16 California Road Trip Ideas from a California Girl (Photos)

A photography guide and California Road Trip ideas, brought to you by Navdy and a California girl that knows the State more than most!

California Road Trip Ideas with Navdy | Travel Photography Guide | Travel-Break.netPsss.. tell Dorthy she should have followed the Golden Coast. The Yellow Brick Road has nothing on Highway 101  — a route to beaches, lakes, valleys, and internationally sought-out cities. A photography guide to the most epic of California road trips, browse through these iconic destinations to create the California Road Trip itinerary that is right for you.

In this post:

–  How to Prep for a California Road Trip
–  California Road Trip Ideas
–  Unique Things to Do in California
–  Great Photo Spots in California
–   Best California National Parks
–   Best California Beach Cities
–  Resources/ More Information on Destinations






How to prepare for a California Road Trip

Start in Silicon Valley or sunny San Diego, there’s no right or wrong answer with your path preference. There’s three ways you can cover the sunshine coast:

  1. Fly into major California cities and road trip Southern California and Northern California separately. For example, if you are staying in Los Angeles, you can use it as your home base while exploring San Diego, Orange County and Santa Barbara. Then, flying to San Francisco to cover the Bay Area, Big Sur, Yosemite and the other national parks.
  2. Alternatively, start in either San Diego or San Francisco, looping — taking the coast one way, and the inner national parks the other way, and returning to your starting point.
  3. Lastly, start your trip in one city, road trip the State, pay a one-way car rental drop-off-fee, and fly to your next destination.


California Road Trip Ideas with Navdy | TravelBreak.net


After checking out these photos of my favorite destinations, you can add them to Google Maps to route out your master plan. Check out Navdya brand new driving device that projects your navigation and notifications such as text and phone calls out in front of you for a safer and all around better experience for your road trip.



Consider these California Road Trip Ideas

Shared South to North, here are some of my favorite California photography destinations, beaches, national parks, and cities!

La Jolla Cove – San Diego, California

Shopping, snorkeling, scuba and ocean-front restaurants compliment sandstone cliffs and sea-lions at play.

Kayak in La Jolla - San Diego, California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net

Potato Chip Rock – San Diego, California

A three hour hike at Mt. Wood Summit, Potato Chip Rock will have you feeling like the Lion King. 


Newport Beach, California

Dock and dine on a yacht, indulge in spa and golf experiences, or rent bikes to cruise from Newport Beach to Huntington Beach and back. Feeling adventurous? Jetpack America will have you flying; re-defining an out of sea experience!

California Road Trip Ideas - Newport Beach Jetpack Adventure | Travel-Break.net

Laguna Beach, California

Worth the “1,000 steps” staricase, have a picnic in Crystal Cove State Park or pack up for a bonfire at Aliso Beach. Pick any one of the top nine beaches for a proper California sunset!

Laguna Beach California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net

Santa Monica, California

Time to live like an Angelelino! In the coast of Los Angeles, check out Santa Monica Pier, bars and restaurants… and definitely, do brunch! Buzzing with concerts, artwork and millennials — consider Malibu for a more remote escape.


Bottomless Mimosas Brunch Santa Monica | TravelBreak.net


Venice Beach, California

The home of Abbot Kinney and Venice Skate Park, a bike tour is an easy way to explore Venice.  Wrap up your day with a rooftop bar on the oceanside.


Best Rooftop Bar Los Angeles | Hotel Erwin | TravelBreak.net

Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, California

After checking out the infamous Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann Chinese Theater, shop on Rodeo Drive, snap a photo at LACMA, then head to the Griffith Observatory for a view of the skyline and Hollywood Sign in one spot.

Inyo National Park, California

If you prefer camping over night clubs, a nine mile hike in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas may be right for you!

Santa Barbara, California

Known as a go-to wedding destination and all-around attraction for relaxation, explore the Channel Islands by kayak before a hike, wine-tasting or helicopter experience.

Santa Barbara, California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net


Big Sur, California

Make way for Bixy Bridge and McWay Falls —  these might just be the highlight of your trip!

2015 USA California Big Sur Road Trip Highway 101 - TravelBreak.net @StephBeTravel (6 of 1)


San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks View Point, and the Painted Ladies will have you writing your own song about San Francisco. Alternatively, live like the locals and check out a Giants game for all-American baseball.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net

Point Reyes National Sea Shore, California

The only destination that I’ve listed and haven’t experienced myself, Point Reyes is famed for cliffs over-looking the beach.

