Ten spectacular ways to see California, from road trips to epic hikes.
1. Grand tour
Covering 1,800 miles (2,900km) to take in the state highlights in under a fortnight may sound daunting but driving is relaxing and the itinerary offered by Freedom America has built-in recovery time. Two-night stays are scheduled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Las Vegas, in an action-packed tour that also takes in the resort of Monterey and National Parks of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon as well as San Diego near the Mexican border.
California Dreaming from £1,529 for 13 nights, room only, including car hire. Excludes flights. Year-round. Freedom America (freedomamerica.co.uk).
2. Gourmet cycling
If you like to earn your indulgences, the undulating countryside and quiet roads of the Californian winelands are a great destination for gourmet cyclists. Activity specialist Macs Adventure combines luxurious hotels with opportunities to eat in excellent restaurants and sample the zinfandels, pinot noirs and cabernets on a circular tour. The route takes in the valleys of Carneros, Alexander and Napa (including the 29-mile/47km Silverado trail), plus the wine centres of Healdsburg and Occidental.
Cycle California Wine Country from £1,936 B&B for seven nights incl bike hire. Excludes flights and transfers. March to November. Macs Adventure (macsadventure.com).
3. Roaming in a motorhome
The smallest vehicle offered by US specialist, My America Holiday, measures 19ft and is narrow enough to fit into a car parking space. It accommodates two adults and a child but larger vehicles are available that sleep up to seven. Rentals start in Los Angeles, taking in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the cities of Carmel, San Francisco and San Diego with recommended camping grounds en route.
Southern California Highlights motorhome self-drive holiday from £685 per person for 11 nights including motorhome hire. Excludes flights and transfers. Year-round. My America Holiday (myamericaholiday.co.uk).
4. Coastal road trip
Drive California Highway 1, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway. An itinerary from San Francisco to Santa Monica, organised by long haul operator Wexas, takes in the best of this exceptionally beautiful coastline including the Big Sur, a rugged stretch between Carmel and San Simeon. Tour Hearst Castle, the flamboyant home of a publishing magnate built in 1919, and pause in Cambria to spot sea lions basking by the water’s edge.
Pacific Coast Highway Tour from £1,525, room only, for 10 nights including car hire and flights. Excludes transfers. Year-round departures with Wexas (wexas.com).
5. Lakes and national parks
California’s inland scenery is every bit as spectacular as its coast. All is revealed on a fortnight’s fly-drive itinerary with countrywide specialist, Frontier America. This takes in the Napa Valley and the region’s capital Sacramento. There’s time to try some watersports at Lake Tahoe or hike in the surrounding mountains before exploring the Eldorado National Forest and gold rush towns of Sonora and Columbia. Yosemite National Park and a trip down Highway 49 are further highlights.
California Lakes and Mountains from £3,295, for 14 nights, room only, including car hire, flights and transfers. June to September. Frontier America (frontier-america.co.uk).
6. Whale-watching and nature tours
Humpback whales, dolphins, elephant seals and sea otters are among the rich variety of sealife in Monterey Bay, off the Californian coast. Based in a family-run hotel in the Carmel Valley, wildlife specialist Naturetrek offers at least four half-day boat excursions into the bay plus bird-watching trips to spot rare species including the yellow-billed magpie and endangered Californian condor.
Whales and Dolphins of Monterey Bay from £3,595 for eight nights including flights, transfers and all meals. Departs August and September. Naturetrek (naturetrek.co.uk).
7. Hiking in the High Sierra
Not for the faint-hearted, California’s 214-mile (344km) trek, named after the Scottish-American naturalist and wilderness campaigner, John Muir, takes in the high peaks and passes of the region’s Sierra Nevada mountain ridge. Grand American Adventures offers a three-week guided itinerary that starts with an ascent of 14,505ft Mount Whitney and finishes in the Yosemite National Park. Participants carry their own luggage plus a share of camping equipment and food.
The John Muir Trail from £2,799 for 22 nights full board. Excludes flights and transfers. July to September. Grand American Adventures (grandamericanadventures.com).
8. Rail explorer
The Amtrak service from Oakland, near San Francisco, to San Diego makes the train a viable option for exploring the Californian coast. Just America has a flexible itinerary that can combine organised excursions to the wine regions, Monterey Bay or to Yosemite National Park by road. It features two nights in Los Angeles to take in Universal Studios or a city tour.
California Coast by Train from £1,800 for 14 nights including flights and some breakfasts. Excludes transfers. September and October. Just America (justamerica.co.uk).
9. Tasting in the winelands
The key wine-producing regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley are the focus for this self-drive tour from tailor-made specialist American Sky. After three nights in San Francisco, it’s an hour’s drive north, past giant redwood forests and along the shores of San Pablo Bay, to the vineyards. Cycle hire, kayaking on the Napa River and an excursion on the Napa Valley wine train are among optional activities on offer.
Enjoy San Francisco and the California Winelands Self-Drive from £1,449 for seven nights, room only, including car hire and flights. Convertible car upgrade £89. June to October. American Sky (americansky.co.uk).
10. Family theme park adventure
The cities, resorts and parks of California offer fabulous family activities and fun. Bon Voyage has an itinerary that combines three nights in San Francisco (the Alcatraz Island tour, interactive museums and a cable car ride) with Lake Tahoe (kayaking, mountain-biking and stargazing) and Yosemite National Park (hikes, mule rides and gold-panning). The fortnight wraps up in Los Angeles for Universal Studios, Disneyland or surfing on Santa Monica beach.