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California, Arizona, Utah, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, Zion National Park

Planning a roadtrip in California


Two friends and I are planning a roadtrip in California (& Arizona & Utah) this summer. How much time would you recommend for that. My thoughts until now would be going from San Diego to San Francisco and then heading to see some national parks like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Antelope Canyon, Arches, Zion, Joshua Tree, Death Valley (just some ideas - I know it's not all possible). 

It's all very unplanned that is why I'd love to hear some recommendations. What would be on your must-do list for the area? And how much time would you plan? 

What are places to stop in between San Diego and San Francisco and how much time would you spend in each place?

I'd also appreciate if you have some budget accommodation advice. The only thing I need in an accommodation is wifi as I work location independent. 

Thank you so much for your help!

7 Answers

answered by
Azra from Baltimore

Hi Stef! I actually did this exact (San Diego to San Fran) in 9 days.  Let me know and I can send you my itinerary!  

2 thankscomments (1)

answered first by
Crystal from Anchorage

Hi Stef,

Seeing the West Coast and Southwest of the US can take a lifetime to explore! It sounds like you have a good start on your wishlist though. A good thing to keep in mind is how the distances that you will have to drive. A lot of Europeans are surprised at how far you have to drive to get from place to place in the US, especially in the Southwest. Driving when you are too tired is probably the most dangerous thing you can do on your road trip, so know your limits! Searching for directions on Google Maps is a good start, but remember it almost always takes longer than it estimates, especially when you include stops for gas and food.

Keep your eye out for cheap road side motels, and don't forget to look on for interesting homes to stay in. Almost all of them have free wifi (of various quality) these days. Motels and hotels are usually cheaper when they are located in less desirable areas or are in the middle of nowhere. California in general is not a very cheap place to travel, but Arizona and Utah are a bit more budget friendly.

To see everything in California on your wishlist I would recommend at least 3 weeks, but 4 weeks would be more reasonable. This would be a good order with some additional suggestions:

San Diego

Los Angeles


Santa Barbara

Pismo Beach

San Luis Obispo

Big Sur


San Francisco

Yosemite National Park

Death Valley

Joshua Tree National Park

After that you can continue into Arizona and Utah. There is so much to see there as well, you are only limited by the amount of time you have to travel and your budget. For everything listed below I would allow at least two more weeks, but 3 weeks would be better.

Lake Havasu City

Flagstaff or Sedona

Grand Canyon National Park

Antelope Canyon

Monument Valley

Arches National Park Visitor Center & Park Headquarters

Goblin Valley State Park


Zion National Park

And then you could end your trip either in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.

I could continue listing really great things to see and do, as it is a really awesome place to travel! I'm sure you will love how diverse and beautiful the different landscapes are and enjoy the large cities too. In addition to the famous national parks, be sure to check out state parks, national monuments, and national forests that you will find along the way. They can be just as beautiful and are often more "off-the-beaten-path" than the national parks.

I hope this helps in your planning process. Comment below if you have any more specific questions. Happy travels!

Crystal, Traveler's Toast

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Diego (city)
  2. Los Angeles (city)
  3. Ventura (attraction)
  4. Santa Barbara (city)
  5. Pismo Beach (city)
  6. San Luis Obispo (city)
  7. Big Sur (city)
  8. Monterey (city)
  9. San Francisco (city)
  10. Yosemite National Park (park)
  11. Death Valley (park)
  12. Joshua Tree National Park (park)
  13. Lake Havasu City (city)
  14. Flagstaff (city)
  15. Sedona (city)
  16. Grand Canyon National Park (park)
  17. Antelope Canyon (attraction)
  18. Monument Valley (region)
  19. Arches National Park Visitor Center & Park Headquarters (attraction)
  20. Goblin Valley State Park (amusement park)
  21. Bryce (city)
  22. Zion National Park (park)
  23. Las Vegas (city)
  24. Salt Lake City (city)
2 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Jack from San Diego, California

3 weeks can work San Diego Zoo is the best in the world 

grew up right near there. many visits say Hi to Bob the turtle.

Old Town San Diego is neat good food and stuff to buy as well.

