1. San Diego
See dolphins, polar bears and exciting shows, before enjoying entertaining amusement-park rides at SeaWorld. Stroll through the hip gaslamp Quarter for outdoor dining and nightclubs. Parents, let the kids play at The New Children's Museum, with interactive exhibits, then enjoy romantic skyline views, steaks and seafood at the Island Prime restaurant.

2. Balboa Park
This sprawling complex in San Diego has 15 fascinating museums, performances at the Old globe Theatre, concerts and the world-class San Diego Zoo, which is home to thousands of animals in surroundings that re-create their authentic wildlife habitats.

3. Escondido
Imagine you're in Africa when you visit San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park on the Journey Into Africa open-air tram, which winds its way through habitats filled with a huge variety of wildlife.

4. Carlsbad
At LEGO LAND, enjoy charming rides and astonishing displays, including cities built in miniature, using thousands of LEGO bricks. Visit vistas of rainbow-coloured blossoms at nearby Flower Fields.

5. Oceanside
Stop by the California Welcome Center before you start your tour, for expert tips on the region's best beaches and entertaining destinations. In town, tour the California Surf Museum free of charge, to learn about the sport without getting wet.

6. Palm Desert
Head inland to this desert playground for spectacular shopping (try El Paseo Shopping District and West-field Palm Desert), art galleries, excellent restaurants, luxury lodgings and green-in-the-desert golf courses.

7. Palm Springs
Marvel at mid-century modern homes on guided architectural tours of this desert oasis, a film-industry getaway. Treat yourself to a spa treatment at a posh resort. Catch the gay scene at Arenas Road clubs. Enjoy shopping bargains at Cabazon Outlets. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, rising 5,873ft/1,790m above the desert.

8. Yucca Valley
Visit the California Welcome Center to get tips on desert attractions, places to eat and the best ways to explore the Joshua Tree National Park (see next stop).

9. Joshua Tree national Park
Explore this stunning desert park, known for its bizarre, eponymous trees. Take part in ranger-led hikes throughout the year. Watch rock climbers scrambling over granite formations at "J-Tree."

10. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park/Borrego Springs
Hike to secluded palm groves, climb to desert vistas; look for roadrunners, golden eagles and bighorn sheep.