By Stefanie Michaels
California has diverse landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, so why not road trip it?
The state is so diverse–from the Sierra Mountains, to the rolling hills of the wine country, the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean to the bustling cities and deserts of its interior, there is literally something for any adventure enthusiast to revel in. There’s a reason it’s called the Golden State!
So, whether you’re looking for scenic drives, outdoor adventures, or cultural experiences, it is the perfect destination for a memorable road trip along-the-way-getaway. Exploring some of the best towns in Northern, Central, and Southern California–each offering its unique blend of natural beauty, history, and cultural attractions makes for a driving adventure.
The proximity of these towns makes for scenic drives and flexible itineraries. Exploring these destinations by car enables visitors to hop off the beaten path, from the rolling hills of wine country and the rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean to the bustling cities and deserts of the interior.
You’ve heard of San Diego— the quintessential Southern California surf town. But, have you ever road-tripped to Julian? Or in lieu of Palm Springs, pointed your compass towards Borrego Springs? How about Buelton, inland from Santa Barbara?
These Southern California hamlets boast great weather, kitschy desert art, festivals and apple picking making for these the ultimate SoCal destination road trip.
- Julian: A historic town in the mountains known for its apple orchards, charming Victorian architecture, and Gold Rush heritage.
- Borrego Springs: A desert town in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, known for its unique metal sculptures, stargazing opportunities, and scenic drives.
- Buelton: A small town in the Santa Ynez Valley known for its wine-tasting opportunities, rolling hills, and scenic countryside.
Drive north from SoCal to the Central Cost, play in sand dunes, find your artisans soul in, and enjoy wines from Central-Cali.
- San Luis Obispo: A college town– also known as “Slo-town” and known for its relaxed vibe, charming downtown, with proximity to scenic beaches and vineyards.
- Cambria: A coastal town known for its dramatic coastline, historic Victorian architecture, and artistic community.
- Paso Robles: A wine country town known for its rolling hills, hot springs, and thriving wine industry.
These central California destinations offer diverse experiences, from exploring the coast’s sandy hills beachside, to relaxation in a wine country and a pretty resort town.
Farther north, find more wine tasting by entering California’s Wine Country. Enjoy nature’s hot tubs, a historic town dotted with vineyards, and a lakeside adventure locale.
- Calistoga: A small town in the Napa Valley known for its hot springs, mud baths, and historic Victorian architecture.
- Healdsburg: A small town in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, known for its wine-tasting opportunities, gourmet restaurants, and historic downtown.
- Homewood: A lakeside town on the shores of Lake Tahoe, known for its outdoor recreation opportunities, including boating, hiking, and skiing.
These Northern California towns offer visitors wine tasting in the rolling hills of wine country to outdoor adventures and scenic beauty on the coast and in the mountains.
TIP: You could make a great California road trip in 7 days, but ideally, try to give a road trip at least ten days. California can be explored over multiple visits, so don’t feel the rush to do it all in one trip. The state is long, and a Pacific Coast Highway road trip from San Francisco down to San Diego can take over three weeks, depending on a traveler’s pace.
If you have the time on your road trip to add extra locations, make sure to consider traffic conditions through dense towns and larger cities.