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Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

Noosa, QLD...
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Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

Hey there guys!

Im sure this question gets asked all the time, but Im still in need of some advice and this seems like a great place to get it!

We are planning a trip to the West Coast of the US (flying into San Francisco and leaving from LA) for around 20 days in June 2009.

Our basic plan is to hire a car in San Francisco and drive to LA, stopping along the way.

Wondering if people have any suggestions of an itinerary we could work off including times, destinations, tips etc...

Just want to get a rough idea of things we should see and do!

Its just myself and my girlfriend. We will be 23 and 21 at the time. We will be on a bit of a budget but not too fussed on spending a bit of money.

Also if people have any advice or tips about car hire that'd be great too!

Thanks in advance :)


Newbury Park...
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1. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

What are your interest and is there anything in particular you want to include? Do you like outdoors - natural beauty, hiking, white water rafting? History? City life? Wine? How long do you want to spend in San Fransisco and Los Angeles?

Red Bluff, CA
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2. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

My MUST SEE list would include San Francisco, Napa wineries, Big Sur coast, Yosemite, and Los Angeles. Get a car you are comfortable driving because you will be doing it a lot. Have fun - June is one of the best times to visit.

Fremont, California
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3. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

There are so many wonderful ways to do this...and so many possibilities from hostels to camping to deluxe lodging, that it really depends on what you want to do.

I have posted several possibilities on the forum before, but don't mind giving you another rough rough one to then plan and change and decide what you want to do.

1) Nights one through three:

Arrive San Francisco and check into hotel here. See San Francisco....If price is ok, Chancellor has a great location. If not, try also hotel reservations sites for bargains, ask for suggestions, also consider Columbus Motor Inn.


2) Day Four: Pick up a car...I'd ask your fellow Australians what has worked for them...but Dollar, Avis, Budget, etc. are all popular car rentals in the area. Please note that many of these have drop off fees so best to look into that also.

On Day Four drive to Healdsburg...and have a picnic at a winery.


Then continue up to Mendocino area. Mendocino is a bit pricy, so nearby is Fort Bragg.http://www.fortbragg.com/fort-bragg-lodging.php

Super 8 is a reasonable moderately priced place.

This area would give you a nice time in Mendocino area, Ft. Bragg, and along the coast. You might want to consider a ride on The Skunk into the redwoods.


On Day 5 and 6, drive from Mendocino area along the coast to Garberville. Check into Best Western, there is a cheese and wine party; and breakfast in the morning; swimming pool, jacuzzi, and right by the redwoods.



Plan on a picnic lunch...inexpensive pizza and Italian food in a restaurant in back of the motel.

Small town to walk through.

Day 7:

Depart and drive to Calistoga. Check into Golden Haven Hot Springs Motel (reasonable rates for area)


Do some wine tasting, enjoy a picnic at a winery.

For some inexpensive wine tasting, Frankk Family,



In the evening, for cheap eats, go to Taylor Refresher:


This is a popular place to go to.

Day 8:

Depart and drive to Lake Tahoe. Check into



(Note: This place has a really nice area to barbecue at; walking distance to the lake and also to the casinos...worth a walk through even if you don't gamble.).

Day 9 and 10:

Drive to Yosemite. Check into Camp Curry for the night (if interested in Yosemite, reserve now, and if full, continue to check for cancellations.).


Day 11:

Depart....Stop by Columbia and Ironstone Wineries (good place for lunch).



Then continue to the Pacific Ocean..to Santa Cruz for the night.


Enjoy going to the Boardwalk that evening or following day (Note: Admission to the Boardwalk is free.)


Day 12:

Depart Santa Cruz and go to Monterey, Carmel, Pt. Lobos:



Stay just north of Monterey in Marina, Motel 6


This area is an easy drive to Monterey...walkable to the ocean (note the ocean here can be quite breezy but nice...). This is an inexpensive area to stay in...but still nice to see the area.).

Day 13:

Drive south through Big Sur area.


Drive south and stay overnight in Morro Bay.


You can usually fine a reasonably priced motel in this area...)

