Road trips are a fun, exciting, and bucket-list way to see a large amount of area in a relatively short amount of time. Here at TravelPirates we love road trips so we put together the ultimate California road trip for you.
How To Plan Your California Road Trip
Travel through four national parks, beaches, wine country, and cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. In just a week, you can see some of the most gorgeous sights that California has to offer. Check out our suggested stops and route below. There's no excuses now not to go because we put it all together for you.
Ultimate California Road Trip Timeframe: 20. Oct. 2018 - 19. Oct. 2020
You can easily start this trip from San Francisco or Los Angeles, and you can also reverse the order of stops. This post is based on a San Francisco departure in a clockwise direction.
Stop 1: Point Reyes National Seashore
42 miles from San Francisco International Airport
Your first stop is Point Reyes, famous for its Cypress tree tunnel and stunning lighthouse. Drive through small towns like Mill Valley and Bolinas along the way and consider going swimming at Stinson beach. Make sure to drive Route 1 north after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for some stunning coastline views
Stop 2: Napa Valley, California
55 Miles From Point Reyes
Napa Valley is one of the most popular destinations in California. This route conveniently passes right by California's award-winning wine country. You're going to need to stop somewhere on your way to Tahoe, so why not have a glass of wine and relax in the sun?
Stop 3: South Lake Tahoe
171 Miles From Napa
Tahoe is beautiful for so many reasons. Go paddle boarding on the crystal clear waters of Emerald Bay, head to the casino, and even hit the slopes if the weather permits.
Stop 4: Yosemite National Park
186 Miles From South Lake Tahoe
Yosemite is one of the most popular parks in the United States. Between hiking Half Dome, Bridal Veil falls, El Capitan, and Glacier Point, there's no shortage of sights to see here. If you aren't a big hiker then visiting Glacier Point for sunrise is the next best thing to achieve some spectacular views. There's also some cool accommodations in the park you can book that will allow you to explore for a few days.
Stop 5: Mammoth Lakes
102 Miles From Yosemite
Mammoth Lakes is highly underrated. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Mono Lake is here, and will make you think that you stumbled upon Mars. Make sure to visit the stunning hot springs and to do stargazing in the vast landscape.
Stop 6: Big Pine, California
57 Miles From Mammoth Lakes
Since you'll be visiting Mammoth, California then you might as well drive a bit more to get to Big Pine, California. The eastern Sierras are very picturesque and this area contains nine glacial lakes that are all more beautiful than the last. Take some time to enjoy them and hike to a few. Maybe even take a swim in the freezing cold water. It will be something you'll never forget.
Stop 7: Death Valley National Park
95 Miles From Big Pine, CA
Make sure you stop and snap a pic on the "lonely road." Death Valley will be such a contrast to the other stops along this route up until this point. You'll appreciate the change in scenery and temperature. It will be a cool experience to go from the 40 degree weather in Yosemite to the 100 plus degree weather in Death Valley. Stop at Trona Pinnacles on the way to visit one of the places where Star Wars was filmed.
Stop 8: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
284 Miles From Death Valley
Leave the desert and head back inland to two very stunning national parks. See some of the tallest trees in the world and remember how small us humans really are. You could easily spend weeks here, but if you only have a few days definitely visit the Cedar Grove in the "land of giants."
Stop 9: Joshua Tree National Park
323 Miles From Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
One of the best places in the United States to go stargazing, Joshua Tree is the last leg of your journey. Splurge a bit and stay in some insane desert accommodations. This stark desert landscape will inspire you, and it's still very different from its sister park Death Valley. Make sure you take some night pictures to capture the show above. Maybe even sleep during the day so you can stay up and watch the stars tell their story.
Stop 10: Los Angeles
127 Miles From Joshua Tree
Finish your journey in sunny L.A.. Why not spend a night here? Whether you are traveling solo, with a family, or a group of friends this city certainly has something for everyone. It will bring you back into civilization after a week in the woods and desert. Visit Laguna Beach, and Rodeo Drive for some much needed retail therapy after your trip.
- Day 1: San Francisco to Point Reyes (1.15 hours); drive to Napa (1.5 hours)
- Day 2: Morning at in Napa; drive from Napa to Lake Tahoe (4 hours)
- Day 3: Morning at Lake Tahoe; drive to Yosemite (4.5 hours)
- Day 4: Half Day at Yosemite; drive to Mono Lakes (2 hours)
- Day 5: Morning exploring Mono Lakes; drive to Big Pines (1.5 hours); drive to Death Valley (2.5 hours)
- Day 6: Drive to Sequoia & Kings Canyon (5.5 hours)
- Day 7: Drive to Joshua Tree (5.5 hours);
- Day 8: Return to Los Angeles (2.15 hours)
Total Driving Time: 31 hours | Total Distance: 1,442 miles
*This itinerary is fitted for a eight days for convenience, but you can take as long as you want on your road trip. 10-14 days is the best time frame.