For our one year wedding anniversary, Josh and I decided to fly out west and take a road trip through California.  There is a ton to see and do in California, so it was pretty difficult narrowing everything down to fit into a 9 day trip.  We wanted to make the most of our time in California since neither of us had ever even been, but we also wanted to take our time and really experience the places we went.  Ultimately, we decided on the following itinerary:

Day 1: Dallas to San Francisco

Day 2: San Francisco

Day 3: San Francisco to Sonoma Valley

Day 4: Sonoma to Yosemite

Day 5: Yosemite

Day 6: Yosemite

Day 7: Yosemite to Santa Barbara

Day 8: Santa Barbara to LA

Day 9: LA to Dallas

Once we narrowed down the major areas we wanted to spend time in, how much driving time we would need, and how much time we wanted to spend in each area, the rest was easy.  We decided that we would pick up our rental car on the second day in San Francisco.  This allowed us to save money by renting for fewer days and not having to pick up the car at the airport.  We then started to book things we were sure that we needed or wanted to do (hotels, lodging in Yosemite, Alcatraz Tour, Wine Tour,  Thai Massage after hiking, etc).  The rest we left open so we could have the flexibility to do whatever we felt like doing each day.  I am happy to say that this itinerary worked perfectly for us and allowed for a perfect balance of planned actives and free time. I can’t really think of anything I would have done differently except add more days to the trip!  Follow the links below to view more details on each section of the trip.

San Francisco

Sonoma County


Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, and Santa Monica


California Road Trip Tips and Recommendations

  • Don’t try to cram too many cities/stops into one trip.  I would suggest an average of at least 2 days per city.
  • Make sure to book things like wine tours ahead of time to get better deals and to ensure the tour company that you want is available for your date.
  • Check the weather in all of the places you’ll be visiting when you’re packing.  California is a huge state and the weather in one city can be drastically different than another.  Not to mention the fact that you could be in the mountains one day and at the beach the next!
  • Avoid picking up your rental car from the airport; you can usually find lower prices if you pick up and drop off at non-airport locations.
  • Be flexible! A large road trip like this will almost certainly include surprises! You may find things you want to do that you didn’t know about head of time.  You may also run into lots of traffic, get a late start getting on the road, or find fun places you want to stop along the way, so it’s important to not be too tied to a schedule!


Have you done a long California Road Trip before? Which places were your favorites? Comment below and share your road trip memories!