Sponsored Content

The Ultimate Trip Ideas for Travelers in California

Plan a dream vacation in sunny California to suit all types of interests.

Waves crashing dramatically at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Photo by Kevin Wolf

California’s abundance includes the many ways to fully immerse in its diverse cultures and incredible topography. The Golden State is as much made for deep dives into iconic cities and towns as it is for road trips, all the better to soak up the natural beauty and see and taste the bounty of this rich land.

Whether planning for a group of friends, a romantic getaway for two, or an escape with the kids in tow, an incredible trip awaits. These select itineraries will help inspire the trip of a lifetime. You’ll find even more to get your wheels turning in the comprehensive new guidebook by Visit California in partnership with AFAR, Extraordinary California: The Ultimate Luxury Travel Planning Guide.

Food and Wine, From Northern California to the Central Coast

Food and beverage around a poolside lounge chair at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern

Dine poolside at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern

Courtesy of Auberge Resorts Collection

Amazing culinary and wine regions throughout California make it a haven for gourmands. Get a taste of what’s in store with curated journeys through the celebrated Wine Country of Northern California and the Central Coast.

During a four-day stay in Northern California, tour the neighboring wine countries of Napa and Sonoma. Rent a convertible to be surrounded by the stunning scenery or, to truly focus on the wines and beauty, leave the driving to Pure Luxury. Start in the town of Napa, with its coffeehouses, galleries, and wine-tasting rooms.

Going north up the valley, rolling fields of grapevines define the Yountville area. Reserve a table far ahead at the French Laundry, a destination perennially awarded three Michelin stars. Next, spend a leisurely day visiting the wineries in rural Rutherford. Close to St. Helena, Alila Napa Valley has an intimate collection of rooms and suites central to historic wineries, including the vaunted vines of Beringer Vineyards.

Two people drinking wine and viewing a sunset on a wooden porch overlooking the Sonoma coast

The Sonoma coast

Photo by David H. Collier, courtesy of Visit California

Head west into Sonoma County for the final two days, where the rolling hills bordering the Napa Valley become ever greener as you explore the Russian River Valley. Just north of historic Sonoma, the mannered Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa hosts guests in an elegant mission-style resort. Near a river bend in Forestville, the Farmhouse Inn has a rich history as a working ranch, and today incorporates a Michelin-starred restaurant and a 24-hour pool.

Check out local wineries like Truett Hurst, a model of sustainable viticulture, and Flowers Vineyards, featuring one of the region’s most attractive tasting rooms, set amid fields of flowers. Then stand in wonder at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and continue up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), stopping to sample superbly fresh oysters and crab.

Travelers can also take a five-day tour of Central Coast Wine Country to taste star vintages in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo before heading to the Santa Ynez Valley and capping it all off in Santa Barbara, the epitome of relaxed luxury. Between SLO CAL (short for San Luis Obispo County, California) and Santa Barbara County—which includes the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Lompoc Valley—there are over 500 wineries, making this part of the state an oenophile’s dream.

Starting in Paso Robles, hit up family-run Daou, which champions bordeaux grapes, for sweeping hilltop views. To enjoy California fare at its finest, reserve ahead for the six-course tasting menu at In Bloom. At night, head to The Piccolo, a four-story boutique hotel with personalized service.

Hearst Castle flanked by palm trees

Hearst Castle

Photo by Catalina Johnson/Unsplash

Next head to San Luis Obispo. Along the coast of San Simeon, the legendary Hearst Castle embodies luxurious living at its zenith. Stop for an oceanfront tasting at the Hearst Ranch Winery. The modern Hotel Cerro nearby boasts a much sought-after penthouse.

Day three takes you to the Santa Ynez Valley, a delightfully rural region of family farms, boutique wineries, and timeless, walkable towns. More than 50 tasting rooms line the charming streets of Los Olivos. Stay at Auberge Resorts Collection’s The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, a new lodge in a setting that dates to the 1800s.

Round out the trip with a two-day stop in stylish, sun-kissed Santa Barbara. Delight in the oceanfront suites at the mission-style Ritz-Carlton Bacara, which has a spa, multiple pools and restaurants, and paths to the beach.

Nature and wellness in the High Sierras and Big Sur

Blue skies and clouds over the Yosemite valley.


