California Road Trip

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This is the report of a 6-day road trip in California. It is not, of course, the only possibility to have a Road Trip in California, but it's a good solution if you want to see almost all the main cities in California in a week (for example, during Spring Break). San Diego is not included, because this road trip has been planned by UCSD students that wanted to visit the rest of California. If you want to visit San Diego, you should spend at least one day more.

This plan has some good points (especially regarding driving):

  • in none of the days you have to drive too long, it can be done with one driver (even if having two drivers is better). This also means that low (for an European :) ) speed limit can be respected and you save some gas!
  • most of the trip is on the 1, part of it on the 101: no Interstate 5! This mean that during your trip, between one city and the next, you can always find something interesting on the way and stop to rest for a while! Plus, you have almost always a gorgeous view!
  • almost no driving at night, especially the last part of the 1, south of San Francisco: it's not worth because the darkness doesn't let you enjoy the view and it can be dangerous. In this itinerary we move on the 101 in that part and we return in the same area, but on the 1, only during the morning.
  • no nights spent in the Monterey area or Big Sur or Central Coast in general: a part from Santa Cruz, it's a wonderful coast but lodging doesn't fit in students' budget
  • driving in Big Sur during the day! You have to plan your trip so that you drive in Big Sur when the Sun is high in the sky!

Useful books


You definitely need a Road Atlas for your road trip! There are cheaper ones, with the main roads only (the Interstates and few more). I would suggest to spend something more (less than 20 USD, though) to buy a good road atlas like the one here on the left. Click on it for details!

The good thing of this atlas is that there are maps of 4 levels: from the widest one, with the main roads and the freeways, that allow you to plan you trip from one city to the other, to the most detailed one that name every street and often report the street numbers too! Moving from a larger map to a smaller is very easy, as every map has printed on it some thin numbered rectangles that are exactly the following available zoom levels, with their page number. You should be able to get some page examples from

You don't only need a road atlas, you also need a guide. This brief report is not a guide, it's only an idea to plan your trip! You definitely need a guide to get the most from this road trip. There are only a couple a suggestions on what to see, below, nothing more.

About lodging


As this trip is a road trip, it makes sense that all the nights are spent in motels! It's the cheapest option if you have a car, you can easily find good, clean places, with breakfast and WiFi access included. Almost always the room you get is a room with two queen beds. In every queen bed two people can sleep, so if your want you can get a room for 4 people. Some motels charge something for 3-person or 4-person occupancy. The average price of a motel goes from 60 to 100 dollars. You definitely have to take with you a coupon guide, that is a collection of coupons and special offers to use at motels. You can find these coupon guides for free in some dispensers on the sidewalk in all city centers. Then, when you're driving toward your next destination, you just have to call the motel numbers you find on the guide and specify you have a coupon, to check availability. Pay attention not to travel, if possible, during national holidays or special occasions: it can be impossible to find a cheap place where to stay and most of the coupons don't apply in these days.

Remember to ask always for internet access if you have a laptop: most of the motels have it and it's very useful to call people via Skype, write a couple of emails, check for events and places to hang out in the city you are and so on.

In San Francisco it is very important that the motel you find have free parking: otherwise you have to park in public parking lots and they can be far from your motel. Moreover, parking overnight in SF can cost 20 USD or more, then you can understand why you should choose for a motel with free parking even if it's more expensive. In the San Francisco paragraph there is one very good place where you can stay. It's cheap, it has free parking, free wireless and it's close to the city center.

Day 1: from San Diego to Santa Barbara

Day 2: Santa Barbara and from Santa Barbara to San Francisco

Day 3: San Francisco

Day 4: San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and from Santa Cruz to San Simeon

Day 5: from San Simeon to Los Angeles

Day 6: Los Angeles and back to San Diego

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