Looking for the best road trips in California? Whether you’ve got a long weekend or a full 2 weeks to explore, look no further – this huge post covers over 15 of the best California road trips! Grab some snacks and turn up the music — we’re going on a road trip!
We’re awfully lucky here in The Golden State. We’ve got expansive deserts, beautiful beaches, snow-capped mountains, towering redwoods, and of course, my all-time favorite, San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. But how do you see so many during such a short period of time? By taking advantage of these California road trip ideas below of course!
I sometimes feel I could spend entire years exploring California and still uncover areas I’ve never heard of. Have any non-locals ever heard of Lone Pine, Ferndale, or Morro Bay?! See what I mean?
In order to satiate my never-ending love affair with the #westcoastbestcoast, you’ll find us hopping in the car heading off to another CA destination almost every weekend. Well, unless we’re off galavanting around the world of course (to say, Bali, Panama, or Morocco).
And thankfully, road trippers in California don’t have to drive long distances to see an awful lot. The state is so ridiculously varied – you could be hiking in the desert in the morning (Joshua Tree) and relaxing by the beach in the afternoon (OC), and even skiing in the mountains on the way (Big Bear)! How’s that for impressive?!
Sure, the famed Pacific Coast Highway may be the most iconic of all road trips in California, but don’t stop there! There’s panning for gold (and tons of history) in our Gold Rush towns, fantastic geological features in the Eastern Sierras, and off roading in the central coast sand dunes.
We’ve got wildflower meadows. Film locations. Craggy peaks and volcanic rocks. Tufa formations. Geysers and mud pots and mountain lakes. Historic mining towns. Ghost towns. Ski towns. Etc. etc. etc.
We’ve really got it all. And so much more. You’ll see – I don’t wanna spoil all the fun right away!
So, turn up that California playlist, throw on your comfiest road trip outfit, and charge up that camera! Let’s get the show on the road → off on one of the best California road trips you go!
Psst: read these top road trip tips before heading off! From safety to snacks, you don’t wanna miss anything when you’re miles from home.
→ Whenever we search for car rentals, we ALWAYS check THIS SITE first. And we always save a fair bit of money. 🙂
California Road Trips Across the State
1. Pacific Coast Highway/Highway 1
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway is the ultimate of all these California road trips. It’s by far the most popular of all the road trips in California, and I totally get it! The California coast is just begging to be explored, and it’s all so varied! The PCH, commonly known as Highway 1, spans a stunning 650 miles, from up north in Leggett to down south in Dana Point. And on this trip, we’ll be exploring all of it!
Expect to find rugged wild beauty, small town charm, big city sights, sunbathed lifeguards, obnoxious elephant seals, and oh so much more. There’s wild zebras, fresh oysters and lobster rolls, stunning coastline views, and water so turquoise you’ll feel like you’re in Hawaii.
My advice? As the longest of all these California road trips on this list, take as long as you can to drive the entirety of the PCH. It can be done in as little as 5 days, but I highly recommend at LEAST 10 days if you really wanna get out and explore all that the coast has to offer. You can drive the Pacific Coast Highway in either direction, but I enjoy the drive from North to South better (the views are better that way…)!
- Starting Point: Leggett (Mendocino County)
- Ending Point: Dana Point (Orange County)
- Best Time of Year: Late Spring to Early Fall
- Distance: 650 miles (17 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 10 days to 2 weeks and beyond
- Route At-A-Glance: Leggett – Fort Bragg/Mendocino – Bodega Bay – Point Reyes – San Francisco – Half Moon Bay/Pescadero – Santa Cruz – Monterey/Carmel-by-the-Sea – Big Sur – Central Coast – Santa Barbara – Malibu – Santa Monica – Laguna/Huntington/Dana Point
Start off at this epic California road trip at the very start of the PCH – in Leggett! Particularly at the Leggett Drive-Thru Tree Park, where, you guessed it, you can drive directly under a giant redwood tree! Spend a day or two (or three or four) exploring Fort Bragg and Mendocino. Don’t miss the Point Cabrillo Light Station, a stroll along the Mendocino Headlands, a ride on the skunk train through the nearby redwood forest, and some candy cap mushroom ice cream.
Make your way south to Bodega Bay and Point Reyes, stopping at the Cypress Tree Tunnel, Bodega Head, the Inverness Shipwreck, and Spud Point Crab Company. If you’re looking for that typical Northern California experience, make sure to have an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company!
If you’ve never been to The City by the Bay, plan to spend at least 3 days in San Francisco. Some of my favorites include: snagging views of the Golden Gate Bridge from either Battery Spencer, Baker Beach, or Crissy Field, strolling around Golden Gate Park, eating everything in North Beach, Chinatown, and Japan Town, and checking out the murals in the Mission.
And if you have some extra time, make sure to check out Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, and Pescadero as well (all local favorites and missed on most road trips in California). Santa Cruz is next, with its cotton candy, kitchy amusement park, and colorful buildings in nearby Capitola.
A bit south of Santa Cruz is Carmel and Monterey, known for the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, great whale watching opportunities, and charming storybook village. Of course Big Sur can’t be missed, with the ever-so-popular Bixby Bridge, stunning McWay Falls, almond croissants at Big Sur Bakery, and my personal favorite, cocktails at Nepenthe.
Most people drive straight from Big Sur to SoCal without stopping much along the way, but don’t be like everyone else! There’s Hearst Castle and elephant seals in San Simeon, olallieberry pie at Linn’s in Cambria (bring the stretchy pants!), and a colorful town and pier in Cayucos.
We love Morro Bay, with its giant monolith jutting out of the water and sand dollars at the adjacent beach. Go kayaking and look out for sea otters holding hands (yes, they actually do hold hands and it’s the most adorable thing in the entire world).
San Luis Obispo is super quirky and fun; popular spots include the Madonna Hotel (don’t leave without scarfing down some pink champagne cake), Bubblegum Alley, Spooners Cove/Montana de Oro State Park, and sand dunning in nearby Pismo Beach.
Woo — you’ve made it to sunny southern California! Sun-bathed lifeguards, year-round sunshine, and scenic beaches await!
If you wanna feel like you’ve stepped into an authentic Danish village, make a pit stop in Solvang en route to Santa Barbara. Don’t miss the aebleskivers in town (danish fried donut balls with raspberry jam – yum).
