The Most Beautiful Road Trips in California + Where To Stay

The Best Road Trips In California

Want to experience the best road trips in California? Read our detailed guide with insider tips and the best places to stay!

Road Trips in California are an adventurer’s dream come true. I remember my first road trip through California vividly — the anticipation, the excitement, and the nervousness all mingled together. But the moment I hit the open road, those feelings melted away, replaced by a sense of liberation and connection with the world around me. 

In this blog post, I want to share some of the top road trips in California. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time road-tripper, there’s something uniquely enchanting about California’s vast landscapes that call to the adventurer in all of us.

The Best Road Trips In California

The list is truly endless, but I’ve put together the top 5 road trips in California. These are the most popular road trips for a reason! 

1. Redwood Highway (US Route 101) Road Trip

If you’re looking for an adventure, a road trip through California’s northern coast is just what you need.

The term “Redwood Highway” typically refers to a section of U.S. Route 101 that runs through Northern California, passing through areas with significant redwood forests. Specifically, it includes a stretch along the coast and through the heart of these majestic trees.

The starting point of the Redwood Highway is often considered to be near Leggett, California, in Mendocino County, where you can find the famous Chandelier Tree, a drive-through redwood tree. 

From there, the highway continues southward through various scenic redwood groves and state parks like the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants.

The total length of the Redwood Highway on U.S. Route 101 is approximately 160 to 170 miles, depending on the specific route and detours you take to explore the redwood groves and nearby attractions.

Redwood Highway (US Route 101) Road Trip in California

On average, the drive itself without making many stops or detours can take around 3 to 5 hours. But to truly experience the magic of the redwood forests and the scenic beauty of the region, I recommend planning for a couple of days so you have ample time to immerse yourself in the natural wonders and enjoy your surroundings.

Read more: The Complete Travel Guide To San Francisco In A Weekend

Redwood Highway Must-See Attractions

No visit to these ancient woods would be complete without stopping by Avenue of the Giants — a 31-mile stretch offering spectacular views of massive redwoods lining both sides.

Exploring the ancient and towering giants of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, one of the most remarkable forests on our planet is another not-to-miss stop along the way.

If time permits, don’t miss out on exploring Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park too. Its Fern Canyon trail offers an otherworldly hike amidst fern-draped walls.

The Best Road Trips In California

Where To Stay Along the Redwood Highway

Carter House Inns, located in Old Town Eureka, is situated along Humboldt Bay and is the perfect midpoint for a Redwood Highway road trip. This property features an organic garden, restaurant, free WiFi, free parking and a coffee maker. I highly recommend grabbing breakfast here before you hit the road!

2. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Ready for a road trip that’s nothing short of iconic?

Embark on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway for unforgettable landmarks and breathtaking views. The PCH, also known as State Route 1, stretches over 650 miles along the state’s coastline. This famed highway begins in Orange County, in the city of Dana Point, and it ends in Leggett.

From towering cliffs overlooking sparkling blue waters to charming coastal towns nestled between hillsides — every turn offers postcard-perfect scenery.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to California’s Pacific Coast Hwy and The Best Things To See & Do On California’s Central Coast

Breathtaking Landmarks on CA PCH

Your drive will take you past some of California’s most notable sites, including:

  • Big Sur, a rugged stretch of coast renowned for its panoramic ocean vistas and hiking trails.
  • A stop at the historic Bixby Bridge is a must — it provides one-of-a-kind photo opportunities.
  • In Santa Barbara, enjoy Spanish-style architecture while exploring downtown boutiques or sipping local wines.
  • Hearst Castle: Located in San Simeon, this location deserves special mention. This grand estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst showcases European art collections amidst lavish gardens.
The Best Road Trips In California

Read more: Big Sur Camping: The Best Big Sur Campgrounds

Where To Stay Along Pacific Coast Highway

If you’re looking to pamper yourself, I highly recommend Nick’s Cove in Marshall, California. Waking up to stunning Hog Island views from my cottage terrace was a special treat, I’m so glad I did it. The cozy ambiance with heated tile floors and terry robes made me feel like royalty. And the continental breakfast and locally sourced oysters were a treat. 

A few of my favorite towns to stay along California’s Pacific Coast Highway with excellent hotel options are Cambria, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach, Big Sur, Carmel by the Sea, Santa Cruz, and Fort Bragg.

