The best California road trips

10 Best California Road Trips That You Should Take in 2023

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Dreaming about taking one of the most epic California road trips this summer?

You’ve come to the right place!

California offers some of the most dramatic scenery in America ranging from magnificent sequoia trees and mountains up north to scorching hot deserts and sunny SoCal beaches fringed by skinny palm trees in the south.

The Golden State boasts plethora of cool places to explore, that’s why you should take at least a few California road trips.

I spent a good amount of time road tripping California, but I’m still in awe of how much this state has to offer! In this article, I will cover the most popular California road trip destinations, so let’s buckle up and get going!

Best California Road Trips: A Complete Overview

Alabama Hills is a popular scenic area in Eastern Sierra Nevada which makes a perfect stop on your California road trip.

1. Highway 395 road trip

Length: 430 miles 

Start: Lone Pine

End: South Lake Tahoe

When you think about classic California road trips, you probably picture beautiful coastal drives with ink-blue Pacific waters and palm trees.

But this is not everything that there is to California!

One of my favorite California road trips is Highway 395, aka the Eastern Sierras Highway that takes you along the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. This part of the state looks like a cowboy country with its small rustic towns, wide open spaces and snow-capped mountains.

Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 states that makes a perfect top your California road trip itinerary

Some travelers begin their drive along Highway 395 from southern California, while others start from Death Valley National Park before arriving at South Lake Tahoe. There’s no right or wrong way to explore this scenic route, as long as you don’t miss some of the key highlights.

Alabama Hills

One of the best stops along Highway 395 is Alabama Hills, the collection of quirky formations at the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas that has been featured in numerous movies. Spend some time wandering and taking photos or even camping which is free!

➡️ Where to stay in Alabama Hills: Historic Dow Hotel

Next day, continue to California Eastern Sierra Hot Springs, and Convict Lake. And don’t miss the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest to see the oldest living forms of life on the planet.

Alabama Hills is one of the best stop along California Highway 395 that runs through Eastern Sierras.

One of the must-stops along this California road trip is the historic Bishop, the largest town in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Spend a night in Bishop, so you can hike Little Lakes Valley Trail or Bishop Pass Trail before hitting the road the next day. 

➡️ El Rancho Motel is a perfect option for a quick stay!

Keep driving north, and make a stop in Bishop, an adventurer’s paradise that boasts some of the best hiking and bouldering in the region.

Mammoth Lakes is one of the most scenic places in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Mammoth Lakes

Further up north, stop in Mammoth Lakes, a scenic mountain town where you can enjoy hiking, camping, and mountain biking. Make sure to check out to Devil’s Postpile National Monument, an incredible natural feature that is a popular stop among outdoor enthusiasts.

Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes: Empeiria High Sierra Hotel

Check out the nearby June Lake Loop before arriving at Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America that is popular with naturalists and photographers thanks to its limestone formations and wildlife.

From here, you can either continue to Yosemite National Park along California Highway 120 (or Tioga Pass Road) or continue toward South Lake Tahoe.

Mono Lake near Yosemite National Park

Bodie State Historic Park

If you have extra time, veer off course slightly to visit Bodie State Historic Park to see the remains of California’s Gold Rush Era, one of the most important periods in the history of the state that brought thousands of people from all over the country in search of gold.

Recommended stops: Lone Pine, Alabama Hills, Mount Whitney, Convict Lake, Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake, June Lake Loop, Lee Vining.

Best time for your road trip: California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada can get snowy in late fall and winter with some roads becoming impassable. This is one of the best California road trips for late spring or summer, if you want to spend time outside. Fall is also a good time to visit this region, as Eastern Sierras is one of the best places to see fall colors in California.

How many days to spend on the road: I suggest no less than 5 days for this road trip. Of course, this depends on how much time you want to spend on the road and what you want do. While the drive itself is only about 8 hours, there’s a lot to do along the way, so make sure to have enough time.

Mission San Diego de alcala is one of the top things to do in San Diego

2. San Diego to Death Valley road trip

Length: Approximately 340 miles 

Start: San Diego

End: Death Valley National Park

If you love the desert as much as I do, you will think this is one of the most beautiful road trips in California!

Joshua Tree is one of the best West Coast National Parks that you must visit during your California road trip

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Begin your trip in San Diego and continue to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, one of the most beautiful state parks in California famous for its art installations, blooming wildflowers in spring, and scenic hikes through desert canyons.

On your way from Anza Borrego to Joshua Tree stop at the Salton Sea, home to many migratory birds and wildlife that is drying up, unfortunately.