In Santa Barbara, go shopping on State Street, grab a cone from McConnells, admire views from the Courthouse Tower, watch the sunset at Butterfly Beach, and sip frose at Lucky Penny. You can also relax at the beach and walk on Stearns Wharf, of course.
There’s Point Dume and Malibu Farms in Malibu, the Santa Monica pier in Santa Monica, and Muscle Beach, Venice Canals, and Abbot Kinney Blvd (my favorite) in Venice Beach.
In Huntington Beach, watch the pups play at Dog Beach, sip a few cocktails at The Bungalow, walk along the pier and have some shakes at Ruby’s Diner, and get your tan on at the beach! And whatever you do, don’t miss the famous chocolate dipped frozen bananas on nearby Balboa Island!
Laguna Beach is filled with fun outdoor activities, from hiking in Crystal Cove State Park (the entire area is stunning) and Alta Laguna Park, to casual strolls in Heisler Park and Crescent Bay Beach (I love the viewpoint above).
The last official stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, is pretty chill, so plan to watch the sunset with your toes in the sand at Strands Beach and have a seafood dinner on the harbor. You can also hike the Dana Point Headlands if you’re looking for something a bit more active.
And although San Clemente isn’t technically on the PCH, make a short stop at Casa Romantica (it’s one of my favorite places along this California road trip).
There’s honestly way too much to type out here in this compilation of the best road trips in California, so be sure to check out my ridiculously long guide to the Pacific Coast Highway. It has all the information (and then some) you’ll need!
- Driving straight through a giant redwood tree at Leggett’s Drive-Thru Tree Park
- Taking a cable car, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, and walking down Lombard Street in San Francisco
- Being wowed by a waterfall flowing directly into the Pacfic Ocean at McWay Falls in Big Sur
- Exploring all the stops on the 17 mile drive in Monterey/Pacific Grove
- Riding a roller coaster at sunset with views of the beach at the Santa Monica Pier
- Indulging in frozen bananas on Balboa Island
- Walking around Heisler Park in Laguna Beach with tons of million dollar views
2. The Eastern Sierras (Highway 395)
Driving along Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierras is by far one of the best road trips in California. Especially for nature and adventure lovers! I mean, it’s even known as California’s most scenic drive by some, running due East of the Sierra Nevada range. And yes, there are plenty of mountains in California (we don’t just have beaches)!
Expect to bask in natural hot springs, tour a creepy ghost town, hike to gushing waterfalls, and summit a mountain over 11,000 feet high via gondola. Basically, endless outdoor opportunities for the ultimate adventurer (despite being one of the shorter road trips in California).
And since it’s not as popular as other spots in The Golden State (Big Sur and Laguna Beach, I’m looking at you…), you’ll find less crowds and more solitude.
- Starting Point: Travertine Hot Springs (Mono County)
- Ending Point: Lone Pine (Inyo County)
- Best Time of Year: Fall
- Distance: 112 miles (3 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 5 -7
- Route at-a-glance: Travertine Hot Springs – Bodie – Yosemite – June Lake – Mammoth Lakes – Lone Pine
Start off this California road trip nice and easy by basking in the warm waters of the Travertine Hot Springs. An absolute must-see on any Eastern Sierra road trip! Pack a swimsuit because these small geothermal pools are perfect for soaking in either day or night. While taking a dip you’ll be surrounded by views of the incredible Sierra Nevada mountains and landscape.
Free camping is available and at night the spectacular starry sky cannot be beat. There are a half dozen hot springs ranging in temperatures from mild to hot, so make sure to test the water before jumping in! Be prepared to share a pool with other visitors, and be aware — some folks like to soak in the nude!
Next up → Bodie, a unique town that is now abandoned after its peak during the California Gold Rush. Don’t miss The Bodie State Historic Park, featuring a ghost town of the remaining 200 buildings and structures left over when the town was a bustling gold mine (including an old firehouse!).
The DeChambeau Hotel and Swasey Hotel are must-see brick and wood buildings that have withstood the test of time. Choose to take a tour (you’ll see the Standard Mill!) or wander around the Gold Rush grounds yourself.
Hot Tip: Allow 2-3 hours to see the entire park and pack lots of water for your trip! It gets hot hot hot over here.
While not technically on Highway 395, Yosemite National Park’s an easy drive along Tioga Pass after visiting Bodie. Home to incredible waterfalls, breathtaking views, and scenic hikes, plan to spend at least a full day exploring. Don’t miss Cook’s Meadow with incredible rock formations towering above, an easy stroll around Mirror Lake, and of course looking down into the valley at Tunnel View. Glacier Point and Taft Point are beautiful at sunset!
There are dozens of waterfalls in the park that make Yosemite so unique. And you’ve got lots of options — including Bridalveil Falls, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, and Yosemite Falls.
June Lake, our next stop, just so happens to be one of California’s best spots for leaf-peeping. By visiting in autumn, you’ll easily find an array of yellow and orange leaves lining the calm waters of the lake. Scenic hiking trails (like Parker Lake Trailhead), great food and drink (grab a cold beer at June Lake Brewing), and plenty of water activities (including kayaking, swimming, and boating) await as well.
Rent a kayak at the Silverlake Resort General Store and soak in the beautiful mountainous views around you. No trip to June Lake is complete without driving the stunning June Lake Loop – so don’t miss that!
Mammoth Lakes is a mountain town at 8,000 feet, and get this: there’s no lake named Mammoth! Make a quick stop at the Twin Falls Overlook for an amazing view of the falls and lake traversing through the extraordinary valley below.
Travel to Mammoth Mountain for an aerial ride on the Panorama Gondola to experience the summit at 11,053 feet. If you’re visiting in winter you’ll probably wanna go skiing. End your night at Mammoth Brewing Company to enjoy a locally brewed beer and lively ambiance.
Finally, you’ll reach the small former mining town of Lone Pine! First things first, take a driving tour through the Alabama Hills (and look for the dozens of natural arches in the park, especially Mobius Arch). If you’re a movie buff you’ll be impressed to know that a bunch of classic westerns were filmed here – including The Lone Ranger, Django Unchained, and Gladiator!
Got more time? Drive up to Mt. Whitney via Whitney Portal Road, and do a short hike or two. Soak in Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. Make a short detour to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, where some of the oldest living trees on the planet live. Phew, what a trip!
