Emerging from the wilderness and tiny towns of the last few days of your journey into the mass of urbanity that is Los Angeles
may come as a bit of a culture shock (or a relief, depending on your point of view) but you don’t have to be in LA long to begin to acclimatize to its unique blend of laid-back beachy vibe and big city bustle. Even more visitor friendly than Los Angeles is San Diego
, a city that enjoys near constant sunshine and is packed with world-class entertainment opportunities. These two cities offer you the opportunity to end your road trip with a bang or wind down and relax for the final leg of your journey. It’s up to you!
*If, on the other hand, you'd prefer to flip this road trip on its head, it's as easy as picking up your RV rental from San Diego or Los Angeles.
The City of Angels first made a name for itself internationally thanks to the wide reaching influence of Hollywood, and the glow of the silver screen still lingers in this city. However, there’s far more to LA than just the booming movie business. This place is bursting with amazing things to see and do, most of which have very little to do with Hollywood attractions.
The fastest way to immerse yourself in LA culture is to visit the city’s beaches. These aren’t merely places to sunbathe and catch a wave or two - the beaches in Los Angeles are small worlds all of their own, displaying a wildly diverse cross-section of humanity. If you’re hunting for the absolute best beach for people watching, a trip to Venice Beach is in order. Walking along the Venice Boardwalk you’ll encounter jugglers and magicians, rollerskaters and cyclists, bodybuilders and gym bunnies - an ever shifting human kaleidoscope. For those hunting for something a little more family friendly than the eccentricities of Venice, Santa Monica is a great option. Head over to Santa Monica Pier where you’ll find Pacific Park, a fun place for kids and adults alike featuring an historic 1920’s carousel, a trapeze school and a solar powered Ferris wheel among many other attractions. The Pier has an exuberant, almost carnival like atmosphere which makes it ideal for a fun family outing. To find a beach that’s more suited to swimming and relaxing on the sand, look no further than Zuma Beach. While the waves may not be quite up to spec for the discerning surfer, they’re perfect for body surfers and boogie boarders. Just be aware that this broad sandy beach often will get fairly crowded on weekends and holidays.
To experience an entirely different side to Los Angeles, you have to visit Huntington Library. Fans of literature and history will have a field day here: the library contains one of the original Gutenberg Bibles (the first books ever to be printed) along with very early copies of both Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s not literary treasures that bring most people to Huntington Library however. The library is surrounded by 120 acres of botanical gardens featuring a multitude of themes - this is the major draw for most visitors to Huntington. You don’t have to be a plant fanatic to appreciate the remarkably diverse beauty of this place. There’s something for everyone here: a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Children’s Garden, a carnivorous plants wing - walking through the many environments of the Huntington Botanical Gardens will not only leave you in awe of the artisanship and natural beauty on display but also refreshed and invigorated. Of all the things to do in Los Angeles, this is perhaps the best for the soul.
Los Angeles has the largest Latino population out of any city in the United States, numbering 5.8 million, so it’s fair to say that this community has had a huge influence on LA’s culture. To immerse yourself in a fun Hispanic experience, the best place to go is Olvera Street. Many of the houses along this street have survived from the 1800’s, but the buildings aren’t what makes this one of the most iconic Los Angeles tourist attractions. The tree lined open air marketplace along Olvera Street evokes a romantic vision of old Mexico - mariachi bands, roving troubadours and traditional dancers add to the distinctive atmosphere, and the food is mouth wateringly good. Far closer to real Mexican cuisine than anything you’d find most restaurants, these dishes are packed with flavour. If you’re not too big on spicy food though, you may want to proceed with caution.
Of course, no guide to Los Angeles attractions could be complete without a mention of its most famous destination: Disneyland. Although the Disney brand has spread far and wide, with theme parks popping up across the globe, the original park retains a nostalgic charm that the others lack. This isn’t a place for adrenaline-pumping rides so older kids may find something like Six Flags Magic Mountain more to their taste, but younger ones (and even adults) are likely to get caught up in the magic of the place. If you can avoid visiting Disneyland during the summer holidays, it’s best to do so - the weather in Los Angeles is pretty decent all year round, but the crowds that flock to Disneyland in summertime are enormous. A visit during spring, fall or winter means less shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling and far shorter lines.
LA is known worldwide as the global epicenter for movie-making, so it would be a shame to miss out on film-related fun while you’re in town. Universal Studios is a mecca for movie buffs - catch a glimpse of props and set from some of your favourite films on their famous backlot tour and throw yourself into the fun side Universal Studios with their theme park rides. A great place to go when you don’t want to spend a lot of money is Universal CityWalk, located just outside Universal Studios. You don’t have to pay a cent to visit and while the shops that line the promenade aren’t really anything special, the street performers that frequent the CityWalk transform this into a prime nightlife location.
