Set off on a self-drive that takes in the best of sun-kissed SoCal. Start in oceanfront Santa Monica with its tourist-hotspot-meets-local-neighbourhood vibe, spend a couple of days relaxing in the desert city of Palm Springs and feel the sand between your toes along San Diego’s glorious coastline.
Suggested route & duration
Suggested route 9 nights from Santa Monica • Santa Monica: 3 nights • Palm Springs: 3 nights • San Diego: 3 nights
About this independent tour
Why you’ll love this self-drive
• Feel the local neighbourhood vibe in the coastal city of Santa Monica
• Stop for a couple of relaxing days in Palm Springs
• Explore the historic Gaslamp Quarter or enjoy life by the beach in sun-drenched San Diego
• This itinerary can also be done in a motorhome.
When to go
• This is one of our few featured self-drives you can do in the winter as Southern California remains relatively mild year round
• Summer brings a lot of heat to the desert
• With pleasant temperatures spring and autumn are great seasons to visit the region
Suggested self-drive details
Day 1: Santa Monica Begin your trip in Santa Monica, an Pacific city where you can spend time relaxing on the sand and checking out the local cafés and restaurants. Stay 3 nights at Hotel Shangri-La.
Day 4: Palm Springs Head inland to the playground of silver screen stars: the oasis-in-the-desert town of Palm Springs. Stay at Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel.
Day 7: San Diego Drive back through the desert on the way to sun-kissed San Diego. Stay 3 nights at Kona Kai Resort & Spa.
One of our favourite spots in Southern California is Santa Monica, an oceanfront city that has a unique tourist-hotspot-meets-local-neighbourhood vibe. You can cycle along the beachside boardwalk, jump on the pier’s thrill rides or find a café that’s a favourite with those in the know. If you want to explore more of what Los Angeles has to offer, including it's world-famous theme parks and movie studios,take the E Line Metro train which will take you into the heart of Downtown LA. Here, you can hop on the Red Line up to Hollywood and on to Universal City, or the Blue Line which terminates in Long Beach.
Palm Springs is an oasis city in the Coachella Valley that's long been a choice of A-listers seeking a break from Los Angeles. You can shop in high-end boutiques, tee off at one of the many golf courses, laze in hot springs or at a spa, or just cool off in the pool at your resort. If you apprieciate mid-century design and archtitecture, spend time spotting modernist houses, mansions and hotels that date back to Palm Springs' 'LA removed' heyday, and visit the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Centre. For a bird's eye view of the city and surrounding valley, take the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to top of San Jacinto Peak.
San Diego is often overlooked in favour of its sister cities to the north. But if you continue along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll discover the best example of that laid-back Southern California lifestyle. There’s the beautifully mild climate (on average there are more than 260 days of sunshine a year); a seemingly endless stretch of sandy beaches which range from family friendly to surfers’ paradise; and a celebrated dining and nightlife scene in the historic Gaslamp Quarter. You can step into the world of Top Gun at the historic USS Midway Museum, that's set on an aircraft carrier docked near downtown San Diego; discover the delightful trails, pretty gardens and world-class attractions of Balboa Park; and head out on a whale-watching trip from the Embarcadero or enjoy a California burrito, fish taco or ceviche at one the harbourfront promenade's many restaurants.
Tailor your tour
Make it your own
We’ve crafted this self-drive based on our own experiences and customers’ feedback. It’s fully flexible, so talk to us and we can create your perfect trip.
Where to stay
We've handpicked some of the best hotels in each city, including the Shangri La in Santa Monica and the marinafront Kona Kai Resort & Spa in San Diego. There are some fantastic alternatives in each destination: in Santa Monica you could upgade your stay with a few nights at Shutters on the Beach while in San Diego you could spend a few nights at the iconic Hotel del Coronado.
We've left your days free to discover Southern California at your own pace. If you plan to tick off some of LA's main sights, get a Sightseeing Pass which includes boat trips, tours and entry to selected attractions. In Palm Springs, it's all about shopping, heading to the spa, playing a round of golf or relaxing by the pool. Down in San Diego, head to the beach, explore the USS Midway – a museum onboard an aircraft carrier – or wander round the city's famous urban park, Balboa Park.
Nine nights is the perfect amount of time to explore these three destinations but it's easy to add a night or two wherever you want to slow down the pace. An extra night or two in San Diego would mean you can see more of its breathtaking beaches and sample more of the Gaslamp Quarter's bars and restaurants.
There are plenty of places that can be added for an unforgettable California coast and desert adventure. You could start your trip in San Francisco and add a stay in Monterey, Big Sur and Santa Barbara before setting off to explore Southern California.