California is the third largest state in the United States. The Golden State is a treasure trove of serene natural beauty and pulsating cityscapes. There are so many varied experiences just waiting to be explored here.
California has long been touted as one of the most family-central places to travel, thanks to amusement parks, beaches, and national parks. But who’s to say solo travelers can’t enjoy these same experiences?
In fact, the popularity of the cities, beaches, and national parks throughout the state is one of the main reasons it’s a great solo travel destination. The state is well-developed, allowing for streamlined travel. And with other people around most of the time, solo travelers will typically remain more safe than if they were exploring a remote area on their own.
How to Plan Your Solo Trip in California
Table of Contents
- How to Plan Your Solo Trip in California
- Places to Go on a Solo Trip in California
- Cities to See on a Solo California Trip
- 1. San Francisco
- 2. Los Angeles
- 3. San Diego
- Natural Wonders & National Parks to Explore along the Pacific Coastline
- 4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
- 5. Yosemite National Park
- 6. Joshua Tree National Park
- 7. Sequoia National Park
- 8. Redwood National Park
- 9. Death Valley National Park
- Which Beaches to Visit Along the California Pacific Coastline
- 10. Laguna Main Beach
- 11. Pirates Cove at Point Dume
- 12. La Jolla Shores
- Best Accommodation for Solo Travelers in California
The best way to plan a solo trip to California is to build an itinerary. It is a good idea to secure your own vehicle too. As long as you have a means of transportation, nothing can stop you.
A great place to start your solo traveler journey is northern California and make your way south, down the Pacific Coast Highway, covering all the natural wonders and wonderful cities with fun things to do along the way. Or, if you’d rather, flip the script and start in southern California and travel north, enjoying your adventure along the Pacific coastline with its beautiful beaches.
When it comes to where you begin, where you stop, and how long you stay, the choice is yours. But keep in mind that even the slightest structure or framework will keep you safe and grounded at the moment, allowing for more enjoyment along the way. Having a plan and timeline in mind will enable you to access proper accommodations better and allow for enough time to explore and enjoy the highlights of any given stop.
Places to Go on a Solo Trip in California
Cities to See on a Solo California Trip
1. San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz. You know all the highlights, but a solo trip through California wouldn’t be complete without a stop in this iconic northern California city.
There’s no better way to see this city of rolling hills than aboard one of the San Francisco bus tours. A pre-planned and guided tour is always a great and safe option for those traveling on their own in an unfamiliar place and one of the best things visitors can do to get a sense of geography in a new city.
These tours are always so much fun and offer a nice balance of tourist-style coverage, as well as unique and fascinating commentary from local guides. They are also great ways to meet new people also explore the area, some of whom may be solo travelers too.
Taking a ride on one of San Francisco’s famed cable cars is another must-do activity. Though exploring a city in a group can be a wonderful experience, taking this cable car ride solo will allow you to be immersed in the northern California scenery and the city’s lively atmosphere without distraction.
You might enjoy reading my articles on the most unusual restaurants in San Francisco, best places to visit in the Bay Area, where to watch the sunset in San Francisco and weekend trips from San Francisco.
If you’re interested in traveling further inland, east into California, San Francisco is only an hour and a half away from beautiful Sacramento. Sacramento offers travelers a drastically different experience than that of San Francisco. The city is much more lush as opposed to San Francisco’s urban landscape. It’s beautiful and has a lot of fascinating gold rush history.
If you’re looking for an even more remote wilderness experience, continue traveling east for another two hours until you reach South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and is the perfect place to unplug and reconnect with nature on a solo trip through California. From boating and kayaking to luxury shopping, there are so many things to do in South Lake Tahoe.
2. Los Angeles
You can’t bypass the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles while navigating California. Though amusement parks might not be at the top of your list, this city offers some amazing outdoor recreational activities. From hiking in the Hollywood Hills to riding the waves at Venice Beach, this busy city has many ways to enjoy the warm California sun.
For those who just can’t resist the Hollywood allure, you can check out the famed Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or maybe even do some shopping on Rodeo Drive.
Otherwise, interested travelers might better enjoy the many museums the city plays home to. The Getty, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Broad, and so on. Check schedules for the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Hollywood Bowl during your visit as well, as you might be able to catch a remarkable performance while in town as well.
Los Angeles has an amazing food scene that shouldn’t be missed. Don’t be dissuaded from sampling the ample flavors here over the fact that you’ll be dining alone. Grab some fish tacos at Holbox or try some delicious Filipino food in downtown LA’s Grand Central Market at Sari Sari Store LA, both are great options for solo dining.
If you find yourself in need of a serene escape from the busting hills of L.A., take the 2-hour drive west back to the coast to experience the splendor of Santa Barbara. This upscale community is heavily influenced by Spanish architecture and is a dream to behold against the backdrop of the gorgeous coastline.
