California Road Trip Ideas

California Road Trip Ideas – A Road Trip Itinerary for California

Envisage a road trip – hopping in a car and setting off into an ageless horizon, exploring the rugged scenery, and discovering sprawling landscapes. There’s no better way to experience awe-striking vistas, hidden gems, pristine beaches, charming small towns, and far-off wonders than a road trip. This sounds so fascinating, yeah?

The red and gold leaves of the Appalachian Mountains, the deserts of the Wild West, and the fabled Californian Coast, all of these can get quite enticing and exciting as well.

Now, think of the other side. The reality of an American road trip is that it requires a massive amount of planning – if it is spanning over a few days and several hundreds of miles. Whether you are looking for awesome California road trip ideas or the best family-friendly itineraries, we give you a glance of some classic road trips in California, planning a perfect road trip in the Golden State, and California road trip tips.

Reasons to Go on California Road Trips

From early morning surf trips down to San Diego to ski Mammoth Mountain to Northern California wine country getaways or day trips up the coast, California surely boasts endless quality road trips. What are the other reasons that compel you to go on California road trips?

  • To See the Real World: The real world is certainly not confined to the four walls of your big corporate office. It is when you step outside it. Taking a road trip allows you to marvel at the natural wonders, to get off the beaten track, walking the paths where most people haven’t treaded, and much more.
  • You Are in Charge: One of the best feelings about taking road trips in America is you are not in a hurry to catch the next flight. You are the ultimate boss. When you behold something striking, you can stop and have a look. Probably, this is the biggest perk of road trips.
  • Live Real Adventure in You: Drive, walk, discover, explore, and dive – you can do whatever you want to do to live a real adventure. A perfect road trip is going to get you all of that.

Most Stunning California Road Trip Ideas That Are Hard to Resist

The spectacular Highway 1 route is a by-default road trip idea and is on the list of every adventure lover. The West Coast is fabulously recognized for the breathtaking coastline, blissful sun, and dramatic national parks. Take a quick look at some of the best road trip ideas in California

  1. Ojai: A small city in Ventura County, California, Ojai, northwest of Los Angeles, is magnificently set in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains. It is best known for wine tasting, outdoor fun, and romantic small-town vibes. The best part is you can easily get to Ojai from L.A. A road trip to Ojai is a great way to escape the hubbub of big city life. Stay in a lavish California vacation rental, go for horseback riding, hiking, indulge in a California-Mediterranean inspired dinner, and enjoy some local wines before heading back to your place.
  2. San Luis Obispo: A city in the Central Coast region of California, San Luis Obispo is another outstanding road trip destination in the state. Founded by Junipero Sierra in 1776, the city makes a perfect en-route between northern and southern California on 101.
  3. Big Sur: Between Carmel and San Simeon, Big Sur is a gorgeous, rugged stretch of Central Coast, bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains. Big Sur is traversed by 2-lane State Route 1, offering great views of the misty coastline and seaside cliffs. While in Big Sur, take a tour of the iconic Bixby Bridge and the beautiful black sand beach. Pfeiffer State Beach, nicely tucked behind rows of trees, is a lovely place to relax and unwind in the lap of nature. If lucky, spot some patches of deep purple sand.
  4. Solvang: Known for its Danish-style architecture and outstanding wineries, Solvang is a well-known city in southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang is only a 45-minute trip from Santa Barbara. If you love walking around, this can be a great place to do so. Wander around all day long to admire and appreciate its towering windmills.
  5. San Francisco: San Francisco in northern California is known for the Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. You will have a plethora of things to do on the tour.

Planning a Perfect Road Trip Itinerary in California

Comprised of 50 unique states, the United States flaunts a vast swath of North America, with Hawaii stretching into the Pacific Ocean and Alaska sprawling in the northwest. So, the US is pretty big. Now, forget the US, California itself is a massive state that travelers could go on driving day and night for months, and not get bored. Get a few places on your bucket-list, rent a vacation home by owner, and also rent a car (most vacation home rentals by owners offer cars on rent at discounted prices). That’s it!

In this itinerary, your trip starts and ends in San Francisco. Get your car and relish everything that you come across along the way.

Day 1 to Day 4 – Explore San Francisco: Colloquially known as San Fran, SF or Frisco, and the City, San Francisco is the ultimate cultural, financial, and commercial center of Northern California. Set along the ocean, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and rolling hills, the city is steeped in rich history and scattered with beaches, parks, museums, and a host of entertainment options. Staying at San Francisco apartment rentals makes sense because you can grab your car from the owner and keep it with you to traverse around the city as well as for the road trip.

