The 7 Best California Road Trips
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- Pacific Coast Highway
- Highway 395 to Mammoth
- Southern California
- Northern California
- World Scenic Byway
- CA state parks
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Whether you’re feeling like a multi-week California excursion or a shorter day trip, we have all the best recommendations to make your California road trip a memorable one.
As the third-largest state in the country, California is best experienced by car. California’s coastal and mountainous borders make it one of the most biodiverse places on the planet—and it’s worth covering lots of ground if you’ll be spending vacation time in The Golden State.
The insurance comparison and broker app Jerry will help you make sure you have the car insurance coverage you need for your next road trip—at the cheapest rates, so you can spend your money traveling (and not on overpriced policy).
California’s Highway 1—also known as the Pacific Coast Highway ("PCH")—is one of the state’s most alluring drives in the United States. Highway 1 borders the Californian coast—so you’ll have coastal views nearly your entire drive.
South to LA
- Start: San Francisco
- End: Los Angeles
- Length: Approx. 450 miles
Kick off your trip in San Francisco with a Snowy Plover from Andytown Coffee Roasters (trust us—it’s good) then hop on Highway 1 for a scenic drive down the coast. Stop off in Moss Landing for some fish and chips at Sea Harvest or grab yourself a cup of clam chowder at Domenico’s on the Wharf.
You’ll drive through the rocky Carmel Highlands and down through the awe-inspiring ocean cliffs of Big Sur before hitting San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach (yes, you should stop by and take a dip in the water), and Santa Barbara (another ocean dunk here couldn’t hurt).
Your trip will land you in sunny Los Angeles, where you’ll be met with endless entertainment opportunities—whether it’s checking out the Getty Villa in Malibu, or visiting Griffith Observatory.
North to Fort Bragg—and beyond
- Start: San Francisco
- End: Fort Bragg
- Length: Approx. 180 miles
You may want to keep your trip in northern California—and that’s cool (literally), too. Take Highway 1 from San Francisco up north to Fort Bragg to enjoy the scenic drive. End your trip with some Fort Bragg camping or a visit to Glass Beach.
If you’re wanting a longer trip, continue your drive up Highway 1 and Highway 101 to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy California’s grand redwoods and precious wildlife.
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Highway 395 to Mammoth Lakes
- Start: Los Angeles
- End: Mammoth Lakes
- Length: Approx. 430 miles
Highway 395 is a spectacular way to get a glimpse of California’s eastern mountain topography. Kick off your trip in Los Angeles and head to Mammoth Lakes in Inyo National Forest. You’ll find a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy nearby:
- Mono Lake and the Mono-Inyo Craters, a chain of silicic lava domes, explosion craters, and lava flows on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas.
- Devils Postpile National Monument, a geological wonder of columnar basalt (we promise, it’s cool).
- Endless hiking in Inyo National Forest, including the Big Pine Lakes hike—a trek to 1 or more of 7 bright blue lakes nestled into the Sierra Nevadas. If you’re feeling brave, you can backpack the trail and camp out next to your favorite lake!
Key Takeaway Don’t forget about central and eastern California! There is a lot to experience on Highway 395.
MORE: Road Trip Essentials
San Diego to Joshua Tree
- Start: San Diego
- End: Joshua Tree National Park
- Length: Approx. 350 miles
If you take this trip in the springtime, you can enjoy the wildflower blooms at Anza-Borrego State Park and get a geography lesson at the Salton Sea, one of the world’s largest inland seas (that’s rapidly drying up). On your route, stop and enjoy Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, where you can bask in the snow-capped mountains and palm oases and access the backcountry trails for all your hiking desires.
After passing through Palm Springs—with mid-century modern architecture and swimming pools to spare—you’ll finish your trip in Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree—a great destination for those who want to hike but don’t want to deal with any intense elevation—will prove to keep you entertained with Jumbo Rocks or Skull Rock, local art galleries, or the Integration Sound Bath.
Key Takeaway Joshua Tree is a great destination for folks who are looking for low-elevation hikes.
MORE: How to Live in Your Car
Tahoe to Yosemite
- Start: Lake Tahoe
- End: Yosemite National Park
- Length: 215 miles
If you’re traveling between the months of May and November, you can take Highway 395 south from Lake Tahoe toward Yosemite National Park, turning onto Highway 120 (or "Tioga Pass") to enter the park. Yosemite is California’s most renowned national park and is home to some of the world’s most unique and breathtaking rock formations.
