California Scenic Drives: 5 Routes That Will Make You Swoon

These five California drives will make you exclaim, and perhaps multiple times. They’re the best destinations in California for a quick road trip, where you’ll track your progress in photographs per mile rather than km/h.

You’ll see waves smashing on the coastline and drive beneath the world’s tallest living objects if you take them all. You’ll drive through high mountain passes and valleys with a mile-high floor, feeling insignificant in comparison to the mountains that tower 10,000 feet above you. You’ll travel into the desert, passing through a World Biosphere Reserve, to view North America’s lowest point.

Every one of these trips is somewhere between 100 and 180 miles long, making them doable in a full day but fascinating enough to warrant multiple days. You could combine them all to make the ideal one- to two-week California road trip.

Take some time to go old school before you get started. As all of these routes offer spectacular views, they might also take you far from a cell tower. Get a map to your mobile device or print one off before getting in the car.

1. Big Sur: From Carmel to Morro Bay

The journey from Morro Bay and Carmel-by-the-Sea on California Highway 1 is the loveliest in the state. It’s also possible that it’s the world’s foremost 155 miles. It’s without a doubt California’s most filmed, talked about, and fantasized-about highway.

With the highway following the curved coastline and the Pacific Ocean pounding on the cliffs below, the Big Sur trip is all about the view.

It can be nerve-wracking to drive on this route. You’ll seem like you can see your driving headlights around some of the tighter curves. When you’re not worried about veering off the road and ending up in the water at the bottom of those sheer cliffs, that is. Start your journey in Morro Bay and head north, putting your car on the land side of the roadway.

Although the 120-mile route appears to be short, photo opportunities, hairpin twists, and slow-moving drivers combine to make the journey take up to twice as long as you might anticipate.

Spring and fall are the greatest times to visit since the sky is the clearest. During the summer, the coast is blanketed in June Gloom, the route becomes congested, and there are few spots to pass those slow-moving automobiles. Mudslides can close Highway 1 for weeks or months throughout the winter. Check the road conditions on the CalTrans website before you leave, and figure out what you can do if it’s closed.

What is the Best Place to Stop?

The guide to driving Highway One through Big Sur includes all of the best stops and areas of interest.

You’ll need to spend additional time in Morro Bay if you want to complete this journey in two days. Carmel-by-the-Sea is also worth spending a day or two of explorings.

Other than in the Big Sur village region, where there are numerous inns and campers, there are few lodgings.

What You Should Know

Food and bathrooms are available in Ragged Point, Gorda, and Big Sur village. Gas can be purchased in either Carmel or Morro Bay. If you’re driving an electric vehicle, you can charge up 75 miles apart in Big Sur village of Cambria.

Be ready if you or your friends are susceptible to motion sickness. Consider these cures or get behind the wheel, which has helped a lot of individuals avoid the issue.

The highway is a two-lane asphalt road that can accommodate all passenger cars. Large RVs and travel trailers can be towed on it, although most persons who have done so say they will not do so anymore.

2. Highway 1 North: San Francisco to Fort Bragg

The Big Sur coast is well-known and breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s not the only stretch of California Highway 1 with vistas so breathtaking you won’t believe they’re real.

From enchanting villages that look like they belong in New England to cliffside vista locations well above the ocean they could give you vertigo, the 180-mile drive between San Francisco and Fort Bragg on Highway 1 provides landscapes and plenty of stops along the way and experience the world.

Spring and fall are the greatest times to visit since the sky is the clearest. Coastal fog known as June Gloom can be found along the coast throughout the summer. The route may be closed for maintenance at any time, particularly in the winter.

What is the Best Place to Stop?

The greatest destinations include Point Reyes, where you can see one of the coast’s most gorgeous lighthouses, Marshall, where you can eat fresh oysters from the ocean, and Mendocino, which is a storybook village.

You’ll be high above the ocean’s edge between those areas of interest. Everything else you need to know about Highway 1 north can be found in our guide.

This route has so much to offer that it could easily be made into a multi-day journey. In many of the towns you’ll pass through, you’ll be able to locate a room to rent.

What You Should Know

Most communities along Highway 1 have gas stations, restaurants, and bathrooms. Many of them also have at least a few electric vehicle charging stations.

If you or your friends are apprehensive about winding, clifftop roads, drive from south to north, which will put your car along the inside of all the turns.

3. Redwood Highway: Oregon Border to Leggett

The Redwood Highway in Northern California passes through some of the world’s most beautiful trees. They grow in groves, reaching heights of 300 to 350 feet and a width of 16 to 18 feet.

Along the way, the 175-mile journey travels through a few of Northern California’s most spectacular coastline landscapes. You can view elk between the redwoods, stroll through a fern-filled canyon, or stop to see the famed Chandelier Tree, where you can drive your automobile through its trunk.

In one day, you can travel from Leggett to the Oregon border. Consider a few side trips if you have additional time. You may go back in time at Ferndale (a quaint Victorian-era settlement), watch the waves smash on the offshore rocks, or pose next to a gigantic statue of Paul Bunyan and his buddy Babe the Blue Ox.

This drive is enjoyable at any season of the year. Winters can be wet, although snow is uncommon.

What is the Best Place to Stop?

Jedediah Smith State Park should be your only stop along the Redwood Highway. If you’ve never been to a pristine redwood forest, the 6-mile journey through the park on Howland Hill Road is a must. However, it is not ideal for all automobiles.

What You Should Know

On the highway, you’re never far from a gas station, a restaurant, or a restroom. In the larger towns, you may expect to discover more amenities. Because electric vehicle charging stations can be difficult to locate, it’s a good idea to look for them before setting out on your journey.

Even on a side drive along the Avenue of the Giants, Highway 101 is acceptable for any vehicle, even huge RVs and travel trailers.

Large RVs or vehicles carrying trailers should never use Howland Hill Drive. The hard-packed gravel road may be suitable for a family car if it has lately been graded, although conditions might range from smooth to heavily rutted. Monitor situations near the Hiouchi entrance and at one of the park’s visitor centers in Crescent City.

4. From the Beach to the Desert: San Diego to Palm Springs

Don’t allow your GPS or guidance software to take you on a monotonous drive on overcrowded interstate highways if you’re going from San Diego to Palm Springs. Instead, take command of your journey and go through the Cuyamaca Mountains, a gold rush town from the 1870s, and a World Biosphere Reserve in the desert.

Autumn, winter, and spring are all excellent seasons to visit. Around the Salton Sea, you can view up to 400 kinds of migratory birds between October and January, which is about half of the North American species. You might be able to see wildflowers at Anza-Borrego in the spring. Julian’s apple season is in the fall. Desert temperatures are so scorching in the summer that you won’t want to leave your air-conditioned vehicle, yet hotel rates in desert communities are affordable.

What is the Best Place to Stop?

Stop in Julian, a little gold rush town where you may shop for antiques and enjoy a slice of apple pie cooked from fruit produced in the neighboring orchards, along the road.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park and a World Biosphere Reserve is located on the east side of the mountains. Swing by the desert garden outside the visitor center for a quick visit, which is a condensed representation of the park’s 600,000 acres. Alternatively, delve in-depth and discover everything there is to do in Anza-Borrego.

Detour west on Highway S22 into Borrego Springs. When you see some of the more than 100 metal sculptures strewn across 10 square kilometers, you’ll find yourself rubbing your eyes in astonishment. The Borrego Springs sculpture garden features mammoths, wild horses, gigantic sloths, camels, birds of prey, and saber-tooth tigers, and was created by sculptor Ricardo Breceda for Dennis Avery (of the Avery label firm).

As you get closer to Palm Springs, you’ll come across the Salton Sea, a body of water that covers over 350 square miles of California desert, is twice as salty as the Pacific Ocean, and is rapidly dwindling. It appears to be a mirage from afar, an optical illusion created by rippling rising temperatures rising from the sand surface.

You could spend the night in Julian or Borrego Springs if you want to do the trip in two days.

What You Should Know

In Julian and Borrego Springs, you’ll find food, gasoline, and restrooms, as well as public toilets at the Anza-Borrego visitor center. Browse for charging stations along your route if you’re driving an electric vehicle with a range of fewer than 200 miles.

Make a sectional map of your journey to take control of your GPS. Don’t type Palm Springs into your mapping software if you’re beginning from San Diego. Instead, make a note of Julian. Navigate to Borrego Springs once you’ve arrived. Then, either take the Interstate or California Highway 111, which passes through the desert communities south of Palm Springs, to get to Palm Springs. Begin in Palm Springs and work your way backward: Borrego Springs, Julian, and finally San Diego.

Although there are some uphill, winding stretches, this route is ideal for any car. Check your fluid levels and make sure your car can handle high temperatures in the summer.

5. The High Sierras: Bridgeport to Lone Pine

The 150-mile section of US Highway 395 between Bridgeport and Lone Pine runs through a terrain that seems like it was ripped from the pages of National Geographic magazine. It’s undoubtedly the most picturesque drive in California in the fall when the aspen trees turn golden.

The variety of scenery you may see just by glancing out your window is one of the attractions of 395. You’ll pass through the large, high Owens Valley, which is bordered on the west by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and on the east by the White and Inyo Mountains. You’ll even be able to view Mount Whitney, which stands at 14,505 feet and is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

The most beautiful time to visit is in the fall. Wild iris and other wildflowers blossom alongside the roads in the spring. Summer is pleasant as well, with mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine. The area gets snow in the winter, which makes the mountains gorgeous but makes travel difficult.

What is the Best Place to Stop?

Mono Lake and its remarkable tufa rock formations, Devil’s Postpile outside Mammoth, Convict Lake, June Lake, and the Manzanar National Historic Site are all must-sees along Highway 395.

If you travel in two days, you can stop by Bodie State Historic Park to witness the west’s best-preserved ghost town and Hot Creek to see the bubbling, turquoise-colored mineral springs.

Bishop is a great spot to stay, but Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake, and Lone Pine are also good options.

What You Should Know

The majority of the communities along 395 have food, gasoline, and bathrooms. Almost all of them also have at least a few electric vehicle charging stations.

Conway Summit, at 8,138 feet (2,480 meters), is the highest point on the journey, causing altitude sickness in some persons.

Any type of vehicle can go on the main roadway. The unpaved road to Bodie ghost town may be used by passenger vehicles, however, it is notorious for its bumps and potholes.

Oladotun Olayemi
Oladotun Olayemi
Dotun is a content enthusiast who specializes in first-in-class content, including finance, travel, crypto, blockchain, market, and business to educate and inform readers.

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