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A Vanlifer’s Ultimate California Road Trip [With Local Destination Guides]

The beauty of van life is the ability to drive wherever, whenever you want. And, in our opinion, a California road trip is one of the best adventures you can go on in the United States.

There aren’t many places in the world that have deserts, mountain ranges, and white sandy beaches all in one area — this is why California comes out on top as a road trip destination. From the redwoods in the Sequoia National Park to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California has it all. And if the Golden State wasn’t on your road trip bucket list already, it will be soon enough.

Pacific Coast Highway

As road trippers, we know that sometimes the hardest part about van life or road trips is finding a route that’s both time and fuel-efficient. It can be a tedious task, we get it.

But luckily for you, we’ve done the hard part and curated the ultimate California road trip itinerary.

Whether you plan to begin your journey in California or if you’re passing through the area, keep on reading. You won’t want to miss this California coast road trip!

Short On Time? Here’s Our California Road Trip Itinerary

If you don’t have time to read our entire guide, you can view a short version of the itinerary below; you can go ahead and jump to any section that peaks your interest. 

Also, be sure to check out our itinerary maps. So as not to overwhelm you, we’ve split the itinerary into 2 legs:

  1. Redwood National Park to Los Angeles
  2. LA to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Redwood National Park to LA

California Road Trip southbound leg

The first leg largely takes you along the Pacific Coast Highway. Here is our recommended list of stops on this leg of the road trip:

  1. Redwood National Park
  2. Mendocino
  3. Napa Valley
  4. San Francisco
  5. Santa Cruz
  6. Monterey County
  7. Big Sur
  8. Santa Barbara
  9. Malibu
  10. Greater Los Angeles

LA to Lassen Volcanic National Park

California road trip northbound leg

This leg will keep you on the coast until you reach San Diego; from there, you’ll head inland and north again.

These are the stops we’ll recommend for the second leg of the journey:

  1. San Diego
  2. Palm Springs
  3. Joshua Tree
  4. Death Valley
  5. Sequoia National Park
  6. Yosemite
  7. Lake Tahoe
  8. Sacramento
  9. Lassen National Forest

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park California Road Trip

Our California road trip starts off along the state’s north coast at the Redwood National Park. 

As I’m sure you can gather from the name, the Redwood National Park is one of the top places in the world to walk amongst some of the biggest trees on Earth. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an ant, then you’ll have your answer after visiting Redwood. 

Some of the trees in the Redwood National Park are over 2,000 years old and stand over 300 feet tall. With countless hikes, scenic drives, and access to the beach, you can spend 2 to 3 days at the National Park, taking in all the natural beauty, wildlife, and breathtaking views. 

Scenic Drives in Redwood National Park

Sometimes, the best part about a road trip is driving along large stretches of road with valleys or coastlines rolling past your windows.

As the Redwood National Park is easily accessible, there are numerous routes you can drive along for uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean or the towering redwoods. Here are some of our favorites: 

  • Redwood Creek Overlook
  • Klamath River Overlook
  • Crescent Beach Overlook
  • Howland Hill Road
  • Bald Hills Road
  • Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
  • Coastal Loop

Campgrounds in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park California Road triT

Redwood National Park is actually split into 4 sections: the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and the Redwood National Park.

There are no hotels within the National Park boundaries, but there are 4 campsites in the 3 State Parks. It’s best to book these campsites in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months. 

Visitors Centers

As with many National Parks throughout America, the Redwood National Park has a couple of visitor centers where you can learn more about the area and all of its history.

The Kuchel Visitor Center is the park’s main center, but you can also find the Hiouchi Redwoods Visitor Center in the northern section of the park.

Mendocino

Mendocino California

From the Redwood National Park, there is a beautiful scenic drive down Highway 1, aka Pacific Coast Highway, which takes you along vast stretches of California’s coast. Many people refer to this drive as the Lost Coast, and we find it the perfect route to the next California road trip stop of Mendocino. 

The drive is roughly 4 hours, but there are numerous campgrounds along the way to break up your time on the road. Some of the campsites are even dotted along the shores, so the journey is a destination in itself. 

