California in 7 Days – Itinerary

Dive into the best of California in just seven days with our comprehensive guide! Written by our California resident Sonja, this article takes you on a journey, starting from either the vibrant city of Los Angeles or the scenic San Francisco.

If starting from Los Angeles, spend your first three days exploring the iconic beaches, Hollywood, and Griffith Park before heading to Disneyland for a magical experience. Venture out to Palm Springs or Laguna Beach for some artistic flair and end your trip with two days in San Francisco soaking in the iconic landmarks.

For those starting in San Francisco, discover the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz before delving into the culture of Chinatown. Explore Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley’s vineyards, marvel at the majestic Redwood Trees, and relax in Half Moon Bay. Conclude your trip in the city of Los Angeles.

Whichever route you choose, you will experience stunning spots and local attractions, making this a versatile guide that offers something for every traveler. Dive in for detailed insights, local tips, and tailored recommendations that will help you make the most of your California visit.

Enjoy the trip of a lifetime with this thorough and thoughtful itinerary!

Do You Need a Car for 7 Days?

You don’t need a car during your whole 7-day trip. Especially when staying in San Francisco or Los Angeles, it’s possible to reach surrounding attractions via booked tours as a day trip.

Of course, some places are more convenient to reach with a car. We recommend

7 Days in California | Overview

A seven-day trip in California will give you time to see Los Angeles, Disneyland, Palm Springs, and San Francisco, starting in LA. If you start in San Francisco, a one-week itinerary covers the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Napa Valley, Redwood Trees, and Los Angeles.

  • Car Rental: You need a rental car on certain days when starting from LA (see the full itinerary in the middle of the article for details). From San Francisco, you don’t need a car, as you can/should book a day tour to Napa Vally (Day 3). That’s much easier and cheaper than renting a car.

Our California residents have written two seven-day itineraries, starting in Los Angeles and San Francisco:

7 Days from Los Angeles

  • Days 1-2: Beaches, Hollywood, and Griffith Park
  • Day 3: Echo Park and Downtown LA
  • Day 4: Disneyland
  • Day 5: Palm Springs or Laguna Beach
  • Days 6-7: San Francisco

7 Days from San Francisco

  • Days 1-2: Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz
  • Day 3: Chinatown
  • Day 4: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley
  • Day 5: Redwood Trees and Half Moon Bay
  • Days 6-7: Los Angeles

7 Days in California | Detailed Itinerary

7 Days from Los Angeles

A week in Los Angeles is a perfect length of time to explore the city for three days, visit Disneyland, take a day trip to Palm Springs or Laguna Beach, and end your California stay with two days in San Francisco.

Transportation/Rental Car: You’ll need a rental car on Days 4-5 (Disneyland and other day trips). Otherwise, you can fly on Days 6-7 (San Francisco trip) and take public transportation or ride sharing on Days 1-3. However, you can use a rental car for the whole trip, of course, if it’s more convenient for you.

Days 1-2: Beaches, Hollywood, and Griffith Park

No visit to Los Angeles would be complete without visiting Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Hollywood. We also recommend Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, which offers the city’s best views.

We’ve outlined these visits above in our five-day LA itinerary. This seven-day itinerary includes a few additions, including a third day exploring the city.

Alternative Day1: Instead of Griffith Observatory or spending too much time in Hollywood itself, spend one day at Universal Studios.

Universal Studios are incredible. As if you are in a movie! Every ride is amazing. The best ones are: The Mummy, Jurassic Park, and Transformers. It is a really unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tip: One day is enough, but definitely choose the express ticket option. Otherwise, you have to wait in line for every ride and show.

Day 3: Echo Park and Downtown LA

If you’re more of an urbanite, we recommend visiting Echo Park and Downtown Los Angeles (“DTLA”). Start with a morning stroll around the charming Echo Lake. You can also rent a swan boat to paddle around in the water for half an hour. Pick up a coffee, then head a couple of miles away to DTLA.

