California: Overview of San Francisco and Los Angeles

California is quite different from any other state I have visited in the continental U.S. There is diversity in all aspects: topography, language, food, ethnicity.

From my point of view, here is an outline of what you can cover in a week in two major cities—San Francisco and Los Angeles. Consult a guidebook for details. Look up reliable sources online.

A ride from the airport to the city will be expensive, between $45-$75, depending on location and traffic delays. You might want to look into a rideshare option.

Take a conducted tour because it’s an easy way to get to know a city. You can then decide where you would like to spend more time within the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

San Francisco

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay is the city of San Francisco. Plan to spend 3-4 days. This will allow you to take day trips outside of the city. Bring a light sweater or sweatshirt. You'll need it during the summer months. Warmer clothing is needed for winter. Depending on what you wish to do in the city, plan on your hotel location -- Union Square, Fisherman's Wharf, Cow Hollow, etc.

Golden Gate Bridge

Be ready for crowds on the Golden Gate Bridge during the summer months so get an early morning start. Pedestrians are allowed between sunrise and sunset, only on the East Sidewalk. The 1.7 mile span can take approximately 45-60 minutes to walk. Bicyclists are allowed on East and West Sidewalks.

Alamo Square Park

From this vantage point we see the contemporary San Francisco behind the pre-earthquake architecture. The houses in the "Postcard Row" were built between 1892 and 1896. They are painted in three or more colors to enhance its architectural details and are called "Painted Ladies."

Muir Woods National Monument

A few miles north of San Francisco is the Muir Woods National Monument. It is one of the last remaining redwood forests in the Bay Area. Some of the redwoods reach heights of more than 250 feet and are nearly 1,000 years old. Reservations for parking are required. A paved/boardwalk trail begins at the entrance plaza and leads you into the redwood forest alongside Redwood Creek. When staffing permits, rangers and volunteers present 15-minute interpretive talks and guided 1-hour tours.

On your way back to San Francisco, you might want to visit the quaint city of Sausalito.

Yosemite National Park

Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. Reservations [for vehicles not number of people] are required to enter the Park and there is an entrance fee. If you plan to stay at a lodge, camp, or backpack, make reservations in advance. Permits are required if you plan to hike to the top of Half Dome. There's a lot to do at Yosemite National Park and a 1-day visit will probably feel rushed. Make use of the free shuttle buses. Some tour operators offer overnight stay packages.

Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is located 50 miles south of San Francisco. Pigeon Point is the tallest lighthouse in the West Coast. This double-walled lighthouse supports a four-ton lens. When staffing permits, a 30-minute guided history walk is available at 1:00 p.m. I recommend a stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel [shared bathrooms with hot showers, fully-equipped kitchens, and living rooms]. Each house has male or female bunkrooms. Separate bunkrooms may be reserved for families and couples.


If you can, take a day trip to Monterey for a small-town experience, beaches, and a wide range of outdoor activities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is worth a visit but it is expensive. Check if your hotel has a pass. Cannery Row has a history of immigrants who came to work in the canneries and fisheries. Humpback whales and blue whales can be seen year-round in the Monterey Bay area.

Los Angeles

One way to approach Los Angeles is to plan your activities and stay in the same area, otherwise, you will be spending a lot of time commuting, sometimes in slow-moving traffic. Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood can take 2-3 days to visit, depending on what you wish to cover. If neither is on your itinerary, other places to visit are Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, Hollywood Walk of Fame, the iconic Hollywood sign, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, among others. You can cover these places of tourist interest in two relaxing days.

The Getty Center

The Getty Center is a favorite of mine and it's free! Neither ticket nor reservation is required but there is a parking fee. The Center offers several free tours based on architecture, garden, exhibitions, etc. There is a restaurant and café on site.


As a traveler, I am drawn to quieter locales. The big cities attracted me when I set out as a tourist in my early years. I still like to explore big cities and discover hidden gems. But, as William Least Heat-Moon said, "I like the digressive kind of traveling, where there's not a particular, set, goal."

2 Replies to “California: Overview of San Francisco and Los Angeles”

  1. Great set of travel stories. Thanks for sharing. Like your choice of WLH-M quote! I believe we grow from our travel experiences and morph into different beings.

    1. Thanks, Ritesh. I’ve enjoyed sharing the stories and hearing from people. Travel does change us in many ways.

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