15 Epic California Road Trip Itineraries (2024)

Discovering Hidden Gems Affiliate Link Disclosure

Want to know all the most epic California road trip itineraries? We’ve got you covered with all the best hidden gems and iconic stops.

Embarking on an epic California road trip is a great way to explore the beauties and wonders of The Golden State.

From the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the rugged beauty of coastal Highway 1, there are many spectacular sights to see.

You’ll be able to experience a variety of landscapes in just one journey, from lush forests and rolling hills to sandy beaches and redwood groves.

Plus, you can stop off at some amazing cities along the way like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego for some interesting cultural experiences too.

Planning A Trip? Use Our Favorite Resources Below!

?? Accommodations
?? Tours/Experiences
?? Flights
?? Car Rentals

Epic California Road Trip Itineraries

When planning your epic California road trip, it’s important to consider what type of route you want take and how long you want your journey to last.

Below are a variety of road trips of different lengths, in different regions, and that take a varying amount of time.

1. Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco To Santa Barbara

The PCH is a stunning stretch of road that winds along the Pacific coast.

You’ll get to experience breathtaking views of the ocean and pristine beaches, plus you can stop off at some fascinating towns for some sightseeing and beach time.

Start your epic California road trip from the north in San Francisco and make your way south towards Santa Barbara, with plenty of stops along the way in places like Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur.

In San Francisco you can enjoy attractions like the Alcatraz Island Night Tour, The Walt Disney Family Museum, and hiking in Muir Woods.

view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Walt Disney Family Museum

Some fun stops as you make your way down towards Santa Barbara include Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Avila Beach, and the Danish town of Solvang.

Hamlet Square windmill from Solvang

Be sure to check road conditions before planning this trip though because throughout Central California, PCH frequently has road closures due to mudslides and other natural disasters that make many parts inaccessible for months at a time.

As you can see in the Map image below, at the time of writing this post, there is a closure along PCH, so the only route it will take you is along the 101, missing all the coastal towns.

Pacific Coast Highway road trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara - epic California road trip itineraries

2. The Redwood Highway

If you’re looking for an epic California road trip that takes you through lush forests and redwood groves, then take a drive down the Redwood Highway.

This route will take you from San Francisco to Crescent City and back again, with plenty of stops in between to explore national parks and scenic spots.

Along the way you can stop in small towns like Trinidad or explore Redwood National Park.

Redwood Highway road trip itinerary - epic California road trip itineraries

3. Yosemite National Park Road Trip

Experience one of California’s most beautiful national parks with this epic Yosemite National Park road trip.

You’ll get to admire epic mountain views, take hikes in the wilderness and stroll through giant Sequoias.

Lower Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park

4. San Francisco to Big Sur

This epic California road trip takes you from bustling San Francisco down the beautiful coast to a serene beachside town called Big Sur.

Popular spots between San Francisco and Big Sur include Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Cannery Row in Monterey, and the small seaside town of Carmel-By-The-Sea.

Monterey Canning Company

Along the way you’ll be able to experience iconic seaside cliffs, lush forests and plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities.

San Francisco to Big Sur road trip - epic California road trip itineraries

5. Desert Oasis Road Trip

Take on an epic adventure with this desert oasis road trip that will take you from Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, all the way up to Death Valley National Park and back again.

You’ll get to witness some incredible scenery along the way, from epic canyons and Joshua Trees to vibrant wildflower fields.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley occasionally closes due to floods and heavy rainfall, so be sure to check park conditions before planning your trip out here.

Palm Springs to Joshua Tree to Death Valley road trip itinerary - epic California road trip itineraries

6. California Wine Country Road Trip

If you’re looking for epic California road trip that offers a unique experience, then nothing beats the California wine country road trip.

You’ll get to explore some of the best wineries in the state and sample delicious wines from the region.

In Southern California, we love visiting Ramona and Temecula for wine tasting weekends.

Falkner Winery in Temecula

San Diego also offers plenty of urban wineries and tasting rooms.

As you make your way up North, Tehachapi is a hidden gem with about a dozen wineries and tasting rooms that are top notch.

Triassic Vineyard in Tehachapi

Additionally, the Central Coast towns of Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Solvang, and Ventura have a ton of wineries and tasting rooms.

J Wilkes Tasting Room in Santa Barbara

Lastly, as you make your way further North, Carmel, Calaveras County, Napa, Sonoma, and even Calistoga will have California’s most premium wines.

California wine country road trip - epic California road trip itineraries

7. San Francisco to Lake Tahoe Road Trip

Head up north on this epic San Francisco to Lake Tahoe road trip and witness spectacular mountain views, meadows filled with wildflowers and alpine lakes reflecting picturesque views.

Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to take in nature’s beauty, this is one epic journey that won’t disappoint.

