This luxe self-drive ticks off California’s headline highlights including its trio of coastal cities, the world-famous Pacific Coast Highway and its mountain and desert parks.
Suggested route & duration
Suggested duration 15 nights
• Los Angeles, California: 2 nights
• San Diego, California: 2 nights
• Palm Springs, California: 1 night
• Las Vegas, Nevada: 2 nights
• Mammoth Lakes, California: 1 night
• Yosemite National Park (Modesto/El Portal), California: 1 night
• Napa, California: 2 nights
• San Francisco, California: 2 nights
• Big Sur, California: 1 night
• Santa Barbara, California: 1 night
About this independent tour
Why you’ll love this self-drive
• Drive through the desert, up into the mountains and along the Pacific Coast
• Explore the historic Gaslamp Quarter or enjoy life by the beach in sun-drenched San Diego
• Make the most of Las Vegas’s 24/7 entertainment, dining and shopping opportunities
• Breathe in the fresh mountain air in Mammoth Lakes and explore Yosemite Valley
• Sample world-famous Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays at Napa Valley wineries
When to go
• Summer is high season, however, the north and central coast can be foggy and cool; autumn is the perfect time to visit thanks to the Indian summers
• The stops in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on this itinerary make winter travel difficult; Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road can open any time between early May and late June
• Mid- to late-spring is a great time to travel: the summer crowds will be smaller and the mountain snow melt means Yosemite’s famous falls will be thundering
Suggested self-drive details
Day 1: Los Angeles Begin your trip in sprawling LA, home to many ‘cities within a city’. Stay 2 nights at The Peninsula Beverly Hills.
Day 3: San Diego Drive through typical SoCal oceanfront towns on the way to sun-kissed San Diego. Stay 2 nights at Hotel del Coronado.
Day 5: Palm Springs Head inland to the playground of silver screen stars: the oasis-in-the-desert town of Palm Springs. Stay at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa.
Day 6: Las Vegas Continue travelling through the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas with its legendary round-the-clock entertainment. Stay 2 nights at Wynn Las Vegas.
Day 8: Mammoth Lakes Get back to nature as you drive through Death Valley National Park and then up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Stay at The Westin Monache Resort.
Day 9: Yosemite National Park Experience one of the world’s best high mountain drives – Tioga Pass Road (closed seasonally) – before entering the spectacular Yosemite Valley. Stay at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite.
Day 10: Napa Cross the Central Valley as you travel east to the Wine Country. Visit Napa Valley’s famous vineyards and dine in the world-class restaurants. Stay 2 nights at River Terrace Inn.
Day 12: San Francisco It’s just an hour’s drive to San Francisco, a vibrant city with a wonderful bayside setting. Stay 2 nights at Taj Campton Place.
Day 14: Big Sur Follow the Pacific Coast southwards and spend the night in the glorious Big Sur region. Stay at Ventana Big Sur.
Day 15: Santa Barbara Stop off in Morro Bay and see the colony of sweet sea otters before arriving in Santa Barbara, an upmarket city packed with Spanish history. Stay at Ritz Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara.
Soar over the Grand Canyon on a Papillon helicopter flight from Las Vegas
Yosemite National Park
See the waterfalls, granite cliffs and monoliths in California’s most popular national park
Hotel Del Coronado
Stay at San Diego’s most famous hotel, ‘The Del’, the legendary setting of Some Like it Hot
During your time in Napa, head out to some of the region’s best tasting rooms
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
A stay at San Diego’s historic and iconic Hotel del Coronado is included, and you’ll spend a night at Ventana Big Sur which has ocean views that we know you’re going to love. There are some fantastic alternatives, particularly in the city: in Los Angeles you could easily swap Beverly Hills for Santa Monica.
Of all of our featured self-drives, this is the one made for a convertible and we can arrange this when you book your holiday. If you plan to tick off some of LA and San Francisco’s main sights, get a Sightseeing Pass which includes boat trips, tours and entry to selected attractions.
At 15 nights, this is already quite a long trip but if you’ve got more time, spend an extra night or two in Yosemite. You’ll have at least a whole day to do one of the park’s longer hikes. We love the Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall trails – a strenuous but rewarding hike past two of the valley’s waterfalls.
There are plenty of places that can be added for the ultimate California adventure. You could stop in Death Valley National Park, add a stay in Sequoia National Park, another park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or extend your time on the coast with a night in Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County.