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Many see the ultimate US Road Trip as journeying Route 66, but what about a California road trip from LA to San Francisco? Here’s a quick guide on where to go.
The USA is well-known for its love of a great road trip and is the perfect place to head out with a vehicle on the vast open roads. Many people see the ultimate American Road Trip as journeying along Route 66, but for me, it was a road trip in California from LA to San Francisco, stopping off at some scenic towns in between.
Filled with iconic cities, a breathtaking coastline and amazing national parks, California has everything a traveller could want from their road trip. We pre-arranged our accommodation in larger, more popular cities like San Francisco and organised car hire a couple of weeks before I landed in the ‘Golden State’ where I spent two glorious weeks exploring. Californians are not walkers, nor will many take the bus!
The California Roadtrip Route
Starting in San Francisco
Let’s say you start your road trip in San Francisco. This iconic city is synonymous with the hippy movement that shook America during the 1960s and home to iconic sights including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Spend some time exploring the wildlife of San Francisco including the Farallon Islands – home to Great White Sharks and whales – and Angel Island State Park. Immerse yourself in the Godfather of the Road Trip, Jack Kerouac, by treating yourself to a copy of his novel ‘On the Road’ from the City Lights Bookstore where he and his ‘Beat’ friends once hung out and visit the Beat Museum.
With the book in hand, it’s time to head south down the coast to San Jose, the third-largest city in the state and within the heart of silicon valley.
San Jose to Monterey
From San Jose, head to Monterey where you’ll see the coastal road begin to open up as you drive along Highway One. Monterey is a gorgeous little town with a very classic, decades-old vibe and crystal blue waters. Along the way to Santa Barbara, there are several small coastal towns to stop off at for a night’s stay, grab a bite to eat or even just stop-offs to take in the scenery. My friend and I always tried to stops at the quirkiest restaurant, including one dedicated to pea soup. You may even get lucky funding the infamous In ‘N’ Out Burger chain!
Santa Barbara to Los Angeles
Enjoy Santa Barbara, which is seen as the American Riviera, before taking the steady road into Los Angeles, passing through Malibu and Venice Beach on the way. Arriving in Los Angeles is a unique experience and oozes glamour (in parts). No stay here is complete without heading into the Hollywood Hills and seeing the famous sign, checking out the embedded celebrity stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and splashing your cash on Rodeo Drive.
LA to San Diego
After visiting the famous sites, head south and make your way along the beaches that make up surfers paradise, taking in Long Beach and San Clemente. The road south from LA takes you to San Diego. Once you arrive in here, ensure you visit San Diego Zoo as it is seen as one of the finest zoos in the world and enjoy some culture in Balboa Park.
San Diego to Kings Canyon
From here, head back onto highway 5 towards back Los Angeles to head north into Kings Canyon – just follow the signs to Bakersfield. Situated on the eastern state border, Kings Canyon is home to an impressive array of canyons and forests and is home to the third tallest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. Carry on north through the park to move into the famous Yosemite National Park, home of Yogi Bear. You may not see Yogi but there’s a good chance that you’ll see some of his bear friends within the mountains.
Yosemite National Park to Sacramento
Once you’ve finished exploring the park, head west again to Sacramento and then follow the road back to where you started in San Francisco having drunken in the most amazing holiday experience.
A California Road Trip gives you the freedom to explore at your leisure and your own pace. I loved not having to use the dreaded Greyhound buses and travelling on my own time. Road trips are sporadic, like pulling over to watch the sunset or randomly driving into a small town because it’s on the way and looks intriguing. And road trips are addictive – California being my first and leaving me wanting to do so many more.
Coastal US Road Trips
Looking for more US road trip inspiration? Switch the Pacific coastline for the Atlantic, and drive the scenic US Route 1 on a Maine road trip – a scenic route through history that starts in Fort Kent, Maine and ends in Florida’s Key West. Or if you do end up driving Route 66, here’s what to do on a trip to Las Vegas.
By taking the 101 (instead of continuing south on highway 1) from Monterrey to Santa Barbara, you have bypassed the absolute best of California: Big Sur. I say this as someone who has intimately known California for 25 years.
By taking the 101 you gain nothing and miss out, big time.