- Soaking in the Travertine Hot Springs
- Visiting the Ghost Town of Bodie
- See the incredible scenery of Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park
- Kayaking on the calm waters of June Lake
- Taking the gondola to the top of Mammoth Mountain
Recommended by Erin McLaughlin from The Gal On The Go
3. California National Parks Road Trip
California is dotted with National Parks, making a National Parks road trip one of the most scenic on this list! Start the trip in Santa Barbara, head north to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon before making your way to Yosemite!
This route is actually called the “Majestic Mountain Loop”, and it’s aptly named! Tack on Pinnacles, California’s newest National Park, before returning to the urbanity of San Francisco. That’s 4 National Parks in a short period of time!
- Starting Point: Santa Barbara
- Ending Point: San Francisco
- Best Time of Year: Early or late summer
- Distance: 738 miles (13 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 1 week – 10 days (or more depending on how many days you’d like to stay in each park!)
- Route-at-a-glance: Santa Barbara-Sequoia-Kings Canyon-Yosemite-Pinnacles-San Francisco
Start this California road trip in Santa Barbara (which there are tons of things to do)! From beach hopping to wine tasting, the options are endless. Eat at all the fancy restaurants and sip all the craft cocktails, because once you leave for the national parks, you won’t find much of that! Once you head outside of this relaxing resort town, you’ll step into the striking nature that the Golden State is known for.
Our first stop is Sequoia National Park, where the trees are sky-high. Definitely take on the widely noted Big Trees Trail during your stay! Look up at the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree (by volume) in the ENTIRE world (how insane is that?!) It stands 275 feet tall, and is 25 feet in diameter, and is also one of the world’s oldest trees at over 2,300 years old.
And if you’re up for a moderate challenge, tackle the Moro Rock Trail! Hikers will scale a granite dome via a steep ¼ mile staircase all the way to the summit for epic views of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Kings Canyon has breathtaking valleys and mesmerizing hills. Some of its best day hikes include the Mist Falls Trail and the Redwood Creek Loop. And whatever you do, don’t miss General Grant, a huge, well-known Giant sequoia in Grants Grove.
The 2-hour drive between Kings Canyon and Yosemite will expose you to rolling ranges and fields of green.
Yosemite is one of the most picturesque parks in the U.S, and it wouldn’t be excessive to stay here a few days just for its sunsets. There are a number of hiking trails within the park, but remember to stop by Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, or Tunnel View during sundown for some of the most artistic, spectacular skies!
Before heading back to the big city, stop at Pinnacles National Park, which is a 3-hour drive from Yosemite. The mountain ranges in Pinnacles are formidable and often attract rock climbers who aim to tackle its peaks. The park also has numerous caves that travelers can visit. Once you’ve summitted a few hills (Kauaeranga Kauri Trail is a great choice), relax at Harlow Cafe before heading back to San Francisco.
- Big Trees Trail in Sequoia National Park
- Hume Lake in Kings Canyon
- Sentinel Dome in Yosemite for sunset
- Bear Gulch Cave in Pinnacles
Recommended by Daisy from Beyond My Border
Northern California Road Trips
4. San Francisco to Mendocino (Roundtrip)
The drive up from San Francisco to Mendocino is absolutely gorgeous. You’ll be driving along the coastline the entire way, then checking out the cute coastal communities of Mendocino and Fort Bragg once you arrive! There’s plenty of restaurants, art galleries, Victorian homes, and more along the route.
Think wildly fresh oysters, casual strolls along the headlands, scenic lighthouse views, raspberry chocolate chunk ice cream, quirky shopping, and a whole slew of California State Parks. One of the best road trips in California for nature lovers by far!
And even better – you can drive back to SF on an entirely different (yet still impressive route!). How’s that for variety?
- Starting Point: San Francisco
- Ending Point: San Francisco (Loop)
- Best Time of Year: Summer and Fall
- Distance: 350 miles (9 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 5 days
- Route At-A-Glance: San Francisco – Point Reyes – Bodega Bay – Jenner – Point Arena – Mendocino – Fort Bragg – Boonville – San Francisco
If you’ve never ventured over the Golden Gate Bridge before, make a quick stop at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. And if you wanna extend your day in the bay, consider a stroll in Sausalito (with Lappert’s ice cream in hand) and a short walk along the towering redwoods in Muir Woods (don’t forget to reserve your parking pass in advance!). There’s also Muir Beach Overlook if you’re coming for the scenic coastal views.
Before you make your way north, consider stopping at the Inverness Shipwreck, Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Sea Lion Overlook, and Hog Island Oyster Co. in Point Reyes. Bodega Bay boasts Bodega Head (look for whales in the distance here!), Spud Point Crab Company, Patrick’s Saltwater Taffy, and the super scenic Pinnacle Gulch Trail.
Jenner is next, a small town situated along the mouth of the Russian River, with rugged hillside hikes in nearby Sonoma Coast State Park. You can also go kayaking, stroll along Jenner Beach, or just relax with some wine in hand.
Before making the final stretch to Mendocino, don’t miss a stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse. And get this — It’s actually the tallest lighthouse in California you can climb, at 145 steps up! There are daily tours offered here as well (around $8).
Once you get to Mendocino, plan to be outside most of your visit! Don’t miss hiking to the Pygmy Forest in Van Damme State Park, a scenic stroll in the meadow at Mendocino Headlands State Park, exploring Russian Gulch State Park, an easy walk to the Point Cabrillo Light Station, and dipping your toes in the sand at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve.
In Fort Bragg, spend the morning exploring the rocky coastline and admiring the colorful blooms at Mendocino Coastal Botanical Gardens, taking a ride on the world-famous historic Skunk Train through the redwoods, and waiting in line at Cowlick’s Ice Cream. The most popular attraction in Fort Bragg? Glass Beach of course! Don’t miss it, then drive up the coast to Pacific Star Winery for some wine and cheese with a view.
On your way back from Mendocino, take the (much) quicker route home to San Francisco via the 128 and Highway 101. You’ll pass Navarro River Redwoods State Park AND Hendy Woods State Park (both great for a quick walk through the redwoods), Philo (for some fresh apple cider) and Boonville (lots of wineries with tastings).
