California Trip Planner

Posted November 20, 2023 in Destination - Last updated January 18, 2024


The third-largest state in the U.S., California, needs no introduction. Associated with Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and known for its diverse landscape of coastline, forests, mountains, valleys, and deserts, California serves up a multitude of attractions for travelers with a strong case of wanderlust.

If you’ve got the Golden State on your mind, check out the essential information in our blog to plan your trip. We’d also like to remind you that Travel-Wise is a handy California trip planner, helping you build out extensive itineraries within minutes and collaborating on them with your travel companions. Let’s dive in.

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Why travel to California?

The key attractions to include in your California trip planner include:

  • Theme parks: For families with kids, Disneyland is a must-visit. Legoland, Pacific Park, and the theme parks of Universal Studios are other pit stops. But smaller parks like Anaheim’s Adventure City and Riverside’s Castle Park also attract their fair share of tourists.
  • National parks: California has more National Parks than any state in the U.S. Each is unique with stunning scenery, beckoning hikers and campers. Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park are the most visited of the nine parks in the state.
  • Wine country: California is home to Napa Valley, one of the premier wine regions in the world. Criss-crossed with hundreds of hillside vineyards, Napa Valley is a paradise for wine lovers, offering wine tasting amid breathtaking landscapes.
  • San Francisco: A trip to California is incomplete without a visit to San Francisco, which is teeming with attractions, the most famous being the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Food: California’s diverse food scene draws foodies. From Malibu’s taco trucks and seafood shacks along the Central Coast to Pacific Grove’s southwest-style diners and French country-style vineyard restaurants, there’s a lot to savor!
  • Road trip: The Pacific Coast Highway extending from Northern to Southern California is perfect for a road trip. Bask in the lap of nature on one of the many camping sites here.

These are but a few of many California trip ideas to keep in mind. We suggest using a Travel-Wise California road trip planner and expert-suggested itineraries to plan the ideal trip for your needs and budget.

5 fun facts about California

  1. California grows half of all vegetables and fruits in the U.S.
  2. The grizzly bear named Monarch on California’s state flag is based on the one captured by media mogul William Randolph Hurst.
  3. The state motto is “Eureka”, Greek for “I have found it”.
  4. California has always been innovative, and responsible for Barbie dolls, skateboards, Frisbee, wetsuits, and the internet!
  5. San Francisco is known as the City of Dogs for its large pup population, which exceeds the number of children in the city.

Top Things to in California

Top Things to in California
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Here are our picks for the top destinations to include in your California trip planner:

  • Catalina Island: Voted California’s #1 attraction for 2023 by U.S. News & World Report, Catalina Island is a scenic getaway with white sand beaches, historic towns, water sports, and bison tours.
  • San Francisco: Soak the magnificent sunrise views at Golden Gate View Point. Join an Alcatraz Island tour to see what was once the country’s most secure federal prison, with Al Capone as its famous inmate. Head over to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 29 to watch the seals.
  • Yosemite National Park: The awe-inspiring glacier-carved canyon is best explored leisurely. There are camping sites and lodges here but plan your hikes carefully. Some, like Half Dome, are quite tiring. Views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls from the 7214ft Glacier Point are really something else! If planning a trip to California with the family, enjoy a splash at Happy Isles and take the kids to Valley Visitor Center to watch a free film about Yosemite’s natural wonders.
  • Universal Studios: As popular as California trip ideas go Universal Studios Hollywood has amazing attractions like the Jurassic World and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey rides. The studio tour is a hot favorite, taking visitors to the backlot of a real movie studio, and to the sets of hits like Back to the Future, Jaws, and Psycho.
  • Lake Tahoe: The crystal clear waters of the lake in shades of green-blue and navy are alone worth a visit to this famous vacation spot. Miles of hiking trails, high-end shopping, hot balloon adventures, gondola rides, and Reno-style casinos add to the fun.
  • San Diego whale watching: Hop aboard a replica of a historic sailing schooner to watch gray whales, dolphins, and other fascinating marine creatures in their natural habitat. You’ll also pass by US Navy sites. On-board commentary is an accompaniment.
  • Paint the town red: California is sizzling with trendy bars and clubs. Visit the glamorous Sunset Strip to shake a leg at legendary clubs and keep your eye out for celebrities. Relax at brew pubs, join the salsa dancing groups, and make time for the neon-lit Universal CityWalk complex with its multitude of shopping and dining options.

