There is nothing quite as idyllic and magical as a California summer road trip. If you’re looking for where to go, then this is the ultimate list of road trips to consider for your summer adventures.
From southern California to northern California, there is much to love. With several national parks in California, you can easily incorporate one during your road trip. Every year I love to discover a new part of the state, so my most recent road trip included stops in Santa Ynez and a very small town called Cuyama. It was a part of the state I hadn’t seen before and came back wishing I had more time to explore.
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From wine country in Santa Ynez Valley to the mysterious Mendocino coast, these are seven of my favorite California road trips to take this summer!
7 Epic California Road Trips to Take this Summer
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What to Know Before Traveling
When to book: I always recommend planning ahead. Though you might be able to find some last-minute deals for more low-key hotels, popular spots definitely need to be booked in advance. I would give it 3-4 weeks in advance for hotels, or as soon as you know where you would like to stay.
Best Places to Book Hotels + Vacation Rentals: From Airbnb to Booking.com, finding the best vacation rentals for your needs is easier than ever. However, my new favorite way to book luxury accommodations is through Plum Guide. This luxe booking company only lists the most stunning properties, making it the perfect resource for the discerning traveler.
Car Rental Information: Depending on where you are traveling, renting a car can be somewhat difficult and pricey. That being said, do your best to book in advance to ensure that you get a fair price along with the specific vehicle that you need for your trip. I prefer to book a deal on Kayak.
Central California is one of the most stunning (and somewhat underrated) parts of the state. From laid-back Pismo Beach to wine country in Santa Barbara, Central California truly has something for everyone.
Starting off in Pismo Beach means kicking off your road trip with a breathtaking hike at the Pismo Reserve, sunsets on the beach, and wine tasting at nearby Edna Valley. Pismo is also home to some great restaurants like La Bodega Tapas and Somerset Grill at Vespera Resort.
After Pismo Beach, head down to Santa Ynez Valley for Tuscany-like views, stunning vineyards, and the amazing artisan shopping. There are tons of adorable towns to explore in the valley including picturesque Los Olivos and the Danish town of Solvang.
Since Santa Ynez Valley is becoming more and more popular (especially during the summer), ending your road trip in New Cuyama is super peaceful and restorative. Though there is only one hotel in New Cuyama, Cuyama Buckhorn is so relaxing. From the pool to the old-school bar, there is so much to love about this hotel. I can easily spend a whole two days here lounging at the hotel, but if you want to get out and about, go for a drive to the Carrizo Plain National Monument to check out the stunning grasslands.
Having grown up in Northern California, road-tripping along the coast from San Francisco to Trinidad always takes me down memory lane. If you’re not from the Bay Area, flying into SFO and then renting a car is pretty easy, so I would suggest starting there.
From a foodie tour through Chinatown to walking over the Golden Gate Bridge, there are so many iconic things to check off your bucket list in San Francisco. Though you won’t be able to do it all, I think two to three days in SF is a solid amount of time for a road trip.
Depending on how many stops you want to make, everything from Point Reyes to Timber Cove to Mendocino is worth checking out. If you’re anything like me, Point Reyes is a must. I love the seafood and foggy coastline (oysters at Hog Island are a must). Timber Cove has one of the most unique coastlines that nature lovers and explorers will want to see along with great hiking.
Mendocino is a lively and vibrant coastal town that is also great for indulging in fresh seafood and getting outdoors. However, you need to end your trip in Trinidad so that you can see some of the tallest redwoods in the world at Avenue of the Giants.
If you’re looking to blend history and luxury, starting your road trip off in Old Sacramento is a great way to learn more about the Gold Rush era, all while staying at a nice hotel like the Kimpton Sawyer. From the museums to the state capital, there is plenty to see. Plus, Sacramento is full of amazing restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms.
Placer County is a more relaxing and low-key place where unwind and check out stunning spots like the PaZa Estate Winery. Both El Dorado and Amador County are beyond adorable, and foodies will love the charming restaurant and bar scene. More adventurous travelers can even go whitewater rafting on the American River.
Those that love good food, good wine, and stylish hotels will find themselves right at home on a Central California road trip. If you’re coming from the south, start off with a foodie-centered stay in San Luis Obispo. The San Luis Creek Lodge is California chic while still being affordable, and there are tons of nearby eateries like Mistura and Flour House that provide unforgettable experiences.
Cambria is smaller than SLO, and offers a more quaint and scenic charm. The coast is truly stunning, and there are several coastal hiking trails that are great for catching an epic sunset. Once you make your way up to Paso Robles, you’ll find tons of great wineries and tasting rooms along with the iconic Field of Lights at Sensario.
If you’re looking for a quick yet relaxing getaway in Northern California, this three-day trip from Point Reyes to Elk is amazing. Point Reyes is one of my favorite places to enjoy fresh oysters and check out all of the amazing animals and tide pools at the Point Reyes National Seashore.
On your second day, head to Timber Cove in Sonoma County with steeper cliffs, wider beaches, and even more picturesque views. From kayaking to hiking to wine tasting, you can easily spend at least two nights in Timber Cove. However, if you want to switch things up, drive further and end in Elk at the Harbor House Inn for a cozier and more intimate experience.
Those looking to road trip closer to SoCal will love driving through the Spanish-style architecture in Santa Barbara, all the way down to the laid-back beach town of Ventura. Santa Barbara seriously has something for everyone, including wine tasting in the Funk Zone, biking along the boardwalk near the harbor, or shopping on State Street.
If you only want to spend one night in Ventura, you can do everything from hit the pier (where they have some of the best fish tacos) or simply enjoy a beach day and explore downtown. However, for those looking for more adventure, take the time to boat over to the Channel Islands, which is one of the most untouched landscapes in the country. From kayaking to snorkeling, there are so many fun things to do!
Once you’re ready to slow down, end your trip in the mellow and magical town of Ojai, which is a bit more inland. If you’re looking to truly relax, Ojai is the place for you. It is the perfect place to chill out with spa days, nature walks, or a visit to the farmers market.
If you’re looking to explore the northern coast of California as far as possible, Mendocino is a great starting point. As mentioned above, I loved to enjoy fresh seafood and enjoy the great outdoors while staying in Mendocino. After Mendocino, stop by Fort Bragg to check out the famous Glass Beach.
Next, spend some time in Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Ferndale to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy some of that crisp Northern California air. From Old Town Eureka to a Harbor Cruise on the Madaket (the last surviving original ferry from 1910), you’ll definitely want to spend a couple of days here. End with beautiful beaches and hearty comfort cuisine in Trinidad.
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1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: