This summer you’ve decided to explore the West Coast but only managed to get a week off from work. You don’t want to feel overloaded, and you aren’t convinced there is enough time to get out and explore the best places California has to offer. I thought the same thing, so I set out to discover what you could actually do with seven days in this amazing state. What I discovered was pleasantly surprising. Not only can you see a ton of the amazing sights in California, but it can even be done at a leisurely pace.
So, if you’re unsure of where to start and how to organize your seven-day trip, I’m sharing my route with you that hits the best of the best this beautiful West Coast state has to offer — and then some. If you’re on a budget, you can also find cheap hostels to stay in Los Angeles and other cities in California at Hostelz.com.
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Day 1: Animal Love in San Diego
What to do: On the day after I arrived at a place, I like to jump into easy local attractions. Then I feel like I’m making the most of my time without exhausting myself. San Diego is a great place to do just that — and with adorable, cuddly animals! The San Diego Zoo is a definite must-see, and you can ease into your adventure while loving on some four-legged friends.
Where to stay: If you want to try to see as much of the city in a short amount of time, I would recommend staying the night on Coronado Island. It might be pricier than other places in the city, but you really don’t want to miss checking out this spectacular spot.
Where to eat: Complete your day with delicious fish tacos in old town (not to be missed!) and cap it all off with a visit to their famous Little Italy for some truly authentic gelato. It’s so good!
Day 2: Salvation Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park and San Bernardino Forest
What to do: The goal of a road trip is always to make even the driving bit interesting. On your way up to LA, you’ll want to make several stops — my favorite being the eclectic and unique landmark Salvation Mountain, a project started by Leonard Knight. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s definitely worth the stop. You’ll make a couple more stops at the famous Joshua Tree National Park and San Bernardino Forest before heading into the urban light of LA. Make the most of it!
Where to stay: Your final destination today will be in Los Angeles, so just sit back, relax and enjoy the amazing scenery.
What to eat: I packed lunch this day in order to save a bit of time, but also so I could enjoy my meal in Joshua Tree. You can choose whatever you like, but on a day like today, a sack lunch is best.
Day 3: Checking out the City of Angels
What to do: If this is your first time to LA, you definitely need to check out the star-studded landmarks and make a trip to the beach. One of the best ways to check out the Hollywood Hills is on horseback. The Sunset Ranch offers daytime and sunset horseback riding, so you can choose which time is the most convenient for you. I also really love the Getty Villa. It’s a great museum, and on the plus side, it’s always free.
Where to stay: When I’m in Los Angeles, I prefer to check out AirBnB to save a little on lodging without sacrificing the amenities that come with a full apartment. You can also check in Luxe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
What to eat: There are so many delicious places to eat in the city, narrowing down your choice might be difficult. However, I’ve found I’ve fallen in love with the “farm-to-table” concept and found an amazing place to munch on great local food at Le Comptoir. You don’t want to miss it.
Day 4: Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park
What to do: Say goodbye to the city again and prepare for some tranquil moments in the amazing forests of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park. This will be a bit of a drive, so your departure today will be early — but it will be so worth it. Plan on roughing it camping here so you can enjoy some amazing hikes to admire the scenery and the unreal Groves of GIANT Sequoias in Mariposa that can live up to 3,000 years. They will take your breath away.
Where to stay: You’ll be camping in the park, which is seriously something you have to do. Fires, stargazing and ghost stories can all be in your future.
What to eat: I really am a fan of campfire fare, and I also like to bring along supplies to make a good camp stew. It’s simple — ground beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, salt and pepper all tucked into tin foil and roasted right over the open flame.
Day 5: Exploring the Hills of Napa
What to do: Pack up your tent and prepare to get some use out of that corkscrew you always throw in your bags — or is that just me? From Yosemite, you’ll head to Napa Valley. It’s definitely one of those spots I would label a “must see” in Cali. Obviously, your main focus here is going to be trying the many delicious wines this area has to offer. You can pick up the wine train or do a self-guided tour. It all depends on you.
Where to stay: The Auberge du Soleil is like checking into wine country heaven. I would definitely recommend staying here. You won’t be disappointed.
What to eat: You’ll have no shortage of good eats at many of the wineries you’ll visit. Nothing goes better with wine than some great cheese. Eat up.
Day 6: All the Eats in San Francisco
What to do: So you’re on day six now, and if you’ve noticed the back and forth between activities and relaxing, then you’ll see that is completely intentional. We’ve driven a lot of miles at this point, but the scenery has been great along the way and the distances doable. From Napa, you’ll head to the beautiful bay area of San Francisco, where there is no shortage of things to do — Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, etc. — so you won’t be bored.
Where to stay: This is another destination where I would Airbnb it. The neighborhoods are so eclectic it’s like discovering something new each time you go back.
What to eat: Perhaps my favorite part about this city is all the different food choices. You’ll need to come with a very empty stomach so you can basically do a food tour. Have a burrito in Mission, Italian at Fiorella’s in the Richmond, delicious dim sum — multiple places if you can — in Chinatown, and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl on the waterfront. Seriously — the eats are incredible!
Day 7: Return to LA on the Pacific Coast Highway
What to do: Another travel hack I used for this itinerary is making the return trip in a different direction. You’ll cap off your seven-day exploration of California by taking its most famous road: the PCH. You will have the entire day to get yourself back to LA for your departure the next day, so make sure you stop along the way and check out some of the amazing sights.
Where to stay: You’ll be arriving sometime in the evening in LA, so either pick a locale close to the airport or decide to do one more night out in Tinseltown, choosing an Airbnb or hotel in the area you want.
What to eat: I capped my trip off with some Ramen at Tsujita, but there are plenty of different things to choose from. Go crazy — it’s your last night!
So there you have it. The best of the best in California — all in just seven days. Obviously, there is so much more to explore if you have the time, but one silver lining is it will be easy to find an excuse to go back.
Kacey is a lifestyle blogger for “The Drifter Collective.” – An eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Throughout her life, she has found excitement in the world around her. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations, cultures, and styles while communicating these endeavours through her passion for writing and expression. Her love for the world around her is portrayed through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Follow her adventures on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram.