If you’re looking to book an American road trip and want some help planning the ultimate 2 week itinerary then this California road trip planner will share all of the amazing places not to be missed down the iconic Californian coastline and show how you can fit a lot of what California has to offer in just 2 weeks! I also made some YouTube videos sharing more in depth info of this California road trip planner, so be sure to check them out to see all of these places in further detail at the end of this blog post. When we do this trip we tend to book hotels as we go along, but this should help you figure out exactly what dates you’ll be in which place so you can pre-book these should you so wish. Let’s get into it!
ULTIMATE 2 WEEK CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP PLANNER.
Please note, all video planner guides I’ve created can be found at the bottom of this post.
Day 1 – Travel Day.
If you’re flying in from the UK then it’s a long flight. Try and grab some sleep on the plane, but if you’re traveling with children like we were you’ll probably land in the evening so my advice would be to grab a cheap hotel at LAX to catch up on some sleep before the adventure begins in the morning! Then, first thing the next day pick up your hire car and hit the road.
Day 2 – Orange County.
As much as I would recommend a visit to San Diego, as you only have 2 weeks I’ve not included it in this California road trip planner because it does eat into a lot of your time going south to go straight back up to do the rest of the coast. LA to San Diego does make for a nice 1 week road trip though, it’s a really nice city to explore and we found it to be exceptionally clean!
Less than an hour away from LAX, (it’s only 35 miles away but let’s just address right here and now that LA traffic is horrendous – no matter the time of day, so make sure you factor this in whenever you’re heading back into the city or need to be at the airport in time!) your first stop is going to be in Orange County. Take the morning to explore Huntington Beach, famed for its excellent, world-class surfing beaches and Huntington Beach pier, this beach town stretches out almost 10 miles along a beautiful sandy beach. Grab some fish tacos or a burrito and pitch up a towel on the beach while the children stretch their legs and have a play in the sand.
After lunch, drive 20 minutes down the road to Laguna Beach to settle into your accommodation for the next 2 nights. We stayed at Laguna Lodge Hotel and it was in a great location across the road from the beach and served a filling breakfast included in the price. Once you’ve dropped your bags head down to the beach for some late afternoon fun in the sunshine, or a stroll around downtown for some dinner. (You’d probably need to drive down as the road isn’t pedestrian friendly the whole way)
Day 3 – Dana Point.
The next day I’d suggest a visit to Dana Point, have a stroll around the harbour then up to Lantern Bay Park – look out for free yoga on the field or an event at Doheny Beach.
A visit to Ruby’s Diner is a fun place for dinner with a rooftop seating area for the sunset, although if we went again we’d choose to sit downstairs because it has an old style diner décor and better service.
Marina Park is a cool place to visit with kids, have a look around Balboa Island if you have time, it’s very quaint and a lovely place for an afternoon stroll.
Day 4-5 – Palm Springs
Next up is a 2 day trip to Palm Springs. This is a little out of your way, but I wanted to add it into this California road trip planner because personally I think it’s well worth the drive. On your way into Palm Springs, stop off at Cabazon Dinosaurs for a cool photo opportunity – one of the oddest things you’ll come across whilst in the middle of the desert – a theme park style attraction filled with ginormous dinosaurs that you can spot from the road. We didn’t choose to pay to go in but there were a few outside to whet your appetite.
There’s also an incredible outlet mall if shopping is your thing. It gets VERY hot there though, being in the desert and all.
Palm Springs isn’t that big, so staying anywhere downtown will be close to the action. I love it for its relaxed, old Hollywood feel and art deco buildings. It’s easy to explore on foot so you can park the car up and not worry about driving if you don’t want to.
The next day I’d recommend a visit to the Palm Springs aerial tramway. The world’s largest rotating tram car which travels 2.5 miles up to the pristine wilderness of San Jacinto State Park. At 6 and a half thousand feet high, the views over Coachella valley are stunning. Take a warm jacket though as temperatures drop suddenly when you’re up in the mountains.
Don’t forget to drive through the iconic wind farm before heading off to your next destination.
Day 6 – Solvang
One of your longest drives of the trip (stock up on the free breakfast before you leave) 4.5hrs later the next stop is to Solvang, an authentic Danish town which is one of my most favourite discoveries in California, it is so unique and delightfully out of place! This is a little detour but I would highly recommend a visit.
I only suggest one day for Solvang because, although cute and interesting, one day is plenty to explore it. There’s a local farmers market once a week and I’d also recommend a winery visit if you can.
I love this photo taken at the Jule Hus in Solvang because we’ve had one taken every time we’ve been here and each time there’s more of us!
Day 7 – Santa Cruz
Heading back onto highway 1 for another relatively long drive to head north to Santa Cruz. I’d recommend a little loo & lunch stop in Atascadero which is a great little town founded in 1913 as a utopian colony and remains seemingly stuck in a time warp of traditional American charm. There’s little to do here but it makes for a great stop along this route up to Santa Cruz.
I have to admit, I have stayed in Santa Cruz 3 or 4 times now, and I’ve never really loved it too much, although I know it’s very much loved by others so I wanted to include it in this California road trip planner. However, I’d never really strayed from the beach and huge beachside attractions. The beach is great and a nice place to stretch your legs and enjoy the arcade. There’s enough to do here for the day with time to pop downtown for some dinner. I found the downtown area to be really pretty in the evening and full of great restaurants.
Days 8-10 – San Francisco!
I am so excited to tell you all about this next stop. I’ve suggested 2-3 days here because there is SO much to do here. In fact, I’ve written a whole guide on things to do in San Francisco, so be sure to check that out to read about it in detail. I also have a video guide for all of the free things to do in San Francisco too to show you on film how much there is to do here that’s free. It is more costly to stay here, so keep that in mind when booking, but in my opinion it is definitely worth spending as much time here as you can as it’s the city that keeps on giving with so much to see and do.
