California is the most-visited state in the United States. It’s home to Hollywood, nine national parks, stunning coastlines, incredible cities, and some of the best scenic drives in the Western U.S. So whatever kind of adventure you want to have, this guide has everything you need for planning the ultimate California trip!

Ready to plan your trip? Then here’s your guide to planning the ultimate California trip!


Places to Visit


Lake Tahoe

Los Angeles



Palm Springs

San Diego

San Francisco

Santa Monica


When To Go


Fall is a fantastic season to visit Northern California because the temperatures will be cooling off, but the days are still long and sunny. The foliage will be changing into vibrant colors, and prices and tourist numbers will be decreasing from the peak summer season.

This is Napa and Sonoma’s grape harvest season, all of the National Parks and roads will still be open, and you can experience the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The north will start to see snow and rain in late-October and November, but Southern California will still be sunny and dry.


In Winter, you can head inland to the mountains for snow. Or you can head to the deserts for mild weather. The coasts will be cold, but snow is rare.

Winter is the low travel season for California, so prices and tourist numbers will be at some of their lowest. The exceptions to this are during Christmas and New Year’s.

Some National and State Parks will have trail or road closures, so make sure you check in advance whether a hike or scenic drive is open.


Spring is a beautiful time to visit California. The warm, pleasant days and refreshingly cool nights make these months an excellent time to visit, and the wildflowers will be in full bloom.

Most roads and trails will re-open, and as long as you avoid the peak Spring Break weeks from mid-March to early April, the crowds and prices will still be relatively low.

California is one of the Best Destinations To Visit In April!

Summer days are sunny and hot. Daytime temperatures can be in the 90s (24-28°C), and temperatures will be even higher in the deserts. The nights will be pleasant, especially for camping.

The higher elevations can still be chilly in the mornings and evenings, so bring layers with you. Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, and San Francisco have microclimates, making them surprisingly cool in the summer. Spring and Fall give you drier and warmer weather in San Francisco, and Monterey is known as the “perpetually chilly city.”

This is prime beach season. But be aware that, like most places in the U.S., summer is the peak travel season because of school breaks, so crowds and prices will be at their highest.


National and State Parks to Visit

Channel Islands National Park

Death Valley National Park

Emerald Bay State Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park


Scenic Drives

The Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway in California

Sunrise National Scenic Byway


Must-Do Excursions

Drive through Death Valley National Park

Sample Wine in Sonoma or Napa

Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse

Kayak the Channel Islands

Hike in Big Sur

Spend a day at Disneyland California


Visit Mammoth Lakes


Plan The Ultimate California Trip

Fodors Travel southern California book to help with the ultimate California trip

Moons Pacific coast highway book to help with the ultimate California trip

Fodors California road trip guide to help with the ultimate California trip


Travel Essentials


Local Foods To Try

Razor Clams


Dungeness Crab


Oysters on the Half Shell

California Burrito

Açaí Bowl

Shrimp Tacos


Have you been to this region? Comment below with anything you’d add to this guide for the ultimate California trip!

Explore The U.S. By Region

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How much does a trip to California cost?

    Expected daily costs for a trip to California:

    Budget: Under $100/day per person

    Lower End: $150/day per person

    Midrange: $250/day per person

    Higher End: $350+/day per person

  • What do I need to pack for a California road trip?

    California packing essentials:

    1. Long and short-sleeved shirts.

    2. Jeans, hiking pants, nicer/dress pants, shorts.

    3. Shorts.

    4. Rainjacket.

    5. Swimsuits.

    6. Phone mount.

    7. Rolling cooler.

    8. Roadside emergency kit.

    9. Car charger.

    10. Camera and/or GoPro.

  • What do I need to pack for a trip to California in January?

    Western California has relatively mild winters (daily highs average in the mid-60s), and these are the wettest months of the year. So bring your rain gear and layers.

    The Central and Northern inland areas of the state can have below-freezing temperatures and snow. Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks are only partially accessible in January. So bring warm and waterproof clothes.

    In the Southeastern region, January is a dry month that’s perfect for exploring the deserts. Bring layers, hiking shoes, and your swimsuit for mild days or heated pools.

  • What do I need to pack for a trip to California in May?

    May is one of the best months to visit California. Daytime temperatures will average in the 70s across the state. Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, The Redwoods, and the other national parks will be accessible, and the tourist hordes won’t have descended yet.

    This is still the shoulder season for Big Sur, San Francisco, Sonoma, and Napa in the north and LA, San Diego, and Palm Springs in the south. May is also the perfect month for a Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.

    So bring shorts, hiking pants and boots, long and short-sleeved shirts, swimsuits, some nice/dressier clothes, sunglasses, rain gear, and your sense of adventure!

  • How do I plan a trip to California wine country?

    Napa and Sonoma are two of the best wine regions in the country and the world. Both regions have a wide range of hotels and vacation homes for every preference and price range. Sonoma is usually less expensive and less crowded than Napa.

    Summer and Fall are the busiest and most expensive times of the year to visit these regions. So you can save some money and avoid the crowds by visiting in the Spring or Winter.

    In addition to wine tastings and winery visits, these regions have an incredible food scene and outdoor activities.

  • How do I plan a trip to Los Angeles, California?

    Los Angeles is one of the most-visited cities in the county and the world, so planning a trip here can be expensive. Start by determining your overall trip budget because your money goes fast in LA.

    Choose a vacation home, hostel, campsite, or hotel that fits your budget and is centrally located to the majority of things you want to do. Staying near the places you want to visit will help you save money on transportation.

    Eat out for lunch instead of dinner to save some money, and cook or pack out your own meals.

    Do free activities: self-guided walking tours, visit public beaches, go hiking, etc.

  • How do I plan a California road trip?

    California is one of my favorite states to explore by car. So here’s how to plan an epic California road trip!

    1. Determine if you’re going to rent a car or RV or bring your own vehicle, then make any reservations early.

    2. Map out your route. You’ll need to map out your driving route and know your expected driving times and distances for each day, but always make time to stop at places you’ll discover along the way.

    3. When you’re camping or in an RV, make sure you have an accommodation plan for each night of your trip. Read all of my RV Tips and Tricks!

    4. Download maps, apps, and playlists before you start driving. There’s no guarantee you’ll always have service. Plus, you don’t want to use up all your data.

    5. Book popular activities and accommodations ahead of time.

    6. Have a roadside emergency kit with you. Car troubles happen, so you need to make sure you’re prepared for this possibility.

    7. Schedule one relaxation day for every four days of your road trip. Take a rest from driving and scheduled activities and just enjoy wherever you are.

    8. Have buffer days build into your itinerary. More than likely, your plans will change at least a couple of times because of weather, traffic, delays, etc. So to avoid having to cancel things or skip places, plan some buffer days into your road trip plan.

    9. If you’re going to drive through a larger city, make sure you time your trip to avoid rush hour traffic.

    10. Don’t wait to fill up on gas. Never risk running out of gas because sometimes gas stations can be few and far between.

  • What is the best road trip in California?

    The best road trips in California are:

    1. The Pacific Coast Highway. Make sure you stop at these places along the PCH: San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Morro Rock, Santa Barbara, Channel Islands National Park, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach.

    2. California’s National Parks: three nights in Death Valley, three nights in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, three nights in Yosemite, two nights in Lassen Volcanic, and two nights in the Redwood National and State Parks.


This guide for planning the ultimate California trip is not a sponsored post, and, as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed this guide for planning the ultimate California trip are entirely my own. Some of the links in this guide for planning the ultimate California trip are affiliate links, and, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission.


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