Whenever I tell people I’m from California, they normally tell me all about the ‘two week California road trip’ they recently took or will be taking in the very near future. This is subsequently followed by me offering to give them tips and tricks… and here I am… finally ‘getting around to it.’
The trouble with providing recommendations for a typical California road trip is this: everyone is different. Everyone has different tastes, different interests, and different agendas about what they want to see. There’s just NO WAY I can curate a one-size-fits-all tour!
California is HUGE!! To give you some perspective (for all you Brits/Europeans), the United Kingdom is 57% the size of California. Further more,
If the state –with its 39.5 million people – was an independent country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world, according to new federal figured released on Friday – just surpassing the United Kingdom, which has a population of 65.6 million (Fortune).
Now do you see why this is so difficult?
Instead of trying to be ALL THINGS to all people, I’ve pulled together a few ‘best of’s’ for people to take advantage of by downloading my Google Maps Layer below. Because I’m from Los Angeles and regularly visit San Francisco, I focused my recommendations on these two cities. In my map, I’ve focused on:
- Popular tourist locations
- Legendary eating and drinking destinations
- Incredible cultural experiences
Two weeks is NOT enough to see the best that California has to offer. BUT, if you’re going to attempt it anyways, I’m going to provide you with a plethora of climates, cuisines, and experiences to choose from.
In case you don’t want to use this carefully created Google Maps layer that I’ve created, here is the breakdown of all the hotspots across San Francisco and Los Angeles that I think every California first-timer should check out. Let’s dive in and find out more!
Best of Los Angeles & San Francisco
There’s no getting around the fact that San Francisco is one of the best places to visit in the US. A melting pot full of different cultures, food, art, and history, it’s an amazing spot to explore and definitely worth checking out for a week or so. The only thing is that San Fran can get seriously expensive, especially when it comes to accommodation.
As it’s so close to Silicon Valley and all the tech bros have increased the average cost of living in the city, it’s now one of the most expensive places in the country. So, you might need to stay a little bit further out or splurge on accommodation to stay near the action.
I love San Francisco. There’s nowhere like it. With all the history, the hills, and the culture, once you visit once you’ll want to keep on coming back time and time again. So, what kind of things should you check out and where should you eat and drink while you’re there? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
First up, here are some of my favorite tourist attractions that every first-timer should check out. Of course, it’s not a comprehensive list and there are other attractions like Alcatraz or Wine Country that you might want to also hit up while you’re up North, but here are some must-see locations.
Golden Gate Bridge
Name a more iconic image of San Francisco than the Golden Gate Bridge. Go on, try. This colossal red suspension bridge is a legendary image of the city, so much so, that the city’s NBA team is named after it.
Many people go to the Golden Gate Bridge State Park to get their iconic shots of the bridge and their Insta-friendly selfies, but honestly, you should go to the other side of the bridge to get your footage. It’s a lot quieter and you can get views of San Francisco in the background. In fact, if you’re heading out to Wine Country, you can literally just pull over on the way out of the city and get one of the best shots of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Okay, so Fisherman’s Wharf is super touristy. There’s no avoiding that, but just take it at face value. Once you’re there you can browse the shops, check out the different bars and restaurants, and even go and visit the sea lions that call this area home. This is also the area where many of the Bay boat trips leave from, including tours out to Alcatraz.
If you’re looking for the heart of the action in San Francisco, you need to head to Union Square. Home to some of the most upscale shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants in the city, it’s the perfect place to spend the day browsing. Treat yourself to something fancy, or just chill out in a bar and watch the world go by. Union Square is a hub where everyone seemingly comes through at one point or another, so it’s definitely worth visiting.
Eating and Drinking
After a long day of exploring San Fran’s best sights and trudging up and down those mighty hills, you deserve a drink or two and a deliciously hearty meal. So, here are my favorite spots to recharge in San Francisco.
The Monk’s Kettle
If you’re into your Belgian beers then you’re going to feel right at home at this gorgeous and homey pub in the Mission District. As a comfortable and reasonable neighborhood tavern, you can get delicious pub food and take your pick from a long list of delicious beers that will keep you in the Monk’s Kettle all night long.
Emporium SF – Arcade Bar Venue
Want to have a fun night out with your friends and loved ones when you’re in San Francisco? Bring your nostalgia with you to the Emporium, an arcade bar where you can let your competitive spirit run wild as you enjoy a drink or four throughout the night. Enjoy some craft beer, and even check out the local live music acts in between games of Pacman or Mario Kart.
Commonly named as the best ice cream in the whole of San Francisco, Bi-Rite Creamery, located in the Mission district is a pastel-colored wonderland full of deliciousness. With a choice of traditional flavors alongside some weird and wacky ones like black sesame and honey lavender, you can either play it safe or go for a choice that’s a little left field. Whichever you choose, you can be safe in the knowledge that it’s going to be one of the best ice creams you ever taste. Trust me.
It’s no secret that California is home to some of the best Mexican food in the US, and Tropisueño in the center of San Francisco is no exception. By day, it’s a cool little taqueria with plenty of outdoor dining, and by night it turns into an amazing tequila and margarita bar, complete with music and a full Mexican menu. Bring your appetite and your penchant for tequila shots!
If you want to check out a cute little French bistro during your time in San Francisco, Zazie is the place to go. Whether you want a delicious brunch spot or you want a tasty dinner, this eatery, complete with an outdoor dining area, is a top option. They even have weekly Bring Your Dog dinners so that you can bring your furry best friend out to dinner with you. We love it!
Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the biggest and oldest in the entire country, so it’s no wonder that there is incredible Chinese food to be found in the city. San Tung is an institution that’s famed for its dry fried chicken wings. They’re incredible. It’s a super low-key joint that has a whole host of authentic Chinese dishes without any frills or pretentious gimmicks. It’s awesome.
