3 Week Itinerary – Things to do in California

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.

California Attractions Map – Things to do in California

If you’re planning a trip to California and you haven’t been before, you probably need some help in planning where to go and what to see. There is a wide variety of things to do in California.  Big cities, beautiful national parks, and scenic drives.  It can sometimes be confusing to decide what to do, especially if you have a limited amount of time. A picture is worth a thousand words, that’s why we’ve built the perfect California Attractions Map.

Planning a multi-week trip can sometimes involve days or weeks of research. Our new California attractions map takes the complexity out of planning your trip to California. Using customized Google Maps you can quickly see all the greatest things to do in California. Easy to see icons on the map indicate the location of all the most popular attractions in California.

map of california attractions
California Attractions Map

Click on any icon and you will see summary information on the attraction.  The More Details link will allow you to get more information quickly. The link will take you to the authoritative page on the attraction.  For example, the link in the image below would take you to the National Park Service information page on Glacier Point.

California attractions detail
Attraction Details and Links

You can also get directions to the attraction by clicking the Get Directions link. This will provide turn by turn directions from your current location or another selected location. 

California Attractions map directions
California Attractions Map Directions

You can easily zoom in or zoom out on the map to see exactly where things are located.  The map will also show how close some attractions are to each other.

Regardless if you are planning a trip to one of the big cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, or planning a trip to the great National Parks like Yosemite or Sequoia, there’s no easier way to plan your travel and discover all the best things to do in California.

Go to our California map to get started with your planning!

Coachella Valley Preserve – Palm Springs

For thousands of years, particles of sand from the San Bernardino Mountains and Indio Hills washed into the Coachella Valley, forming a system of dunes. Today, these dunes are part of the Coachella Valley Preserve System, a 20,000-acre sanctuary that is home to several species of increasingly rare wildlife.  The Coachella Valley Preserve also contains several palm oases, formed because San Andreas Fault lines allow water flowing underground to rise to the surface.

History of the Coachella Valley Preserve

The Coachella Valley Preserve was established in 1984 as a partnership between the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management. The preserve was created to protect and preserve the fragile desert ecosystem, including the natural water resources and wildlife.

The preserve is also home to the Thousand Palms Oasis, which has been an important site for human settlement and agriculture for thousands of years. The Cahuilla Indians, who are the original inhabitants of the area, used the oasis as a source of food, water, and shelter. Today, the Thousand Palms Oasis is an important tourist attraction and a popular spot for hiking and wildlife viewing.

The spectacular Thousand Palms Oasis includes trails that wind past pools containing endangered desert pupfish. Native vegetation includes creosote bush, burrobush, smoke tree and desert lavender, part of this area’s unique habitat for wildlife. Enjoy some of the 30 miles of trails, picnic areas, cool oases and wildlife and wildflowers and take a walk into the past in the Visitors’ Center, the Palm House, a palm log cabin built in the 1930’s.

Hiking in the Coachella Valley Preserve

There are no user fees to use the trails.  The trails range from easy to moderate difficulty, and offer a variety of scenic views and experiences.

One of the most popular trails in the preserve is the McCallum Trail, which leads to the Thousand Palms Oasis. The trail is a 2.5 mile round trip hike, and offers stunning views of the desert landscape and the oasis. Along the trail, hikers can also see examples of ancient Cahuilla Indian irrigation systems.

Another popular trail in the preserve is the Pushawalla Palms Trail, which offers a unique view of the desert palm oasis. The trail is a 4 mile round trip hike, and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and desert landscape.

The preserve also offers several shorter trails, including the Willis Palms Trail and the Hidden Palms Trail, which are both less than a mile long and offer a quick glimpse into the unique ecosystem of the desert.

DIRECTIONS – Take Interstate 10 to the Bob Hope exit (about 10 miles east of Palm Springs);go north and turn right on Varner road. At Ramon Road, turn left. Drive east to Thousand Palms Canyon Drive. Turn north and drive about two miles to the entrance.

If you are staying in the Palm Springs area and are looking for other things to do, check out our article on One Week in Palm Springs.

Yoga Retreats in Big Sur and Southern California

When the 9-to-5 grind goes from invigorating to wearying, and the buzz of a cellphone notification feels more like an electric shock than a cheerful buzz, where does one turn? Well, if one is in Southern California (or fancies themselves a West-coast traveler), there is an abundance of options. The most popular area for yoga retreats is Big Sur.  From yoga retreats to wellness centers, Southern California has some of the top ways to get away from the trials of our hectic modern world.