Visit Stearns Wharf, the oldest working pier in the state, enjoy the sweet lull of the waves at East Beach, take a spa day, or shop till you drop. There’s lots of fun to be had in Santa Barbara and it’s one of my favorite places in California.
You might enjoy reading my article on the best singles resorts in Florida.
3. San Diego
San Diego is nestled on the southern end of the state’s Pacific coast. One of the most picturesque cities in the country, this spot will provide travelers with lots of opportunities for outdoor exploring. San Diego is full of attractions that are all the more enhanced by the beautiful southern California weather.
Sunbathing and biking on Coronado Island are great ways to spend a day in this area. The gorgeous scenery and peaceful atmosphere there will allow solo travelers to rest and reconnect with themselves and nature truly.
For the more adventurous types, hiking in Torrey Pines State Park is another way to enjoy your alone time in this beautiful setting. The area offers many different trails and ways to enjoy the park.
And there’s no better way to spend a day on your own than wasting the daylight hours away in wonderous Balboa Park; there’s so much to do and see. Even though you’ll be exploring independently, the active artwork and culture will make you feel a part of the community.
For travelers who would rather explore the city as part of a group in a guided manner, consider tours. A harbor cruise is a concise and interesting way to see the city. An excursion like this highlights so many of the city’s landmarks in a fun and unique way. And again, puts you in touch with some fellow travelers to enjoy the experience with.
Natural Wonders & National Parks to Explore along the Pacific Coastline
California is rich in natural beauty, from lush forests to desert landscapes. Thankfully, many of these areas are currently protected and preserved under national and state parks systems. Be sure to check out some of these areas’ stunning scenery as you make your way through California.
4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park features a very special stretch of the California coastline known for its staggering views of the surrounding mountains and hills. Not to mention, it’s a wonderful place to wander on your own and see the Redwoods! Located along the shoreline between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this park makes for a beautiful stop along a California coast road trip journey.
The hiking trails at this park are what most attract visitors, and they are a perfect way for solo travelers to enjoy the beauty here. Pfeiffer Falls is a great trail for visitors of all hiking abilities. The view of the 60-foot waterfall is well worth the relatively easy climb.
Pfeiffer Beach is another highlight of this park. It’s a relatively quiet beach, so you won’t have to be concerned about bustling crowds when exploring on your own. The sand here is uniquely purple, and the waves are very large. It’s a nice place to enjoy the sunset on your own as the waves come rolling into the shore. There are some breathtaking cliffs and rock formations in this area, so definitely be prepared to take some photos.
You might enjoy reading my article on the best solo getaways in the USA.
5. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the nation’s most beloved national parks. It’s about four and a half hours outside San Francisco and features 1,200 square miles of gorgeous and varied scenery.
If you enjoy waterfalls, this is the park to explore on your own. Take a crisp hike in the open fresh air and try to catch a glimpse of some of the stunning wildlife this area is known for. You may spot black bears, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.
Be sure to add a visit to Lower Yosemite Falls to your park itinerary. This short half-mile trail is perfect for solo hikers. It offers a beautiful view of the 2,425-foot waterfall, which just happens to be the tallest waterfall in the country.
Bridalveil Falls is another popular waterfall stop in the park. There’s a half-mile paved path to follow as visitors make their way up to the viewpoint for the 620-foot waterfall.
More experienced solo hikers should consider The Mist Trail. The 1.6-mile moderate trail is a wonderful way to experience the park and offers views of both Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Other highlights of the park you won’t want to miss include El Capitan, the world-renowned 3,000-foot granite wall. Mariposa Grove is a dream setting in which to take in the majesty of the Giant Sequoia trees.
Riding a bike through Yosemite Valley or taking a dip in the Merced River at Sentinel Beach are wonderful ways to enjoy your solo time in Yosemite National Park truly.
6. Joshua Tree National Park
Solo travel is wonderful because it allows travelers to visit and explore areas their typical travel companions may not have been as interested in seeing. Take Joshua Tree National Park, for example. Unlike most of California’s greener national parks, Joshua Tree showcases the state’s desert climate. Many travelers prefer the state’s lush green parks and would overlook this stop.
If you’re interested in the many wonderful hiking trails and stellar views of the famous Joshua Trees and other fascinating rock formations, you should stop here. Because, as a solo traveler, you call the shots.
Aside from hiking and amazing views, there are ample opportunities for rock climbing here, too, especially in Echo Cove. It’s a great way to spend a solo day in the park if you’re interested in that kind of recreational activity. And in terms of scenery, the drive to Cholla Cactus Garden is well worth the experience.
