Flights to California can be pretty expensive if you’re flying to San Diego or San Francisco, so book flights to the relatively cheaper Las Vegas airport in neighboring Nevada, where flights are on average £30-50 cheaper per person. If you’re short on time or would prefer to cut down on driving, Los Angeles airport is also one of the cheaper destinations in California and would make a great central location to start your trip.
If you’re flying in to Las Vegas, take in one of the city’s world famous shows, with tickets to the KA Cirque du Soleil or even the Celine Dion 'A New Day' tour- the perfect way to battle the jet lag head on. Las Vegas is best enjoyed at night, so save your pennies the following day by admiring the extravagant scale of Las Vegas’ free attractions and sights during daylight hours and splurge in the evening to really make the most of this city’s excesses! A great way to see the city and take in the bright neon lights (without breaking the bank!) is by air, with a helicopter flight over the Las Vegas strip starting from just £62 per person. Dance the remainder of the evening away at the world famous Bellagio, or try your luck at the roulette tables for a little extra change in the road trip fund.
Save money by picking up the car on the last day of your stay in Las Vegas and drive over the border for your first rays of Californian sunshine. A great first stop for your road trip would be the city of San Diego, 5 hours’ drive away in the most Southern part of California and just 30 minutes’ drive from the infamous Tijuana, Mexico. San Diego is a stunning coastal city characterized by wide sandy beaches and beautiful marina-side dining with a European feel, harking back to San Diego’s history as the birth place of California and the first city discovered by Europeans in the area. Relax after the long drive by taking a wander along the marina or over the iconic San Diego-Coronado Bridge and chill out on the beautiful soft sandy beaches of the island.
The world famous SeaWorld San Diego is just a short drive from the city centre and makes a great full day out. Put your bravery to the test and get a dose of adrenaline on high speed rides like Manta and Journey to Atlantis. When you buy a one day ticket you'll get unlimited free entry for the next 6 days too! If you’re heading onwards to Los Angeles, benefit from booking the Southern California CityPass which covers SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and Disneyland® California.
After 2 nights soaking up the sun in San Diego, a short 2 and a half hour drive brings you to Los Angeles, home to the stars and of course the famous Hollywood sign in the hills. If you choose to fly into LAX and start your road trip here, a trip down to San Diego can be made in a day, so it’s well worth factoring this in to your trip. Better still, if you purchased your Southern California CityPass tickets through us in advance, you will be able to experience the magic of Disney at both the Disneyland Park and Disneyl's California Adventure park. Film buffs will love Universal Studios Hollywood, where experienced guides are there to show you around some of the iconic sets featured in films such as Psycho, The War of the Worlds and The Grinch.
Upgrade to the VIP experience and venture even further behind the scenes, with some tours even able to take you to the costume and props department (providing Johnny Depp isn’t getting undressed in there!). Save a little extra money by taking a free wander down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and literally trace the footsteps of a wealth of stars at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre forecourt to call a wrap on 3 nights in Los Angeles.
It’s a great idea to spend that extra night in Los Angeles relaxing before a long drive to San Francisco. While an 8 hour drive might not sound like the most fun on the average day, luckily the road between Los Angeles and San Francisco happens to be one of the most beautiful lengths of highway in North America. The Pacific Coast Highway has taken many Californian road-trippers along the winding stretches of the coast’s dramatic landscape, with highlights including the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur and the elephant seal colony a mile south of the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Stop for some lunch and smell the rich scent of the Californian redwoods overhead at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to break up the drive.
Arriving in San Francisco, you may be overwhelmed with the enormous amount of attractions you’ll want to visit and sights you want to see! Our tip would be to save yourself and your car’s handbrake from driving on San Fran’s notoriously steep streets by purchasing an Alacatraz and All Loops Double Decker Tour combo ticket in advance. The hop on and hop off bus will allow you to take in 20 of the city’s best attractions including Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, and the Golden Gate bridge, meaning you can make the most of your precious time.
Of course, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to the infamous Alcatraz prison. Tickets for this unmissable attraction always sell out quickly, so it's important to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Your combo ticket includes return ferry trips to the island and an audio guide detailing the island’s gruesome history and celebrity convicts.
From San Francisco, leave the coast behind and head inland to explore the many beautiful lakes and national parks that line your journey back to Las Vegas. Within 3 hours drive of San Francisco is the stunning Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada. During the summer months, it’s a great spot for bike riding and hiking, while in the winter its home to a great number of fantastic ski resorts, making it the perfect stopover point in all weathers. Driving onwards a further 2 and a half hours through the unbelievable picturesque beauty of the Stanilaus National Forest, make a stop at the world heritage site Yosemite National Park, where wildlife spotters can find American black bears, mule deer and cougars. With so much to see, you could easily pass two days in the park or, if you’re on a tight schedule or flying back from San Francisco, you can drop off the car and visit Yosemite in a day straight from San Fran on a comfortable air conditioned coach.
Wind up your trip with a drive through the Death Valley National park and a photo opportunity at Dante’s View, where you can take a snap of the dramatic panorama in the hottest and driest place in North America. Benefit from the cheap return flights and from the saving you get from dropping off the car at the same pick up point by flying back from Las Vegas, a further 2 hours driving. The whole trip is a total of 27 hours’ drive time so you’ll be sure you’ve seen everything you came to California for!
Got more time?
The above itinerary could be fit into a two week holiday, albeit a busy one! If you’re planning to spend a little longer in California, you could also incorporate a stop in the chilled out Santa Barbara, where you can surf or rent paddle boards in the mild tides of the Pacific Ocean. Alternatively, take a detour from Las Vegas into the Mojave Desert to enjoy a 4 wheel drive jeep tour, which includes a picnic lunch.
Need to cut it a little short?
If you only have a week, fly straight to San Diego and drive up the coast via Los Angeles to San Francisco. Make sure you have a second trip scheduled in for the rest of the road trip at some point though!
If you want more information on attraction tickets, tours or experiences in California, head to our California Destination page.
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