We planned a 9-day trip to California for fall break and saw so much of the beautiful state in seven days + two days of travel (we live in Nashville). If you don’t mind driving, this fun California road trip itinerary will help you make memories with your family. In just over a week, we did Yosemite, Monterey, Hwy 1 and Disneyland.
California 9-Day Road Trip Itinerary
This post is to give an overview of our California road trip 9-day itinerary. In the coming weeks, I will write more specific posts about the trip. This will serve as an overview if you are planning a trip to California where you would like to visit Yosemite, Big Sur and Disneyland.
Day 1: Fly to California, then drive to Yosemite
We live in Nashville and had a 6 am flight to Fresno, as this would allow us to maximize the time change and our time in California. (Click here to book a flight on Southwest Airlines, which is the airline we flew to California.) We arrived at noon, rented a car and drove straight to Mariposa Grove to see the Sequoias. We did the 2.5-mile hike to see the Grizzly Giant, which was the best plan given our time, but we were exhausted.
We then drove into the Yosemite Valley, to our hotel the Ahwahnee.
TIP: Be sure to have your Google Maps downloaded to your phone in advance, as cell service is terrible/unavailable in Yosemite.
Days 2 – 3: Yosemite
Since many of Yosemite’s most iconic sites can be visited within the Valley, we chose to stay right in the Valley at The Ahwahnee. This allowed us to make the most of our two days at Yosemite, as many of the other places to stay are 45-75 minutes outside the Valley.
Day 4: Drive to Monterey
We departed the Ahwahnee before 9 am and started the four-hour drive to Monterey. We stopped on the way to have lunch with a friend. When we got to Monterey, we stopped at the Dennis the Menace Park. We had discussed going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but read online that it takes 3 hours to go through, so we decided to do it the next day, as everyone was tired. In retrospect, we totally should have gone on Day 4, because it only took us 90 minutes on Day 5). We stayed at this AirBNB, which was affordable and convenient.
Day 5: Monterey
We started our day with a visit to the Monarch Sanctuary, then hiked Point Lobos. We had lunch in Carmel and shopped a few of the charming local shops. In the afternoon we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and shopped on Cannery Row.
TIP: Buy a stuffed “aquarium” plush (like an Otter) at a store on Cannery Row if you want to save some money.
Day 6: Hwy 1/Big Sur
We traveled south on Hwy 1 to go to Anaheim. This drive down Big Sur is absolutely stunning. Along the way, we stopped at the iconic Bixby Bridge (pictured above), Pfieffer Big Sur State Park to see the Redwoods, and the Seals on San Simeon. We stayed at the Cambria Hotel in Anaheim, which was an easy 20 minute walk or five-minute Uber ride to the parks.
Day 7: Disneyland
We spent the day at Disneyland, arriving at the park at 7:30 and staying until dinner. We went back to the hotel at dinner time to relax a bit and eat before going back for the lights display at night. Definitely get into the park early, as it gets busier as the day goes on. Stop at the castle for a photo on the way in so that you can get that iconic shot before it is too crowded.
Also, be sure to sign into the app immediately at 7 am to try to get a spot on the Rise of Resistance ride, as this is the only way to get to do this ride. It is spectacular.
Day 8: California Adventure
We spent our second day at California Adventure, and then drove to a hotel near LAX that night.
Two days was sufficient to do much of both parks and make a lot of great memories. In my opinion, three-four days would be ideal to do everything at both parks and have a bit of down time. Our trip didn't allow for any down time and we definitely didn't get to do all the rides + enjoy our hotel pool and amenities.
Day 9: Fly home
We flew back to Nashville first thing in the morning.
It was a trip our family will never forget. I hope this gives you a good overview if you are planning a 9-day trip to California.