When you reach Mendocino, you’re in for even more incredible hikes through spectacular state parks, strolls along the magnificent California coastline, and you can even add a little wine tasting to the itinerary if you so wish. 

State Parks in Mendocino

Mendocino Headlands Park California

These are the state parks you’ll find in Mendocino:

  • Russian Gulch State Park 
  • Mendocino Headlands State Park
  • Van Damme State Park

Other Things to Do in Mendocino

Apart from visiting parks, here are a few more things you can do while you’re exploring Mendocino:

  • Wonder through Downtown Mendocino
  • Visit the Mendocino Bay Viewpoint for that perfect photo opportunity
  • Cycle or hike along the Big River Haul Road
  • Witness incredible wildlife at the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
  • Kayak or paddle board down the Big River
  • Head to the Point Cabrillo Light Station
  • Visit one of Mendocino’s vineyards for a wine tasting experience

Also, from November through to April, you can head out on a whale watching tour to see California gray whales.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley California

If you didn’t manage to get any wine tasting done in Mendocino, you’re in luck. Napa Valley is one of California’s most famous wine regions, and is lined with vineyards and wineries of indescribable beauty. If you’re a wine connoisseur, we’d highly urge you to dedicate a few days for a wine country road trip through Napa County.

Of course, as you can imagine, there are numerous vineyards to explore, with the most popular being the Sattui Winery in St. Helena.

Things to Do in Napa Besides Wine Tasting

If you aren’t a fan of wine, don’t worry — there are plenty of other things to do in Napa:

  • See the vineyards and Mount Saint Helena from a bird’s eye view in a hot air balloon.
  • Ride the 36-mile round trip Napa Valley Wine Train.
  • Visit Calistoga and relax in some of the country’s best and only mud baths.
  • Walk along the streets of Downtown Napa.
  • Dine in style at one of Napa’s six Michelin Star restaurants. 
  • Hike up, Mount St. Helena. The hike is moderately challenging, but you get magnificent views of the Napa region.
  • Drive down the Silverado Trail to see the hills and vineyards of Napa.

San Francisco

San Francisco California

After wrapping up in Napa Valley, you’ll want to make your way down to San Francisco. Well known throughout the world for its numerous attractions and landmarks, San Francisco is an absolute must-visit destination on your great California road trip. 

Golden Gate Bridge

When 4 engineers designed and built the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, it was the longest suspension bridge on Earth. That record has now been beaten by the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Tokyo, but the Golden Gate Bridge still remains one of the modern wonders of the world.

The bridge, which is 1.7 miles long, has become the most photographed bridge on the planet and should definitely be on your must-see list when visiting San Francisco.

Alcatraz

If famous bridges weren’t enough, San Francisco is also home to — arguably — the world’s most notorious prison, Alcatraz. The federal prison may not house any prisoners today, but it has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

When you visit the prison on Alcatraz Island, you can take a walk inside and see where the likes of Al Capone and George Kelly served their time

Ride the Cable Cars

San Francisco cable cars

San Francisco is the only place in the world with manually operated cable car systems running through its streets. 

When the first cable cars were added to their tracks in 1873, their popularity soared. But, just under 20 years later, engineers designed the first electric streetcar, and so the decline of manual cars began. 

In our opinion, the cable cars in San Francisco are an excellent way to see the city, and as they’re the last manual cable cars in the world, its an experience you won’t get elsewhere.

Visit San Francisco’s Resident Sea Lions

If you’ve heard anything about San Francisco, then you’re probably well aware of the city’s resident sea lions. You can find the California sea lion community on the docks of Pier 19 at the Fisherman’s Wharf

If you’re traveling with kids, then Fisherman’s Wharf is also a great place to explore as it has a high concentration of family-related activities. The USS Pampanito submarine, which took part in World War II, Madame Tussauds wax museum, and  Ripley’s Believe It or Not! are just a few of the kid-friendly attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Visit the Twin Peaks

If you’re after amazing views of the Bay Area, you need to head to the Twin Peaks. The peaks stand at 922 feet tall and are easily accessible by car or tourist bus.

