Because California is so vast and geographically varied -- from misty redwood forests and eerily beautiful deserts to gold-sand beaches and rugged mountain ranges -- it would take months to see all its major attractions. We're guessing your vacation hours are limited, so we're recommending these itineraries, to help you make the most of your time.
Essentially, we're divulging how we, the authors, would spend our own weeklong dream trips. We've divided the state into our favorite regions and singled out the best sites, hotels, restaurants, and scenic drives. We've allowed leeway to stray from each route, but we've also mapped out enough details to guide you through an entire journey.
As you choose a route, be sure to consider the importance of timing. If you don't care to learn what it's like to drive through an Easy-Bake oven, skip the Southern California desert route in mid-July. Yosemite and Lake Tahoe are best avoided in winter, when several access roads close down due to heavy snowfall. The Wine Country is best in spring, when the Napa and Sonoma valleys are abloom and the summer crowds haven't yet arrived, or during the heady fall grape crush. Pacific Coast Highway is great year-round, as long as the sun is out and the convertible top is down.
For all of these routes, you'll need a car, so fly into the largest city near each itinerary region and rent a vehicle for a week. You'll also need a detailed map and some Dramamine if you're prone to road sickness, because most of these itineraries take you down winding roads. And since it's almost always sunny in California, splurge on a convertible Mustang -- it will turn the mundane task of driving into one of the highlights of your vacation.