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  • Al fresco dining with a Pacific Ocean view at Bungalow in Huntington Beach, California
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    Huntington Beach: Endless Summer

  • Colorful Art Night at the Pasadena Art Center
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    Pasadena: A Southern California Cultural Haven

  • Family exploring downtown Burbank, California
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    Burbank: Media Capital of the World

  • Beachfront views in Ventura
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    Ventura: Laid-back Coastal Getaway

  • Donnell Vista near the scenic Stanislaus River Canyon in Tuolumne
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    Bonus Trip to Tuolumne County: One Destination, Three Memorable Vacations

  • San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge
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    Must-see San Francisco: Discovering Icons and Hidden Treasures

Morning surf excursion on Emma Wood State Beach
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West Coast Icons: Southern California, Yosemite and San Francisco

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    1030.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

Everything you’ve heard about California is true.

It’s both upscale and laid-back, outdoorsy and rugged, polished and beautiful. Get ready for the ultimate California road trip: take a look at this itinerary featuring the surf city of Huntington Beach, cultural pursuits in Pasadena, the media mecca of Burbank and the scenic beaches of Ventura and legendary San Francisco. Plus, there’s a bonus trip into Yosemite and California’s Gold Country.

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Al fresco dining with a Pacific Ocean view at Bungalow in Huntington Beach, California
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Huntington Beach: Endless Summer

Fly into John Wayne International (SNA) or Los Angeles International (LAX), pick up a rental car and cruise out to the beautiful shores of Huntington Beach – Surf City USA. Southern Californians live an active lifestyle, thanks to year-round sunshine. Every day of the week, see the waves dotted with die-hard surfers, beach volleyball teams at play in the sand and runners and cyclists cruising the 16 kilometers of ocean strand.

Join in the fun with an early-morning surf lesson by a former pro surfer, followed by a scenic bike ride on the Huntington Beach Bike Trail. Refuel at SeaLegs at the Beach, which offers on-the-sand dining, drinks and live entertainment. Fill your shopping bags and indulge in fresh, trendy cuisine at the newest oceanfront outdoor retail and dining center, Pacific City. As the sun sinks into the horizon, take a stroll along the iconic Huntington Beach Pier. Extending 560 meters into the Pacific Ocean, it’s one of the longest piers on the USA's West Coast. A walkable collection of four oceanfront resort hotels offers ultra-pampering spa services and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. To cap off the perfect day in Huntington Beach, end with a sunset bonfire and delicious s’mores, made of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows and delicious melted chocolate.

74 km
1.25 hours by car
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Colorful Art Night at the Pasadena Art Center
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Pasadena: A Southern California Cultural Haven

Drive an hour inland to Pasadena, home of the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the famous college football semifinal, the Rose Bowl. With an attractive mix of colleges, museums and theaters, Pasadena is one of the cultural gems of the Los Angeles metro area.

Begin at the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens. This local icon houses a massive catalogue of rare books dating back to the 15th century (including the first folio of Shakespeare’s collected plays and one of the only existing copies of the Gutenberg Bible), an extensive collection of European and American art and 12 botanical gardens with plants from around the world. Don’t miss the desert garden, one of the world’s largest and oldest collections of succulents.

Culture, history and architecture buffs will enjoy touring the Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark considered a masterpiece of American Arts and Crafts-style architecture. Old Pasadena is perfect for one-of-a-kind souvenir shopping; more than half of the 300 shops, galleries and restaurants of this National Historic District are independently owned. Browse the trendy clothing at Mohawk General Store, pick up locally crafted jewelry at Gold Bug and keep an eye out for Old Focals, the world’s largest collection of vintage frames. You’ll look fabulous for your next stop in the screen media’s capital, Burbank.

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20 km
0.25 hours by car
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Family exploring downtown Burbank, California
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Burbank: Media Capital of the World

If you’ve ever wanted to attend a live TV show taping, you won’t want to miss a stop in Burbank, just a few minutes form Universal Studios Hollywood. The Media Capital of the World is where film & television studios including The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, among many others, call home. Book a behind-the-scenes studio tour with Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood and get insider access to the world of entertainment.

