Looking for the most scenic drives in California? California is undeniably one of the most amazing places on Earth to embark on a road trip. The state boasts an incredible range of landscapes, making it the ultimate destination in the USA for anyone craving the exhilaration of the open road. Prepare to be spoiled for choice because California offers an abundance of breathtaking drives that will take you through national parks, along the picturesque coastline, and into the captivating deserts and mountains.
What makes California truly special is its remarkable diversity. From majestic mountains and pristine beaches to enchanting redwood forests and vibrant cities bursting with cultural diversity, there’s something for everyone to explore. And what better way to experience all that this fantastic state has to offer than through a road trip? It allows you to set your own pace and take in the sights at your leisure.
Whether you’re seeking the allure of a bustling city, a tranquil beach escape, or a serene weekend in the mountains, California truly has it all. The Golden State is a treasure trove of scenic routes, perfect for those craving a touch of variety in their travel itinerary. Prepare to be astounded by the sheer beauty of California’s scenic drives. Each route boasts breathtaking scenery, from majestic mountains that seem to touch the sky, to vast expanses of desert, rugged coastlines that will take your breath away, and landscapes that resemble something out of a dream.
If you find yourself struggling to choose which scenic road to take, don’t worry – it’s perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed. Whether you’re in the mood for a short drive to revel in the splendid weather and natural wonders near your starting point in California, or you’re considering a multi-day road trip to uncover the countless natural marvels this state has to offer, California’s scenic drives will exceed your expectations.
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Here are the 25 most scenic drives in California:
1. PCH Between San Francisco And Santa Monica
Driving Distance: 440 miles
Driving Time: About 9 hours
One of the most scenic drives in California is the coastal drive along Highway 1, commonly known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), between San Francisco and Santa Monica. While the PCH actually spans from Leggett in Mendocino County to Dana Point in Orange County, it is most convenient to start and end the drive in these two major cities.
Typically embarked upon as part of a multi-day road trip, the PCH showcases breathtaking coastal vistas that vary from rugged cliffs and windswept beaches in the north to towering palm trees and expansive sandy beaches in the south. Along the route, take the opportunity to explore numerous delightful coastal towns in California, such as Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Cambria, Cayucos, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.
As you venture further south, the inviting beach towns of Southern California await, including Malibu, Laguna Beach, and Huntington Beach. This drive offers a wealth of attractions, including historic lighthouses, diverse wildlife and marine life, and even a castle perched on a hill. Be sure to allocate ample time for this journey, as you’ll find yourself wanting to make frequent stops and extend your stay longer than anticipated!
2. Highway 395 Between Lake Tahoe and Lone Pine
Driving Distance: 232 miles
Driving Time: About 4 hours
One of the most scenic drives in California, running from north to south along the eastern part of the state, is Highway 395, which rivals the beauty of the PCH. The segment between South Lake Tahoe and Lone Pine follows the majestic Sierra Nevada, offering breathtaking mountain panoramas and serene alpine lakes.
While traversing this route, you can marvel at the unique tufa towers of Mono Lake, soak in natural hot springs, and partake in a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, boating, or fishing at the numerous lakes. Given the abundance of attractions along the way, it is recommended to allocate several days for this drive if possible.
Short detours will lead you to fascinating destinations such as Bodie State Historic Park, where you can explore the remnants of a Gold Rush boom-and-bust town, Devils Postpile National Monument, which showcases the awe-inspiring natural formation of basalt columns and the majestic Rainbow Falls, and the Alabama Hills, a famous filming location for many Western movies.
While this scenic drive offers stunning views year-round, it becomes particularly spectacular during the fall season when aspens, cottonwoods, and willows adorn themselves with vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red. Another excellent time to embark on this route is during the summer when wildflowers bloom abundantly, creating a picturesque landscape throughout the journey.
3. Big Sur Coast Between Carmel And San Simeon
Driving Distance: 90 miles
Driving Time: About 2 hours
If you’re short on time to explore the entire Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), you can still indulge in some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery on the planet by driving the 90-mile stretch along the Big Sur Coast, from Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Simeon. While it’s possible to complete this drive in a day (or even a few hours if that’s all the time you have), consider opting for a leisurely two-day road trip to fully immerse yourself in the region’s beauty.
Rest assured, the captivating views along the Big Sur Coast will never cease to amaze you, and there is an abundance of activities to enjoy in Big Sur. Big Sur boasts several state parks that offer excellent hiking opportunities, a historic light station available for tours, picturesque waterfalls, and the stunning Pfeiffer Beach with its unique purple sand. Don’t miss the chance to make stops at iconic photo spots like McWay Falls, Bixby Creek Bridge, and Ragged Point.