After you’ve been to the top of the peaks, you can make your way back down to the 64-acre park and enjoy some quiet time. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz California

Roughly an hour’s drive south of San Francisco is the next stop on your California road trip — Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz sure does have some character and is seen by many as the land of the mountains, surf, and laid-back vibes.

When you think of a Californian beach town, Santa Cruz is what will pop up in your head.  Surfers ripping waves in the ocean, boardwalks along the beach, and plenty of ice cream stalls dotted around the place. 

Whether you stop in Santa Cruz for just the day or if you spend the entire weekend there, you’re guaranteed a fun, relaxed, and enjoyable visit. 

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is iconic. It’s been in numerous movies mainly thanks to its old-fashioned fun fair that features a historic wooden roller coaster, The Giant Dipper. 

Everyone loves amusement parks, especially when they’re situated right alongside the beach, so spend the afternoon getting your adrenaline pumping and indulge in the Boardwalk’s many sweet treats.

Drive Along West Cliff Drive

Driving along any stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway is unforgettable, and the West Cliff Drive is no exception. West Cliff has some of the most beautiful views in all of Santa Cruz, and if you have time, we highly recommend getting out of your car and taking in the refreshing ocean air.

Monterey County

Carmel, Monterey, California

You may never have heard of Monterey County, but once your road trip is complete, you’ll most definitely want to head back. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea

One of the most popular attractions in Monterey is the beach in the city of Carmel. The beach is stunning with its white sand and relatively calm waters, which makes it a great stop for families on the road.

After you’ve finished up at the beach, you need to take a stroll through the quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea town. It feels like you’ve jumped in a time machine and headed back in time. The cobblestone paths and unique buildings are an attraction of their own when visiting Monterey. 

Drive the 17 Mile Drive

The 17-mile drive down the Monterey Peninsula’s southern side is an epic road that gives you some of the most beautiful views that Monterey has to offer.

We recommend starting the drive from the Pacific Grove Gate and working your way down to Carmel to enjoy the beach and Carmel city. 

Other Things to Do in Monterey

Here are a few more activities that are worth your time while you’re in Monterey:

  • Go shopping on Cannery Row and see one of the largest populations of California sea lions.
  • Visit the award-winning Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Go souvenir shopping at Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Head out on one of the many whale watching tours.

Big Sur

Big Sur California

A short, 45-minute drive south of Monterey, is Big Sur, which is home to over 90 miles of jagged coastline and the St. Lucia Mountain Range. With this great diversity of landforms come numerous activities for nature lovers to enjoy. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park got its name from one of Big Sur’s beloved pioneers, Julia Pfeiffer. While walking one of the seven marked trails, you’ll encounter intriguing coves, picturesque waterfalls, and towering redwood forests. 

One of the most popular trails is the Waterfall Overlook Trail. It’s less than a mile long and takes you to the McWay Falls, which is one of Big Sur’s most popular attractions.

If you’re on the hunt for whales, this is the place to be.

From December to February and March to May, migrating gray whales frequent the waters around the Big Sur coast, with some even coming up into the cove into which the McWay Falls flows.

Pfeiffer Beach

pfieffer beach, California

If your feet are sore from hiking, or you’re just short on time, you can head to Pfeiffer Beach.

Pfeiffer offers its visitors expansive shorelines that are towered by rock formations and thick vegetation.

One of the most famous rock formations in the area is a few feet out into the ocean.

This rock is the Pfeiffer Keyhole Rock, which got its distinguishable arch from thousands of years of erosion. During low tide, you’re able to walk through the water to the rock, and if you can wait until sunset, then you’ll have an incredible photo opportunity. 

Sand Dollar Beach

Sand Dollar Beach is Big Sur’s largest stretch of unbroken sand and is said to be one of the best surfing locations in the area.

Now, we know not everyone is into surfing, so if you’re heading to the beach, you can also try your luck at beachcombing.

You see, this is where the shoreline gets its name — from sand dollars that wash up on the shore. Sand dollars are flat, burrowing sea urchins that, once dead, turn white and end up on the beach.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

From Big Sur, your next stop will be down the coast in southern California.