PRO TIP: Taking a road trip through California deserts could involve some off-roading. Having a high-clearance vehicle will help you, but you can also explore in a standard car, just make sure to check road conditions before your trip.

Palm Springs is one of the most popular stops on a Southern California road trip itinerary

Palm Springs

One of the most popular spots along a classic Southern California road trip is Palm Springs, a desert oasis with a cool art scene and tall palm trees framed by the beautiful mountains. It’s a neat town to spend a couple of days, enjoy a variety of restaurants and soak up some desert sun.

➡️ Where to stay in Palm Springs: Azure Sky Hotel

For the ultimate experience, continue toward Death Valley National Park, one of the most beautiful national parks in California that is home to the hottest temperatures in North America and also the lowest point called Badwater Basin. Death Valley is an incredible place and if you like solitude and good scenery, you will have a great time here.

➡️ Where to stay in Death Valley: The Inn at Death Valley

Death Valley is a must stop along your West Coast Road Trip itinerary

Recommended stops: Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, Death Valley National Park

Best time for your road trip: California deserts can be really hot during summer, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to hike and enjoy the landscapes, plan your trip from late fall through early or mid-spring when you can also see flowers blooming in parts of this region.

How many days to spend on the road: I recommend no less than 5 days on the road, but if you want to do more hiking and exploration, spare more time. For example, Death Valley National Park has many cool remote spots. If you want to camp under clear dark skies, spend about two to three days in Death Valley.

Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful cities in California that makes a great stop on a Central California itinerary.

3. Central California road trip

Length: 150 miles 

Start: Santa Barbara

End: San Simeon

Central Coast is one of the most scenic California road trips. It doesn’t have big cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, but instead, boasts cute beachside towns, rolling hills, and less explored beaches. Although many travelers know about Central California because of the Big Sur, there’s a lot more to this region.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, one of the most charming towns in California where you can explore the downtown, visit the historic courthouse and learn how to surf. Because of its location along Central California Coast, Santa Barbara boasts calm breakpoints that are perfect for beginner surfers.

Where to stay in Santa Barbara: Hotel Californian

Channel Islands National Park

Take a day trip to the Channel Islands National Park aka Galapagos of Northern America where you can spot incredible wildlife not found anywhere else in the world! Boats to Channel Islands depart daily from Ventura, a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara.

San Luis Obispo is a small town that makes a great stop on a fun Central California road trip

As an option, you can also make a 50-minute drive from Santa Barbara to Ojai, a small town with beautiful mountains, orange groves, and hippy vibes. Ojai is a perfect place for a romantic weekend getaway.

San Luis Obispo

When you are ready to continue your coastal drive, head to San Luis Obispo, shortly called SLO, where you can tour the beautiful downtown, enjoy the hikes and bask in the sun at the local beaches.

Where to stay in San Luis Obispo: Luxury Vista House

If you are visiting in winter, make sure to visit the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach where you can observe thousands of monarch butterflies on eucalyptus trees.

Paso Robles is home to some of the best wineries in California and a great stop on your Central California Road Trip.

Paso Robles

A quick drive away from San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles is one of the top wine regions in the world. Not as famous as Napa or Santa Barbara wine country, Paso Robles offers a quiet retreat with plenty of small-town charm without big crowds.

Another option is to cool off at Franklin Hot Springs or rent a boat at Lake Nacimiento.

An optional deviation from Paso Robles is Cambria, a paradisiacal spot along Highway 1 that remains a hidden gem of Central California.

Morro Bay

Located slightly north of San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay is a small bayside town easily recognizable because of the giant rock right along the beach. Morro Bay is also a marine sanctuary and a perfect place to spot adorable sea otters splashing in the water.

Hearst Castle is one of the most popular places to visit along Central California Coast

Hearst Castle

End your trip with a visit to the famous Hearst Castle outside of San Simeon before arriving in Big Sur. You can choose from multiple tours that will show you different parts of this impressive property and talk about how it came to be. At the end of your tour, you can also watch a movie in the theater right inside the castle.

Where to stay near Hearst Castle: Coast Riders Inn

Recommended stops: Santa Barbara, Channel Islands National Park, Ojai, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, Montana De Oro State Park, Paso Robles, Cambria, Hearst Castle.

Best time for your road trip: Central California has a mild coastal climate which means you can visit it any time. In winter, temperatures are cooler, and while there’s still plenty of sunshine, there is a higher chance of rain. Summer is the busiest time in the region, and in spring, you can see gorgeous wildflowers and carpeting the green coastal slopes.