Tomales Bay - Point Reyes, California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net

Napa Valley, California

Calling all wine-o-s! From trendy downtown Napa to the country vineyards, learn about the heart of the world’s best red, white and bubbly.

Napa Valley, California | California Road Trip Ideas via the travel blog Travel-Break.net

Tahoe, California

Whether riding the winter wave via ski and snowboard, or experiencing spas and hikes during the summer, Tahoe is perfect for families, dates or friend trips.

Yosemite National Park, California

One of the most iconic, most-Instagram worthy destinations in the world, unplug in Yosemite. Reserve camping or book a luxe hotel that brings the outdoors inside.

Redwood National Forest, California

State and national parks of gigantic proportions, there is a warmth to the earth when its trees boast ruby roots.

Check out the top California road trip spots as told by a California expert!Click To Tweet

What California road trip ideas would add to this list?



California Posts You Might Like

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Big Sur Road Trip / Highway 101 – No Clever Title Necessary (Photos)

Napa Valley: “I Think I Can, I Know I Can” — Wine & Wellness (Photos)

5 Tips to Hiking to THE Potato Chip Rock, San Diego (Photos)

Tahoe Ski Escape: Winter in Squaw Valley, California (Photos)

10 Photos of Big Pine North Fork, Inyo National Forest | California Hike

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The Road Trip Abroad Travel Checklist



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  1. Charles McCool December 27, 2016 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Love your suggestions, Steph! Just returned from a California road trip, including Big Sur (BIXBY bridge). I spent way too little time in many of the places you suggest and hope to have a 2017 chance to explore in depth.

    • Stephanie Be December 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading! I definitely would go back to Bixy Bridge in a heart beat.

  2. Meghan December 28, 2016 at 10:40 am - Reply

    I did a road-trip through California and went from LA to San Francisco. It was so much fun! I would love to do past San Fran – your pictures look beautiful!

    • Stephanie Be December 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much! Nor Cal is totally under-rated. I also want to spend more time there.

  3. Lia @ Practical Wanderlust December 31, 2016 at 1:46 am - Reply

    Hey there fellow Californian! There are so many great ideas on this list. I live in San Francisco so I hadn’t heard of a lot of these SoCal options! If you ever get the chance, there are some truly incredible road trips north of San Francisco and Napa as well, all the way up the 1 and the 101! Off the top of my head there’s Mendocino, Fort Bragg, and Avenue of the Giants – the whole area is filled with tiny mountain towns and coastal towns too. Great resource, sharing this with my social media followers!

  4. Lia @ Practical Wanderlust December 31, 2016 at 1:47 am - Reply

    Hey there fellow Californian! There are so many great ideas on this list. I live in San Francisco so I hadn’t heard of a lot of these SoCal options! If you ever get the chance, there are some truly incredible road trips north of San Francisco and Napa as well, all the way up the 1 and the 101! Off the top of my head there’s Mendocino, Fort Bragg, and Avenue of the Giants – the whole area is filled with tiny mountain towns and coastal towns too. Great resource, sharing this with my social media followers!

    *sorry, had to repost as forgot to fill out my info!*

  5. Nat Deduck December 31, 2016 at 1:47 am - Reply

    Wow! I didn’t realize how many nice places are in California! The Potato Chip Rock seems pretty epic and Inyo National Park looks amazing! I always pictured the beaches and seriously didn’t think of anything else. Very informative!


  6. Kavey December 31, 2016 at 2:35 am - Reply

    I did my first California road trip in the 80s with my family and loved it. Then visited again with my husband in the 90s, still wonderful though we didn’t cover quite as much. It’s a beautiful state for self driving!

  7. Travelling tom December 31, 2016 at 4:22 am - Reply

    A California road trip is definitely something that I would like to do in the near future. A friend of mine did one last summer and raved about it. His photos weren’t too bad either! I hadn’t heard of some of these places you mention either, so looks like there’s quite a bit to see!

  8. Fiona December 31, 2016 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Gosh I never realised there was so much variety in California! It looks amazing. I really need to see more of the USA!

  9. Indrani December 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Having done several road trips in Europe, California and other US road trips have been on my list to do.
    Thanks for these detailed trips, I am saving it to my US folder. Excellent perspective of Golden Gate Bridge. There is one similar in Lisbon.