Burbank’s various neighborhoods are brimming with shopping, dining and entertainment. Eateries in the Media District offer unique flavors like gourmet olives and cheese at Olive & Thyme, Mediterranean kebabs at Grilliant and handmade noodles at Jinya Ramen. Pop culture fans, don’t miss a photo op with the statue outside of Bob’s Big Boy, a classic California burger joint famous for their fries and milkshakes. Retro and trendy shops like Audrey K. Boutique, PinUp Girl, Mindfulnest and Morphe Brushes can be found in Magnolia Park. Check out Downtown Burbank’s eateries and nightlife for a chance at a celebrity sighting. End the day with a casual dinner and beer at California-native, the Yard House. Try a few ales – you’ve got 150 choices on the beer menu.

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97 km
1.25 hours by car
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Beachfront views in Ventura
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Ventura: Laid-back Coastal Getaway

Whoever said “Life’s a Beach,” may have been thinking of Ventura. This idyllic California beach town offers beautiful coastline along with culture, history, outdoor activities, a walkable downtown and a family-friendly atmosphere.

Stroll the palm-lined streets of downtown Ventura where you’ll discover great local shops, restaurants, museums and pubs. Pop in for a seafood lunch and specialty margarita at Rumfish y Vino. Take a tour through Mission San Buenaventura, one of nine California Missions founded by Saint Junipero Serra. If you enjoy cycling, make time for a ride along the coastal or river bike paths. The views are outstanding and there are many craft breweries or yummy eats along the way. Surfer's Point is also worth a stop. Keep an eye out for playful dolphins crashing a surfer's wave.

Ventura Harbor Village offers boat charters, sailing and dining cruises. It’s also situated perfectly to explore the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary, a protected marine park encompassing sensitive ocean habitats and five undeveloped islands. Island Packers operates boat transportation to the islands for hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, surfing, wildlife watching and camping. Say goodbye to Southern California for an excursion into the Wild West, Tuolumne County.

457 km
4.75 hours by car
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Donnell Vista near the scenic Stanislaus River Canyon in Tuolumne
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Bonus Trip to Tuolumne County: One Destination, Three Memorable Vacations

Just east of San Francisco, it would be a shame to not veer a bit inland to explore Tuolumne County (pronounced Too-all-oh-me), home to one of the main entrances to Yosemite National Park and epicenter of the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Allow ample time to explore Yosemite. Scenic overlooks and outdoor pursuits are endless throughout the year, from hiking and horseback riding in warmer months to snowshoeing and skiing in the winter. Drive the Tioga Road, the highest pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and don’t miss the Tuolumne Grove home to two dozen towering giant sequoia trees. You can even walk through one of them – it’s an Instagram-ready photo op. Be sure to check road conditions and closures before you go.

The glory days of rail travel are alive at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, also called “The Movie Railroad” for its frequent appearances in movies and TV shows. You can ride an authentic steam train and tour a real, working roundhouse. In warmer months, experience the stunning beauty of driving the Sonora Pass. The Gold Country landscape of the foothills on the west side transforms to forests filled with sugar pines, then onto the High Sierra territory complete with snow-covered mountain peaks and imposing granite boulders. The inimitable attractions of San Francisco will finish up your road trip.

269 km
3.5 hours by car
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San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge
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Must-see San Francisco: Discovering Icons and Hidden Treasures

Driving west to San Francisco, you’re headed to one of California’s most historic and diverse destinations. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1776, it grew exponentially during the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century and has developed into a modern-day melting pot and cultural capital.

First, check off the must-see icons: walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, see the sea lions at PIER 39, try authentic Chinese food in Chinatown, hop on a cable car, get your groove on in Haight-Ashbury and, if you’ve booked in advance, take a tour of infamous Alcatraz. Insider tip: bring a jacket!

Ready to travel a little off the beaten path? Explore Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s unforgettable sites including the Presidio, a 600-hectare park with unique historical and cultural attractions. Take a walk along Lovers’ Lane and search for Wood Line, Andy Goldsworthy’s serpentine wooden art installation that snakes through a eucalyptus forest. It's one of four works by Andy Goldsworthy on the Presidio grounds. Don’t miss the ruins at the Sutro Baths, once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. If you’re there on a fogless day, hike the surrounding trails for stunning shoreline views. Low tide will reveal three shipwrecks in the notoriously treacherous waters.

When hunger hits, any craving can be satisfied at Off the Grid’s Presidio Picnic. This seasonal gathering of food trucks (typically April – October) on Sunday afternoons offers drinks, music and special events. What an incredible way to end your trip before catching a flight out of San Francisco International (SFO).

Official California Travel Site