A trip down California’s Highway 1 is a bulwark in any road tripper’s favourites. With the pacific on the one hand, and the beautiful coastal landscapes on the other, it’s a drive that can make you fall in love with road trips (it did for me!). The early-mid summer/late spring is my favourite time for the best weather, with less crowds making for a more pleasant drive, although who’s to complain about a California summer.
You can start the journey from either San Francisco or L.A. and make your way down the road, or drive in a loop (my preferred way), spend a little longer (say, maybe 10-12 days) and see a lot more!
This is one of the longer posts I’ve written but is, what I consider, the ultimate California road trip route.
Start : San Diego
Fly into San Diego and head straight to the beach (of course). There are plenty of beaches to stay by, including Long Beach, which is where we were. Acai bowls and surfers galore, it’s the perfect place to kick off your ride through California.
If you’re a diver, take the ferry from Long Beach to Catalina Island for some of the world’s most beautiful underwater kelp forests. It’s a different kind of dive here – off the rocks and decently cool water (c.15 Celsius / mid-60s Fahrenheit) so brace yourself if you aren’t used to that.
Spend some time walking around Catalina – pro tip : start chatting with a local on the ferry. They’re incredibly friendly, with some brilliant tips, and ours even gave us a tour of the island on her golf cart (the staple mode of transport)! For the best pictures, take a left from the ferry terminal and drive up the side of the island to Buena Vista Point – you get a panoramic view of the island that is unmatched.
So, you’re driving in a loop here, detouring off the coast to get to Death Valley, America’s largest national park outside Alaska, and an unfathomable desert expanse in Eastern California. Stay at one of the many ranch hotels scattered throughout, drive out early to get to the sights and avoid a possible sandstorm on your way back in the early evening (they can be pretty brutal, but like us, you will literally see it coming). Zabriskie Point gives you a brilliant view of the dunes, and don’t miss a visit to Badwater Basin’s salt flats, the lowest point in North America.
A pit stop along the way, and we didn’t even realize it was until we were upon it, are the beautiful Mammoth Lakes. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada, if you have time, spend a night here and explore the lakes, stopping at the Rainbow Falls. If you’re short on time though, a drive-by detour along the shorter scenic route leads you to amazing panoramic points of the lakes. On your drive to Mammoth from Death Valley, stop at Erick Schat’s Bakery, it’s a local gem!