Santa Barbara is home to many celebrities, including George Lucas, Ellen DeGeneres, and Drew Barrymore.

And, with celebrities settling in Santa Barbara, it must be a nice place to visit. 

This charming city, which many people nickname the American Riviera, is full of fancy shops and 5-star restaurants, along with beautiful beaches, cozy cafes, and numerous photo opportunities. 

Visit the Mission Santa Barbara

The Mission Santa Barbara is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, which makes it a must-see during your California road trip. 

In 1925, an earthquake destroyed buildings all throughout Santa Barbara. Then, during the rebuild, builders designed and constructed buildings in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, which was inspired by the Mission Santa Barbara.

Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Pier

Santa Barbara Pier

Stearns Wharf isn’t just a great place to head to if you’re after incredible views — it also leads to the Santa Barbara Pier, which sits at the end of State Street. 

Built in 1872, the Santa Barbara Pier is the oldest working wooden wharf in California. At the time of construction, it was also the longest deep-water pier in the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Nowadays, the pier is home to numerous attractions, like the Sea Center and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Walk, Skate, or Cycle the Cabrillo Bike Path

If you want to feel like you’re in a California-based movie, you’ll want to either skate, cycle, or walk down the Cabrillo Bike Path. The path runs between some of Santa Barbara’s best beaches and has palm trees lining its edges.

Head to the Funk Zone for Some Nightlife

After a week or two on the road, you may well feel like you need a night out. If that’s the case, the Funk Zone is the perfect place to go!

The Funk Zone is full of some of Santa Barbara’s best cafes, restaurants, and entertainment venues, as well as boutique shops, art galleries, and street art displays.

Malibu

Malibu California

Just over an hour down California’s Pacific Coast Highway is the beach city of Malibu.

Now, we would be lying if we said the majority of your time won’t be spent on one of Malibu’s many beaches, because, well, that’s what Malibu is known for!

Point Dume State Beach

One of Malibu’s most popular beaches, Point Dume is the perfect place to relax and unwind. If you aren’t into lying on a beach, the State Beach also has a hiking trail that offers you a short and interesting hike with views of the Santa Monica Bay, Santa Monica Mountains, and, on a clear day, Catalina Island.

Zuma Beach

Zuma Beach, Malibu, California

Zuma is another one of the city’s well-known beaches. It’s the biggest one in Malibu, so as you can imagine, it’s a hotspot for locals and tourists alike. 

The beach is a great stop for families, couples, or solo travelers; if you can, stay for the sunset. Depending on the conditions, the sky lights up with shades of orange, red, and pink.

Once you finish up in Malibu, you can drive a further 20 minutes south to Santa Monica to enjoy the Santa Monica Pier, the Santa Monica Beach, and even visit the original Muscle Beach Gym.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Everyone, and we mean everyone, has heard of Los Angeles. So, of course, it was a no-brainer to add to your California road trip itinerary.

LA is home to amazing entertainment, nightlife, restaurants, and theme parks, all of which certainly make it a place you don’t want to miss.

Hollywood Sign

If you head to Santa Monica, the Hollywood Sign in northern Los Angeles is on your way. The Hollywood sign is about a 30-minute drive from Santa Monica, and in our opinion, you can’t visit LA without making a trip to see the world-famous mountainside lettering. 

If you don’t want to hike up to the sign, then there are a few places you can head to that offer amazing views from down below. These include Lake Hollywood Park, the Hollywood Reservoir, and North Beachwood Drive. 

While, sadly, you can’t touch the sign, you can hike up Mount Lee to get views of Los Angeles from behind it.

There are a few options to get you to the top of the mountain; these include:

  • Walking along Mulholland Dr or Deronda Dr from Lake Hollywood Park
  • Hike the Wonderview Trail
  • From the Griffith Observatory parking lot take the Mount Hollywood Trail
  • Set off from the Bronson Caves

Stargaze at the Griffith Observatory

Griffiths Observatory LA

At the peak of Griffith Park is the Griffith Observatory, which is one of the world’s finest planetariums. If you’re interested in all things space, then the Griffith Observatory is a must-do while you’re on your California road trip visiting LA. 

