So you’re planning a trip to (or just fantasizing about) California. I did a trip from San Diego to Napa earlier this year, since I wanted to confirm my belief that I should move there. It was confirmed big time. Here are some things that are helpful to know before you go:

Driving

A car is necessary for getting around California, so renting one or driving your own is your best bet. Being from Florida, the intense curvature of the California roads and the mountains were difficult to acclimate to. You may also need to parallel park and there are a lot more one-way roads than in South Florida. I routinely complain about and avoid Miami’s traffic, but L.A. makes it seem like a party. The average amount of time one spends stuck in L.A. traffic during rush hour is 40 minutes out of an hour. If you are driving the Pacific Coast Highway, be wary of cliffs, reckless drivers, and rockslides. There also is no indication that another lane is merging, such as a sign on or near the freeway. It just kind of gets bigger and you have to be cognizant of other cars. People tend to switch lanes or make turns without using their signal, so watch out for that as well.

Tax

Tax is extremely high here, so make sure to plan for it. It can range from 6.5% to 10%, depending on where you are and what you are buying.

Gas

Gas prices are known to be higher than most other US states, so be sure to plan for this expense as well.

Beaches

The beaches are known for being gorgeous and perfect for tanning or surfing, but be careful before you decide to jump into the water. The oceans are usually very cold and no matter how hot it may be outside, it can be very uncomfortable and unpleasant.

Time

Make sure to plan out places you want to see on your trip according to how much time you have to spend here. It takes a while to get to each place and you will want to spend a certain amount of time in each area, or even find a random area that you want to see. Be sure to plan for impromptu stops if you can, or stick to a strict itinerary to make sure you can fit it all in. Decide if you want to spend time hiking, checking out a national park, exploring a theme park, taking a vineyard tour, or walking through cities. Be reasonable about how much time you expect to spend in each spot and plan to travel to and sleep in a different city at night so you can make more progress traveling. Have a priority list of places that you have to see and places that you would not be upset about missing, but would like to go. If you are with a group of people, make sure to compromise so that everyone can accomplish the top priority on their list.

Most people recommend staying in California for 2 weeks. Personally, I did a trip from San Diego to Napa Valley in one week, but there were a lot of things I missed. We did make sure to have a set itinerary and have some wiggle room for extra places to see.

Highlights

Invest in a travel guide of California or stalk Pinterest for the best places to visit. Be sure to plan these in advance to prioritize and maximize your time. Make sure to research events, activities and food to make sure you don’t miss anything important. There’s nothing worse than realizing something awesome was happening after you’ve already left.

Budget

Have a set budget for activities like tours, wine/beer tastings, surfing lessons, museum fees, etc. These are some things that are last minute decisions and they are usually not included in the initial budget. Think about how many activities you think you will participate in and stick to the budget. Plan out how much you want to spend on food, hotels, and items as well. Make sure you discuss the budget with your fellow travelers and update them the budget each day. This will help keep the group accountable and prevent overspending.

Did I miss anything important? Be sure to add it in the comments below!

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