DTLA has classic attractions like Grand Central Market, The Broad art museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Bradbury Building, Angels Flight Railway, Union Station, and Olvera Street. Most of these sites are free.

And if you’re still in DTLA for the evening, have dinner with a view at one of the many rooftop bars (e.g., Broken Shaker, Upstairs at the Ace, Perch). Take a Metro train directly to a Downtown LA stop like Union Station for a complete urban adventure.

Day 4: Disneyland

Disneyland is an expensive but memorable Southern California day trip. We’ve listed more tips for your visit to Disneyland above, but the best suggestion is to get there as early as possible, ideally before opening time.

Day 5: Palm Springs or Laguna Beach

You’ll need a car to visit Palm Springs, the charming desert city located a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles. You may also consider Laguna Beach, one of the most beautiful beach towns in Southern California, which is approximately a one-hour drive south of LA.

In the winter, we recommend Palm Springs and Laguna in the summer. Both are small, artistic communities with many art galleries, lush palm trees, and excellent restaurants.

In Palm Springs, we recommend taking the aerial tram up to Mt. San Jacinto for a couple of hours, where you can build snowmen in the winter. In Laguna Beach, we recommend trying stand-up paddling or snorkeling in the peaceful coves.

Days 6-7: San Francisco

We’ve already written up a San Francisco itinerary that includes the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Alcatraz Island, Ghirardelli Square, and cable cars. Remember to fly to San Francisco from Los Angeles with one-way tickets typically costing $50.

7 Days from San Francisco

A week in San Francisco will give you enough time to see the city for three days, visit Napa Valley, explore the coastal forest of Central California, and complete your California stay in Los Angeles.

  • Transportation/Rental Car: You don’t need a rental car for this itinerary. On days 4-5 (Los Angeles trip), you can fly and take public transportation or ride-sharing on Days 1-2. For Napa Valley, you can book a day tour. However, you can use a rental car for the whole trip, of course, if it’s more convenient for you.
Days 1-2: Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz

You’d regret visiting San Francisco without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. In our five-day itinerary, we also recommended seeing the Palace of Fine Arts, taking a cable car, exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, and taking a tour of Alcatraz prison island.

This seven-day itinerary includes a few additions, including another day in San Francisco, exploring Chinatown.

Day 3: Chinatown

Unlike other Chinatowns in the U.S., San Francisco’s Chinatown is distinctive for several reasons. First, it is the oldest Chinatown in North America. Second, it is the largest Chinese population outside Asia.

Start by visiting the Dragon’s Gate, then walk to Portsmouth Square, where you’ll see people playing mah-jong or practicing tai-chi. You’ll see many art murals and temples along the way. You’ll also walk by many Chinese shops and restaurants, such as the famous House of Nanking.

Day 4: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

With a limited time in the Bay Area, you should visit Napa Valley, only an hour away. We’ve written some tips for a day trip to Napa above in our five-day itinerary.

Tip: Book a tour that includes Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. It’s hassle free, with excellent guides and an awesome experience. However, you are free to do it on your own of course.

Day 5: Redwood Trees and Half Moon Bay

If you’ve already rented a car to see Napa Valley, keep it for today. Few things are as remarkable as the ancient Redwood forests of the Bay Area. You can see these trees almost everywhere.

We particularly loved Big Basin Redwoods State Park, though this park was destroyed in the 2020 wildfires. So, we recommend somewhere less-visited for this day trip: the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

Environmental activists created this nature preserve to protect the Redwood trees. Fortunately, this preserve is not crowded. Consider hiking part or all of this 4-mile North Ridge trail through a redwood grove overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Then, drive to Half Moon Bay, a sleepy tourist town on the beach. Best of all, you won’t go more than an hour each way to and from San Francisco.

Days 6-7: Los Angeles

Once you’ve seen the Bay Area for a few days, you can fly to Los Angeles and visit LA’s beaches and urban lights. We’ve outlined a few things to do in our seven-day LA itinerary above, and we recommend that you at least see the beaches, Hollywood, and Griffith Observatory.

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