California’s one of the best states in the US to take a road trip. Fly into San Francisco and out of San Diego, but stop off along the way to explore national parks, encounter wildlife and visit historic sights. Here are some places to include on a California road trip.
Start your California road trip in the city of San Francisco. Allow time to explore downtown and take a boat trip out to Alcatraz, the bay’s infamous prison. Hang out with the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf and perhaps if the weather’s clear, take a seaplane ride. Snake down steep Lombard Street, with its eight hairpin bends. Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and spend at least an afternoon in arty Sausalito. If you love wine, a visit to Napa’s vineyards is another must.
Yosemite National Park
Next, head inland. You can reach Yosemite in three or four hours and it’s a beautiful place to hike. Check out famous views such as Glacier Point or across Tuolumne Meadow. Stand beneath El Capitan and marvel at this magnificent granite monolith. Take a scenic drive or hike to spot waterfalls like Yosemite Falls. Build in plenty of time as this is a lovely place to unwind and relax.
Monterey & Carmel-by-the-Sea
Back on the coast, journey south to Monterey. Made famous by John Steinbeck’s acclaimed novel Cannery Row, there’s a lot to see, not least its world-class aquarium. Continue to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a pretty place which once elected Clint Eastwood as its mayor. Take 17 Mile Drive to see the lone cypress which stands between the town’s two excellent golf courses.
Take the road south past Big Sur State Park – stop to appreciate its wow-factor views – and soon after make a stop to see the elephant seals at San Simeon. Continue on to the coastal town of Santa Barbara. With an abundance of restaurants and boutiques, it’s an ideal overnight stop. Eat seafood and enjoy the sunset from Stearns Wharf, the town’s historic pier.
Next up is Los Angeles. Love it or hate it, it’s an essential stop on any California road trip. Find your favourite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, drive up to snap a selfie close to the Hollywood sign and check out the flashy designer gear sold on Rodeo Drive. It’s also worth the drive up to the Griffith Observatory for the view over the city, especially as it gets dark.
San Juan Capistrano
Not far south of LA, explore the luxury liner Queen Mary at Long Beach. Back on the road you’ll soon reach the Spanish missions. One of the most attractive is in San Juan Capistrano. Founded in 1775 by Catholic missionaries, this oasis of calm features a historic church and delightful garden. Not far away are some great beaches and those Pacific rollers mean there’s plenty of surf too.
Gary C Tognoni/Shutterstock
Drive inland to the resort town of Palm Springs, known for its mid-century modern architecture, golf courses and vintage boutiques. In summer, beat the hot weather by jumping on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to enjoy hikes in the cooler air of the Mount San Jacinto State Park. Another worthy excursion is to Joshua Tree National Park, whose giant cacti and Yucca brevifolia (the Joshua trees that give the place its name) create a breathtaking desert landscape.
On the way to San Diego, do a slight detour so you pass through La Jolla – the beach there is one of southern California’s best – to reach the city of San Diego. Base yourself in the atmospheric Gaslamp Quarter where there are plenty of hotels and restaurants. The USS Midway, an aircraft-carrier-turned-museum, is open to the public. Take a short harbour tour. or hop on board a sightseeing boat to see whales and dolphins. Back on land, the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is a fascinating open-air museum while in Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo is another must-see.