Nothing gets our family more excited than planning an epic road trip. California is filled with stunning scenery for all travelers and there are so many adventures to experience.
This state was built for road trips and a drive up the famed Pacific Coast Highway in any direction will not disappoint.
Although you are free to explore the Golden State at will, below are a few unforgettable California road trips you miss!
What to Know When Planning a Road Trip Through California
When planning a California road trip, you want to think about the different regions of the state and what they have to offer. California is a jewel on the West Coast and as you start planning, you will find yourself wanting to road trip down all of the 250+ state highways and interstates. When planning a California road trip, you need to know you could (theoretically) soak up some sun on the beach in the morning then find yourself skiing down a snow-packed mountain in the afternoon. The options for adventure abound. Here's a sneak peek at the regions:
This region is being transformed by an influx of Big Tech money and a burgeoning workforce of millennials, but its timeless beauty and history remain. Lush greenery aided by frequent coastal fog co-mingles with the ever-growing metropolitan sprawl of the San Francisco Bay Area. There are little-known hideaways throughout NorCal, and planning a Northern California road trip will not disappoint.
Often overlooked, this region of the Golden State provides some of the most scenic coastline and mild weather year-round. It's also perfect for epic California road trips. Central California is home to the famous California Highway 1 adventure. Start off in Santa Barbara, head north to Pismo Beach, hit the Central Coast wine country, eventually make your way to the picturesque coastline of Big Sur, then end up on the famed shores of Pebble Beach.
This is gold rush country. It is rich with history about California's early days as a bastion of hope, and the Eastern Sierras is strewn with ghost towns that will take you back in time. Unfortunately, fires have torn through this region in recent years, but destinations like Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mt. Shasta, and Mammoth Lakes are worth the drive.
From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and LA's freeways to sun-soaked beaches populated by surfers and sunburned tourists, Southern California lives up to its world-renowned reputation. Home to world-famous theme parks like the Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios, Southern California is no stranger to tourists. Things are mostly crowded down here and you can expect to spend big on your road trip through this part of the Golden State. However, nowhere else in the U.S. can you enjoy weather like this all year-round and you can plan your road trip here for any time of the year.
10 California Road Trip Itineraries to Try
California Dreamin' - A SoCal Beach Tour
A Southern California Beach Road Trip
Start here: Malibu (Los Angeles County)
End here: Coronado (San Diego County)
Total miles: 157 miles for beaches only, 237 with a Disneyland detour
How many days: 3 for beaches only, 6-7 with a Disneyland detour
Start this sun-soaked road trip on the star-laden coastline of Malibu, just east of Los Angeles. Head south to hit the Santa Monica Pier for some carnival games and appetizers at the Lobster. If you want to see some city, take the 10 East towards Downtown Los Angeles, but avoid at rush hour unless you are looking to experience some of the infamous LaLa Land traffic. Wake up and take a moment to people-watch at Muscle Beach in Venice and then head down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) towards Orange County to visit the home of the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.
If theme parks are your jam, add a day or three and detour to the Disneyland Resort. Make a point to stay at the Paradise Pier Hotel at the Disneyland Resort to keep your beach theme going during your visit to these famous theme parks.
Don't exhaust yourself in Huntington Beach or Disneyland because, next, you're back on the PCH to Laguna Beach and neighboring Doheny State Beach in Dana Point. Grab a cocktail overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the Deck in Laguna Beach before heading south on this unforgettable California road trip.
Round out your trip in San Diego County by grabbing a scoop of homemade Snickers Ice Cream at Cali Cream while watching the surf at Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas. Wrap up this Pacific Coast road trip on the world-famous shores of Coronado with a stop at the Hotel del Coronado. Don't forget to pack your sunscreen.
Desert Vibes - A Tour of the SoCal Desert Landscape
A Southern California Desert Road Trip
Start here: San Diego
End here: Julian, CA (San Diego County)
Total miles: 368 miles
How many days: 3
Desert vibes are abundant when taking this California road trip itinerary out to SoCal's high desert. Joshua Tree National Park is a gem and delight for visitors of all ages. From Los Angeles or San Diego, you are only looking at a few hours until the desert scenery slows you down and inspires you to explore. Spend time rock climbing, exploring hiking trails, and catch the cotton candy sunset amongst the changing landscape at Joshua Tree National Park.
After taking in Joshua Tree, head to Pioneertown, an Old West movie-filming hub, to grab a cocktail and enjoy some live music at Pappy and Harriets Pioneertown Palace before bed.
Spend a day in Palm Springs for some poolside relaxing or take the Palm Springs tramway up to San Jacinto State Park for a birds eye view of the desert landscape.
Take the long road back to San Diego by driving Highway 111 down the east side of the 1920's hot spot for tourists, the now almost abandoned Salton Sea. For a funky side trip, visit Salvation Mountain before heading towards San Diego on Highway 78 through Anza-Borrego State Park and the old mining town of Julian. If adventure is still calling your name, head into San Diego over Mount Laguna, a paradise for mountain bikers.
Gems of the Sierra Nevada - A National Parks Adventure
A Central California Nature Road Trip
Start here: Los Angeles
End here: Yosemite National Park (Mariposa County)
Total miles: 345 miles
How many days: 4
Outdoor lovers can all agree this is one of the best California road trips for seeing multiple National Parks over a long weekend. Starting in Los Angeles, head north to Sequoia National Park. Take in the sights of the giant sequoias and marvel at the oldest living trees in California. Continue north on the Generals Highway into Kings Canyon National Park for an incredible view of the Eastern Sierras from Panoramic Point. Take a night to enjoy the highly sought-after Grant Grove cabins before continuing north to Yosemite National Park.
When entering Yosemite National Park from the south on Highway 41, make a point to stop at Glacier Point first to take in the stunning views. Explore a hiking trail here if you need a break from the car. Head into Yosemite Valley to catch sunset against the granite monoliths. Yosemite National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site, so take time to soak up the history and views while you are there.
Beat the heat with a dip in the Merced River and don't forget to explore one of the many trails to waterfalls flowing into the valley. If you have more time, continue north to South Lake Tahoe and eventually San Francisco to expand this California road trip itinerary.