With Northern California already checked off your bucket list, it’s time to focus on California’s southern coastline. Here’s how to spend seven days in the southern half of the Golden State.
Day 1: Arrive in Los Angeles
Prepare yourself for lots of traffic after you land at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and choose your accommodations wisely. Although traffic in Los Angeles County is overwhelming, especially during rush hour, renting a car is a must, along with choosing a hotel or Airbnb located in the heart of the action in West Hollywood, Hollywood, or Beverly Hills. Hotel prices might be a bit higher in these tourist hotspots, but close proximity to restaurants, shopping, and other attractions will make the upcharge well worth it. On your first day in L.A., get the cheesy sightseeing out of the way (Rodeo Drive, Walk of Fame, Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours), and head to dinner at one of the restaurants you’ve seen featured on your favorite movies or reality television shows. If you have time before dinner, take a hike at Runyon Canyon for a spectacular view of Los Angeles (and the chance to see a celebrity in the wild).
Day 2: Explore San Diego
Wake up early and drive two hours south of Hollywood to spend the day in San Diego. If sun and sand are what you’re searching for, enjoy a day at the beach in La Jolla, Coronado Beach, or Mission Beach. SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo are excellent, family-friendly attractions, while hikers can find tons of trails in Mission Trails Regional Park. Southern California is notorious for fish tacos, with Rubio’s Coastal Grill serving up some of the best in the area. If fish isn’t your forte, chow down on a burger at one of the area’s many iconic In-N-Out Burger locations to finally find out what the fast food hype is all about.
Day 3: Wine in Solvang
On day three, leave the city behind and drive two hours northwest of Los Angeles along the coast to the quaint, Danish town of Solvang. Stop in for a wine tasting at one of the many wineries in town, such as Carivintas Winery or Clean Slate Wine Bar, or head to nearby Santa Ynez for more vineyards and wineries that will make you feel like you’re sipping wine in Tuscany. Literature lovers can take a tour of the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, featuring books and exhibits honoring the author himself. Take a stroll around town and admire the Danish architecture before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
Day 4: Joshua Tree National Park
Pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks for a road trip two hours east of L.A. to Joshua Tree National Park. Drive through the desert and admire the miles of Joshua trees and jumbo rocks, and stop for a picnic in the sun. Adventure-seekers can go for a hike or even camp overnight in one of the park’s many campsites. When you’re tired of cactus-gazing and find yourself missing civilization, head back to Hollywood before getting caught in rush hour traffic.
Day 5: Santa Monica and Venice Beach
No trip to Los Angeles would be complete without visiting the famous Venice Beach and Santa Monica pier. Families will love the pier’s amusement park, aquarium, and shopping, while fishermen can cast a line off of the pier’s fishing platform. Wander down walkable Venice Beach and watch skaters and athletes exercising under the sun. Take a break from being a carnivore and try your hand at vegetarian and vegan fare at Venice Beach’s restaurant The Butcher’s Daughter, serving acai bowls, avocado toast, and stone-oven pizzas.
Day 6: Malibu
Only 45 minutes west of Hollywood, Malibu is the perfect place to spend your last full day in Southern California. Aside from its beautiful sandy beaches and upscale eateries frequented by the rich and famous, Malibu is home to hiking trails offering stunning ocean views at Point Mugu State Park, Topanga State Park, and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Point Dume State Beach is a picturesque swimming and sunbathing spot lined with towering rocky cliffs. Have lunch overlooking the Pacific at seaside restaurant Geoffrey’s Malibu, or search for celebrities over sushi at pricey Nobu Malibu.
Day 7: Back to LAX
With traffic in mind, check out of your hotel with plenty of time to spare to catch your flight at LAX. At such a large airport, finding breakfast and high-quality coffee will be no issue, so skip the drive-thru to save time. In the airport, keep your eyes peeled for public figures and enjoy your cross-country flight back to North Carolina.