While Big Sur is enchanting year-round, it’s important to note that coastal fog tends to roll in during summer mornings, fall is wildfire season in California, and winter can bring rainstorms and mudslides that may lead to the closure of Highway One in the region. Prior to your journey, make sure to check for any road closures to avoid any inconveniences.
4. California Highway 1 Between San Francisco And Fort Bragg
Driving Distance: 174 miles
Driving Time: About 4 hours and 45 minutes
Experience one of the most scenic drives in California by heading north of San Francisco on California Highway 1. This breathtaking route offers stunning scenery reminiscent of Big Sur, along with several enchanting small towns to explore along the way. While it’s possible to complete the drive in a single day, it’s highly recommended to turn it into a multi-day road trip to fully immerse yourself in the coastal beauty.
Additionally, this journey presents an opportunity to visit one of California’s most famous landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge. Driving across this iconic bridge while taking in the sparkling views of San Francisco Bay is undoubtedly a must-do experience for any California bucket list. If you have the time, make sure to drive up Conzelman Road to enjoy panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
While en route, don’t miss the chance to explore Point Reyes National Seashore, where you can marvel at the Pacific Ocean’s beauty, savor fresh oysters, and perhaps catch a glimpse of tule elk. Discover the quaint coastal communities of Jenner, Bodega Bay, and Sea Ranch, and immerse yourself in the untamed splendor of the Sonoma Coast.
Further up the route, you’ll encounter two coastal gems in northern California: Mendocino and Fort Bragg. These charming towns not only offer their own unique allure but also serve as gateways to nearby redwood forests, wine tasting adventures, and picturesque beaches.
5. Silverado Trail Through Napa Valley
Driving Distance: 29.8 miles
Driving Time: About 45 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. Unlike the main Napa Valley artery, Highway 29, Silverado Trail is an older two-lane road that runs parallel to it. This charming wine country drive stretches for approximately 29 miles, connecting the southern town of Napa to the northern town of Calistoga.
Along the way, you’ll come across crossroads that provide access to Highway 29, allowing you to make stops and explore the delightful towns of Saint Helena or Yountville. Driving along the Silverado Trail offers endless scenic views of vineyards, picturesque red-roofed barns, rolling hills to the east, and the beautiful countryside. Numerous stunning wineries are scattered along the route, making it a perfect opportunity to plan wine tastings.
Some wineries even permit picnicking on their grounds, so it’s worth planning ahead if you’d like to enjoy a meal during your drive. For those seeking an indulgent stay, short detours can take you to some of the most exclusive resorts in Napa Valley, including Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, Solage in Calistoga, and Meadowood in Saint Helena.
Embark on a captivating journey to Costa Mesa, California, where you can delve into a treasure trove of the best things to do in the city, including shopping at the renowned South Coast Plaza, attending world-class performances at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, savoring delectable cuisine at the OC Mix, and immersing yourself in the local arts and culture scene, all while basking in the warm Southern Californian sunshine.
6. Movie Road In The Alabama Hills
Driving Distance: 7.8 miles
Driving Time: About 25 minutes
One of the shorter drives in our selection, at under 8 miles one way, is Movie Flat Road, also known as Movie Road, in the captivating Alabama Hills. Don’t let its length fool you, though, as this drive offers a remarkable display of stunning scenery. If you’re planning a visit to the relaxed Eastern Sierra town of Lone Pine, California, this drive is an absolute must-do.
Movie Road treats you to up-close views of the magnificent rock formations of the Alabama Hills, with the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada towering in the distance. It’s no wonder that this road has become a popular spot for Instagrammers and landscape photographers seeking breathtaking images. During your journey along Movie Road, take the opportunity to stop and explore the numerous natural arches that grace the Alabama Hills.
While Mobius Arch, accessed via a short trail, holds the title of the most famous, there are many other captivating arches waiting to be photographed. This area has served as the backdrop for countless Western films, adding to its allure. Movie Road connects Whitney Portal Road to Moffat Ranch Road and is a well-maintained graded dirt road that is generally suitable for sedans.
7. Palms To Pines Scenic Byway Near Palm Springs
Driving Distance: 42 miles
Driving Time: About 60 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, which offers a captivating journey from the palm trees of the Sonoran Desert to the pine forests of Mount San Jacinto, all in approximately an hour. This drive holds a special place among our favorite scenic routes in Southern California.
