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Postcards of California

10 days Self Drive Tours

Virgin Holidays' view

Some images of California regularly make the postcards: crimson-coated Golden Gate Bridge, Santa Monica Pier, Carmel’s Lone Cypress, Yosemite’s waterfalls. And driving the long way from LA to San Francisco exposes every snapshot.

Some spend a whole holiday in LA, but it’s just the start of your Californian crossing. That doesn’t mean you have to miss its attractions though, as you’ll have time for Venice Beach, or maybe a dose of Disney.

But your car really comes into its own as you drift up the Pacific Coast Highway. Taking two days to cruise one of the States’ most coveted coastal routes allows plenty of postcard picks like Malibu Beach, Monterey’s canneries and Carmel’s 17 Mile Drive, before hitting San Francisco. Once there, swap your car for cable cars, or one of the infinite bikes that bravely tackle the famous hills (but not before testing your driving skills on crooked Lombard Street).

An unforgettable drive over Golden Gate Bridge sees you in chic Sausalito, then Muir Woods to walk the boardwalks beneath neck-craningly-high redwoods, before you continue to California’s Wine Country. And the state’s historic Gold Country route connects you with Yosemite, where a two night stay lets you capture postcard favourites, including canvas-worthy views of Half Dome from Glacier Point.


Day 1: Los Angeles

Fly to Los Angeles and on arrival pick up your hire car. Upon check-in, please ask the hotel reception for your ATI Tour documentation pack which will include your tour essentials. The rest of the day is then free to explore a little of more of this most dynamic of cities. Take in the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica, wander the city’s famous Walk of Fame, or enjoy something of Los Angeles’ numerous world class museums and restaurants. Accommodation stay – 2 nights in Los Angeles.

Day 2: Los Angeles

A full day to explore the city or visit one of the many attraction parks. Mickey Mouse and Disneyland are classic favorites, but there is also the movie studio complex at Universal Studios.

Day 3: Los Angeles – Pacific Coast Highway – Malibu – Santa Barbara – Central Coast

Start the day with a drive through Santa Monica and the famous beaches of Malibu. Continue up the coast to Santa Barbara, a beautiful seaside community with its famous mission and palm-lined walkways. The harbor and wharf areas are great to explore on foot or rent a bike and see even more. Further north, the classic beach towns of California’s Central Coast beg to be explored. Overnight in the heart of California’s Central Coast. Accommodation Stay – 1 night in Central Coast. Driving distance 296 km.

Day 4: Central Coast – Highway 1 – Monterey/Carmel – San Francisco

Continue north, and near San Luis Obispo join Highway 1 which is renowned as one of the most scenic roadways in the US. Enjoy more stunning views of the rugged coastline and the Pacific with a drive on the 17-Mile Scenic Drive, which passes through the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. Experience the quaint village of Carmel and the charming seaside town of Monterey. In the late afternoon, arrive in San Francisco. Accommodation stay – 2 nights in San Francisco. Driving distance 430 km.

Day 5: San Francisco

Use the excellent public transportation or take a guided tour in order to get a taste of some of the highlights such as Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square and the Civic Center. If the weather is good, take a cruise under the bridges and around Alcatraz or just enjoy sitting at a café and watching the people go by in the Italian district of North Beach.

Day 6: San Francisco – Muir Woods – California Wine Country

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge as you head east. Along the way, pass by charming Sausalito with its unique bohemian flavor. Just a short drive further will take you to Muir Woods National Monument. The park is a sanctuary to beautiful redwoods, some reaching as high as 250 ft. Continue east to Napa and Sonoma. These fertile valleys have been attracting tourists and producing the highest quality of wine since the 19th century. Accommodation stay – 1 night in California Wine Country. Driving distance 80 km.

Day 7: California Wine Country – Gold Country – Yosemite

Start your day early and continue east across California’s agricultural Central Valley. Before ascending into the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, join Highway 49 and travel south through California Gold Country following in the footsteps of the thousands of gold seekers during the Gold Rush of 1849. Today this area’s streams and creeks are still considered some of the best for gold panning enthusiasts. Continue to Yosemite National Park. Accommodation stay – 2 nights in Yosemite. Driving distance 350 km.

Day 8: Yosemite

A full day to explore. Yosemite National Park embraces some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and affords a wonderful collection of waterfalls, meadows and forests, including groves of giant sequoias. Marvel at the sheer granite domes and cliffs that soar thousands of feet up from the valley floor. The massive glacial-shaped rock formations of El Capitan and Half Dome are the most famous landmarks of the park and keep a majestic watch over the valley.

Day 9: Yosemite – San Francisco

Driving back to San Francisco today, you’ll return your hire car and head to the airport. Driving distance 335 km. Your flight home will arrive back in the UK on Day 10. 

Board Basis - This tour is based on a Room Only basis.

*Denotes local charge – Optional trips and excursions suggested on the itinerary are bookable and payable locally.