Brief history of California

The indigenous people of California have lived here for over 13,000 years. The region was populated by more than 100 Native American tribes that were nomadic hunter-gatherers. The natives made contact with the Europeans for the first time in 1542 when a Spanish expedition led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered San Diego Bay. A later expedition by the Spanish between 1769 and 1770 led to the discovery of San Francisco Bay.

California became a part of the United States in 1847, and the discovery of gold in the following year attracted a wave of settlers in search of fortune. The state’s historical locations include Fort Point National Historic Site, Venice Canals, Jack London State Historic Park, Bradbury Building, and Fort Baker.

What do you need to do before traveling to California?

What do you need to do before traveling to California?
Photo by Raghav Nyati on Unsplash

Here are a couple of things to add to your California trip planner:

  • Ensure that your passport has a 6-month validity from the day of arrival. Non-residents or resident aliens must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
  • California’s weather can change dramatically based on the location and time of the year. Pack suitably, including sunglasses, sunscreen, sneakers or flats, hiking boots, water bottles, reusable backs, and a rain shell if planning outdoor activities.
  • Plan accommodation and tours ahead to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

The best time to visit California

June to August is the classic time for a California beach vacation. If your California itinerary will be packed with outdoor adventures, April to May and September to October are ideal. November to March is the low season to note if you wish to avoid the crowds.

What to expect from the culture of California?

California is recognized for its cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. The atmosphere is laid-back, creativity abounds, and the ‘outdoorsy’ vibe is infectious. If planning a trip to California on a budget, you can make the most of the free attractions here and come away feeling completely satiated!


A familiarity with the local rules and traditions can save you from embarrassing situations. Here are some important ones:

  • Maintain a good driving speed to avoid annoying busy commuters and creating avoidable safety hazards.
  • California enforces a ban on plastic bags. Bring a tote bag for your grocery trips.
  • Be mindful not to litter at national parks and public areas.
  • Wildfires are a real danger in the state. Avoid tossing out cigarette buds from your car’s window.
  • If bicycling here, follow appropriate rules and etiquette.
  • Recognize good service with a tip. A good guide is to leave 15-20% of the bill’s total at a restaurant or hairdresser.

Is it safe to travel solo in California?

Whether planning a trip to California with the family or by yourself, exercise normal precautions, be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye on your belongings. California is a safe place for solo travel. Its beach towns, mountain towns, and expensive areas like Beverly Hills and Palm Springs are generally safe. On the other hand, it’s best to be more watchful in areas like Skid Row in Downtown LA and avoid going out late in the night in unsafe neighborhoods like Oakville, Signal Hall, Commerce, and Emeryville. Death Valley National Park experiences extreme heat in the summers, so pack sufficient water or plan your trip in the winter, when it is cool and pleasant.

Best ways to get around in California

The car is the most convenient way to get around California. Intercity travel by bus is cheap. Major operators, including Greyhound, run one-way routes between San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is the only train route linking and the South and the North. Alaska, American, Delta, United, Southwest, and JetBlue offer air services across the state.

Budget Traveling in California per Day

How much does a trip to California cost? Plan to spend at least $250 a day, inclusive of meals and local transportation. The average hotel price in California for one-person accommodation is $116 and $232 for a couple. Planning a trip to California on a budget? You can save money by booking flights and hotels ahead of time, visiting during the shoulder and off seasons, exploring the more expensive cities like LA or San Francisco on day trips, and biking, walking or using public transportation.


Use Travel-Wise as your California road trip planner. Our AI-powered app offers templates, itineraries, maps, and collaboration features to create truly individualized travel plans and organize each trip day at a granular level. A journaling feature lets you share your experiences with other travelers. You can also check out our Country Guides to plan your next holiday. Get started now with Travel-Wise now and create a memorable California trip.

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