Day 14 through 16:

Drive from Morro Bay to Hollywood...stopping along the coast and Santa Barbara on your way there.

Check into Hollywood Orchid Suites.


Enjoy Santa Monica, Malibu (you need to drive but ocean lodging is more $$$).

Hollywood (Walk of Fame, Kodak Theater, Manns Chinese Theater).

Splurge and either go to Warner Brothers Studio Tour or Universal

Enjoy downtown LA attractions -for inexpensive Mexican dinner, go to Olvera Street:


Day 17 and 18:

Drive to Anaheim....do this leisurely, by first driving down to Long Beach...see the Queen Mary


Have lunch...there are inexpensive places to eat in the area..(as well as more expensive ones.)...

or if you prefer to to Jack and the Box and enjoy having lunch and the afernoon at Bolsa Chica


(Note: THe Jack and the Box is just north of the state beach and their $1.00 menu is fine for lunch.).

Then drive to Huntington Beach and walk out the Pier (see the surfers....). Have dinner at Ruby's (end of the Pier.)


Then check into Candy Cane Inn for two nights in Anaheim.


On Day 18: Go to Disneyland....this is a splurge day.


There is a free park shuttle, breakfast at this place.

Day 19:

Drive to San Diego. Check into Dolphin Motel (inexpesnive)


Spend some time at the beach and Gaslamp District.



Day 20:

Enjoy San Diego possibly seeing the San Diego Zoo.


Drive back to LA checking into an LAX area hotel. CHeck Expedia for a good rate. (Note: I have used Sheraton, Westin myself...but there are otheres. These two are fine.).

Day 21:

Depart for home.

Note: This is a very rough itinerary...trying to highlight some of the more inexpensive areas to stay close by some really fun places to see. Now, its your turn to adjust, revise, let us know more what you love to do, a little bit more about your price range, if these places are above what you are wiling to pay.

If so, check into hostel possibilties:


which are a fine way to stay and save some $$$.

Also, for food, if you like picnics there are tons of wonderful free parks to enjoy or enjoy the California State Parks (there is a slight fee for most.)


Many have picnic tables, barbecue areas, and better views than almost all our restaurants. Its a great way to see the state and save some $$ at the same time.

Also, the state of California has a reasonably good visitor site also to figure out more to see and do:


Now its your turn to adjust, revise, and have fun...Enjoy and enjoy your trip!

Noosa, QLD...
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4. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

juxie - we are into city life to an extent, but also love the outdoors (things like rafting and hiking are definitely on the to-do list).

here in australia we both love walking our dogs and going to the beach.

we would probably like to only spend a few days each in SF and LA, leaving us more time to see other places.

mini - thankyou very much for such a detailed response! its very much appreciated. honestly we were maybe thinking of doing a little more outdoors-y stuff rather than seeing wineries etc... probably a bit too young for that at the moment!

what are your thoughts on seeing places like las vegas, death valley, etc etc...?

we were even thinking maybe we could fly into LA, then drive up the coast to SF, then go east to see some of the places mentioned above. sort of doing a 'loop'! thoughts?

thank :)


Fremont, California
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5. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

Sounds great...yeah, take out the winery stuff...and you can easily add in Death Valley, Las Vegas, etc instead.

I don't know if you already have your airlines booked...if not, you might want to fly in and out of San Francisco saving on the car drop off rental charge...which can be sizeable when renting in one city instead of another.

Here is a quick revision:

1) Day 1-2 San Francisco

2) Day 3-4 Garberville/Avenue of the Giants/Mendocino

3) Day 5 Lake Tahoe

4) Day 6 and 7 Yosemite (enter via Tioga Pass)

5) Day 8 Death Valley (Note: Its very hot here in June - so this is the maximum amount of time you want to spend).

6) Day 9-10 Las Vegas

7) Day 11-12 Grand Canyon

8) Day 13-14 San Diego

9) Day 15 Disneyland/Anaheim

10) Day 16-18 Hollywood/Santa Monica

11) Day 19 - Pismo Beach/Morro Bay/Cambria

12) Day 20 - Big Sur/Monterey

130 Day 21 - fly out of San Francisco

(Note: you can always drop off the car in San Francisco,and take an hour flight on Southwest if you already have your airlines booked out of San Francsico.)

