California’s Highway 1 roadway trip is one of the most well known in the civilization partly due to the fact that of the dramatic see of big Sur.

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The spectacular Highway 1 route is, of course, on the list, along with many friend may have never heard of.


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Photo by kris LaBasco/Shutterstock
The point Reyes Lighthouse is a brief but unforgettable detour from Highway 1.

1. California’s Pacific coast Highway (Highway 1)

Distance: 656 milesStart: Dana point (Orange County)End: Leggett (Mendocino County)

Following the California coastline, iconic State path 1—or Highway 1—is one of the ideal road trips in the world. It is periodically referred to together the Pacific coast Highway (or “PCH”), though technically, the PCH is just a southern component of the route; various other sections of Highway 1 are well-known as Cabrillo Highway, shore Highway, or shoreline Highway. Think of Highway 1 together a arsenal of the state’s best hits. You can drive the path in around five days, however there’s so much to do and also see, we’d recommend obtaining out of the rapid lane and also giving yourself a week and also a half or 2 weeks to really enjoy it all.

Start off through your toe in the Pacific in ~ Huntington Beach, or Laguna Beach, or any type of one the the other scenic beaches of sunny southerly California, climate head north. Catch Spanish early american architecture and sip regional Santa Ynez sink wines in Santa Barbara; together you pass san Simeon, save an ear the end for elephant seals and also an eye out for zebras and also Hearst Castle. Climate follow the forested road through big Sur, stopping regularly to marvel at mountains that finish abruptly in sea cliffs.

Be certain to pay homage to john Steinbeck in ~ Cannery heat in Monterey, then bundle up to cut through the fog in san Francisco. Nothing worry, it tends to clear simply after you cross the golden Gate Bridge. Native there, the road gets narrower and also feels an ext remote together it winds with the hills of Marin County. Grab some oysters in Tomales Bay and picnic along the point Reyes national Seashore. 

Finish up your expedition walking driftwood beaches and tree-lined trails in the sleepy coastal town of Mendocino, or if you’re emotion really intrepid, keep complying with the coast north. Highway 1 officially end in Leggett, wherein it transforms to Highway 101, but that route continues more or less along the Pacific all the means into Oregon.

(Read an ext about the best stops top top a Pacific coastline Highway roadway Trip.)


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2. The eastern Sierras (Highway 395)

Distance: 232 milesStart: Lone PineEnd: south Lake Tahoe

While Highway 1 complies with the coast, its sister trip, Highway 395, traces the Sierra Nevadas, the backbone the California. Quite than beaches and also sunsets, a expedition through the eastern Sierra features prehistoric forests, historic mining towns, and all species of an excellent geological features. The journey from Lone Pine up to Lake Tahoe is only about four hours—seven if she driving to the start suggest from Los Angeles—but you’ll desire to plan for a four- or five-day trip.

Kick off her journey in Lone Pine, a previous mining town sandwiched in between Sequoia and also Death Valley national Parks. Spend the work hiking around the boulders, arches, and also jagged peaks that the Alabama Hills, whereby a variety of movies, including The Lone Ranger, Gladiator, and also Django Unchained, were filmed, before heading north. Before you leave, salary a visit to Manzanar National historic Site to remember and honor the 110,000 Japanese Americans that were stripped of their rights and also forced right into the internment camp during human being War II.


In big Pine, avoid for traction pork and ribs in ~ Copper height BBQ, then and also take a short detour top top Highway 168 to visit old Bristlecone pine Forest, residence to few of the oldest living tree on the planet. It is in on the lookout for hot springs when you happen the climber’s haven of Bishop: Wild Willy’s warm Springs and Hot Creek Geologic Park space both precious a stop, yet as you proceed north there space plenty of mystery spots locals might share if friend ask. A bit farther follow me Highway 395, you’ll pass Mammoth Mountain, a well-known ski resort, and also then Mono Lake, with its mud-drip rock formations. Yosemite-bound vehicle drivers would head west here, but those continuing north might take a detour to explore the ghost town of Bodie off Highway 270. Leave Highway 395 near Topaz Lake and take Highway 89 to southern Lake Tahoe, wherein you can end up your expedition relaxing top top the shores the a place Mark Twain when referred to together the “fairest snapshot the whole people affords.”