Officially known as California Highway 74, this picturesque drive connects the desert city of Palm Desert, near Palm Springs, with the charming mountain community of Idyllwild. Along the way, you’ll find scenic overlooks that provide panoramic vistas of the desert floor, as well as delightful tiny communities waiting to be explored. Upon reaching Idyllwild, you have the option to retrace your route back down, enjoying the scenic views in reverse, or continue onward via California Highway 243 to Banning.
From there, you can easily catch the Interstate to return to your starting point. This route from Palm Desert to Banning spans approximately 67 miles and makes for an incredibly convenient day trip from Palm Springs. However, it’s important to plan this drive during favorable weather conditions, as heavy snowfall and winter storms can lead to road closures and delays, especially at higher elevations.
8. 17-Mile Drive In Monterey
Driving Distance: 17 miles
Driving Time: About 60 minutes
When planning a visit to Monterey or Carmel-by-the-Sea, don’t miss out on one of the most scenic drives in California—the renowned 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach. This picturesque route connects Pacific Grove and Carmel, treating you to breathtaking ocean views, especially on clear, fog-free days. Along the drive, there are 17 designated stops that offer captivating sights.
However, if you’re short on time, simply enjoying the drive itself is a beautiful experience. Please note that there is a fee to access the road, but it is reimbursed if you meet a certain spending threshold at one of the restaurants along the drive. Among the notable stops on the 17-Mile Drive, the Lone Cypress is the most popular. This brave little tree stands proudly on a rocky perch above the ocean and serves as a favorite subject for landscape photographers and plein air painters.
Additionally, don’t miss the ghost trees at Pescadero Point, another captivating sight. Spanish Bay Beach offers a delightful opportunity for a leisurely stroll, while Crocker Grove is home to native Monterey Cypresses—one of only two locations where they can be found, with the other being Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel-by-the-Sea. Also, Pebble Beach Golf Links is a world-famous destination that adds to the allure of this scenic drive.
9. California Sr190 Through Death Valley National Park
Driving Distance: 131 miles
Driving Time: About 2 hours and 15 minutes
One of the significant routes through Death Valley National Park is California Highway 190, which showcases some of the park’s iconic sights. This road connects Olancha, situated at the western end of the park in California, with Nevada SR 160 in the east, slightly north of the town of Pahrump.
As you traverse along this route, prepare to be mesmerized by the awe-inspiring desert landscapes for which Death Valley is renowned, encompassing vast sand dunes, striking badlands, and captivating canyons. Two must-see sights within Death Valley are the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the scenic overlook at Zabriskie Point.
While journeying on Highway 190, take a moment to explore a piece of Death Valley’s history at the Harmony Borax Works, where you can witness a double wagon from the era of the famous 20-mule teams. If time permits, consider taking a detour to Dante’s View, the highest accessible point in the park by vehicle. However, be aware of vehicle size limits and ensure to check before visiting.
Please note that there is an entrance fee for Death Valley National Park, and the National Parks pass is accepted, so remember to bring yours if you have one. Alternatively, if you don’t have a pass but plan to visit three or four parks within the year, consider saving money by purchasing an annual pass online.
10. Tioga Road Through Yosemite National Park
Driving Distance: 72.2 miles
Driving Time: About 2 hours and 45 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is the renowned Tioga Road, officially known as California State Route 120, which winds its way through the majestic Yosemite National Park in an east-west direction. This captivating route takes you over Tioga Pass, the highest automobile pass in California, and treats you to a feast of breathtaking sights along the way, ranging from enchanting redwood groves to awe-inspiring granite cliffs.
While Highway 120 extends beyond the park in both directions, the most scenic section of the road, perfect for those with limited time, lies within Yosemite National Park, including the descent from Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. During your journey along Tioga Road, be sure to stop at Olmsted Point, one of Yosemite’s iconic viewpoints, where you can enjoy panoramic vistas of the park’s magnificent granite cliffs right from the parking lot.
Tenaya Lake awaits with its serene alpine beauty, featuring a beach area and opportunities for lakeshore hiking. Ellery Lake and Tioga Lake are two more sparkling alpine lakes that grace the route. It’s important to note that Tioga Pass road is typically open from late May or early June until late October or early November, depending on snow accumulations. The exact dates may vary each year. In the summer, the road and Tuolumne Meadows are adorned with vibrant wildflowers, adding an extra touch of natural beauty to your drive.
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11. Route 66 Between Santa Monica And Needles
Driving Distance: 315 miles
Driving Time: About 5 hours and 15 minutes
Experience one of the most scenic drives in California along Route 66, which offers breathtaking views of Southern California’s desert landscapes. As you embark on this journey, you’ll encounter a wealth of classic Americana and captivating roadside attractions that are perfect for photography enthusiasts.
Driving from the desert, you’ll traverse charming Southern California towns before reaching the bustling city of LA. Don’t miss the opportunity to capture vintage signs, old motels, gas stations, and ghost towns along this picturesque route. Notable photo spots include Roy’s Cafe at Amboy and the remnants of old towns between Amboy and Barstow.
Continuing westward, make sure to visit Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, the first McDonald’s (now a museum), and the Fontana Orange for some enjoyable stops. If hiking is your passion, take a small detour to Amboy Crater, where you can hike to the top and explore the rim of this young volcano.
During the spring, the desert floor blossoms with vibrant wildflowers, creating a truly mesmerizing sight. Keep in mind that the best time to undertake the Route 66 drive between Needles and Santa Monica is during the cooler months of the year, as a significant portion of the route traverses the desert, where scorching triple-digit temperatures are common in the warmer months.
12. Park Boulevard In Joshua Tree National Park
Driving Distance: 23.5 miles
Driving Time: About 40 minutes
Discover the picturesque Park Boulevard, a scenic east-west route that traverses the northern section of Joshua Tree National Park, showcasing the Mojave Desert portion of this unique two-desert park. Along this drive, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas of large boulder formations and diverse desert flora. While the drive itself may be short, be sure to allocate ample time as Park Boulevard is home to several of Joshua Tree National Park’s iconic hikes and attractions.
For both children and adults, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in rock scrambling. Two highly recommended hikes within the park, Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Barker Dam Nature Trail, are relatively short and easy trails that offer a fantastic experience. If you’re up for a more challenging trek, the Ryan Mountain Trail can also be accessed from Park Boulevard.
Even if you opt not to embark on a hike, Park Boulevard promises captivating scenery throughout its course. Don’t miss out on witnessing Skull Rock, one of Joshua Tree’s renowned photo spots. Additionally, a detour from Park Boulevard will lead you to Keys View, where you can relish in breathtaking panoramas of the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, and the surrounding mountain peaks.
13. Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive
Driving Distance: 72 miles
Driving Time: About 3 hours
One of the most scenic drives in California is the route around Lake Tahoe, which is not only renowned for its beauty but also for being one of the largest lakes in the state. Spanning the California-Nevada border, you can embark on this picturesque journey by following US Route 50 and state highways 89 and 28.
Along these roads, you’ll encounter sections that run alongside the water, treating you to breathtaking views. If you venture to the west shore, you’ll find Emerald Bay State Park, where a convenient scenic overlook awaits, providing stunning vistas of the bay and Fannette Island, the sole island within Lake Tahoe.
On the Nevada side, Sand Harbor State Park offers a delightful interpretive boardwalk trail and a beach straight out of a picture postcard. Additionally, the lake boasts numerous beaches and opportunities for boat rentals, ensuring a wealth of activities during your drive. Moreover, the surrounding mountains offer numerous hiking trails accessible from the road.
Even in winter, Lake Tahoe’s deep blue waters remain unfrozen, allowing for consistent and sensational water views throughout the year. For smoother driving conditions, it is advisable to embark on this journey from late spring to fall, as snowstorms are less likely during this time. Furthermore, autumn graces the landscape with its stunning display of colorful foliage.
14. Howland Hill Road In Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Driving Distance: 10 miles
Driving Time: About 40 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is Howland Hill Road, which may be shorter at just ten miles, but it showcases some of the most breathtaking old-growth redwoods in the Golden State. If you’re planning a trip to the Redwood National and State Parks, make sure to include this drive in your itinerary for Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park!
Howland Hill Road grants access to Stout Grove, where you can leisurely wander among majestic coastal redwoods that radiate stunning colors during the late afternoon. As you embark on this drive, you’ll also come across the trailhead for the more challenging Boy Scout Trail, featuring a waterfall and the awe-inspiring Boy Scout Tree towering over 300 feet in height.
This picturesque drive links Crescent City along the coast to the charming town of Hiouchi by the Smith River. Keep in mind that the road is narrow and unpaved, making it unsuitable for trailers. It’s advisable to check road conditions before setting off, especially during and after rainfall.
15. California State Route 46 Between Paso Robles And Ca Hwy 1
Driving Distance: 21.5 miles
Driving Time: About 25 minutes
Experience one of the most beloved drives along the California Central Coast by venturing onto State Route 46 west of Paso Robles. This picturesque route is adorned with vineyards and rolling hills adorned with majestic oak trees. While it offers scenic beauty throughout the year, it truly shines in the spring when the hills are lush green, the vines are budding, and vibrant wildflowers paint the landscape.