The observatory has a 290-seat planetarium, giant telescopes, and educational films that teach you all about the planets, stars, and give you sneak-peek at the mysteries of the universe.  

Take a Ride on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus

One of the easiest ways to see LA is by jumping on a hop-on hop-off bus. Not only do these buses take you to all the must-see destinations, but they also have guides to the city’s history and other relevant information.

Head Down to Venice Beach

While in LA, you’ll find yet another world-famous California destination — Venice Beach.

Venice Beach is an ideal destination for those looking to catch some waves before relaxing with a drink at one of the many bars.

Drive to Huntington City Beach

If you’re a beach lover, you’ll want to head about an hour south of Venice Beach to Huntington Beach.

On your drive, you’ll also pass through Long Beach; we highly recommend visiting all 3 beaches as they all have unique characteristics that set them apart from the rest.

Anaheim

Anaheim, California

This one only really applies to all the Disney lovers out there, but when there is a Disney park in the area, you just haveto go.

The first-ever Disneyland Park to open was in Anaheim in 1955. Since Anaheim is only a 26 drive from Los Angeles, it is a no-brainer. 

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach, California

If you aren’t a Disney fan, your next stop after departing Los Angeles should be Laguna Beach. It’s about an hour’s drive south, but the picturesque coastline is well worth it. 

After all the outdoor activities you’ve been doing, we hope you aren’t sunburnt by this point, as Laguna Beach has lengthy stretches of sandy seashore, and many hiking trails to explore.

Head to the Beach

As Laguna Beach has seven miles of coastline, you could spend days exploring some of its many beaches. Here are some to help you make a decision:

  • Crescent Bay – Good for kayaking and sea lion spottings
  • Thalia Street Beach – Perfect for beginner surfers
  • Rockpile Beach – Ideal for experienced surfers
  • Treasure Island Beach – Amazing views and a secluded cove to explore
  • Aliso Beach – For firepits and bonfires
  • Main Beach – Basketball and volleyball nets

Hike Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

The Laguna Coast Wilderness Park has 40 miles of trails that wind through vast sycamore and oak woodlands. You can do all sorts of activities on the trails, from mountain biking to bird watching.

San Diego

San Diego, California

The southernmost destination of our California road trip takes us to San Diego.

San Diego is yet another city in California that has unforgettable beaches, vibrant nightlife, and captivating attractions. Exploring these is definitely worth your time.

Visit Balboa Park

Balboa Park is home to the San Diego Zoo, which is classed as one of the best zoos not just in the United States but in the entire world. 

What’s more, the 1,200-acre park that houses the zoo makes an ideal location for bike rides, scenic walks, and picnics.

Spend Time at Mission Beach and Pacific Beach

San Diego Beach

Mission Beach and Pacific beach connect together to form the shoreline of San Diego. With miles of sand, nearby boardwalks, and even an amusement park, you’ll always find something to keep you entertained throughout your visit. 

Although these beaches are connected and share the same coastline, they couldn’t be any more different from one another. Mission Beach has calmer waters and a more relaxed vibe in general. Pacific Beach, on the other hand, is more upbeat and lively, with restaurants, shops, and bars lining the Mission Boulevard.

Enjoy the Views at Sunset Cliffs

As I’m sure you can tell by its name, Sunset Cliffs is San Diego’s best sunset-watching location. With untouched vegetation and dramatic cliff faces, the area is picture-worthy during the day and night, but it’s best to go around sunset time.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California

Now it’s time to turn around on your California road trip and head back up north to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs has a few notable attractions that deserve your attention, so it makes sense to stop here before you go on to hike Joshua Tree and Death Valley later on in the trip. 

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Once you make it to Tramway Road, you’ll come across a gondola ride that works its way from Palm Spring up into the San Jacinto Mountains.

