By Michele E. Buttelman
The Highway 1 Pacific Coast Highway road trip that passes through Big Sur on California’s Central Coast is perhaps the most famous scenic drive in the Golden State. But it’s not the only beautiful and unforgettable road trip in California by far.
Consider one of these five classic road trips, rich with magical scenery like pounding surf, rolling hills, waterfalls and plenty of wineries.
Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Length: 188 miles
Prime Seasons: Spring and Summer
The northeastern Shasta Cascade region reveals a lot of California’s best-kept secrets. Start in Redding and head up I-5 and drive past the 14,162-foot Mount Shasta; seeing it for the first time, John Muir once wrote, made his “blood turn to wine.”
While you’re in the area, don’t miss the spires at:
Castle Crags State Park,
20022 Castle Creek Road,
Castella, CA 96017
After viewing the dramatic 6,000-feet tall granite spires of the park, which are more than 170 million years old, head back to I-5 and head south on Highway 89, which is part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway and visit:
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park,
Burney, CA 96013
The park is home to the 129-foot, fern-draped Burney Falls. The popularity of these spectacular spring-fed falls means weekend access to the park in summer is often limited due to crowds of visitors. It’s best to visit during a weekday. Visit parks.ca.gov/?page_id=455.
Finish your trip at the bubbling mud pots and steaming geysers of:
Lassen Volcanic National Park,
Loomis Museum (Northwest Entrance)
29489 Lassen National Park Highway,
Shingletown, CA 96088
Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (Southwest Entrance)
21820 Lassen National Park Highway, Mineral, CA 96063
Most first-time visitors to the park begin by driving the 30-mile park highway. Begin your drive at the Northwest or Southwest entrance.
Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Bragg
Length: 175 miles
Prime Season: November through April
This stretch of the highway offers windswept beauty and dramatic ocean views.
It starts when you cross the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito and Marin County, where you’ll encounter the coastal hills and redwoods of:
Muir Woods National Monument,
1 Muir Woods Road,
Mill Valley, CA 94941
You will need parking reservations to visit at gomuirwoods.com. There is no cell phone service at the park.
Continue by the dramatic sea cliffs and remote beaches of:
Point Reyes National Seashore,
Bear Valley Visitor Center,
1 Bear Valley Road,
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
From there, cruise through the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s wine country.
Then explore the seemingly untouched beauty of the North Coast, from the craggy coastline at:
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands,
Point Arena, CA 95468
Visit the rugged terrain of:
Mendocino Headlands State Park,
1000 Brewery Gulch Road,
Mendocino, CA 95460
Be sure to visit the quaint, Victorian-style town of Mendocino.
Next, head north on Highway 1 for 20 minutes to Fort Bragg and explore:
MacKerricher State Park,
24100 Mackerricher Park Road,
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
At the park see seals, migrating whales (from November through April) and Glass Beach, which looks like it’s covered with jewels.
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Length: 90 miles
Prime Season: June through October
While scarred by recent fires this drive along forest roads offers a window into what the High Sierra looked like roughly a century ago, which means you’ll traverse a few dirt roads, too.
Start on Forest Road 81 near the town of North Fork, 45 miles northeast of Fresno and follow the route for about 90 miles.
Views include plenty of peaks, granite domes, and conifer forests; prime stops include Jesse Ross Cabin, which dates back to the 1860s and the 2,700-year-old Bull Buck Tree, one of the world’s oldest sequoia trees: Nelder Grove,
Sky Ranch Road,
Oakhurst, CA 93644
Highway 101 from Malibu to Lompoc
Length: 120 miles
Prime Season: Year-round
This stretch of Highway 101, which overlaps with parts of Highway 1, gives you a greatest-hits road trip of both beach and wine country.
Start in iconic Malibu, where the highway runs along the base of the rugged Santa Monica Mountains before passing through Oxnard, Ventura and idyllic Santa Barbara.
Look west, out over the water, for signs of Channel Islands National Park and walk in the sand on one of Santa Barbara’s local beaches, such as El Capitán, Refugio or Gaviota.
The highway then turns inland through rolling ranchlands, bound for Lompoc.
Most famous for its summer flower fields, Lompoc also is known for excellent Pinot Noir. You’ll find numerous wine tasting rooms along your route.
Beach-to-Desert Drive from San Diego
Length: 90 miles
Prime Seasons: Late Winter and Spring
Bounce from the coast to the mountains and then the desert in this scenery-packed trip across Southern California.
From the beaches of La Jolla or Del Mar, take State Road 56 east to Highway 67, which winds through rural Ramona, dotted with farm stands.
Then turn onto Highway 78 and into the Cuyamaca Mountains toward Julian, the mountain town known for its apple crops.
Reward yourself with a slice of pie at:
Julian Pie Company,
2225 Main St.,
Julian, CA 92036
Then ease back down the road’s twists and turns into the desert. Visit the 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:
200 Palm Canyon Drive,
Borrego Springs, CA 92004
The park is home to an explosive wildflower bloom every year, around February and March.
Borrego Springs is an International Dark Sky Community known for its epic stargazing.