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  • Dining with a view of the vineyards at Rustic restaurant at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County, California
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    Sonoma County: Grapes, Gourmet Cheese and Ocean Views

  • Hiking trails near Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California
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    California Icon and Natural Wonder: Yosemite National Park

  • Canoeing on Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County, California
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    Madera County: The Great Outdoors Beyond Yosemite

  • Exploring the vineyards at Joseph Filippi Winery & Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga, California
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    Ontario: Laid-back Gateway to Southern California

Overlooking Bodega Bay in Sonoma County on a California road trip
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Laid-back, Offbeat, Fresh and Iconic: 4 Sides of California from North to South

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  • Route distance:
    1,060.00
  • Suggested Time:
    1-2 weeks

There’s no doubt about it – California is one of the most distinctive, iconic and diverse states in all of the USA.

Whether you’re craving adventure or relaxation, you’re bound to find it in the Golden State. Clear your calendar for this road trip through idyllic vineyards, charming towns, mountainous terrain and sweeping coastal views, to discover four unique sides of California.

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Dining with a view of the vineyards at Rustic restaurant at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County, California
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Sonoma County: Grapes, Gourmet Cheese and Ocean Views

Touch down at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), pick up a rental car and drive two hours north to Sonoma County, where you’ll discover a place to connect with the earth, nature and your companions. Enjoy this relaxed and welcoming destination that’s also known as one of the finest wine regions in the USA. Indulge in a vineyard tour and tasting; Sonoma County’s wineries offer a number of traditional and new varietals, but the area is best known for its sumptuous pinot noir and stand-out chardonnay wines. For more tasting options, check out the growing number of craft breweries and distilleries. Sonoma County is also part of the popular California cheese trail. Tour farms for a chance to meet the dairy goats and learn about the sustainable farming practices that go into creating artisanal goat cheeses and milks.

Next, immerse yourself in Sonoma’s natural beauty along the stunning Pacific Ocean coastline. Stop in Bodega Bay, where you can kayak the Pacific Ocean or climb the rocky crests to watch the sunset. While here, stop by the locations used in the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film, the Birds. If time allows, rent bicycles to tour through the backroads, vineyards and coastline. Tomorrow, you’ll venture into legendary Yosemite National Park.

300 km
4 hours by car
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Hiking trails near Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California
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California Icon and Natural Wonder: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest, most-visited and beloved national parks in the USA. With its majestic sequoia trees, imposing granite cliffs and undisturbed beauty, it’s a must-see for any traveler in the area.

Start at Mariposa Grove, a recently restored stand of 500 Giant Sequoias and home to Grizzly Giant, a monolithic Giant Sequoia estimated to be 2,000 years old. Glacier Point, a testament to the park’s ancient glacial activity, features views of Yosemite Valley and the famous Half Dome rock formation. In winter, the closure of roads due to snow makes this an enchanting playground for cross-country skiiers. When Tioga Road is open (about June to November), enjoy a scenic drive up to Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s High Sierra. The reflections of the granite cliffs and surrounding forests make for amazing photos.

A few travel tips: Visit in spring, fall or winter to enjoy cooler weather and fewer crowds. If you visit in summer, the High Sierra region beyond Yosemite Valley is cooler and less crowded. There’s so much more to see and do in the park; plan for an overnight stay in a cozy mountain cabin at Evergreen Lodge or in one the many lodging options outside the park.

115 km
2 hours by car
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Canoeing on Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County, California
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Madera County: The Great Outdoors Beyond Yosemite

You’re headed south, but take a breath; you’re not leaving the majesty of the Yosemite area behind just yet. Madera County not only offers easy access to the park, but also a range of recreation beyond its borders. With the warm California sun on your shoulders, get out for adventure on Bass Lake where all manner of water sports will entertain everyone in your group: water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming and fishing for bass, rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon. Refuel with a waterfront meal at Ducey’s on the Lake or one of the several lakeside restaurants. Then, venture into the mountains on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for an antique train ride through the Sierra National Forest. The Moonlight Special excursion features an outdoor barbecue, fireside sing-along and return trip under the night sky. Continue your tour of the California wine scene with a tasting of the award-winning Syrah at Fäsi Estate Winery. Stay a night or two in the area before heeding the call of sunny Southern California.

Fun fact: Bass Lake served as the backdrop for the 1988 comedy “The Great Outdoors,” starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd.

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440 km
5 hours by car
04
Exploring the vineyards at Joseph Filippi Winery & Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga, California
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Ontario: Laid-back Gateway to Southern California

Traveling down Highway 99, you’ll traverse a historic stretch of road that helped unite Northern and Southern California. Plan to stay in Greater Ontario for a convenient and affordable home base to discover the beaches, mountains, theme parks and world-famous culture of Southern California. This region has some unique gems to offer: In Rancho Cucamonga, Joseph Filippi Winery offers tastings and tours at their historic, family-owned winery. Next, visit the oldest active business in Ontario, the Graber Olive House, founded in 1894. Pick up world-famous olives and gourmet foods in the gift shop, and take a guided tour, which may include a glimpse into the curing, grading and canning process. Clock in some quality outdoor hours at North Etiwanda Preserve and Cucamonga-Guasti Regional Park. Get your fill of shopping, dining and entertainment at Ontario Mills and Victoria Gardens. Take your memories – and souvenirs – home with you on your return flight out of Ontario International Airport (ONT).

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