If there’s one thing that can stir up the green eyed monster it’s seeing someone’s road trip pictures. I know, because it was me. Every time a picture of a leggy blogger sitting atop their convertible with a view to die for in front of them on Instagram, I felt a pang of envy. Not bitter envy or angry envy, just I-have-to-do-this envy. So I did! It was impulsive, spontaneous and oh so irresponsible – the perfect ingredients to book things. We’d just bought a project house, our careers were in a great place and we told ourselves it was the last bucket list trip before settling down. Note: We say this every year. For us, there was no two ways about the destination. It had to be a California road trip. Convertible optional.
I plan ALOT of trips throughout the year but this one was the most exciting and stressful. I learnt so much along the way and I know lots of you are thinking of taking a trip like this so I thought I’d share my top tips with you…
1. RESEARCH FLIGHTS
Our first port of call in planning our California road trip was to find the cheapest place to fly to. We knew we wanted to do the West Coast but flying to LA was a lot more expensive than San Francisco so that became our starting point.
2. DECIDE ON A TIMESCALE
We knew that we couldn’t leave our jobs for a life on the road (unfortunately) so we had to compromise on the next best thing. How long could our California roadtrip be? I didn’t want to take all of my holiday at once and be left with 11 months in the UK. So, we settled on 16 days, using some bank holidays in that time to save some holiday days.
3. PICK THE ROUTE
Now you’ve decided on a timescale, it’s time for the fun but stressful bit – picking the places to stop on your California road trip! If you have endless time (lucky you!) the world is your oyster! For us, we had to be strategic about where to go for how long without it feeling too planned. I read every single travel guide and review on a California roadtrip I could find to get recommendations on what there was to see in each place. This eliminates places you think you want to go, pretty quickly. I thought I wanted to spend days in Santa Cruz, until I found out there isn’t much to do there after the first 2 days. Decision made.
4. GET PRACTICAL
I know it’s boring but if there’s one piece of advice I can give you it’s look ahead. America is expensive so make sure you have a rough idea of budget beforehand. To give you an idea
- Breakfast (yoghurt and granola with fruit and tea) will be around $15 each
- Road tolls are around $3
- Tours vary but we paid $70 for Alcatraz
- A nice dinner with wine is around $130 for both
- A G&T in Laguna Beach was $20 (yep!)
This also goes for the route. Download Waze app to get the best road routes which includes speed camera, police and accident alerts. We didn’t know that Highway 1 was closed part of the way because of a landslide so we had to go around on the 101 and re-join Highway 1 later on.
5. BE REALISTIC
That being said, be practical about everywhere you want to go. As fun as it is to travel around, do you really want to spend most of your time in the car getting to each place? We went to 9 different places in total and that felt like a bit too much. What I didn’t bank on is things like traffic, getting lost and stopping off for food etc. It all added up and we ended up getting to each place later than we planned and had more time in the car than we wanted.
6. PREPARE TO MAKE SACRIFICES
Oh the sacrifices! I wanted to see and do it all but in reality, it just wasn’t feasible and it ended up becoming really stressful. We had to compromise on things like Yosemite (sob) and Las Vegas because we ran out of time. Although I was gutted at the time, it just gives us an excuse to go back!
7. PLAN, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
I started off having a detailed itinerary for each day of our California roadtrip. Yep, I know. The planner in me got carried away. It’s good to have a list of what you’d like to see in each place but the best part of travelling is stumbling across a great cafe or place to grab a drink so it’s good to be flexible. We had most of our hotels booked but we had 4 nights with nothing booked which panicked me at first but it was actually really helpful. We decided to extend our stay in a couple of places so those unbooked days gave us the flexibility to do that.
OUR CALIFORNIA ROADTRIP ROUTE
Allow at least a day for jet lag, we could’ve done with an extra day here as we loved it so much.
After the wine and olive tours, there isn’t a huge amount to do here. It’s beautiful and idyllic for chilling out but we could’ve done it in less time,
The Big Sur / Monterey – 2 nights
The towns dotted along The Big Sur are worth a trip, we hung out in Monterey and Carmel in one day which is all we needed. I do wish we’d spent another night here purely to do nothing! In between hiking, seal-spotting and roasting marshmallows on the fire pit, I felt like a fully fledged country bumpkin.
Santa Cruz – 1 day
Home to the hippie movement, I was surprisingly underwhelmed with Santa Cruz. Apart from the amusement pier, beach and town, it was a bit run down.
Santa Barbara– 1 day
We stopped off in Santa Barbara for lunch at the most amazing fresh fish bar at the end of the pier. I really liked the laid-back vibe here and the people were really cool.
LA/Hollywood – 7 nights
Hands down, the best place ever! There’s so much to see and do here, a week still wasn’t long enough. I’m going to do a proper guide to LA next week but I’d say spend as much time here as possible!
Pasadena – 1 day
We drove back and forth to Pasadena whilst we were in LA as the hotels are cheaper and it’s a lovely suburb of the city. Be warned, you will totally see yourself living here!
It was impulsive, spontaneous and oh so irresponsible – the perfect ingredients to book things