For the ultimate feeling of freedom while you're away, nothing beats a road trip holiday.

With its diverse states and iconic cities, the USA is one of top destinations in which to hit the open road with some of the best driving routes found in California

The Golden State offers drivers the best of both worlds, from soaking up the culture in cool West Coast cities to getting away from it all in natural havens that stretch from the beautiful beaches of Malibu to the mountain peaks of Yosemite

These 8 road trips also offer plenty of opportunities for personalised stop offs. Stay in quaint coastal towns in lesser-known parts of the state, explore sprawling redwood forests and stand on rugged cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean without another soul in sight. 

Find your perfect route and embark on a luxury tour of California on one of these unforgettable journeys. 

1. Highway 1: San Francisco to Fort Bragg

Distance: 178 miles

Average driving time: 5-6hrs

Hit the open road on a scenic journey through Northern California.

The drive from San Francisco to Fort Bragg, along the iconic Highway 1, is one of the state's best driving routes to take if want to combine city sightseeing with breathtaking natural scenery.

Start your adventure in the cosmopolitan city of San Francisco. Take a fascinating tour of Alcatraz prison and tuck into a hearty bowl of clam chowder around Fisherman's Wharf. Then, set off on your epic road trip, driving over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, before joining the Pacific Coast highway to travel further north. 

Sonoma Coast State Park

Drive at a leisurely pace and savour spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, as you navigate the winding roads along the coast. From the grandeur of dramatic cliffs to the crashing waves below, the allure of this route lies in the many national parks and beaches you can stop off at along the way, including Point Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast State Park. 

Finally, you'll reach the coastal city of Fort Bragg, home to the famous Glass Beach and the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Spend a couple days here and catch a ride on The Skunk Train — a steam locomotive that glides through the redwood groves of Noyo River Canyon. 

2. The Big Sur 

Distance: 90 miles

Average driving time: 2-3 hours

One of the most famous coastal routes in the world, the Big Sur stretches between San Simeon and Carmel Highlands, offering a scenic adventure that tops many a travel bucket list.

Follow the winding Pacific Coast Highway that clings to the cliffs, as the azure ocean stretches out before you. The journey is punctuated by iconic landmarks like Bixby Bridge, an extraordinary feat of engineering, and Pfeiffer Beach, which is renowned for its striking rock formation: Keyhole Rock. 

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California

Along the way, you'll also cruise past sprawling redwood forests, where towering giants cast dappled shadows onto the road. Further south, at Ragged Point, you'll find a spectacular vista where the coastline plunges into the sea, offering some of the most awe-inspiring, panoramic views in the whole of California.

The Big Sur's intoxicating blend of natural wonders, engineering marvels and unbeatable photo opportunities make it one of the finest driving routes in the US, giving you an unforgettable taste of the West Coast's untamed beauty.

Add stays either side of the Big Sur in the sleepy town of Cambria, as well as in the historic centre of Monterey Bay, where you can see incredible marine life, from sea otters clinging to giant ribbons of kelp to several species of whale. 

3. Napa Valley's Silverado Trail 

Distance: 29 miles

Average driving time: 1 hour

Located along the eastern edge of Napa Valley, from Napa to Calistoga, the Silverado Trail runs through the heart of California's renowned wine country.

With its picturesque landscapes and world-class wineries, its an ideal adventure for both wine aficionados and couples looking to dial up the romance during a visit to The Golden State.

This meandering, 29-mile-long country road is flanked by rolling vineyards and offers glimpses of the majestic Coast Range mountains. To truly savour this unique driving experience, you should go at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of time to stop at multiple wineries dotted along the route.

Wine estate in Napa Valley, California

With each turn, you'll find family-owned estates and celebrated vineyards producing some of the finest wines in the world. Whether it's a bold Cabernet Sauvignon, a crisp Chardonnay or a sparkling Brut, take your taste buds on journey through North America's food and wine capital. 

And while you're there, why not spend a couple of nights at a luxury wine lodge? Park up at the Four Seasons Resort & Residences Napa Valley to enjoy private wine tasting sessions and experience the thrill of a hot air balloon ride over the fertile vineyards. 

4. Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park 

Distance: 130 miles

Average driving time: 2-3 hours

The journey from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park is a true testament to Central California's stunning natural beauty, showcasing the state's pristine lakes and snow-capped mountains.

Begin your adventure in beautiful Lake Tahoe, where sparkling cerulean waters mirror the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains, before making your way through a series of winding mountain roads. Watch in amazement as the scenery transitions dramatically with each passing minute, from lush forests to glistening alpine lakes and rugged peaks.

Driving along this route, you'll also come across the otherworldly Mono Lake: a striking saltwater oasis in the middle of the arid, high-altitude desert. Continue through the awe-inspiring rock faces of Tioga Pass, which serves as a gateway to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. 

Yosemite National Park, California

Upon entering Yosemite, you'll be greeted by the park's iconic redwood trees — some of the tallest and oldest of their kind on the planet. Take your time exploring this vast wonderland of cascading waterfalls, towering granite cliffs and native wildlife, including California's state mascot: the grizzly bear.

If you're looking to reconnect with nature during your visit to the US, this driving route should be high on your list. 