7. Sequoia National Park
Solo travelers who also happen to be huge tree huggers (or lovers) should definitely take the time to check out Sequoia National Park. This special area is home to some of the world’s most mind-blowingly large trees, including the famous General Sherman. This tree is estimated to be 2,100 years old and really is a sight to see.
Because this park is so heavily focused on the majesty of the trees, many of the park’s activities consist of walking different paths to admire the trees. Morro Rock is one of the best hikes to take in the park. The path is narrow, but the view from the top will give you a peek at The Great Western Divide. Not something you see every day.
8. Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is an amazing national park to visit as a solo traveler making your way through California. It’s one of the easier parks to navigate, and the rugged coastline and Fern Canyon make it one of the most beautiful places to visit in the state.
34% of the coastal redwoods can be found here, so wandering the Redwood forests is a big part of the experience at this park. The other great part of this park is that once you’ve had your fill of the forest, you can also enjoy a beach as well.
There are actually three other California state parks that are also managed through Redwood National Park. If you visit Crescent City on your California journey, you should consider stopping by Jedediah Smith State Park. Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park are the other two state parks included under this umbrella.
9. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is a very unique place to visit. Known as the hottest and driest place in the United States, take caution when visiting during the summer when temperatures reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Known for its hiking trails, the paths here showcase the park’s breathtaking red rocks and canyons, as well as unique sand formations and salt flats that appear never to end. Again, solo travelers should take caution when hiking alone, especially in climates like Death Valley.
If you’re looking to capture some of the park’s greatest views, be sure to swing by Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View. These spots offer a spectacular view, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Badwater Basin is also a park highlight but for a much different reason. The below-sea-level location is home to some of the most fascinating salt formations. And don’t forget Eureka Dunes, where you can check out some of the most impressive sand dunes you’ve ever seen!
You might enjoy reading my articles on the most popular national parks in the United States and the best national parks in the Western United States.
Which Beaches to Visit Along the California Pacific Coastline
10. Laguna Main Beach
Considered by some to be a “bucket list” beach, you won’t want to miss your chance to visit the iconic Laguna Main Beach. Laguna Beach, located on the stretch of coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, features many cove beaches, but this spot garners the most attention.
This is a high-energy beach with lots of activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, and so much more. If you want to be in the action, this is the beach for you. That is, except for surfing, which isn’t permitted during summer.
11. Pirates Cove at Point Dume
If you’re looking for a more private beach adventure, stop by stunning Malibu and be prepared for a bit of a trek as you make your way to the equally unique and beautiful beach escape that is Pirates Cove!
Point Dume is a popular Malibu spot for visitors, but the jewel of Pirates Cove is nestled behind it. Because it’s hidden away, beach access requires a bit of work to get there. There is a large rock wall at the south end of Westward Beach. The path behind this wall will lead visitors to Pirates Cove, a rocky and remote beach paradise.
12. La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores is a gorgeous beach nestled in one of San Diego’s most picturesque neighborhoods. The waters here can be calm and serene, perfect for snorkeling. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also have some wave-riding fun! This is one of San Diego’s most popular spots for surfing. La Jolla Shores is a great spot to catch some waves whether you’re a newbie or a well-seasoned pro.
Full of outdoor activity potential, this area is also known for its sea caves. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, consider kayaking around and see what you can discover on your own! And, of course, be sure to stop by and give your regards to the adorable seals often perched on the shores here.
Best Accommodation for Solo Travelers in California
There are hundreds of beautiful and luxurious hotels to consider, scattered along the Pacific coastline. Though hotels and resorts in California cities will no doubt offer many plush amenities, there are other accommodations to consider when traveling with the state on your own.
In recent years, some solo travelers have found more peace and an overall more enjoyable experience staying away from the city noise in nature-based accommodations. We’re not talking about roughing it but enjoying the simple comforts of a personal cabin or the luxuries of a mountain resort.
Something like the fully stocked Elk Meadow Cabins in the heart of Redwood National Park might fit the bill. Or a cozy but equally gorgeous mountainside getaway at Silver City Mountain Resort. There are many resources for finding the perfect accommodations for solo travelers making their way through California. Consider visiting visitcalifornia.com to see what option might be best for you.
And check out my article on the best luxury boutique hotels in Palm Springs.
Though this may not be a comfortable option for everyone, if you’re interested in connecting with other solo travelers during your California journey, consider staying in a shared living space. Whether it be B&Bs or shared Airbnbs, this style of accommodations will put you in close proximity with potential new friends!
Space and time on our own to adventure and explore can be so rejuvenating. And sometimes, even life-changing. Here’s to an amazing solo trip to the best places in California!
NB: And as if all of that wasn’t enough, you could also check out San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and beautiful Palm Springs.