Give yourself a few days in the park to enjoy some hikes, like Upper Yosemite Falls or Cloud’s Rest (you’ll need a permit for the rigorous Half Dome hike), Tuolumne Meadows, and Staircase Falls. The Yosemite Valley Lodge offers an array of dining options, gift shops, and even a market—so you’ll be able to access any food and travel essentials you may need.
Key Takeaway Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe are two of the most incredible sites to see in California!
Rim of the World Scenic Byway
- Start: Cajon Pass
- End: San Gorgonio
- Length: 110 miles
This shorter route will take you through Highways 18, 38, and 138 for one of the most scenic mountain drives in California. You can stop off at Big Bear Lake (and the nearby natural hot spring) for some hiking or sightseeing tours.
California state parks trip—for the outdoors enthusiast
- Start: Sacramento
- End: Castle Crags State Park
- Length: Approx. 800 miles
This trip will take you through California’s northern and lesser-known—yet spectacular— state parks.
At your first stop on this trip, Emerald Bay State Park, you can visit Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian-inspired mansion, look out over Lake Tahoe, and sight-see Eagle Falls. Continue east to Plumas-Eureka State Park to dive into the history of the California Gold Rush.
After Plumas-Eureka, head to the coast to find Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, one of California’s many magnificent treasure troves of redwood trees. If you head north from here, you’ll hit Humboldt Lagoons State Park, where you can visit wetlands, lagoons, and estuaries.
Head east toward Redding (be careful of the heat in the hot summer months!) and continue north to Castle Crags State Park, where you’ll see some intense jagged rock formations. Stick around here for as long as you want for some great hiking and camping before heading home (or on to your next national park).
The key to any successful state parks trip? A national parks pass. The cost of a national park pass is around the price for 2 days of admission to any one national park—and the pass gets you into any national park in the U.S. for an entire year.
Definitely worth it. Plus, it means you’ll be able to venture into any park you spontaneously come across on your expansive trip!
Key Takeaway A national parks pass is a great investment for your California road trip.
How to be prepared for a California road trip
If you’re going on any sort of road trip, you need a reliable vehicle and good car insurance coverage. If you’ll be using a rental car for your excursion, make sure your rental car coverage fits all your needs.
Make sure you have roadside assistance
Roadside assistance is key to a stress-free road trip. You don’t want to find yourself walking 5 miles to the nearest gas station in the scorching Californian summer heat if you happen to run out of gas on a long stretch of highway.
Jerry’s emergency roadside assistance program will be your saving grace if you have some unexpected turbulence on your road trip—whether it’s running out of gas on the 395 or blowing out your old tires on Highway 1.
Features include Uber credits, lockout services, towing, and fuel delivery. Essentially, Jerry’s roadside assistance membership makes roadside emergencies safer and cheaper—and gives you the assurance to drive your car in peace.
Get adequate car insurance
If you’re taking a road trip, you’ll need a car—and some cheap car insurance. If you’re using a rental car for your trip, it’s also important to have proper rental insurance.
The car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry is here to help. Jerry is your one-stop-shop for all things car insurance—whether you’re getting car insurance for the first time, switching policies, or getting rental car insurance.
Jerry makes your life easy (and more fun) by doing all the comparison shopping for you—so you can spend your time planning your next road trip, not looking around for cheap car insurance policies.
No paperwork or phone calls for you—Jerry will handle that. We’ll also handle the paperwork and calls for canceling your old insurance policy when you find a better and cheaper policy through the Jerry app.
Oh yeah—it’s 100% free to use. A win-win for all—and more money in your pocket to spend on your next trip.
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Frequently asked questions
Where should I go on a road trip in California?
Highway 1 will give you some of the best coastal views from the road and it will take you through an array of great Californian sites and cities.
If you really want a taste of what California has to offer (as far as the outdoors are concerned), consider a national parks road trip—and definitely don’t miss out on Yosemite National Park.
What is the most scenic drive in California?
The stretch of Highway 1 running from San Francisco to Los Angeles will give you great coastal views, while Rim of the World Scenic Byway will give you some of the best mountainous views.
How long do you need for a road trip in California?
The great thing about road-tripping in California is your freedom in making the trip as long or as short as you need it to be.
You really only need one day to travel from a major city (like Sacramento or San Diego) to a scenic, trip-worthy site. If you’re wanting to do some hiking and camping, you’ll want at least 3-4 days for a solid California road trip—the longer you have, the more time you’ll be able to spend in each location, and the more areas of California you’ll be able to see.
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