10 day California Trip Ideas

Old Dec 29th, 2021, 02:19 PM
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10 day California Trip Ideas

Hello everyone,

New to Fodor and excited for some knowledgeable feedback and recommendations for our upcoming family trip. We are flying into San Francisco 6/29, flying out of LAX on 7/9. Our kids are young adults. We are looking to stay and check out as much as we can on a drive down without not enjoying the trip. Definitely want to stay in each place 2 days or so, or more if highly recommended, or central location to check out stuff in the area. We are pretty much open to trip ideas. Would like to see around San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Fisherman's Wharf, Want to see both beaches, but also redwoods and quaint towns. My husband mentioned SF to Tahoe to Yosemite, Monterey, Big Sur, and Sam Simeon, just completely clueless about distance and if doable, or if there is a better route, Tahoe not a huge must see, but Yosemite highly interests Us. Would like to see a vineyard, they are trying to golf at Pebble 1 day too. When in San Francisco area, is a car rental needed, or ok to pick up when headed out to next destination? Any hotels, airbnb locations/recommendations greatly appreciated. Thank you!
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 04:07 PM
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Here is something I posted over a decade ago
San Francisco - Stu Dudley's Recommendations

Ten days is not much at all. You can't possible visit everyplace you mentioned in 20-30 days. So something has to give. Personally, I would eliminate all of the LA area. LA requires a great amount of time & energy just to drive on the freeways. End your trip at Hearst Castle, then drive to someplace close to LAX (Santa Monica), and depart from there.
.

For a short trip, you don't need a car in San Francisco. Skip Fisherman's Wharf unless you have kids under 8 years old. Yosemite is going to be hard to fit in. It is probably too late to get decent accommodations there. And it would consume 3-4 of your 10 days getting there, seeing it, and getting to your next destination. Don't head north from San Francisco to Napa/Sonoma to see vineyards. Do your wine thing near Carmel, Paso Robles, or Santa Barbara. Plus heading north from SF then south to Carmel would waste a lot of time & energy.

Consider this:
- 3-4 nights in San Francisco. On the last day there, rent a car, drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, and discover the greatest views in the Bay Area on Conzalman Ave just past the GG Bridge (see my link for details). This latter Conzalman visit would be more difficult on a weekend.

- Drive down Hwy 1 to Carmel & stay 3 nights in Carmel. Coachman's Inn is a good choice for a motel. Visit Carmel, Pacific Grove, Spanish Bay, and perhaps Monterey (I'm not a big fan of Monterey - except for the aquarium. Not a fan of Cannery Row or the Wharf either). Golf would be hard to fit inn. Once when I was younger, I took my driver/4 iron & about 6 balls on the 17 Mile Drive (which goes past some courses), teed up on one of the fairways that was not crowded, and took a few shots!!!

- Depart Carmel & drive to Big Sur & stay 1 night at the Big Sur Lodge (may require 2 night minimum on weekends). Visit redwoods (they will be all around you), Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer State Park (where the Big Sur Lodge is located) and have dinner at Nepenthe (a "must", IMO). See my link for details).

- Next day, head south & visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park & Waterfall. Then continue south on Hwy 1 to San Simeon, Cambria, or Paso Robles (latter of you want wine stuff). Stay 1 night (2 if you stay in Paso Robles & do wine things). We like Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles. Visit Hearst Castle.

- Next day, visit Hearst Castle if you missed it yesterday, then drive to Santa Monica, stay 1-2 nights, and head home.

Stu Dudley

Last edited by StuDudley; Dec 29th, 2021 at 04:21 PM.
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 04:17 PM
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Just noticed that you'll be visiting over the 3 day July 4 holiday weekend. That complicates things. Most every location will require a 2 night stay - but I think Carmel for 3 nights would solve that problem.

June 29, 30, 1, 2, in San Francisco
July 1, 2, 3 in Carmel. Secure accommodations ASAP.

Stu Dudley
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 04:24 PM
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Castal redwoods can be seen south of San Francisco. I believe that Henry Cowell State Park was spared the fires of recent years:


And there is the Monterey aquarium:


The Carmel Mission:


Hearst Castle:


Essentially this is a trip down CA1

Here is my album of the coast between LA And SF, in reverse order for your planning:

https://flic.kr/s/aHsjrq39ia
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 05:24 PM
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Welcome to Fodors. You have 10 days which is not very long unfortunately It would be about long enough for a couple of days in SF, 1 day in the Santa Cruz area for both the boardwalk/beach and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, 2 days in and around Monterey (Carmel/Point Lobos/aquarium/Mission/kayaking etc). Maybe 1 day in Morro bay or thereabouts for San Simeon etc), then down to Santa Barbara area (inc. Santa Ynez/maybe Solvang, and finally a couple of days in LA. Many places on the coast will have a 2 night minimum and perhaps longer over the 4th.

