California Highlights Road Trip  

The Classic

Buckle up — you’re headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway, with a detour to the Wine Country and Yosemite, on a road trip that ticks off everything unmissable in the Golden State

You’ll start in San Francisco and then hit the open road where the driving is part of this all-American experience. Weave through the wine country and check off Yosemite before the coast calls. Mooch around Monterey and get all the Cali-Med vibes in Santa Barbara before La La Land steps forward for the grand finale.

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11 nights
San Francisco, Napa, Yosemite, Carmel & Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles

All the views of the PCH without missing out on Napa and Yosemite.

Recommended itinerary

San Francisco

Golden Gate City

Vibrant and bustling, with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge and hilly landscape, the city is instantly recognisable. San Francisco's neighbourhoods come in many forms, from artsy nooks to stylish hubs. Stay a few days before collecting your hire car and starting your road trip.

What to do in San Francisco

Take a sightseeing tour

The Hop-On Hop-Off Official City Tour begins at Fisherman’s Wharf. Then, you’ll see the Barbary Coast, Embarcadero, and the Ferry Building before you arrive at Union Square. Pause for some shopping or stay on board to admire the Victorian Painted Ladies, then drive through the bohemian Haight Ashbury, where you can see the murals and art. Golden Gate Park (home of the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences) follows before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Your ticket includes a visit to Alcatraz – the infamous prison island.

Where to stay in San Francisco

Rest your head

Go fancy at the Fairmont San Francisco or frills-free with The Cartwright or The Handlery. Of course, this being San Francisco, there are plenty of eye-catching hotels, too – try Hotel Emblem or Hotel Zephyr to mingle with a funkier crowd.

Napa

Venture to Wine Country

The trip drive of your trip is comparatively short. Just an hour or so away (you can get there over the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bay Bridge), Napa Valley produces the USA’s most famous wines. There are options for every palette, taste, and budget.

What to do in Napa

How you’ll spend your days

Drive Highway 29’s 30 miles and absorb every heady detail of multisensory Napa Valley. There are stunning stops, door-to-door and back-to-back. The hard part is deciding where to stop. Sip fresh-from-the-vineyard wines in castle-like estates, stop at hillside boutiques with spectacular views and dive into high-tech subterranean tasting rooms.

Where to stay in Napa

The addresses to know

River Terrace Inn might conjure the images most associated with this elegant region, but trendier boltholes are shaking things up in Napa too – try Andaz Napa for an effortless and unpretentious stay where you’ll feast in a farm-to-table restaurant, then retire to a firepit with a glass of local wine.

Yosemite

Monumental wonders

From Napa, drive 200 miles east to Yosemite National Park. Here, thundering waterfalls plummet from granite cliffs, soaking too-curious sightseers with misty plumes. Hikers are giddy from witnessing the most extraordinary vistas. Fearless types tackle El Capitan – a sheer monolith of vertiginous granite. And surreally giant trees have you wondering: is it all a dream?

What to do in Yosemite

Go big on adventure

There are hundreds of miles of marked hiking trails. Stop at the visitor centre for maps and advice, or ask at your hotel for the best routes on the doorstep. Once you’ve exhausted your legs, take the scenic drive to Glacier . for the ultimate views of America's most iconic valley.

Where to stay in Yosemite

Relax in a cabin

Remote and rustic lodges are set in beautiful surroundings. The hotels and motels in these parts are all about easygoing vibes and fresh mountain air.

Carmel & Monterey

Drive back to the coast

Leave the glory of Yosemite behind and drive 200 miles southwest to the Pacific coast. Some of the best chances to spot California’s whales are off the coast of Monterey, with sightseeing trips aplenty depart from Old Fisherman’s Wharf. When you’ve returned with a camera full of shots of breaching whales and frolicking seals, stay for clam chowder at one of the wharf’s restaurants overlooking Monterey Bay and get a second glimpse of the seals playing on the rocks.

What to do in Monterey & Carmel

Shop, sip, and savour

Dreamy Carmel is the type of place you leisurely drift around, perusing Ocean Avenue's quaint galleries and boutiques and meandering through bamboo-lined passageways. Its restaurant scene includes some authentic Italian trattorias, so feast on pasta before heading to one of the wine-tasting rooms or walk the scenic bluff path above Carmel Beach before making your way down the stairs to the sand in time for sunset.

Where to stay in Monterey & Carmel

Swish surroundings

If you want the ocean on your doorstep and stay within easy reach of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row, consider Intercontinental The Clement or Monterey Bay Inn. Or stay in Carmel – the timelessly beautiful La Playa Hotel is a cosy and romantic spot.

Santa Barbara

Welcome to the American Riviera

Savour the drive through Big Sur as you head south to Santa Barbara, a town whose reputation exceeds its geographic size. It’s a pretty small town 90 miles north of Los Angeles – close enough for its celebrity citizens to catch their agent in the melee of LA but just far enough away for escapism. You’ll pay a premium to sample the American Riviera lifestyle here, but some may say it’s more than worth it to experience the essence of Californian cool.

What to do in Santa Barbara

Shop and stroll

The heart of Santa Barbara is a palm-lined boulevard where you can admire the Spanish-style buildings that give Santa Barbara its Mediterranean vibe. State Street, the main avenue, is surrounded by stores, bars, and restaurants, eventually leading to the coast. Save the walk for a sunset stroll and try the electric Santa Barbara Trolley that goes along the entire length of State Street.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara

Fabulous resorts

Rub shoulders with celebrities at the gorgeous El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel. Or check into somewhere a little more down-to-earth at the motel-style Best Western Plus Pepper Tree Inn. There are many options in between, too, whether you fancy the charm of the Riviera Beach House or the pools, restaurants, and activities at Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort.

Los Angeles

Prepare to be dazzled

The final leg of your trip brings you to Los Angeles. Sunset-loving, moviemaking, ocean-living LA brings the gloss, the grunge, and the glam. Come for Hollywood, but stay for every other irresistible horizon.

What to do in Los Angeles

Up the tempo

Ferrari-flashing, diamond-dripping Beverly Hills is L.A. at its most lavish. Come here for Rodeo Dive’s constellation of luxury shops and Beverly Wilshire’s gold-flaked drinks. Craving Michelin star dining? You’ve got it. Want to ogle the A-lister’s extravagant pads? A Hollywood Celebrities Homes tour will show you how the other half live.

Beverly Hills

Where to stay in Los Angeles

Tempted by the beach?

Want a beachside stay that’s still close to all the attractions? Just a 25-minute drive from Hollywood and Universal Studios, Santa Monica brims with beach town soul. The salty swells, wheel-weaving boardwalk and bohemian bars slinging craft cocktails never disappoint. Slow the pace with sand between your toes, or speed it up and cycle miles of shoreline bike path.

Santa Monica