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California itinerary advice

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London, United...
posts: 4
California itinerary advice


My husband and I visiting Las Vegas with friends in late April to celebrate our birthdays. Whilst our friends are returning home after Vegas, my husband and I have decided to stay on and take a road trip around California. Any advice on our proposed itinerary would be gratefully received!

Las Vegas - 3 nights

- inc. day trip by plane to Grand Canyon south rim

Pick up rental car and drive (2 hours) to Los Angeles - 2 nights

Drive to San Francisco along the coast (6 hours) - 3 nights

Drive to Napa Valley (1 hour) - 1 night

- inc. visiting a few vineyards

Drive to Yosemite National Park (4 hours) - 2 nights

- inc. lots of hiking depending on what trails are open (open to recommendations!)

Drive to Death Valley via the long Fresno/Bakersfield route (7/8 hours) - 2 nights

Drive to Las Vegas (2 hours) - drop rental car and fly out mid-afternoon

The driving times are from Google maps (not including lunch/scenic breaks but we're aware we need to factor these in on top) - are they roughly accurate?

My husband has never been to the US before and I've only had a couple of days in LA when I was 12 so we're keen to see as much of what California has to offer as possible, without completely stressing ourselves out! We're in our late-20s and are pretty fit and adventurous so are looking forward hiking and seeing stunning scenery, but we do also absolutely love exploring big cities.

Our flights are already booked so we're set at 13 nights flying in 23rd April and out 6th May. Does the above sound like enough time in each place? I'm a little concerned about the long drive from Yosemite to Death Valley, but from what I've read they are places not to be missed, even in April/May.

Also what's the likelihood of us having to deal with snowy conditions while driving around Yosemite at this time? We know there may still be some snow around but will the roads that are open be cleared of it? We've never driven in snow before so that would make us a little nervous!

Thanks so much!

12 replies to this topic
Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 51,307
reviews: 42
1. Re: California itinerary advice


For GC don't confuse Grand Canyon West to Grand Canyon NP. Not the same. heli flights go to GCW, only fixed wings planes go to GCNP and the NP is where you want to be.

Las vegas to Los Amgeles is a 5 hours drive depending on traffic

Between LA and SF I strongly suggest to take the coastal route and not I5. You easily can spend several days along the coast but at least stay overnight for 1 night like in Cambria or around. There are wineries along Central Coast and in Paso Robles also.

yes, it's a long drive between Yosemite and Death Valley via Bakersfield so start early. If it's too far maybe stay for the night in Ridgecrest. 2 nights in Death Valley will be great.


San Diego
Destination Expert
for San Diego
posts: 44,127
reviews: 60
2. Re: California itinerary advice

Not sure what towns you have put into Google but Las Vegas to LA is a 5hr. drive.

The coastal route 1 from LA to San Francisco is more like at least 8hrs.without stops.

I am not sure about your Death Valley route but expect that also is much longer than your listed time. In order to get driving times on Google you need to use the get directions function. I am not sure you did that because even Google would not think that LA to Las Vegas is only 2 hrs.

Great minds Tet! We were writing at the same time!

Edited: 8:41 am, January 19, 2014
London, United...
posts: 4
3. Re: California itinerary advice

Thanks so much for your responses! You're right - I did in fact have 5 hours down, but had originally split the trip up with a stop off at Joshua Tree NP (so 3 hours-ish there and then 2 to LA). Then when we decided we probably didn't have enough time to Joshua Tree I struck it out and forgot to carry the 3 hours over to the LV to LA trip - oops!! Thanks for pointing that out :)!

Good to know that those other times weren't quite right either. Just double checked and it was the I5 route I'd looked at for LA to SF. Coastal route is definitely what we're after - the views will make it worth the extra driving time I'm sure.

We're not averse to long drives really. I guess it's just making sure we have enough time in the places we're driving to to make it worthwhile.

With the GC - yes we're definitely planning on doing fixed wing trip to the NP with time on the ground to explore. I guess ideally we'd do a night out there to have even more time, but then we'd have to take a night off something else and I'm not sure what that would be!