Settle in the city and absorb everything that the laidback city offers. Some of the popular things that you might want to try at –

  • Take your group to Pier 7 to enjoy some incredible views of the city. Walk along the bay, take in the gorgeous vistas, and have a delicious dinner before returning to your abode.
  • Explore Mission Street, enjoy coffee, and walk aimlessly till Union Square.
  • Mission Street is a wonderful place to get around.
  • Land’s End is a fascinating place to be if you want a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, you may like to take the ride to the Bridge. Also, head to Battery Godfrey if you prefer fewer crowds.
  • You may drive further from there on to the Northern side of the Bridge. Halt for a while at Battery Spencer if you want or proceed further, escaping crowd till Hawk Hill.

Day 5 – Drive the Pacific Coastal Highway: This is all that you wanted on a road trip to California. Like many road trip lovers in the state, you should be ready with your high megapixel camera to capture all the amazing things during your road trip. This is the much talked about Highway that takes you through the spectacular coastal vistas, quaint little hamlets along the sea, and many super-stunning mountainous landscapes.

On this day, you need to start early to cover up the State Route 1 (as the Highway is known). There’s so much to see and relish.

Embark on your lovely road trip, stop for a while to have breakfast in Monterey, and drive along the coast comprising Carmel, Big Sur, and Cambria. You may like to halt at Bixby Bridge if your partner wants to get herself framed in a picture. This is a popular spot to take photos before proceeding further.

You can instead prefer picnicking after crossing the bridge. Also, walk up the hillock to snap some great photos of the coastline and the bridge.

Keep driving until you reach Morro Bay. This is a great spot to relax. You can also consider halting at McWay Falls and Pfeiffer State Beach.

Day 6 & 7 – Morro Bay: A coastal city in California, Morro Bay is spectacularly scattered with numerous world-class attractions. It is well-known for its Morro Rock Beach, Morro Rock (an ancient volcanic mound), Morro Bay State Park (flaunting trails, lagoons, and a bird-rich saltwater marsh), and Museum of Natural History. Along the Californian coast, you might also spot the giant gentle mammal (dolphin) and whale (possibly humpback whales) only a few hundred feet from the shoreline.

The fun doesn’t end here until you gorge on scrumptious seafood, savor some outstanding seaside views, and, of course, soul-stirring live music. You will fall in love with this gorgeous waterfront city.

If you want to stay in Morro Bay, look around or do a booking in advance. Make sure you get hold of the most suitable Morro Bay vacation condos just a few blocks from the harbor so that you can spend some time there.

Day 8 to 11 – Reach West Hollywood and Return: You have had enough of lush landscapes and laidback cities. Now, immerse yourself in the glitz and glamour of West Hollywood (WeHo – as it is fondly called by locals) before you make further progress. This is a gorgeous place to be and enjoy a great time with your gang.

For travelers who appreciate walking, this could just be the place to be. Walk around to admire the lovely street art spread across West Hollywood. You may like exploring Beverly Hills and capturing the astounding views of the sun going down from the Sunset strip.

Stay at fancy Los Angeles Apartments and take in some super-stunning views from your bedroom.

Day 12 to 14 – Death Valley National Park: Dreaming of shooting the night skies? There you go! Death Valley National park boasts some of the darkest skies in the world. And if you love that, you are going to make your stay unforgettable.

Stay at Death Valley vacation rentals! The panoramas and landscapes are breathtaking –

  • Take stunning pictures of millions of stars in the sky. You will get bowled over.
  • The overwhelming sunset view over the mountains.
  • Take in the incredible landscape view from Zabriskie Point.
  • The Artist’s Drive is popular in the national park.
  • Spend some time at Mesquite dunes. This is a great place to be if you an ardent nature lover.

Day 15 to 17 – Las Vegas: Heard of the saying – what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? So, you have reached Las Vegas – the mecca of hedonism. After spending days in Death Valley, you will love to stretch your muscles or spend some lazy days in the city. The Strip is the best place to be when in Las Vegas. You will have plenty of vacation rentals in Las Vegas to choose from.

Day 18 – Drive Back to San Francisco to Catch Your Flight: It is time to take a “U” turn and return to San Francisco to catch your flight back home. Drive to San Francisco from Las Vegas through the desert.

The non-stop drive would hardly take not more than 9-10 hours even if you stop a couple of times for snacks and lunch.

If you wish to extend your trip, you may spot these amazing attractions or places to see in California.

  • Sequoia National Park (South Sierra Nevada)
  • Lake Tahoe (Sierra Nevada)
  • Griffith Observatory (Los Angeles)
  • Santa Monica Pier & Pacific Park (Los Angeles)
  • Pier 39 (San Francisco)
  • Alcatraz (San Francisco)
  • San Francisco Cable Cars
  • San Diego Old Town and Balboa Park
  • Mono Lake & Mono County
  • Route 66
  • Asilomar State Beach (Monterey Peninsula)
  • Temecula (Riverside County)
  • Big Bear Lake (San Bernardino County)
  • Yosemite National Park (Sierra Nevada Mountains)
  • Big Sur
  • Redwoods State Park (Humboldt County)

Road Trips


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