These California road trip tips are the best place to start when planning a road trip to California, covering when to go, where to go & things you need to know before you go.
A trip to California by car promises stunning scenery, cultural encounters, and the freedom of the open road.
A Californian road trip is an adventure of a lifetime, whether you’re traveling along the renowned Pacific Coast Highway, visiting enormous deserts, or navigating through bustling towns.
Here’s how to plan the ultimate road vacation to California.
Tips for planning a California Road Trip
1. Choose Your Vehicle Wisely
Travelling from San Diego to San Francisco is a long journey so you need to be in a reliable car.
The right vehicle can make or break your road trip experience. It needs to be reliable, comfortable, and suited to the varied terrain of California.
If you’re in the market for a car that combines comfort with performance, you might want to consider a classic American sports car like the Chevrolet Corvette. You can use SCA to find such models.
2. Map Out Your Route
California’s size and diversity mean that there are countless routes you can take. Consider starting in the south, working your way from the beaches of San Diego up to the forests of Northern California.
As you go farther into California, you can wander along the serpentine roads of the Sierra Nevada, taking in the alpine scenery and possibly exploring lesser-known but equally magnificent locations such as the volcanic vistas of Lassen National Park.
The ancient Gold Rush settlements of the 49er route, where time seems to have stopped still, or the stark splendor of the Mojave Desert may be seen at every bend of the road. Remember that California is a collection of landscapes, each with its tale and rhythm.
There are plenty of things to do in California that should be on your USA bucketlist, so plan your trip in advance and see as much as you can.
P.S. Don’t forget to get ready for Disneyland – one of my favourite places to visit in California.
If you are planning a road trip from Texas to California, make sure to plan the best route for you so you ca still see the amazing sites in California.
3. Best Time to Visit
Timing is crucial. California is renowned for its year-round sunshine, but certain routes are best at specific times of the year. For instance, the Pacific Coast Highway is stunning in the late spring and early fall when the weather is mild, and the summer crowds have dissipated.
Book your accommodations in advance, especially if you’re traveling during peak season or attending popular events like Coachella.
California offers a range of lodging options, from luxury resorts to budget-friendly motels and campgrounds.
Consider boutique hotels tucked in the heart of wine country, lovely B&Bs along the coast towns, or even eco-friendly resorts that allow you to sleep under the huge Californian sky to enhance your stay.
These lodgings not only provide a place to sleep but also enhance your trip experience with their local flare and hospitality.
In the urban sprawls of cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, upscale hotels with rooftop pools and spas provide a respite from the hectic city life.
Alternatively, cabins and yurts provide a closer connection to nature, allowing you to wake up to the sound of the Pacific waves or the whispers of the redwood forests.
There are plenty of unique hotels in the USA and many can be found in California, so browse the more unusual options when booking your accommodation.
5. Packing Essentials
Pack for all occasions. California’s weather can be unpredictable, with coastal areas being cooler and deserts experiencing significant temperature drops at night. Don’t forget your sunglasses, sunscreen, a good hat, and layers for cooler evenings.
It’s important to set a budget for fuel, food, accommodations, and attractions. Gas prices in California can be higher than the national average, so plan accordingly. To save money, consider packing a cooler with snacks and drinks, and research free attractions like beaches and hikes.
Budget for the numerous parking costs in metropolitan areas and national parks, which can quickly add up. To keep expenditures under control, search for lodging that has free parking.
Dining out can be expensive, so combine meals at famed food trucks or farmer’s markets with dining at restaurants to sample a variety of gastronomic delights without breaking the bank.
Additionally, use applications and websites that track gas prices to find the lowest options along your route, allowing you to spend more money on memorable experiences rather than just getting there.
7. Safety First
Ensure your vehicle is in top condition before you set off. This includes checking your tires, brakes, oil, and coolant levels. Always have an emergency kit on hand, which should include water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, and a first-aid kit.
8. Embrace the Local Culture
One of the joys of a road trip is the opportunity to dive into the local culture. Stop at roadside stands, dine at local eateries, and engage with residents. California is a melting pot of cultures, and each region offers something unique.
Attending local events and festivals, which are plentiful in California, should be included as part of the cultural immersion.
From the Gilroy Garlic Festival to the vibrant Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Los Angeles, these events provide an insight into the region’s origins and traditions.
Visit the area museums, art galleries, and historic missions to learn more about California’s rich history.
A night at the Hollywood Bowl or a day at a local jazz festival can be remarkable for music fans.
Explore local agriculture by choosing your fruit in the fertile Central Valley or visiting a farmers’ market to experience handmade cheeses, preserves, and other local delights. Each of these events will allow you to view California as a participant in its colorful culture, rather than merely a tourist.
9. Leave Room for Spontaneity
While it’s important to have a plan, some of the best experiences are unplanned. Be flexible and allow yourself to explore that interesting side road or quaint town you stumble upon.
10. Environmental Considerations
California is known for its natural beauty, so it’s vital to respect the environment. Stick to marked trails in parks, dispose of trash properly, and be aware of water conservation efforts, especially in drought-prone areas.
In your travels across the state, practice Leave No Trace principles to limit your impact on the natural settings you visit. This involves keeping a safe distance from wildlife and not feeding animals, which helps preserve the natural balance of ecosystems.
To avoid paper waste, consider using digital tickets and maps, and pick reusable dishes and utensils for picnics or in-car meals. Local businesses that value sustainability can also help with conservation initiatives.
You may enjoy the pure beauty of California’s outdoors while also helping to preserve it for future generations to wonder at and explore if you adopt an eco-conscious mindset.
11. Legal Requirements
Understand the driving laws in California. These include hands-free cellphone laws, speed limits that vary by location, and motorcycle lane-splitting rules.
12. Take Breaks
Driving for long periods can be tiring. Take regular breaks to stretch, rest, and hydrate. This not only keeps you alert but also gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery.
Take advantage of these pauses along the way to explore off-the-beaten-path wonders. A simple detour may lead you to a picturesque viewpoint, a peaceful beach, or a roadside café serving the greatest baked pies.
These peaceful periods can frequently lead to unexpected discoveries, such as a nearby market or a festival.
A Californian road trip offers the quintessential American adventure. With its stunning coastlines, majestic mountains, sprawling cities, and desert landscapes, California has something for everyone.
By planning carefully and being prepared, you can ensure that your road trip is memorable for all the right reasons. Drive safe, and enjoy the journey!
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy, and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this microphone for all our Youtube voiceovers.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favorite travel insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offer year coverage.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel, I always take these trusty hand sanitizers and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.