Don’t forget to pause your journey and park at the three overlooks near the western end of the drive, close to CA Highway 1, for breathtaking panoramic views of the hills and valleys extending towards the Pacific Ocean. On clear days, you can even catch a glimpse of Morro Rock emerging from the ocean in the distance.
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’re in for a treat as numerous wineries along California SR 46 West offer wine tastings, and some even provide delectable food options. Make sure to capture a photo of the renowned heart-shaped grove of trees on the hillside at Niner Wine Estates.
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16. Newton B. Drury Scenic Byway In Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Driving Distance: 10 miles
Driving Time: About 25 minutes
When you find yourself in the enchanting realm of redwoods country, be sure to include the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway in your itinerary. This captivating paved two-lane road traverses the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California.
Spanning 10 miles, this scenic route through the ancient redwood forest offers a captivating alternative to Highway 101, granting you the opportunity to marvel at the majestic old-growth redwoods and catch a glimpse of the Roosevelt elk. What sets this drive apart from other scenic routes in Redwood National and State Parks is its RV and trailer accessibility, welcoming visitors of all kinds to embark on a mesmerizing journey through a tunnel of towering coastal redwoods.
Along the parkway, you’ll encounter several trailheads to explore. A mere 200-yard walk from the parking area leads you to The Big Tree, surrounded by other impressive giants. Additionally, the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail offers a short and delightful stroll to a charming redwood grove.
17. California County Route 22 Through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Driving Distance: 21 miles within the park
Driving Time: About 60 minutes
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest of California’s state parks, showcases stunning badlands and desert landscapes. During a vibrant bloom year, the park transforms into one of the most captivating displays of spring wildflowers in the entire Golden State.
To experience this natural wonder, embark on County Route S-22, also known as Borrego-Salton Sea Way, renowned as one of the most scenic drives in California. This fully paved road consists of one lane on each side, making it easily accessible by a passenger sedan. However, it is highly recommended to arrive in a 4X4 vehicle, allowing you to venture onto dirt roads that branch off from S-22, leading you to extraordinary hikes and breathtaking overlooks.
For awe-inspiring vistas, make sure to visit Font’s Point, where the Anza-Borrego badlands unfold before your eyes, particularly stunning at sunrise. Santa Rosa Overlook offers panoramic views of the Santa Rosa Mountains and Clark Valley, while Calcite Canyon Overlook, located at the eastern end, treats you to sweeping vistas of the canyon and majestic rock formations.
Like other desert drives, County Route S-22 is best enjoyed between late fall and mid-spring, when the weather is most favorable for exploration. You can commence your drive from Ranchita in the west or the Visitor Center at Anza-Borrego, heading towards the park border, or even continue all the way to Salton City in the east.
18. Generals Highway Through Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Parks
Driving Distance: 50 miles
Driving Time: About 2 hours
One of the most scenic drives in California, the Generals Highway, serves as a picturesque link between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as the Giant Sequoia National Monument. This captivating route allows you to embark on a journey from Three Rivers, near the southern entrance of Sequoia National Park, to the junction with California State Route 180, located just south of Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park, or vice versa.
Throughout the drive, you’ll have the opportunity to pause and explore groves of majestic giant sequoia trees, partake in hikes, and admire enchanting waterfalls. The route is adorned with numerous scenic overlooks, providing perfect spots to park and capture memorable photographs.
The vistas of the Sierra Nevada peaks along the way are nothing short of magnificent. Keep a keen eye out for birds and wildlife, as they often grace the landscape. It’s important to note that the high-elevation road is winding, narrow, and features numerous switchbacks, making it challenging to drive. Additionally, certain sections have vehicle length restrictions.
During winter, some or all of the road may be closed due to snow accumulation. Therefore, the best time to embark on this drive is between late spring and early fall, when the road is typically open. Do keep in mind that this period tends to be the busiest, so be sure to allocate ample time for your journey.
19. June Lake Loop (California State Route 158)
Driving Distance: 16 miles
Driving Time: About 30 minutes
The Eastern Sierra of California is blessed with an abundance of scenic drives, making it effortless to find awe-inspiring landscapes no matter which direction you choose. However, even amidst such a picturesque region, the June Lake Loop stands out as an unmissable journey.
This horseshoe-shaped paved loop road commences and concludes at Highway 395, stretching for approximately 16 miles. Within this relatively short distance, you’ll encounter four stunning lakes and be treated to an array of breathtaking views of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you have the luxury of time, June Lake offers a plethora of activities to engage in throughout the drive.
