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7 California Road Trips to Plan Right Now
Travel

7 California Road Trips to Plan Right Now

No matter the direction you plan on taking, you’re bound to get lost in the many options the Golden State has to offer.

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7 min read

July 28, 2021

Every once in a while, we need to get away from our daily routine and enjoy life on our own terms. What better way to do exactly that than by driving on the open road with your loved ones? You choose the destination, route, and what’s worth seeing along the way. Summer getaways in general are super fun, but for those lucky enough to live within the borders of California, these road trips are beyond incredible. No matter the direction you plan on taking, you’re bound to get lost in the many options the state has to offer.

Whether you’re looking to travel solo for a few days or planning a short trip with your mom, we’re here to provide you with the ultimate California road trip itinerary. Blast that playlist on full volume and let’s go!

Cool California Road Trip Ideas

Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost. Look for chances to take the less-traveled roads. There are no wrong turns.

1. Tahoe National Forest to Lassen National Forest 

Distance: 108 miles

Duration: 1 hour and 50 minutes

This Northern California road trip is perfect for hikers. Driving from one national forest to another means incredible vistas follow you the entire time. Take Highway 49 from Tahoe National Forest and switch to Highway 70 until you reach U.S. Route 395. From then on, it’s all natural beauty.

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Honey Lake is one stop you’re going to want to make—drive north for a little over an hour and you’ll see the endorheic sink in the Honey Lake Valley. This lake usually dries out in the summer months, resulting in an alkali flat. Once you’ve hit the road again, you’ll make it to Janesville in less than 20 minutes. Satisfy your cravings at Pizza Factory so you have enough energy to get to Lassen.

As expected, this road trip ends at Lassen National Forest. Volcanoes, mountains, and wilderness areas unfold as you advance into the depths of the forest. Make sure to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail during your visit.

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

2. San Simeon to Carmel-by-the-Sea

Distance: 91.1 miles

Duration: 2 hours and 10 minutes

A Big Sur road trip is one of those things you have to do at least once. An otherwise short trip, this getaway can easily be turned into a week-long vacation.  

Start your trip at San Simeon and head north towards Carmel-by-the-Sea via Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. You have so many places to check out along the way, so be prepared to dedicate enough time to stop at each of the places. Make a quick stop at Limekiln State Park for a chance to view 18th-century lime kilns and old-growth redwood forests. Drive a little further to check out the Big Creek Cove Vista Point and appreciate the beauty of Big Sur—this Californian rite of passage exposes you to the Central Coast’s grandeur.

Avid hikers and nature lovers, this one’s for you. Your next stop is at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, home of McWay Falls, which flows directly onto the beach. Stretch your legs and hike the short trail to view the tidefall in all its glory. 

One more state park worth seeing is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Only minutes away from Carmel-by-the-Sea, the “Crown Jewel” of California’s state parks is an exceptional place, where you can whale watch, hike, and scuba dive among many other activities.

In less than 10 minutes—once you breathe in the crisp ocean air and notice that the streets have no name—you’ll realize you’ve made it to your final destination. Carmel-by-the-Sea welcomes you with its breathtaking scenery and amazing cuisine. End your summer road trip with a satisfying meal at Cultura Comida y Bebida. Give their tacos a try; you won’t regret it.  

The most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take. The world is round so we'd never be able to see too far down the road.

3. Palm Springs to Santa Barbara

Distance: 202 miles

Duration: 3 hours and 17 minutes

It’s time to leave the desert behind and head towards the coastal city of Santa Barbara. Take the scenic route and opt for a trip with a detour or two. The first roadside attraction along the way is a weird one—the Jurassic World comes to life at Cabazon Dinosaurs. Your next detour is in Glendale; Raffi’s Place will make sure you have energy for the rest of your trip. Once you’ve satisfied your cravings, head back on the road and you’ll soon arrive in Ventura, the land of surf, sun, and sand. If you have enough time (and brought your surfboard with you), ride the waves at Mondos Beach before hitting the road again.

