Whether it’s your first time or your fifth time, these 7 travel tips for your first trip to California hopefully will help plan your trip. As a California native, I won’t be shy to say that this is one incredible state.
There is so much to love here — the landscapes, the laid-back culture, and vibrant cities. I think that one thing that I am always surprised by is how much I haven’t explored in my own backyard. Here’s a look at a few things to know before traveling to California.
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7 Travel Tips for Your First Trip to California
There’s a lot of ground to cover.
It’s one of the first things I hear — oh so LA is like a quick drive from SF, right? Nope! It’s more like 6-7 hours depending on the traffic. The state is huge! You could spend a few weeks here and still not see the whole state. I’d recommend picking out a few destinations for your first trip and always save something for your next time.
A California road trip is a must.
If you’re in for a week or two, I’d grab a car to get a good feel for California. There are so many incredible road trips, whether it’s in Gold Country, the Northern Coast, or a combination of LA to Palm Springs. Major cities like SF and LA don’t require a car so if you’re planning on staying around there then I’d grab a car afterward.
There’s truly a lot to discover on the open road. It’s easy to navigate California, just be sure to have Google Maps or a GPS!
There are more wine regions than just the Napa Valley.
Even as someone who loves Napa, I have to let you know there are other incredible wine regions in California. The Napa Valley is beautiful and has some of the best wine but it also can be really expensive and busy in the summer months.
Some other areas to consider visiting are Paso Robles, Amador County, Mendocino County, Placer County, and Temecula. Each of these destinations has several wineries to visit so you could make a night or two out of it!
It’s quicker to fly between LA and SF.
Yes, a road trip is idyllic down the coast of California but requires extra time. If you’re wanting to hit both cities in a small amount of time, I’d hop on a flight. You can often snag a cheap flight for under $150 and be there in an hour and a half.
Bonus tip: Check for flights out of Oakland for a better rate (public transport is easy here from SF).
“Farm to Fork” is taken seriously here.
As one of the largest producers of vegetables and fruit, California is the foodie’s ultimate playground. Regions like SF and Sonoma especially have a concentration of restaurants that source locally. I’d recommend coming in with an appetite, making the dinner reservations ahead of time, and get ready to taste some of the best food around.
Always pack layers.
We may have a ton of sun but our climate in California also runs cold. Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I’ve ever had was a summer in San Francisco.” Summers in the Bay run windy and foggy (hence why you should visit after September or before May). Areas like Yosemite or Big Sur will cool down fast in the summer.
I always recommend packing a few layers for a trip here, like a few sweaters and a couple of pants.
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National Parks can’t be missed.
If you love the outdoors, look no further. The landscapes in California are breathtaking so as much as the big cities are attractive, definitely book a few days to visit the parks. Some of my favorite include Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.