How many days to spend on the road: Plan between 8-10 days to explore Central California. Just like the rest of the Golden State, this region has too many beautiful spots to cram it all into a short road trip.

Big Sur in California is one of the best places to visit in the United States

4. Highway 1 California Road Trip

Length: Approximately 450 miles

Start: Orange County

End: Monterrey

California Coast Road Trip is one of the most fun adventures you can have!

California Pacific Highway or Highway 1 starts in Dana Point, Orange County, and ends in Mendocino County near the Oregon border, so you will cover quite a bit of distance.

Whether you decide to do this road trip from north to south, or vice versa, make sure to visit some of the most beautiful highlights of this stretch, because there are so many of them!

Start your trip in Orange County with postcard-like towns including Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, San Clemente.

Los Angeles is a classic stop on a Southern California Road Trip

Continue to Los Angeles where you can spend as much as a week, and as little as a couple of days. Since traffic can be bad in LA, plan your activities in one area to avoid the traffic.

Spend a day in West LA where you can visit Santa Monica and the Hollywood Walk of Fame before heading to Griffith Observatory for an epic sunset.

Where to stay in Los Angeles: The Peninsula Beverly Hills

Central California Coast

After a few days in LA, visit Central California towns Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay, before arriving in San Simeon, a gateway to Big Sur. Here, make a stop at Hearst Castle, one of the main highlights of the California Pacific Highway. 

How to plan a Big Sur Road Trip: Learn about the best things to do in Big Sur

Big Sur

I want to caution you against rushing through Big Sur in a day because you will miss out on many amazing places. Take 2-3 days for your visit to Big Sur to see its highlights and do a couple of hikes.

The best places to visit in Big Sur are Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (with the famous McWay Waterfalls overlook), Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and The Los Padres National Forest. Other popular stops are the Bixby Bridge, the Cypress Grove Trail, and Bird Island Trail.

Monterey is one of the best Central California cities that you should visit


After exploring Big Sur for a couple of days, arrive in Monterey just south of San Francisco, and don’t forget to visit the beautiful village of Carmel by the Sea and the nearby Pacific Grove where you can hike the scenic coastal trail.

Check my guide to the best cities in Central California

San Francisco is a perfect starting point for many cool road trips in Northern California

Finish your trip in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful American cities famous for its coastal fog, Golden Gate Bridge, and scenic mountain views. Spend between 3-5 days in the Bay Area to explore some of the best places to visit in San Francisco.

Recommended stops: Orange County, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel by the Sea, San Francisco.

Best time for your road trip: Summer is the busiest time in the region with many domestic and international tourists coming here, while winter and late fall can bring rains that can sometimes result in mudslides along the coast. Mid-to-late spring is an ideal time for your road trip along California Highway 1 when you can see beautiful wildflowers in full bloom and enjoy less crowded places.

How many days to spend on the road: Set aside no less than 10 days for this adventure, with an optimal time of 12-14 days, if you can do it. Highway 1 has many beautiful stops, and it would be a shame if you tried to cram all of it in a short time.

Mount Shasta makes for one of the best road trips in Northern California

5. Redding to Mount Shasta road trip

Length: 230 miles 

Start: Redding

End: Redding

One of the less popular California road trips is a route from Redding to Mount Shasta. Located in Northern California, this scenic stretch takes you along incredible waterfalls and the snow-capped Mount Shasta, before arriving at Lassen Volcanic National Park, one of the least visited West Coast National Parks that boasts incredible hydrothermal features.


Start your road trip in Redding, a NorCal town where you can enjoy hiking, biking, and exploring the Sacramento River National Recreation Trail.

Where to stay in Redding: Americana Modern Hotel

Next, head toward Lassen Volcanic National Park where you can see a myriad of amazing thermal features like springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. Lassen Volcanic boasts clear dark skies and uncrowded trails, if you decide to camp here.

Mount Shasta is one of the most iconic spots in Northern California that makes a perfect stop on your California road trip

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Another great spot along your itinerary is McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park that boasts gorgeous waterfalls. Spend some time wandering its trails before arriving at the Shasta-Trinity National Forest where you can take a hike to McCloud Falls and see the majestic Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta

Check out Shasta Lake where you can take a guided tour of the Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark, home to many stalactites and stalagmites.

Recommended stops: Redding, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mount Shasta, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.

