Road tripping has exploded in California since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago. With some travelers hitting pause on their bucket-list vacation plans, more people are opting to load up the car and explore their home states instead. Luckily, California is top-to-bottom lousy with natural beauty, historic towns, scenic back roads and first-rate national parks. From remote stretches of rugged shoreline to the volcanic mountains peppering the state’s far north, and from High Sierra hideaways to Southern California’s best beach camping, here are five driving itineraries for unforgettable summer road trips.
The North Coast
This Northern California road trip promises hikes, beaches and coastal views
The remote stretches of shoreline between Mendocino and the Oregon border show a dramatic side of the California coast few people have seen. The wave-torn sea stacks and sea caves, hidden glass-sand beaches, soaring redwoods and rich tidepools here show road trippers how to properly engage with Highway 1’s rugged appeal.
The wild Far North
Far North of California showcases ancient volcanoes, remote caves and soaring peaks
The peaceful mountain scenery in California’s far northern reaches belies the powerful geothermal forces that created it — and continue to shape it today. Soak in hot springs, hike the trails on Mount Shasta, tour the steamy mud pots and geysers of Lassen Volcanic National Park, then motor up to Lava Beds National Monument and explore countless caves and lava tubes.
Golden Chain Highway
California’s Highway 49 is a gateway to historic Gold Rush towns
The historic and offbeat Gold Rush towns along Highway 49 now serve as basecamps for exploring some of the Sierra’s most spectacular scenery. This mostly-two-lane roadway runs along the outskirts of Yosemite National Park, which is a great place to begin a road trip on the western slopes of the state’s great mountain range.
The Eastern Sierra
A 90-mile-long adventure along Highway 395 is waiting for you in California’s Eastern Sierra
Unending views of dramatic wilderness define this road trip through California’s Eastern Sierra corridor. Highway 395 between Bridgeport and Bishop is a 90-mile-long gateway to alpine adventure: high-altitude mountain hiking, world-class mountain biking and incredible fly fishing. The towns along the way also offer more laid-back activities like soaking in thermal pools and exploring a historic ghost town.
Southern California sights
Drive through mountains, desert and beaches on this So-Cal road trip
This mountains-to-sea adventure starts near the charming trail town of Idyllwild, tucked into the San Jacinto range. Explore the area on foot before hopping in the car and meandering through the Coachella Valley and surrounding desert, where you’ll find kitschy hotels, outdoor art installations and wildflower blooms. Pull over at a tasting room to sample regional wines, then wrap up your journey in a quintessentially California way: sunset at the beach.
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