Check out our weekend trips from San Francisco itinerary to get more ideas on places you can visit on your way to Lake Tahoe.

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco

Sacramento is roughly the half way point, so you’ll definitely want to stop here and check out the fun activities around the state’s capital.

If you didn’t know, Sacramento is actually quite the foodie town with a variety of cuisines from around the world including popular Mexican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants.

San Francisco to Lake Tahoe road trip itinerary - epic California road trip itineraries

8. Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip

Experience epic coastal views and iconic stops with this epic road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway.

You’ll get to drive through some of the most beautiful areas in California, including Big Sur and Malibu, while taking in stunning ocean vistas from atop cliffs or down below on sandy beaches.

Bixby Bridge in Big Sur

This road trip will take you along the entire length of California’s coast.

Keep in mind that due to a variety of weather conditions that regularly wash out roads, there is almost always at least some portion of PCH that is closed at any given time.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip - epic California road trip itineraries

9. California National Parks Road Trip

California is home to 8 National Parks, though it’s really 9 if you count Sequoia and Kings Canyon as separate parks.

This itinerary can be done from south to north or north to south.

Stops on this road trip include Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Pinnacles, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, and Redwood.

Santa Rosa Island at Channel Islands National Park

With Channel Islands National Park in particular, there are 4 separate islands that can be visited by boat, so I recommend planning more than one day here.

The most popular island to visit tends to be Santa Cruz Island due to it’s close proximity and easy hiking trails.

Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park

If you don’t mind spending more time on a boat, then I highly recommend making the trip out to Santa Rosa Island.

It takes a bit longer to get to, but you can enjoy whale watching along the way.

Once you’re on the island there are a few different landscapes that make Santa Rosa Island more interesting.

Additionally, Anacapa Island is another close island that is probably the most visited island and there is also San Miguel Island which is more difficult to get to and only possible to visit during certain times of the year.

There’s another island called Santa Barbara Island that will hopefully soon be accessible!

California National Parks Road Trip Itinerary - epic California road trip itineraries

10. Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Parks Road Trip

Venture deep into the wilderness with this epic Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks road trip that will take you through epic mountain peaks, lush forests and rolling hills.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are home to some of the largest trees in the world including the General Grant Tree, which is known as “America’s Christmas Tree”, and the General Sherman Tree, which is the world’s largest tree in volume.

Down in Kings Canyon there is a meadow trail and scenic drive that is vastly different from the dense sequoia trees in the rest of the park.

Sequoia National Park Overlook

11. Hollywood to San Diego Road Trip

When you’re in Los Angeles, I recommend activities like Universal Studios Hollywood, local wineries and tasting rooms, visiting the Reagan and Nixon Presidential Libraries, and taking scenic hikes.

Universal Studios Hollywood Main Entrance Gate

LA is also home to some of the most popular restaurants in the world.

We’ve compiled a variety of these restaurants including the best romantic restaurants, birthday restaurants, and rooftop restaurants.

Caffe Roma in Beverly Hills - Chocolate Lava Cake

As you make your way outside of LA, you can head to Long Beach where you can check out the best beaches, our epic day trip itinerary, and even some romantic activities in Long Beach.

Queen Mary in Long Beach

South Bay is another great area to explore before you head into Orange County.

Once you’ve made your way to Orange County, some fun activities include Knott’s Berry Farm, our list of hidden gems in Orange County, checking out sunset views, visiting Santa Ana, visiting Anaheim, and a variety of weekend getaways throughout Orange County.

Camelot Golfland in Anaheim

Orange County is another destination that is a foodie paradise.

We’ve compiled a few lists of some of the best restaurants including, the best burgers in Anaheim, the best Chinese restaurants in Anaheim, the best bars in Anaheim, the best restaurants in Huntington Beach, the best Orange Circle Restaurants, the best Downtown Fullerton Restaurants.

bacon wrapped dates from Citrus City Grille in Orange Circle

Some of the best restaurants in Orange County include the best steakhouses, the best romantic restaurants, the best birthday restaurants, the best restaurants with a view, the best Italian restaurants, and the best Mexican restaurants.

Filet Mignon from Old Brea Chophouse
Image Courtesy of Old Brea Chophouse

In San Diego, check out our weekend itinerary, the San Diego Zoo and La Jolla, North Park, Ocean Beach, San Diego urban wineries, Oceanside, and wine tasting in Ramona.

Fiesta de Reyes Old Town San Diego

San Diego also has great restaurants including the best birthday restaurants, the best restaurants with a view, the best Italian restaurants, and the best seafood restaurants.

Hollywood to San Diego road trip - epic California road trip itineraries

12. Gold Country Road Trip

Experience a part of California’s rich history with an epic road trip into Gold Country.

This journey will take you through some stunning landscapes and quaint towns as you explore an area that was once home to thousands of miners.

We personally enjoy visiting the Murphys and Angels Camp areas of Calaveras County.

Murphys, California

There are historic gold mining towns, wineries, hiking trails, and more all in this one area.

Gold Country Road Trip - epic California road trip itineraries

13. Ghost Towns Road Trip

Journey through the remains of California’s old Wild West on this epic ghost town road trip.

You’ll get to explore abandoned sites, deserted mines and forgotten villages from a bygone era.

It’s sure to be an epic journey into the past!

There are a variety of levels of ghost towns, from fairly intact towns that are open for visitors, completely deserted towns, and places that are completely in ruins and not really existing anymore.

This road trip in particular will highlight the ghost towns that still have something to see and are actually open for visitors.

These towns starting from the South include Calico Ghost Town, Randsburg, Ballarat Ghost Town, Bodie State Historic Park, Empire Mine State Historic Park, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, and Shasta State Historic Park.

California Ghost Towns road trip - epic California road trip itineraries

14. Joshua Tree Road Trip

Take an epic journey through the Mojave Desert on this Joshua Tree road trip.

You’ll get to explore epic rock formations, hike beneath starry night skies and experience the beauty of some of California’s most stunning national parks.

Joshua Tree National Park

15. Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes Road Trip

Experience epic mountain views, alpine lakes and lush forests on this epic Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes road trip.

Along the way you’ll be able to take hikes in epic wilderness areas, marvel at wildflower-filled meadows and relax under starlit night skies.

Lower Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park

It’s sure to be an epic adventure!

I recommend stopping at places like Mono Lake and June Lake along the way.

Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes Road Trip - epic California road trip itineraries

Best Way To Get Around California

California is one of the best places to explore by car.

Epic road trips are easy to plan and there are countless stunning sights to visit, from epic mountain ranges and lush forests, to vibrant cities and remote villages.

You can also take advantage of some great public transportation options too.

Amtrak trains provide services throughout the state while Greyhound bus lines offer cross-country journeys at an affordable price.

There’s plenty of airports available for domestic or international flights as well, making it easier than ever to get around California.

Avila Beach, California - epic California road trip itineraries

Best Time To Take An Epic California Road Trip

The best time to take an epic California road trip is during the spring and fall.

Springtime offers warm days, vibrant blooms and plenty of sunshine – perfect for experiencing epic coastal views or exploring epic mountain ranges.

During the fall months you can experience beautiful autumn foliage as you visit redwood forests or drive along the Pacific Coast Highway.

In both seasons, temperatures remain comfortable and there’s far fewer crowds compared to summer months.

This makes it much easier to find lodging and attractions without having to worry about long lines or high prices.

Overall, these are great times to hit the road in California!

So grab your map, pack your bags and get ready for an epic adventure!

Muir Woods National Monument - epic California road trip itineraries

How Many Days Do You Need For A California Road Trip?

The amount of days you need for a California road trip depends on where you want to go.

If you’re looking to take an epic journey around the entire state, it’s best to plan out several weeks.

This will give you enough time to explore epic mountain ranges and lush forests, as well as vibrant cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But if you’re simply looking to visit one specific area then you can get away with allotting fewer days.

A week should be plenty of time for an epic road trip along varying points of Pacific Coast Highway or visiting a few National Parks.

In any case, however long your epic California road trip may be, it’s sure to be a memorable.

Lassen Volcanic National Park - epic California road trip itineraries

How Do You Plan An Epic California Road Trip?

Planning an epic California road trip is easy and can be lots of fun!

First, decide where you want to go.

Take a look at the top attractions in California and research epic cities, national parks or stunning wilderness areas.

We personally like to use sites like TripAdvisor in the early planning stages.

This will help you narrow down your options so you can create your ideal itinerary.

Next, map out your route and determine how long it’ll take to get to each destination.

Consider how far each location is from one another, what type of transportation you’ll use, and any other factors that might affect your journey.

This will help ensure that you enjoy an epic adventure instead of having to rush from place to place.

Lastly, make sure you have all the necessary items for your epic road trip.

This includes packing a first aid kit, bringing a reliable car, and downloading offline maps in case you don’t have access to wifi.

You’ll also want to make sure you have enough cash on hand and include some snacks just in case.

By following these steps, you can easily plan the epic California road trip of your dreams!

A Frame mid century modern home in Palm Springs - epic California road trip itineraries

Conclusion: Epic California Road Trip

Each of these epic California road trips offers something unique, so why not plan your own epic adventure and explore The Golden State?

Whether you’re looking for an epic coastal drive or a relaxing desert escape, there’s an epic Californian road trip waiting to be discovered.