Right after getting your US Visa approved, you’ve been wondering which state to visit first. Would you head to the East and be welcomed by incredibly tall skyscrapers of New York with a side trip in Washington DC? Or would you go to the West and visit California? How about heading straight to Hawaii and enjoy the beach? That’s pretty much a hard decision to come up to. Then, you decided to go to California first. The land on the west with the abundance of beautiful places to see and diverse culture to explore. The next question would be is, “How will you be able to do it by yourselves?”
The state of California is among the top 5 biggest states in America and that sounds intimidating. Taking into consideration that you only have 12 days to explore it, can you make the best out of it? The biggest question is that whether you would see as many places as possible in a quick time or choose the best places to see in a much longer time and discover deeply what made up this golden state. Well, I would suggest the latter and experience it like locals. It may sound pretentious, but, spending ample days will give you the quintessential feel of a place, which every traveler wants to feel. After all, we are here for experience.
Having a vacation on this vast state is definitely doable even without a car. We were fortunate to have an amazing hosts in Los Angeles who made our stay easy and memorable. But, for those who are on their own visiting the state, do not worry, because you can definitely do it.
Note: Everyone knows that booking for a roundtrip ticket is less cheaper than booking a one way ticket. So, on this suggested itinerary, since we travel on a budget, the arrival port and the departure point is the same. Some may argue that it’s inconvenient, but, the difference in price makes it all reasonable.
Upon arrival at Tom Bradley Airport take a free shuttle bus to Aviation Green Line Station to bring you to wherever your hotel is located. Your accommodation is crucial to your convenient stay in the city, though uber is cheap and widely used, make sure it is near any Metro Station. Ignoring your jet lag, start exploring the City of Stars. For a great introduction, do something locals would do on your first day. Watch a concert on Hollywood Bowl, catch a local show on local bars with future stars, or have a picnic while attending a movie outdoor screening.
On your second day, head straight to where the action is, the Downtown Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles or DTLA is the central business district of LA and is home to some of world-class museums and infrastructures. Walk around DTLA and make sure to visit must-see spots such as: City Hall, The Broad Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, of course the Grand Central Market for some authentic local foods. For sports enthusiast, Staples Center is just around the corner so you shouldn’t miss it. For bookworms, the famous The Last Bookstore is along the 5th that sells not only books but vinyl records as well. After touring the downtown, proceed to Griffith Observatory.
One of the most famous landmarks of Los Angeles is Griffith Observatory and is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. It is an observatory, but, it is also famous for its great vantage point of downtown LA and the Hollywood sign. Being on top makes you realize the vastness of LA and make sure to wait until the sun is setting, it is incredible dope. Public bus service runs daily from Vermont/Sunset Metro Station to Observatory.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame which is accessible by Metro train is the first thing you do on your third day. A tour of LA is not complete without visiting what it is known for, the city of stars. It is best to go here early morning to prevent the crowd making your Hollywood-feel more vivid. Walk along the street finding the stars of your favorite stars until you reach the TCL Chinese theatre. The TCL is where the premiere and red carpet of big movies happen. It is also where you’ll see the hand print of your favorite entertainers. Right after your tour of the Walk of Fame, take the Metro to Universal Studios. The Universal Studios is arguably the best entertainment and leisure parks in the world because it offers a behind a scene preview of movie making with its Studio Tour.
Just after midnight of your third night, proceed to Union Station to take the bus on the first leg of your journey to your next destination, Yosemite National Park.
After your bus ride from Union Station to Bakersfield and train to Fresno, you are now to take the YARTS (Yosemite Area and Regional Transport System). It may sound like you finally arrived at Yosemite when you take the YARTS, but, from Fresno, it is a three-hour drive to Yosemite Valley. For further information about public transportation check out this link: Visiting Yosemite Without a Car.
As mentioned on my previous post, booking accommodations in Yosemite should be done months in advance to make sure you’ll get to stay inside the village. The cheapest accommodation is Half-Dome Village and Housekeeping Camp. If you are on a budget, but, want some little privacy, then I highly suggest staying at Half Dome Village.
After checking in, head straight to your first activity at the park, the Valley Loop.