Not nearly enough time to also include the other side of the state for Yosemite/Tahoe/etc.
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 05:44 PM
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I guess you've already booked your flights. Too bad. I would look into the possibility of flying home from Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. You don't mention anything you would do in L.A., so why drive the extra hours? Save L.A. for another trip when you'd have more time to do some fun things here. If the LAX flight is early, you'd have to spend the previous night nearby... yet another hotel change.
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 06:16 PM
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flying home from Santa Barbara
Agree with this. Delta to SLC, American to Phoenix, or either United or Southwest to Denver gets you to most places with a simple connection. And the airport is a breeze, unlike returning a car to LAX which is a production.
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 06:52 PM
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Avoid Lake Tahoe anytime around the 4th of July. Crowded, traffic jams, miserable.
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Old Dec 29th, 2021, 06:58 PM
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Definitely -- only going as far south as SB and flying home from there would help a lot . . . and make it easier to cope with the 2 night minimums most places along the coast or just inland.

Something like 2 days SF, 1-ish day in Santa Cruz, 2 or 3 days in Monterey Carmel, 2 days day for Big Sur, San Simeon, Morro Bay/SLO/Pismo Beach. You'd probably need to book 2 nights (maybe in Cambria or Morro Bay) so use it as a base for SanSimeon and the rest. Then the final 1-2 days in SB.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 03:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Jean View Post
I guess you've already booked your flights. Too bad. I would look into the possibility of flying home from Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. You don't mention anything you would do in L.A., so why drive the extra hours? Save L.A. for another trip when you'd have more time to do some fun things here. If the LAX flight is early, you'd have to spend the previous night nearby... yet another hotel change.
Hi there,

Yes, we are flying out of LAX, red eye home, kids really want to see Observatory, Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, is staying in Santa Monica doable to hit those places and flight out of LAX?
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 05:24 AM
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check out as much as we can on a drive down without not enjoying the trip.
If this is a priority I think something has to give. Suggestions:

1. Extend the trip to 14 days, with covid you may have no fee changes allowed to tickets.

2. Skip the Bay Area this time, head south immediately when leaving the airport.

3. Skimp on the coast, just spend 1 night somewhere between Monterey and LA.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 06:54 AM
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Originally Posted by StuDudley View Post
Just noticed that you'll be visiting over the 3 day July 4 holiday weekend. That complicates things. Most every location will require a 2 night stay - but I think Carmel for 3 nights would solve that problem.

June 29, 30, 1, 2, in San Francisco
July 1, 2, 3 in Carmel. Secure accommodations ASAP.

Stu Dudley
Realistically, is this doable?

6/30-Land in SF @ 11:38 am-Day/Night in SF
7/1-SF
7/2-Head south, check out Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell Redwoods
7/3-Carmel
7/4-Carmel
7/5-Carmel
(I guess this is where I we get lost with what we can see in this area as home base-Point Lobos, Aquarium, etc, Hearst Castle, beaches, views, parks
7/6-Morro Bay? Big Sur?
7/7-Morro Bay? Big Sur?
7/8-Santa Monica?
7/9- Santa Monica-Depart LAX at 9 pm

Thank you!
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 07:25 AM
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Hearst Castle is too far away from Carmel to visit as a day trip. You'll go right past it on the way to Morrow Bay - so visit it then. Pt Lobos will be packed to the gill over July 4 weekend. Enjoy the beach at Carmel instead.

IMO, Morrow Bay is not nearly as interesting as the Carmel area.

You can visit Beverly Hills from Santa Monice - but get a comfortable car because there is a lot of freeway driving required & congested non-freeway roads in & around LA. Personally, I enjoy San Francisco & surrounds a lot more than the Beverly Hills/Hollywood area.

Stu Dudley

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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 08:18 AM
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Some thoughts about Monterey: Carmel looks close to Monterey on a map but the only free road access to the Monterey Bay attractions is using Hwy 1 which has some pretty miserable traffic much of the day. I can't find out the population of the Carmel/Monterey/Seaside metro area but in another state this would be a substantial city, one of the largest in that state. For reference the population of Monterey County is nearly a half million people. Just so you are not thinking this is a bucolic little town by the sea that you will be able to just bob around in and sightsee at will.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 08:28 AM
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I would first of all scratch Lake Tahoe. And substitute one of the other wine regions for Napa.

Then see if you can even find lodging at Yosemite. I think it will be miserably crowded since you are dealing with both school being out and the 4 July holiday. It really is too far for a day trip, or even a one-nighter.

Scratching those two places

3 nights San Francisco (including your arrival night). Note if you have golfers, The Presidio might be an option.

