California Dreamin’-A Month’s (+) Itinerary

I love California.  I love its jaw-dropping coastlines, its fern-covered forests filled with giant trees, its world-class wines and sun-drenched vineyards, and the granite grey mountains hewn from the earth like slabs of marbled clay.  It’s a vast state filled with natural and man-made wonders.  I spent 50 days exploring it, and I’d gladly spend 50 more. 

I can honestly say that few places on earth pack so much beauty and diversity into so small an area. I have friends there.  They are smart, good people, the kind that make our country so great.  I feel very lucky that I got a chance to reconnect with them in such a beautiful place.

I took this trip to show my Russian wife the state.  She was impressed.  I know you will be, too. It took me a long time to develop the itinerary.  I hope anyone reading this will be able to use it as a short guide.

Fly into San Francisco-this starts your trip out with a bang, in arguably the world’s most beautiful city.  Pick up your convertible at the airport.  Yes, your car must be topless to enjoy this trip to the fullest.  Trust me.

On day one, take the Alcatraz tour and recover from jet lag.  See Fisherman’s Wharf while at the pier.  I took the night tour but don’t think it’s worth all the hoopla.

Alcatraz cell block

Day two-Bike tour, including a trip over the Golden Gate and into Sausalito for dinner.

Day three-Lombard Street, Union Square, city tour

Day Four-Drive to Yosemite, see the Tunnel View on the way in.  Do at least one hike (Vernal Falls?) while here, and make sure you lay out under the stars to enjoy the Milky Way one night.

Day Five-Bike the Valley

Day six-Tuolumne Meadows

Day seven-Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point

Glacier Point

Day 8-Drive to Lake Tahoe.  Stop for gas in Nevada where prices aren’t insane.

Day 9-Emerald Bay kayaking

Tahoe sunset

Day 10-Bike the lake trails

Day 11-Drive to Lassen National Park

Echo Lake

Day 12-Hike Mill Creek Falls

Day 13-Echo Lake hike, drive through park

Day 14-Drive to Trinidad (Redwood Forest)

Tall trees trail

Day 15-Go early to get permit to hike the Tall Trees Trail at Thomas Kuchel Visitors Center, Agate Beach

Day 16-Fern Canyon, Elk Meadow, Trinidad wine tasting

Day 17-Arcata-try to switch this day around to hit on the Saturday Farmer’s market, Eureka old town

Day 18-Drive PCH to Fort Bragg (redwoods, coast).  Stop at Ferndale and drive through Avenue of the Giants on the way, drive-through tree.

Glass Beach

Day 19-Skunk train rail-bikes, glass beach, coastal trail

Day 20-Mendocino Headland State Park

Day 21-Drive PCH to Healdsburg (wine tasting).  Stop at Fort Ross and Point Arena on the way

Day 22-Wine tasting Sonoma

Day 23-Wine tasting Sonoma

Day 24-Drive to Calistoga (wine tasting)

Day 25-Bike tour, wine tasting Napa

Day 26-wine tasting Napa, hot springs

Day 27-Drive PCH to Carmel through San Fran and Golden Gate.  See Bodega Bay, Point Reyes, Half Moon Bay on way

Day 28-17 Mile drive, tour of Carmel

17-Mile Drive

Day 29-Drive to Paso Robles on PCH.  Big Sur, Elephant Seal Rookery, Bixby Bridge

Day 30-Wine tasting Paso Robles

Day 31-Drive to Pismo Beach on PCH.  Hearst castle, Morro Bay on way

Hearst Castle

Day 32-Beach day, Pismo Pier, drive on beach

Day 33-Drive to Solvang

Solvang

Day 34-Solvang old town, dine at Hitching Post

Day 35-Santa Barbara, Stearn’s Wharf, Shoreline Park, walking tour old town

Day 36-Drive to LA through Malibu and Ventura, stop at Santa Monica Pier (Note-DO NOT go to Venice Beach, as it is a dangerous freak show)

Santa Monica Pier

Day 37-Studio tour, Hollywood Walk

Day 38-Griffith Observatory, Le Brea Tar Pits

Day 39-Drive to San Diego, stop in Laguna for lunch, Encinitas for dinner

Balboa Park

Day 40-Balboa Park

Day 41-Coronado Beach

Day 42-Drive to Death Valley

Zabriskie Point

Day 43-Zabriskie Point, Red Cathedral hike

Day 44-Drive to Sequoia National Park, see Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes and Generals Highway on the way

Day 45-General Sherman, Moro Rock, Crescent Meadow

Day 46-Drive to San Francisco

Day 47-Fly home

I did this trip in 50 days because I allowed more time in Tahoe, Paso Robles, and Pismo.  If I could do it over again, I’d stay longer in Death Valley and spend a night or two in Santa Barbara.

A couple of notes may help here.  Obviously, this is meant to be a broad overview-just a way to nail down some reservations.  Detailed trip planning may open up different possibilities for you-places you’d like to go that I didn’t.  But overall, if you take this trip you’ll pretty much have seen more of California than just about anyone else you’ll meet.  

Here are some more tips:

  • California is an expensive destination.  A trip to Europe is cheaper save for the business class air.  
  • The big cities are getting to be a bit rough.  Be especially careful in Hollywood and near the fringe areas of Balboa Park in San Diego and the Tenderloin District of San Francisco.  
  • Although the beaches are beautiful, other than San Diego, this isn’t like Florida, where you can just dive right in and enjoy the water-wet suits are in order throughout most of the state
  • It’s worth it to pay stupid money to stay in the National Parks.  I did in Yosemite and Sequioa and it was a smart move.  I didn’t in Death Valley and wish I had.  It just takes too much drive time if you don’t.
  • I already mentioned the convertible, but it’s important, especially if you plan to drive the length of the PCH-which you should.
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