Hotels & locations are subject to change based on availability, final hotel list will be confirmed 25 days before departure.

Dates & prices

The table below shows our escorted tour departure dates.

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Prices are described as Guide prices on this website and may be higher or lower due to availability and date of departure.

Prices are for departure dates listed, ex-UK and are per adult based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room and with return economy flights where stated. Single room and flight prices are available at a supplement.

Please note some tours are subject to minimum numbers, please call our travel experts or visit your local retail store for full details as well as our latest prices.

Tour information

Please click here to download a pdf of the itinerary and additional tour notes

Pre/Post Tour information

If you would like to extend your trip or make the tour part of a longer holiday, we can easily add on a pre or post night stays for you. Our Sales Team will work with you to arrange the best connecting flights and book any additional hotel stays. Simply tell us what you’d like and we can arrange it.

Time difference

Pacific Time Zone: GMT -8 hour

Tour inclusions

  • Accommodation listed above
  • Welcome phone call from American Tours International
  • Virgin Holidays branded rucksack with tour documentation and Atlas, please ask when you check in at your first hotel for your ‘ATI Pack’
  • Beach Blanket
  • Starbucks gift card

Tour exclusions

  • All flights and airport transfers in the UK
  • Travel Insurance
  • Car hire and insurance unless this has been booked by the sales consultant
  • Items of a personal nature such as drinks, laundry, tips & gratuities, video camera fees at monuments
  • The required ESTA application
  • Anything not detailed on the itinerary

Dining inclusions

Room Only


Accommodation in the itinerary will be a mix of “V” rated properties based on availability. Please note some tours are up to 3 weeks in duration and there may be some nights when staying in remote locations e.g. the National Parks, when the ‘V’ rating may vary. Hotels are subject to change up until 30 days prior to departure, but you will be advised of any changes.

Visa requirements

It's mandatory for everyone travelling to or transferring through the US, under the Visa Waiver Program, to obtain approval to travel no later than 72 hours prior to travel by completing an online process ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) scheme.

Failure to obtain an ESTA could result in the passenger being denied boarding by the airline. The cost of an ESTA is currently approx $14 per person and can be obtained by visiting Once completed & approved, the ESTA application is valid for two years and allows multiple visits without the need to reapply – simply update your details on the same website. Travelers can apply for an ESTA even if they have no firm plans to travel to the US. If you need any further information on the ESTA or you have any other visa queries, then try the Visit USA Website where further information on the scheme and up to date fee can also be found.

The ESTA is very similar to the automated visa that you purchase to enter Australia and is completely paperless.


Warner Bros Hollywood Studio Tour and Movies Stars Homes Tour

With so many exciting things to see and do in and around Los Angeles, it can be hard to fit everything in. This inspired combo is ideal if you’d like a memorable flavour of Tinseltown in a single day. It combines a unique tour of the working Warner Bros Studio lot – home to everything from the DC movies to The Big Bang Theory and Ellen – with a brilliantly entertaining tour of Hollywood stars’ homes that’s practically a show in its own right. So grab a coffee at the Central Perk from Friends, take a selfie in Harley Quinn’s cell from Suicide Squad and experience the process of taking a script to screen, before seeing how (and where) the A-list lives. 

Hollywood Hills Hiking Tour

Walking in the Hollywood Hills is an LA rite of passage, and this guided two-and-half-hour hike takes you into this arresting natural environment en route to spectacular 360-degree views over the City of Angels and the San Fernando Valley. You can take the tour in the morning or as the sun begins to set and, as you walk, your entertaining and fact-filled guide will give you an insider’s history of the area, sharing clips from movies and series filmed in the locations you visit. There’s a selfie-op with the Hollywood sign, and you’ll crest the Hills at the world famous Griffith Park Observatory.

Early Access to Alcatraz and Exclusive Cable Car Sightseeing Tour

Set foot on the notorious ‘Rock’, following in the footsteps of Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, or Nicholas Cage. You can get ahead of the curve (and the inmates… sorry, crowds) with this early-access experience. Set sail on one of the first ferries out to Alcatraz and explore this infamous prison, without the hustle and bustle. Immerse yourself in the audio tour, featuring commentary from former inmates and guards, and discover the island at large with its beautiful bay views. Escape to enjoy a spot of sightseeing around the city in a converted classic cable car. Capture those beautiful city sights around Chinatown, North Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving yourself time to enjoy an evening of freedom.

Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Trip

You don’t have to plan an entire holiday on the edge of the awe-inspiring Yosemite National Park to experience its XXXL vistas and to go all Ansel Adams with your camera. This full-day trip departs from San Francisco, taking you east through historic Gold Rush towns en route to Yosemite. Once there, you’ll embark on an easygoing and photogenic one-hour hike to Tuolomne Grove and its soaring Sequoia trees, visit Inspiration Point for a staggering photo op of peaks El Capitan and Half Dome (while learning about the park from an experienced guide) and enjoy some free time to, well, simply be in nature. Perfection.