3 nights Pacific Grove or Carmel IF you can get a tee time at Pebble Beach. If you can't, try Pasatiempo another Alister MacKenzie design, and spend one of those nights in Santa Cruz.

2 nights split beteen Big Sur, the Central Coast and Santa Barbara. Most likely you won't find a room IN Big Sur, but will instead lodge in San Simeon, Cambria, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach or even San Luis Obispo.

For a wine region, look around the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. There is lodging in that area as well as in Santa Barbara (which I find nearly as boring as San Diego).
If you are primarily into the actual wine, as opposed to the wine scenery, you could pop into the Lompoc "Wine Ghetto" where many of the small producers now have their tasting rooms. There are several nice drives and wineries between SLO and Santa Barbara if you get off the freeway (101) and instead follow Hwy 1, 246 and/or 135. Also more around Solvang/Santa Ynez.

2 nights in Los Angeles, including the night before you leave.

That is 10 nights. If I have calculated wrong, add another one to the Central Coast or Los Angeles.



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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by 2Labsand4ofUs View Post
Hi there,

Yes, we are flying out of LAX, red eye home, kids really want to see Observatory, Hollywood sign, Beverly Hills, is staying in Santa Monica doable to hit those places and flight out of LAX?
Everything you mention is 30+ minutes' drive east of Santa Monica, depending on traffic, and Santa Monica is about 30 minutes from LAX. I'm not a fan of Santa Monica, so if I was going to stay anywhere for one night it probably wouldn't be SM. I would stay at the Hilton or the Sheraton at Universal City or The Garland nearby on the San Fernando Valley side of the SM mountains or maybe (big maybe) somewhere in east Hollywood.

But, depending on how much time you want to spend at the Observatory and what you mean by "Hollywood sign" and "Beverly Hills," you could accomplish this list in one day with no hotel stay, starting in Santa Barbara around 8:00-8:30 a.m. and ending at the car rental return at LAX. The Observatory opens at 10:00 a.m. on Saturdays. (Covid vax and masks required.) You can see the Hollywood sign from many locations, including Griffith Observatory. Have a late lunch or early dinner in Beverly Hills before heading to LAX.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn View Post
Some thoughts about Monterey: Carmel looks close to Monterey on a map but the only free road access to the Monterey Bay attractions is using Hwy 1 which has some pretty miserable traffic much of the day. I can't find out the population of the Carmel/Monterey/Seaside metro area but in another state this would be a substantial city, one of the largest in that state. For reference the population of Monterey County is nearly a half million people. Just so you are not thinking this is a bucolic little town by the sea that you will be able to just bob around in and sightsee at will.
The city of Monterey has a population of 30,000. Carmel is 3,800, Pacific Grove is 15,000. Combined that makes it 49,000 - hardly one of the largest cities in Calif. Perhaps the 200th largest (just a guess). Carmel sure seems bucolic to me. Seaside is a non-player - tourist would not typically go there.

Stu Dudley
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 10:20 AM
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You can walk through 40 acres of majestic redwoods in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park north of Santa Cruz. I would try to visit either San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara.

San Luis Obispo. SLO has been dubbed the ‘happiest place in America”, and has a lively downtown, old mission, and many outdoor recreation opportunities including biking, hiking and the nearby beaches. Great farmers market (esp. Thursday night when it becomes part farmers market, part music fest, part street fair).

Santa Barbara. Stop off en route and explore Spanish Colonial-style Santa Barbara located on the American Riviera; sunbathe at its East Beach. Much of the architecture is in the Spanish Colonial style with red-tiled roofs. Sights include the Santa Barbara Mission, Stearns Wharf, the Waterfront, El Presidio State Historical Park, Aquarium of the Pacific, Botanic Gardens, centuries-old oaks in Mission Canyon, great restaurants and some of the best beaches in America. On Sundays along the waterfront in Santa Barbara they always have an artist fair.

Last edited by PrairieHikerII; Dec 30th, 2021 at 10:32 AM.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 01:09 PM
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PrairieeHike, the Aquarium of the Pacific is in Long Beach, California, south of LA, NOT in Santa Barbara. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is very much worthwhile but since it is expensive be sure and allow enough time, or skip it altogether.

Some people like SLO, I am not one of them. Lodging has always seemed expensive for what you get and it is not a coastal town. They do have pretty darn good BBQ though.
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Old Dec 30th, 2021, 03:50 PM
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The US govt lumps Monterey and Carmel into the Salinas metro area with a population of about 450,000. The continuous urban sprawl of Carmel, Monterey, Seaside, and Marina is at least half that number, but it sure seemed bigger to me, probably because Hwy 1 is the only through road so it has a lot of traffic.
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