Best time for your road trip: Summer is the best time to visit this Northern California region unless you want to do backcountry skiing and try other winter activities. While early summer still sees some snow, July and August are the best months to visit the area when roads are open and temperatures are ideal for spending time outside.

How many days to spend on the road: Spare between 5 to 8 days for this Northern California road trip. This is a remote region and while there are many cool places to see, things will take some time to get from one point to another.

6. Rim of the World Scenic Byway road trip

Length: 110 miles 

Start: Cajon Pass

End: San Gorgonio Pass

One of the most overlooked road trips in California, Rim of The World Scenic Byway offers a different side of Southern California. This spectacular road trip will take you through the San Bernardino Mountains from the Cajon Pass outside of Los Angeles to Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead in the mountains.

GOOD TO KNOW: This area is very popular with SoCal residents during winter when scores of visitors come here for skiing and snowboarding. If you too want to come here for some winter fun, you will have to put chains on your tires.

Check other popular road trips from Los Angeles

Big Bear Lake

Summer is a perfect time to take a break from Southern California heat and enjoy beautiful lakes, lush meadows, and scenic trails in the mountains. Weekends can be busy but weekdays are great for a relaxed getaway since crowds tend to dissipate.

Where to stay in Big Bear Lake: Luxury Lodge Home

Big Bear Lake is a popular destination because it offers many accommodations, restaurants, and amenities. It’s a great trip to cool off and relax before continuing your California adventures.

Best time for your road trip: There’s no wrong season to visit this place! Summer is a popular time among outdoor enthusiasts, while winter transforms this place into one the most popular places to visit in Southern California.

How many days to spend on the road: 2-3 days is the perfect time for this small road trip which will allow you to see most highlights and spend one night in the beautiful Big Bear Lake.

Yosemite Valley things to do

7. California National Parks road trip

Length: 650 miles

Start: San Francisco

End: San Francisco

California is home to some of the most incredible West Coast national parks, and you will miss out if you don’t include them in your California itinerary! The famous trio includes Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and the Yosemite National Park.

Starting your California national parks road trip in San Francisco will help you maximize your time, but you can also begin in Los Angeles depending on your travel plans.

LA to Yosemite road trip is a lot of fun, as you get to see the change in scenery along the way.

There are several roads that you can take to get from San Francisco to Yosemite, but I recommend CA Highway 140 that will take you through the towns of Fish Camp and Mariposa.

Yosemite National Park

When looking for places to stay in Yosemite, I want to tell you NOT to book your hotel last moment, especially if you travel from June through early September. Yosemite is one of the busiest destinations California and you can easily pay a few hundred dollars for a basic room.

PRO TIP: Yosemite demands time, especially if you plan on doing some of the most popular hikes like Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, or Half Dome (which requires a permit). However, this national park has plenty of easy-to-moderate trails perfect for beginner explorers. For example, Bridalveil Falls is an easy hike, and the Glacier Overlook is a short but spectacular trail accessible from the parking lot.

Don’t forget to visit Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoia trees, and make stops at Tenaya Lake and Olmstead Point to take in the stunning views of the granite mountains.

Kings Canyon National Park

From Yosemite, head to Kings Canyon National Park where you can hike to waterfalls and enjoy scenic views of the Kings River. If you have time, hike to Redwood Canyon, home to one of the largest sequoia groves in the world. It’s a smaller and less visited national park, a perfect spot for a less crowded getaway.

Continue along Generals Highway before arriving at Sequoia National Park. Take a trail to Morro Rock for magnificent sunset views.

Recommended stops: Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon

Best time to visit: As with other areas in California’s Sierra Nevada, summer is the best time to visit because snow can linger as late as the end of June. Early-to-mid June is the best to see waterfalls in Yosemite in their full glory, and July and August are the busiest months. Mid-September is the best time to enjoy mild fall weather and get to see the incredible fall colors.

This is one of the most popular Northern California road trips. Winter is downtime which sees only a fraction of visitors and is perfect for winter adventures like snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

How many days to spend on the road: I suggest between 5-8 days for your road trip to California national parks because of the sheer distance and the many things to do, especially in a place like Yosemite.

Santa Monica is one of the most popular places to visit in Los Angeles.

8. Southern California road trip

Length: 120 miles

Start: San Diego

End: Los Angeles

Southern California is home to some of the best beaches in the United States, in places like Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles. It’s no wonder that this part of the state of the state is considered as one of the best California road trips.

San Diego

Begin your trip in San Diego where you can see a great scenery in places like Torrey Pines and watch the sunset from Sunset Cliffs Natural Park before heading to Gas Lamp Quarter for dinner. Round up your trip with a visit to Balboa Park, the National Historic Landmark with gardens, museums and live music.

