How To Plan The Perfect California Road Trip
Time has absolutely flown since we touched back down in the UK having spent a month on the road in our trusty camper van travelling around California. Its given me good time to reflect and reminisce the highs and lows, although there were definitely tonnes more highs! I’ve had a few people ask me questions about our trip, mostly how we went about planning our route, booking our camper van and accommodation. We booked this trip around nine months in advance which would give us loads of time to plan, right? Well being busy people, both working full time and Charlie running a business so we actually left a lot of planning until the final couple of months but it still worked out absolutely perfectly with no hiccups – even I was impressed with us.
Hopefully these tips will help you to plan your perfect road trip, something I think EVERYONE should do at least once in a lifetime. I honestly had the absolute time of my life.
Decide on Your Mode of Transport
When we decided to book our road trip we were pretty certain we wanted a camper van but not one of those ginormous RV’s you see in the movies. Try reversing one of those bad boys. We actually headed to STA travel and booked our camper van through the advice of one of the agents who had done a similar trip. We booked with Escape Campervans who are quite a unique company, their vans are all graffitied by artists in cool, wacky designs. They’re also more of an oversized 4×4 than a camper van although don’t be fooled they feel like a spaceship inside. We opted for a camper as this saved us so much money, we didn’t stay it in every single night though due to the lack of shower so we had a 50/50 split of campveran nights and then hotel/motel nights.
Our van Woody chilling in Yosemite National Park. For an inside tour check out my YouTube video here.
Pre-Plan Your Route
It’s cool being carefree and taking advice of Pinterest quotes to hit the road and see where you end up but in reality it’s just not that easy. Sure, you could give it a go and probably have a lot of fun but we felt much safer and relaxed knowing we had our route planned. It also enabled us to budget more effectively and book some of our attractions (i.e. Alcatraz which gets full so quick – who knew?) in advance. This probably took the most amount of time, as we knew of a few places we wanted to visit such as San Francisco, Vegas and LA but we weren’t clued up on the in-between stops. We allocated evenings to spend researching California and made a shortlist of all the areas we wanted stop in. Unfortunately the place is SO big you just can’t fit in everything, and we were there a month! Our route looked like this:
San Francisco -> Yosemite National Park -> Sequoia National Park -> Las Vegas -> San Diego -> Laguna Beach -> Los Angeles -> Santa Barbara -> Monterey -> Santa Cruz -> San Francisco
We did a full loop, starting and ending the trip in San Francisco. It worked out perfectly for us, hitting all the places we had decided on and it wasn’t a bad drive at all. Our longest stretch of driving was from Las Vegas to San Diego which took around seven hours in the end. Other than that it was smooth sailing and I’d definitely recommend a similar route if you’re heading to Cali! Let me know if you’d like to see a full breakdown of our itinerary…
Be Prepared to Overspend
Take what you’ve budgeted for and expect to double it, seriously! California isn’t cheap and both Charlie and I spent WAY more than we thought we might but when it’s a special once in a lifetime (secretly hoping we go again though) trip you don’t want to be too tight. One of the biggest money drainers for us was parking. We got stung by valet parking a LOT, especially as our camper van was sometimes too big for multi storey car parks. Be prepared to splash out $50 a night for this. Our LA parking bill came to over $200. It hit us hard. There was also the time we got charged $60 for two bottles of water in Vegas which I’m not ready to laugh about yet. If we were to go again we’d probably put £500 aside for all the extras you forget about. I would also drink from the tap.
Make Sure You’re Insured
This is SO SO SO important. Luckily we didn’t experience any loss of personal items or theft, although there were a few occasions where I thought we’d get back to Woody and find him broken into. In which case we would have been royally screwed. We did however have to call out a mechanic in LA, due to a bust tyre. Thankfully we had insured ourselves to the maximum level on the van so we saved ourself a couple hundred dollars in charges and hassle as the campervan company helped us to sort it all out.
Plan Your Activities
Charlie and I both like to feel prepared and we didn’t want to waste too much time trying to find fun things to do in each place and eat into our limited time. We did lots of research and planning before our trip to ensure we had a rough idea of what we could get up to in each place. Here’s a few to help get you started of the major stops…
- Pier 39
- Union Square
- Twin Peaks (just don’t pick a foggy day)
- The Golden Gate Bridge
- Shopping and eating (obviously)
- Exploring The Strip
- Cirque Du Soleil Show
- Bellagio Fountains
- Breakfast in ‘Paris’
- Gambling in our favourite hotels
- Pacific Beach
- La Jolla Beach
- Gaslamp District
- Seaport Village
- Balboa Park
- Dodgers Baseball Game
- Universal Studios
- Melrose Avenue
- Hollywood Boulevard
- The Grove
- Santa Monica
- Venice Beach
- The Gentle Barn
For the smaller places we visited such as Monterey and Santa Barbara we didn’t have a plan in place we just explored as we went along which gave the trip a nice mix of planned travels and totally unplanned days where we woke up and just walked to wherever we felt.
This is my final tip, be realistic! You don’t want to overcram your trip, whilst this is an adventure it should also be somewhat relaxing and not a cause of stress. There were so many other places we wanted to visit such as Lake Tahoe but it simply didn’t fit with our route and we didn’t want to have to compromise our nights anywhere else. You can always go back, so don’t put pressure on yourself to see and do absolutely everything. Even in LA we didn’t go and see the Hollywood sign. Shock, right? We could see it enough from our hotels rooftop bar so we didn’t feel we needed to waste half a day going over there, instead we explored different areas. I’d love to go back to LA in the next year or two so we can properly explore the city, and go and see the sign!
Have you ever done a road trip? I’d love to see your posts!