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
posts: 39,556
reviews: 74
4. Re: California itinerary advice

With 13 nights, you could do this:

Las Vegas - Death Valley NP (1 night) - L.A. (2 -3 n) - Pismo Beach or Cambria (2 n, include day visit to Paso Robles wineries) - Monterey or Carmel (1-2 n) - Oakhurst / Fish Camp (1 n, depart Monterey in the afternoon, then visit Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias first thing the next morning) - Yosemite Valley (2 n) - San Francisco (2-4 n, drop car when you arrive, include day tour to Napa or Sonoma if desired {tour=no driving!}) - SFO or OAK - LAS

Early May is usually great in Yosemite. Waterfalls are flowing, dogwood trees are blooming, crowds are building. But this winter's extraordinarily low snowfall means that the spring may be pretty dry. Folks would be thrilled to get more snow, even in May. But I doubt you'll see any. Lodging reservations in Yosemite are absolutely necessary. Tips on the Top Questions on the Yosemite forum page.

IF, and it's a bit IF, Tioga Pass opens early (target date is May 23), then a loop similar to what you planned would work. Las Vegas - L.A. - Pismo Beach - Monterey - SF (need a motel w/ parking) - Yosemite NP - {Tioga Pass/120 & 395 to} DVNP - LAS

London, United...
posts: 4
5. Re: California itinerary advice

What you've suggested makes very good sense. When I was originally planning I was banking on Tioga pass being open. We had to book flights in a rush and with limited date options because we were using air miles and I didn't realise at the time it would more than likely be closed when we're there.

Also - having now heard that you don't really need a car in San Francisco it certainly makes sense to drop the rental off as soon as we get there - saves us a few days of paying for but not using it.

So taking all the above on board we're now thinking:

Vegas - 3 nights

Drive to Death Valley early morning (2 hours) - 1 night

Drive to Los Angeles (5 hours) - 2 nights

Drive to Carmel (5.5 hours along coast - will probably take significantly longer as we stop along the way) - 1 night

Drive to Fish Camp in the afternoon (4 hours) - 1 night

- next day depart first thing to visit Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Drive to Yosemite Vally (1 hour-ish?) - 2 nights

Drive to San Fran (4 hours) - 3 nights

- drop off car

- inc. day trip to Napa

Fly SFO to Vegas, fly home

I can't seem to find another night for another stop along the coast, so hopefully a leisurely drive plus a night in Carmel will do it justice!

Will definitely be booking Yosemite accommodation asap (hopefully tonight!). Just wanted to figure out the likely dates before doing so.

Thanks so much for you help everyone - it's been incredibly helpful so far!

San Francisco
Destination Expert
for Borrego Springs, San Francisco, Solana Beach
posts: 29,631
reviews: 26
6. Re: California itinerary advice

LA to Carmel along the coast will be a VERY long day. I would suggest getting an early start (although that may put you into the gut of LA commute traffic). However, the road through Big Sur is winding, 2 lane and unlit. It would not be fun to make the last hour or so of the drive in the dark.

Further, the best views and the most places to stop are between Cambria and Carmel. Most people take a day just making that journey.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 51,307
reviews: 42
7. Re: California itinerary advice

Why not fly back from SFO? If you rent a car with a European Broker there are not drop off charges for a rental car between Nv and Ca. If you want to do the coast in 2 days I suggest to stay Cambria and enjoy the fabulous part of hw1 next morning.

London, United...
posts: 4
8. Re: California itinerary advice

If we stayed over night in Cambria to cut down on the drive from LA, and then were up early the next day to enjoy HW1 to Carmel and then that afternoon drove to Fish Camp for overnight on the way into Yosemite Valley, would that be too much to fit into a day?

Santa Monica, CA
Destination Expert
for Santa Monica
posts: 8,200
reviews: 177
9. Re: California itinerary advice

Once you get your trip sorted out, be sure to come to the various forums for specific advice and itinerary help. I've got some ideas about LA (it's a great city for those who enjoy the outdoors), but will wait until you have your number of nights sorted out! Happy planning.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
posts: 51,307
reviews: 42
10. Re: California itinerary advice

I would not recommend that. It;s a 4+ hours drive from Monterey to Wanona and you can spend all day between Cambria and Monterey. The drive only is 3 hours with no stops but so many things to explore on the way you easliy can spend all day for it.

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