Don’t forget to stop in La Jolla, a small town north of San Diego where you can watch amazing wildlife and enjoy great restaurants and scenery. 

Orange County is a popular stop on a classic Southern California road trip

Orange County

Next, head north to Orange County where you can go on a whale watching tour in Dana Point, enjoy the incredible Crystal Cove State Park, and check out Art Scene at Laguna Beach before heading to Newport Beach, a capital of surfing.

If you are a wine lover, consider taking a slight detour inland to Temecula, one of the most popular wine tasting destinations in Southern California.

Los Angeles

Arrive in the Los Angeles area where you can spend as much as a couple of weeks. Plan your trip by areas to minimize your driving time, since traffic in Los Angeles is notoriously bad. For example, one day you could do a couple of museums like Los Angeles County Museum or Getty Museum before heading to West LA next day to check out Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Finally downtown Los Angeles (or DTLA) is home to many cool art museums, restaurants and stores.

To see Southern California off the beaten track, take a day trip Catalina Island for some Mediterranean vibes and relaxation. Round up your trip in Malibu, a gorgeous places with scenic beaches like El Matador State Beach.

Recommended stops: San Diego, Carlsbad, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach, Temecula, Los Angeles, Catalina Island, Malibu, Santa Monica, West Hollywood.

Best time to visit: Southern California is a perfect destination to visit year round thanks to its mild climate and plenty of sunshine. Summer is a busier time while winter is a great season to visit if you are coming from the colder climate and want to enjoy warm temperatures. During winter months, visitation is also slower which means prices on hotels and tours will be lower than in summer.

How many days to spend on the road: I recommend no less than 7 days for your Southern California road trip, with an optimal length of 10 days. If time is short, focus on just one area, like San Diego or Los Angeles, instead of trying to hit all of the locations.

San Francisco is a getaway to some of the most popular places to visit in Northern California

9. Northern California Road Trip

Length: 175 miles

Start: San Francisco

End: Fort Bragg

The stretch of Pacific Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Bragg is one of the most beautiful California road trips as it’s less explored and has a more wild feel to it than other more popular travel routes around the state.

The northern portion of Highway 1 begins when you cross Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. After driving through Sausalito, make a stop at Muir Woods National Monument, home to nearly two-thousand-year-old redwoods that is named after the environmentalist John Muir.

Reservations are required for Muir Woods National Monument. Local authorities implemented it in an attempt to curb the crowds and preserve this delicate ecosystem.

Point Reyes

Continue toward Point Reyes National Seashore, a 70,000-acre park along the Point Reyes Peninsula where fierce ocean waves crash into the jagged coastline. Here you can take part in ranger-guided programs, watch wildlife, and do a couple of scenic hikes. Grab a jacket, because it can be chilly.

Sonoma County

The next stop is Sonoma County where you can enjoy warmer temperatures and plenty of wine. Spend the night in Santa Rosa, the largest city in the area from where you can launch all your trips in the wine country. Another option is Napa Valley, but keep in mind that it’s one of the most popular destinations in Northern California, and is more expensive than Sonoma.

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Next, explore the untouched beauty of the region in Mendocino Headlands State Park before arriving in Mendocino, and Fort Bragg, home to the famous glass beach in MacKerricher State Park that got its name because of the thousands of tiny pieces of smooth glass that blend with the pebbles.


Optionally, make a stop in Mendocino, California’s hidden gem and one of the most beautiful wine regions in the state enveloped by fog and surrounded by sprawling hills. Sample organic wine made with sustainable practices and enjoy a slow pace of life.

Crescent City and Eureka

And when you get closer to Oregon, stop either in Eureka or Crescent City, two small towns that are the perfect blend of culture and nature. From there, you can visit Redwood National and State Parks and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Del Norte County is the northernmost county in California that has tons of wild remote beaches perfect for an outdoor enthusiast. This is just another example why Northern California Coast is one of the best California road trips for nature lovers.

Highlights: Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes, Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Crescent City, Redwood National, and State Parks.

Best time for your road trip: Since Northern California Coast has cooler temperatures plan your trip from mid-spring through early September if you want to enjoy warmer weather. Winter brings plenty of rain and mist in the region, and it can be foggy, however, there are also far fewer visitors.

How many days to spend on the road: Spend between 5-7 days on the road spending on how many outdoorsy things you want to do. Since this region is all about spending time outdoors and enjoying nature, plan your activities accordingly.