- Watching llamas and chickens from your hotel room at Glendeven Lodge in Mendocino
- Spotting whales at both Bodega Head and/or the Point Arena Lighthouse
- Finding rainbow colored glass at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg
- Riding the historic Skunk Train through the redwoods
5. San Francisco Bay Loop
San Francisco gets all the love, but there’s actually tons of fun spots right around the city!
Most locals do many of these as day trips from San Francisco, but if you’re from outta town, don’t spend all your time in the actual city. There’s a cypress tree tunnel to walk through, viewpoints of the famed Golden Gate Bridge, so much good food in Oakland and Berkeley (wear your stretchy pants), wacky elephant seals to gawk at, and one of my favorite secret stretches of coastline (which most visitors haven’t even heard of!).
- Starting Point: San Francisco
- Ending Point: San Francisco (Loop)
- Best Time of Year: Spring, Summer, and Fall
- Distance: 350 miles (8 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 4 – 8 days
- Route At-A-Glance: San Francisco – Marin Headlands and Mill Valley – Point Reyes – Petaluma – Napa – Berkeley – Oakland – San Jose – Santa Cruz – Pescadero/Half Moon Bay/Pacifica – San Francisco
First things first, if you’ve never properly explored SF before, make sure you spend the night (although a full 3 days in San Francisco is recommended). Ride a cable car, take the ferry to Alcatraz, photograph the Golden Gate Bridge, and so much more.
Next, it’s time to get outta the city into the Marin Headlands! Cross the bridge, make a quick stop at Battery Spencer, walk to Hawk Hill (for even more views of the famed Golden Gate Bridge), and stroll along the pebbles at Rodeo Beach. If you’re visiting on a Sunday or Monday, don’t miss the Point Bonita Lighthouse! We also love the Muir Beach Overlook on a clear, sunny day! Muir Woods is nearby, so make a reservation in advance if meandering on the redwood tree trails is on your agenda.
As you travel up the coastline, consider stopping at the Inverness Shipwreck, Cypress Tree Tunnel, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Sea Lion Overlook, and Hog Island Oyster Co. in Point Reyes. Head east to Petaluma, where you can indulge in sweets from the Petaluma Pie Company and Wicked Slush before making your way down to the river for a casual stroll. There’s lots of wine and beer here, too, if that’s what you’re looking for!
Nearby Downtown Napa is full of culinary delights, from the eateries at Oxbow Public Market and Gott’s Roadside to the best BBQ in the area at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar. If you wanna sip some fine wines, check out some tasting rooms (it’s what the area’s known for!). Head to Amuse Bouche Wines, Jam Cellars, and/or Bar Lucia. Wanna head into the valley to explore more towns in Napa? Be sure to check out the detailed Wine Country drive in the Northern California road trips section (next on this list).
Once you cross the bridge into the East Bay, smell the roses at the Berkeley Rose Garden, feast on pizza (at Sliver!) and potato puffs (at Gregories), and watch the sunset at Tilden Park. Don’t miss a quick stroll along Telegraph Ave and a walk throughout the stunning UC Berkeley Campus — go up Sather Tower for great views!
You can hike through the redwoods at Reinhardt Redwoods in Oakland, feast on hot chicken sandwiches from Hot Boys, walk around Merritt Lake, burn your calves on the Secret Stairs of the East Bay, and admire the architecture of the Morman Temple in the Oakland Hills.
San Jose gets a bad rep, but don’t leave before having a picnic among the flowers at the Municipal Rose Garden, eating some Michelin-starred soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and wandering around San Pedro Square. The Hakone Estate and Gardens are nearby if you’re looking for a Japanese-inspired outdoor activity before heading to our next stop.
Almost at our last stop of this California road trip – the surfing town of Santa Cruz! Make sure to walk along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, stopping for a few carnival snacks and hitting up all the rides. If you’re visiting during fall, walk along the Natural Bridges Monarch Trail to see thousands of migrating butterflies. Go for a stroll along West Cliff Drive for some of the best views of the entire area!
Before you make your way back to San Francisco, travel up the coast from Pescadero to Pacifica. Make sure to stop for lobster rolls at Sam’s Chowder House (Half Moon Bay), walk along the bluffs atop Shark Fin Cove (Davenport), and lace up your shoes for a few coastal hikes in Pacifica.
- Looking up at the bamboo and smelling the roses in San Jose
- Admiring some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge
- Walking through a cypress tree tunnel in Point Reyes
- Hiking along the redwoods of the Reinhardt Redwoods in Oakland
- Spotting wildflowers at Mori Point in Pacifica
6. Northern California Wine Country Road Trip
If you’re looking for an easy road trip from San Francisco that doesn’t involve too much driving, but does have plenty of delicious restaurants, cute towns, natural beauty, and of course — lots of wine!! — you’ll love a trip to the neighboring wine countries of Sonoma and Napa.
These two wine countries are close in distance, but the microclimates of each wine region mean different wines excel in each. In Sonoma, think soft Chardonnays, zesty Sauvignon Blancs, fruity Pinot Noirs, and rich Old Vine Zins.
Napa, meanwhile, is known for its robust, high-alcohol Cabernet Sauvignons and it’s oaky, buttery Chardonnays with vanilla tones. Besides wine tasting, you’ll also see rivers, redwoods, and plenty of restaurants, so let’s get going!
- Starting Point: San Francisco
- Ending Point: Napa
- Best Time of Year: Late fall (after harvest season) or late spring
- Distance: 140 miles (3 ½ hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 2 – 4 days
- Route-at-a-glance: San Francisco – Sebastopol – Guerneville – Healdsburg – Calistoga – Napa
Start your day in San Francisco heading North across the Golden Gate Bridge. If it’s your first time in San Francisco, be sure to stop at a few Golden Gate Bridge viewpoints, like Hawk Hill, Battery Spencer, or Golden Gate Bridge View Vista Point on the way out of the city.
Drive up north via the 101, then exit on 116 to get to Sebastopol. Here’s where you should eat lunch — I recommend eating at the cool Barlow retail/restaurant area, where you can dine at Blue Ridge Kitchen if you’re hungry or just grab at an ice cream at Two Dog Night Creamery if you want a snack. Or do both!
Here, you can head to your first Sonoma County vineyard if you wish. I recommend Iron Horse Vineyards if you’re a sparkling wine lover and Dutton-Goldfield for their reds.
