The Must-Do Road Trip from San Diego to Lake Tahoe
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- San Diego
- Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
- Santa Barbara to Paso Robles
- Paso Robles to Sequoia National Park
- Sequoia to Yosemite
- Yosemite National Park
- Yosemite to Lake Tahoe
- Lake Tahoe
- Roadside assistance
- Fast route
- Scenic route
- Cheap insurance
Take the iconic Pacific Coast Highway through must-see spots like Malibu, Paso Robles, and Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks on your way to beautiful Lake Tahoe.
California drives are an iconic part of American car culture, and a road trip from San Diego to Lake Tahoe hits tons of famous spots. From gorgeous beaches to arid deserts, you’ll find lots of popular sites (and some hidden gems!) as you make your way north.
To help you make the most of your journey, car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry has put together an eight-day itinerary that includes not-to-miss activities, restaurants, and views.
But don’t hit the road without roadside assistance and car insurance!
There’s no bigger buzzkill than a flat tire, dead battery, or collision, and Jerry has you covered. Jerry’s roadside assistance program starts at just $6.99 for one vehicle and will give you peace of mind so that you can enjoy every second of your San Diego to Lake Tahoe road trip.
Start in San Diego
Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica Journey time: 2 hours
There’s lots to do and see on the drive from San Diego to Santa Monica. And while it might take about two hours without stops, where’s the fun in that?
Taking the PCH rather than the 405 might add some travel time to your day, but it’s well worth it for the gorgeous views along the coast. Stop in some of the many beach communities you’ll pass along the way for good eats—and maybe to take a dip in the ocean!
Eat: Eat breakfast at Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla, famous for their diner decor. The veggie breakfast burrito is a good one to check out!
Try lunch at Crystal Cove Shake Shack along the PCH between Laguna and Newport Beach. Be sure to grab an oreo wintermint shake!
There are loads of good restaurants in Santa Monica, but Caribbean-style Cha-Cha Chicken is a good one for casual, tasty fare.
Do: Stop at Crystal Cove State Beach for lunch and explore some of the tidepools. When you arrive in Santa Monica, take an evening stroll along the pier—it’s a sight to see all lit up at night!
Sleep: Bed in for the night at Shore Hotel Santa Monica, a trendy place across from the beach.
San Diego, California
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
Pacific Coast Highway with stops in Malibu and Carpinteria Journey time: 2 hours
The stretch from LA to Santa Barbara isn’t a long trip, but it’s one of the most scenic in the state. The route passes through the iconic seaside town of Malibu, the surf city of Ventura, beautiful Ojai, and the laid-back town of Carpinteria, so there’s lots to do and see as you go.
Unless you hit the road really early or really late, you’ll likely hit some traffic. Crank the tunes, sit back, and enjoy the scenery as you drive (no matter how slowly). You can worry about traffic another day.
Eat: Eat breakfast at Malibu Farm Cafe, right on the end of Malibu Pier. Check out their fresh juices and fried egg sandwich.
Grab lunch from The Spot in Carpinteria. It’s popular with tourists but has a great burger and classic fast food staples for cheap. Drop into Island Brewing Company for a shared flight of beer and a snack before heading into Santa Barbara.
Do: Walk along Malibu’s Zuma Beach and keep an eye out for dolphins and sea lions in the ocean. In Carpinteria, grab your swimming gear and paddle out to the platforms in the surf—a great spot to soak in some rays.
Once you get to Santa Barbara, stroll around Main Street for some shopping and dining.
Sleep: There are tons of great hotels in Santa Barbara—but a more unique option is El Capitan Canyon, a glamping spot just outside the city. Guests can stay in cabins, yurts, or safari tents under the scenic Santa Ynez mountains.
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara to Paso Robles
Head to Paso Robles via Solvang and Avila Beach Journey time: 3 hours
California’s central coast is home to some incredible wineries, but the small village of Solvang offers something different: Danish-style architecture and atmosphere. On your way up to Paso Robles, it’s a unique stop that will leave you wondering whether you’re still in California!
Eat: Grab breakfast from Olsen’s Danish Bakery in Scandanavian enclave Solvang. There are lots of good lunch spots at Avila Beach, but the fish tacos from Avila Market are the way to go. For dinner, head to Jeffrey’s Wine Country BBQ in Paso Robles.
Do: Stroll around Solvang, a cute Danish community hidden in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Elverhøj Museum of History & Art is worth a look for some local history!
Drive back out to the coast and swim at Avila Beach. It’ll be busy on weekends, but it’s one of the finest beach towns along the central coast.
Sleep: Hotel Cheval is one of the best that Paso Robles has to offer. Pro tip: The boutique spot off the main square serves complimentary s’mores every evening!
Paso Robles, California
Paso Robles to Sequoia National Park
Get outdoors among some of the world’s largest trees Journey time: 2 1/2 hours
Strap in for a dramatic change in scenery, from rolling vineyards to pine forests. Sequoia National Park is home to some of the biggest trees in the world—not to mention huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, and more.
Eat: Fuel up with a big breakfast at the rustic Joe’s Cafe, where freshly baked cinnamon rolls are a must-try. Break up the journey with lunch at Quesadilla Gorilla, a food truck just off highway 198 outside Sequoia National Park.
Dining options inside the national park are limited, but Wuksachi Lodge has a range of American fare—and they use lots of local produce.
Do: There’s loads to do among the tallest trees in the world. A good introduction to the park is Giant Forest. It’s home to General Sherman Tree, the largest living organism in the world at over 275 feet tall!
Check out the museum and trails in the heart of the park to stretch your legs and see the forest as John Muir documented it.
Sleep: As the only proper hotel in the park, Wuksachi Lodge is the best option if you don’t have camping gear. Their suites are cozy, affordable places to spend the night.
