California road trip destinations

11 Best California Road Trip Destinations

Whether you want to go camping on the beach in Southern California or want to know the best places to visit in Northern California, these are the must-see California road trip Destinations!

Every campervanner has their ultimate bucket list of campsites they want to visit, some may be longer than others, but no bucket list is complete without these awesome and unique California road trip destinations. As fall settles in and the crowds thin, now is the time to go on the ultimate camping in California road trip. Enjoy an ever-changing landscape without ever having to leave the state when you rent a campervan in California.

Top California Road Trip Destinations

Joshua Tree, California road trip destinations
  1. Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree within the Mojave Desert has many hikes and paths you can take to explore every inch of the national park, we recommend taking the Hidden Valley nature trail up to see skull rock. The rugged rocks against the desert landscape make for a backdrop like no other. Next, hike to Arch rock for more pictures and explore the Coachella cactus garden. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water along with you and take many breaks, as this desert climate is particularly dehydrating. 

San Elijo
  1. San Elijo 

This second spot on our list of California road trip destinations is perfect for those looking at California road trip destinations in search of the best surf. Located in Encinitas in Southern California, San Elijo state beach is the perfect place to spend the night to wake up early in the morning and catch some waves. Not only will you wake up to the incredible view of the Pacific Ocean right at your window. 

Mojave Desert
  1. Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave National Preserve is 1.6 million acres of protected desert, meaning that there is no shortage of things to see and places to explore. There are many hiking trails you can explore, all ranging in level of difficulty from an almost completely flat Ring Loop trail to walking up the Kelso Dunes. One sight that is certainly worth the walk is the Lava Tubes; here, you can climb down, using the provided ladder, into the earth’s crust where lava used to flow. 

Death Valley
  1. Death Valley

Death Valley is one of the more unique California road trip destinations, also known as the land of extremes, it is the driest, hottest and lowest point in the United States. It receives less than 2 inches of water every year to the mountain ranges that separate it from the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, Death Valley is also one of the hottest places on earth, so visiting in the late fall to early spring is recommended. Those looking forward to a walk more than a hike should head to Bad Water Basin, lying 282 feet below sea level, a wide path from the parking lot leads to the salt flats. While you’re there, make a quick stop at the Devil’s Golf Course. Here, you can see the jagged salt flats, but be careful when walking on them, the salt spikes are incredibly sharp and can easily cut skin and fabric. Before you leave Death Valley, it’s worth hiking to Artist Drive and Artist Palette. Artist Drive is a 9-mile drive from south to north with many stops along the way, the most well-known being Artist Palette. Stop and take some pictures before continuing on this short drive. 

Mammoth Mountain
  1. Mammoth Mountain & Lake

Mammoth Mountain and Lake offer plenty of activities, from hiking to swimming in the summer to skiing in the winter. As its name implies, Mammoth Mountain and Lakes is a region that consists of enormous mountains, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. There are many trail options for hiking, but no matter where you go, make sure to take enough water and bring your food in smell-proof bags or leave it in a bear-proof box (otherwise, bears could smell it). Also, take a trash bag to avoid littering. There are magnificent spots to see in this region, such as Devils Postpile, a national park with a landscape formed 82 000 years ago from basalt lava. Make sure to check out the Rainbow Falls, a 101-foot waterfall. 

Yosemite
  1. Yosemite 

Yosemite Valley is the most beautiful and, thus, most famous part of the national park and is home to sights such as the Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. The Falls is one of the must-see California road trip destinations and it is an easy walk or drive to the picturesque overlook down between the trees.  Yosemite’s Half Dome is particularly known because it is one of the world’s first big climbs. Depending on the angle you are viewing it from looking up at the sheer rock face from the valley down below, the size of this Half Dome wall is obvious and you can see why hikers and climbers have been drawn here for so many years. No matter where you view the Half Dome from, you will always have a unique and amazing perspective of this natural phenomenon.

Big Sur
  1. Big Sur

Big Sur is the longest and most beautiful undeveloped coastline of the United States. In fact, this destination is particularly interesting because of its natural untouched beauty that is being very carefully preserved by banning billboards and ads, for example. It displays a rugged and mountainous landscape and attracts visitors because of its views, redwood forests, beaches, etc. Here, you can enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities. Once you are here, you can visit Point Sur Lightstation, the only still complete 19th-century lighthouse in California, and an important landmark.

Sequoia National Park
  1. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is most known as the home of General Sherman, the largest tree in the world! Located about 80 miles east of Fresno, this California road trip destinations, in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, the park was established in 1890 as a measure to protect the giant trees from being logged. Therefore, the main attraction of the park are the trees that tower hundreds of feet above you. You’ll inevitably feel small in comparison. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park
  1. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to many lakes and beautiful hiking trails with varying degrees of intensity. From meadows filled with flowers and pristine lakes to gorgeous mountains and jaw-dropping volcanoes this park is named after, Lassen is not to be overlooked. 

Lake Tahoe
  1. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, is the perfect spot for watersport lovers. Here, you can paddleboard on crystal clear waters and admire the rock formations below. This quiet lake is shared between the states of California on its west bank and Nevada on its east bank. For the adventurer, you can take a hot air balloon ride and view Lake Tahoe from the clouds. Back down on solid ground, head to the water’s edge, and go fishing for trout! 

Redwood National Park
  1. Redwood National Park 

Walking the trails in Redwood National Park will take you back in time as you stare up at the thousand-year-old trees. There is nothing like it. This national park is also a world heritage site and an International Biosphere and protects a majority of the redwoods in the world.  These ancient redwood trees loom over you as you walk along the 200 miles trail system, in a seemingly never-ending and completely silent forest. The Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail is a particularly stunning elevated path. The climate in this area of the park causes the trees to lose some of their colors, but the sun shines brighter through the leaves. 

These top California road trip destinations are great for every type of traveler, whether you’re traveling solo, with your significant other, or as a family. Start your road trip in Los Angeles and explore all this state has to offer. 

About the Author

Anna Bujas

Anna has traveled to over 35 countries and is always looking for the next adventure for her and her dog.

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