Cruise the Golden State with These 8 California Road Trip Ideas

Blessed with majestic landscapes, perpetual sunshine, and jaw-dropping coastlines, California is a classic American road trip destination. But with a bewildering array of major highways and backcountry roads crisscrossing the state, it can be tough to work out where to go.

From the scorching southern deserts to the Sequoia-studded forests of the north, we’ve got you covered with these eight California road trip ideas.


Road Trips from Southern California

Southern California has a slew of epic road trip options, from its beautiful SoCal beaches to bone-dry deserts and the scenic sierras.


The Pacific Coast Highway

Route: San Diego to Leggett (Highway 101)

Distance: 1,000+ miles

Embark on the quintessential California road trip: the Pacific Coast Highway, which straddles the shoreline from San Diego up to Mendocino County. This epic 1,000-mile slog soaks in the state’s best coastal scenery, including the O.C.’s gorgeous beaches and the breathtaking cliffs of Big Sur.

Urban hubs include glitzy Los Angeles, tech-obsessed San Francisco, and the Mediterranean-inspired Santa Barbara—A.K.A., the American Riviera. As it takes in the state’s top spots in one fell swoop, the P.C.H. is the ultimate California road trip itinerary for first-time visitors and overseas tourists.


Route 66

Route: Chicago to Los Angeles (Route 66)

Distance: 2,448 miles

If you’re researching road trips from California to other states, then Route 66 is hard to beat. Dubbed the “Mother Road”, this iconic cross-continental highway stretches from downtown Chicago all the way to Santa Monica Pier. There’s no harm doing the journey in reverse—it’s one of the country’s best road trips from California.

In its heyday, Route 66 accommodated a legion of Dust Bowl migrants looking for a new life in California. It’s since been decommissioned, so non-leisure travelers now take the faster U.S. Highway System instead. But for nostalgia-seeking adventurers, the old Route 66 still hosts an intriguing selection of vintage motels and friendly mom-and-pop diners.


The Desert Drive

Route: San Diego to Joshua Tree

Distance: 161 miles

Famed for its spikey, twisted shrubbery, Joshua Tree National Park is your classic Southern California desert destination. And while the vast cactus-studded park is the highlight of this trip, there are plenty of other scenic spots to see en route.

Starting from San Diego, make a pit stop to see the wildflowers bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. If you’re not driving during spring, these scenic badlands are full of impressive rock formations and cragged slot canyons to explore.

Although not especially beautiful, the Salton Sea is an interesting place to visit. As one of the world’s largest inland seas, it’s disappearing at an alarming rate. Another quirky attraction is Slab City, whose inhabitants have built an entirely off-grid community.


Death Valley

Route: Olancha to Death Valley Junction (Highway 190)

Distance: 131 miles

The name says it all. Death Valley is a hot, hellish, and utterly inhospitable place. However, it also happens to be one of the best places to road trip in California. Highway 190 takes in its scenic splendor—think undulating dunes, towering mountains, extinct volcanoes, and palm-fringed oases.

You’ll also see the remnants of its historic inhabitants through a series of abandoned gold mines and long-lost ghost towns. Come during spring to admire the region’s wildflowers and avoid its mid-summer heat when temperatures rise well over 100 degrees.


The Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Route: Cajon Pass to Big Bear (State Highway 18)

Distance: 131 miles

If you love lush sequoia forests and pristine lakes, then this is one of the best California road trips for you. The narrow State Highway 18 winds its way through the San Bernardino Mountains, stopping off at mellow lakeside villages and tree-studded hiking trails along the way.

Nicknamed the Rim of the World Scenic Byway, you’ll find stacks of Instagram-worthy lookouts on this panoramic route. Don’t miss the five-mile detour from Running Springs to Keller Peak Fire Lookout, where you can see the Pacific on a clear day. The trip lies within easy reach of Los Angeles, which is among the best places to road trip from in California.


Road Trips from Northern California

Less populated than the south, Northern California boasts an array of Scenic Byways that cut through pretty vineyards, age-old gold towns, and pristine wilderness regions.


The Gold Chain Highway

Route: Oakhurst to Placerville (Highway 49)

Distance: 154 miles

The Gold Chain Highway follows the footsteps of the state’s original Gold Rush pioneers. These early fortune seekers first traveled the route in 1849—hence its namesake, Highway 49. Today, the road passes Victorian-era settlements, intriguing museums, and authentic Old West mines—it’s a must for history buffs.

Travelers can try their luck panning for gold in the region’s rivers—there are still a few nuggets to be found. Right along Highway 49, the scenic Sierra Nevada mountain range affords spectacular views, where charming vineyards produce top-quality wine in the foothills.


Avenue of the Giants

Route: Scotia to Redway (Highway 101)

Distance: 32 miles

If you’re looking for a good road trip in California, you won’t find a more scenic drive than the Avenue of the Giants. This spectacular 32-mile stretch runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park to give visitors a close-up view of its enormous evergreen sequoias.

Stop off to admire the Dyerville Giant at Founders Grove. This massive 370-foot Redwood once stood taller than the Statue of Liberty but fell during a 1991 storm. Charming 20th-century lumberjack towns dot the route, and there are plenty of panoramic pullovers to peer over the canopy.


Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive

Route: Start anywhere on the loop (U.S. 50, NV 28, and U.S. 89)

Distance: 68 miles

Lake Tahoe is one of California’s most treasured natural playgrounds. Kayakers come to paddle its shimmering blue-green waters while fishers flock here to reel in Mackinaw Trout and Kokanee Salmon. 

Along the lush, pine-fringed shores, scores of pretty hiking trails and mountain-bike routes take advantage of the terrain. And if you roll up in winter, its mountainous ski resorts cater to powder-hungry thrill-seekers.

The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive straddles the shoreline for most of the way, offering epic views on the entire 68-mile route. The stretch between Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe is especially scenic.


Book Your California Road Trip Accommodations Today

Now you’ve got plenty of road trip ideas from California, it’s time to start looking at where to stay. After a long day behind the wheel, you’ll need a cozy spot to recuperate for the next adventure.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has a broad range of comfortable and affordable accommodations throughout California.

Find your stops, book your stays, hit the road. It’s the easiest way to book and go on the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts app.


Enjoy member-only perks and earn points for your stays to redeem for free and discounted nights at thousands of hotels worldwide.*


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*Point redemption levels & cash payment amounts vary by property & in the case of points, can be as high as 30,000 points per bedroom.  Member must have enough points for all bedrooms in desired accommodation to book. Resort & other fees may apply (even for Go Free nights); points can’t be used to pay them.  Most properties: award applies to standard room rate only (go free: including taxes, go fast: excluding taxes). Awards subject to availability, blackout dates/rates & other restrictions; see for more information.