Photo by Mick Haupt/Unsplash

Here are two spectacular journeys—one inland and one along the coast—to revel in the great outdoors and take in the healing power of nature. On a road trip through the Sierra Nevada, you’ll encounter raw beauty and luxurious style. The High Sierras beckon visitors in winter and summer, especially the brilliantly blue waters of Lake Tahoe and crystalline pools around Mammoth Lakes. It’s a wonderland of great adventure in the great outdoors, where the ski season can span three seasons, from fall through spring.

Awesome hiking and fishing are just two of the draws outside of winter. Start at the historic town of Truckee. Surrounded by jutting peaks, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is in the heart of Northstar California Resort, the vast skiing and outdoor adventure center on the slopes of Mount Pluto. Lifts run right from the hotel entrance.

Further south, explore the bucolic villages of Tahoe Vista and Dollar Point. Rent a classic lake cruiser made from varnished wood and explore the pine-tree-fringed shoreline. For dinner, Christy Hill in Tahoe City serves French-inspired fare on unbeatable lakefront tables. West of the lake, Olympic Valley lies at the base of the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, where Palisades Tahoe is known for world-class activities year-round.

From Lake Tahoe, follow the crest of the Sierra south on Highway 395 to Yosemite National Park, taking in rushing rivers and stunning scenes of absolute solitude along the way. Spend the night in the celebrated 1927 hotel, The Ahwahnee, before your final day, when you’ll bask in the unforgettable vistas of indigo waters reflecting the High Sierra at Mammoth Lakes. Ride to the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain and gaze out at the miles-long views. The year-round trekking—by foot, mountain bike, or skis—is always first-rate.

For a coastal adventure, experience the epic beauty of Monterey and Big Sur on a four-day tour. Get behind the wheel of a vintage roadster or luxury cruiser to explore this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping for tide pools, waterfalls, boutique resorts, and wineries, and nearly 20 Michelin-recognized restaurants in the region.

Begin in coastal Carmel-by-the-Sea in the Monterey Peninsula with its galleries, luxury shopping, and fine dining featuring ingredients sourced locally from land and sea. Reserve well in advance for tables at Aubergine and Chez Noir, which earned a Michelin star in 2023. Check into recently opened boutique hotels Villa Mara Carmel or Le Petit Pali at 8th Ave. Next spend time exploring Carmel Valley, where you can fill your day with yoga, self-enrichment, and golf on the 500 acres of Carmel Valley Ranch.

Two women pear picking in Big Sur

Pear picking in Big Sur

On your third day begin the classic 90-mile drive south on the PCH from Monterey through Big Sur to San Simeon, which curves between the Santa Lucia Mountains and steep ocean cliffs that frame churning Pacific waters. The region is known for its secluded resorts, where the outdoors blends seamlessly with guests’ well-being. At Alila Ventana Big Sur, supremely comfortable suites seemingly mesh with nature. Book one with a private hot tub. Savor a three-hour, prix-fixe menu in the hotel’s Glass House, gazing out from the ocean’s edge. Or check in to the renowned Big Sur resort, the Post Ranch Inn, featuring rooms that offer a range of panoramas—ocean, forest, and mountain.

Family fun in Orange County

What better place to frolic on the shore with the family than the SoCal beaches of Orange County (The OC)? Kick off the adventure at Disneyland in Anaheim, and take in its latest sensation, the recently added Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Next door, Disney’s California Adventure offers its own thrills. (Pro tip: avoid the crowds with an official VIP Tour Guide.) Right across from the park, the Westin Anaheim has suites with balconies and views of the Magic Kingdom.

On day two, explore Huntington Beach, known for its historic pier extending 1,850 feet over the Pacific. For another quintessentially OC experience on the water, consider a yacht rental at Newport Harbor. Book Balboa Bay Resort, where rooms feature nautical vibes and guests can rent sailboats or get lessons on the channel. Nearby, one of The OC’s top restaurants, Costa Mesa’s Vaca, specializes in Spanish cuisine with Japanese twists.

Finish off the trip along the southern coast, where the picturesque communities of Laguna Beach and Dana Point are home to dozens of beaches, a phenomenal food scene, miles and miles of hiking trails, and gracious places to stay. Originally founded by artists who were drawn to the pure, seaside light, Laguna Beach today boasts over 100 galleries and artists’ studios. Go whale-watching with expert guides from Dana Wharf Whale Watching and spot blue, humpback, or gray whales on their annual migrations.

Learn more about incredible Golden State experiences to fill an itinerary through Extraordinary California.

Visit California
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR