20 "Don't-Miss" Stops On The Ideal California Road Trip, According To The Travelers Who've Already Crossed It Off Their Bucket Lists

20 "Don't-Miss" Stops On The Ideal California Road Trip, According To The Travelers Who've Already Crossed It Off Their Bucket Lists

As the third-largest state in the US, there's no denying that California is absolutely massive. That's why many people swear that the best way to see everything the Golden State has to offer is by planning an epic road trip. I rounded up the most jaw-dropping stops and helpful insights from Redditors and BuzzFeed readers who've already crossed a California road trip off their bucket list — so whether you're actively planning a getaway or just daydreaming, you can make the most of it. Here's everything to see, eat, and do along the way.

Aerial view of a curvy coastal road with a car, sea on the right and hills on the left at sunset
Frederick Thelen / Getty Images

1."While you’re in San Francisco, I highly recommend crossing the bridge to Marin and Sausalito. It’s so pretty over there, and you'll be awarded with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge."

Aerial view of a coastal town with houses near water and a bridge in the distance, showcasing a travel destination
Dianebentleyraymond / Getty Images

2."Santa Cruz is worth stopping through for a good, long afternoon. If you like to hike, there are some great trails near the town of Felton, where you will find beautiful redwood trees."

Row of brightly colored houses by water at sunset with reflection and moving clouds
Praveen P.n / Getty Images

3."In Solvang, be prepared to eat like a hobbit the entire time you are there. You WILL have breakfast, then a second breakfast, then elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, and so on. Go hungry. SERIOUSLY."

Sunlit street with pedestrians near a building with a windmill structure on its roof
Lauryn Ishak / Getty Images

4."When driving to San Luis Obispo for a weekend getaway, I found an absolute gem in Buellton called Industrial Eats. It was absolutely amazing, so good that I stopped by again on my way back. 10/10 recommend."

Pizza being cooked in a wood-fired oven with flames in the background
Aegeanblue / Getty Images

5."IMO, Santa Barbara is the best place in SoCal and an ideal starting point for any road trip. It’s pedestrian-friendly, has beautiful architecture, and has great bars and restaurants galore."

Beachfront view with palm trees and mountain background, with a modern building in the center
Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

6."If you are going on California Highway 1 (aka The Pacific Coast Highway), make sure you look at the road closure maps in advance. The PCH often has closures for landslides. US Highway 101 is the workaround."

Curvy coastal road with a misty mountain backdrop and a calm ocean to one side
Jason's Travel Photography / Getty Images

7."If you plan on visiting Big Sur, spend most of your time in the north end. There's way more to see and do here. Visit Monterey and Carmel and then head south to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Andrew Molera State Park. These spots will give you a perfect feel for the area with their redwoods and beaches. The drive there is absolutely spectacular. The south end of Big Sur is kind of a mess with closures."

Coastal landscape with a waterfall emptying into the ocean, surrounded by forested cliffs
Dmitry Vinogradov / Getty Images

8."Consider visiting Pinnacles, a lesser-known National Park roughly 100 miles south of San Francisco. It's home to tons of very cool geological formations."

Rocky spires and trees in a mountainous landscape
Tanagamine / Getty Images/500px

9."Eat some street tacos! California has great Mexican food all over, but if you're driving the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles, there are lots of good street vendors just off the highway."

Person holding two tacos with a variety of toppings, likely at a street food stand or outdoor event
Kevin Trimmer / Getty Images

10."Half Moon Bay is criminally underrated. The entire drive along the Pacific area is absolutely stunning, especially if you take the Skyline route. The woods, the fresh air, and the whole vibe are all incredible. A pit stop at Alice's Restaurant is a must."

Sunset at a beach with people and horses walking along the shore, mountains in the distance
Erica Davis / Getty Images

11."To hit Yosemite and Tahoe, I suggest taking a nice big loop from Los Angeles on US 395 along the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a beautiful desert drive, and there's almost never any traffic. June Lake is a lovely small town just off this route with a great brewery. And Mammoth Lakes is also a popular stop. You'll have to take a detour to get to Yosemite Valley, but it’s totally worth it, IMO."

Two people fishing by a river with a mountain backdrop, one person gesturing
Travislincoln / Getty Images

12."Muir Woods is across the Golden Gate Bridge, and it's amazing. It's a must-see if you're anywhere near San Fransico. It feels totally alien, and there are not many forests like it on Earth. I can't recommend going there enough."

Pathway through towering redwood forest with fence and person walking
Michael Lawenko Dela Paz / Getty Images

13."Visit anywhere in Humboldt County for its gorgeous rugged coastline and amazing forests. The landscape is truly awe-inspiring. I went to college there and then stayed for a while. It's a breathtakingly beautiful place."

Serenity at the beach with waves gently touching the shore, surrounded by cliffs and trees at twilight
Itai Rom / Getty Images/500px

14."To make Los Angeles a more enjoyable experience, try to plan your day out around a specific locale within the city. That way, you won't spend half of that day driving in traffic. Look for other stuff to eat, do, and see near your 'must-see' attraction."

Los Angeles skyline at sunset with Griffith Observatory in the foreground
Chrisp0 / Getty Images

15."If you find yourself with extra time, I highly suggest going to San Diego. In my opinion, this city is much better than Los Angeles. There are lots of things to do (some are totally free), like Balboa Park, Friendship Garden, Torrey Pines, and seeing sea lions and seals at La Jolla Cove. The city has excellent breweries and great Mexican food."

Aerial view of a coastal area with a sandy beach, waves, a road, and houses
Brandon Colbert Photography / Getty Images

16."If you can get into Nepenthe in Big Sur, it's a must. But even if you can't get a table, grab a coffee and see the view."

Wind chimes and potted plants on a wooden deck with a hillside and clear sky in the background
Heritage Images / Getty Images

17."Visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks instead of Yosemite. These parks are less crowded and just as spectacular."

Sunset over a serene mountain landscape with reflective water and scattered rocks
Brian Guiney / Getty Images/500px

18."Death Valley is so surreal and beautiful in its own way. There's Badwater Basin, Artists Palette, sand dunes, and super clear skies for stargazing. It really feels like you're on a different planet. Most people make the mistake of visiting when it's too hot, but November to February is *perfect*, and there are a bunch of ghost towns worth visiting if you're road-tripping!"

Sunset over rugged desert terrain with layered rock formations
Carlos Fernandez / Getty Images

19."Pismo and Paso Robles are well worth a trip. You'll find pretty rolling hills, wine country, and lower-cost dining options, along with some great camping and hiking."

Rolling green hills under a cloudy sky
Joe Josephs / Getty Images/500px

20."If visiting Yosemite, I’d highly recommend getting a backcountry permit so that you can experience the landscape away from the crowds. We were able to get a lake to ourselves two nights in a row in the Tuolumne Meadows area in July. If you stick to Yosemite Valley, you will experience it with crowds."

Two tents set up among tall trees with sunlight filtering through
Robert Holmes / Getty Images

Do you have something to add? What's your must-visit stop along any California road trip? Tell us in the comments below.