If you’ve been struggling with the heat, the aerial tramway will be a godsend as the air temperature drops by double digits once you reach the top

Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon, California

It’s not every day you see flowing water right in the middle of a desert. But, at Tahquitz Canyon, that is exactly what you’ll see. 

The two-mile loop trail leads you to a waterfall that is tucked into the Tahquitz Canyon. If you worked up a sweat on the trail you can even take a dip in the falls to cool off.

Mount San Jacinto State Park

If you like what you saw on the Palm Spring aerial tramway, why not hike through southern California’s second-highest mountain range?

The Mount San Jacinto State Park takes you up roughly 11,000 feet above sea level and gives you impeccable views of the alpine forests and surrounding areas.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park

We hope you rested up in Palm Springs as you’ve got some long hikes ahead of you in the Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is around a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs and has some stark differences from the coastal towns you drove through not long ago.

Joshua Tree has over 795,000 acres of rock formations and stark desert with hiking trails a-plenty throughout. 

Hidden Valley Nature Trail

The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is one of the shorter and easily accessible hikes in Joshua Tree, and it will take you on a 1-mile loop through an opening into a large rock-walled bowl. 

Barker Dam Nature Trail

Barker Dam Joshua Tree California

The Barker Dam Nature Trail is another relatively short route that goes for 1.3 miles past Joshua trees, rocks, and bodies of water.

Many people turn around and walk the loop back once they reach the remnants of a water tank. But we recommend carrying on. Although this makes the hike shorter, you actually miss the best bit — the largest trees beyond the dam.

Ryan Mountain Hike

If you’re after a more challenging hike, then the path from Park Boulevard up the Ryan Mountain should be right up your alley. Known as the Royal Mountain Hike, this 3-mile up-and-down hike takes you up 1,000 feet of elevation. But the 360-degree views of Joshua Tree at the top are well worth it. 

Other Things to Do in Joshua Tree

Here are a few more things you can do at Joshua Tree National Park apart from hiking:

  • Visit Skull Rock
  • Drive up to Keys View Lookout Point
  • Explore the Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Marvel over Joshua Trees’ rare permanent spring, Cottonwood Spring Oasis
  • Hike the Arch Rock Trail
  • Gaze at the stars come nightfall

Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park

What to Do After Joshua Tree

If you want to explore other natural attractions on your California road trip, make your way over to the San Bernardino National Forest. From the deserts in Joshua Tree to the 800,000 acres of woodlands in San Bernardino, you’ll truly feel like you teleported to another world and not just driven an hour down the road. 

San Bernardino is an awesome hiking location with hot springs, the Big Bear Lake, scenic drives, and wildlife encounters. But be aware, there are bears in the area.

Campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree has a large selection of campsites to choose from. However, if you’re traveling into the area with an RV or van, 2 of the best sites are the Black Rock Campground and the Cottonwood Campground as they both have drinking water and flushable toilets.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Now it’s time to head back up to northern California to explore Death Valley. And don’t worry, we know it doesn’t have the most appealing name, but the area is truly magnificent. 

Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place on Earth. If that doesn’t intrigue you, then I’m not sure what will.

An aptly-named section of the park, Furnace Creek, received the hottest temperature ever recorded in July of 1913.

Wondering what that temperature was?

Well, it was 134°F. Yikes.

Dante’s View

Dante’s View offers one of the best viewpoints at Death Valley.

There is a parking lot at the viewpoint, along with trails, to give you a different perspective of the land down below. 

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California

If you’re visiting Death Valley at sunset, you should head to Zabriskie Point. There is a short walk to the overlook, and then there are short trails that lead out into the hills.

Badwater Basin

Few can say they’ve been to the lowest point in the USA. But you can — if you visit Badwater Basin, that is! Badwater Basin sits 282 feet below sea level and comprises wide-open salt flats.

Other Things to Do in Death Valley

If you feel that you can tolerate a bit more heat, here are a few other activities to engage in at Death Valley National Park:

  • Explore the lumpy salt flats of Devil’s Golf Course
  • Enjoy the 9-mile scenic drive down Artists Drive
  • Hike Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch
  • Walk to Darwin Falls and enjoy the natural wonder of a waterfall in the desert
  • Sled down the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Visit the Ubehebe Crater and witness a once active volcano

Campgrounds in the Death Valley National Park

Campsites in Death Valley work on a first-come-first-serve basis.

