California is home to virtually endless adventures that all kinds of travelers can enjoy, whether you're looking for a big city, scenic countryside, or a sunny and sandy beach. The Golden State features numerous iconic landmarks, and all the top destinations are connected by a highway system that's easy to navigate. All you need to know is where to start. Explore the top 10 destinations for the best California road trip.
1. San Diego is a fabulous road trip for couples or families
San Diego is one of the most popular California road trip destinations with a wide variety of attractions for people to enjoy. It's located on the coast, so you can enjoy some beachfront fun around the 4,600-acre Mission Bay Park that's packed full of aquatic activities. Of course, there's plenty to see farther inland as well, such as the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the latter of which is known as the Smithsonian of the West.
2. Drive to relaxing Palm Springs
If you're looking for rest and relaxation when planning a California road trip, you won't have to look far in Palm Springs. This resort city is located within the Coachella Valley and is home to a collection of locally owned small businesses that cover just about everything you could ever need. You'll find specialty shops with hand-selected merchandise along with chef-owned cafés offering one-of-a-kind cuisine that's uniquely Californian and sprinkled with international flavor for the whole family to enjoy.
3. Take a trip up the coast to Newport Beach
Newport Beach is a premier destination for a California coast road trip when you're looking to hit the waves. It's one of the most popular surfing spots in all of California thanks to its shining waters and sunny, sandy beaches. You'll also find opportunities for boating if you're looking to enjoy the water in a different way. There are even convenient shops and restaurants located right along the shore, so you never have to stray far from the Pacific to find supplies, souvenirs, and classic California cuisine.
4. Enjoy the countryside of Sonoma County on your road trip
Sonoma County is known for three things: agriculture, industry, and recreation. As a visitor on a California road trip, you can enjoy the fruits of all three. This is where you'll find California's largest wine region, with numerous vineyards you can visit for tours and tastings. In terms of recreation, you can enjoy the waters of Bodega Bay and Goat Rock Beach, or you can explore the art and culture of Santa Rosa, a much more family-friendly destination.
5. Go from a road trip to a boat trip on Lake Tahoe
In the Sierra Nevada mountain range, you'll find the cobalt blue-tinted Lake Tahoe. Surrounded by aromatic pines, Lake Tahoe is a great place for an adventure on a beautiful day to create unforgettable experiences, whether you're looking to venture out into the lake on a boat or just walk the surrounding picturesque trails. It's not all outdoor fun, either, as there are several towns in the area where you can grab a bite or get some shopping done during your California road trip.
6. Mammoth Lakes is a great road trip for adventure
Whether you're looking for California road trip ideas during the summer or the winter, there's always adventure to be found at Mammoth Lakes. With a quick drive to these lakes tucked away among mountain valleys, you'll feel like you're in a storybook, as snow-capped peaks surround you along with sparkling calm waters. For some more adrenaline-fueled fun, you can try your hand at mountain climbing or dirt biking.
7. Take in the scenery on your road trip to Big Bear
Southern California is home to many wonders, but Big Bear Lake is one of the most popular. It's relatively close to both Phoenix and Las Vegas, so planning a California road trip is easy from virtually every direction. This four-season escape among the mountains offers numerous activities to enjoy such as fishing, hiking, biking, and even snowboarding and skiing in the winter.
8. Monterey is perfect for family road trips
The coastal city of Monterey offers a nice break from the more metropolitan cities in California like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Instead, you'll find a modest town with a rich history and seemingly endless activities suitable for the whole family. The Fisherman's Wharf is among the most popular destinations in the city and has been ever since it was built in 1845. Here you'll find numerous whale watching opportunities, but the stars of the show are the world-class seafood restaurants.
9. Drive Route 1 to San Luis Obispo
If you're planning a road trip with your family, San Luis Obispo is one of the best destinations to visit. There's a wide variety of attractions everyone can enjoy, whether you're looking to relax or find adventure. Museums and farm-to-table cuisine are prominent throughout town, but you can also spend time hiking, surfing, and even zip lining. The city is located right between Los Angeles and San Francisco, so it's easy for a California Route 1 road trip.
10. Explore the majestic coastline on your drive to Santa Cruz
Known as Surf City, Santa Cruz obviously features great surfing, but this is just the beginning of what the area can offer. When you visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, you'll find arcades, skate parks, and even an amusement park with roller coasters. Additionally, nature lovers won't want to miss out on the redwood forests. Nothing is quite as satisfying as stretching your legs with a hike through the Pogonip Open Space after a long California road trip.