So you have time off and want to go to California – and no one wants to tag along with you? That’s what happened to me. California had been on the top of my travel list for awhile. I had never been to the West Coast and the furthest west I had been was New Orleans. I knew it was time for me to get a taste of the west coast life — a California solo trip.
I would be traveling alone for the first time. (I did travel alone to Spain for my study abroad trip, but considering I was a part of a program there for school, I don’t really count that.) While this made me nervous, I was also very excited about the flexibility I would have. Here’s another post about my thoughts on solo travel.
Because I had a flexible work schedule, I was able to cater my plans to suit my budget, schedule and bucket list. I chose days with cheaper flights. I worked around my friends’ schedules that I would be visiting. (While I was mostly on my own for 12 days (13 including travel), I did end up staying with two friends.) So, definitely, if you are able to plan any trip with flexibility on dates, do so and work around cheaper flights!
My 12-Day California Solo Trip: San Diego, Los Angeles & San Francisco [Itinerary]
San Diego: Days 1-6
First stop: San Diego, America’s Finest City!
San Diego was top of my list, and I did a lot of research about it. Because of that, I chose to spend the most time here. I didn’t know anyone who lived in the city, but that wasn’t a problem at all. I was able to wake up, and do whatever I wanted to that day. I stayed in an Airbnb in the Hillcrest neighborhood and took Uber’s/Lyft’s to the beaches and downtown. My Airbnb experience was wonderful – I really enjoyed the family and the location was great for me, since there were a lot of restaurants in walking distance (and a Whole Foods!).
There is a LOT to see in San Diego and my friend was right, you could easily spend more than two weeks exploring the city. I wanted to spend time at the beaches, see some of the nature spots and eat the best vegan food. Here are the destinations I crossed off:
- Balboa Park – I went to Balboa Park twice! It was one of my favorite parts of the city. It is a huge park with about 15 museums and lots of gardens. The gardens were my favorite part. I also spent an afternoon just laying on a towel in the sun in the park—so relaxing.
- Old Town Trolley Tour – I took the touristy trolley tour, yes I did. I actually loved it! The trolley driver was entertaining, even though I may have been the only one amused by his jokes. Also, it was easy to hit a lot of the places in the city without taking Uber’s everywhere. Definitely cheaper to pay the $35 trolley fee than to grab a ride to all the places the trolley takes you to.
- Little Italy – I loved this cute part of downtown! I ate at Cafe Gratitude for lunch and hopped back on the trolley.
- Coronado Beach – I saw Hotel Del Coronado, one of the first places to get electricity on the West Coast, fun fact. And I took some time to relax on the beach here.
- La Jolla – I spent an entire day in La Jolla, seeing the tide pools, sea lions and sea caves. I ate lunch at a nice rooftop vegan cafe, Trilogy Sanctuary. I also did a coastal walk and went into a few shops in the small town. I came back to La Jolla the next day and got takeout to watch the sunset.
- Scripps Beach – There is a really nice pier at Scripps Beach and it’s a less crowded beach I found if you’d like to avoid crowds. There is also an interesting structure if you walk and hike the rocks a bit up the beach. It’s called the Mushroom House, which is a tad random, but cool to see.
- Sunset Cliffs National Park – This is a beautiful coastline. I hiked down to a beach there for a sunset yoga workshop, and it was an amazing place to watch the California sunset.
I also took a day trip from San Diego to Carlsbad, CA, where I met a friend to go to The Flower Fields. We also spent time in the Village of Carlsbad, eating lunch and dinner and sitting on the beach! It was good to get out of the city for a little bit and see another part of Southern California. Plus, flowers! I’ve been known to take pictures of flowers *sometimes* (all the time).
Los Angeles: Days 7-8
I took Amtrak from Old Town, San Diego to LA’s Union Station in the morning on Day 7. I decided to only spend an a day and a half in LA, as a stop between San Diego and San Francisco. I arrived in LA about 12:30 and made it to my Airbnb in Venice Beach around 2:00pm. I honestly wasn’t having the greatest vibes from LA. When I got to my Airbnb, I wasn’t impressed at all. I don’t think I made a good decision about it, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Not to go into details, but I ended up asking a friend to stay with her. Thankfully, she let me sleep on her couch, and it was super comfy!
