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    California in winter: tour sheltered from the weather!

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    The summer holidays are now over, but America's desire for this does not end; there are many who write to me asking for advice on planning a California winter tour. The last was Massimo, who wants to take a tour of the Golden State in the period from December to January (for the Christmas holidays in short).

    From this and various other requests that came to us, the idea was born to write down this itinerary, in the hope that it will provide useful ideas to anyone who wants to visit the California in the winter.

    Obviously, the choice of the stages must take into account the season, much more easily exposed to snow and bad weather. The weather conditions affect especially if you want to visit the state parks, where often, due to snow, there are roads blocked or closed for months and months. None of the main parks close, but many of them, precisely because of the California climate, they become more uncomfortable to explore and many areas remain inaccessible.

    In this journey I then favored the parks of the desert areas which, in addition to not being subject to unforeseen climatic events, are particularly fascinating even in the low season (and sometimes even more easily visited and enjoyable than in the summer).

    The itinerary can be done in one fortnight, but it is highly customizable, feel free to write me in the comments for advice, proposals, or variations.


    • Step 1: Let's settle down in San Francisco
    • Intermezzo 1: Let's taste a good Californian wine
    • Step 2: Let's enjoy Los Angeles
    • Intermission 2: Let's breathe the air of the Old West
    • Stage 3: Snow in the Valley of Death
    • Stage 4: The excesses of Las Vegas
    • Intermezzo 3: crossing the Mojave National Preserve
    • Step 5: Let's discover an oasis… and a ghostly desert!
    • Step 6: Straight to San Diego

    Step 1: Let's settle down in San Francisco

    As soon as we arrive in San Francisco, and have recovered from the capricious time zone of the USA, it is time to explore this fascinating city, bearing in mind that it could be cold. You will find plenty of information on the site. I will limit myself to pointing out some useful resources:

    • Advice on where to sleep in San Francisco
    • Guide on what to see in San Francisco
    • Information about the climate in San Francisco
    • The section of the site dedicated to San Francisco
    • Our city guide that includes all the articles published on the subject

    Once the visit is over, it's time to rent a car (you haven't already done so, have you? San Francisco by car!) and whiz south towards the city of angels.

    There are many roads that lead gives San Francisco to Los Angeles. The most famous is certainly Highway 1, which allows you to cross the entire coast, but, since it takes more than 8 hours to travel it, it does not fit this itinerary.

    The shortest connection (5 and a half hours) would be via Interstate 5 (South of course), but this is not for us either ...

    Intermezzo 1: Let's taste a good Californian wine

    We prefer to take the US-101, less rapid (about 6 hours and 20), but certainly no less important: we are in fact talking about a very old road (dating back to 1926), as well as the longest highway in California!

    But the reason why we chose it is certainly not its historical interest: in fact the real secret of every good road trip it is always the right choice of stops and in this case we have chosen to stop halfway, a Paso robles, a pretty town with a western past that has now become an important food and wine center.

    In short, we are here to taste the excellent ones Californian wines, those of San Luis Obispo County, which, according to many experts, have not so much to envy to the most renowned products of Napa Valley and Sonoma. The area is full of family-run wineries and in some cases (for example the Vinoteca) you can taste artisan cheeses (yes, they also make them in America, but first check the opening hours).

    Other interesting wineries are Dark Star Cellars, Linne Calodo, Paso Wine Center and Zenaida Cellars. After having delighted the palate it is time to leave. We still have a little over 3 hours to get to Los Angeles.

    Step 2: Let's enjoy Los Angeles

    Once in Los Angeles we must prepare to explore it. And it's not an easy thing! We are talking about an immense metropolis and visiting it without a specific program could ruin our stay. The main attractions are those related to the world of Hollywood and theme parks such as Universal Studios and Disneyland, but if you want to plan your itinerary well I recommend our article on things to see in Los Angeles, to be combined with all the other posts dedicated to the city.

    For directions on where to stay, check out our tips on where to look for a hotel in Los Angeles.

    Intermission 2: Let's breathe the air of the Old West

    Our next destination is the Death Valley, reachable in a 4 and a half hour trip. But why not stop for an intermediate stop to rest a bit and enjoy an attraction in typical American Style?

    Here then, halfway through the journey, we meet the western city Calico Ghost Town, a rebuilt town, but which can still be a fun experience. Find all the information you need to visit Calico in the article we have dedicated to it.

    If you want to add Yosemite to this itinerary, there are several things to consider, including the requirement to have chains on board. Read our article on like visit Yosemite in the winter.

    Stage 3: Snow in the Valley of Death

    Here we are finally in Death Valley, one of the most fascinating and evocative American national parks. A full day in the park will allow you to visit a good part of it and the winter climate, decidedly more lenient than the summer one, makes the whole area much more enjoyable. Among other things, you will have the opportunity to admire some snow-capped peaks, which is impossible during the other seasons of the year.

    The park is immense but there are at least 7 wonders that I would not miss you: read our guide to plan your tour in Death Valley. And don't miss our tips for finding a hotel in Death Valley.

    Stage 4: The excesses of Las Vegas

    In just over 2 hours of travel we will arrive in Las Vegas, one of the most unique cities that you can visit in the USA. All the main attractions are essentially concentrated in one area, that of the Strip, the famous street dotted with absurd hotels, endless casinos and all the nightlife you could want (maybe too much!).

    Also for Sin City, I refer to our section dedicated to Las Vegas, especially with regard to free attractions in the city and advice on accommodation, whether for the choice of a themed hotel, or for a luxury hotel.

    Spend the night in Sin City and get ready to leave in the morning, it's time to go back to California!

    Intermezzo 3: crossing the Mojave National Preserve

    The next stop is Palm Springs, reachable with 4 hours of travel, and along the way we will be lucky enough to cross the Mojave national preserve, a reserve that constitutes a veritable mosaic of desert environments, among which undulating sand dunes, volcanic ash cones and trees formed by bizarre Yucca emerge (a sort of cross between a cactus and a tree). And if we're lucky, we may even find some snow in the mountains.

    The place deserves a more in-depth exploration, but it can still be interesting to take a look at at least Kelso Depot, south of Baker (the city that boasts the highest thermometer in the world), a historic building (originally a station) that houses a museum and which we will find right on the street.

    Step 5: Let's discover an oasis… and a ghostly desert!

    Thus we come to Palm Springs, the oasis of the rich in the middle of the California desert, one of the cities with the highest concentration of swimming pools and golf courses in the United States, characterized by typical low-rise buildings in adobe and with palm trees scattered practically everywhere!

    Take a look at our guide to visiting this charming town and also allow yourself time to take a small trip out of town of about forty minutes to explore Joshua Tree National Park, a park with an almost ghostly area, an immense desert dotted with masses of rock and Yucca agaves.

    Step 6: Straight to San Diego

    Finally we arrive at the last stage, San Diego, a city with fascinating beaches and a wonderful climate. Among the attractions of this city are the parks: Legoland, SeaWorld, Wild Animal Park and the famous city zoo. For more information on city ​​parks check out our article on what to see in San Diego. For the overnight stay, however, find some tips on where to sleep here.

    We have reached the end of ours California winter tour, and unfortunately it is time to get back on the plane. Below you will find an interactive map to study well the whole route, the roads to take and the distances. Have a nice trip!

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