpieces at the Getty Center. For a night in the heart of downtown, stay at the Ace Hotel and enjoy dinner at its downstairs restaurant, L.A. Chapter.
On your second day, give your mind a rest and hit the beach. Choose the Santa Monica Pier for its beachside amusement park, Venice Beach for its lively boardwalk, or Malibu for its famous surf. For dinner, plan on fresh seafood at Neptune’s Net, then sleep by the sea at the Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach. Kids (and kids at heart) might prefer a full day and night at the Disneyland Resort. For more suggestions on how to spend your time in Los Angeles, see page 287 of Moon California Road Trip.
Days 13-14: Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco (500 Miles/8 Hours)
This scenic route runs almost 500 miles and can easily take 8 hours to drive. While it’s possible to make the drive in one long day, this is one stretch that you won’t want to rush. Planning on two days allows you to take in some of the many fine attractions along the way. Alternate between US-101 North and CA-1 (which are sometimes the same road) depending upon where you want to stop and linger. For a quicker drive, take the inland route I-5, which is just around 380 miles and takes about six hours—but you’ll miss the most scenic sections of the California coast.
Pacific Coast Highway
The most difficult part of this journey along PCH is deciding which of its many fine attractions deserve a stop. On the first day, soak up surf culture in Ventura or experience fine living in Santa Barbara, with its regal Santa Barbara Mission. San Luis Obispo is around the midway point and makes a good place to spend the night. On the second day, choose between Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the scenic coastal drive through Big Sur, or Monterey, with its world-class aquarium, on your way back to San Francisco. If you allow 3-4 days for this drive, you can see them all. Stay longer depending upon where your interests lie.
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