When you just need a rest from the hectic pace of the big city, Santa Catalina Island is waiting. It’s hard to believe that this island lies within Los Angeles County - a visit here will leave you feeling as if you’re a world away. A small slice of the Mediterranean just off the coast of LA, Catalina is the ideal spot to regain a slower pace of life and luxuriate in the natural charms of Southern California. Bring your snorkel along to spot bright orange schools of Garibaldi, numerous in the Catalina waters, or jump aboard a glass bottom boat tour to see shipwrecks and reefs from an eminently comfortable vantage point. You’re quite likely to spot flying fish too, especially if you take a boat tour of the island - these intriguingly bizarre creatures are a common sight here. To get to Catalina Island, you’ll have to take a ferry from San Pedro, Long Beach or Dana Point.
The City of Angels will always have more for you to discover but at a certain point you’ll have to tear yourself away from this place to head toward your very last destination.
A little under an hour and a half after you leave Los Angeles behind you, you’ll come across the Spanish influenced beach city of San Clemente. If you feel the need to break up the journey from LA to San Diego you couldn’t ask for a nicer place in which to do it. Even if you aren’t planning on spending long in the city, it’s worth heading down to the San Clemente Pier. This is a far cry from from the flashy attractions of Santa Monica Pier, but this peaceful place blessed with sea breezes is the perfect spot to enjoy a bite to eat and catch a bit of invigorating fresh air. Walking San Clemente’s beach trail is another popular activity for visitors and locals alike - pick your own pace, decide how long you want your walk to be and soak up the rays. Starting from the pier, it won’t take you long to come across a range of beautiful beach spots but even if you only have time for a very short stroll this is still well worth it.
From San Clemente it’s only a little more than an hour’s drive down to the sunny city of San Diego.
Described as having one of the two best summer climates in the entire nation, San Diego is a popular vacation destination for both Californian residents and folk from across the country. Even if you don’t arrive in the peak of summertime, you’re likely to hit good weather unless you visit in May or June, when thick ‘marine layer’ cloud cover will often blanket the skies above the city. Not only is the weather here superb, San Diego has taken full advantage of this natural blessing to provide holidaymakers with a huge variety of ways to enjoy their time in the sun.
Like many summer vacation spots, San Diego is renowned for its beaches. Many visitors get so caught up in the city’s theme parks and other attractions that its beaches get unfairly overlooked - make sure you don’t do same. Not only can you play San Diego’s beaches, there’s also the chance to stay at one: Silver Strand State Beach is a fantastic place to park up your RV and enjoy seaside views and extremely easy access to the beach. As always, book well in advance to guarantee a place. One of the most acclaimed beaches in San Diego is La Jolla, a place of gentle waves, soft sand and plenty of grassy areas to picnic on. Arguably the best beach to bring the family, La Jolla is perfect for just hanging out and relaxing. If you’re keen to catch some waves, you’ll have more luck at Tourmaline Surfing Park, a San Diego North Country beach that is considered something of a gem amongst locals. There are even designated areas for swimmers and surfers to avoid any hassles or unfortunate accidents.
There’s no denying that the San Diego coastline is stunning, but to actually get a good look at some of the ocean’s most amazing creatures, your best bet is SeaWorld. One of the world’s most well known marine animal theme parks, SeaWorld is famous for its killer whale shows, but they’re far from the only creatures you can see here. Penguins, polar bears, walruses and five species of dolphins are among the many species you can find at SeaWorld. Be sure to check out a few of the spectacular shows on offer - if you plan ahead a little, you might even find yourself diving into experiences like swimming with dolphins.
If you had to pick just one place to visit in San Diego, choosing Balboa Park would be a pretty good way of cheating. This 1,200 acre urban cultural park contains more than a dozen museums, several restaurants, myriad gardens and greenspaces, and the whole of San Diego Zoo. The Zoo itself is home to more than 3,700 animals from 650 different species and is a great place for a family adventure on the wild side. You’ll have the option of taking a guided tour bus, trying out the overhead ‘Skyfari’ gondola lift or simply making your own way around the zoo - either way, you’re sure to be astounded by the diverse menagerie all around you.
Don’t leave San Diego without visiting the USS Midway Museum, especially if military history tickles your fancy. The museum consists of the Midway, America’s longest serving aircraft carrier, in service from 1945 to 1992. A self guided tour narrated by former Midway sailors will lead you through many of the different sections of the ship - there’s even the possibility to climb into the cockpits of some aircraft and try out a flight simulator to get a feel for what it’s like to take off from an aircraft carrier.
San Diego is the final stop on this itinerary but that doesn’t mean that your journey has to end here. The wonderful thing about taking an RV road trip in America is that there’s always somewhere new and exciting to go. Regardless, this journey from San Francisco to San Diego will undoubtedly inspire you to plan many more amazing RV adventures for the future.