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California downtowns: a road trip bucket list
by Canvas • August 26, 2018

Summer road trips are a wonderful tradition, whether you pack up the fam or hit the road with your friends. PTO was made to be cashed in, and there is perhaps no better way to use yours than by exploring the Golden State. If you’re not one for pitching a tent in a national forest (because bears), we understand. This amazing state of ours has some spectacular downtowns, from the tip top all the way to San Diego. At Canvas, we encourage you to visit them all! Ridesharing can be a good local option, but it’s just not cost effective for taking longer journeys. If you want to spend a few weeks exploring the best downtowns in California, hop into a Ford from Canvas and enjoy the freedom of the open road. Here are some of the best California downtowns to add to your road trip bucket list.



Head 267 miles north east to begin your north to south road trip in Dunsmuir. This charming downtown looks like something from another time. The small alpine city is full of historic candy-colored buildings and quaint shops, all with a mountain backdrop. Life has an easy pace here, and you can eat yourself silly at a local restaurant. In short: It’s a stress-free spot to begin your road trip.


After a night or two in the Dunsmuir downtown district, go 211 miles south to the state capital. Park your car at a downtown hotel, and some of the most monumental state landmarks are within walking distance. The state capitol building is open seven days a week for tours, so walk through and see if you bump into your congress person. We’re sure they’d love your feedback! Then, head to the Crocker Art Museum or Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park. Downtown Sac is also full of food and drinks once you’re ready to take a load off.


Wake up and head 62 miles southwest, and you’re already at your next epic downtown spot. Napa is known for having amazing wine, so you’ll want to give your car a rest at this pit stop. (At Canvas, we drive responsibly!) Before you start tasting all the best local wine — which just happens to also be world famous– check out what else downtown Napa has to offer. Explore the Napa ARTWalk, meander your way through the Oxbow Public Market and sample some artisan chocolate, or get tickets to a show at the Uptown Theatre.

Santa Barbara

Now you’re off on a 359-mile trek along the coast to Santa Barbara. You’ll spot the Spanish rooftops and crisp white stucco a few miles away, and it just gets better from there. Downtown Santa Barbara is known for being refined and upscale, and you may just feel like you’re vacationing in a Mediterranean locale. Art galleries abound downtown and there is enough shopping to make you wish you had a second trunk on your car. Now that you’ve made it to a coastal destination, you may as well have your first day on the sand (slather on that sunscreen, kids). Butterfly Beach is near downtown and has some of the bests sunsets in the area.

Santa Monica

Just 86 miles south of SB, after enjoying some water views along your drive to make the traffic more tolerable, you’ll arrive in Santa Monica. This beachside beauty isn’t your average LA suburb. The Downtown and 3rd Street Promenade has unique boutiques, a farmer’s market, and tons of restaurants with a trendy/bohemian vibe. Rent a bike and explore downtown from a different set of wheels, stopping to enjoy the entertainment offerings of buskers along the way. Extra points if you let one of them teach you how to juggle.

San Diego

After a day of play on the Santa Monica, you’re ready to head to San Diego. Despite what Ron Burgundy has to say on the matter, SD’s official nickname is America’s Finest City. The trip from Santa Monica to San Diego is 133 miles, and once you park your car at your hotel you can walk or take the trolley between downtown attractions. The famous Gaslamp District is spilling over with Italian restaurants, hip bars, and trendy shops. You’ll also be just minutes from neighborhoods like Little Italy and East Village, where charming cheese shops and new city parks are begging for some of your attention.

So, what do you say? Grab the keys and start checking some of these downtowns off your bucket list. Your Canvas subscription always includes insurance, maintenance, and a mileage allowance. What are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and let’s do this.