From the sun-kissed stretches of the Big Sur and the misty redwood forests of Northern California, to celeb and food concentrated cities like Los Angeles, California has something for everyone.
Its landscapes are at once startling and breathtaking, its people quirky and charming, its culture adventurous and its food some of the best in the world – if you’re looking for an epic road trip, you’re in luck.
There’s a reason why California’s Pacific Coast Highway – also known as Highway 101 – is one of the most well-known, and acclaimed, road trips in the world. To help you begin planning your route, we’ve put together 8 of the ultimate stops of a California road trip, beginning in San Francisco, and finishing in Los Angeles.
1. San Francisco
The perfect city to to begin an epic California road trip, San Francisco provides a logical starting off point and is an easy place to fly into and rent a car from. A significant plus? You get to commence your trip driving over one of America’s most iconic landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco is a creative and vibrant city. Jump on the trams and cable cars to enjoy its superior views, and make sure you visit Chinatown – the largest outside of Asia – to sample just some of the city’s renowned food delights.
If there was a prize for the most charming town in California, Carmel might just win it. With its windswept coastal views, quaint European-style architecture and cobblestone courtyards, Carmel is the perfect second stop on an epic California road trip. What’s more, Clint Eastwood was once the town’s Mayor.
Stop here for some surfing (great for beginners), and if you have time, cycle the famous 17-mile drive: an idyllic way to explore the coast and take in some of the areas best sights, including the Ghost Tree and Spanish Bay.
3. Big Sur
The Big Sur stretch of Highway 101 is one of the reasons so many are initially drawn to a California road trip. With magnificent views along the entire coastal drive, the highway weaves through rugged mountains and around jagged cliffs, the Pacific coast stretching in a blue haze to one side and numerous secluded coves and beaches along the way.
Don’t be surprised if the drive takes longer than planned; you’ll find yourself stopping constantly to breathe in the view and take picture-perfect photographs!
4. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is simply stunning – whichever angle you observe it from. Part of the reason a California road trip is so eclectic and enthralling is that you can go from surfing in Big Sur, to skiing the snowy peaks of Lake Tahoe just a few days later.
There are 6 world-class ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, including Sugar Bowl resort, one of the oldest Californian resorts, dating back to 1939. And if it’s warm, simply plot up on the beach and enjoy the water.
5. Death Valley
It wouldn’t be an authentic California road trip without a drive through its notorious desert, Death Valley. One of the most memorable drives, the trip through the desert takes about a day, with the option to stay in some overnight lodging – right in the middle of its dusty interior – if you wish to extend it.
The long and lonely Death Valley road – where sand stretches interminably in every direction and you often will not see another vehicle for hours – is dry and hot and remarkable. Just 5 minutes outside the car to climb the nearest sand dune and take a photograph will leave you awestruck and breathless.
6. Las Vegas
Las Vegas, situated in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, is a sight to behold. The city’s iconic main street – the Strip – is 4 miles long and home to a vast array of colourful and bizarre structures, including themed hotels with huge synchronised fountains and replicas of everything from an Egyptian pyramid to the Eiffel Tower.
Spend a night taking in its flamboyant architecture and enjoying its pulsating nightlife, shows and entertainment.
7. Yosemite National Park
To recover from the madness that is Las Vegas, take a breath in the natural beauty of one of America’s largest National Parks, Yosemite.
Nestled between the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite offers a number of beautiful hiking trails. Catch a glimpse of some of the parks most spectacular sights, including the Bridalveil Falls, the Tunnel View Lookout and, of course, El Capitan.
8. Los Angeles
To finish your epic California road trip, why not spend a few days basking in the buzz of LA? Enjoy the famous tourist attractions of the city, like Rodeo Drive and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, feast on some excellent food and relax on one of the city’s beautiful beaches.
Numerous walking trails snake the hills over Los Angeles, leading to the legendary Hollywood sign and impressive panoramas of the city – the perfect way to end an unforgettable California road trip.
We’ve given you only a brief tasting platter of what a California road trip has to offer. There are countless other epic stops along the route – Alcatraz and San Diego to name but a few – but we hope we’ve inspired you to start taking a look at the Highway 101 road trip and perhaps to begin some exciting planning.