Again - lots of alternatives to this one, but this keeps you outside mostly. If you want to tone down the LA stuff, and want to spend more time outdoors, definitely possible.

For Las Vegas, Circus Circus often has specials so check there. Death Valley is about a 2 hour drive to Las VEgas so you can do the entire drive from Yosemite to Las Vegas in one day. If you want to spend one more day in the mountains, many people are enjoying Mammoth Lakes area as a stop in between Yosemite and Las Vegas.


Play with this itinerary and change considerably to meet your needs. This as mentioned is just a ROUGH idea...you will find that your drive times between places is fine (your longest drive day is between Grand Canyon and San Diego.).

Noosa, QLD...
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6. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

ah thanks yep this is sounding better now.

cheers for the tip about different city drop-offs, i wasnt aware of the big fee. will i need a 4wd / suv for any places?

also if we were to add 5 or 6 days to our trip where would you suggest we spend them?

could we maybe even drive further west into other states or is this too far?

Cambridge, United...
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7. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

Please also bear in mind that there might be a fee for your young ages when hiring the car. A lot of agencies add fees for under 25s. Check the small print to ensure you know the REAL cost of hire

SF Bay Area
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8. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

No, you won't need a 4WD to go to any of these places. And from what I understand, major car rental company agreements prohibit taking their cars off-road. So unless you have a LOT of luggage, plan on renting something smaller and more fuel efficient.

Noosa, QLD...
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9. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

thanks, yep they do charge a fair bit for under 25's, but i guess theres not much we can do about that.

so far the cheapest we have got for around 24 days is about $1000 usd + $200 young driver fee. is this pretty cheap? this was for a 'premium' car. didnt seem to be alot of difference between smaller cars and larger premium cars.

Uden, The...
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10. Re: Need Help Planning An Itinerary - San Fran to LA, 20 days.

Hi mates, how are things in Noosa? (stayed 5 days not too long ago). You already got great advices. Here's my $ 0,02.

For the car: Don't hire a too small car. Your luggage won't fit in the trunk (boot). A mid size or even a compact will do. You don't need a 4x4 suv unless you want to do off road driving but that's not allowed with a rental. Buy an America the Beautiful pass at $ 80,-- valid for car and passengers at every NP and NM and at more places. Saves you money. Buy a cooler upon arrival and always carry enough water in the car. And slip slop slap. Ok, here's an possible itinerary for 26 days.

Day 1: Arrive San Francisco

Day 2 and 3: San Francisco

Day 4: San Francisco-Yosemite NP

Day 5: Yosemite NP

Day 6: Yosemite NP-Tioga Pass-Lee Vining (Mono Lake maybe a side trip to Bodie Ghosttown)-June Lake Loop-Lone Pine at the foot of Mnt. Whitney. See SAlabama Hills and drive Whitney Portal for a short distance.

Day 7: Lone Pine-Death Valley. Hot, yes, like Uluru, but don't miss sunset/sunrise and the stargazing.

Day 8: Death Valley NP-Las Vegas

Day 9: Las Vegas

Day 10: Las Vegas to Zion. Visit to Valley of Fire SP on your way.

Day 11: Zion NP

Day 12: Zion NP to Bryce Canyon NP. Visits to Coral Pink Sanddunes and Red Canyon on your way.

Day 13: Bryce

Day 14: Bryce to Page, see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoebend overlook.

Day 15: Page Monument Valley. Visit to Monument Valley.

Day 16: Monument Valley to Grand canyon NP south rim

Day 17: GCNP.

Day 18: GCNP to San Diego (very long day)

Day 19: San Diego

Day 20: San Diego-Los Angeles

Day 21 and 22: Los Angeles

Day 23: Los Angeles-Cambria

Day 24: Cambria along the coast to Monterey.

Day 25: Monterey-Santa Cruz-SF

Day 26: Home, planning your next trip.