These centers will definitely turn the dial up on a little well-deserved “me time.” So, if you are interested in turning an “ugh” to an “ohm” or just having an excuse to turn your cellphone off for a few days, look no further than these four yoga retreats in Southern California.

1. Esalen Institue – Big Sur, California (55000 CA-1, Big Sur, California, 93920)

Esalen yoga retreat
Esalen Institute for wellness retreats

It’s fitting that The Esalen Institute tops our list of wellness retreats. During its over fifty year history, Esalen has become the closest possible thing to a household name in the wellness center world. With its hard hitting role in the Human Potential Movement, which itself is synonymous with the type of hippie-dippy, Earth and wellness focused living that have come to encapsulate the late 1960s and innovative teaching style, Esalen is everywhere. From 1960s films, to True Detective and the famous scene of an all-white clad Don Draper meditating on the center’s grassy hilltop in the finale of Mad Men, it’s hard to underestimate the center’s influence on pop culture.

Esalen boasts a truly wide variety of classes and workshops focused on a myriad of different wellness encompassing techniques. From yoga and meditation to Gestalt Practice, there are over 250 hour meditation courses, painting workshops and mindfulness seminars.  These aim to, “forge new understandings of self and society; and pioneer new paths for change.” Besides the workshops, you have to love the location.  It’s common that many of the best yoga retreats in Southern California are located on the Big Sur coast.

Esalen is perfect for the would-be retreater who doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for.  Or conversely, someone who wants a more-is-more approach to tackling the idea of wellness.

2. The White Lotus Foundation– (2500 San Marcos Pass Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105)

White Lotus Foundation yoga retreat in Southern California
Wellness retreats at the White Lotus Foundation

Located Just outside Santa Barbara proper, with stunning vistas overlooking the proud Pacific Ocean, The White Lotus Foundation is a non-profit yoga and wellness retreat.   The Foundation is dedicated to bringing the art of yoga(and the high quality of life its proprietor’s believe come with it), to the world.

The Foundation was originally founded in 1967 with a location in Los Angeles.  It was based in the spiritual learnings of its founders at Sivananda Ashram in India.  The Santa Barbara location provides guests with weekend, weeklong and holiday yoga retreats, as well as general yoga coursework and teacher training programs. The site features several amenities such as sandstone swimming holes and steep canyon overlooks. The center offers a wide variety of accommodations including yurts and outdoor campsites. Accommodations encourage participants in to connect with nature as well as their bodies.

3. Salt Cave Santa Barbara740 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Salt Cave-in Santa Barbara yoga retreat
Salt Cave in Santa Barbara

Looking for something completely different in a yoga retreat in Southern California? Not all those looking to relax are interested in curling themselves into a pretzel shape for the sake of unwinding. If you’re the type that would rather be found at the ski lodge than hitting the slopes, or on a tanning bed than in an Olympic pool, you may be a good fit for Salt Cave, Santa Barbara.

This center, founded in 2000 and officially known as a “holistic wellness center,” is essentially exactly what it sounds like: a series of underground caves, filled wall to wall, with salt. Pink Himalayan Salt Crystals imported from Pakistan, to be more specific. This particular type of salt has long been associated with health and wellness in crystal healing circles. Salt Caves hosts a wealth of treatments, from classic spa services to extended wellness and holistic healing courses.  All programs have the aim of improving overall health set to the backdrop of some breathtaking pink crystals. This is where wellness retreat meets ocean salt caves.

4. Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur 47900 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

POst Ranch Inn, one of the top yoga retreats in Southern California
Post Ranch Inn for fabulous wellness retreats

For those more luxury-minded wellness seekers, one of the best known yoga retreats in Big Sur is the Post Ranch Inn may be just what the doctor ordered. Featuring packages including daily morning yoga, afternoon nature rambles and stargazing by night, Post Ranch is designed to let you, whether alone or along with someone you love, unwind with an irresistible mixture of nature and nurture. And by nurture, we mean luxury dining, beautiful grounds and deluxe modern accommodation. The grounds and accommodations feature truly spectacular views of mountains, oceans or seaside cliffs. Throw in a couple of world class swimming pools and use of the inn’s fleet of Lexus vehicles and you have yourself the height of sophistication in a yoga retreat in Southern California.

If you are visiting yoga retreats in Big Sur, see our one week itinerary San Francisco to LA on the Big Sur Coast.