Next up is quirky, cool Guerneville. There are also great restaurants here if you weren’t hungry in Sebastopol. The taco truck in front of the Safeway is always spot-on, but there are also hip spots like Noom if you want a sit-down meal.
Be sure to visit Armstrong Woods when in Guerneville! These incredible redwoods are way less crowded than Muir Woods north of San Francisco, and it’s incredibly peaceful and serene with lots of easy trails. If it’s a hot day, you can chill on the river bend for a bit on Johnson’s Beach and even rent or buy an inner tube for some chilled out floating.
Afterwards, there’s Healdsburg for some galleries and even more wine! Check out Paul Mahder Gallery and Upstairs Gallery, and then have wine at Simi just a bit north of the city.
Next up you’ll be leaving Sonoma County for Calistoga, a laid back vacation spot in Napa Valley. Have wines at the chateau-like Castello de Amorosa, check out California’s very own “Old Faithful” geyser, or relax with a mud bath at one of the chic spas in town.
Finally, off to your final stop, Napa — basically wine heaven. There are too many wineries to name, but two favorites are Hendry Winery and Truchard Vineyards. If you’re up for a spot of shopping, the Napa Premium Outlets are here for some budget-friendly browsing!
- Sipping delicious Russian River Valley wines in Sebastopol
- Walking amongst redwoods in Armstrong Woods
- Browsing art galleries in Healdsburg
- Checking out geysers and mud baths in Calistoga
Recommended by Allison from California Crossroads
7. Coastal Redwoods Road Trip
After taking several road trips in California, the San Francisco to Crescent City route is my favorite. Winding through several of the best redwood parks the state has to offer, and occasionally skirting the coast, this road trip offers some of the most stunning forest hikes and coastal views in the world.
If you’re looking for towering old-growth redwoods, you’ve gotta get this California road trip penciled into your calendar!
- Starting Point: San Francisco
- Ending Point: Crescent City (Del Norte County)
- Best Time of Year: Late spring
- Distance: 660 miles (7 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 5
- Route-at-a-glance: San Francisco – Leggett – Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Trinidad – Eureka – Redwood National Park – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Crescent City – Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Out of all the California road trips on this list, none else will have you more in awe than this one. Especially if you’re a fan of coastal redwoods!
Start off one of the most epic road trips in California in San Francisco, heading north to Leggett. Just an FYI – you’ll pass through wine country on the way, so feel free to make a few stops if you’ve got some time! And if you really wanna see the redwoods straight away, book a reservation at nearby Muir Woods!
Once you reach Leggett, make a stop at our main attraction on day 1 – the Drive-Thru Tree Park! Here, you can literally drive straight through a redwood tree (as the name suggests!). Continuing north, there are several roadside attractions over the next 30 miles, including the One Log House, the Grandfather Tree, and Richardson Grove State Park with its short loop trails.
You’ll arrive at the South Entrance of the Avenue of the Giants in no time, a 31-mile road winding through the towering redwoods. The entire avenue is remarkable, so you’ll find yourself pulling over more than you think. But whatever you do, don’t miss Founders Grove and the fallen 400-foot long Dyerville Tree.
Once you get outta the redwoods, the stunning coast of Trinidad is your next stop! Plan to spend 1-2 days in the area, offering contrast along the route. Yes, this California road trip focuses on coastal redwoods, but hey, you don’t wanna miss other stuff in the area!
Hike Trinidad Head, learn local native history at Patrick’s Point State Park, bask on the sand at Trinidad State Beach, and make the steep walk down to College Cove (Trinidad’s most spectacular beach). Don’t miss lunch at Seascape → the location can’t be beat (or get some crab chowder at Trinidad Bay Eatery and Gallery).
And if you miss the trees oh so much (I don’t blame you), head over to Sequoia Park in Eureka to get your hiking on (all the trails are easy and fun).
Next up → the creme of the crop, Redwood National Park! Here you’ll find the misty ~1.5 mile loop trail at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a rainforest-y hike to Trillium Falls, and others. Cross the streams on Davison Road to reach the incredible Fern Canyon Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. You’ll be walking between lush canyon walls dripping with waterfalls the entire way! Stop at Prairie Creek Visitors Center to find out where to see the local elk herd that day.
Drive the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway and then continue onto the Redwood Highway (how fitting?!) for wayside stops with unique attractions, including the Klamath Drive-Thru Tree. If that’s still not enough, the touristy Trees of Mystery in Klamath offers the adrenaline rush of the Sky Trail and the Canopy Trail. Yup, there’s an aerial tramway through the redwoods and a walk high above the ground, as well as giant chainsaw tree sculptures!
If you still haven’t had enough of the old-growth redwoods, head to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park outside of Crescent City. Hike the half mile Stout Memorial Grove trail, then meander through the forest on Howland Hill Road before heading home!
- Getting some IG-worthy photos at the Leggett Drive-Thru Tree Park, where you can drive through a redwood (Chandelier Tree)
- Driving the 31 miles down the Avenue of the Giants through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park old growth forest, including the world’s tallest tree, the Founders Tree, and the world’s largest fallen redwood, the Dyerville Giant.
- Exploring the waterfront in Trinidad, with it’s rocky shorelines, dark sand beaches, and Native American history.
- Walking through a lush canyon dripping with waterfalls and ferns as far as the eye can see on the Fern Canyon Loop Trail
Contributed by Roxanna from Gypsy With a Day Job
8. California Gold Rush Road Trip (Highway 49)
Hoping to strike it rich? Add this California road trip idea to your travel calendar, because we’re traveling through California’s Gold Country! The Gold Rush Trail (also known as Gold Chain Highway) passes through a whole bunch of historic mining communities of the 1849 California gold rush. And we’ll be exploring quite a few!
Travel back in time while panning for gold in the region’s river, finding historic saloons from the 1800’s, enjoying the little towns and panoramic vistas, and drinking sarsaparilla. It’s what makes this such a memorable 400 miles!
Psst: Highway 49 is named after the gold-seeking immigrants who made their way to California in 1849, or “49ers”. Imagine traveling a thousand miles just for a chance to find your pot of gold!