  10. Joan January 2, 2017 at 3:28 am - Reply

    One of my first trips ever was a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego. I did it in 3 weeks and stopped in most of the places you mention. Your pics look amazing by the way. I followed the US 1 road. It was my first time outside of Europe and I loved it so much. California has so much of a potential and 3 weeks was not enough. On the way back, I stopped in Yosemite and it was by far, the highlight of the trip :).

  11. nisha January 2, 2017 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Stephanie, Nice ideas for road trips. I have never been to Cal but I am sure to this as guide when I do so. Thats one hude redwood cut tree trunk!

  12. Jennifer January 3, 2017 at 6:28 am - Reply

    Wow, you covered quite a lot of California here! I’ve been to some of the places you mentioned and there’s some others like Santa Monica and the Redwoods that I’m dying to visit. I don’t know why we didn’t explore more of California when we were living in Arizona and Nevada. It’s a little harder and more expensive to get there now that we’re living in France. Sounds like I need to plan a few weeks to hop all around there.

  13. Mansoureh January 3, 2017 at 7:28 am - Reply

    California is on top of my wishlist. By the way, your photos are amazing. Love your ideas 🙂

  14. Ryan Biddulph January 3, 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Hi Steph,

    All these road trip suggestions look fabulous.

    I’d have to go with the Big Sur stop off as my fave based on that stunning photo and because we met an individual from the Big Sur in Bali. He raved about his home, especially the natural beauty, so we were all in many years ago. Now it’s time to schedule a Cali-trip soon so we can enjoy the place 😉

    Note; had no idea any water off the West Coast turned that shade of blue. Brilliant!

    Thanks much.


  15. Chris January 7, 2017 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Some terrific ideas here.

    I’ve done the California road trip twice (once from LA to San Francisco and once from San Francisco to San Diego) and both times have been amazing.

    I absolutely adore BIg Sur, Yosemite was well worth the detour, and some of the beaches are just breathtaking.

    My personal nomination would be to swing by San Luis Obispo. I adore that town.

  16. Bella WW January 8, 2017 at 5:49 am - Reply

    I went on a road trip, in California, last year, and your photos reminded me of how awesome were the places I’ve seen. Big Sur was, by far, my favorite destination on the West Coast. I didn’t know about the Potato Chip Rock, I would have loved to visit it. I love your photos!

  17. Jennifer January 8, 2017 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    I would add several national parks such as Pinnacles National Park and Joshua Tree National Park to the list. These are amazing parks to visit and well worth a two or three day stop

  18. Karla January 11, 2017 at 7:14 am - Reply

    I spent a month in California and I loved it. But seeing this seems like I missed a lot. How hard/easy is the hike to Potato head? 3 hours I’d do for sure but is it a hard or easy climb?

  19. mags January 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    This is some bucket list fuel! I’ve always wanted to do a PCH roadtrip. I’ve gone from LA south to San Diego, but I really want to make it up to Napa.

  20. Holly January 11, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Love Cali. My second home. So much to see and do. Love road trips

  21. Mia January 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    Great photos! As a California girl, I can agree with your location choices for a road trip. I, personally, live in Southern California and one of my favorite neighborhoods is Venice. There are so many great restaurants like Tasting Kitchen and more. One area you left off is the South Bay, like Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Manhattan Beach. The beach, the nightlife, and the restaurants make this area a great place to stop on your way north or south. I happen to live in this area so I may be partial!

  22. kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com) January 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I need to get myself over to this part of the world. I love taking road trips and California has tons of great ones. You photos are just beautiful.

    If I was Dorothy I would head there too 🙂

  23. Joe Ankenbauer January 11, 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    California is amazing! I have to agree with all your picks, but there are so many more! My plan this year is to do the El Camino Real. Should be awesome! Happy Travels!

  24. Francesca @onegrloneworld January 12, 2017 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    I had no idea you were from SoCal too! Haha. This list is amazing and makes me kind of homesick. I still haven’t been to Yosemite or the Redwoods!

  25. mills May 8, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Laguna Beach to Santa Monica – the luxe life is everywhere—pastel villas, yachts, and the requisite Ferrari dealer—while Huntington Beach delivers the simpler pleasures of 10 miles of beachfront.

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