La Jolla is cool  . Disneyland Park is a must all rides are fantastic  Knott's Berry Farm is neat too,

Santa Monica is very cool and a must see . Hollywood is interesting to see Have fun

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. San Diego Zoo (attraction)
  2. Old Town San Diego (attraction)
  3. La Jolla (city)
  4. Disneyland Park (attraction)
  5. Knott's Berry Farm (attraction)
  6. Santa Monica (city)
  7. Hollywood (city)
1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Hazel from Port St. Lucie

If you are on a budget do not go to California. Fly into McCarran International AirportStay at Harrah's Las Vegas Health Club Go to shuttle/limo/taxi area and take Bell or Ritz shuttle to Harrahs. You can rent a car at 

It is better to rent a car in Las Vegas and plot mini trips from there. There are bus tours from LV to the Grand Canyon National Park. LA is 4-15 drive from LV. Do not drive to LA during the weekend. Traffic Jam. Boulder Dam tour bus as well. I would not consider Death Valley. Summer is 100-120 degrees. Go to Laguna Beachfrom LV.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. McCarran International Airport (attraction)
  2. Harrah's Las Vegas Health Club (attraction)
  3. Grand Canyon National Park (park)
  4. Death Valley (attraction)
  5. Laguna Beach (city)
1 thanks

answered by
Janelle from Charleston

I'd suggest taking a month and doing a triangle route: Los Angeles-Salt Lake City-San Francisco.  Air Berlin and Norwegian fly cheaply to L.A. or San Fran/Oakland, so I'd recommend starting and ending in one of those 2 cities.  No need to rent the most expensive vehicle either.  A compact (similar in size to a midsize vehicle at most European rental locations) is plenty adequate, and it will help you save on fuel.  N.B.: when in the USA, ALWAYS drop off your rental car at the same location you picked up from.  Rental companies charge extortionate amounts (sometimes up to USD $1.000) to return the car to a different location.

I'd suggest the following itinerary for sleeping.  You can make day trips from your hotel/hostel to other areas but this is where I'd recommend you stay the night:

1. Los Angeles (it makes good sense to spend a bit more here: most cheap hotels and hostels are in gefährlich und beschissen neighbourhoods).  If you get homesick, hit Alpine Village in Torrance to pick up bratwurst, knockwurst, sauerbraten, apfelwasser, rotkohl, sauerkraut, leberkase, German breads, candy, pastries, beer, wine and whatever other German food products you're missing.

2. San Diego (you can save some money by leaving your car in L.A. and taking the train to San Diego and back).

3. Las Vegas (you can get good hotel rates if you book in advance and stay midweek)

4. Saint George or Cedar City (within short drives of both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon Park, but it's cheaper to stay here than inside the parks).

5. Salt Lake City

6. Reno (within a short drive of Lake Tahoe but cheaper to stay here than at the lake)

7. Grass Valley or Nevada City (near the Sierra Nevada mountains and "Gold Country")

8. Eureka (California) (near the redwood forests and a funky college town with great nightlife) - but no need to partake of the local herbs :-D

9. Santa Rosa (California) (near Napa and Sonoma wine country but much cheaper lodging)

10. San Francisco (you'll get cheaper and better value hotels in Oakland or Berkeley, but San Francisco is a short BART subway ride away).

11. Monterey (a great small city, and near Big Sur, which has the best beaches in California).

12. Paso Robles (in the middle of another good wine area) or San Luis Obispo (a lovely college town)

13. Santa Barbara

14. Back to Los Angeles.

Most American hotels offer wifi, although seldom for free.  If you don't want to pay extortion money to hotels, then coffee houses such as Starbucks and Peet's offer it for free.

Lastly and most importantly, keep in mind that summertime temperatures in the western USA deserts are MUCH higher than what you're used to in Germany.  Daytime temperatures above 38 C are normal, and can push 45 C in some areas.  Use plenty of sunscreen during the day (even when you're in the car) and always carry water or flavoured drinks such as Gatorade, Vitamin Water or coconut water with you (carry a large bottle with you when you're outdoors and keep a case of bottled water in the boot of your car). 

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Los Angeles (city)
  2. Alpine Village (attraction)
  3. San Diego (city)
  4. Las Vegas (city)
  5. Saint George (city)
  6. Cedar City (city)
  7. Zion National Park (park)
  8. Bryce (city)
  9. Salt Lake City (city)
  10. Reno (city)
  11. Lake Tahoe (city)
  12. Grass Valley (city)
  13. Nevada City (city)
  14. Eureka (California) (attraction)
  15. Santa Rosa (California) (city)
  16. San Francisco (city)
  17. Monterey (city)
  18. Big Sur (city)
  19. Paso Robles (city)
  20. San Luis Obispo (city)
  21. Santa Barbara (city)
1 thankscomments (1)

answered by
Celeste from East Carbon City, Utah

In Utah Little Big horse canyon is a must see in Goblin Valley

answered by
pamela from Los Angeles

Try to go to Sedona in Arizona. It's a beautiful place and a spiritual vortex full of mystery and magic!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Sedona (city)
comments (1)

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