California road trip: cities and nature

I was picking up a pretzel for my wife the other day (she was getting hungry while having her hair done) at the only gourmet pretzel / coffee place I know in Korea (near Sookmyung Women’s University).

I’ve been there several times, but the other day was the first time the owner spoke to me. Pretty soon he had out his Atlas and was showing me the routes of his North American road trips, which focused on National Parks. This Korean pretzel shop owner who has spent many months driving around the US and Canada inspired this California road trip that features California’s 3 National Parks and 3 most famous cities.

I think I see more than 3 on the map, but the pretzel store owner assured me there were only 3 national parks in California (46 in the 48 continental US states). Maybe someone reading this can clear that up for me?

Anyway, we start south and work our way up spending 3-5 days in each place. Now road trips are supposed to be somewhat spontaneous, but what can I do? I’m a planner. I like having reservations and itineraries all set up in advance.

San Diego

LA (2 hour drive from San Diego)

Joshua Tree National Park (3 hours from LA)

Death Valley National Park (5.5 hours from Joshua Tree — it didn’t look that far on the map!)

Yosemite National Park (4 hours from Death Valley)

San Francisco (3.5 hours from Yosemite)

This involves about 18 hours of driving and the route looks something like this. It takes a while to load but it seems to work so give it time.

Now this doesn’t include California’s most famous drive and tree, the 17 mile drive and lonely cypress. Perhaps we need to work that in somehow. And I would like to add something about what to do in each place — So far we have only the roughest of plans, not much of an itinerary really.

I was able to find these YouTube videos:

Joshua Tree:

Death Valley:

(I got bored around the 3 minute mark to be honest)


(Lots of bears!)

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  1. Kim says:

    You don’t say when you plan to travel.

    A couple of suggestions… Death Valley is awsome in the SPRING! Summers are deadly hot – Winters are miserably cold (without the fun of snow or skiing). Early fall is OK but spring is the best time of year. Death Valley to Yosemite

    4 hours. Not likely, Tioga Pass would be the travel route East to West, and under the best of circumstances it would take at least 6 hours. The pass closes at first snow which could begin any time in the fall and doesn’t reopen till May or June.

    The alternate route if the pass is closed due to snow, would be closer to 9 or 10 hours hours.

    Yosemite to me is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Unfortunatly, since Ca., is suffering through a drought, don’t expect to see those waterfalls or a swift running river. The water levels are down to just a trickle. Pray for a heavy snow and rainy season and by spring you may get a view such as those in the u-tube videos.

    The 17 mile drive is awsome. Fall and winter are best seasons for that area as the summer fog can restrict your coastal views. Be sure to spend some time in Montery and Carmel.

    Joshua Tree is high desert – I’ve been only once, but found the rock formations beautiful especially at sunrise and sunset!

    Here’s to a safe and memorable trip – when ever or where ever you go.

  2. James Trotta says:

    Thanks Kim. I had no idea when would be a good time to go so I appreciate the advice.

  3. Janene Lasswell says:

    There IS another national park in California that you missed! Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. Here you find the largest living organisms on the planet – the giant sequoia trees. This park is between Joshua NP and Yosemite NP. Sequoia-Kings Canyon NP has many things to see, easy day hikes close to visitor areas, cave tours, world-class dining and hotel at Wuksachi Lodge, and many other sights and adventures too numerous to mention. Don’t miss Cedar Grove in the Kings Canyon section of the park. In the fall it is almost deserted, has beautiful short hikes to see amazing waterfalls and meadows, great trout fishing and scenic trail rides. In some places, the canyon walls are as deep as the Grand Canyon. The valley has many incense cedar trees, hence the name Cedar Grove.

    If you google Sequoia National Park, you should get some great photos. Don’t confuse this with the lower elevation Sequoia National Forest – they are 2 different places.

    Happy travels,

    Janene Lasswell

    Three Rivers, CA

  4. Dave Wiltsee says:

    Don’t forget the National Park everyone seems to overlook: Lassen National Park located at the southern terminus of the Cascade Range. Well worth a visit, and never crowded. Volcanic activity, bubbling mud pools, and a forested northern California mountain location would contrast nicely with visits to the more popular and better known parks.

  5. Ellen says:

    You might also be interested in Redwoods National Park in far northwest California along the coast. It is very lush and green. Also Yosemite is probably best seen in the spring because the waterfalls are full then, although the fall is nice because of the colors of leaves turning.

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