A Californian road trip has been on my bucket list for years, so I was delighted to finally ‘tick that box’ last month.

Getting into a car and exploring the state on a whim might seem like you are living the American dream.

But it’s not always that easy. America is a huge country and there are several key things to consider when planning your trip, some more obvious than others!

Search flights to California

Driving to #Yosemite National Park

A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

My husband and I chose the popular San Francisco to Los Angeles route, visiting Napa Valley, Yosemite National Park, the Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica in between on a two week trip. This itinerary gave us the perfect mix of two city breaks, with culture, activities and beach time thrown in. We decided we wanted to come back rested so chose a beach hotel in Santa Monica for the final five days to relax after all of the driving! This suited us perfectly and enabled us to complete the trip in a leisurely fashion, with a maximum of four hours driving on any one day. We mixed up our accommodation levels, choosing pricier options for the start and end of our journey when we needed to relax, and guest houses for stopovers in Napa Valley and Santa Barbara.

Golden Gate bridge looks moody in the fog #SanFrancisco A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Do your research!

Plan exactly what you’d like to get out of the trip. If you don’t like wine, it’s probably worth giving Napa Valley a miss. If you love the great outdoors, it’s worth travelling the extra distance to experience Lake Tahoe. Families might want to extend the trip to San Diego too as there are lots of fun attractions for kids there.

Don’t have too many stops

You’ll feel exhausted if you stay a different night in a different place. Initially I really wanted to see Lake Tahoe but in the end decided that it was too far out of the way to factor into our tight two-week schedule. We spent one night in Napa Valley but it’s worth knowing it’s only an hour away from San Francisco so you could do a day trip to save yourself driving time onto Yosemite.

Onto #Napa #californiaadventure

A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Share the driving

Navigating your way around a foreign country can be daunting and takes a lot of concentration so it was nice to have a back-up driver should you feel tired.

Or maybe this one… decisions, decisions… A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Hire a good quality car

You’ll probably be travelling around 1000 miles so it’s best to invest in a decent set of wheels. Most US cars are automatic and this is a godsend when you are always having to master the US highway code.

Make sure you have adequate travel insurance

This sounds obvious but you won’t get anywhere without it! We added full cover to our car-hire package to eliminate any worries about accidents, damages, break downs etc

Get a sat nav!

And a back up map. Our sat nav was our lifeline on the trip but it’s always worth going back to basics too as sometimes technology can let you down (as we found out in downtown LA!)

Stunning views en route to Santa Barbara #californiaadventure

A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Take in the Big Sur

The Pacific Coast Highway between Carmel and Santa Barbara has the most spectacular scenery. You’ve probably seen it 100 times in the movies, but it’s MUCH more impressive in real life.

Go Clippers go! A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Check out any cool events

Look up the events guide in advance. We saw the LA Clippers in a basketball play-off match which was a great experience.

Book accommodation in advance

West coast US road trips are very popular and the best places often get booked up months ahead.

Keep water and snacks handy

Pack them in a coolbox in the car. At some points (Napa – Yosemite for example) it can be a fair distance between shops!

Tune up!

Sort out a playlist of your favourite songs in advance. Most US cars have a CD or USB option.

A photo posted by Beci Wood (@beciwood) on

Don’t forget your camera

The views are amazing! In 14 days we explored beaches, national parks, glorious wineries and Hollywood.

Down time

Make sure you have some relaxation time at the end. A road trip is never going to be the most restful of holidays so we enjoyed five days of pool action at the end.

Sleep in your car?

If you’re trying to keep costs down, why don’t you hire an SUV for the trip? There are lots of dedicated sites to park up along the Pacific Coast Highway and it will save you a fortune on accommodation costs, especially for a family.

Remember the ESTA

Don’t let the roadtrip fail at the first hurdle. All foreign visitors to the US must have an ESTA or a VISA or you will not be allowed to enter the country.


(Feature image: Emlyn Stokes)

About the author

Beci WoodFormerly the Digital Showbiz Editor of The Sun Newspaper, Beci is a mum-of-three with a passion for sport, photography, desserts and Mickey Mouse! In fact Next up Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, remains top on her Bucket List. Beci's 9-5 often involves juggling work with the school run, watching (but not always enjoying) Manchester United and lifting weights at the gym. Follow Beci on Twitter or Instagram for more travel inspiration.

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