For more suggestions on where to stay, read my travel guide to California’s Pacific Coast Highway.

Read more: The Most Beautiful Oceanfront Hotels in California & 14 Best Hotels in Laguna Beach

CA PCH Road Trip Tips

  • If possible, plan your route from north (San Francisco) to south (Los Angeles), this way you’ll be driving closer to the sea offering unobstructed views.
  • To truly soak up all that the PCH has to offer, consider taking at least a week to explore, instead of rushing through the sights.
  • Last but not least, always check current road conditions before heading out to ensure a safe and smooth ride.

Road tripping down Pacific Coast Highway isn’t just about getting from point A to B — it’s an experience in itself. Each twist and turn reveals a new captivating view, making this the ultimate bucket list item for any traveler. 

Read more: How To Road Trip California On A Budget

3. Yosemite National Park Road Trip

A trip to Yosemite National Park is a must for any California road tripper. Located within the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is a wonderland where nature’s grandeur stands unrivaled.

With its towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves, I don’t know a single person who was left unimpressed with a trip to this special place. 

The Best Road Trips In California

Iconic Landmarks of Yosemite

El Capitan and Half Dome

You can’t miss the imposing granite cliffs, El Capitan and Half Dome, which tower over the valley floor. Their sheer size have made them popular among rock climbers from around the world. 

But even if you’re not a rock climber this spot is not to be missed!

The Best Road Trips In California - Yosemite National Park

Mist Trail

One of the most popular and rewarding hikes you can do in Yosemite National Park is the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. This hike offers an incredible experience as you get up close to two magnificent waterfalls.

The hike begins at the Happy Isles Trailhead near Curry Village. As you ascend, you’ll be treated to views of the Merced River and the surrounding lush forest. The first major highlight is Vernal Fall, a 317-foot waterfall that showers the trail with mist, creating rainbows on sunny days.

Where To Stay In Yosemite National Park

Just 8 miles from Yosemite National Park, Yosemite View Lodge is a good mid-range option that features a restaurant and bar, as well as a pool.

If camping under starlit skies appeals to your sense of adventure then don’t forget about campgrounds available within this magnificent landscape. This can be a great addition to your California road trip experience. And, who knows, you might just spot some constellations while you’re at it!

Read more: The Ultimate Guide To Yosemite National Park and The Best Photo Locations In Yosemite National Park

4. Wine Country Road Trip

Embarking on a road trip through California’s wine country is like stepping into an exquisite painting. The rolling vineyards, golden hills, and charming wineries create a landscape that’s both breathtaking and serene. 

Here are some ideas on how to get started. 

The Best Road Trips In California

Napa Valley

Napa Valley, often hailed as the crown jewel of California’s wine regions, should be your first stop. This world-renowned region offers more than 400 wineries — each with its unique charm and flavor profile.

You can enjoy everything from robust Cabernet Sauvignons to delicate Chardonnays while soaking in panoramic views at spots like Frog’s Leap Winery.

Read more: How to Visit Napa on a Budget

Sonoma County

Moving westward brings you to the equally stunning but slightly less crowded Sonoma County. A few places to check out here are:

Beyond Napa & Sonoma

If you’re looking for a location off the beaten path, there are many hidden gems to explore. 

Paso Robles, located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco along Highway 101, has gained recognition recently and is famous not only for its wine but also for its olive groves. This up-and-coming region specializes in Rhone-style wines alongside traditional varieties such as Merlot or Syrah.

If you prefer something more offbeat, try exploring Mendocino County known primarily for organic grape farming practices. I was pleasantly surprised with my visit there last year!

Read more:Joshua Tree Camping (When To Go & Best Campgrounds) and Weekend Itinerary To Joshua Tree National Park

Where To Stay In Wine Country

If you’re planning a Napa Valley getaway, I recommend checking out Rancho Caymus Inn in Rutherford. It’s just 15 miles from Napa Valley Wine Train, and they’ve got some amazing perks — an outdoor pool, spa, and wellness center.

The rooms are super cozy and the breakfast was great. I think this spot is perfect for any romantic getaway if you’re looking for something special for you and your partner. 

5. Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine Road Trip

Lake Tahoe is a stunning alpine lake nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains that offers breathtaking views and exciting outdoor activities all year round.

In the summer, you can enjoy water-based activities like swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding, and the winter brings exceptional skiing and snowboarding opportunities at world-class resorts like Heavenly and Squaw Valley.

I recommend starting your route in Lake Tahoe and ending in Lone Pine, California. Here’s a closer look at what’s available in Tahoe and beyond.

South Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine California Road Trip Map

Skiing at Lake Tahoe

With its abundant snowfall, mountain vistas, and a variety of world-class ski resorts, Lake Tahoe has rightfully earned its reputation as a premier skiing destination.

The region boasts over a dozen ski resorts, each offering its unique charm and terrain, catering to skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels.

If you’re looking for where to start, I recommend checking out Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, one of America’s largest skiing areas.

Hiking Trails in Lake Tahoe

Hiking trails abound with varying levels of difficulty catering to both beginners and experienced hikers alike.

For an easier hike, I highly recommend the Eagle Falls Trail to Eagle Lake —  a 1.8-mile trail near South Lake Tahoe, with stunning first and lake views.

If you’re looking for something at the moderate-difficult level, check out the Mount Tallac Trail — an 11-mile round trip to the summit of Mount Tallac (9,735 ft). Steep and demanding, but offers breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe. I will say this is recommended for experienced hikers.

In fact, these recommendations are just the beginning. Truly, there are many dozen hikes to explore in the area. 

The Best Road Trips In California

Read more: Travel Guide to South Lake Tahoe in the Summer

Emerald Bay State Park

No visit to the area would be complete without exploring Emerald Bay State Park — a natural national landmark offering unique island adventures and awe-inspiring vistas.

Read more: The Perfect CA Hwy 395 Road Trip Itinerary

Stops Along Hwy 395

I highly recommend these stops along your Tahoe to Lone Pine Road Trip

  • Mono Lake: You have likely seen this place in photos! Picture this: the water is this beautiful shade of turquoise, and it’s surrounded by tufa towers rising up from the lakebed. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and capture amazing photos.
  • Mammoth Lakes: This alpine destination is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts — and it’s perfect in all seasons.
  • Bishop: Stop at Aaron Schat’s Roadhouse for the best burgers! This is also a good option for hotels along the 395. I recommend the Creekside Inn.
  • Alabama Hills: This mesmerizing landscape has captivated filmmakers for generations. With its stunning rock formations, it’s a picturesque playground for hikers, photographers, and those seeking a connection with nature.

Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe

A beachfront resort, one of Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge’s claims to fame is that every room in the hotel features both lake and mountain views. Situated on the east shore of the lake, the hotel is also home to Elements Spa — a perfect place to wind down and relax.

 
Plan Your Trip

After traveling consistently for over 13 years, we’ve come to trust and rely on a few websites to help us find the best deals on flights and accommodation.

Flights: Going is the first place we check when searching for cheap flights. If you sign up for their email alerts, you’ll receive flight deals at up to 90% off. I have traveled all over the world using their flight deals.

Accommodation: Booking.com offers savings on hotels, apartments, and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide. You can browse hotel reviews and find the guaranteed best price on hotels for all budgets.

Travel Insurance: We never travel without a travel insurance policy because it’s not worth the risk! We use and trust Visitors Coverage, which we’ve used for the past 10 years.

Let us book your trip! Looking for a Travel Advisor to help you plan your trip? Contact us here for more information!

FAQs: California’s Most Beautiful Road Trip Routes

What is the most scenic drive through California?

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also known as Highway 1, offers the most scenic views with its stunning coastal landscapes and iconic landmarks. If you’re looking for an iconic road trip experience, this is a great place to start. 

What is the best time of year for a California coast road trip?

Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are ideal times for a California coast road trip. The weather during these months is mild and you’ll find it’s also significantly less crowded. 

What is the most famous road in California?

Route 66, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica in Los Angeles, is one of the most famous roads in California known for its historic significance.

How many days do you need for a California road trip?

A comprehensive California road trip covering major attractions can take around two weeks. However, shorter trips of 7-10 days can also offer memorable experiences. You can adjust your schedule based on how much time you have available and what you want to see on your trip. 

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