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There’s nothing like hitting the Golden State's open roads while singing your favorite songs at the top of your lungs. Thanks to California's endless opportunities for adventure, it’s easy to plan a last-minute weekend road trip and experience the best of the West Coast. From the Pacific Coast Highway to the iconic Route 66, the state has no shortage of scenic drives or breathtaking views. With adventurous stops enhancing your getaway every few miles, we've gathered up all the best routes for your next drivable vacation in California.
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Distance from Los Angeles: 214 miles
Drive time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
The ultimate California desert road trip destination is none other than the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in America. As the name suggests, Death Valley is a land of extremes. Covering an area of 3,422,024 acres, the national park has plenty of hiking trails and iconic destinations such as Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Badwater Basin. Check out the beautiful Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes—the most photographed landscape in all of Death Valley—where breathtaking desert vistas come to life. With crusted valley floors and barren salt flats, a fun weekend road trip here is always a good idea.
Distance from Los Angeles: 107 miles
Drive time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Palm tree-lined streets, turquoise pools, iconic mid-century modern architecture? Yes, please. Whether it’s a last-minute road trip idea or a well-planned vacation, a trip to Palm Springs always leaves you with unforgettable memories. Gather your girlfriends and let the wind blow through your hair as you travel to the most luxurious city in the Golden State. Stay the night at Villa Royale for a boutique hotel experience and enjoy some much-needed pampering. In the morning, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and admire panoramic views of Chino Canyon. The 10-minute journey on the world’s largest rotating tram car is rewarding, but the adventure really begins when you reach the Mountain Station where 50-plus miles of hiking trails await. After a long trek, grab a bite at one of the eateries overlooking the majestic Mount San Jacinto State Park. Before you head back to L.A., visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to feed a giraffe and participate in other animal fun.
Distance from Los Angeles: 95 miles
Drive time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
It’s time to go on the Pacific Coast Highway road trip you’ve always dreamt of. Though this drivable vacation is only a short road trip from L.A., Santa Barbara’s Spanish Colonial architecture and laid-back vibe will make you feel far away. When you arrive in town, head straight to Old Mission Santa Barbara. Home to the Mission Museum, the Franciscan Friars, and the Historic Mausoleum, it's served as a gathering place and spiritual home since its establishment in 1786. Next, check out ancient and contemporary art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art before checking East Beach off your weekend beach road trip itinerary. Sandy volleyball courts, a grassy park, and a nearby restaurant make your fun weekend road trip even more entertaining.
Distance from Los Angeles: 230 miles
Drive time: 3 hours, 47 minutes
San Simeon is one of the best weekend road trip destinations. With breathtaking views and some of the most spectacular beaches in California, you’re sure to fall for this picture-perfect locale. Visit Piedras Blancas Rookery as soon as you arrive to admire dozens of playful elephant seals taking up residence on the shores year-round. Then visit Hearst Castle—one of San Simeon’s must-see attractions. The National Historic Landmark was built between 1919 and 1947 and was destined to become one of the world’s greatest showplaces. As your short road trip comes to an end, stop by the Piedras Blancas Light Station to take in the incredible vistas of San Simeon one last time.
Distance from Los Angeles: 255 miles
Drive time: 4 hours, 40 minutes
Scenic drives, majestic trees, and awe-inspiring sights comprise Sequoia National Park. Trade in your typical drivable vacation spots for a fun weekend road trip to California’s national parks and experience a whole new world. Hike up the trail to see General Sherman—the world’s largest living single-stem tree. Standing tall at 275 feet, the unbelievable sight is monumental and extraordinary.
After taking in this incredible sight, head toward Moro Rock. Hidden in the center of the park between Crescent Meadow and Giant Forest, this granite dome rock formation rewards visitors with dramatic views of the Great Western Divide. Next, stop by Crystal Cave; this subterranean marble karst cave usually goes unnoticed due to the towering trees in the park, but it'll definitely be the highlight of your weekend road trip. End this full day of exploring with a night under the stars at one of Sequoia National Park's campsites to soak up the wisdom of the majestic trees.
Distance from Los Angeles: 164 miles
Drive time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
The Salton Sea has transformed from a Hollywood vacation destination into a hippie haven. This quirky area has a unique landscape as well as impressive man-made tourist attractions that captivate visitors. Since the Salton Sea is abundant with peculiar and unconventional spots, it’s easy to come up with last-minute road trip ideas, but the first place you should visit is the International Banana Museum. Different shades of yellow brighten your day as you enter the one-room museum, but the record-breaking collection of banana-related items will make your jaw drop. After an interesting day, spend the evening at the Brawley Inn Hotel and Conference Center in the nearby town of Brawley.
In the morning, continue your weekend road trip with a drive to Salvation Mountain—a massive artistic religious monument. Before heading back home, drive a little further to check out Slab City, an alternative living community also known as “The last free place on Earth.”
Distance from Los Angeles: 279 miles
Drive time: 4 hours, 43 minutes
No one has ever complained about not having anything to do in Yosemite National Park. Covering an impressive 748,436 acres, it’s the perfect weekend road trip destination for climbers, hikers, and nature lovers. Boasting 750 miles of trails, the park has so many must-see places that it’s hard to fit everything into just one weekend.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park, as well as one of its most striking features. Once you’ve admired the falls in all their glory, discover Half Dome on the eastern edge of Yosemite Valley. This distinct rock formation frequently amazes climbers with its sheer size. Then, learn about the heritage and culture of the Ahwahnechee people who once inhabited the valley at the Yosemite Museum. Displaying artifacts and more than 100,000 historic park photographs, a visit to this museum makes your weekend road trip both fun and educational.
Distance from Los Angeles: 120 miles
Drive time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Offering laid-back vibes and coastal adventures, San Diego is the ultimate weekend road trip destination. Home to the best beaches in California, San Diego is an ideal spot to try watersports. Before you show off your skills on the shore, pay a visit to the historic Balboa Park. The urban park brings together culture, science, and nature, with a variety of museums and wide open spaces where beauty blooms. After spending some time on land, venture out to the ocean to explore the tide pools at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and soak in the majestic views of SoCal’s coastline. Later, head over to Pacific Rim Park to learn about the U.S.'s relationship with three Pacific Rim countries—Mexico, Russia, and China. The focal point of the park is the Pearl of the Pacific statuary, designed with symbols from each country. As one of the best summer road trip destinations in the Golden State, you’ll always leave San Diego with unforgettable memories.
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