- Starting Point: Oakhurst (Madera County)
- Ending Point: Murphys (Calaveras County)
- Best Time of Year: May to October (mountain passes are still open, the hiking is good and the deserts are cool enough to enjoy)
- Distance: ~300 miles (6 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 5 – 7
- Route-at-a-glance: Mariposa – Coulterville – Tioga Pass into Yosemite National Park – Murphys – Nevada City
This Gold Rush road trip begins in Oakhurst before heading north to a string of historic towns that have maintained their 1850s charm. First stop, Mariposa, where you can get some gold rush history lessons at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum.
Next up, the historic Coulterville, which has been visited by the likes of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the past.
You’ll then head east towards Highway 120, also known as Tioga Pass, into Yosemite National Park. With untouched nature and serene views, this is another highlight of this California road trip → you could easily spend days here! Don’t miss Tunnel View, hikes to waterfalls, and a stroll around Mirror Lake. Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome are all popular sights for a reason!
Murphys is next, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine at Ironstone Vineyards and/or Hatcher Winery, visit the Old Timers Museum, and go underground at the Mercer Caverns.
The final leg of this road trip is Nevada City, one of Gold Country’s prettiest towns. Be sure to check out the tulips at the Crystal Hermitage Gardens (in spring!), Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, Victorian Christmas markets (in winter!), and Deer Creek Tribute Trail to find a hidden suspension bridge in the middle of the forest.
Don’t miss walking around the hippy dippy downtown area with an almond croissant/beer/pizza in hand from Three Forks. Looking for some outdoor activities? Cool off at the South Yuba River and hike to the Emerald Pools!
- Getting Gold Rush history lessons in Mariposa
- Seeing the popular Glacier Point and Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park
- Getting underground to see the stalagmites and stalactites up close at Mercer Caverns
- Wandering around the western town of Nevada City
Contributed by Anna of Anna Sherchand – a solo female travel blog
9. Lost Coast
California’s Lost Coast is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. For 75 miles, the famed Pacific Coast Highway cuts inland, unable to pass through the rough terrain of the King Range National Recreation Area.
This road trip from Eureka to Mendocino explores the most remote parts of California’s coast and old-growth redwood forests. Highlights of this trip include escaping to the quiet Black Sands Beach on the Lost Coast, visiting the world’s largest old-growth redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and driving the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.
- Starting Point: Eureka (Humboldt County)
- Ending Point: Mendocino (Mendocino County)
- Best Time of Year: June to September
- Distance: 235 miles (7 hours)
- Suggested # of days: 3-5
- Route-at-a-glance: Eureka – Ferndale – Humboldt Redwoods State Park – Shelter Cove – Fort Bragg – Mendocino
Out of all these California road trip ideas, I bet you’ve never thought, or even heard of this next one – The Lost Coast!
Start your Lost Coast road trip in Eureka, California, an old town famous for its Victorian houses and a launching point for adventures in the Redwood National and State Parks. Leave the Pacific Coast Highway behind as you head for the small town of Ferndale. Explore the best of Ferndale by car, stopping to check out the beautiful Victorian homes and the Golden Gait Mercantile.
Mattole Road begins in Ferndale and winds through rolling hills and backcountry before running parallel to the Pacific Ocean. Stop along Mattole Road to enjoy the solitude and coastal views (I doubt you’ll see another person!). As you continue along Mattole Road, keep your eyes peeled for the zebras who live on a farm in Petrolia! Mattole Road continues inland, leaving the rugged Lost Coast behind and entering Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park has the largest old-growth redwood forest in the world, which you can explore off of Mattole Road. End your first day in Humboldt Redwoods State Park exploring the Avenue of the Giants, a famous 31-mile scenic drive through the redwoods. Stay the night in one of Humboldt Redwoods State Park’s many campgrounds or if you prefer a hotel, stay at The Tides Inn in Shelter Cove.
The next morning, make your way to Shelter Cove. Explore Black Sands Beach and grab lunch and a beer at Gyppo. Leave the Lost Coast behind and return to the Pacific Coast Highway, following the coastline to Fort Bragg. Glass Beach in Fort Bragg is famous for its sea glass. Here you can explore the tide pools and watch for whales and seals.
End your Lost Coast journey in Mendocino by hiking the Mendocino Headlands trail or going on a kayaking tour with Kayak Mendocino.
- Exploring the world’s largest old-growth redwood forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
- Dipping your toes into the rugged Black Sands Beach of Shelter Cove
- Searching for rainbow-colored sea glass at Glass Beach
Recommended by Julia from Well Planned Journey
10. San Francisco to Big Sur
Driving from San Francisco to Big Sur is a perfect road trip in California to experience quaint towns and soak in beautiful coastal views.
The first stop on this road trip is the beautiful historic downtown of Los Gatos. Then you will drive along windy, dense forest roads to the colorful town of Capitola, coastal towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, and finally some breathtaking hikes and views of the Pacific Coast in Big Sur.
Despite the route being one of the shortest road trips in California on this list, plan at least 4 days if you don’t wanna rush!
- Starting Point: San Francisco
- Ending Point: Big Sur (Monterey County)
- Best Time of Year: Most of the year except the rainy months of Nov – Jan
- Distance ~150 miles (2 ½ hours)
- Suggested # of days: 4-5 days
- Route-at-a-glance: San Francisco – Los Gatos – Capitola – Monterey – Carmel – Big Sur
After checking out the big city of San Francisco, head on over to Los Gatos! Los Gatos is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Silicon Valley with Spanish colonial architecture and a charming downtown area. Suggested activities in Los Gatos include taking a stroll in the historic Los Gatos Downtown, shopping at boutique stores, wine tasting at Left Bend winery, and indulging in delicious tapas at the Spanish restaurant Pintxo Pote.
If you’re a nature person, check out the beautiful Vasona Lake Park and Los Gatos Creek trail. In the summer, kayak and pedal boat rentals are available in Vasona Lake.
Next up, Capitola, a cute little beach town that’s an absolute must on this California road trip. The seaside village is a great place to enjoy the beach without too many people and is a fun place to relax or surf. Check out the colorful homes at Capitola Beach and take a walk along the pier. Paradise Beach Grille and Wharf House Restaurant are great places to grab a bite.
The stretch of land consisting of Monterey and Carmel is one of the most beautiful stretches of land on the Pacific Coast. One could easily spend a day or two exploring Monterey and Carmel. While in Monterey, don’t miss a visit to Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Wharf. If you care to dine in Monterey, Monterey’s Fish House and Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle are great choices.
