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9 Scenic Drives in California to Experience at Least Once

9 Scenic Drives in California to Experience at Least Once

From the sandy beaches of SoCal to the verdant forests of NorCal, the Golden State’s highways are adorned with scenic stops you have to see.


5 min read

July 29, 2021

Is there anything more exhilarating than going on a scenic drive in California with the windows rolled down and a feel-good playlist blasting? From the sandy beaches of SoCal to the verdant forests of NorCal, the Golden State’s highways are adorned with gorgeous views and scenic stops you just have to see. Pick a destination and get ready to be overtaken by a newfound appreciation for the state’s truly diverse terrain and breathtaking panoramas—these are the scenic drives in California you shouldn't miss out on.

Best Scenic Drives in California

The greatest part of your road trip to Lake Tahoe from the Sacramento region isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the stuff in between.

1. Highway 50 to Lake Tahoe 

On your next getaway to Lake Tahoe, take the scenic route and drive down Highway 50. You’ll be accompanied by breathtaking natural beauty all along this scenic drive near Sacramentoprepare to be tempted to stop and admire the scenery more than once or twice (which you absolutely should).

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The American River will follow you as you drive alongside the road east of Placerville and towards the alpine lake. Continue driving down the winding road—it won’t be long until the road takes you to the glimmering waters of Tahoe. 

It goes without saying that you should take your time to enjoy Lake Tahoe—perhaps even stay there for the weekend. But if you’re here for a short stay, make sure to go on a hike or bike (or both) as the skies above the lake take on a pinkish hue.

2. 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

This scenic drive in California can easily become a weekend-long journey. With gorgeous natural scenery, 17 fun stops, bucket list-worthy golf courses, and unbelievable luxury resorts, the 17 Mile Drive in Monterey is one of those drives you can never grow tired of.

Of all the cool stops along the way, Huckleberry Hill, the Cypress Point Lookout, the Lone Cypress, and Bird Rock Vista Point are must-sees. The dramatic coastal cliffs, white-sand beaches, mystical forests, and luxurious neighborhoods tempt anyone on an expedition to cover the 17 Mile Drive in Monterey—you’ll fall in love with California all over again.

3. Angeles Crest Scenic Byway

Leave the Los Angeles city life behind and go on a 66-mile scenic ride along the spectacular Angeles Crest Highway. This secluded scenic drive in Los Angeles is the perfect alternative to navigating the big metropolis—it offers awesome views of the mountains and valleys in just a few minutes from town. 

Get transported to a mountainous fairytale landscape upon the very first mile of the trip and enjoy phenomenal views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pomona Valley, and the cityscape below. Commonly frequented during the warmer months, this scenic drive in Los Angeles passes by pine forests, sheer rock walls, and plenty of other natural wonders. 

While nature is abundant along this scenic SoCal drive, ranger stations, gas stations, and bathrooms aren’t, so make sure you have answered nature’s call in advance.

Sometimes, all you need is a good friend and a full tank of gas. Explore Northern San Diego’s beauty through this backcountry route with your BFFs.

4. North County Backcountry Ride

When it comes to San Diego scenic drives, the North County Backcountry Ride is one of the best. As the name suggests, you’ll be exploring San Diego’s backcountry along this road, complete with desert views for days. Your trip starts in Escondido along Highway 78, which takes you past charming, locally-owned storefronts. Turn this route into a loop by taking Highway 79 to 76, heading towards the top of Palomar Mountain. Take your time to stop at Palomar Mountain and then get back on the road to complete the San Diego scenic drive down Highway 76, Interstate 15, and back to Escondido.

The road is there, it will always be there. You just have to decide when to take it. Endless playlists + views + best friends = best road trip ever.

5. Malibu Canyon to Pacific Coast Highway

Is a weekend getaway to Malibu on the horizon? Make this scenic route the first item on your itinerary and go on a Malibu scenic drive to end all scenic drives. Heading down Las Virgenes Road, you’ll drive past the Malibu Hindu Temple and Malibu Creek State Park on your descent from the majestic Santa Monica Mountains.

Then, you’ll end up on the famously scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), where you’ll be treated to a breathtaking combination of ocean and mountain views.

You can definitely wrap up your trip at El Matador State Beach and head back home by the time the sun sets. But those looking to follow up their scenic drive in California with another adventure can drive all the way up to Mendocino, which we can't recommend enough.

6. Bixby Creek Bridge

Big Sur is one of the most famous stretches of coastal roads in California. Virtually, any road you drive along Big Sur could be considered a scenic drive. But, perhaps the most iconic of all the Big Sur scenic drives is the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge.

An exemplary California landmark by every sense of the word, the Bixby Creek Bridge offers coastal views at numerous turnouts along its 714-feet length. While you’ve definitely seen photos of the bridge on your Instagram timeline before, nothing beats driving on it in real life and taking a couple of snaps yourself. You’ll also recognize this famous Big Sur scenic drive from numerous movies and TV shows, one of the most recent being Big Little Lies on HBO.

7. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard

Named after the English explorer Francis Drake, whose ship landed along the Pacific Coast in the 1500s, this scenic drive in California is a local favorite. To do the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard justice, start in Marin and drive to the beautifully rugged coast of Point Reyes. This scenic drive in San Jose takes you by wide grassy ranchlands, old-growth coastal redwoods, and out into the windswept coast of Marin County. The presumed landing spot for Sir Francis Drake is marked as Drake’s Bay and should be a stop on your South Bay Area road trip.

The Silverado Trail is a scenic route that travels 29 miles along the Eastern edge of the Napa Valley.

8. Silverado Trail

Next time you’re looking for things to do in Napa that don't involve drinking, consider going on a scenic drive. And when it comes to scenic drives in Napa, the Silverado Trail tops the list of must-trys. Running all the way from Napa to Calistoga, this scenic drive in California features many attractions the valley is known for such as sprawling vineyards, luxury hotels, and great food joints.

Moore Creek, Trancas Crossing, and Robert Louis Stevenson Parks are all beautiful stops along the way. Get out of your car for a quick hike, stroll, or picnic, and admire the region's vineyards when you can. 

9. Skyline Boulevard

Are you a sucker for skyline views? The Skyline Boulevard (Route 35) is the Bay Area scenic drive you should try. Extending from Santa Cruz to State Route 92, this is a two-lane state highway boasting views of the Bay Area unlike any other. Admire the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean as you drive through Silicon Valley's backcountry and set aside time to make a stop or two on your road trip. Sanborn County Park, Castle Rock State Park, and Wunderlich County Park offer plenty of awesome hikes if you feel like stretching your legs. 

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