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: Big Sur
18 days, add: Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam
20 days, add: more of the Central Coast (choose from: Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, Solvang, Pismo Beach, and San Luis Obispo)
24 days, add: San Diego/Tijuana
28 days, add: either Oregon, specifically Crater Lake and the Columbia Gorge, or Sequoia and King’s Canyon
32 days, add: if Oregon above, then Seattle and Mt Rainier, if not, then either more sites around the Grand Canyon (Zion/Bryce/Antelope/Marble/Glen Canyons, Sedona, Horseshoe Bend), Death Valley, or Palm Springs and Joshua Tree

And there’s still so much more: the Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic, the rest of the Sierra Nevadas (Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake, Devils Postpile, Mammoth, Mt Whitney), the rest of the desert (Sagauro, Petrified Forest, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Lake Havasu), the rest of the Pacific Northwest (the Olympic Peninsula, the Northern Cascades, Vancouver, Whistler, 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) 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


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 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 southwestern roadtrip.

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

Again, start in Flagstaff, then 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) 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, take tours/tour buses from each destination’s closest city.



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 also goes south 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:



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