From Monterey, take the scenic 17 mile drive with stops at Pebble Beach, Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay Beach and tons of other spots you encounter on the way.
Carmel-by-the-sea is a quaint town past Monterey with cute boutique stores, incredible restaurants and a great beach to cool off. Highly recommend walking along Ocean Ave, visiting the Carmel Mission, and watching sunset at Carmel Beach. Carmel also has some great restaurants with varied cuisine like La Bicyclette, Aubergine, Casanova, and Esteban.
Big Sur is a huge stretch of land between Carmel and San Simeon. Big Sur itself takes days to explore if you wish to visit all the gems. There are so many things to do but I have listed the attractions close to Carmel.
Must visit spots past Carmel are the famous McWay falls at Julia Pfeiffer State Park, Garrapata State Park, Pfeiffer Beach and Bixby Bridge. If you want to experience the most romantic dinner of your life, check out the restaurant at Post Ranch Inn!
- Dipping your toes into purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
- Checking out the historic Victorian homes in Pacific Grove
- Driving along the 17-mile drive and standing on the green at Pebble Beach
- Walking around historic Los Gatos
Recommended by Aswani from A Charming Escape
Southern California Road Trips
12. SoCal Desert Drive
This road trip through the deserts of Southern California will transport you to another world. A world filled with fields of windmills, almost alien-like yucca trees, a once popular but now deserted lake, a man-made brightly colored mountain, a town that is literally off-the-grid, and sand dunes that will make you forget you’re in Southern California.
It has some of the most unique sights in all of California, some of which are a must-see on any trip to SoCal! This California road trip can be done on an extended weekend, although can be extended.
Do note this trip requires precise timing and planning since hotels are sparse near the end of this itinerary.
- Starting Point: Dana Point (Orange County)
- Ending Point: Glamis (Imperial County)
- Best Time of Year: November to April
- Distance: 295 miles (5 ½ hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 5 – 7
- Route at-a-glance: Orange County – Palm Springs – Joshua Tree – Salton Sea – Niland – Glamis
Before hitting the hot deserts, spend a day exploring coastal Orange County! Hop off California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway where it begins in Dana Point and enjoy the views while you cruise on up to Laguna Beach. Make a stop at Heisler Park, walk through Main Beach, and grab a homemade gelato from Gelato Paradiso.
The beautiful Crystal Cove State Park is up next. Grab a bite to eat at the Shake Shack, walk the Historic District, and check out Peninsula Point. Head to Newport’s Balboa Peninsula and take a ride on the tiny Ferris wheel at the Fun Zone. Next, drive onto the car ferry to Balboa Island for a famous chocolate banana, just like you’re on Arrested Development.
Finally, make your way to the Huntington Beach Pier for dinner at Duke’s and a beach bonfire with s’mores. Stay at the trendy Kimpton Shorebreak for the night.
Colorful Palm Springs is next on our agenda. Wake up bright and early, and make sure to stop at Garnet Ave and North Indian Canyon Drive to get a photo with the windmills on the way into town. In Palm Springs, take a hike through Indian Canyons (for some of the best hiking trails nearby), head up the aerial tram to Mt. San Jacinto for lunch with a view, and spend the night shopping in Uptown or relaxing poolside at your hotel.
Once you’re all well and rested in Palm Springs, make the short drive to Joshua Tree. Explore the tiny downtown area of funky and trendy Joshua Tree, go vintage shopping, try a sound bath at The Integratron, and explore Pioneertown. For dinner, enjoy some live music at Pappy and Harriet’s! Book yourself a funky Airbnb for the night or go glamping in a vintage Airstream.
Plan to spend the entire next day here in Joshua Tree National Park , because there are a lot of things to see! Some of the highlights include Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, Key’s View, and the Cholla Cactus Garden. Stay overnight in the nearby Palm Desert area and fill up on gas, food and water for the next day.
The Salton Sea and its surroundings are next up, making this trip one of the most intriguing of all the best road trips in California!
You’ll start feeling this eerie vibe as you make your way through the Salton Sea. The place feels basically deserted. There is not much around, and you might even be the only one on the road at some point. Stop at Bombay Beach, a tiny town along the water and visit the Bombay Beach Ruins. Experiencing this deserted area is something you have to experience just once in your life!
Head to Niland to see the insta-famous Salvation Mountain. It is free to enter, just “follow the yellow brick road” from the bottom to the top. Drive one more mile to Slab City, which is an “off-the-grid” community that doesn’t even have running water or electricity, and is not governed by the law. Who would’ve ever thought to build a colorful mountain in the middle of nowhere?
Navigate to the Algodones Dunes (a.k.a Glamis Dunes or Imperial Sand Dunes). Seeing these dunes kind of makes you feel like you are in another country. If possible, rent a dune buggy ahead of time so you can really explore. If not, park at the Cahuilla Ranger Station so you can explore the dunes on foot. Find a hotel in El Centro for the night, which is the closest city to Glamis.
- Experiencing some of OC’s unique beach cities, all of which have their own vibe
- Taking the rotating tram to the top of the mountain in Palm Springs
- getting a sound bath and walking along the spiky namesake trees in Joshua Tree
- Stopping at the Bombay Beach ruins
- Following the yellow brick road to Salvation Mountain
- Exploring the sand dunes via buggy
Heather’s written a fantastic in-depth guide to this SoCal desert road trip; be sure to check it out for lots more info!
Recommended by Heather from That OC Girl
13. Southern California Sunshine
Welcome to the perfect Southern California sunshine road trip! If you’re ready to hit as many incredible beaches as possible in just 4-5 days, this is one of the road trips in California you’ll wanna add to your CA bucket list!
This route will take you through all of the best highlights of the Southern California coast, while also including a few hidden gems only locals know about (like where to find the best pizza!) You’ll be spotting sea animals, using a LOT of sunscreen, watching surfer wipeouts, and maybe even catching a glimpse of a celebrity! So let’s get started!
Local Tip: California can be visited in winter or summer! If you’re looking for a tan and lots of swimming, go from May to August. If you’re looking for less crowds, bigger waves, but still plenty of sunshine, try going from September to April.
- Starting Point: San Diego
- Ending Point: Santa Barbara
- Best time of Year: Summer for swimming and winter for waves
- Distance: 215 miles (4 ½ hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 4 – 5 days
- Route at-a-glance: San Diego – La Jolla Beach – Dana Point – Laguna Beach – Newport & Huntington Beach – Malibu and/or Venice Beach – Santa Barbara
This sunny Southern California road trip starts in one of the USA’s most popular destinations: San Diego! If you are flying into Los Angeles, this route can be modified to start from there as well.