Northern California road Trips


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3. North California Wine country Road trip in Napa and Sonoma 

Distance: 161 milesStart: mountain FranciscoEnd: mountain Francisco

A road trip through the Napa Valley and also Sonoma Valley need to never be around getting from suggest A to point B. It’s much more of a circuitous route that meanders v a countryside complete of little towns, vineyards, and also state parks. Many of world treat northern California wine country as a day pilgrimage from mountain Francisco, yet go for a lengthy weekend so that you have the right to really savor those winetastings and also pamper yourself with a continue to be at the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa or Meadowood Napa Valley.

Make a beeline from san Francisco to Domaine Carneros to start your pilgrimage sipping California bubbly. Then jogging north on Highway 121, you’ll pass v the town of Napa, whereby it’s precious a protect against for having lunch at the Oxbow windy Market. Continue northeast top top Highway 121 and also you’ll pass the warm springs will Vichy Springs, or turn north instead onto the Silverado Trail, where you deserve to hop in between some of the best wineries in the area, including Clos du Val and also Mumm.

The Silverado Trail ends in Calistoga. Native here, loop back to Sonoma via the winding Calistoga Road and Highway 12, avoiding to go off your wine in ~ a couple of great state parks, including Robert louis Stevenson State Park, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and Jack London State historical Park. Dine top top seasonal taco at El Molino Central in Sonoma, or pick among the countless restaurants the ring historical Sonoma Square. There space plenty of small wineries and towns to discover in this area prior to you finish your trip with a sunset drive ago to mountain Francisco. 


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4. Redding to Lassen Volcanic nationwide Park

Distance: 188 milesStart: ReddingEnd: Lassen Volcanic national Park

Lassen Volcanic national Park and also the area around kind one the the an ext beautiful parts of the state, particularly if you’re a mountain junkie that loves craggy peaks and also volcanic rock. Yet it’s one that even locals tend to miss, partly because, at two and also a fifty percent hours indigenous Sacramento and almost four hours northeast of mountain Francisco, the harder to obtain to than the shore or the state’s wine countries. Yet those that make the trek should plan for a three-day weekend v plenty of day hikes and geologic curiosities—this is, after all, volcano country. 

Starting in Redding, a bustling city on the Sacramento River, take trip north ~ above 1-5 come Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. Continue north on I-5, passing with the Shasta-Trinity nationwide Forest and maybe avoiding to take it in the ragged spires at castle Crags State Park, prior to reaching mount Shasta, where you have the right to stop to stroll through town or hike in the mountain’s foothills.

Then, escape native the interstate and also head southern on Highway 89. This ar of the highway is actually component of the 500-mile Volcanic tradition Scenic Byway, which travels from Oregon in the north under to Lassen along the Cascade hill Range. Take some time come hike McArthur-Burney falls Memorial State Park and also see the 129-foot-tall waterfall the shares a name with the park. Or kayak and also paddleboard on peaceful Lake Almanor. Complete your expedition with a day, if no two, wandering with Lassen Volcanic nationwide Park, i m sorry is filled through mud pots, geysers, lava fields, shield and cinder cone volcanoes, mountain lakes, and also even a couple of green meadows where you’ll find wildflowers in the spring. 


5. Yellow Chain Highway (Highway 49)

Distance: 295 milesStart: OakhurstEnd: Vinton

Follow in the footsteps that miners and also prospectors through California’s Gold nation along Highway 49—a road called after the gold-seeking immigrants, or “49ers” who made their method to the state during the 1849 gold Rush. Arrangement for five days to give yourself time come strike it rich panning because that gold in the ar rivers. You’ll desire to spend time trying out the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills that the Sierra Nevadas too. 

Start off v a history lesson in ~ the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, simply north the Oakhurst. As you relocate north along the route, you’ll happen a variety of Gold Rush–era buildings and towns—many of which you’ll have actually learned around at the Mining and Mineral Museum. In Coulterville, Hotel Jeffery, an initial built in 1851, is well-known for paranormal tasks and cases John Muir and also Theodore Roosevelt as previous visitors. Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 historical State Park provides a glimpse that what transport was like in the so late 1800s, and Columbia State historic Park and the city of Sonora are both well-preserved mining towns. 