That said, the Furnace Creek Campground takes reservations during its busy season.

If you plan to camp at Death Valley, remember — temperatures are scorching during the summer months, and because of this, most campsites are closed.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

Time to beat the heat of Death Valley and head west to get to some much-needed shade in the Sequoia National Park.

The Sequoia National Park is home to the world’s largest redwood, Hyperion.

Hyperion stands over 380 feet tall, and if that isn’t a reason to visit Sequoia, then I don’t know what is. 

If the height of Hyperion doesn’t impress you enough, Sequoia is also home to the largest tree by volume. The General Sherman Tree is more than 36 feet in diameter at its base. For perspective, it would take about 20 people holding hands to hug this tree.

Things to Do in the Sequoia National Park

Moro Rock Summit

Sequoia National Park offers more than just majestic redwoods for you to admire; there are plenty of attractions and activities from which to choose.

Here are some that we’d recommend:

  • Visit the Giant Forest Museum
  • Climb 390 steps to Moro Rock (the view is well worth it)
  • Drive through the Tunnel Log
  • Explore the Crystal Cave marble cavern
  • Take a dip at the Tokopah Falls
  • Drive under Tunnel Rock

Hiking Trails in the Sequoia National Park

Needless to say, there are a few excellent hiking trails at the park, too:

  • Crescent Meadow Trail
  • Big Trees Trail
  • Congress Trail

Campgrounds at the Sequoia National Park

There are 7 campgrounds dotted around the park.

That said, the best one to head to if you’re traveling in RVs or vans is the Potwisha Campground.

Potwisha can accommodate RVs up to 24 feet long, and the area has flushing toilets, water, and other amenities.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of America’s most famous National Parks. And for a very good reason.

The park’s vistas are stunningly beautiful and offer guests a range of activities, from hiking and biking to fishing and rock climbing. 

Yosemite Falls

One of the prettiest parts of the Yosemite National Park is the Yosemite Falls. This waterfall pours its way down over the granite wall smashing against the rocks down below.

Because of its height, you can see the waterfall from numerous areas in the park, but the best view is at the start of the Yosemite Falls hike. 

You can hike your way down the trail to reach the base of the falls with minimal effort. On particularly hot days, the mist the falls create is pleasant and refreshing, so we highly recommend this hike.

Half Dome

Another of Yosemite’s popular sites is the Half Dome climbing wall. Climbers from all over the country have flocked to Yosemite to tackle the giant granite wall that towers over the valley.

If you aren’t looking to climb the wall, then there are two great options that give you fantastic views of the Half Dome.

The first is at the Glacier Point Lookout, where you can see how much the rockface actually looms over the valley and the surrounding mountains.

And the second option is the Mirror Lake hiking trail, which takes you to the bottom of the rock so you can see it from an ant’s perspective.

Tunnel View

Yosemite Park Tunnel View

The most iconic Yosemite Valley view is from the Tunnel Valley, which stretches out to Bridalveil Fall, El Captain, and the Half Dome.

The best time to visit is during the afternoon, when all the walls are bathed in direct sunlight.

Other Things to Do at Yosemite

Here are a few more things for you to do while you’re at Yosemite National Park:

  • Gaze at the 3,000-foot El Captain Rock.
  • Drive an hour up to Glacier Point
  • Hike to the Bridalveil Fall
  • If you’re skilled, try climbing the rocks of Yosemite
  • Hike Tioga Road
  • Cycle along Yosemite’s 12 miles of paved paths

Campgrounds at the Yosemite National Park

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds, most of which have sites for RVs.

It’s important to book ahead as much as possible to secure yourself a camp space, as all the campgrounds in Yosemite fill up fast.

Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

Heading further northeast on the ultimate California road trip will take you up to Lake Tahoe, where you can spend the day hiking through the Sierra Nevada Mountains or participating in water sports on the lake itself.

