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9 SoCal Road Trips You Must Go On

9 SoCal Road Trips You Must Go On

Rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, arid desert landscapes, and off-the-beaten-path beaches; SoCal really is the ideal package.


4 min read

August 01, 2021

Life’s a highway… It’s the journey, not the destination… a wheel in hand and four on the road… When you're on a SoCal road trip, these phrases will stop sounding like reruns of Eat Pray Love—you’ll actually start believing in them. And we’re not blaming you either, the terrain is truly unmatched. Rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, arid desert landscapes, and off-the-beaten-path beaches; SoCal really is the ideal package. But given that there are countless options, as well as limited space in your fridge for photo magnets, we've singled out the stellar standouts only. 

The Best Southern California Road Trip Ideas

Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before. Remember that roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

1. Mulholland Highway 

Distance: 30 miles from Los Angeles 

If you want to be where weekend warriors and Hollywood starlets rub elbows, then Mulholland Highway is your best bet. Winding its way through the Santa Monica Mountains, the highway is named after William Mulholland who made it "to take Angelenos from the city to the ocean." Starting in Calabasas, the first stop on your way is the 588-acre King Gillette Ranch adjacent to Malibu Creek Park. On your way, you’ll drive past Lake Malibou, the Mulholland Highway "Snake," and many other roadside attractions.

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2. Angeles Crest Highway

Distance: 48 miles from Los Angeles 

In stark contrast to the bustling streets of La La Land, the Angeles Crest Highway offers the sort of calm and solitude you've been craving recently. Starting from the City of La Cañada Flintridge, this Southern California scenic drive crosses the rugged terrain of the San Gabriel Mountains, rising to 10,000 feet at its peak. You might want to bring your binoculars for this one—the breathtaking Antelope Valley occasionally pops up in the distance.

Take vacations and go as many places as you can. You can always make money, but you can’t always make memories.

3. Ortega Highway 

Distance: 83 miles from Los Angeles 

State Route 74, more commonly referred to as the Ortega Highway, stretches just over 21 miles from the breathtaking San Juan Capistrano in the OC all the way to Palm Desert in Riverside County. Driving along this road will feel similar to a roller coaster, with a lot of fun turns and changes in elevation. But as opposed to a roller coaster, Ortega Highway takes you through unparalleled scenery. Stop to marvel at Mission San Juan Capistrano, check out Caspers Wilderness Park, and, most importantly, make sure to have enough gas to reach Lake Elsinore.

There’s this thing about road trips that throws our sense of time out of the window. All you need is one wheel in hand and four wheels on the road.

4. Highway 126 Heritage Valley

Distance: 70 miles from Los Angeles

Highway 126 is kind of a vista superstar. This road takes you through the towns of Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, and Rancho Camulos; all great SoCal road trip stop ideas. However, the stretch of this highway known as Heritage Valley is truly where it's at—it’s a rural oasis nestled right between Los Angeles County and the sparkling beaches of Ventura. Stopping at this area means losing yourself in citrus and avocado orchards, snatching trinkets from roadside stands, and marveling at historic landmarks.

Arriving isn’t everything. It’s the wild stuff that happens along the way that makes up everything. The road listens, feels, and understands...

5. Lake Arrowhead 

Distance: 80 miles from Los Angeles 

Driving to Lake Arrowhead is a classic Southern California road trip idea. Fittingly dubbed the "Alps of SoCal," this outdoor adventure haven is best visited in fall; fewer crowds, more solitude. Don't refrain from going on this scenic drive thinking "it's too far away." Lake Arrowhead is an hour from San Diego and nearly two hours from most parts of Los Angeles and the OC—no excuses will be accepted. Let the freeways whisk you to San Bernardino National Forest, and relish in a scenic, well-maintained lane going all the way up, and by up we mean to an ear-popping 5,700 feet.

6. Oak Glen

Distance: 78 miles from Los Angeles

About an hour-and-a-half drive from Los Angeles, Oak Glen is a hidden gem tucked above the San Bernardino Valley. One of the big draws of the area—apart from its sweeping views, of course—is the number of orchards dotting the surrounding area, making for an apple-solutely fun time for the whole family and a hand-picked basket for those who were unable to join you on this adventure. But before you do that, be sure to drop by the Oak Glen School House Museum and Park to learn more about the grounds you’re exploring.

It may be a long journey, but it will take you to freedom. Keep moving forward and don’t look back.

7. Ojai Valley

Distance: 82 miles from Los Angeles 

Thanks to its location within the east-west mountain range, Ojai has a sunset that few other towns in the world offer. Aptly deemed a "Pink Moment," the breathtaking sunset over the nearby Pacific Coast is reflected on the mountainside—the pinkish glow on the Topatopa Bluff goes on for several minutes but stays imprinted in your memory for much longer. From central Los Angeles, make your way to the 101 North (take the 405 North to the 101 North if you're further west). Drive along the 101 to Ventura, and then take exit 70B for the 33 North towards Ojai.

8. National Old Trails Highway

Distance: 137 miles from Los Angeles 

When thinking of places to drive in Southern California, you’ll probably go for the ones most seen in movies, TV shows, and social media. While these are no doubt iconic drives, their popularity often serves to their disservice; the roads become heavily trafficked. To remedy that, we suggest you take the road less traveled—the National Old Trails Highway. Starting in Needles, this highway crosses Barstow, San Bernardino, and all the way to the City of Angels. There are several mini-abandoned buildings on the road worth checking out, including Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch. This place is constructed of nothing but junkyard pieces and used bottles. Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark is another noteworthy stop to make, but be careful not to get a heat stroke. 

Hey GPS, let’s take the scenic route today. Today’s good mood is sponsored by coffee and this view.

9. San Diego 

Distance: 120 miles from Los Angeles 

This drive hails supreme among SoCal road trips, simply because there’s so much to see. And while the distance between L.A. and San Diego looks relatively short to the naked eye, we recommend dedicating a full day to the sun-filled escapades you're about to tell everyone about. Popular detours include Disneyland in Anaheim, Trestles Beach in Oceanside, and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla—time to start putting together that playlist.

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