Highway 49 passes end the southern Fork of the American River close to Placerville, i m sorry is a renowned place for flow rafting. A tiny farther north here, in Coloma, you can actually try your own luck through a gold pan in ~ Sutter’s Mill in Marshall Gold discovery State historical Park. Proceed up with Auburn State Recreation Area, whereby the north and also middle forks that the American flow meet, preventing in Auburn’s Old Town and later Nevada City because that Victorian-era homes and a little more historic charm. From there, Highway 49 heads northeast v Tahoe nationwide Forest, but there’s an ext mining history to see prior to you finish in Vinton. Be sure to stop at realm Mine in Grass Valley, among the oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and also richest gold mines in California.

Southern California road Trips


6. Pickled in salt of the human being Scenic Byway (State Highway 18)

Distance: 117 milesStart: Cajon PassEnd: huge Bear

When most world think of southerly California, castle think of beaches. However the lower half of the state has just as lot glorious hill scenery as its other half. For visitors who desire to spend most of your vacation frolicking in the sand, but additionally want some hill air, the relatively short rim of the civilization Scenic Byway offers simple weekend getaway come the rockier terrain that the Inland Empire.

State Highway 18 officially starts at the Cajon Pass, which is around an hour exterior Los Angeles ~ above Highway 138. The path heads east, passing small mountain towns and also following cliff edges and skirting the peaks that the mountain Bernadino Mountains, which are sometimes called the “Alps of southern California.”

Take a slight detour onto route 173 come visit Lake Arrowhead, a renowned escape because that Angelinos, that head up to camp, hike, and ride the Lake Arrowhead Queen steamboat, and more. You can also hike a section of the Pacific Crest trace here. Back on Highway 18, in ~ the city of to run Springs, you can take a quick, five-mile side trip up to Keller height Fire Lookout, wherein on a clean day, you might have the ability to spot the Pacific Ocean. Finally, Highway 18 adheres to the sheet of huge Bear Lake come the city of huge Bear. Publication into a cabin and enjoy the area’s hiking and water sports in the summer or snow sporting activities in the winter. 


7. The Desert Drive

Distance: 290 milesStart: mountain DiegoEnd: Joshua Tree national Park

Plenty that travelers make the pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree national Park come marvel in ~ its spiky namesake trees. Yet many think of Joshua Tree together a destination and also miss the end on every the beautiful and sometimes quirky things the deserts of southern California have to offer follow me the way. In fact, you have to really spend a full five days trying out the rock formations, wildflower meadows, art installations, and also architectural hot spots that this region. 

Starting in mountain Diego, suggest your car northeast top top Highway 163 come Highway 78 heading toward Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, famous for that is wildflower supervisor blooms in the springtime. Yet even when the flowers aren’t blooming, the landscape is striking, with its badlands, slot canyons, and also cactus forests. Close to the park entrance, store an eye the end for the 130-foot prehistoric animal sculptures developed by Ricardo Breceda.

Once you’ve explored the park, you have the right to either head phibìc on Highway 79 and cut v Anza en path to Palm Springs—the drive through wooded Santa Rosa and San Jacinto hills National Monument is a nice break from the desert sun—or continue on Palm Canyon Drive toward the dying Salton Sea. Admittedly no the most scenic part of this drive, the Salton Sea is fascinating nonetheless: It’s among the world’s biggest inland seas and is swiftly drying up. Dress the southside of the human body of water, then make your means toward Slab City, an abandoned marine base that’s become an off-grid life community, and also the massive, hand-built and brightly painted art piece Salvation Mountain, simply outside.

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From Slab City, take it Highway 111 phibìc to Palm Springs, an oasis the midcentury contemporary architecture that’s home to plenty of pools that provide respite indigenous the heat. From Palm Springs, monitor Highway 10 come Pioneer city for a drink or a meal or probably a concert in ~ the famous saloon Pappy and Harriet’s, just outside of Joshua Tree Park. The area has long attracted artists and also bohemian types, for this reason while there’s many of herbal scenery come enjoy, such together Jumbo Rocks or Skull Rock, make time to visit neighborhood art galleries, the noah Purifoy Desert art Museum, and also the Integratron Sound bath too.