Planning a road trip in April, flying in/out of San Francisco and thinking of staying 10 days but possibly up to 14 depending on how much we want to fit in. Only planned stops so far are 2 days in San Francisco at the start to recover from the flight from the UK.
We want to see as much spectacular scenery as possible in the remaining time, also with time for outdoor activities and some relaxation, but not sure how much we can fit in. Is some sort of round trip possible - starting southwards on the coast and returning north via Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe? Trying to strike a balance between seeing as much as possible and not needing another holiday when we return!
It is possible to fit in the type of tour you want. See
for an example of what can be done.
However, the distances by UK standards are massive and you need to carefully weigh up how much time you want to spend travelling and how much time relaxing on holiday.
Whatever you choose to do you'll love it. Its a wonderful part of the world.
Scenic Calif. road trip
UK is right in that Calif. is bigger than it may seem. My guess that driving (without stopping) from the northern border, near Oregon, down to the southern border, near Mexico, would take about 17 or 18 hours. Because you're flying into San Francisco (good choice!), I'd like to comment on several areas that are within a day's drive.
I live near Capitola Village, a quaint Mediterranean-style seaside resort,which is in Santa Cruz County..."where the redwoods meet the sea". I feel so blessed that I get to live here. It is on the Monterey Bay on the Pacific coast. The drive from S.F. down to the Santa Cruz area is a little less than 1 1/2 hours, and there are two ways you could drive down, both ways are gorgeous. One way is on Highway 1, which hugs the coast all the way down here. The other way is inland a bit, coming down Highway 280 and crossing over through the Santa Cruz mountains on Highway 17 (also called 880) to the ocean.
Once in Santa Cruz, you might want to visit Roaring Camp Railroad, and take a train tour up into the redwood forest. There's also the Beach Boardwalk, the Santa Cruz Wharf, tons of great restaurants (many with spectacular views), Capitola Village with tourist shops and restaurants, Soquel Village with 70+ antique shops, lots of mountain wineries.
Then travel on down the coast on Highway 1 about another 45 minutes south of Santa Cruz to Monterey County, where you might want to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The quaint town of Carmel (Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor and still lives nearby) and Pebble Beach (17 mile Drive) are lovely, and you could even go down the coast even further to Big Sur, which is one of the most gorgeous coastlines you will ever see. You would most certainly want to spend the night at a hotel somewhere along the way, and take two days, if you were to go all the way to Big Sur. Of course, you could even go farther down the coast to visit Hearst Castle, which you would not be disappointed in...amazing. A little further south is Cambria, which is a really cute coastal town. If you would like details on places to stay and restaurants, I can give you some suggestions.
Thanks for the information - we are planning the trip in more detail now so I may get back to you with more questions.
I think PJ's suggestions sound great, but i would make one slight addition. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco is Marin county, one of the most beautiful parts of the bay area. Directly across the bridges just off the freeway is the Marin Headlands Rec Area, a huge expanss of coastal cliffs, old warold war two bunkers and beautiful overlooks of the city. Also, very close by is Saulsalito, a community known for its sailboats and open air cafe's. Both of these sights are literally 30 minutes from the bridge, and and make great addtitions to your trip.
We did a trip from phoenix to SF in 11 days, taking in Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite & SF. Vast distances, but definately worth it for the spectacular scenary. Planning to do similar again next year, but to take twice as long to appreciate more of the landscape, and to add some of the Utah National Parks. SF is an amazing city. Also did the 17-mile drive down to Carmel - again very good scenary and wildlife photos to be had.
Keep in mind
That Tioga Pass (Hwy 120) though Yosemite will still be closed in April. I would do Death Valley, then drive north on 395 towards Lake Tahoe. After Tahoe you can take either I-80, Hwy 50 or 88 across the Sierra's (after you check to make sure that they haven't been closed by a snow storm...it can happen in April) then take Hwy 49 and enter Yosemite via Hwy 120.
You are also looking at driving over 2,000 miles. I would go for the 14 day trip if you can.
Train to the redwoods?
Hi, PJ: Thank you for such a wonderful description of where you live and all the beauty surrounding that part of California. I have long wanted to see the redwood forests. I was intrigued by your suggestion of taking a train from Santa Cruz to the redwoods. Can you describe that experience in more detail? Is it like the train from Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon where it takes a few hours and you can opt to stay at a hotel near your destination? I truly enjoy traveling by train and this seems like a very nice excursion.
FYI - Another awesome train ride in the Bay Area
I just happen to read your post about enjoying train rides and considering the train ride in Santa Cruz. Napa Valley is just about an hour north of San Francisco, they have an incredible Wine Train, that includes a couple hour train ride through the Napa Valley. You can also opt to have a snack, lunch or dinner (and of course, the fabulous Napa Valley wines) on the train.
You probably have more than enough suggestions by now, but I just thought I would mention it as another option.