The soft yellow sunset of La Jolla Shores at sunset.

The Golden State has so many scenic drives and routes that are just waiting to be explored. Each route has a little something for everyone. So you can rest assured that there will be plenty of beaches, fruit stands, activities, hiking, shopping, wineries. And of course, stunning scenery no matter which route you take. Here’s a brief look at some of the best California road trips that you should consider taking.

Coastal highways, vineyards, national parks and beaches are just a few things you can expect from some of the best California road trips. Read on to find out our favorite road trip itineraries through the great state of California.   

San Bernardino National Forest.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway

The Rim of the World Scenic Byway is a 117-mile adventure that’s excellent to take no matter what time of year it is. While you’re making your way across State Highway 18, you’ll be cruising around the San Bernardino Mountains and past several small villages. 

  • Big Bear Lake is your ultimate destination, but before you get there you’ll want to check out Lake Arrowhead, a neat little village that has plenty of shopping, entertainment, and good eats. 
  • When you arrive at Running Springs, be sure to venture up to the Keller Peak Fire Lookout, where your vantage point will allow you to catch a spectacular panoramic glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains, several lakes, and even the Pacific Ocean.
  • Once you’ve arrived at Big Bear, there are hiking trails, a number of different water sports, and don’t pass up the chance for some famous homemade fudge at the North Pole Fudge & Ice Cream Co.    
Big Bear Lake.

Fresno Blossom and Fruit Trails 

Fresno Blossom and Fruit Trails is a road trip that will certainly entice your senses, as you make your way past countless acres of fruit and nut trees. If you travel there during the early spring, the Orchard trees will be in full blossom, but as you move into the summer the sweet fragrance of cherries, peaches, plums, and almonds will be in the air. 

  • You’ll start off in Fresno, but before you leave town make sure that you stop in at Simonian Farms, a fruit stand (and a giant red barn) that dates clear back to 1901.
  • After that, get on State Route 180, and travel through several charming towns like Orange Cove, where you’ll want to stop to enjoy the aroma of the Orange Blossom Trail
  • If you’re interested in tasting red wine that’s made from rare Alicante Bouschet grapes, be sure to stop in at the Cedar View Winery in Sanger. 
  • Lastly, pay your respects to the town of Selma, which is known as the raisin capital of the world. 
  • The best time to make this 62 mile road trip is from February until the end of September.  
Channel Islands National Park.

Malibu to Lompoc on Highway 101

With the 120 miles that it takes to get from Malibu to Lompoc, you’ll get a little taste of both worlds when it pertains to wine country and pristine beaches. Start off on Highway 1 while heading north outside of Malibu

  • There you will pass the Santa Monica Mountains and straight into the beach city of Oxnard
  • In the historic part of the town, you’ll come across Victorian architecture and a lively nightlife atmosphere when you’re downtown. 
  • If you have time, it is highly recommended you check out the Channel Islands National Park which is absolutely breathtaking.     
  • From there you’ll hop on Highway 101 that will take you to Ventura, and then on to Santa Barbara
  • Once there you’ll want to hit up one of its seven white sandy beaches along with stopping in at one of Santa Barbara’s award-winning wineries. 
  • Once you decide to finish your journey in Lompoc, there’s plenty of wine tastings to check-in and an abundance of colorful fields filled with wildflowers (April through September).    

Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park

For those of you that love geology or are simply looking to get in some good hiking, then plan on traveling from Redding to Lassen Volcanic National park, a beautiful 188-mile drive. You’ll notice right away that the Sacramento River cuts right through the heart of Redding. 

  • Head north from the city on I-5, where you’ll come up upon the largest reservoir in the state, Shasta Lake. You’ll pass through Shasta-Trinity National Forest and also Castle Crags State Park before you arrive at the majestic Mount Shasta
  • You’ll have to get off the interstate and head south on Highway 89 while stopping in at the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, which features a 129-foot waterfall.
  • Finish off your trip with a visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park, where you’ll discover geysers, volcanoes, mountain lakes, and spring meadows filled with wildflowers. This road trip is best taken during the spring and summer months.

Surf Safari through Orange County

Last up on our list is the Surf Safari through Orange County, a 30-mile drive north on Highway 1 that will take you past some of the best beaches in all of California. 

  • This is the perfect weekend getaway and you’ll be starting in Dana Point, a harbor town that is especially popular for its whale-watching throughout the winter. 
  • Next up, is Laguna Beach, a stunningly-beautiful beach that is known for its water activities and great hiking trails nearby.  
  • A little bit further up the road is Crystal Cove State Park, which has some of the prettiest sunset scenery that you’ll ever witness. 
  • Newport Beach is next in line and has many great restaurants and shops for you to explore. Finally, catch a sunset (or a wave) at Huntington Beach, which is also known as Surf City USA.  

If you have a day or two extra to visit at the end with your family, Disneyland is only minutes from the beach, making the perfect finish to a fabulous road trip. This road trip is one that you can take all year round.  

Vibrant sunset at La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores at sunset.

Explore San Diego

I am partial to the San Diego area. One of my favorite California trips is to fly into San Diego. Rent an Audi from Sliver Car. Head a very short distance to Shelter Island. This peninsula is convenient to almost anything in San Diego from Balboa Park with the San Diego Zoo, Cabrillo National Monument and even Midway Aircraft Carrier.

From there head to La Jolla for some beach time. There’s no lack of things to do. But I like La Jolla for down time and sunsets. I personally like the La Jolla Shores area better than The Cove. There’s a great beach hotel, La Jolla Shores here with a park adjacent.

Insider Tip: You will surely want to visit this area of California to enjoy the best family beach in California.

If you have time, and are still itching for more beach time, head to Carlsbad. This is also home to Lego Land, which may be a destination in and of itself if you have young children.

The Shelter Island San Diego pier is popular with fishermen as well as Pelicans and Sea Gulls.
The Shelter Island San Diego pier is a popular place to fish. But we enjoyed watching the Pelicans and Sea Gulls.

Insider Tip: Before heading out on your California road trip, be sure to check out our ultimate road food snack list!

Other Notable Road Trip Mentions: 

The state of California has a number of other routes that you should also consider. Here are some of those notable mentions that just couldn’t be left out. 

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park

Distance: 215 miles

Best time to visit: May through November (as long as the weather permits it) 

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway 

Distance: 90 miles

Best time to visit: June through October

San Francisco to Fort Bragg on Highway 1

Distance: 175 miles 

Best time to visit: November through April 

Napa Valley’s Silverado Road

Distance: 29 miles 

Best time to Visit: Year-round

California has so many fabulous road trips that await you and these were only a handful to get you started. If you’ve already taken a California Road Trip before, which route did you take and how was it? Tell us what you think the best California road trips are below in the comments! 

Best California Road Trips

Liana Moore

Liana Moore is a third-culture kid with a hangover from those days that is a severe case of wanderlust. She is more comfortable driving the cliffs of Amalfi, Italy or the dirt roads of Costa Rica or attempting to decipher the street signs of Osaka, Japan than navigating the theme parks of Disney World. But she loves it all. She doesn't believe a vacation is complete without an adventure. Her husband and kids know well that "adventure" often is code for mishap or challenge and it usually results in a good story. They seek outdoor experiences whether in the mountains, on a beach or in the jungle of a tropical country. Her favorite vacation is... all the ones she hasn't yet taken, as well as those she plans on taking again. And, that list is so, so long. But she continues to extensively explore her home state of Colorado, spends lots of time wandering Texas, California, New Mexico, Costa Rica, Mexico, Norway and has even explored Kazakhstan.

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