California is one of the largest, and one of the most geographically diverse states in the US. California has over 840 miles of coastline, multiple mountain ranges, deserts, forests, and a number of historically significant sites and attractions. As the third biggest state in the US, if you hope to see a lot of the state, the best way to do so is by car. While you will be hard-pressed to see everything in a single trip, here are a number of popular California road trips to add to your next getaway.
The Pacific Coast Highway, California Highway SR-1, is a coastal road trip that is extremely popular for driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles, though the road actually runs the entire way from Leggett in the north of Mendocino County to Dana Point at the south of Orange County. The highway is designated as an All-American Road and a Blue Star Memorial Highway. Some of the most scenic coastline in America can be viewed along its length, including such notable areas as the Golden Gate Bridge, Carmel, Big Sur, San Simeon (with access to Hearst Castle), Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Malibu, and the beach communities found in and around Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
North of San Francisco, a bit closer to the coast than Napa Wine Country, but not as coastal as the Pacific Coast Highway, you can enjoy a road trip along Northern California's Beer Trail, between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Between Fort Bragg in Mendocino County and Petaluma in Sonoma County, you can follow the Pacific Coast Highway (SR-1), SR-128, and US-101 where you'll find upwards of 24 breweries along your route. These include notable names such as North Coast in Fort Bragg, Anderson Valley in Boonville, Bear Republic in Healdsburg, Russian River in Santa Rosa, and Lagunitas in Petaluma.
California's Napa Valley is the most famous wine region in the US, and deservedly so. Located around 50 miles north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is home to over 400 wineries. There are over 43,000 acres of vineyards planted in Napa Valley, and the drive between Napa and Calistoga on Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail is one of the most iconic wine country road trips in the world.
For the best way to explore the entire San Francisco Bay area, consider a road trip around the San Francisco Bay Area Loop. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge, explore the scenic parklands of Marin County before visiting into Sonoma and Napa wine countries. Take in the cities of Berkeley and Oakland; Silicon Valley, home to many of the technology giants; and even head down for a side trip to the iconic Santa Cruz boardwalk.
Explore the roots of California's boom years in the 1850's with a California Gold Country road trip between Sacramento and Columbia. Start in Sacramento, California's state capital, and wind your way through old mining camps and Gold Rush towns, which today are home to fine dining establishments and wineries, mixed among the historical remnants of the state's roots.
Some of the tallest mountains in the contiguous 48 states are located in California's High Sierras. A road trip through the High Sierras will bring you closer to the granite, alpine peaks and monoliths, the turquoise waters of the mountain lakes, and the giant sequoias of the national forests. A road trip through the High Sierras takes in sights such as Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Mammoth Lakes, Sequoia National Park, and Bodie Ghost Town.
Perhaps the most iconic road trip in America is Route 66, and California is home to many important and well-preserved sections of the road. Route 66 started in Chicago, Illinois, and ended in Santa Monica, crossing some of America's most notable sights along the way. While much of The Mother Road has been lost to time, some significant sections remain for you to piece together on a road trip from Santa Monica to the California desert near the Nevada border.
What are some of your favorite road trips?
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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