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Top 7 California Road Trip Destinations to Explore & Enjoy!

California road trip destinations


Top California Destinations for Your Next Road Trip

If you have been in the same place for far too long, now might be the best time to plan your next adventure. If you want to go where there’s the right mix of nightlife and nature, you don’t have to go further because this California road trip destinations guide gives you a glimpse into the vacation you never knew you needed!

Something is invigorating about going on a ride and unearthing the beauty of both natural and human-made destinations. Dreaming of sightseeing in the West Coast and view the colorful cities, sceneries, and beaches along the way? Here are our top picks for California road trip destinations that will help you discover precious places (if you haven’t already!) that are driving tour-worthy.

Tips to Get You Started

California is a diverse state, and there are so many ways to arrange your itinerary. You can design a trip that fits any category, from theme to budget and everything in between.

road trip destinations California

However, to cover all bases and explore the Golden State as a whole, these are a few pointers you can apply to your California road trip:

  • If you want to do a looping drive tour, you can start with either San Francisco or San Diego, spanning the national parks in one way and then the traverse the coast on your way back.
  • If you’re arriving from a different state or country, choose the bigger cities to fly in and separate itineraries for Northern California and Southern California. That way, you can take the time to soak in the sceneries.
  • Land in Los Angeles and rent a car to explore Santa Barbara, Orange County, and San Diego. Alternatively, fly to San Francisco, then take the road to Yosemite, Big Sur, and the Bay Area and other destinations you can pass by on the way.
  • If you’re on a time-conscious trip, pay for a one-way drop-off fee for your car rental when you decide to fly base to the big cities. Then, road trips the rest of the itinerary so that you don’t have to spend too much time going back and forth to cover the entire state. Also, if you’re going with family, pack family trip survival kits.

Our Top Picks for Californian road trip destinations

Now, we will suggest you best 7 places for road trip in California – 

Big Sur – Most Unforgettable Coastal Stretch

When you’re an international traveler, you might automatically classify California as the larger-than-life, party-til-you-drop state. Still, the truth is that there is no shortage of natural beauty in all of the sunshine coast. Case in point: The Big Sur. This is one of the most unforgettable coastal stretches in the world, with its smattering of redwood and fog trimming the waterfront spanning a 90-mile road.

While you’re at it, do some notable pullovers such as the Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls. There are also several parks and campgrounds you can visit to explore flora and fauna of the state. Check out the Big Sur Campground, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and Fernwood Resort, to name a few.

Of course, your Big Sur road trip won’t be complete without sightseeing the many beach towns along the way. Santa Barbara, Monterrey, Carmel, and Santa Cruz each have their unique charm. While you’re at it, Los Angeles will also be vying for your attention. Big Sur also features in the top 10 budget-friendly things to do in California, so if you are looking for something that won’t burn a whole in your pocket, this is your spot!

Napa Valley Silverado Trail – Remarkable Wineries & More!

Who doesn’t love to sample a glass of good wine? The Silverado Trail in Napa Valley is lined with remarkable wineries across the state. The trail connected Napa and Calistoga and was built in 1852. With such a rich history, the quiet road leads to some of the most relaxing, wine-focused road trips you can take in California.

The Silverado Trail was where the fires hit in 2017, but the hillsides have started to recover. To make the best out of your Napa trip, find the crossroads dotted with wineries such as in Rutherford. You can head eastward to Sage Canyon Road, where the Pritchard Hill wineries abound.

Also, you can stick to the Silverado Trail since there are so many places to see in the area. It’s worth planning your itinerary to Napa Valley from August to October, in time for the harvest season. You can check out Clos Du Val for their famous Cabernet Sauvignon or the Rudd Oakville Estate for their Sauvignon Blanc.

places to go on a road trip California

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Loop – Classic & Unforgettable

Take the Tahoe to Yosemite loop and see the transition from the bluest waters to raging waterfalls, giving you a piece of California’s natural wonders. You can find breathtaking mountain passes along the way, and enjoy fast-paced whitewater rafting or the calming natural hot spring baths. You’ll find so many activities to perform on this road trip!

The Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park road trip is one of the classic, unforgettable driving tours you can do in the state. There are many outfitters such as the Kayak Tahoe around the lake, where you can rent paddleboards or kayaks in the afternoon. Before heading to Yosemite, take a detour to Coloma, a sleepy town that turns into a rafting hub in the summer.

Head over to the Yosemite National Park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Take an early trip to avoid huge crowds! You can bask in the wonder of the Nevada Falls by taking the Mist Trail if you only have a day to explore. You can also take side trips to Big Trees State Park or Moaning Caverns if you take this road trip. Also, there are some other lakes in the United States where you can take a road trip and holiday.

Volcanoes and Farms – Mount Shasta, Sierra Nevada Brewery & More!

If you’re up for some beloved classic California trips, drive to Mount Shasta and the Lassen Volcanic National Park, making Sacramento your starting base. The city is teeming with economic and cultural establishments, and there are plenty of roads that lead everywhere else in California. The state capital is known for being an affordable destination on top of the several outdoor activities you can explore in the area.

When you take this road trip, don’t forget to head down the Sierra Nevada Brewery to taste some of the best beers you will ever taste. You can do another stop along the Tehama Trail, where the farms and ranches are linked across the route, along with orchards and vineyards nearby.

Before meeting the grandeur of Mount Shasta and Shasta Lake, you can do a side stop at the McArthur Burney Memorial State Park, where you can take commemorative photos of the picturesque waterfall and foliage all around.

Rim of the World Byway – Sequoia Trail & More!

The winding Highway 18 route holds one of California’s most panoramic views, which is lined by the cliffs of the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains. Within this trip, you can make a stop at the quaint Running Springs. Five miles up from this town is the Keller Peak Fire Lookout, which gives you an undisturbed sight of the lakes, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

While you’re at this route, you can also visit the Heaps Peak Arboretum, where the famous Sequoia Trail lies. You can also head to Lake Arrowhead to get more in touch with California’s natural resources. End up the road trip in Big Bear, which is the ultimate summer destination for hike lovers and winter sports for people who enjoy adventures in the cold.

Route 66 – McDonalds Museum & More!

California road trips to drive

You’ve seen Route 66 in countless movies, but there’s more to see with your eyes the cinematic depiction cannot show. You’ll find yourself soaking in the sights of diverse landforms like the Mojave Desert, down to inland valleys and mountains, right to the pretty beaches in Santa Monica. It is one of the perfect places for a summer road trip.

Some notable stops you can pass by on the way include the Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino, where the first McDonalds Museum is located, Pasadena where the Rose Bowl Stadium and other impressive Southern California architecture are established.

You can also take route 66 to traverse the state’s first freeway and your Los Angeles experience. Find what’s breathtaking in Hollywood and the Sunset Boulevard, and discover what makes it a hit among domestic and international travelers.

Joshua Tree to Death Valley – Skull Rock, Jumbo Rock & More!

From vibrant scenes to hauntingly beautiful landmarks in California, you’ll find the best of both worlds when you take the road trip from the Joshua Tree National Park to the Death Valley. Joshua Tree is known for its mesmerizing rock formations such as in Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks Campground, and the stark desert landscapes across the area.

road trip in California destinations

When you reach Death Valley, you can find a stretch of dunes, salt flats, and sandstone canyons that show how versatile and surreal the state’s colors are. It’s an unusual scene compared to the bustle of the city life, but you’ll find comfort in knowing that there is more to California than meets the eye.

Ready to Travel to California?

Other than making sure that you got all your necessities in place, it’s always good to hire a car rental that you can trust. You would want a company that offers competitive prices with a broad range of options so that you can conveniently choose the size and type of vehicle you want for your trip. Remember: it’s essential to stay comfortable, especially when it’s going to take hours to get from point A to point B. The right car matters!

Hope our sampling of California road trip destinations helps you plan a wonderful vacation. Book you vacation rent at Rental Trader and have a lovely experience. If you need any more information, fill our web form or give us a call, we’ll be happy to help you.

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