Start by taking a free shuttle service to The Majestic Hotel. The hotel was formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel and it sure is impressive. Start your valley tour by walking towards the visitor’s center. Along the way, you’ll find impressive meadows, tall trees, and wildlife. At visitor’s center, take time to visit the Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite Museum, Indian Cultural Exhibit and continue walking straight to the Lower Yosemite Falls. If you come here during late spring or early summer, the waterfalls will be at its peak and it’s gorgeous. During this time, you’ll find some great photography spots to capture the beauty of Yosemite Falls. After savoring the valley, continue walking to the Sentinel Bridge and the Swinging Bridge for more photographic spots. Finish the walking tour by taking the free shuttle back to Half Dome Village. The walking tour is roughly 3 hours depending on you.
On your second day, take a day hike. There are many day hikes to choose from in Yosemite and all offers equally impressive vistas. For my recommendation, I’ll suggest you take the most famous hike, the Mist Trail hike. The hike will pass by two impressive waterfalls and the most amazing views of granite cliff, giant monoliths, and breathtaking mountains. For further details about Mist Trail, visit our hiking story: Mist Trail, Yosemite.
After 4 hours, you’ll be able to finish the hike, leaving you an ample time to join a valley tour. A tour is $25 but will give you chance to see Valley View and Tunnel View that are worth seeing. After the valley tour, head back to Half-Dome village and reward yourselves with mouth-watering pizzas available at the village lounge.
The valley isn’t as good as Glacier Point when it comes to stargazing, but, it is still incredible. With some more energy left in you, cross the street to Stoneman Meadow for some star-gazing.
On the third day, before starting your trip to your next destination, find time to visit Happy Isles Trailhead for “The Fen”. If it isn’t possible just have a relaxing walk along the meadows and enjoy the breathtaking view.
Save the best for last is what they say and you’ll surely get it. San Francisco is the third and last place to visit in California before heading back to LA on this suggested itinerary. Spending four days in the city is definitely not enough because you’ll surely fall in love with the place, but, it pretty much cover everything that you wanted to see. Unlike LA, San Francisco is very tourist friendly and it’s easy to get around. It’s a little expensive, though. Visit this link on how you can Visit San Francisco on a Budget.
You’ll arrive in San Francisco presumably in the afternoon or early evening, so, after checking in at your hotel, head straight to Union Square. Union Square is at the center of all the action with lots of restaurants and shopping stalls. For a cheap dinner, walk just a couple of blocks to Chinatown, one of the biggest in all America.
Your second day is the highlight of your San Francisco tour because you’ll bike the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to Sausalito. Start early and rent a bike at one of the biking rentals in Fisherman’s Wharf. The bike to Golden Gate bridge will let you pass some of the tourist spots in the city like, Palace of Fine Arts, Fort Point, and Crissy Field. Pass through the bridge and visit the tiny, but beautiful town of Sausalito. Biking the Golden Gate is an adventure you’ll definitely remember. For the account of our biking experience, read it here: Biking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Upon arrival at the Pier from Sausalito, continue biking to Embarcadero and visit Pier 39 and Ferry Building. After a one full day and upon the return of your bikes, savor the sumptuous taste of clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. It is definitely a must.
For your third day, join and visit the Alcatraz Island. This famous used-to-be-a-prison is featured many times on movies, documentaries, tv series, and history books, so, it’s time to finally see it. The rock offers an audio tour that has actual recordings from the prison and will guarantee to give you chills. After the tour, head straight to Golden Gate Park for some afternoon relaxation. Alternatively, you may go to Alamo Square to visit the famous, Painted Ladies.
On your fourth day, visit Lombard Street, the Coit Tower, and the financial district. Lombard Street is the popular crooked street and is a must when in San Francisco.
For your return trip to Los Angeles, public bus is available almost 24 hours. You may also take a flight for as low as $60. That’s quite convenient and less hassle. Less than 2 hours and you’re back in LA.
You are almost at the end of your Californian tour, so take it slow. Spend the rest of your visit at Santa Monica. Palms trees, the beach side, the sands, and perfect weather will be your best company to cap your amazing tour.
Rent a bike and stroll Santa Monica all the way to Venice Beach and just be entertained by local entertainers. Take this moment to people watch and just simply enjoy this wonderful part of LA.
Before leaving LA make sure that you have done everything in your mind, like, eating at In and Out Burger. For some other things you can do, read here: Top Things to Do in Los Angeles.
Remember that this is only a suggested itinerary to help you start-up your plans. Feel free to swap days and destinations and feel free to add some more. Remember, different people, different interests, do whatever your most interested with and you’ll surely have fun. California is a great state and a visit here is something you will never ever forget.
Sorry for the long post, and have fun! For any other suggestions, feel free to say it on the comments section below.