As someone who gets easily car sick, I was a little hesitant to embark on an 18-day adventure that included hours in a car. But with frequent stops, lots of good music, and a great driver, I was able to avoid getting motion-sickness and got to experience the many perks of traveling by car. For one, taking the scenic route makes the extra time spent traveling well worth it. Now we didn't take Highway 101 all the way down to California, in fact we only drove on it for an hour the first day. But the Highway definitely made sitting in the car much more enjoyable.
Road tripping also gives you a sense of spontaneity. The flexibility of having your own car makes it so you can do whatever you'd like, whenever you'd like to! The journey turns into your destination, and all that open road allows you to become more in touch with nature. Besides the obvious make a road-trip CD and wear comfortable clothing, here's a few tips you'll find useful when planning your road trip:
Now, I know not everyone has the ability, or even wants to leave home for 18-days, so before I get into our itinerary just know it can be easily modified. And if you'd like to skip our quick reviews and [amazing] pictures from each day just scroll to the bottom to view the daily itinerary in a table format.
So without further ado I present to you our unforgettable 18-day road trip from Washington to California (and back) which includes a total of 8 unique hotels, 11 must-do activities, and about 3,290 miles of driving total.
Day 1 White Rock Resort
During our journey to California we stopped for breakfast in Portland, then in Southern Oregon got onto Highway 101. About 9 hours and 540 miles later (this includes all the potty breaks, leg stretching, and food stops) we made it to our first destination: White Rock Resort.
This quaint resort lies in the very tip of California. We purchased one of their ocean cabins (no regrets) which includes panoramic views, a large balcony, and private jacuzzi. From the outside the cabins look fairly new, but they could definitely use some renovating on the inside. This resort has free parking (right outside your cabin), and although it doesn't include breakfast, each of the cabins come with a fully equipped kitchen.
Day 2 Drive Through a Tree
After checking out at 11:00 AM we drove an hour to Klamath Tour Thru Tree, and did just that, we drove through a tree. After lots of selfies and a short video we continued our journey to San Fransisco. About six hours later - including a lunch break by the sea - we made it our next destination.
Travel Tip: Save some money by booking a hotel outside of San Francisco and spend that money instead on a tour or nice dinner. We decided to stay in Walnut Creek, which is about 1 hour away with traffic, or 30 minutes without.
Day 3 Explore San Francisco
I love city tours, so I couldn't miss booking one in San Francisco. We booked an all day (8 hours) tour with allsightseeingtours.com. It was a little pricey but included transportation and tickets to the following destinations: Vista Point, Muir Woods, Sausalito, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Alcatraz Island. Vista Point gives an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it tends to be pretty crowded.
Muir Woods National Monument is the world's most visited redwood park. They have trees there that range from 400-800 years old and are 250 feet tall. We only had an hour here, and that did not feel like enough time to truly explore and enjoy the park. If you're into hiking I would recommend spending a whole day exploring this park and ones near it.
Our tour included a lunch break in Sausalito - a San Francisco Bay Area city with gorgeous views. Beautiful yet very pricey, Sausalito is considered one of the most expensive cities to reside in America. So obviously we had to check out their famous seafood restaurant.
Our next stop the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a must-see if you're in San Francisco. This large park is approximately 80,000 acres! With many view points from different elevations, you can't go wrong here. In fact we spent so much time enjoying the view we forgot to take some decent pictures, so I snapped one during the ride back down.
Our last, and favorite stop on the tour was Alcatraz Island. The view from this island was breath taking (those lucky prisoners), the tour of the prison was mind boggling, and the trip there and back was filled with more amazing views of San Francisco (cherry on top). In fact I loved it so much I couldn't even choose my favorite photos, so please enjoy this short slideshow I put together.
Last but not least we finished off the day at Cliff House Restaurant. Incredible views + mouthwatering food = best way to end a long day exploring San Francisco. Just make sure you plan ahead and reserve a table at least one week in advance - this restaurants is very popular and during weekends it tends to book up fast.
Day 4 The Line Hotel
From San Francisco we took I-5 directly to Los Angeles. The route was surprisingly scenic, and the drive took about 5.5 hours. Our hotel was located in Koreatown; we loved the location it was close to everything, the decor was very trendy and chic, and the food (a little overpriced) was extremely tasty. Once we settled into the hotel we explored the grounds and ate at their popular greenhouse restaurant called Commissary.
