People say that California is the best place to live for anyone who isn’t from there. Maybe that’s true because I was ready to pack a Uhaul the first time I visited. That was until I hopped on Zillow and discovered the property value to be sky high!
I completely understand why, though.
The weather is amazing, the landscape is incredibly diverse, and you will never, ever run out of something to do. California is, unfortunately, very far away from my home town, so I thought I would revamp my love for Cali and give you a list of the 7 best California road trip destinations!
The media portrays California as nothing more than Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Of course, you shouldn’t miss these destinations, but California is multifaceted with hidden gems around every corner!
Okay, I know. I’ll stop gushing and get to the good stuff!
Crescent City, California
Crescent City has to be at the top of my list because it is my most favorite place in the entire world. If you have looked into any of my other blog posts, you may recognize the name. I got married in this sleepy little town in the middle of the Red Wood Forest!
This northern California city may not look like much at first, but once you start exploring you’ll be amazed! As an added bonus, you won’t find many tourists here since it’s off the beaten path!
What you will find are incredible views!
Crescent City sits at the foot of a mountain and right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. You can drive 10 miles and be at the beach or on the mountain among the biggest trees on Earth! The people are friendly and most of the businesses have been there for generations.
The biggest tourist trap near Crescent City is The Trees of Mystery. This park’s claim to fame is, of course, the huge trees. The regular admission price is $18.00. Truthfully, you can see bigger trees for free if you go to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It’s only 10-15 minutes from town. And did I mention it’s free?
If mountain wilderness isn’t your thing, then you’ll find yourself at home on Crescent Beach. The town got its name from this gorgeous beach nestled into a crescent-shaped cove along the mountain!
If you go in the cooler months, be prepared for some wind, especially on the beach. But don’t let that stop you from exploring! We found some really awesome rocks, shells, and a whole sand dollar while we were there!
Monterey Zoo in Salinas, California
I will admit that I am not the biggest advocate for zoos. There something about capturing animals or breeding them in captivity just to hold them captive for the rest of their lives that doesn’t sit well with me. The fact that Monterey Zoo is on this list is really saying something.
Most of the animals at the zoo were once in show business and can never be released into the wild. The founder of the Monterey Zoo was in law enforcement when he suddenly found himself with a young wild cat left behind after an arrest. The rest was history!
The Zoo sits on an obscene amount of land where wild animals roam free. These animals include elephants, bears, big cats, monkeys, and even camels!
They offer a variety of tours with the simplest being the daily tour! General admission is $20.00 per adults and less for children and seniors. You will be guided around the zoo with your own tour guide who works with the animals daily!
If you’re feeling adventurous you can choose between several other packages that allow you to get up close and personal with your favorite animals!
Fun fact about me: I. LOVE. ELEPHANTS. It was my number one ultimate bucket list wish to hang out with an elephant! That’s actually how we found this place… Well, how Joey found this place. He took me across the country to make my dream come true! Cue romantic music.
We did the Pachyderm Package which allowed us to tour the entire zoo and GIVE AN ELEPHANT A BATH! Butch was a male African Elephant who had more patience than anyone there! He truly enjoyed his bath and the snacks that came after.
The tour guide even took pictures throughout the entire interaction so that we could have something to take home!
If you’re in the area and have an afternoon to kill, stop by the Monterey Zoo. You won’t regret it!
Santa Monica in Los Angeles, California
Every day is a party in Santa Monica! There is so much to do! Of course, you have to visit the pier. I won’t lie and tell you that this isn’t one of the most touristy destinations on this list, but it’s popular for a reason!
Santa Monica Pier is so much fun. There are tons of restaurants and food stands where you can find just about anything you want. We ate at Bubba Gump’s, and the food was incredible. Once you’re full you have to make your way through the shops and listen to the performers who set up daily!
Take a turn on the famous Ferris Wheel and see downtown LA from the top! There are tons of other rides to keep everyone busy! Once you’ve worn yourself out, you can take a nice walk along the beach to watch the sunset.
This was the highlight of our trip to Santa Monica. The sunset was the most vibrant I have ever seen. Despite the hustle and bustle of the pier, it was really peaceful.
If you prefer a more laid back scene, check out the numerous art galleries, museums, and parks that are scattered all across town. But don’t forget to check out LA. The traffic can be scary but there really is nothing like Los Angeles, California!
Definitely add Santa Monica to your list if you’re driving through, just to see what all the fuss is about! You can’t go wrong with the dining, activities, and the people watching!
Find out more about Santa Monica here!
San Francisco, California
You can’t visit Cali without hopping over to San Francisco! I loved our time in this beautiful city, but holy cow, the traffic is ridiculous. Worse than LA, Atlanta, OKC, and Vegas! It took major patience, but it was totally worth the frustration!
This city has so much culture. The first thing you want to do is head over to The Golden Gate Bridge. We hiked through Land’s End park to get an incredible view of the Golden Gate. There are quite a few stairs to reach the perfect spot, so bring some water.
The bridge itself is open to vehicles, bikes, and foot traffic. If you’re willing to brave the traffic, crossing the bridge is a really cool experience.
Golden Gate Park is also a must-see! This park is HUGE! There is space for almost anything that you want to do, except park your vehicle. You can hang out at the beach and wander through the numerous gardens there. Go ahead and visit one of the museums around the park while you’re at it. You won’t be disappointed!
If you’re a history buff, you have to go to Alcatraz! The only way to get there is by ferry, which is pretty fun on its own. This infamous prison was once home to Al Capone but has since been turned into a museum with audio tours!
The price is pretty steep at $74.00 per adult, but worth the price if you want to walk back in time!
If you’re looking for something less expensive, check out Fisherman’s Warf. You will get the true San Francisco experience here with a beautiful view of the bay, numerous shops, historic ship tours, and even sea lions basking in the sun!
The things I listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to San Francisco! There are more things to do there than time on your vacation!
When you’re ready to head away from the fast pace of the city, make your way down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur. This is one of the most famous attractions in California, especially if you’re a surfer!
This beautiful stretch of coastline is defined by the Bixby Creek Bridge. This Bridge is one of the tallest concrete bridges in the world, and you can drive right over it to get to one of the best coastal views in the country!
There are tons of places to stay in this area, and I recommend you take your time passing through. There are so many amazing overlooks that it can be difficult to get any driving done! Make sure to take lots of pictures and enjoy this unique seaside adventure!
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is located where the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert meet. This rich natural landscape is filled with rock formations, wildlife, and of course Joshua Trees. The park got its name from the hundreds of thousands of Joshua Trees that define the area!
These are not your typical trees. They have incredibly sharp leaves and twisted branches. I like to think of them as cacti in tree form. They are shaped by the strong winds of the desert, which gives them the twisted look, and they are actually a member of the agave family.
Native Americans once used their tough leaves to make shoes and baskets. These trees were a very important aspect of the Native American lifestyle.
The park has a developed campground where you can rest and relax on your break from exploring among the trees! This area is especially popular with rock climbers since the rock formations are so abundant.
Unfortunately, they have strict rules for bringing dogs to visit the park. There are tons of trails to explore, but dogs are not allowed on all of them.
Joshua Tree National Park values it’s natural wildlife above all else and recognizes that pups can throw off the natural ecosystem. You can take your dogs on any trail that is equipt for vehicles. There are also plenty of boarding opportunities nearby!
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park in California is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains! This isn’t your typical national park. Yosemite has numerous sites, restaurants, and art galleries that could keep you busy for weeks.
Yosemite is the national park of all national parks! There are so many things that you don’t want to miss while you’re here, but we are going to start with the giant Sequoia trees.
I talked about these giants at the beginning of this post, but they’re so magical they’re worth mentioning another time! There are tons of them here! Some of them are the biggest in the world!
You will also find amazing scenery such as Half Dome and the cliffs of El Capitan. There are tons of places to camp, but I do recommend making a reservation for accommodations. More than 1 million people visit the park every year, so don’t be afraid to come early!
Whether you want to rough it in the wilderness or explore Yosemite village, you will find a unique experience waiting for you in this California national park!
These destinations are the top places to visit in California, but don’t let that limit you. There are so many hidden gems in this state, and a big part of the fun is discovering them for yourself!
If you have visited any of these places, drop a line in the comments and tell us about your experiences! Or enlighten us on other amazing California destinations!
Happy travels, friends!