Sequoia National Park, California
MORE: Road trip essentials
Sequoia to Yosemite
From spectacular views to more spectacular views Journey time: 3 1/2 hours
Buckle up for a riveting drive! You’ll bend through the Sierra Nevada and settle into green, rolling Mariposa County before climbing back up into beautiful Yosemite National Park. The drive there is almost as stunning as the park itself.
Eat: Restaurants en route to Yosemite are relatively scarce, but Smokehouse 41 is a good choice for tasty barbecue. Once you’re inside the park, the best is the Wawona Hotel dining room in the heart of Yosemite Valley.
Do: Yosemite can’t be done in a day, but a cruise around the outer edges of the park is a good place to start. Stop at Mariposa Grove for a stroll. If you can take on a longer walk, check out the eight-mile loop at Chilnualna Falls to be rewarded with 3 cascades and secluded mountain scenery.
Sleep: If you’re up for glamping, Yosemite is rife with choices. Yosemite Pines is home to some spacious and quirky lodgings, including yurts. If that’s not your vibe, Wawona Hotel presents a rustic, classic mountain feel at a good rate.
Yosemite National Park
Epic waterfalls, majestic cliffs, and serene lakes and meadows
Spend a day exploring one of America’s most dramatic settings. Sure, this might be a road trip, but there’s very little driving needed today!
You could spend a lifetime exploring the nooks and crannies of Yosemite National Park—but if you only have a day, a hike is a great way to make the most of your time there.
Eat: If there’s one place you can’t miss while in Yosemite, it’s Degnan’s Kitchen—a pilgrimage for Yosemite hikers. Sit on the deck and enjoy a hearty sandwich.
Do: Time to stretch your legs! Eager hikers can start early and do all 11.4 miles of the gorgeous Ostrander Lake trail. Starting in lush forests before climbing among granite peaks, it’s an ideal exploration of Yosemite’s range of topography.
For something a little gentler, check out the walk up to Columbia Rock on the Yosemite Falls trail. At two miles round trip, this heavily used trail is perfect for amateur hikers.
Sleep: You can always return to the Wawona Hotel or Yosemite Pines, but if you’re already deep into Yosemite Valley then check out the luxurious mountain lodge The Ahwahnee. Holiday cottages are available, though they tend to go fast during the summer.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite to Lake Tahoe
A showcase of fine desert scenery Journey time: 5 1/2 hours
After a long day exploring the beauty of Yosemite National Park, sit back and enjoy the last leg of your drive to Tahoe. Thankfully, it’s far from a boring commute. The scenic route takes you towards the California-Nevada border through some beautiful stretches of desert.
Eat: You’re spoiled for food choices in Taho, but if you’re up for something flashy, try Cafe Fiore near the southern shore. Nearby Empanash does fantastic Argentine-style empanadas, too.
- Pro tip: Eat a big breakfast and pack lots of snacks, because there aren’t many restaurants on the scenic route between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.
Do: Break up the long drive with a stop at Mono Lake, a peaceful state reserve just outside of Yosemite National Park. As you wind up towards Tahoe on interstate 395, have a dip in Fales Hot Springs. Topaz Lake is another resting point.
Sleep: For quaint comfort in Tahoe, it’s hard to beat the Deerfield Lodge at Heavenly. It’s an award-winning hidden gem on the south shores of the lake.
Mono Lake, California
A day in the Sierra Nevada
On the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s renowned for its beaches and ski resorts, making it an ideal year-round destination for adventure-seekers and relaxation-seekers alike.
Eat: Ernie’s Coffee Shop is a must for breakfast—don’t miss their burrito! And for dinner, head to Le Chamois, a classic ski spot for pizza and craft beer.
Do: Hike the Bayview Trail, climbing 10 miles into the hills surrounding Lake Tahoe. Afterwards, cruise around Tahoe and stop at Vikingsholm, a 38-room Nordic-style mansion and historic site.
Sleep: River Ranch Lodge is a Tahoe classic, featuring 19 waterfront boutique rooms with alpine decor. The highly-rated restaurant is also a great spot for breakfast!
Why you need roadside assistance for your big trip
Road trips are fun… until the car breaks down. And if you don’t have a stellar roadside assistance package, your vacay might be over. Whether it’s the California heat or running out of gas, make sure you’re prepared to handle any bumps on the road (literally and figuratively!).
The roadside assistance program from Jerry is comprehensive and will keep you protected during your road trip and beyond.
It features up to 10 miles of towing plus jump starts, tire changes, fuel deliveries, and more. It also comes with some exclusive benefits, including car advice, key replacement, and Uber credits. Even better, it’s just $6.99 for one car!
The fast route back
After eight days of the best California has to offer, you might not want to leave—we get it. But you’ll have to drive home at some point.
The most direct route is a 10-hour drive straight down through the California and Nevada deserts. It’s far from a boring journey, with dramatic views of the San Bernardino mountains as you cut down into the Los Angeles basin.
The scenic route back
If you want to take a little more time to get home, head back to the coast. Cut west and travel down I-5 before making a beeline towards the coastal city of Monterey.
Hang out in the cool beach town and see the Monterey Bay Aquarium with its famous otter habitat. Stay the night before sauntering back down the Pacific Coast Highway the following morning.
Finding cheap car insurance
Whether you’re driving around town or logging thousands of miles on a 10-day road trip, having the right car insurance is paramount—and car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry is here to help.
It’s this simple: download the Jerry app and answer a few easy questions. In less than 45 seconds you’ll have competitive quotes from more than 40 insurance companies. Simply make your pick and Jerry takes care of the rest—securing your new policy and canceling your old one.
The average Jerry user saves $879 per year on car insurance!
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