From hiking and boating to fishing, beach activities, and horseback riding, there’s something for everyone. However, if time is limited, fear not, as the drive itself is a feast for the eyes. Particularly in the fall season, when vibrant yellows and oranges adorn the roadsides, courtesy of aspen and willow trees, the scenery becomes even more captivating.
It’s important to note that June Lake Road may experience partial closures during winter due to snow accumulations. While the winter scenery is undeniably breathtaking, the loop drive is best enjoyed from late spring through the fall, when road conditions are more favorable.
20. Artist’s Drive In Death Valley National Park
Driving Distance: 9 miles
Driving Time: About 22 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California can be found in Death Valley National Park: Artist’s Drive. This captivating 9-mile loop offers breathtaking views throughout. While the drive is renowned for the Artist’s Palette viewpoint, where a vibrant array of mineral deposits adorns the hillside, the entire journey is a feast for the eyes.
The paved road consists of one narrow lane in each direction, and the drive itself is characterized by winding paths, accompanied by dips and climbs. Please be aware that there is a vehicle length restriction in place. Notably, scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope were filmed in this location.
Upon reaching the designated parking lot for Artist’s Palette, you can descend into the wash and walk over the mesmerizing mineral deposits, allowing you to appreciate the colors up close. From lavender and green to yellow, orange, and rust, the stark beauty of the diverse hues will leave you in awe.
Late afternoon is considered the optimal time to embark on this drive, as it allows for the colors to showcase their brilliance. However, if you’re seeking to capture remarkable photos, a cloudy time may produce richer colors without harsh shadows.
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21. Bald Hills Road In Redwood National Park
Driving Distance: 17 miles
Driving Time: About 30 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is Bald Hills Road in Redwood National Park, located just north of Orick in Northern California. This picturesque route is particularly enchanting during the late spring when vibrant carpets of wildflowers adorn the landscape. The road comprises both paved and gravel sections, offering a diverse driving experience.
While the initial part of the western end showcases majestic old-growth redwoods, the later portion treats you to a variety of breathtaking landscapes, including hills, valleys, and open prairies. For convenient access to Bald Hills Road, Highway 101 is the recommended route. During your drive, keep an eye out for wildlife encounters.
Apart from Roosevelt elk, you might catch glimpses of bears and raptors soaring through the sky. Additionally, along Bald Hills Road, you’ll find the renowned Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which offers one of the park’s finest and easiest hiking trails. For awe-inspiring views of both the forest and the ocean, make sure to visit the Redwood Creek Overlook.
If you have an appreciation for local history, a visit to the Lyons Ranch Historical District is a must. This district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, showcases picturesque barns and sheds that add to its charm. If you wish to return to Highway 101, Lyons Ranch is a convenient turning point.
22. Lassen Peak Highway Through Lassen Volcanic National Park
Driving Distance: 29 miles
Driving Time: About 40 minutes
One of California’s most stunning drives is the Lassen Peak Highway, also known as California State Route 89, which takes you through the remarkable Lassen Volcanic National Park. This scenic route offers breathtaking views and provides access to the park’s fascinating geologic and hydrothermal wonders.
Stretching from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center in the southwest to the Manzanita Lake entrance in the northwest, the highway meanders past numerous picturesque alpine lakes and showcases two significant hydrothermal areas, Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell.
As you traverse the road, you’ll gradually ascend to an elevation exceeding 8,500 feet, reaching a point where an overlook grants you a magnificent view of the majestic Lassen Peak. This spot also serves as the trailhead for those embarking on the summit hike.
Notably, the Lassen Peak Highway forms part of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, an extraordinary 500-mile All American Road that extends into neighboring Oregon, encompassing Lava Beds National Monument, Tule Lake National Monument, and Crater Lake National Park.
For the best experience, it is recommended to drive the Lassen Peak Highway during the summer and fall seasons when it is fully open to vehicular traffic, allowing you to relish the beauty of the surroundings to the fullest.
23. Whitney Portal Road In Lone Pine, Ca
Driving Distance: 13 miles
Driving Time: About 30 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is Whitney Portal Road, which spans approximately 13 miles in one direction. This captivating route connects the town of Lone Pine to Whitney Portal, situated more than halfway up the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Throughout its entirety, the road offers awe-inspiring views that are sure to leave you mesmerized.
It is a fully paved, two-lane road that typically remains open from May to November, as winter snowfall prompts its temporary closure. Arriving at Whitney Portal, you’ll discover a range of amenities including campgrounds, a cafe, a store, and access to trailheads leading to the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia National Park.
As you embark on this journey, Whitney Portal Road guides you through the captivating Alabama Hills, renowned for their magnificent rounded rock formations and numerous natural arches. The road then proceeds directly towards the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains, eventually ascending the mountain via a series of thrilling switchbacks, with breathtaking panoramas awaiting you at every turn.
