The United States’ vast size makes it ideal to get into a car and drive for countless hours from one destination to the next. Yes, there is nothing like the great American road trip, and no state in the US offers visitors an automobile experience quite like California.
Whether you want to visit the mountains of northern California, the coastal cliffs, wine country, the beaches of southern California, or the desert interior, we have the perfect California road trip itinerary just for you. Not only will you see one of the most beautiful places in the world, but you will avoid the crowds while doing it.
Begin in San Francisco
You can easily fly into San Francisco to start your California road trip. Beginning in northern California allows you to make your way south and into the warmer regions of the state to finish in the desert.
Driving south down Highway 1 will take you across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you reach Fairmont, which is roughly 1.3 miles outside of San Francisco, you will pick up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Your drive will take you south along the Pacific coast. The views are incredible, but don’t take your eyes off the road for too long.
Your favourite tech companies are likely headquartered in Silicon Valley. As you head south on the Pacific Coast Highway, you will have the chance to take a slight detour off of the highway to visit the massive tech-centred area.
If you are a true tech nerd, you can visit the Googleplex or Apple Campus. Snap a photo in front of the signs out front or head into the official Apple Store at the Apple Campus for branded merchandise you cannot get elsewhere.
Back on the Pacific Coast Highway, make your way to the beautiful California town of Monterrey. Set on the coast, Monterrey is a popular stop off, so don’t hesitate to book a day or two in town. The local wildlife brings out seal and whale watchers.
If you fancy getting wet, you can go kayaking at Elkorn Slough. Elkorn Slough is seven miles of tidal slough and estuary in Monterrey Bay. It was the US’s first estuarine sanctuary.
Monterrey is just under three hours from San Francisco. If you want to skip a visit to Silicon Valley, you can be there for lunch. To see more local wildlife, head to the Monterrey Aquarium or hop on a bike to enjoy some of California’s best cycling.
Big Sur is home to the most beautiful portion of the drive from San Francisco to southern California. Pacific Coast Highway winds along beachside cliffs, over creeks, and will take you across an arched bridge. Don’t hesitate to stop and take some photos to post on Instagram.
The problem with this portion of your adventure is the amount of time you will stop to take photographs. Stop off at Bixby Bridge for epic views. If you have some time, visit one of the nearby state parks to explore California’s coastal beauty further.
Santa Mari - Santa Barbara
If you want to get in touch with California wine country, then stop off in Santa Maria or Santa Barbara. There are wine tours available to explore. Fans of the film Sideways, tend to stop off in Santa Maria and/or Santa Barbara for the “Sideways Experience”.
Wine tours are popular in both towns, but don’t miss the Dunes Center Museum in Guadalupe. Cecil B. Demille had a set of the Egyptian pyramids built in the middle of the California Sand Dunes. The filmmaker didn’t want another director to use his set, so he had it buried in the desert. It was forgotten about until 1990 when it was located.
Los Angeles is a polarising city. People either love it or hate it. While it can be overwhelming, it is a tourist destination haven. No California road trip is complete without visiting the City of Angels.
Once you get to La-La Land, the possibilities of things to do are endless. You can explore the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the many museums in the city, dine at award-winning restaurants, or go shopping at some of the coolest places in America.
Joshua Tree National Park
After a day or two in Los Angeles, finish up your California road trip itinerary with a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. The park is the meeting point of the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. It is 127 miles from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park. However, you will feel a million miles away from La-La Land.
Inside the park, you can camp out under the stars. During the day, mountain biking, hiking, and trail running are possible in the park. Joshua Tree National Park is also one of the top bouldering destinations in America.
If you want to explore the riches of California, then there is no better way than to do it by car. A road trip through the Golden State will take you on an adventure of a lifetime.