California Road Trip | The Best Places To Stop On A California Road Trip
Planning a California road trip?
In the past few years, I have driven from southern California to Vancouver, Canada and back several times. Sometimes I drive along Pacific Coast Highway and other times I head inland a bit to get a bit of the Redwood Forest. The Interstate 5 is definitely not my choice for a California road trip. The scenery is my thing and the direct Interstate 5 is boring. While I haven’t done the whole road trip up the coast in one go, I do have my favourite California road trip stops.
Table of Contents
Top 15 spots to stop on a California road trip
*I haven’t included stops in LA and San Diego since that is where I have resided the past few years. I plan on doing a few posts about places to visit in these areas, so keep a watch for future posts.*
I haven’t spent enough time in Ventura, but I’m hoping to change that soon. A few of friends have moved there and I am hoping to see them soon. On my road trip north in 2014, I stopped for coffee and breakfast in Ventura. And rather than sit in a cafe or in my car, I went to the beach to shoot photos while consuming my coffee and the view.
Ventura surf vibes
Santa Barbara is a gorgeous coastal city just a few hours from Los Angeles. I definitely need to spend more time here. They have incredible restaurants, museums, wineries, and more. I remember stopping here on road trips with my parents and just a few years ago on my own road trip to shoot some photos (sadly I can’t find them anymore).
Leadbetter Beach courtesy of Flickr
Downtown Santa Barbara courtesy of Flickr
When I was a child, my family would stop in Pismo on our road trips. I remember my dad talking non-stop about the clam chowder. One of these days I have to head back and find his chowder spot.
What I love about Pismo is you can still drive your car onto the beach. I don’t have a car that would do well in the sand otherwise, I’d have driven on the beach myself. I always fear getting stuck.
Excuse my not so great shot of cars on Pismo Beach
And a better Pismo photo, courtesy of Flickr
I stopped in Cambria to shoot this sunset at Moonstone Beach. Cambria seems like a cute quaint little seaside town and I definitely want to go back to explore more.
Caught this Cambria sunset just the other week
Elephant Seal Rookery in San Simeon
I just visited the rookery for the first time a few weeks ago. I’m so glad I stopped because I love seals and it was really cool to see them loafing around as well as fighting. If you’re a lover of marine life, it’s a definite must stop for photos.
I am hoping to go back to San Simeon for a proper visit. Besides being a beautiful coastal town, the Hearst Castle is located here as well. I’m a sucker for history and architecture, so I’d love to go for a visit and shoot photos.
I’m so cute!
These guys were about to battle. I just want to hug them
Big Sur is one of the most popular places to go on a Calfornia Road trip. It takes me forever to drive past Big Sur because I stop so many times. Some of my favourite key spots in Big Sur are the Bixby Bridge, Nepenthe, and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I stopped at a bunch of other stops along the PCH for photos as well.
If you’re a fan of architecture and bridges, you’ll love Bixby Bridge. I actually passed it and had to do a full turn around when it was safe.
Bixby Bridge shot on my GoPro
By the time I get to Nepenthe, I’m usually hungry. As much as I’d love to do a sit-down meal at Nepenthe, I’m usually trying to get back on the road asap. One day I’ll do lunch. I usually pick up a lunch at Cafe Kevah, which is the more casual cafe downstairs. It’s not as pricey, but the quality of the food is great. I picked up a ham and cheese panini and iced coffee this last time. Both were delicious!!
The view from Nepenthe!
If you’ve seen any photos from Big Sur on Instagram you’ve definitely seen photos of McWay Falls. It’s located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I stopped here for a quick photo but would love to come back and explore more!!
McWay Falls has me feeling some kind of way
This is your view if you keep walking along the trail past the McWay Falls view!!!!
Along the drive from the Bay Area heading towards the coast, I stopped at Monastery Beach in Carmel By the Sea. I’ve always wanted to explore more of this area and hope to in the future. The beaches look absolutely amazing but be careful, I’ve heard some of the waves are so strong and can pull you in.
Monastery Beach in Carmel by the Sea
I stopped in Santa Cruz almost 6 years ago on my first solo drive up the coast. Sadly the amusement park was closed as it wasn’t the season, but I’d love to go back again. I love the movie the Lost Boys so I have had this thing for Santa Cruz forever!
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Boardwalk
Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re driving along the 101 in the Bay Area, you will drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. If you want to shoot a photo, there’s a turn-off to stop and (pay) park and take photos. There is also one on the other side in Marin County that is free.
Iconic California right here!! The Golden Gate from the San Francisco side
Golden Gate from the Marin County side of Highway 101
Muir Beach Viewpoint in Marin County
I was heading to my friends’ place in Petaluma and rather than take 101 during rush hour, I took the scenic route along the coast. There’s a viewpoint at Muir Beach with gorgeous views and great photo ops.
Stopping for the pretty views
You can’t drive through wine country without stopping at a winery!! I don’t condone drinking and driving so I never do tastings when I’m on driving. But while I was near Healdsburg, I stopped at Francis Ford Coppola’s winery. It was pretty sad to be there and not try and wine. But I did buy some gifts and looked at the movie memorabilia from Francis Ford and daughter Sofia’s movies. I’m slightly obsessed with this place.
I’ve never done proper trips to Paso Robles, Napa, or Sonoma. I am hoping to organize a trip with some girlfriends for some wine time soon!
Francis Ford Coppola Winery
The car from Tucker inside the Coppola winery!! How cool!
Don’t you worry, I’ll be back for this pool!!
Avenue of Giants
The Avenue of Giants is a stretch of road just off Highway 101 in Northern California. It runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and a more scenic drive. I always take it and stop for photos with the giant redwoods.
Middle of the road
In awe of giants
Elk Meadow near Klamath
I’ve been doing the coastal drive from Canada to California and vice versa since I was a child. I always remember seeing elk crossing signs but had never ever seen elk in the area before. On the drive two weeks ago I passed a field full of elk just south of Klamath but there wasn’t a place to turn around for a while. I thought about driving back but had gone several miles and didn’t want to lose time…then this happened:
Elks chilling in a meadow
Paul Bunyan and Babe at Trees of Mystery
Tree of Mystery is northern California near Klamath. It’s an attraction along Highway 101. While I have never been inside Trees of Mystery, I do always stop for a photo with the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue. I do eventually want to visit Trees of Mystery. I have read that inside they have an aerial tram with gorgeous views as well as really unique trees including one tree that has 9 trees growing out of 1 trunk.
A silly selfie with Paul and Babe
Redwood National and State Forests
I am starting to really show my Canadian roots! I love driving along the Redwood Highway in NorCal and stopping to take photos of the gorgeous old growth trees.
In Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park
Love driving the Redwood Highway!
This is at the entrance of the Redwood National Forest
The entrance of the Redwood Forest when driving south from Oregon
Other California road trip stops that I want to visit in the future
- San Luis Obispo
- Morro Bay
- Hearst Castle
- Point Reyes
- Fort Bragg
All these stops are closer to the coast. I’d love to do a road trip to Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the future too.
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Where do you stop on a California road trip? Leave a comment!
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