Day 5 Explore Los Angeles
Beaches and food, that's what LA is known for so that's what we explored! We choose to eat at Sycamore Kitchen for breakfast. Their blueberry compote crepes are to die for (I still dream about them). After breakfast we decided to take a day trip to Malibu, and on our way there we stopped by the famous Getty Villa: a museum about ancient Greece, Roman, and Etrurian culture. If you're not a museum person, you're not going to like it. However, admission to the museum is completely free, you only have to pay for parking.
For the remainder of the day we spent time stopping at beaches in Malibu. Our favorite was El Matador State Beach. The views are incredible, we stayed until the sun went down and returned to our hotel for dinner at the Pot.
Day 6 Universal Studios
Universal Studios was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We spent all day at the park, and with the help of some frontline passes we were able to get through the whole amusement park in just one day. Some of our favorite attractions were the Studio Tour, WaterWorld, and Universal's Animal Actors. The Studio Tour takes you through popular movie sets, shows you how directors manipulate the weather, and all that fun behind-the-scenes stuff. WaterWorld is considered Universal's #1 show, just make sure you see it. And Animals Actors lets you meet and greet with famous animals from movies.
After Universal Studios we stopped for a few drinks at the Universal CityWalk and ended the night with dinner at Osso (amazing atmosphere, drinks, and food).
Day 7 Los Angeles City Tour
Did I mention I love city tours? I know it saves money to do all the must-sees on your own, but then you miss out on all history, culture, and fun facts given by a guide. Whats the fun of seeing something, if you don't even know the significance behind it? For this reason, we booked an all day (8 hours) tour with adayinla.com that included the following destinations: Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, the Original Farmers Market, Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Boulevard, and Santa Monica Pier. Venice Beach is mostly famous for it's circus-like boardwalk (the beach is beautiful too!). But be warned, LA has a very large number of homeless people, and they also enjoy spending time at this beach.
Our next stop was Beverly Hills - the most filmed city in the world. It also happens to be home to the most expensive store in the world, where customers spend about $10,000 per visit. Even though we couldn't affordable anything from their overpriced mall ($50 for a pair of socks?!), we did enjoy people watching. Everyone dressed in the best brand names, perfect hair and makeup, and of course perfectly sculpted faces - did I mention Beverley Hills is home to one of the world's best plastic surgeons?
For lunch we stopped at LA's famous Original Farmers Market. With over 100 restaurants, grocers, and shops, we did have some difficulty choosing where to eat. In the end we settled for some crepes - because you can never go wrong with crepes! After lunch we explored The Grove, which is located right next to the farmers market. The Grove was by far the most extravagant shopping center I have ever seen, and we were lucky enough to experience it during Christmas season.
No LA tour is complete without a stop at the Hollywood Sign. As most of you know it's illegal to get near the Hollywood sign (it's surrounded with sensors so don't even try), but if you're hoping to get a good picture the Griffith Observatory is your best bet. Aside from having an excellent view of the sign, Griffith Observatory also has stunning views of LA. You will literally feel like you're on top of the world here, it's a must-see.
Now you can't visit LA and not go to Hollywood. Hollywood Boulevard is a Los Angeles cultural icon. This street is filled with museums, landmarks, and of course the famous stars imprinted on the sidewalk. Some other fun attractions include the TCL Chinese Theatre where celebrities leave their footprints and messages, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and of course Dolby Theatre (that's where the academy awards are held annually).
Our tour drop off location was Santa Monica Pier - so that's where we finished off the day. We rode the rides, played some games, walked the beach, and had dinner at a nearby restaurant before returning to our hotel.
Day 8 Pacific Terrace Hotel
Our next destination was San Diego! We really wanted to visit as many famous Californian beaches as possible during our trip, so on our way to San Diego we stopped by a few well-known sandy beaches. And the best part was we basically had the whole beach to ourselves since it was a weekday, and in the fall. Our first stop was Long Beach, it was about 1-hour away from the Line Hotel, and well as expected it was very long. Next we drove 40 minutes to Newport Beach, and here we enjoyed lunch. Laguna Beach was our last stop of the day, it was only about 30 minutes from Newport with a very cute town.
Upon arrival to the Pacific Terrace Hotel we were greeted with champagne and an upgrade to their master suite. Not only was this suite on their top floor, but it included a kitchen, living room, and two balconies with breathtaking views of the ocean. For this reason, this hotel was our favorite.
We made reservations in advance at Juniper and Ivy in downtown San Diego, and this restaurant turned out to be our favorite from the trip. The decor was fabulous, the location was great if you want to stay out, and the food was delicious.