If you’re after a bright and airy place to get a bite to eat, check out Marlowe, an American bistro that has tons of space, making it perfect for groups of friends. Located in the Soma neighborhood, Marlowe is full of Californian cuisine and a well-stocked, stylish bar that will keep you entertained all night long.
Everyone has a view of Los Angeles, whether you’ve been there or not. Home to megastars and wellness gurus, LA has a vibe all of its own. With the flashiness of Rodeo Drive, the stunning beach culture, and the vibrant melting pot culture of all the different LA neighborhoods, it’s a city that definitely has a lot of different sides to it.
With so much to see, do, and enjoy it can be kind of overwhelming to put together a short itinerary – especially if you’re visiting for the first time. So, take advantage of my California native wisdom, and check out these places on your visit to LA.
There is no shortage of amazing tourist attractions in LA from the Griffiths Observatory to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to the Venice Beach Boardwalk. These are all great but here are my favorites that you definitely can’t miss out on during your first trip to LA.
Santa Monica Pier
If you’re looking for fun in the sun and a quintessential LA experience, head over to the Santa Monica Pier. This is not your average fishing pier. It’s home to a ton of amusements, fairground rides, food stalls, and family-friendly fun. Ride the iconic Ferris Wheel, enjoy a hot dog, and take in the expansive views of both the mountains and the stunning Pacific Ocean.
Hollywood Walk Of Fame HQ
When you think of LA it’s difficult not to think about the Hollywood Walk of Fame. featuring over 2,500 stars throughout Hollywood on a tourist-filled route, you can wander around the area, trying to find your favorite stars of the big screen, small screen, radio, and those who make magic from behind the camera. You can find these stars all around Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, or you can just follow the hordes of people with cameras!
If you’re looking to entertain yourself while you’re in Hollywood, you need to head over to L.A. Live. It’s the hub of entertainment in the area, filled with hotels, movie theaters, bowling alleys, restaurants, and more. As such, it’s the ideal place to kick back and relax with friends or family. If you want to learn more about the history of LA’s entertainment scene, you can also find The Grammy Museum in L.A. Live. Find out more about the music scene of the US and check out memorabilia related to these iconic industry awards.
Eating and Drinking
As there are so many big hitters living and visiting the LA area, you know that there are going to be some world-class bars and restaurants that you can check out. Now, we don’t all have movie star bank balances, so here are my go-to places to eat and drink when I’m back in Los Angeles.
Who doesn’t love a stylish and fun rooftop spot? Perch is located centrally in Downtown LA and offers some of the best views of the city that you’re likely to find. Admire the view as you drink delicious handcrafted cocktails and get a bite to eat from their tasty menu of French small plates. It’s the perfect spot to welcome in the evening and watch the sun sink down over the Pacific horizon.
Love the taste of whisky? Well, then this is the place for you. With over 700 whiskies on offer and weekly whisky tastings, it’s heaven for those people who love this particular spirit. There’s also a ton of live jazz music on and even a billiards table to hustle people on if you’ve got the skills.
Manna Korean BBQ
I mean who doesn’t love Korean BBQ? Get your fill of deliciousness at this all-you-can-eat joint on Alameda. Located in the Little Tokyo Galleria, it can be a little hidden away for a restaurant, but it’s well worth the search!
Oaxaca is home to some of the best food in Mexico, so it has some of the best food in the world! This super colorful restaurant has a mole that is to die for, so it is definitely worth checking out if you want authentic Mexican food.
Yang Chow Restaurant
In the heart of LA’s Chinatown, you’ll find the amazing Yang Chow Restaurant. Home of a legendary dish unappetizingly named ‘the slippery shrimp’, it’s a popular spot with locals and tourists alike for a reason. Serving up Mandarin Szechuan Chinese Cuisine that features dishes that you may not have come across before, it’s a must-visit when you’re next in LA.
Urth Caffé – Santa Monica
If you’re into organic produce, specially-roasted coffee, and interesting selections of teas, then you’ve got to check out Urth Caffé down in Santa Monica. It’s a great shout for the health-conscious crowd as it picks out the best of the local produce and bakes its own bread, pastries, and other delights in-house. So, if you’ve had your fill of fun of the pier and want to have a bite to eat and a coffee somewhere that’s a little calmer, I’d definitely recommend Urth Caffé.
Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles
With seven different locations all across Los Angeles, it’s safe to say that you’re never too far from a Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles branch. This LA favorite serves up exactly the kind of food you’d assume – delicious soul food in unpretentious surroundings. It’s the ideal place to go and get your fill of tasty fried food, no matter where you are in the city.
So, Olvera Street is like a combination of a great place to visit, a huge series of eateries, shops, and bars, and a historic monument. Known as the birthplace of Los Angeles, Olvera Street is a Mexican marketplace, full of amazing stalls and restaurants. There isn’t just one of two places to choose from, there are dozens. You could literally spend your entire trip eating and drinking along this one street, soaking up the Mexican culture and atmosphere that emanates from this amazing part of LA.
Last on my recommendations for eating out in LA is a quick and easy Californian institution. In-N-Out Burger might be spreading across Cali and the Southwest, but LA will always be its home with five branches across the city. It’s so much more than a burger joint with even the late, great Anthony Bourdain calling it his favorite restaurant in LA. It’s that good. You’ve basically not even been to LA unless been to In-N-Out burger…
So, there are plenty of amazing places to visit, eat, and drink in during a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, especially if you’re a first-timer. These are my Cali native recommendations, but I’d love to hear some of your favorite places for the next time I’m back in one of these wonderful cities. Let me know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to check them out!