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California - Driving Tour and Map

California and the surrounding areas in Nevada and Arizona are wonderful places for a driving tour of the USA. They offer a great variety of scenery with some spectacular attractions. Here is my favorite driving tour in the California - Nevada - Arizona area.

You can begin anywhere along this route. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas are good starting points because they have large airports with many international and domestic flights. You can follow the entire route or any part of it depending on how much time you have and how much driving you are willing to endure. I suggest you spend at least 3 days in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, as there is much to see in those cities. You should spend at least two days at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and San Diego.

This driving tour map shows you the relative locations of the major attractions along the tour route.  Directions gives you approximate distances and driving times. Attractions tells you what there is to see along the way.

California Driving Tour Map

California driving tour directions

San Francisco to Yosemite: 200 miles (300 km.) 4 - 5 hours drive
Drive east across the bay and on Interstate 205 to the central valley agricultural center of California. A bit south through the farms and orchards of the valley then east on Route 120 or 140 through the ranches in the foothills and into the high Sierra Nevada Mountains to Yosemite.

Yosemite to Monterey: 200 miles (300 km.) 4 - 5 hours drive
You can backtrack to the San Francisco Bay area and turn south through San Jose and Santa Cruz, in the heart of the Silicon Valley, a technological center of the USA, then drive down the coast to Monterey. You can also go west to the central valley, and go a bit south on 99, then west on Route 140 through the Coastal Mountains to Salinas and Monterey.

Monterey © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Monterey, California

Monterey to San Luis Obispo: 143 miles (240 km.) 3 - 8 hours drive
You must take Highway 1 along the coast rather than the Interstate 101 inland. This is the spectacular California coast known as Big Sur where the Coastal Mountains plunge directly into the sea while their peaks nestle in the clouds. Highway 1 hugs the sides of the mountains with rocky promontories, high cliffs and secluded beaches tucked in tiny coves.

San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara: 100 miles (160 km.) 2 hours
Drive Highway 101 through the Central Coast Wine Country of California, past Solvang that incongruous Danish community in California, to Santa Barbara with its splendid beaches and fabulous homes.

Santa Barbara to Los Angeles: 100 miles (160 km.) 2 hours
Highway 101 follows the coast to Ventura then into the metropolitan center of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles to Las Vegas: 275 miles (450 km.) 5 hours
Interstate 5 takes you northeast from Los Angeles to Barstow then across the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert to Las Vegas Nevada. The road is great, but it becomes very busy on Friday evenings when many Californians head for a weekend in Vegas and again on Sunday evening when they go back home.

Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon: 225 miles (375 km.) 5 hours
Take Interstate 515 south to Boulder City, then Route 93 across the top of Hoover Dam and southeast over the desert to Kingman, Arizona. Take Route 40 east, or Old Route 66 if you have a few extra hours, to Williams, Arizona, then Route 64/180 north to the South Rim of the Canyon.

Side Trip to Sedona, Arizona: 50 mile detour (80 km.) 1.5 hours each way
From Williams, go east to Flagstaff and southwest to Sedona.

Grand Canyon to Palm Springs: 400 miles (650 km.) 8 hours
Backtrack to Williams then west on 40 to Kingman. Cross the Colorado River into California near Needles then trek across the Mojave Desert along a desolate stretch of Old Route 66 to Amboy, one of the most isolated communities in the US. Turn south to Twenty Nine Palms and past Joshua Tree National Park to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs to San Diego: 130 miles (200 km.) 3 hours
Go south on Routes 74, 371 and 79 up and over the coastal mountains to Interstate 15 then south to San Diego.

San Diego to Los Angeles: 125 miles (200 km.) 3 hours
Take Interstate 5 along the Oceanside beach communities to Los Angeles.

California Driving Tour Attractions

San Francisco: This beautiful city, situated on a series of hills overlooking a bright azure bay, is one of the most picturesque locations in the USA. Cable cars, Chinatown, Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge adorn this jewel of the Pacific Coast. Muir Woods, the spectacular Marin headlands and the Napa Valley Wine country are all located nearby.
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Yosemite National Park: A large mountainous park with Giant Sequoia trees and one of the most beautiful alpine valleys in the world. Over a dozen waterfalls cascade down the vertical granite walls of Yosemite valley with the highest at over 3,000 feet (1000 meters).
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Try this National Park Service link to check hotel availability inside the park.
Click here to check hotels in nearby Oakhurst and in Mariposa!

Monterey: Located on a broad circular bay, this is the home of Cannery Row, the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course and those fabulous homes on its rocky shoreline. The artist community of Carmel, that once claimed actor Clint Eastwood as its mayor, is located nearby. Along highway one south of Monterey lies the spectacular Big Sur coast.
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San Luis Obispo: An old mission town in the hills overlooking the Pacific is a convenient resting spot along the central coast.
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Santa Barbara: Beautiful sandy beaches lined with swaying palm trees and fabulous homes with spectacular views of the pacific. This paradise is located in the center of the central coast wine region just south of the Danish village of Solvang.
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Los Angeles: Dozens of separate communities that have coalesced into one giant metropolis spreading across a fifty-mile wide basin along the Pacific shore. This is Hollywood, Beverly Hills and all of those great Southern California surfing beaches.
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Las Vegas: The biggest, most spectacular adult playground in the world. The neon lighted Las Vegas Strip is lined with fantastic casinos that offers great shows, music and entertainment.
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The Grand Canyon: The South Rim visitors' center of the Grand Canyon lies on the Colorado High Plateau near the small town of Tusayan sixty miles north of Williams, Arizona. It offers spectacular views of this great natural wonder. From here you can hike down into the canyon or fly over it via airplane or helicopter.
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Try this National Park Service link to check hotel availability at the south rim.
Click here to check hotels near the Grand Canyon!

Palm Springs: This desert community just 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles with its year round sunshine, many golf courses, upscale shopping and fancy restaurants is the vacation home for Hollywood stars. Joshua Tree National Park is nearby.
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San Diego: Just a few hours south of Los Angeles, this city is a smaller cleaner version of Los Angeles with great beaches and a year around pleasant climate. It is a few miles north of the wild Mexican border town of Tiajuana.
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Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Photo Description: Rugged beach along Santa Barbara coastline