Day 9 Explore San Diego
Our hotel offered free bike rentals, so we spent the whole day exploring San Diego on bikes. We played some beach volleyball, ate street food for lunch, found a secret beach, and upon return enjoyed mimosas in our hotel pool (which overlooks the ocean!). That night we had dinner at The Red Door - an upscale all fresh produce type of restaurant. Overall it was a very fun and successful day.
Day 10 SeaWorld
SeaWorld is a pretty magical place. Park hours in the fall are 10AM-6PM, and believe it or not we were barely able to get through the whole park in that time. Luckily we saw all the shows available that day, and they were equally amazing. We especially loved Sea Lions Live, and both of the Shamu Whale shows. Just be warned, don't sit in the wet zone unless you want to leave soaked.
Aside from the shows we also made an effort to see all of the exhibits. This includes the penguins (they were cute as always), sting rays, a beluga whale, and sharks. The shark exhibit was very fun, you walk underground and stand on an escalator (this helps keep people moving) that goes through a tunnel with glass and above you is tons of sharks swimming around!
Day 11 Balboa Park
This 1,200 acre park is filled with museums, architecture, gardens, and venues; so it's pretty much impossible to complete in just one day. We decided to visit a few of the most popular attractions including: the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, Japanese Friendship Garden, and the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. During our visit they also had an Instruments of Torture museum where you weren't allowed to take any pictures! After a very long day exploring the park we checked into the infamous Hotel Del Coronado.
Day 12 Hotel Del Coronado
When this hotel opened in 1888 it was the largest resort in the world. Over the years it has hosted presidents, royalty, and celebrities. The hotel has also been featured in numerous movies and books. But it's mainly known for housing the ghost of Kate Morgan. Since her death in 1892 staff and guests have spotted her haunting the hotel. So only stay here if you dare! We spent the whole day relaxing by the pool and exploring the huge property. We dined at the hotel for lunch, and spent about $80 on two appetizers and two drinks, so that night we decided to eat at a nearby restaurant (Bottego Americano). After dinner we finished off the day with a walk on the beach.
Day 13 San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo was definitely one of my favorite stops during the trip. Not only is this zoo one of the largest in the world, but it's also run by a non for profit company. The zoo has already saved numerous species from extinction, and plans to continue helping endangered species reproduce.
We ended our night in the beautiful and luxurious Sofitel in Beverly Hills. Their service, restaurant, entertainment, and complimentary macaroons made us wish we could have stayed longer than just one night!
Day 14 Hearst Castle
On our way back to San Fransisco we took a detour and visited the Hearst Castle. This beautiful property is 127 acres with a total of 165 rooms. The Castle's history, architect, and majestic aura makes you feel like you travelled back in time. Although this wasn't exactly on our way back up, I was very glad we made an effort to see it. The views from the tour bus were just incredible, and the story of this unfinished home is very interesting and well worth the extra time added to our trip.
Day 15 Winchester Mystery House
After spending the night in Walnut Creek, we drove to the famous Winchester Mystery House. This Sprawling mansion contains 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens. Unfortunately taking pictures inside of the home is forbidden, but some interesting stops during the tour include: staircases leading nowhere, a room to speak to ghosts, and the many unfinished rooms. After the tour we drove back to Walnut Creek and enjoyed a relaxing night.
Day 16-17 Vichy Springs Resort
After all of our luxurious and massive resorts Vichy Springs was a great way to end our trip. Operating for over 160 years, this resort has attracted many famous visitors including 3 presidents and Mark Twain. Although the champagne baths are a little intimidating at first, once you get in and the mineral water surrounds your body in bubbles you forget that you're soaking in a 160 year old bathtub in the wild. We spent the next two days bathing, relaxing, getting messages, and resting up before the long trip home.
Day 18 Drive Home
The 13 hour drive back to Washington was probably the least enjoyable part of our trip, but after such a long time away from home we were fairly happy to return to our beds. On the way back we stopped for an hour lunch break and stretched our legs. Upon arrival we were greeted with an angry cat and empty house, but went to bed with many memories from this incredible trip.
Full 18-Day Itinerary
For those of you who skipped forward, here's a very vague itinerary of our trip. Note: the table does not include a hotel in Walnut Creek because we were lucky enough to have friends who housed us. However, I recommend booking a money-saver hotel since Walnut Creek does not have any unique resorts that are worth the splurge, and most of the time you'll be in San Francisco anyway! For more information about what each activity below includes just read about it above. And if you need any help creating a personalized itinerary, call us today 800-927-1685.