5. Highway 101: Malibu to Lompoc

Distance: 127 miles

Average driving time: 2-3 hours

Driving from Malibu to Lompoc along Highway 101 is a journey that encapsulates the very essence of Golden State living. The road trip takes you through a mesmerising stretch of coastline that showcases a series of laidback beach towns.

As you depart from the glamorous shores of Malibu, you'll be greeted by breathtaking coastal views. The iconic Pacific Coast Highway merges with Highway 101 near Santa Barbara, where your adventure truly begins. This charming city, known for its Spanish architecture and thriving arts scene, offers the perfect blend of culture and coastal vibes.

Santa Barbara, California

Continuing north, you'll be treated to a visual feast of natural scenery, including rolling hills, rugged cliffs and pristine beaches. The route winds through picturesque towns like Goleta, Carpinteria and Guadalupe, each with its own unique charm and character. Along the way, you can stop off at numerous seafood restaurants that are sprinkled along the route to indulge in the freshest catch of the day. 

Turn off your engine in your final destination of Lompoc, which is famous for its boutique wineries and vibrant flower fields. Visit Lompoc Museum to uncover the history of the Chumash Indians, find the 40 outdoor murals that bring colour to the Old Town and embark on a guided tour of the historic La Purisima Mission. 

6. Surf Safari through Orange County

Distance: 32 miles

Average driving time: 1 hours

Set off on the ultimate surf safari through the sun-kissed landscapes of Southern California, where the allure of the Pacific meets the thrill of the open road. Orange County is a well-known haven for surfers with its pristine coastal scenery, epic waves and cool beachside hangouts. 

Start your journey at Seal Beach at the north of the county and drive down Highway 1 to Dana Point. Along the way, spot off at several iconic stretches of sand: Huntington Beach (where you can also visit the surfing museum), Newport Beach, Emerald Bay and Laguna Beach. Catch a wave in any of these surfing hubs and enjoy exploring each oceanfront city. 

Surfer riding wave in California

Driving through Orange County unveils a mesmerising tapestry of palm-fringed beaches. The Pacific Coast Highway, with its winding curves and panoramic ocean views, offers a front-row seat to the region's stunning natural beauty. As the salty breeze whisks through the air, each turn reveals a new postcard-perfect vista.

End your surf safari in Dana Point — a coastal gem nestled between golden cliffs and sapphire waters. Dana Point is renowned for its surf culture, eclectic boutiques and impressive marinas. Watch surfers carving through the Pacific from one of the many beachfront dining venues, as the sun sets over the horizon. 

7. Beach-to-Desert Drive from San Diego

Distance: 78 miles

Average driving time: 1-2 hours

Travel from the white-sand shores of Mission Beach in San Diego to the otherworldly Anza-Borrego Desert State Park — a drive that epitomises the best of California's diverse landscapes.

Your adventure begins with the rhythmic waves of the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop in the vibrant city of San Diego, transitioning seamlessly to the awe-inspiring vastness of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

As you make your way along this scenic route, marvel at the juxtaposition between the oceanfront and arid terrain. Navigate through Cleveland National Forest, which encompasses 460,000 acres of chaparral canyons and tree-covered mountains, before the journey unveils the cactus forest of Anza-Borrego, where nature's intricate designs thrive in the harsh desert climate. 

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

A pit stop at the historic mining town of Julian adds a touch of nostalgia and depth to this road trip. Discover the town's rich mining history — a testament to the hopeful spirit of the Gold Rush era. Wander through the well-preserved streets, lined with charming shops and eateries, offering a glimpse into the past while savouring the present.

This beach-to-desert drive isn't just a road trip; it's a travel experience that seamlessly blends coastal beauty, desert mystique and a touch of California's gold-laden history.

8.  Joshua Tree National Park 

Distance: 56 miles

Average driving time: 1-2 hours

Navigating Joshua Tree National Park by car unveils a plethora of natural wonders, where colossal rock formations meet the boundless stretch of the Mojave Desert. Named after the unique Joshua Trees that reach up to the sky like outstretched hands, the park's wild and untamed terrain captures the essence of the American Southwest.

Begin this road trip at West Entrance Station and follow Park Boulevard through desertscapes until you reach the turn off for Pinto Basin Road, which will take you right down into the southern regions of the park. Stop off to hike spectacular walking trails or admire points of interest, from Hidden Valley Nature Trail to Heart Rock. 

Spa in Palm Springs, California

For an indulgent stay, base yourself in the nearby desert oasis of Palm Springs — a city renowned for its hot springs and luxurious hotels. After a day of exploring the hidden gems of the park, relish the tranquillity of this desert city by visiting one of its many rejuvenating spas. Or, tee-off on one of over 100 world-class golf courses. 

Right in the heart of California, the route through Joshua Tree National Park offers unparalleled scenic grandeur and its close proximity to Palm Springs make it a must-visit for those seeking a lavish escape amidst nature's wonders.

Ready to hit the open road in the USA?

Whether you're inspired by the beautiful views of the Big Sur or dreaming of desert skies in Palm Springs, find your perfect driving route in the USA from our tailor-made road trip holidays.

Fancy an extended stop off in a cool West Coast city? We'll personalise your holiday to California with luxury hotel stays and extraordinary experiences in each destination. Speak to one of our travel specialists today to start planning your next great adventure.

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