Road trips are always a summer vacation favorite, but this year it seems especially appropriate. I for one, have no desire to get on an airplane right now, but I do want to get out and travel around this summer and fall so a road trip seems like the perfect escape.
My home state of California is huge, it also has a widely diverse range of landscapes, cities, and regions. You can be in the desert, the mountains, foothills, and the beach all within a few hours of each other.
I’ve got six different road trips you could do around this great state, each one offers something different, from SoCal beaches to National Parks to wine country, each one highlights a different aspect of the Golden State.
Southern California Coast
San Diego to Santa Barbara
Enjoy the Southern California sun, beaches, and laid back vibes. Whether you want to lay on the beach and read a book or learn to surf the beaches of Southern California are the place to do it. But SoCal has more than beaches too, enjoy the Spanish style architecture in Santa Barbara, hike the hills of Laguna or Hollywood, and have a fun night out in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.
Laguna Beach: Pirate Tower, Treasure Island Beach, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
Los Angeles: Malibu, Santa Monica, The Hollywood Sign, Silver Lake
Santa Barbara: State Street, The Santa Barbara Mission, East Beach
Northern California Coast
San Francisco to Humboldt
Northern Californias coast is a bit more dramatic and moody compared to the sun and the sand of Southern California, but beautiful in its own right. The coast feels a bit wild with steep cliffside and rocky shores, but that wild feeling is also kind of magical. Make sure to try some oysters in Tamales Bay and wine along the Sonoma Coast. The moody foggy beaches in Mendocino and Humboldt might make you think you are in Oregon, but rest assured you’re still in California.
San Francisco: Golden Gate Park, Lands End, Sutro Baths, Golden Gate Bridge
Point Reyes National Seashore: Tamales Bay, Tule Elk Preserve
Bodega Bay: Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Doran Beach
Mendocino: Mendocino Village, Mendocino Headland State Park, Glass Beach
Humboldt: Redwoods National Park, Arcata, Trinidad State Beach
LA to Tahoe
Head up into the mountains and high desert of eastern California on highway 395. It’ll take you along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range for a unique California experience. The Eastern Sierras rise so dramatically out of the Owens Valley that it almost doesn’t seem real. You can get a good look at Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 from Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, then relax in the hot springs near Mammoth. Once you get to Lake Tahoe make sure you hike any of the many peaks in the basin for a spectacular view of the lake.
Los Angeles: Silver Lake, Downtown LA, Griffith Park Observatory
Lone Pine: Alabama Hills, The Whitney Portal, The Film History Museum
Mammoth: Hot Springs, Devils Postpile, Mammoth Village
Lake Tahoe: Emerald Bay, Sand Harbor, Desolation Wilderness
Joshua Tree to Redwoods National Park
See some of California’s most beautiful and diverse natural spaces. California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state! In Joshua Tree, you’ll find two desert landscapes colliding – the Mojave and the Colorado, each one has their own ecosystems and flora and fauna. See some of the largest trees in the world at Sequoia-Kings Canyon. And Yosemite’s iconic granite domes and cliffs are even more breathtaking in person.
Joshua Tree: Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Hall of Horrors
Sequoia-Kings Canyon: Grant Grove, General Sherman Tree, Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Lassen Volcanic: Bumpass Hell, Manzanita Lake, Mill Creek Falls
Redwoods: Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Fern Canyon, Drive Through Trees
Highway 1 through Central California
Monterey to San Luis Obispo
Driving Highway 1 along California’s Central Coast is one of the most iconic road trips you can do. Make sure you drive north to south so that you get the best views of the coast on your drive, being on the outside edge of the highway might be a little nerve-wracking but it makes it easier to pull over for the good views. Don’t miss the iconic Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and the elephant seals at Hearst-San Simion State Park.
Monterey: Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove, Scenic 17 Mile Drive
Big Sur: McWay Falls, Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Ventana Wilderness
Cambria: Hearst Castle, Elephant Seals
San Luis Obispo: Downtown SLO, Morro Rock, The Madonna Inn, Los Osos
Temecula to Napa
California has some great wine, and the variations and varieties are amazing depending on the regions where the grapes are grown. Napa is generally known at the mecca for California wines but there are good wines from all over the state that definitely deserve a taste test.
Packing for a Road Trip
A California Road Trip Up Highway 395
A Weekend on the Central Coast
The Ultimate San Francisco Weekend
A Weekend in San Diego
A Guide to Joshua Tree Campgrounds
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