It’s important to note that Whitney Portal Road is a narrow, winding, and steep route. As you ascend, the steepness becomes more pronounced, and certain sections are particularly narrow with blind corners. Therefore, this drive is not recommended for those with a timid disposition. Brace yourself for an exhilarating adventure on Whitney Portal Road, where the scenic beauty will reward you with unforgettable experiences.
24. Avenue Of The Giants (California State Route 254)
Driving Distance: 31 miles
Driving Time: About 25 minutes
The Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County, Northern California, offers a mesmerizing drive through some of the most magnificent redwoods in the region. Spanning a little over 30 miles, this easily accessible route provides a dramatic and breathtaking experience. Formerly a section of the old Highway 101, the scenic road cuts through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which is home to the largest remaining expanse of old-growth redwoods on Earth.
Along this picturesque route, you’ll come across trailheads that lead you into the enchanting redwood groves, offering opportunities for memorable hikes. Moreover, the Avenue of the Giants grants access to the scenic Eel River, where you can indulge in swimming and fishing amidst stunning surroundings.
However, the drive itself is reason enough to embark on this scenic route. Additionally, as you journey along the avenue, you’ll encounter a collection of charming small communities. These towns present opportunities to explore souvenir shops or acquire supplies for a delightful picnic. Notably, the Myers Flat area is home to the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, an attraction worth visiting.
Other towns you’ll encounter along the route include Pepperwood, Redcrest, Weott, Miranda, and Phillipsville. Immerse yourself in the splendor of the Avenue of the Giants, where you can relish a captivating drive amidst towering redwoods, discover hidden hiking trails, and explore delightful communities along the way.
25. Soda Lake Road Through Carrizo Plain National Monument
Driving Distance: 37 miles
Driving Time: About 60 minutes
One of the most scenic drives in California is Soda Lake Road, a two-lane road that traverses the Carrizo Plain National Monument in southeastern San Luis Obispo County. This picturesque route takes you alongside Soda Lake, a saline lake that remains dry for most of the year but becomes a hub for birdlife during the winter and early spring when it contains water.
However, the road truly comes alive in the spring during exceptional bloom years, when vibrant wildflowers carpet both sides of the road, creating a stunning sight. Additionally, the distant hills are adorned with blankets of yellow, orange, and purple, offering breathtaking vistas throughout the entire drive.
Although the spring superbloom is an experience not to be missed, the drive is still worthwhile even when the wildflowers are not in bloom. It provides an opportunity to witness the vast expanse of the plain, a remnant of California’s untouched landscape before the impacts of agriculture and urbanization forever altered its appearance. While driving along Soda Lake Road, keep a lookout for pronghorns, adding to the charm of the journey.
The northern portion of the road is paved, but the southern section transitions into a gravel surface. While regular sedans can navigate the unpaved stretch in dry conditions, it is important to note that the road is quite rough. Expect a slow and bumpy ride or consider using a 4WD high-clearance vehicle, which not only allows for smoother exploration but also grants access to adjacent dirt roads for further exploration.
From relishing the serene lakeside vistas and indulging in locally sourced culinary delights to exploring the vibrant arts scene and partaking in thrilling water sports, there is an abundance of unforgettable experiences that showcase the best things to do in Lexington, MI, making it a captivating destination for both relaxation and adventure.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most scenic drives in California?
California offers a plethora of scenic drives, including breathtaking routes through national parks, along the picturesque coastline, and into captivating deserts and mountains.
What makes California a great destination for road trips?
California’s remarkable diversity, encompassing majestic mountains, pristine beaches, enchanting redwood forests, and vibrant cities, makes it an ideal destination for road trips.
How can I best experience California’s scenic drives?
Embarking on a road trip allows you to set your own pace and leisurely take in the sights, immersing yourself in the stunning landscapes that California has to offer.
What types of landscapes can I expect to see on California’s scenic drives?
California’s scenic drives showcase a wide range of landscapes, including majestic mountains, vast deserts, rugged coastlines, and dream-like scenery that will leave you in awe.
Which scenic road should I choose in California?
With numerous options available, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Whether you prefer a short drive to enjoy the weather and natural wonders nearby or a multi-day adventure, California’s scenic drives will surpass your expectations.
What can I expect on a road trip through California’s most scenic drives?
Prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking beauty of California’s landscapes, from mountains that seem to touch the sky to awe-inspiring coastlines and landscapes straight out of a dream.
How do I plan a road trip through California’s scenic drives?
