With a coastline that stretches over 800 miles, California offers some of the best road trips in the United States. Road trips along this drive provide views of the rugged coastline, seaside forests, and Southern California’s vibrant beach cities. While there’s no wrong or right way to travel California’s coast, you’ll definitely want to check out these must-do west coast road trips.
San Diego to Los Angeles
For those wanting to explore Southern California, San Diego is the perfect spot to begin. Situated at the southern end of the state, San Diego is home to beautiful beaches, cultural attractions, and many historical sites. Once in San Diego, it’s worth taking a trip to the historic Old Town neighborhood, which is considered the birthplace of California. Balboa Park is also a must-see. This urban park sprawls over 1,200 acres just north of downtown San Diego. It has 17 museums and cultural institutions, beautiful natural spaces, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Heading north along the coast will take you to the charming beach towns of Encinitas and Carlsbad in northern San Diego. A great stop-off point once you reach Orange County is Dana Point, which is known as the “Whale Capital of the West.” This area offers excellent whale-watching opportunities throughout the year. If you’d prefer to explore Dana Point on land, the harbor is a great spot for waterfront dining, shopping, and enjoying views of the coast.
Less than 10 miles north is Laguna Beach, another must-see destination. This seaside resort town is known for its scenic beaches, an eclectic art scene, and vintage boutiques. To really experience Laguna Beach’s art scene, be sure to check out the annual Sawdust Festival, which brings together local artists and over 200,000 visitors each year. After heading north from Laguna Beach, Los Angeles is only about an hour away.
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
From outdoor recreation to touring the heart of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles offers a busy itinerary. Be sure to head over to Venice Beach, which is known for attracting famous poets, artists, and musicians with its bohemian spirit. Rodeo Drive is also worth the trip, if only for the prime people watching. For those who prefer historical sites, Olvera Street in Downtown L.A. is a must-see. This historic district is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city, and it’s a great spot for traditional Mexican food.
Before leaving Los Angeles County, hop on the Coast Highway and cruise through Malibu for some stunning coastal scenery. From Malibu, the drive to Santa Barbara is just over an hour and some of it offers beautiful views of the coast and rolling hills. The charming town of Ventura is a great halfway point to refuel, eat, and explore the coast.