Santa Barbara is your final destination, and what a magnificent end to an incredible drive! Here, you’ll shop ‘til you drop at State Street, visit fascinating historic landmarks, and dine at the finest restaurants. 

Don't follow where the path may lead. Go where there's no path and leave a trail. The freedom of the open road is absolutely liberating.

4. Mendocino to Klamath

Distance: 206 miles

Duration: 4 hours and 11 minutes

This one’s for those who can’t stay away from the coastline for too long—beach lovers love going on this California road trip in the summer months. Whenever you’re driving north from Mendocino, the first stop is obviously Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. This unique beach isn’t exactly sandy; colorful pebbles welcome you to explore the north coast. 

Your next stop is Humboldt Redwoods State Park. A must-see on your north coast vacation, this can’t-miss state park is where you’ll drive along the 32-mile-long Avenue of the Giants—that’s a scenic drive you’d want to experience. 

Once you’ve experienced natural beauty at its finest, it’s time to head over to Eureka. Here, you’ll get to see Victorian architecture at every turn—the historic Carson and Pink Lady Mansions are the ones that stand out. Get your fix of architecture and drive past Arcata Bay, Patricks Point, and Orick until you finally arrive at Klamath. 

Never underestimate the therapeutic power of driving and listening to very loud music. Life is too short to not go on that spontaneous road trip.

5. San Diego to Paso Robles

Distance: 352 miles

Duration: 5 hours 15 minutes

Planning a fun road trip from San Diego? Make Paso Robles your final destination for a getaway with a fun itinerary and awesome stops. Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside are the first three places you should stop by if you’re a surfer dude. Drive north along Interstate 5 to arrive at the OC—San Clemente welcomes you with world-class waves and excellent surfing conditions.

Anaheim is the next stop to make along the way—but don’t worry, we won’t be telling you to spend the day at Disneyland, there are plenty of other things to do here. However, if you don’t feel like stopping here, make your way to the City of Angels. Check out the downtown districts, historically Black neighborhoods, and marvel at iconic L.A. architecture

Once the city buzz fades away and you find yourself in the ‘SLO’ lane, you’ve arrived at Paso Robles. Your tiring road trip will make you want to rejuvenate at Franklin Hot Springs to end your getaway luxuriously. 

Travel teaches you a little about the world and a lot about yourself. Getting lost is the best way to find ourselves.

6. San Jose to Malibu

Distance: 361 miles

Duration: 5 hours 50 minutes

Looking for a road trip to L.A. straight from Silicon Valley? Here’s one that promises a lot of fun on the road. This route via U.S. Route101 passes through Salinas, Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, and ends at the ‘Bu.

Depending on how long you can survive without making a stop, either stop at Soledad for breakfast or drive further down to San Luis Obispo for a delicious brunch. When in SLO, dedicate enough time to discover some of the hidden gems in this Central Coast beach town. By the time you make it to Malibu, you’ll have driven past Goleta, Summerland, and Ventura. Once you’ve made it to the iconic city, you can finally catch your breath at the gorgeous beaches. 

Road trips require a couple of things: a well-balanced diet of caffeine, salt and sugar, and an excellent selection of tunes—oh, and directions.

7. Los Angeles to San Francisco

Distance: 382 miles

Duration: 6 hours 15 minutes

Finally, a road trip out of L.A. This relatively long drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco can be as fun and as scenic as you want it to be. And guess what? This is the road trip to end all road trips in California. 

Bid adieu to the Malibu Coast and drive towards Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. This drive is going to be a long one, so make sure to stretch your legs along the way. Hike along Bishop Peak for beautiful city views. Later, make a detour at Morro Bay to enjoy the calming sound of the waves on the rocky shore. From there, head towards the 17-Mile Drive for 17 fun stops and a scenic drive that’ll take your breath away. After that, you’ll be stopping by Salinas, where you can visit the world-renowned WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a race car aficionado’s definition of heaven.

Once you’ve driven past San Jose, Palo Alto, and San Mateo, it won’t be long until you arrive at Fog City. The Golden Gate Bridge waves hello from the other end of the Bay Area and welcomes you to the City by the Bay. Enjoy your stay!

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