They say the West Coast is the best coast, and with endless sunshine, amazing cities, and incredible natural treasures, it’s easy to see why. No matter what you want to see and do on your vacation, California has it, and by choosing to take a road trip, you have maximum flexibility and the opportunity to visit multiple destinations. Visit famous landmarks like Yosemite or find an off-the-beaten-track beach. We’ve put together 10 easy to follow road trips that reach every corner of this great state. Some of them are short enough for a day trip, but with all the amazing stops along the way, you might want to book a California vacation rental along the way to turn your trip into a fun weekend. Buckle up and get ready to see the state’s magical scenery!
1. San Luis Obispo to Ragged Point
Head up Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to discover California’s pristine coastline, small beach towns, and the famous Hearst Castle. The journey is a little over 50 miles meaning that you could technically cover it in under an hour, but what’s the fun in that? Take your time and explore along the way. San Luis Obispo, or SLO for short, is a hip and historic college and mission town in one. There are great places for hiking and mountain biking and a quaint downtown. Start cruising the open road, and in about 20 minutes, you’ll reach Morro Bay. Follow the waterfront boardwalk and rent a kayak to paddle the bay. Fuel up with some delicious seafood before you head to Cayucos. This town has a unique blend of the Old West and amazing waves making it one of America’s coolest small towns according to Budget Travel magazine. Two more great stops before you reach Hearst Castle are Harmony and Cambria. You might want to spend all day at the castle viewing the collection of priceless art and antiques from all over the world, but there’s plenty more to see! A few miles past the castle is Piedras Blancas where you get an up close look at some giant elephant seals. Then, continue north about 10 miles to arrive at Ragged Point. Wander the shops and finish your day with a romantic gourmet dinner.
2. Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Bragg
Get ready to see some windswept beauty starting at the Golden Gate Bridge towards Sausalito and Marin County. Take in the coastal hills and redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument, followed by the dramatic sea cliffs and remote beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore. Next up is wine country as your cruise through the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Schedule a wine tasting, and stay overnight at a gorgeous vacation rental overlooking the valley so you don’t have to worry about picking a designated driver. Next, head north on Highway 1 to Fort Bragg and explore MacKerricher State Park to see seals, migrating whales, and Glass Beach, which looks like its covered with jewels.
3. Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Take this road trip to discover some of California’s best kept secrets. Start in Redding and head up I-5 to Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. Stay here for a while if you’re interested in fishing and water sports. Next, drive past the 14,162-foot Mount Shasta and check out the spires at Castle Crags State Park. Next, head south on Highway 89, which is part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, and go to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to the 129-foot, fern-draped Burney Falls. Finish your trip at Lake Almanor and the steaming geysers of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
4. Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail
This trip’s a short one, but still packs a major punch. The road was originally constructed in 1852 to link the towns of Napa and Calistoga. Now, the Silverado Trail runs parallel to State Highway 29, giving you easy access to some of the best wineries in California. Some great wineries to check out are Reynolds Family Winery, Clos du Val in the Stags Leaps District, and the bubbly-rich Mumm Napa. Visit one, or visit them all!
5. Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine or Yosemite National Park
This road trip is great no matter what time of year you decide to travel. You’ll see endless scenic wonders, from fields of volcanic rock to waterfalls and eerie limestone tufa towers when you start at South Lake Tahoe and head south toward Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Continue to Mammoth Lakes, for skiing and snowboarding during the winter or mountain biking in the summer. Then, keep driving south to Bishop and then, Lone Pine which was the setting for many old western movies. The alternate route, seasonal Highway 120, takes you to Yosemite National Park.
6. Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
This forest road will give you a glimpse of what the High Sierra looked like roughly a century ago. Take an SUV because you’ll cross a few dirt roads. Start on Forest Road 81 near the town of North Fork and follow the route for about 90 miles while you take in views of mountain peaks and conifer forests. Cool stops include Jesse Ross Cabin from the 1860’s and Bull Buck Tree, one of the worlds oldest sequoia trees.
7. Fresno Blossom and Fruit Trails
The fruit trails are exactly what they sound like, acres of blossoming fruit and nut trees like almonds, peaches, plums, and cherries. Start in Fresno, east of Highway 99, and follow the route, including State Route 180, through the charming towns of Sanger, Orange Cove, Reedley, Kingsburg, and Fowler. Be sure to stop at Fresnos Simonian Farms, a 1901 fruit stand housed in a giant red barn. Of course there are many local fruit markets along the way to stock up on some juicy souvenirs.
8. Highway 101 from Malibu to Lompoc
This road trip combines the best of both beach and wine country. Starting in iconic Malibu, head past Oxnard and Ventura and into Santa Barbara. Take a quick break to dip your toes in the sand and look out west for signs of Channel Islands National Park. Then, Highway 101 heads insland through rolling ranchlands towards Lompoc. This city is famous for its summer flower fields and excellent Pinot Noir.
9. Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Narrow State Highway 18 winds around the cliffs of the San Bernardino Mountains for more than 100 miles. Make your way through small villages on the way to Big Bear Lake. The views are so amazing that it’s also referred to as “The Rim of the World.” If you have time for a slight detour onto State Route 17, stop at Lake Arrowhead. Keep driving to the town of Running Springs and take the winding, five-mile drive up to Keller Peak Fire Lookout for expansive views of mountains and lakes. Once you make it to Big Bear, get ready for water sports and hiking in the summer, or skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
10. Surf Safari through Orange County
This 20 mile drive drive through Orange County starts at Dana Point, the southern origin of Highway 1. This harbor town has excellent whale-watching during winter. Head north to Laguna Beach to walk on one of the states prettiest beaches at Crystal Cove State Park. Next, head to Newport Beach, and then Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City USA. Catch a wave or watch from the shore on Huntington Pier.
Ready to go? Check out these amazing California vacation rentals on Tripping.com.