Start by selecting the destinations and routes that interest you the most, considering the duration of your trip, and mapping out the attractions, accommodations, and points of interest along the way.
Are there short scenic drives in California?
Yes, California offers shorter drives that allow you to experience the splendid weather and natural wonders nearby, providing a taste of the state’s beauty even with limited time.
Can I combine multiple scenic drives into a longer road trip in California?
Absolutely! California’s diverse landscapes make it ideal for combining multiple scenic drives into a longer road trip, offering the opportunity to explore numerous natural marvels and attractions along the way.
What should I expect from California’s most scenic drives?
Expect to be immersed in breathtaking scenery, unforgettable views, and a sense of wonder as you navigate California’s most scenic drives. It’s a journey that promises to create lasting memories.
How long does it take to complete a scenic drive in California?
The duration of a scenic drive in California can vary depending on the specific route and stops along the way. Some drives can be completed in a few hours, while others may require multiple days to fully explore and appreciate.
Are there any entrance fees or permits required for California’s scenic drives?
Entrance fees and permits may be required for certain national parks or protected areas along the scenic drives in California. It’s advisable to check the official websites or visitor centers of the specific destinations you plan to visit for up-to-date information on fees and permits.
Can I camp along the scenic drives in California?
Yes, camping options are available along many of California’s scenic drives, particularly in national parks and designated campgrounds. It’s important to check the regulations and availability of campsites beforehand and make any necessary reservations.
Are there any specific driving regulations or restrictions on California’s scenic drives?
While driving regulations generally apply on California’s scenic drives, there may be specific restrictions in certain areas. Examples include speed limits, vehicle length limitations, and restrictions on trailers or recreational vehicles. Always adhere to posted signs and regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Are there accommodations available along California’s scenic drives?
Yes, there are various accommodation options available along California’s scenic drives, ranging from hotels and motels to lodges and campgrounds. It’s advisable to plan ahead and make reservations, especially during peak travel seasons.
Can I bring pets on California’s scenic drives?
Some scenic drives in California allow pets, but restrictions and regulations may vary. It’s important to check the specific rules of each destination, including national parks and other protected areas, to determine whether pets are allowed and if there are any restrictions or leash requirements.
Are there any notable attractions or landmarks along California’s scenic drives?
Yes, California’s scenic drives offer numerous notable attractions and landmarks. These can include iconic sites like the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Big Sur, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Pacific Coast Highway. Research the specific routes you plan to take to discover the attractions that align with your interests.
Can I rent a car for a scenic drive in California?
Yes, renting a car is a popular option for exploring California’s scenic drives. There are many car rental companies available, both at airports and in major cities. Be sure to have a valid driver’s license and check the rental company’s policies regarding age restrictions and additional fees.
Are there any guided tours available for California’s scenic drives?
Yes, guided tours are available for certain scenic drives in California. These tours can provide informative commentary, local insights, and the convenience of having a knowledgeable guide navigate the route. Research tour operators or check with visitor centers in the specific areas you plan to visit for available options.
What is the best time of year to embark on a scenic drive in California?
The best time to embark on a scenic drive in California can vary depending on the region and specific route. Generally, spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds. However, it’s essential to consider the weather patterns and seasonal factors of the particular areas you plan to visit.
Discover a multitude of captivating options for every traveler with our comprehensive guide to the best things to do in San Bernardino, CA, where you can marvel at the stunning artistic exhibits at the California Theatre of the Performing Arts, immerse yourself in the rich history of the Original McDonald’s Site and Museum, and bask in the natural beauty of the city’s numerous parks and recreational areas.
• Practice safe driving: Observe speed limits, stay alert, and avoid distractions while driving to ensure the safety of yourself and other road users.
• Stay hydrated during desert drives: Carry plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially during drives through desert regions where temperatures can be high.
• Carry emergency supplies: Pack a first aid kit, extra water, snacks, and a roadside emergency kit in case of unforeseen circumstances.
• Respect wildlife and natural habitats: Keep a safe distance from wildlife, refrain from littering, and follow designated trails to preserve the natural beauty of California’s landscapes.
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When it comes to the most scenic drives in California, you truly have an abundance of options to choose from. Whether you prefer the awe-inspiring beauty of the mountains, the tranquil serenity of the beaches, or the captivating allure of the cities, California has it all.
Embarking on a road trip through this remarkable state will allow you to witness firsthand the incredible diversity and natural wonders that make California so special. So, buckle up, hit the open road, and prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking scenery that awaits you on California’s most scenic drives. It’s time to create unforgettable memories and experience the journey of a lifetime.