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay is a small sheltered cove of Lake Tahoe that has relatively shallow water, which gives the bay its beautiful turquoise color

Overlooking the bay is a Scandinavian castle, Vikingsholm, which is open to the public. Guests can take a tour inside after hiking its steep one-mile trail.

Alternatively, you can jump in a kayak or get up on a paddle board and explore the lake from the water itself. 

Hiking Lake Tahoe

Some of the more beautiful hiking trails are at the lake’s southern end. These trails include:

  • Fallen Leaf Lake Trail
  • Cascade Falls Trail
  • Rubicon Trail

Partake in Winter Sports

During the winter months, Lake Tahoe transforms into a world-renowned alpine skiing destination. Even if you aren’t an avid skier, the ride to the Observation Deck via a 9,123-foot gondola gives you outstanding views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding areas. 

Other Things to Do in Lake Tahoe

When you’ve had enough of skiing and water sports, you can still find a few exciting things to do around Lake Tahoe:

  • Have a picnic at the D.L Bliss State Park
  • Relax on the sandy beaches at the Sand Harbor State Park
  • Hike the Eagle Rock Hiking Trail

Sacramento

Sacramento, California

Sacramento is one of our final stops on this California road trip itinerary. As the state capital, the city features plenty of historical landmarks. Below are our top picks.

California State Railroad Museum

Over 500,000 people flock to the California State Railroad Museum every year, and if you too are interested in trains, we suggest you make a stop there yourself

The museum is spread out over six buildings and showcases railroad cars and locomotives, along with their history, and how the railroads shaped California and its economy.

Pony Express Terminal

The endpoint of the Pony Express was in the Pony Express Terminal in Sacramento. Although the mail service is no longer around, the building was named a National Historic Landmark, which now belongs to the Wells Fargo History Museum.

American River Bike Trail

Grab a bike and cycle along 32 miles of paved roads on the American River Bike Trail. The trail runs from Discovery Park to Beal’s Point and has separate lanes for people going either way.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic Park, California

Our final stop on this California road trip will take you to the Lassen Volcanic National Park, which is around a 3-hour drive from Sacramento. And, don’t worry, Lassen is well worth it.

The Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all 4 types of volcanos: cinder cone, plug dome, composite, and shield. And the best part is some of these volcanos are still active

Hikes and trails throughout the park can take you alongside volcanic gas vents, steam vents, turquoise pools of water, and boiling mud pots. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day. 

But, along with the volcanic activity in the area, there are also plenty of lakes, waterfalls, and scenic drives that you can fill your days in Lassen with. 

The Best Trails in the Lassen Volcanic National Park

Not everything comes easy, and some of the best views require some work to get there. We hope you have your hiking boots ready, as the Lassen National Park has some incredible hikes that you won’t want to miss. These include:

  • Bumpass Hell Trail – Easy
  • Sulphur Works Sidewalk Trail – Easy
  • Devils Kitchen Trail – Challenging
  • Lassen Peak Trail – Challenging
  • Cinder Cone Trail – Challenging

Other Things to Do in the Lassen Volcanic National Park

If you’re tired of hiking, you can find some time to relax and take in the natural beauty at the landmarks below:

  • Manzanita Lake 
  • Juniper Lake
  • Emerald Lake
  • Boiling Springs Lake
  • Kings Creek Falls
  • Mill Creek Falls

Finally, you can take a drive down the Lassen Park Highway and immerse yourself in the surrounding scenery from the comfort of your vehicle.

Campgrounds in Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are 7 separate campgrounds throughout Lassen, but only 3 can accommodate RVs and trailers. These 3 sites include Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake, and Butte Lake.

That said, there are no RV hookups, so make sure your RV or van is equipped with everything you’ll need during your stay. 

California Road Trip: Conclusion

California Road Trip

So, there you have it! The ultimate California road trip. We hope this itinerary has helped you shape your future trip through the beautiful state of California.

As we wrap up this article, we’d love to know your favorite parts of California. Did this itinerary help you? And is there anything we should have added to the destination or activity list? Let us know in the comment section down below!

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