Las Vegas is one of the most fun places to visit along West Coast Road Trip

10. Los Angeles to Las Vegas road trip

Length: Approximately 270 miles

Start: Los Angeles

End: Las Vegas

A drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas might not seem like a road trip, after all, it goes through the boring desert with not much to look at. Wrong!

If you are planning on driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas (or the other way around), get ready for an exciting drive through the beautiful California desert where ghost towns give way to unique places and quirky roadside attractions like the world’s largest thermometer.

This drive is not one of the most popular California road trips, and that’s exactly why I decided to cover it. It takes anywhere from 4 to 5 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, but don’t worry, you will have a ton of entertaining stops along the way to spice up your trip. 

Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

One of my favorite stops between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Here, you will find hundreds of trees with branches made out of colorful glass bottles. It’s a good roadside stop to snap a picture before continuing your route up north.

Your next stop is Barstow, the largest town along Interstate-15. 

Here you can grab some food and visit a couple of museums. I recommend the Route 66 “Mother Road” Museum, home to artifacts chronicling the history of this iconic American route. You can also visit Western America Railroad Museum and Desert Discovery Center to see the second-largest meteorite found in the United States.

Calico Ghost Town

A quick drive from Barstow, the small desert community Yermo is home to Calico Ghost Town. Calico prospered during the silver boom but went bust by the late 1800s when silver lost its value. It’s been carefully restored to its original appearance and today it is as a major roadside attraction between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Next up on your journey is one of the most unusual stops, Zzyzx Road right off Interstate-15. While it looks like a desolate and abandoned road, you can find a pretty big lake surrounded by palm trees and if you continue your drive down this road, you will come toward an abandoned building.


When you pass Baker, about 25 minutes south of the Nevada border, you will see the world’s largest thermometer towering above the desert landscape. On hot summer days, you can see it showing 110 degrees Fahrenheit and above!

Mojave National Preserve

One of my favorite stops on this California road trip is Mojave National Preserve, home to stunning sand dunes, mountains and palm trees. There are no amenities here, so make sure to grab some food and water. Some of the coolest stops within Mojave National Preserve are Soda Lake, Kelso Dunes, and the Mitchell Caverns.

Optional stop in Death Valley

As an option, you can also stop at Death Valley National Park, but this is a much longer trip, that will require an additional day.

Your last stop before Las Vegas is Primm, a town that is partially located in California and is a perfect place to score a bargain since it’s home to a big outlet mall.

Think all you can do in Las Vegas is just party and gamble? You couldn’t be more wrong!

Check my complete guide on the best things to do in Las Vegas besides gambling

PRO TIP: I’m sure you are excited about all the Vegas fun, but I suggest taking at least one trip outside of Las Vegas where you can discover the beauty of this region. To learn about some of the best road trips from Las Vegas, check this article.

Highlights: Cajon Pass, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, Barstow, Calico Ghost Town, Zzyx Road, Baker, Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park, Seven Magic Mountains. 

Best time for your road trip: Year round, but remember that Mojave Desert gets really hot in summer, which can make it tough to be outside. Fall and early-to-mid spring is a perfect time for this road trip.

How many days to spend on the road: The shortest California road trip, a drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas can be done in as little as 4 hours and as long as one day, depending on what stops you want to make.

Renting a car for your California road trip

To enjoy some of the best California road trips, you will need to rent a car.

I recommend DiscoverCars, that has a great selection of cars for different budgets and needs. They have offices in all major destinations in California and you can easily book your car with DiscoverCars online ahead of your trip.

How to plan a California road trip:

  • Visit during shoulder season – summer is the most popular time for many California road trips, but it can be VERY busy. For better experience, plan your adventures for mid-spring or early fall.
  • Download offline maps – Some of the best places on your California road trip itinerary often have no cell phone service. Download an offline map or get a paper map ahead of your trip
  • Fill up your tank – Gas is expensive in California, and it’s even more expensive in small towns near national parks and areas with not a lot of options. Make sure to get enough gas before hitting the road.
  • Get ready to camp – Camping is fun, and it can also save you a lot of money, as hotels in popular California destinations can be expensive. Don’t forget to get some camping gear when planning your trip.
  • Avoid major holidays – If you plan on visiting popular national and state parks while road tripping California, avoid major holidays like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. It can be really busy and tough to enjoy the scenery because of all the traffic.

California road trips: final word

Whether you want to enjoy the best California beaches, explore famous national parks or hike in the mountains, I hope you were able to find a perfect option for your next adventure in California!