California Driving Trips

Explore California’s Route 1 for a never-ending source of memories in the making when you take your vacation in Northern and Southern California. The endless winding highway curls up the west side of California, making it a favorite fun family getaway. Take your sweetheart to San Francisco on your driving trip, or travel to Carmel with your golf buddies; just make sure that you make plans to stop by Disneyland in Anaheim with the kids on your California driving trip (Walt Disney World is in Orlando, FL). Miss that visit and they just might not speak to you for the rest of the drive!

Traffic patterns around Los Angeles can be tricky if not outright overwhelming; be aware of where upcoming exits are so you can navigate highway lanes ahead of time during your California driving trip. If possible, avoid driving into metropolitan areas like Los Angeles during “rush hour” (generally considered to begin at 4 pm and end at 7 pm, local time); if you think you’re going to pull into town around dinnertime, make a stop at a park or a beach and take a break in the early afternoon, as if you’re trying to make it somewhere in that period, whether it’s for a flight or for a poker tournament back at the hotel, you’re likely to struggle.

“The last thing you want to do on a fun family vacation is sit in traffic,” says Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho. “You take a vacation to escape from your regular work-week commute” (Doug was stationed in Iraq for Homeland Security). You’ll feel refreshed when you arrive at your destination after taking an afternoon break at a park, and you’ll avoid the major traffic delays, too.

Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho: Exploring Route 1 in California.

Doug Melvin offers some on thoughts on fun family getaways along the coastal highway. So pack your bags- we’re going to Disneyland!

Explore Northern and Southern California on your Road Trip along State Route 1:

Great American Road Trip #4: Start exploring California’s Route 1 down south, where San Juan Capistrano beckons. The Mission San Juan Capistrano is peaceful and quiet, and a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. The city itself is just north of San Diego, is historic and filled with quaint shops and great restaurants. It’s a great way to start your trip!

  • Include a stop at Laguna Beach in your California driving trip, and then turn inland to go to Disneyland. If you’re traveling with children, Disneyland is not to be missed! Try to hit this always-busy amusement park during the week to miss out on a little of the crowds. Stop by Laguna Beach, a Top 10 southern California Beach, on the way for swimming, sun and fresh air.
  • Let your exploration of Route 1 take you to Carmel, California. Dramatic ocean views, a dedicated artist’s colony and some of the best golf courses in the world combine to make Carmel-by-the-Sea one of the top California driving trip destinations.

Southern and Northern California Vacations you’ll Love by Derek Winters of Berkeley, California.

Derek Winters provides ideas about trips to enjoy in other areas of California, too.

  • Stinson Beach, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, is just a short detour during your California driving trip and is in close proximity to many attractions.  Stinson Beach is located on a low slope of Mount Tamalpais, a sprawling mountain with sweeping views of San Francisco. Stinson Beach is close to Muir Woods, a forest full of ancient redwood trees and hiking trails. Stinson Beach has a fun, funky small-town vibe and is a popular respite for hikers, with a long sandy beach and a relaxing atmosphere; it’s the perfect side trip when enjoying a summer vacation in San Francisco.
  • Great American Road Trip #5: The Redwood National and State Parks offers an awe-inspiring view of nature on a grand scale. Ponder the mystery of the tallest trees on earth, especially the Coast Redwood which is 2,200 years old and is the tallest plant species in the world. It is also the fastest growing cone-bearing tree in North America. You can also enjoy activities like hiking, horseback riding and fishing in the Redwood National and State Parks. The Redwoods are located in Northern California, midway between San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon (roughly 300 miles from each).
  • Great American Road Trip #6: Napa Valley, outside of San Francisco, is a top destination for summer vacations. Tour wine country to learn more about wines and the production of wines. For only $10-$15 per person, you can sample most of what each winery produces. Some of the wineries that you will recognize are: Beringer, The Hess Collection, Livingston, Luna, Markham, Mendelson, Mondavi, Napa Cellars, Napa Redwoods, Opus One, Pine Ridge, Roundhill, Rubicon, Sterling, and Sutter Home. Visit one of the many picnic wineries to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the lawn. This is also a prime place to begin a trip up the Oregon coast.
  • Include a Southern California driving trip from Monterrey, Mexico to Morro Bay, California and see some of the best the west has to offer. The Monterrey, Mexico to Morro Bay, California driving tour includes Bishopric castle in Mexico and Hearst Castle in Morro. Bishopric Castle is one of the oldest buildings in Monterrey and was constructed in the middle of a hill in the 18th century. It is also known as Bishop’s Palace. The hill is a popular recreational destination because of its views, the housing of the Monumental flag, and, of course, the Bishop’s Palace. Hearst Castle offers a glimpse into the life and times of William Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper magnate. Get a taste of royalty at the castles, and perhaps more importantly, a taste of the local foods in both towns, too. In between the cities, enjoy the rugged coastline and the heady natural vistas- it’s a wonderfully peaceful drive.

California National Parks

When travelers research the best road trips to take in California, most of the time its world famous beaches come to mind as well as Napa or the scenic stretch south through the Redwoods.

Piggybacking the Redwood National and State Parks, in our opinion, the best road trip can be experienced from the Redwoods up to Crater Lake National Park, down to Lassen Volcanic then southeast to Yosemite.

A good place to stay is at a very historic and rustic Inn minutes from Lassen Volcanic National Park called St. Bernard Lodge. It’s really a bed and breakfast inn with lodging on the upstairs floor. It has 7 rooms but can sleep up to 22 comfortably. We mention this because you can rent the entire upstairs at a discounted rate if you can plan enough ahead. St. Bernard Lodge is also minutes from Lake Almanor which is a great place to swim and fish as you unwind from a hike up to the Lassen Peak Plug Dome. The Lodge serves great food during the day and evening and also has one of those old-time taverns.

After you’ve witnessed the majesty of the tallest trees on earth at Redwood National and State Parks, drive north to Crater Lake in Oregon, to see the caldera lake, a cauldron-like lake formed 7,700 years ago when the Mount Mazama volcano erupted then collapsed on itself and on the land around it. Then, drive 5 hours south to Lassen Volcanic which sits on the south end of the Cascade Mountain Range (Crater Lake in Oregon is on the northern tip). Lassen Volcanic Park features Lassen Peak which is the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Then, from Lassen, drive about 7 hours to Ansel Adams’ Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is 761,000 acres of utter beauty located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It has 100 trails such as El Capitan, Half Dome and Staircase Falls, majestic waterfalls, awe inspiring granite cliffs and acres of meadows, giant sequoia groves and wildflowers.

We thank our contributors:

  • Doug Melvin Boise, Idaho
  • Derek Winters Berkeley, California

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