As I’ve done a full video on San Fran as well as 2 detailed San Fran city guide blog posts I wont share too much here, but my main tip would be to wear comfortable shoes and just WALK, WALK, WALK! It’s the best way to see the sites and it’s great to see each district comes to life before your eyes as you’re walking. In terms of hotels in San Francisco, if you’re doing this road trip as a family, you may prefer to stay in bustling Fisherman’s Wharf which is easy to walk around, or Union Square if you’re wanting to be downtown. Other cool places to look at are Chinatown – the largest Chinatown outside of China. Golden Gate Park, Marina District, Crissy Field, Mission, Castro, the list is endless! You could easily fill a 4 day San Francisco itinerary or even spend the 2 weeks here discovering it all and adding on excursions to places such as Yosemite, Napa & Sonoma and Muir Woods.
Day 10 – Sausalito
After another morning in San Fran head over the famous Golden Gate Bridge for night 10 of your California road trip. There’s a cool look out back over onto San Francisco where you can get a fantastic photo of the most iconic bridge on the west coast and take in the view. A short distance on you’ll arrive in Sausalito – you can also ride the bridge and hire bikes if you wanted. Quaint house boats and a marina await you in this picturesque community. You could stay outside of the main strip which would make it much cheaper. We would recommend the Best Western in Corte Madera for a super affordable stay, large room and huge breakfast! You could also stay here instead of SF if you wanted to save money and drive into the city each day – just weigh up the costs and location benefits.
Heading Back down south.
Day 11-12 – Monterey
You’re heading back down south now, a 2 hour drive to Monterey and Carmel. We stayed at the Intercontinental The Clement Monterey which is located in the heart of the iconic Cannery Row and boasts incredible views over the water. (we even spotted a whale going past from our room!) Everything is on your doorstep when staying here so you wont need your car. If it’s raining, head to one of the many indoor attractions like Highway 1 Golf and entertainments for crazy family fun and exciting activites for children. Monterey is a lovely place to explore by foot as everything is so close together.
Day 2 in Monterey I’d recommend hiring bikes and riding to Fisherman’s Wharf. The bike trail is easily ridden and flat all the way. In the opposite direction head to Lover’s Point which has a beautiful beach – look out for artists painting the pretty view, then on your way back spot seals sunbathing on the beach!
After a couple of days at Monterey, Carmel and exclusive Pebble Beach continue south to Pismo Beach for a night’s stop over.
Highway 1 will take you through some spectacular scenery and jaw dropping clifftop roads – not for the faint hearted! You could take the 101 if you wanted to get there sooner, but personally the drive down Highway 1 is an iconic American bucket list thing to do so I had to include it in this Californian road trip planner.
Halfway down you can drop in to Pfeiffer Beach – when I say drop in, this will add over an hour onto your journey due to how inaccessible it is from the main road – it will also cost you 10 bucks for the privilege, but it’s not every day you can say you went to a beach with purple sand! So, it’s probably worth the detour if you’re only going to do this trip once.
After a picnic on the beach (there are no shops here so bring your own) head back down to Pismo Beach, taking in more intense cliff top driving – don’t miss Bixby Bridge – build in the 1930’s this is a magnificent landmark to include in your trip. Your GPS might be a bit sketchy around here but fear not, the crowds of tourists parked up on the road will be a good giveaway as to where to find it!
As the road slowly heads inland the scenery fades away into a less grand setting. This part of the drive always seems to take forever. Keep an eye out for San Simeon – home of Hearst Castle. Personally, having done it once I wouldn’t stay again as there is very little to do here. But it is a convenient half way point to stay if you need a rest from driving. Don’t be alarmed if you spot random zebra in the fields – once you look up Hearst Castle it will all become clear! More elephant seals can be seen here basking in the sunshine – you’ll notice the air will feel warmer here now that you’re heading away from cooler San Fran which has its own micro-climates all over the city.
Once you see Morro Rock – (you wont be able to miss it!) you’ll be on the home straight. Pismo and San Luis Obispo are lovely places to look around if you have time when you arrive.
The final part of your California Road Trip
For your final couple of days you’re going to be back in LA. I think it’s important when looking into a California road trip planner that you take time relaxing on one of the amazing beaches. Manhattan Beach is definitely my favourite and we’ve spent a lot of time here. It’s trendy, laid back and has great restaurants to choose from. Plus you can hire bikes to go to Santa Monica for a day trip. Another great beach for families is Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey; it’s totally sheltered and great for kids.
There’s obviously a huge amount to do in LA; you may wish to do Sunset Blvd, and downtown etc, there’s a lot of famous sights to take in! Venice beach is unique shall we say! But the Venice canals are really worth a visit. I wrote a blog post on them as I was so pleasantly surprised. However, you might be grateful for some restful beach time now you’re here which is why I’m not going to go into detail the other sights around LA in this particular California road trip planner.
There are plenty of hotels to stay around Manhattan Beach but we usually stay at The Wave which is pleasant enough and a in good location.
So, there we are! This ultimate California road trip planner has come to an end. If you are looking into doing it don’t be put off by the daunting task of driving it – everything is so easy and accessible and there are plenty of hotels to stay at so you wont get stuck if you leave it until the night before (you may pay more though!) I’d love to hear from you if you are looking to book, I love nothing more than talking about traveling…well, maybe actually doing the travelling of course!
I hope this guide helps, don’t forget to check out the video California itinerary too and if you found it helpful, why not share it?
California Road Trip Planner Video
Things To Do In San Francisco Video
Palm Springs Video
*Some links may be affiliate which means I may get a small commission from recommending them to you, but you don’t pay any extra because of this.