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Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

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Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

My wife and I are planning a trip to California. We have about a week for the trip and we want to drive as much of the state as we can. We're looking to see a little bit of everything, the Redwood Forest, Yosemite, LA, San Diego...etc. Does anyone have any other suggestions on must see sights and places?

What is the best way to do this? I've read highways 1 and 101 are great to drive.

Just looking for some input here, good routes, which is closest, how long it may take.

We really appreciate the help!


Los Angeles
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1. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

For sure Highway 1 between San Francisco and LA - especially the part between Monterey / Carmel and Cambria, which is the Big Sur and its a stunningly beautiful drive.

Washington State
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2. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

>> how long it may take <<

If you only have a week, then it will take a week.

You'll have time to quickly view some scenery and then move on. Seven days isn't very long. Do you have airports for arrival and departure selected yet?

Your overstuffed "plan" might be

Day 1: SFO Arrival, transfer to SF, enjoy the evening in SF

Day 2: pick up rental car and wave good bye to a city you didn't get to visit. Drive 300 miles north to Redwood NP via Hwy 101, no time for Hwy 1. Spend the late afternoon seeing Coastal Redwoods

Day 3: drive 450 miles to Oakdale or Groveland for the night.

Day 4: drive through visit of Yosemite NP, entering Hwy 120 and exiting hwy 41. Drive to Monterey... maybe 300+ mile day with scenery in the morning.

Day 5: Race down from Monterey along scenic Hwy 1, driving into the night to arrive in Los Angeles.

Day 6: Spend the morning enjoying the vast huge area of L.A. and drive to San Diego in the afternoon.

Day 7: if you have an afternoon flight, you can enjoy San Diego in the morning.


And no, I am not recommending this. Your plan doesn't match my travel style in the least.

How about this itinerary instead? SFO - SF - Yosemite - Monterey - SFO tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i21368

So Cal
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3. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

I don't think anyone would recommend trying to drive the whole of California in a week. Sure, you'd *see* it, but as PNWF's itinerary shows, you wouldn't be able to *do* much in it. I would pick a few areas that really interest you and spend the time there. E.g. driving from San Francisco down highway 1 to LA and then maybe on to San Diego via the 5 would easily make for a packed week.

Edited: 5:31 pm, February 27, 2013
Santa Cruz...
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4. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

PacificNW gave you a pretty good idea of the territory you are trying to cover in a week, by giving a theoretical itinerary.

Being from the East, you probably are not aware of the vastness of the third largest state (in area) in the US. (Alaska and Texas are 1 and 2.)

Here is a comparison.

Area in square miles.....Pennsylvania, 46,058. California, 164,000

Miles North to South..... " 170 " 770

Miles East to West ..... " 286 " 250

California needs to be broken up into several trips, unless you have, say, a couple of months. Sorry to rain on your parade, but none of us would recommend, at all, what you have in mind.

San Francisco
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5. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

Another good comparison of the size of California -- it's the same as England, Scotland and Wales!

Taking 3-4 days for the drive from SF to LA or SD would be wonderful. So many people try to blast through. Good stops would be Carmel or Monterey, Cambria, and Santa Barbara.

Wherever you choose, keep it small enough that you can savor what you see rather than blasting through and seeing everything out the car window.

Los Angeles
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6. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

I guess I"d confine myself to NorCal with this time frame. Skip SF and do Yosemite (two nights), then head for the coastal redwoods near Santa Cruz (Henry Cowell or Big Basin - not ideal, be sure to see the redwoods in two places in Yosemite - maybe spend 3 nights in Yosemite). See a bit of Big Sur.

Back to SF. Do you have 7 full days or are two of those days flying days as well?

San Jose, California
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7. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

With 1 week, I would do a portion of your original plan, something like:

SF to LA, visiting coastal towns in between


SF, Monterey/Carmel, and Yosemite


SF, Napa/Sonoma, and the north coast


LA, San Diego, and Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez valley

San Francisco, Ca
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8. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

To give you an idea of distance, this would be like trying to drive from Pittsburgh to Raleigh, NC in a week, via Washington DC, sightseeing along the way. Yes, it's possible, but you'd zip through Amish Country, have one day in DC, drive past some Civil War sites in Virginia, zoom through Shenandoah National Park, spend one day in Richmond, and arrive in Raleigh in time to spend a night before a flight back home. Possible, but not recommended.

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9. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

Thanks for all the tips!

No one rained on our parade, we just didn't know and that's why we asked, haha. We probably have 7 days including fights. Breaking it up is doable, which break up would you rather do, the north or south as it seems is being suggested?

Also, if we did have enough time, how long would it take to do the whole state?

Corona del Mar, CA
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10. Re: Traveling the State from Top to Bottom

I would think six weeks would be about right to get a flavor of CA.

No one mentioned anything north of the Napa/Sonoma Wine Country, but the area from Sonoma to the Oregon border is larger than the entire state of PA and it is full of great little towns and sights.

It would be very easy to spend a week each in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego and areas like Orange County where Disneyland is.

But then you have the national parks like Yosemite, Death Valley, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park plus others, the desert resort areas like Palm Springs, northern beach cities like Santa Cruz, Capitola and Monterey, the Central Coast beach towns and the beach towns of SoCal.

Then you have the mountain region with Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the south, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes in Central CA and Mt. Shasta in the north.

You can also visit the highest place in the continental U.S, Mt Whitney at 14,405' above sea level and the lowest, Death Valley at 282' below sea level, in one day. They are only 85 miles apart.

As to what can you do in 6 nights? You have good recs above, but you don't say WHEN you are coming and that is crucial for getting the best advice because mountain snows close certain passes that can effect the advice and if you say "July" and you want to visit Yosemite you might be too late already to get reservations anyplace, they are limited and fill up fast.

November_moon had good basic ideas, let me steal and expand their ideas.

1) SF to LA using Highway 1

2) SF, Monterey/Carmel, and Yosemite

3) SF, Napa/Sonoma

4) LA, Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez valley

5) San Diego, Temecula Valley, Palm Springs

6) LA, Orange County

In any one of these ideas you'll feel rushed in 6 nights because there is so much to see, but it is a start.