3 Week Itinerary – Things to do in California

Surfing, part of a unique California itinerary

If you have three weeks for a vacation in California you can see most of the major cities and national parks! This is a sample 3 week Itinerary for things to do in California.  We suggest arriving and departing from San Francisco,  then loop east to Yosemite, then south all the way to San Diego and then back north to San Francisco via Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and the Big Sur.

I’ve included the daily driving mileage and driving time to give you an idea of how much driving is involved in this three week California itinerary.

Total mileage for this 3 week California itinerary – 1560 miles (2510 kilometers)

Total driving time for this 3 week California itinerary – approx. 28 hours

1. San Francisco

Stay 2 days

Things to see include Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz (make sure you get your tickets in advance), Golden Gate Park, & Pier 59.

2. Drive to Yosemite National Park (170 miles, approx. 3 hour drive depending on traffic in San Francisco)

Stay 3 days

Things to see include the fabulous Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and El Capitan!

Possible lodging – Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (book early as Yosemite will sell out far in advance!)

Yosemite Falls

3. Death Valley – (in the winter this is a long drive from Yosemite because the fastest route via Tioga Pass is closed, so approx 7 hours, 390 miles.  It is a much shorter drive in the summer)

Stay 1 day

Things to see – Catch Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Badwater Salt Flats.  For more information see this article on Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks

Possible lodging – Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch

4. Las Vegas – (approx. 2 hour drive from Death Valley, 140 miles)

Stay 2 days

Things to see –  the Strip, the Venetian Casino and Grand Canal, the Bellagio Fountains

Possible lodging – The Bellagio (where you can catch the best Cirque du Soleil show ‘O’)

5. Palm Springs – (approx. 4 hour drive from Las Vegas, 250 miles)

Joshua Tree National Park

Stay 2 days

Things to see – Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Joshua Tree National Park

Possible Lodging – Palm Mountain Resort and Spa

6. San Diego – (approx. 2.5 hour drive from Palm Springs, 140 miles)

Stay 3 days

Things to see – San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Mission Beach, Torrey Pines State Reserve.  For more details on what to do in San Diego see the One Week in San Diego Itinerary.

Possible Lodging – Paradise Point Resort

7. Orange County  – (approx 1.5 hour drive from San Diego, 100 miles)

Stay 3 days

Things to see – Disneyland, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Knott’s Berry Farm


Possible Lodging – Disney Grand Californian Resort

8. Los Angeles – (approx. 1 hour and fifteen minute drive if traffic is good from Disneyland to Santa Monica, 40 miles)

Stay 3 days

Things to see – Santa Monica beach, Hollywood, Universal Studios, Griffith Observatory

Possible Lodging – Loews Santa Monica Beach

10. Santa Barbara -(approx. two hour drive from LA, 90 miles from Santa Monica)

Santa Barbara County Courthouse with the spectacular view from the clock tower

Stay 2 days

Things to see – Stearns Wharf, Urban Wine Trails, Santa Barbara County Courthouse

Possible Lodging – Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront

11. Monterey – (approx. 4 hour drive, 240 miles)

Stay 1 day

Things to see – Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Possible Lodging – Monterey Hilton Garden Inn.  If you have more time consider staying in Carmel which is a beautiful and walkable small town with a beautiful beach.

For more information on the Big Sur, check out our San Francisco to LA along the Big Sur itinerary,

12. San Francisco

Time to head home!

Tip – To quickly find more details on any of the attractions in this itinerary see the clickable attractions on our California map

Tip – If you are in San Francisco and want to travel to wine country see our One Week San Francisco to Sonoma and Napa itinerary.

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