How to do Los Angeles: The Bigger Picture

Following my Los Angeles and California Top 20, for the next post in my How to do Los Angeles series I’m skipping to the end, to the bigger picture.

There’s so much to see in this world, and that’s one of the reasons I love backpacking: you see and experience more things! Instead of going to one place and doing everything, you go to many places and do the best things at each one of them. Los Angeles and its surroundings offer so much, if you’re traveling far to come here, you definitely don’t want to miss what’s nearby!

As I’ve mentioned several times in this series, Rick Steve’s does it best. One thing he does is help prioritize your journey by recommending where to go based on how many days you have to travel. So again, I’m copying his format. Here goes:

If you have 4 days, do: Los Angeles
8 days, add: San Francisco
10 days, add: Yosemite
13 days, add: the Grand Canyon
16 days, add: Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam
18 days, add: Big Sur
20 days, add: the Central Coast (choose from: Santa Barbara wine country, Hearst Castle, Solvang, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo)
24 days, add: Portland and the Columbia Gorge
28 days, add: Seattle and Mt Rainier
32 days, add: either Zion and Bryce Canyons, Sequoia and King’s Canyon, or more stops between Yosemite and Portland (Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic, Mt Shasta, Crater Lake)

And there’s still tons more: San Diego/Tijuana, the rest of Mojave (Joshua Tree, Lake Havasu, Death Valley, Palm Springs), the rest of the Sierra Nevadas (Devils Postpile, Mammoth, Bodie), the rest of the Pacific Northwest (the Olympic Peninsula, the Northern Cascades, Vancouver, Victoria), and more!

Before you go, here are some maps to help you on your journey. California is car culture. so if you’re renting a car, use the map below, which goes like this:

Start in Flagstaff, with a day or overnight camping trip to the Grand Canyon. Arizona’s Meteor Crater is also close by, so you can stop there as well. Then head to Los Angeles (via I-40, I-15, and I-10) with two quick detours, one along Route 66 in Arizona (it parallels I-40 in Las Vegas) and the second to the Hoover Dam (via US-93) and Las Vegas. From Los Angeles, head north (via SR-1 or US-101) to the central coast, through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo and near Solvang. In San Luis Obispo, take SR-1 to Hearst Castle and Big Sur. North of Big Sur, continue on SR-1 to San Francisco, then turn east (via I-580 and SR-120) to Yosemite. After Yosemite, take smaller highways (US-395, SR-89, I-5, SR-97, and SR-26) through Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic, Mt Shasta, Crater Lake, and Bend, eventually reaching Portland. From Portland head east (via I-84) through the Columbia River Gorge, then north (via SR-97, SR-12, SR-410, and I-5) to Mt Rainier and Seattle.

west coast DRIVING map

OTHER LA BASED TRIPS:

Best of California: Los Angeles to the central coast (via US-101) to Big Sur and San Francisco (via SR-1) to Lake Tahoe (via I-80 and US-50) to Yosemite (via US-395 and SR-120) to Kings Canyon (via SR-41 and SR-180) to Sequoia (via SR-198) and back to Los Angeles (via SR-65 and I-5). Throw in Disneyland and San Diego (via I-5 from Los Angeles) at the beginning or end of this trip.

So-Cal Stardom: Las Vegas to Los Angeles (via I-15 and I-10) to Disneyland to San Diego (via I-5). Palm Springs and Santa Barbara can be added to this trip as well.

The Desert Experience: Los Angeles to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree (via I-10) to Lake Havasu and the London Bridge (via SR-95) to the Grand Canyon (via I-40 and SR-64) through the west end of the Navajo Nation to Bryce Canyon (either via US-89 and SR-12 (recommended: passes Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Glen Canyon/Glen Canyon Dam, and Grand Staircase/Escalante) or via US-89, US-89A, and SR-12 (alternate: passes Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, Vermillion Cliffs, and Grand Canyon’s north rim)) to Zion Canyon (via US-89 and SR-9) to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam (via I-15) to Death Valley (via US-95, SR-394, and SR-190) and back to Los Angeles (via SR-190, US-395, SR-14, and I-5).

Best of California and The Desert Experience can also be combined (via SR-178 near Death Valley and Sequoia) for the ultimate LA based south-western road trip.

Not renting a car? For public transportation, use the following map, which goes like this:

Again, start in Flagstaff, with a day trip to the Grand Canyon. From Flagstaff, take Greyhound to Las Vegas. From Vegas, take either Greyhound or Megabus to Los Angeles. Leaving Los Angeles, you can take Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, or Megabus/Greyhound/Amtrak’s Coast Starlight (Amtrak recommended) straight to San Francisco. Take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from San Francisco to Portland and Seattle. To get to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Yosemite, the Columbia Gorge, and Mt. Rainier, simply take tours/tour buses from each destination’s closest city.

west coast PUBLIC TRANSIT MAP

PUBLIC TRANSIT DETOURS AND SHORTCUTS:

You can skip Las Vegas by taking Amtrak’s Southwest Chief straight from Flagstaff to Los Angeles. Also, in addition to going north to the central coast, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner goes south from Los Angeles to San Diego. Trains are always preferable to buses, especially in southern California where the track parallels the coast for much of its journey. For long trips (Los Angeles to San Francisco, Los Angeles to Las Vegas, San Francisco to Seattle, etc) also consider flying, companies like Southwest, Alaska, and Jet Blue often have cheap flights.

And finally, just for fun, here’s a map of everything:

EVERYTHING

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