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California's most enjoyable drive throughs
by Canvas • January 28, 2019

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California is home to some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, some of which are best seen from your car. If you’ve never been on a classic California drive-thru road trip, you’re missing out on stunning views of cliffs, mountains, forests, and, of course, the Pacific Ocean.

We’re sharing our guide for planning a drive through California: some of our state’s most revered, historic, legendary drives. Jump in your car, clear your schedule, and hit the road!

Highway 1: The Ultimate Road Trip

Length: 735 miles

Best time to drive: spring and summer

Highway 1 presents 735 miles of the most jaw-dropping, stunning scenery that the West Coast has to offer. It may not seem like much at first as you pull away from the freeway ramps in Orange County. Once you hit Laguna Beach, however, you’ll be engulfed in luxe life along the Pacific Coast Highway. You can take in your share of villas, yachts, shops, restaurants, and, of course, endless miles of beaches. The road moves forward beside LAX airport and then heads to Santa Monica and further onward.

If you want to hit the water, make a stop at Aliso Beach Park. The beach is surrounded by beautiful homes as well as the area’s finest shopping and cuisine. You’ll enjoy the hills and cliffs that surround Aliso Beach as well as the long stretches of coastline scenery.

Highway 78: See Southern California

Length: 90 miles

Best time to drive: late winter and spring

If you want to see the diversity of the Southern California landscape, try this 90-mile drive out of San Diego that winds through California. It will provide plenty of panoramic contrasts sure to delight any automotive adventurer.

The directions are simple: Start out at La Jolla or Del Mar and take SR 56 east to Highway 67, then turn onto Highway 78. You’ll drive by countless farm stands as you ascend the Cuyamaca Mountains. The road is lined with apple farms, so stop somewhere and get some from a local market. From there, you’ll find yourself in the desert – but not before you cruise through field upon field of wildflowers that make their home in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The flowers come into full bloom throughout February and March. One of the greatest attractions of the area is totally free: stargazing at Borrego Springs.

Highway 5: Drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Length: 188 miles

Best time to drive: spring and summer

If you begin your trip from Redding and then drive up I-5, you’ll navigate through the northeastern Shasta Cascades. First, there’s Shasta Lake, which is the largest reservoir in California. If you love to fish, then that is one of the premier sports to drop a line or engage in watersports.

The best is yet to come as you view Mount Shasta. The 14,162-foot mountain is awe-inspiring as it rises above the beautiful scenery that surrounds it. From there, try to take in the cliffs and tapering spires at Castle Crags State Park. After that, you’ll drive from one breathtaking natural wonder to the next: McArthur-Burney Falls, placid Lake Almanor, bubbling mud pots, and finally, Lassen Volcanic National Park, home to steaming geysers.

Surfing and Sight-Seeing: Three Beaches

Length: 30 miles

Best time to drive: year-round

We’ve already mentioned Highway 1. But within that 700+ mile stretch lies several smaller road trips that you can take in your car. A popular drive with tourists and locals alike is the 30-mile stretch of Highway 1 that covers three of California’s most world-famous beaches.

Starting at Dana Point, you can visit Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach. Start with whale watching at Dana Point Harbor, continue with the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show in Laguna Beach and the yacht harbors in Newport Beach, and end with surfing in Huntington Beach, one of the West Coast’s best spots to catch a wave!

Highway 101: Wine Country

Length: 120 miles

Best time to drive: year-round

California produces some of the world’s most elegant and delicious wines. Although there are several roads in and out of wine country, Highway 101 from Malibu to Lompoc is your best bet. From Malibu, you’ll be wowed as you wind through the Santa Monica Mountains before you eventually end up at Santa Barbara – don’t miss the Channel Islands!

Once you pass Santa Barbara, drive inland toward Lompoc, home of pinot noir vineyards. Stop in at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, where you can enjoy a wine tasting and get a stunning view of the summer flowers in full bloom.

Highway 18: The Rim of the World

Length: 117 miles

Best time to drive: year-round

The Rim of the World is a 100+ mile drive-and-hike excursion that must be seen to be believed. The picturesque route follows lakes, mountains, and wooded areas. You’ll start on Highway 18 near the Bernardino Mountains, a road lined with small villages. You can continue driving or get out and enjoy a hike at one of several trails.

Some premier attractions include Lake Arrowhead, Heaps Peak Arboretum, Running Springs, Keller Peak Fire Lookout, and Big Bear Mountain Resort. These attractions are open all year long. You are just as likely to enjoy the white snow during the winter as you are the full, lush greenery in spring and summer. And if you need a snack along the way, the North Pole Fudge and Ice Cream Company should be your top choice.

Highway 395: The High Sierras

Length: 215-234 miles

Best time to drive: year-round

There is so much to see on Highway 395 through the High Sierras that it’s difficult to know where to begin or end your trip. The area is perfect for multi-day trips if you plan to spend the night. Starting at South Lake Tahoe near Emerald Bay State Park, you can drive toward Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve where you’ll see stone towers that look like they came out of the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

From there, go in any direction and you’ll be surrounded by either mind-blowing scenery or family-centric, fun activities. There are many opportunities to hike, ski, snowboard, or go off-roading. If you’re a foodie, then bookmark Erick Schat’s Bakery and grab some Sheepherder’s bread.

If you want to get a view of Yosemite National Park, hop on to Highway 120 – this will extend your driving time just a bit. Once you are in Yosemite National Park, you can explore Tuolumne Meadows, Wapama Falls, and Merced Groves. There you can marvel at the giant sequoias or hang out in historic Groveland or Coulterville.

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