California Itinerary 10 Days

Guest post from Angelica of Things to Do and Eat

A Southern California road trip is the perfect way to have a trip filled with diversity.

Whether it’s eating different types of food (Mexican, Cambodian, Hungarian, etc), or enjoying different types of activities (anywhere from relaxing in a natural hot springs to outdoor bouldering in the desert), to driving from palm trees by the beach to alpine trees in the mountains – Southern California has it all!

Here’s how you can balance all that this part of California has to offer in this Southern California road trip itinerary – especially if you love food and the outdoors. This southern California road trip itinerary will take you from Los Angeles to San Diego, with stops in the mountains and desert along the way to fuel your need for outdoor adventure. If you’re looking for a Southern California road trip itinerary that takes you to hidden gems and shows you a side of southern California most tourists don’t see, this road trip itinerary is for you!

southern california road trip

Note: I would recommend 10 days to go through this itinerary. Of course, depending on how much vacation time you actually have, and how you feel about each place when you’re there, you can spend less or more time on a Southern California road trip!

Looking for more great things to do in California? Check out these posts:

Start: Los Angeles, days 1-3

southern california road trip

Los Angeles is a huge city with something for everyone (I know, cliche phrase, but it’s really true in this city)! A west coast road trip would never be complete without spending some quality time in Los Angeles. Here is just a sampling of the ways LA has something for everyone:

  • Love upscale beach boardwalks, shopping, and rides? Check out Santa Monica Pier!
  • Love the beach and skateboarder/skateboarder lifestyle? Check out Venice Beach!
  • Into easy hiking? Explore Griffith Park!
  • Want to see panoramic views of the city? Head to the Hollywood Sign!
  • Love theme parks? Ride the rides at Universal Studios or Six Flags!
  • Love art museums? Appreciate the art at The Getty, The Broad, or The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – which are only a few of the multitude of LA museums.
  • Are you a foodie? There are a ton of amazing places to eat in Los Angeles from every culture because literally all cultures have a presence in Los Angeles!

Big Bear, days 3-4

southern california road trip

About 96 miles away from Los Angeles

If you love the outdoors, this is one of the best California road trip ideas for you. The next stop on this Southern California road trip is Big Bear Lake, a high altitude city in the San Bernardino National Forest. This foresty mountain resort town is the perfect escape from the sprawling, coastal city.

Big Bear is also one of the examples of places where it can snow in Southern California. Because of that (and snow machines), there are couple of ski resorts that are super popular with the locals in the winter that you can check out if you love winter sports. 

If you go when there’s no snow, Big Bear is still the perfect road trip stop because of all the other outdoor activities famous in this area including mountain biking, fishing, and hiking. And if you want something more low-key after spending time in the bustling city of LA, even just renting out a beautiful, fancy vacation home and spending time in the mountains with a fireplace, jacuzzi, and wine with loved ones is a ton of fun.

Palm Springs, days 4-5

palm springs

About 80-90 miles away from Big Bear

Palm Springs is a little funny (at least for me) because it makes me think of rich, out of touch people (namely, Hilary Duff’s mom in A Cinderella Story). The best California vacations always include a trip to Palm Springs. 

The spas, hot springs, and outlet malls in Palm Springs still make me think of this. They are a great way to relax after spending so much time on the road and exploring, and you should check them out. Just being in the city is really unique because the style of architecture is so different from the rest of California!

But my favorite thing about Palm Springs is that there are actually a ton of outdoor activities! You can summit San Jacinto Mountain if you’re in shape for a relatively easier 10k hike, and for something way less intense but still nature-y, you can ride the aerial tramway to get to the peak- which is the longest rotating aerial tram car. Like with Big Bear, doing these last two will put you in high altitude, so be aware if you’re sensitive to that.

Joshua Tree, days 5-6

joshua tree

About 38 miles from Palm Springs

Joshua Tree National Park is probably the most famous Southern California National Park. The unique desert landscape and plants indigenous to Joshua Tree make you feel like you’re in another planet, in a different world. Many California road trip routes won’t include Joshua Tree, but you’ll be glad you went to this one of a kind national park.

This area is great for stargazing, because you’re so far away from the city and because the skies are usually very clear. There are also a ton of hiking trails you can explore, and camping is really popular. But, I think one of the most unique activities in Joshua Tree is the large amount of bouldering and rock climbing opportunities available if you go with an appropriate guide. They have areas for all levels- whether you’re just starting out or you’re super experienced.

One more cool stop around right before Joshua Tree is Pioneertown, which is a town built in Western style. It’s a cute area to explore for a couple of hours because of the older style buildings.

Anza Borrego, days 6-7

anza borrego desert

About 70-90 miles from Joshua Tree

Anza Borrego is the largest state park in California and is full of unique desert hiking opportunities. It’s a little less “otherworldly” than Joshua Tree and more “Earthly desert”, in my opinion. The best thing about Anza Borrego is it’s full of more adventurous outdoor opportunities- like ATVing and dirt biking. Also, for those who like animals, you might run into bighorn sheep- which are partially what the park is named after. And for those who like art, there are many random metal sculptures you can find throughout the park- like of dinosaurs, horses, and scorpions. This isn’t your typical west coast road trip itinerary tip, so you’ll definitely be getting off of the beaten path with this one. 

If you go hiking, make sure you stay prepared with these desert hiking tips (which also apply in Joshua Tree).

Julian, days 7-8

About 30-40 miles from Anza Borrego

As you head west from the Anza Borrego Desert, you’ll run into Julian – a cute, local tourist town famous for being an ex-gold mining town and having amazing apple pie. Many spend a weekend getaway here for that small town charm and local handicraft shopping opportunities, but for this road trip, I would highly recommend stopping by for their famous apple pie. There are a lot of arguments about which restaurant here makes it the best, but honestly they all taste good to me, so you can’t go wrong. They also say it’s best during apple season, but I think they have the best apple pie year round!

End: San Diego, days 8-10

san diego

About 60 miles from Julian

We’re saving the best for last here – San Diego is the best place in Southern California (I’m biased, because I live here now after living in LA County for a couple of years)! While Los Angeles definitely has a lot going on, San Diego has more of that laid back, slower paced vibe.

Day drinking by the beach and enjoying California-Mexican fusion food are my favorite “local” activities, but on your road trip, you absolutely have to check out Balboa Park. Balboa park is a huge city park full of Spanish colonial architecture and many of San Diego’s museums, and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, for easy hiking opportunities with unique, gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffs. If you like shopping and fancy restaurants, definitely check out Little Italy, and if you want to experience as many breweries as you can in one day, go beer tasting in North Park.

About the author

Angelica is a Southern California based food and travel blogger at https://www.thingstodoandeat.com.Things to do & Eat seeks to guide readers to the best and unique things to do & eat in a new destination, with a focus on exploring the outdoors and experiencing local food – all while keeping social and environmental justice in mind.

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