But I did get to see some things in LA in a day and a half:
- Venice Beach & Venice canals
- Marina del Rey
- Abbot Kinney Blvd and its shops and restaurants
- Santa Monica Pier
- 3rd Street Promenade
- Beverley Hills
- Griffith Observatory – at night!
In my opinion, it would be hard to visit LA for the first time on your own. I’m thankful I had a friend and also a family member I met (for the first time) show me around. I’m glad I got to see some of the city while I was over there, of course!
San Francisco: Days 9-13
I loved my time in San Francisco. I took an early flight from LA and arrived to my friend’s house around noon. I stayed with a college roommate who was able to show me around the city. By that point, I had been exhausted from my trip, and it was really nice to have a local friend to explore with me. I also had the chance to meet some other family members who I had never met before (that was a theme of the trip). We went to dinner on the marina with a sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge! It was one of the highlights of my trip. The restaurant was Greens Restaurant, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Fort Mason. It was amazing and such a relaxing dinner.
San Francisco was a mix of exploring the city and resting, catching up with my friend. I didn’t try to cram everything into the few days I was there. But we saw a lot!
- Hike from Ocean Beach to Golden Gate Bridge – a long (and hilly!) hike, that made me exhausted but SO worth it and SO beautiful! (We walked 12 miles that day.)
- Berner’s Hill – a small hike to get a great view of the city!
- Mission District – a more hipster area of the city where we saw a lot of murals, ate gelato and got amazing Mexican food.
- The Painted Ladies
- Hayes Valley – a great spot where we had lunch in Patricia’s Green and people watched.
- Union Square
- De Young Museum
- Golden Gate Park
- The farmer’s market, shops and cafes in her neighborhood of Inner Richmond.
We were lucky and had beautiful weather in the city the first three days there. Then, it got a little chilly and windy, and we just relaxed the rest of the time and I got ready to head back to D.C. I didn’t want to leave! I got used to sleeping in Airbnbs and on couches, and for some reason, my bed at home didn’t feel homey anymore. I loved the feeling of knowing that traveling became the norm and I had to rely on my faith that everything in my trip will work out – since I was waking up to the unknown everyday.
A Solo Trip in California – Key Takeaways:
- In Southern California, it’s necessary to have a car to get around, so be sure to save money for Uber’s or renting a car. San Francisco has better transportation–we used the buses, metro and Uber’s.
- If you want to see the beaches, go to San Diego and the surrounding area.
- LA is hard to do in a couple of days, and I would recommend staying with someone in LA if you are going alone for the first time.
- Book your Airbnb’s carefully! While it may hard to know *for sure* whether they are sketchy or not, go with your gut feeling and act fast if you want to change your surroundings.
- Plan time for rest during your trip. It’s okay if you wake up at 11 a.m. and get out of the house at 1 p.m.
- If you are going to Southern & Northern California, you’ll need to pack for both temperatures. But you can still do it in a carry on! Make sure to find places with laundry. I did two and a half loads during my traveling.
- Personally, I think San Diego was the easiest place to go as a solo traveler. It didn’t have a really “big city” feel, but you get both city and nature, and things in between!
- Prioritize the top places you want to see, and if you like a place a lot, go back! Don’t worry about crossing everything off your list, because more often than not, you get to see all the places you’d like.
- Don’t be afraid to take a long trip by yourself. If you only go for a weekend, you would want more time! Plus, it’s easier to adjust when you have more time in a city.
- Don’t overthink your solo trip – I actually had the best time in San Diego and that’s where I was completely by myself!
Related Post: Why I Like Traveling on my Own
In the end, I’m very proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and doing something I really wanted to do. That’s what it’s all about – making your dreams come true. I would definitely go back to California, and I would definitely do a solo trip again. I hope you all consider doing the same!