California is larger than many countries, which is easy to forget when you live in one as big as the US. Although I’ve made countless trips to the state over the years, the size of California never fails to amaze me.
It’s not just about the number of square miles the Golden State covers, either. California is rich in culture, cuisine and natural splendor, more than arguably any other place in North America. You could quite literally spend years here and not see everything.
Of course, most travelers measure their trips not in years (or even months), but rather how many days in California they’re able to spend. This is the spirit in which I approach today’s post.
California Isn’t a Place You Visit Just Once
Even if you’re able to spend 1 week in California, you can’t see the whole state (or anything close to it) during that time. That’s the bad news. The good news? Very few people who visit California do so only once. Personally, I’ve gone back so many times I can hardly remember, from my first trip to SoCal with my dad when I was 14, to a pair of romantic city trips earlier this year, before and after my 38th birthday.
This is in part because of the size of California, and in part because of all there is to do. While I’ve personally never visited an in-person casino in the state, many locals and tourists do, and they also may eventually enjoy use of online casinos in California as officials look to legalize internet gambling. It’s no stretch to say that California is an entertainment capital, even if you only look at theme parks. On the other hand, my focus in later years has been less about thrills and more about amazing views and meals.
Popular California Trip Ideas
Weekend in California
If you’ve only got the weekend to explore California, you won’t get very far. Focus on a city like Los Angeles or San Diego (and a day trip or two from each), or hone in on a very specific rural place, whether that’s Big Sur along the coast or Yosemite National Park farther inland.
3-5 days in California
One of the most popular answers for how many days in California you need is around 3-5 days. Like a weekend in California, this isn’t enough time to cover a lot of ground. Giving yourself up to five days, on the other hand, could allow for a short road trip, such as from LA to Palm Springs, Death Valley and/or the Joshua Tree and back.
One week in California
If you’ve got a week in California, your options really start to open up. If you don’t have a car, you can use intra-state flights and public transport to string together a tour of the major cities. If you do, on the other hand, you unlock destinations such as the captivating NorCal coast, or the vast wilderness between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.
Two weeks in California
On one hand, entertaining a timespan as long as two weeks for how long in California you should spend might seem ludicrous—this is just another US state after all. On the other hand, if you approach your trip here more like you would to one in, say, Spain or Thailand, you may be more effective at appreciating what California offers.
Long-term California travel
Most of the extremely intrepid California explorers I know live in the state, whether that means they’re from there, or are just basing themselves for a while. Having a long-term hub in a massive place like California is the key to being able to go far off the beaten path, whether you stay a few months or a few years.
Is California Worth Visiting?
California (at least within America) tends to be in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. Homelessness. Cost of living. Covid restrictions. And while all of these things are legitimately concerning, they don’t erase how amazing the state is in so many ways. Nature like Yosemite National Park. Landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge. Neighborhoods like Hollywood and the Castro. California’s culture is America’s culture, for better and for worse.
Having returned to San Francisco for the first time in many years this spring and felt humbled by how much less awful it was than I expected, I can say that you at least owe it to yourself to go to California and see it with your own eyes. Maybe you’ll hate it, and it’ll be the absolute hellhole depicted on the news. Or maybe you’ll be able to look past its flaws, and realize how much they pale in comparison to its merits as a destination.
Other FAQ About Planning a Trip to California
Is 1 week enough for California?
While you can’t see “all” of California (or anywhere close to it) in a week, a week can allow you to cover some serious ground. In Southern California, you could split a week between LA and San Diego, or even going into the desert to visit Palm Springs, Death Valley or the Joshua Tree. Heading north, you could use a week either to drive up Highway 1 to San Francisco, or traveling from SF to Yosemite or up toward Oregon.
How many days do you need for a California road trip?
This honestly depends on how far you want to drive. While you can see the most beautiful parts of Highway 1 in just a couple of days from LA or SF, the reality is that in order to do a comprehensive road trip of California, you’ll need at least a couple of weeks, and ideally a month or more. California, as I said earlier in this post, is bigger than many countries.
Is 4 days in California enough?
Four days in California is not enough to see a significant amount of the state, or realistically more than one city. What it will allow you to do is to dig deep into major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego, to hone in on a hyper-specific, more rural part of the state (such as Big Sur or Death Valley) and overall lay the groundwork for more intensive expeditions in the future.
The Bottom Line
How many days do you need in California? That depends, at least in part, on how much of the state you want to see, and whether you plan to come back. If you only have a long weekend, for example, you’re probably limited to a city excursion to San Diego, San Francisco or LA, or doing part of a famous California road trip, such as Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast. It’s only when you’re able to consider spending a week or two (or longer!) in the Golden State that a comprehensive trip comes into focus. Need personalized help planning your next California adventure? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!