There’s something idyllic about road tripping across California.
Just imagine driving down the coast of the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible as its speakers pump out some mellow, chill tunes. But the Golden State isn’t limited to drives along its ocean-bordered highways. There are plenty of other scenic routes that will take you through vineyards in Wine Country or into the desert at Joshua Tree National Park.
If you’re looking for ideas to fuel your wanderlust, we’ve got some for you. These are the most scenic Californian road trips you should start plotting on your map.
You’re not exactly on a Californian road trip if you don’t have Big Sur on the itinerary. The rugged coast with its winding two-lane highway is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, and dare we say the planet.
Start your journey at Carmel-by-the-sea, a quaint city in Monterey. Along the way, stop by Pebble Beach (if you’re a golf enthusiast), take a selfie at the iconic Bixby Bridge, and most importantly savour the view. Big Sur is not a trip that’s meant to be rushed.
Los Angeles to Palm Springs
Just around 100 miles (170km) away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles is the desert oasis that is Palm Springs. Framed by the San Jacinto Mountains and a deluge of palm tress, the town is a favourite getaway for Californians seeking a respite, akin to how New Yorkers escape to the Hamptons (or Singaporeans having a staycation in Sentosa).
It’s not just nature’s beauty that makes Palm Springs so enchanting. Catch a photo-op with the life-sized Cabazon Dinosaurs made famous by Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and admire the mid-century modern architecture – Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann House is probably the most famous home in the entire neighbourhood. We hear the shopping there is pretty good too.
Check out our in-depth guide to Palm Springs here.
Joshua Tree National Park
Two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado, come together in a magnificent landscape known better as the Joshua Tree National Park. Named after the endearing aesthetic (read: bristled and twisted) of the Joshua tree, the sprawling park can be explored in a day, although we’d suggest a full weekend just to really soak it all in.
Entrance to the park is at USD30 per vehicle for a 7-day permit, where you’ll have access to the eight campgrounds and all the natural attractions. The Arch Rock, Skull Rock, and Keys View should be on your radar to check out.
At night is where the park truly starts to come alive, with the stars in the sky creating a dreamy vision of the cosmos. Just remember to fuel up your car and bring lots of water before you enter the park.
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
A road trip on the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway is the closest thing to time travel California offers. Located in the High Sierra region at the heart of the state, the byway is a 100-miles through a bygone era of how America looked like a century ago. Think untouched landscapes dotted with mountains and hills.
Go off-the-grid at the Jones Store at Beasore Meadow for a home-made pie in a truly authentic setting – there’s no electricity or cell reception there. If you’re sick of sitting in a car all day, take a hike in Nelder Grove to see some of the Giant Sequoia trees.
Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail
The Napa Valley has two thoroughfares: the traffic-heavy Route 29 and the Silverado Trail that sits parallel to the highway. At just a short 29 miles (46km), the trail takes you between vines of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon through the backyards of California’s Wine Country. It’s a journey fit for the wine connoisseur (provided there is a designated driver somewhere in your party).
Be sure to have pit stops at the world-class wineries including Joseph Phelps, Mumm Napa, and the Stags Leap District collection of winegrowers. Once you’re done imbibing, there are several Michelin-starred restaurants in the valley you can head to for dinner, including three-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood.