We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

California tour - help with itinerary

1 post
Save Topic
California tour - help with itinerary

Hi, myself and a couple of friends are visiting California from 24/7 until 15/8 (3 weeks total), intending to see as much in that time as possible but also enjoy a holiday rather than just a drive. We fly into San Francisco and out of San Diego so general direction north to south. This is an initial itinerary we had pencilled in:

24/7 San Francisco




28/7 leave SF travel to Lake Tahoe



31/7 leave LT travel to Yosemite (possibly Mariposa)



3/8 leave Yosemite travel to Monterey

4/8 drive down hwy 1 as far as Santa Barbara/LA

5/8 leave coast travel to Zion National park via Death Valley

6/8 sightseeing in Zion, also taking in Bryce Canyon

7/8 leave Zion travel to Las Vegas via Grand Canyon


9/8 leave Las Vegas travel to LA




13/8 leave LA travel to San Diego


15/8 fly home from San Diego

We have rented a car from San Francisco onwards, the only part of the trip that is fixed are the nights in LA as the hotel has been booked and is non-refundable.

So really my questions are:

We we trying to do too much?

If we can see all of those things is it going to feel like we spend the whole time in the car?

If we need to cut things out which things would be least impressive/important to see?

All advice gratefully received! Thanks in advance,


San Francisco...
Destination Expert
for San Francisco
Level Contributor
51,972 posts
149 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

We write dates at Month/Day so your date is confusing to most. Please use July 8 as date or use our MM/DD format

Most would suggest a night between Monterey and Santa Barbara. The Amazing National parks are NOT in the US after Death Valley so please check those fora for info. I think doing all those parks in over 110 degree heat in 4 days is not a vacation it is a punishment. You say you want to make it a holiday and not just drive . Please don't.

Edited: 02 July 2013, 19:24
Menlo Park...
Level Contributor
5,337 posts
87 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

my first impression is that you are doing a lot of east-west driving. Maybe once you leave SF, go to Tahoe Vegas Zion GC then back to Yosemite thru Death Valley to Yosemite then back to the coast. Also it looks like you are just doing a drive-by of the Grand Canyon. You do really want to see the south rim of the Canyon instead of just the north rim, which is closest to Zion. The distance from Zion around to the South Rim is pretty far though. So you can skip Vegas. There I just saved you hundreds of dollars. In my opinion THE thing to see, once you leave the coast of CA is the Grand Canyon south rim. Yosemite is fabulous in the spring when the water is on, but the falls will be rather dry when you're here. Did I mention skipping Vegas?

So Cal
Level Contributor
9,200 posts
75 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

Have you mapped this out? I think you need to seriously re-consider the Utah & Arizona parks. They are awesome, and they are a good distance away from the rest of your trip, and they are, I think, a waste of time if they're just going to get a drive-by each.

- The Grand Canyon is not on the way to Vegas from Zion

- Bryce is about a 90 minute drive from Zion. It can be done in a day-trip from there, but you won't be doing any Zion sightseeing that day. Which is a real shame, as that gives you no time to see Zion at all.

- I haven't driven it this way, but Google thinks Zion to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 3hours, and from there to LV is about 5 hours. So you wouldn't have any time to really enjoy the canyon. If you meant go to the South Rim...make that about 5hours and 4-5hours.

Again, this just doesn't leave any time to actually see the place.

- "Santa Barbara/LA" on Aug 4 - which would it be? They're about 2hrs from each other. Driving from SB to Zion would be about 8 hours, without trying to cram Death Valley in. You could shave maybe two hours from that if you overnighted in LA, but that means driving the entire coast in a single day, which renders that sort of pointless. You wouldn't be giving the coast or the parks enough time to actually experience them.

I played around with your dates and destinations, trying to re-order things and fit them all in before your fixed LA days. But if you really want to spend that amount of time in SF, Tahoe and Yosemite (and I wouldn't argue against that), then I think you need to choose the coast *or* the Utah/Arizona/NV portion. You could squeeze in LV and the canyon, or LV and Zion, but not all of them. And you really need another night or two for the coast. Most people would recommend at least one stopover between Monterey and Santa Barbara.

In short, yes, I think you're trying to do too much. (Understandable, but still, too much.)

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
Level Contributor
60,855 posts
114 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

Hi Karen

You absolutely *must* have lodging reservations. Folks visiting Yosemite began making reservations a year ago. Please read the Top Questions on each city/destination forum for tips on lodgings.

SF (4 or 5 nights, I think 4 is sufficient, pick up rental car when you leave) - South Lake Tahoe (2-3 nights) - eastern Sierra like Lee Vining, June Lakes, Mammoth Lake (1 - 2 n, visit Bodie State Historic Park & Mono Lake as well as other eastern Sierra 'attractions') - Yosemite Valley or nearby (1-2 n, Mariposa is 1 1/4 hrs away from the Valley) - Oakhurst (1 n, stay after visiting Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias) - Monterey (1-2 n) - Pismo Beach (1-2 n) and onward.

This order makes more sense, but it skips Lake Tahoe & Santa Barbara. I don't know if those are "must see" destinations for you. SF - Monterey - Cambria - Yosemite (in the South Entrance and out the Tioga Pass Entrance) - eastern Sierra - Death Valley (maybe drive thru) - Las Vegas - Zion - Bryce - Monument Valley (maybe) - South Rim GCNP - L.A. - San Diego

Again, there is a wealth of information in the Top Questions on the right side of the full TA website page, not the app.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
60,942 posts
42 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

<<Leaving coast and travel to Zion via Death Valley>>

This is not a daytrip. Even if you don't come out of the car it easily takes 11+ hours of driving and you'll lose one hour for timedifference. Zion to Bryce and back easily takes 4 hours plus the time you'll need at Bryce not to mention the many attractions of Zion. And I agree also Zion to North rim and back to Las vegas is not a daytrip (gain one hour though).


Kettering, United...
Level Contributor
440 posts
241 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

I can't comment on the whole trip but I will say something about Zion/ Bryce/ Grand Canyon. Zion and Bryce are both beautiful and I can see why you want to do them but as someone has already said the drive to the South Rim is a very long way. You might say he North is good enough but to be honest it's not. The South Rim is the most popular for a reason. It gives far better views of the canyon. I found that the North Rim never really allows you to see the canyon at its best. To the person who said miss out Vegas, my advice is never ever miss Vegas. You don't have to gamble (I never spend more than $100 in 3 days). There is nothing like it in the uk.

Uden, The...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
60,942 posts
42 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

North rim and south rim are equally stunning but south rim has far more lodging options. You already can visit Las Vegas coming from Death Valley before the Ut/Az parks.

Shell Beach...
Destination Expert
for Big Sur
Level Contributor
3,136 posts
13 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

As others have said, there's a big difference between driving from Monterey to Santa Barbara, or Monterey to LA. It's 2 hours drive from Santa Barbara to LA at minimum, and if there's heavy traffic it can be even longer.

In any event, Monterey-SB or Monterey-LA are too much if you want to actually stop and see anything other than the view out the car windows. Monterey to Santa Barbara along the coast is at about 7 hours of driving without stops, and it's some of the finest scenery in the world. Many people break up the drive between Monterey and LA by stopping in Cambria, Morro Bay, or San Luis Obispo, or Pismo Beach.

Check out this recent forum post on the same subject.


9. Re: California tour - help with itinerary

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 05 July 2014, 06:19