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California: The Golden State’s Golden Sites

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If you want to see as much of the Golden State as possible, we suggest a road trip. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but also you’ll be able to see as much as possible in only a few days to a week (depending on how fast you drive and how much time you want to spend in each place). Without further ado, here’s how we’d organize a road trip through California.

San Francisco. Photo by jybaek from Unsplash.

1. San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, USA

A huge hub, it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to find a reasonable flight into the San Francisco International Airport. Once you’ve arrived and checked into your accommodation (if you like boutique hotels with awesome rooftop views, we suggest the San Francisco Proper ), head to the iconic The Painted Ladies before heading over to the storied Haight-Ashbury and the prideful Castro district. On your second day in the city, make your way to the waterfront to check out Fisherman's Wharf , the The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop , and the windy Lombard Street . If you have time, don’t miss Fort Point National Historic Site , which offers incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Napa Valley. Photo by sgabriel from Unsplash.

2. Napa Valley

Napa, CA

Ready for some wine tasting? Then start off your road trip by taking a quick hour jaunt north from San Francisco to Napa Valley. After dropping your bags in a delightful airstream, make your way to Andretti Winery , a rustic winery that will make you feel like you've been transported to Italy, and HALL Wines , a more boutique winery with delicious reds and a beautiful sculpture garden. For some non-wine-related activities, why not bike around town, go paddleboarding on the Napa River, or take a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley? Did all that activity make you hungry? Then don’t miss Oakville Grocery for sandwiches (great for a picnic during your bike ride or at some wineries) or Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch for delicious farm-to-table fare (perfect for lunch or dinner). If you need some me time, then don’t miss the mud-bath treatments over at Calistoga Spa .

Yosemite. Photo by pablofierro from Unsplash.

3. Yosemite

Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, USA

Ready for some wilderness? Then look no further than Yosemite National Park. After settling in at The Ahwahnee , a 121-room lodge known for its “parkitecture”, it’s time to start exploring the 1,200 square miles of Yosemite National Park. During your visit, don’t miss El Capitan , the earth’s largest single piece of granite, Half Dome , one of the West’s most photographed landmarks, and Yosemite Falls , the highest waterfall in North America. For more insight read our piece on US National Parks. Pro tip: Spring is the best time to visit to see the waterfalls in their full form.

San Luis Obispo. Photo by kohyama from Unsplash.

4. San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

Now it’s time to head back towards the coast and settle into San Luis Obispo (SLO), a Central Coast city known for its University, Spanish mission, and local farmers’ market. If you want a quirky, once-in-a-lifetime type of stay, look no further than the Madonna Inn . SLO is a great place to base yourself as you explore the nearby wine region, Paso Robles (we suggest you head to JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery for an awesome lunch spot, the LXV Wine for awesome spice pairings, and ONX Wines for a great tasting room experience). You can also head to Sam Simeon to check out Hearst Castle and stop into the sleepy, sweet town of Cambria on your way back down to SLO. Ready for some beach time? Head to Morro Bay to check out Morro Rock, an ancient volcanic mound. Pro Tip: Take the trail that leads up Black Hill for the best views.

Los Angeles. Photo by olenka_kotyk from Unsplash.

5. Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA, USA

Next up? The City of Angels. If this will be your first time in the city, we suggest you check our 3-Day Itinerary for first-timers. If you have time, take a hike up to the Hollywood Sign , check out the Griffith Observatory , spend some time at the The Getty , and make it out to Venice Beach for people-watching and delicious grub. Don’t miss all the beautiful beaches, or—if the city trumps the beach for you—opt for a self-guided street art tour. There really is something for every type of traveler in LA.

San Diego. Photo by eejermaine from Unsplash.

6. San Diego

San Diego, CA, USA

Last but certainly not least, it’s time to head to San Diego! You can drive from LA to San Diego or take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner which—as its name suggests—goes right along the coast for part of the trip. While in San Diego, check out the San Diego Zoo or head to the aircraft-carrier-turned-museum USS Midway . Don’t miss the city’s many craft breweries (Modern Times Beer , Societe Brewing Company , and Green Flash Brewing top our list), art galleries, museums, and parks. Sports fan? Then don’t forget to add a Padres game at Petco Park to your list.

We hope you enjoyed taking this California road trip with us. While California is a big state with a lot of things to see and do, once you narrow down what you want your trip to entail (State parks? Museums? Cities? Beaches? Food and wine?), you’ll be better able to plan out your Golden State adventure.