Travel Guide: Best California Road Trips
There’s no place quite like California. Home to some of the States’ most famous landmarks, world-class cities, dining, and more than a few rising starlets, it’s no surprise California tops your vacation spot list.
Maybe you’ve stopped in San Francisco for a weekend or spent little time in Hollywood. But this summer, consider getting a little more lay of the land with a West Coast road trip. California has much more to offer than what a typical weekend (or even week-long) trip to the beach can offer, from gorgeous sights like the redwood forests to Disneyland.
If you’re looking to start planning a getaway, try our suggestions for weekend road trips stopping at some of the state’s most iconic spots and hidden treasures.
Before You Hit the Road
Planning the perfect road trip is no easy feat. There are a few things you might want to keep in mind before you put on your snap back and hit the road.
First off, make sure you a concrete plan for your trip. What would you most like to see? What cities or sights close to your most-loved landmarks? You can use an app or map to mark your stops–but be sure to have a plan! Even with your plan, it’s fine to allow for a little flexibility and spontaneity, too, especially if you have young children. And really, who can resist the urge to pull off for the occasional corny roadside attraction?
Next, make sure you have plenty of room. Rent a roomy SUV or van when you land in California, and pack smart for the trip. Take the day to stop by a local grocery or home goods store to pack up on snacks and essentials for the days ahead.
If you’re driving for particularly long stretches, be sure to stop often. Tensions can build quickly in a small car — plan out stops at gas stations, rest stops, playgrounds, and restaurants to release a little pressure.
If you’re traveling with the whole family, keep kids occupied with a few road games, or pack a few podcasts or books on tape that everyone can enjoy.
Otherwise, ensure you have a few essentials in a crisis, such as a first aid kit, flares, jumper cables, and extra cell phone chargers.
And remember that even though you’re hitting the road, there’s no reason to concede to junky road snacks. Put the Pringles aside and splurge on a trusty cooler. Pack tasty, healthy snacks such as dried fruit, guacamole, hummus and pitas, turkey jerky, or energy bars. Never fear if you’re flagging and in desperate need of sweets–you can always pack a bar of dark chocolate or some chocolate-covered nuts for added protein.
You can hit them all, or just pick a few–either way, here are our suggestions on California’s must-see sights. (Don’t worry. Even after your trip, there will still be plenty to see!)
Fly into LAX, grab your rental car, but don’t be too hasty to hit the road. L.A.’s dining and doing is only comparable to the Big Apple (but with better weather!) Stroll along Rodeo Drive for premium window shopping, or snap pictures along the Walk of Fame. Drop by the California Science Center or the famous Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum for an afternoon.
San Luis Obispo
Distance from Los Angeles: 217 miles (about 4 hours)
Home to multiple breweries, beautiful hiking, and the unusual Bubblegum Alley (an alley lined with chewed gum), this seaside town is a perfect pit stop for travelers to Big Sur or San Francisco. The quirky town is also known for the Madonna Inn, a hotel with 110 themed rooms.
Distance from Los Angeles: 352 miles (6 hours)
There’s no need for an introduction to Big Sur. Known as a prime road trip destination, the zig-zagging drive along Big Sur is thrilling, beautiful, and harrowing. Added bonus: you can stay in a treehouse for the night (and eat with towering redwoods in the morning).
Distance from Los Angeles: 383 miles (6 hours, 30 minutes)
Cable cars, hilly streets, the Golden Gate Bridge, stately townhomes–you might never want to leave San Francisco. While you’re there, try and catch a band at the Fillmore, or give yourself and the kids a treat with a sundae at Ghirardelli Square.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Distance from Los Angeles: 545 miles (8 hours, 40 minutes)
All the beauty of California’s most beautiful parks, sans all the crowds. Lassen Volcanic National Park boats clear lakes, beautiful trails, and hydrothermal areas such as Bumpass Hell, full of boiling pools and steaming mud pots.
Death Valley National Park
Distance from Los Angeles: 267 miles (4 hours, 30 minutes)
What’s hot, dry, and low? Death Valley, one of California’s most famous national parks. Make sure you hit the road to see the Artist’s Palette, a colorful canyon of multi-color rocks, and other attractions early to beat the heat.
Yosemite National Park
Distance from Los Angeles: 281 miles (5 hours)
Perhaps one of California’s best-known parks, Yosemite is home to waterfalls, scenic views, hiking, snow sports, and the iconic Half Dome and Glacier Point. Don’t miss it!