Get the most out of your self-drive holiday in California.
We look at how your planning, awareness, and knowledge AHEAD of your journey will deliver the best time ON your trip.
1. Research, Research, Research.
- Your time will be limited. Decide which attractions/places/experiences you really want to do or see, then plot them on a map – this will form your route.
- Understand that many ‘attractions’ in California are simply places that have appeared in movies – great if you’re interested in that sort of thing and want to show a photo to say you’ve been, but let’s be honest, it could be an anti-climax!
2. Stay at least two days in one place.
· If, for example, you have a drive time of 3 hours, you may arrive at a destination after lunch – this is not much time to explore if you intend moving on again the next day.
· This is your holiday, not a training exercise! Give yourself a little recovery time.
3. Book your accommodation in advance.
· The Romantic notion of dropping into a Motel is less attractive when you're driven several hours and are not sure where you are! We'd suggest researching a good deal and booking in advance – far less stress!
4. Investigate activities before you arrive.
· Some activities and attractions book up, especially in high season – e.g Alcatraz Island – for you perfect time slot, book online at least 2 weeks before in high season/weekends - and use the official website for the best rate.
· Park visits – if you are visiting 3 or more National Parks, then consider an $80 annual pass. Single admission is usually $30 per car per visit.
5. Arrive in a city at the weekend.
· It will save you time and stress if you arrive in major cities at the weekend. Picking up a strange, probably large car and driving on the wrong side of the road in rush hour, is no fun! Saturdays and Sundays are free of commuters.
6. Pack for changes in climate (altitude, inland desert, coastal winds etc.)
· Layer up. Temperatures can change dramatically from t-shirt to sweater to jacket weather - it's time-of-day and altitude driven anomaly. The desert parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree can be poles apart so zip-at-the-knee trousers are a good idea.
· Footwear – Park paths are usually well made but the desert trails are often sandy (oh yeah!), trekking sandals, trainers or hiking boots – you’ll have to consider wet/dry and time of year on this one.
7. Money and Tips
- All of USA works on a 15-20% tipping system – pretty much all bars and restaurants. There will also be a city tax around 10% on ALL goods levied at the till. Be aware when you’re checking out prices.
- In the US. They DO take your card away and usually will return (having swiped your card), giving you the bill with a line for you to complete for a tip – then total.
8. Make the jet lag work for you
· California is 8 hours behind the UK. Your first night will be an early one and you’ll probably wake up at silly-o’clock. Instead of fighting it, just get up and take to the road while it’s quiet, or start exploring. You’ll sync with US time in a day or two anyway.
9. Experiences are everything – go online
- Plan early mornings for sunrises – especially in the first few days when you’re likely to be up with the lark anyway.
- Factor in a bike ride and plan where you can hire.
- For some hop-on hop-off buses you can advance purchase tickets to save time when you’re in a city
- Don’t miss an e-scooter experience – you can download Uber or Bird apps and register your credit card - then you're ready to simply find one on the street and you’re good to go!
- It will be worth the effort to check opening times/days - planning to see an attraction, then arriving to find it closed that day will be such a downer!
10. Winter is warm
· California is either summer or winter – both have advantages
· If it’s summer, then consider the very hot temperatures and the crowds but know that events are plentiful, and everything is in full swing!
· In winter you’ll find less traffic, shorter wait times for attractions and of course, keener hotel rates – it’s also still pretty darn hot in that sun, just chilly in the shade – ideal for touring, hot enough for shorts and a tee in the day with a sweater once the sun sets