First stop on the sunniest of all the California road trips is La Jolla Beach, famous for its hundreds of seals that lay around waiting to be photographed. You can rent SUP boards or snorkel through the coastal caves. If you prefer to lay your towel out and tan or head into the water to play in the waves, head to nearby Moonlight State Beach.
Glitzy Dana Point is next! If you’re looking for some small waves to learn to surf, you can head to Doheny Beach. Or if you’re looking to see more of the downtown area, head to Dana Point Harbor where you can get a taste of the quintessential California beachside lifestyle.
Nearby, you can stop at a local secret known as the “Best Pizza in Dana Point” at Beach Harbor Pizza (you’ll probably see a whole slew of fancy cars driving by) and then maybe even hop on a whale-watching tour at the harbor afterward! Don’t miss a sunset stroll at Strands Beach, my absolute favorite.
Next up → Laguna Beach! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m almost positive you’ve heard of Laguna before, as this is what most people envision when they think of OC. Laguna Beach is known for its instagram-friendly caves and arches. There is plenty to explore and you might even find a tide pool where you can watch small sea animals wander around their habitats.
From there, you head to two of the best surfing beaches in SoCal: Newport Beach and Huntington Beach which are only a few minutes from each other.
At Newport, make sure to head to The Wedge to watch the surfers wipeout on some of the roughest waves in California. After you’ve visited Newport, take a walk down Huntington Beach Pier to get some of the best beach views. At the end of the pier, you can even stop at iconic Ruby’s Diner to get some fries and a milkshake!
If you’re visiting Huntington Beach on a Tuesday, don’t miss the famous Surf City Nights Street Fair with live music and tons of food stands. This area is home to another beautiful pier where you can watch the fisherman with their fishing lines that go deep down into the sea. You can stop by and peer into their buckets to see what they’ve caught that day! You can finish the day at Duke’s, a famous restaurant named after one of the best Hawaiian surfers in the world.
You’ll probably get stuck in some traffic on the drive from OC to Santa Barbara (the route bypasses LA, so figures). Might as well stop at either Malibu or Venice Beach and leave the traffic for later. Here, look for celebrities and try to figure out who owns the gorgeous beach houses looming over the water.
You can also spend your time wandering around the Venice Canals or snapping photos at the easily recognizable and iconic Venice Sign. I’m sure you’ve heard about Muscle Beach – yup, that’s over here as well!
The last stop of this sunny California road trip is Santa Barbara, full of funky wineries (in the aptly named Funk Zone), postcard worthy views of the Spanish-style architecture from atop the courthouse, and of course East Beach by the pier. Looking for that perfect IG photo? Make your way to the Chromatic Gate, a super colorful art installation right by the beach!
Don’t miss a sunset stroll in the gardens above Butterfly Beach, some frose at Lucky Penny, and a walk down popular State Street with some McConnell’s ice cream in hand! If you’re into history (or just need some time away from the beach), make a quick stop at the Old Mission Santa Barbara for a tour of this cultural Spanish mission!
- Seal Spotting at La Jolla Beach in San Diego
- Whale Watching & Delicious Pizza in Dana Point
- Watch Surfers & Wipeouts at the Wedge at Newport Beach
- Night Market in Huntington Beach
Recommended by Dana from Happily Ever Travels
11. San Diego Round Trip
This 223 mile long Southern California Road Trip takes you to some hidden gems and local favorites that not many tourists know about. From psychedelic metal sculptures in the desert to stargazing and wine tasting, this road trip is full of fun things for all ages and interests.
The total driving time is less than 5 hours, so while you technically could do it all in one day, I highly recommend you spread it out to at least a weekend. That way, you can relax and really explore the places you visit and not just check them off your list.
- Starting Point: San Diego
- Ending Point: San Diego (loop)
- Best Time of Year: Spring (wildflower season)
- Distance: 223 miles (5 hours)
- Suggested # of Days: 2-3
- Route at-a-glance: San Diego – Borrego Springs – Palomar Mountain – Temecula – San Diego
You’ll be starting this California road trip in San Diego, which is a real gem so plan to spend at least 1 full day here. There’s lots of things to do in San Diego, including relaxing on one of the stunning beaches, exploring Balboa Park, Old Town or the downtown/Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. If you’re into hiking, check out Potato Chip Rock for some really cool photo opps.
Next stop → Borrego Springs! On the way, stop in Julian for some of the best apple pie you ever had (trust me on that one). Aside from hiking at Anza Borrego State Park, definitely check out the metal sculptures at Galleta Meadows in Borrego Springs. They’re wild.
Palomar Mountain State Park is a perfect hiking spot during your SoCal road trip. The views from up there are simply spectacular, not just during the day. Palomar Mountain is one of the best spots for stargazing in California. The Palomar Observatory by CalTech is an interesting place to visit. They offer tours and impromptu lectures by the university staff working onsite.
Southern California’s largest wine region, Temecula, is one of the most popular weekend getaways from the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas, especially on the weekends. It can get quite busy, but you’ll have a great time exploring the various wineries and tasting their best wines.
When you get back to San Diego, I recommend heading to La Jolla before you return your car and check out this fun and classy beach town just north of San Diego. Everyone falls in love with La Jolla, and I mean everyone.
Check out the sea lions sunning themselves on rocks off shore at the Children’s Pool, hike in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and go tidepooling at Shell Beach. Definitely don’t miss kayaking to Clam Cave.
- A walk around downtown San Diego, enjoying the waterfront and all the little shops and restaurants
- Checking out the metal sculptures in the middle of the dessert at Galleta Meadows
- Palomar Mountain Observatory, when geeky and romantic particles collide.
- Checking out Vitagliano Winery in Temecula Valley, a Tuscan inspired winery with stunning grounds
- Kayaking in caves and snorkeling with leopard sharks in La Jolla
Recommended by Maria from San Diego Explorer
Looking for more California content? Explore my other California guides here!
Did you know that …
When you purchase something through our links, we earn a small fee (but you still pay the same)! Win-win! If you found this article useful, consider using the links within the article or below. Thanks for your support!