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What are the most scenic drives in California?

California is a place of stunning beauty. It's full of breathtaking scenic drives waiting to be explored. Have you heard of the famous Pacific Coast Highway? It winds along the coast, offering views you'll never forget.

Not just that, there are also mountain roads that cut through national parks and wine country. No matter what you love, be it the Pacific Ocean, redwood forests, desert landscapes, or Sierra Nevada peaks, California has a drive for you. This guide will introduce you to the top 10 scenic drives in California. You'll find out about the best spots, charming towns, and unique activities along the routes.

The Iconic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1)

The Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway 1, is the most well-known road trip in California. It spans 656 miles along the state's coast. This drive gives you stunning views of the Pacific Ocean from start to finish.

The journey starts in southern California. You can travel at a leisurely pace over a few weeks. Along the way, you'll discover charming towns and beautiful spots.

Breathtaking Coastal Vistas

Driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, you'll see the dramatic cliffs and waves in Monterey. Then, you'll find yourself surrounded by stunning redwoods and the rugged Big Sur landscapes.

The journey then opens up to the vast Pacific Ocean on the horizon. Every mile on this drive is filled with incredible views.

Seaside Towns and Picturesque Stops

Don't miss stopping at the unique seaside towns along Highway 1. From quiet fishing spots to lively cities, these places show off local life. They are perfect for enjoying fresh seafood, shopping, and ocean gazing.

Finally, your drive reaches Leggett, California. But it doesn't have to end there. From here, you can choose to keep going north into Oregon on Highway 101.

Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway (Highway 395)

The Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, known as Highway 395, is like the mountain version of the Pacific Coast Highway. It's a 232-mile journey from Lone Pine to South Lake Tahoe. It showcases stunning landscapes, ancient forests, and sites of cultural and natural importance.

Lone Pine is a great start point, with Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park close by. You'll find charming towns along the way that reflect California's gold mining history.

Majestic Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

The Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway is a stunning drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Along Highway 395, you'll see towering peaks and beautiful landscapes. It's a sight to behold.

Historic Gold Mining Towns

Along the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, you'll encounter towns with a rich gold mining history. They show California's past and the story of the 49ers during the 1849 Gold Rush. You'll see old mining spots and well-preserved historic districts.

Route 66: From Santa Monica to The Mojave Desert

Did you know that Route 66 ends in Santa Monica, California? You can start your journey here and go as far east as you wish.

The trip in California starts in Santa Monica, and goes through Pasadena. It then takes you into the San Bernardino National Forest. After this, you'll drive through places like Daggett. Finally, you'll reach the Mojave Desert.

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Here, your adventure on Route 66 could end, or you could keep going into Arizona. This trip lets you see lots of cool diners, motels, and vintage stuff along the way.

Avenue of the Giants: Redwood Forest Splendor

The 32-mile Avenue of the Giants drive in Northern California is full of natural beauty. As you follow the road, you'll be surrounded by the impressive Redwood Forest. The ancient, tall trees create a stunning view that will take your breath away.

Towering Redwood Trees

Driving through this route, you'll notice the vast redwood trees. They stand tall for thousands of years. It feels like they're touching the sky. This makes the place feel like a sacred space. Walking among these trees is like visiting a different universe.

Charming Small Towns

As you journey through the Avenue of the Giants, you'll find adorable small towns. These towns are perfect for strolling and checking out unique items. They also offer a chance to see special places like the California Federation of Women's Club Groves. Architect Julia Morgan designed a unique fireplace there.

The actual drive is not long. Yet, the beauty of the Redwood Forest is worth going slow for. You can see the huge trees up close. Or, you can explore the towns. The Avenue of the Giants is essential for those who love nature in Northern California.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway

The Rim of the World Scenic Byway is a 117-mile route through the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. It starts in and heads into the heart of the mountains. You'll pass by beautiful spots like Big Bear Lake and other mountain towns.

San Bernardino Mountains

Get ready to see stunning views of the San Bernardino Mountains on the Scenic Byway. The mountains offer a beautiful backdrop for your drive. You'll see nature at its finest all around you.

Panoramic Views and Overlooks

Don't miss the Silverwood Lake Overlook, Lake Arrowhead, and the Keller Peak Fire Lookout. These spots offer breathtaking views of the mountains, valleys, and lakes. They showcase the beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains.

The Desert Drive: to Joshua Tree

The 290-mile desert drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is a top check-off for any nature lover. It brings you face-to-face with California's breath-taking arid sights. On the way, you'll see fields of wildflowers, stunning rock formations, canyons, and cacti.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Stopping at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a must. This wild desert is full of life, from big horn sheep to speedy roadrunners. You'll also get to see the famous Joshua trees. Walking its trails lets you see bright wildflowers in spring and the park's unique, rocky land.

Salvation Mountain and Salton Sea

Don't miss Salvation Mountain, close to Niland. It's a large, colorful artwork in the desert. The artist intended it to show the strength of human faith. Then, the drive by the Salton Sea, although not the prettiest, is interesting. The sea is slowly vanishing, leaving an unusual mark on the land.

Driving from San Diego to Joshua Tree, you can't help but be amazed by the desert's breathtaking sights. This journey is a great chance to get lost in the stunning but tough California desert.

What are the most scenic drives in California?

Northern California Wine Country

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are perfect for a road trip in Northern California. The trip starts and ends at . You will see some of the best vineyards and wineries in the country.

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You can also enjoy wine tastings. Don't forget to try the local food that goes well with these famous wines. If you have time, visit Vichy Springs, a historic hot springs resort on your way.

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley

Exploring Napa and Sonoma Valleys is amazing for anyone who loves wine. These areas are famous for their big vineyards and top wineries. They offer a unique chance to taste the Northern California.

Even if you're just visiting San Francisco, a trip to these valleys is a must. They are filled with beautiful landscapes and, of course, great wine.

National Park Drives: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon

California boasts stunning national parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. All three are in the amazing Sierra Nevada Mountains. A road trip there lets you see towering waterfalls and the giant sequoia trees.

Majestic Waterfalls and Giant Sequoias

Driving through these parks will leave you in awe. You'll see Yosemite's powerful waterfalls and the giant sequoia trees. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are home to these amazing sights. This trip is a chance to experience California's most beloved natural wonders.

Scenic Byways within the Parks

Don't forget to drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. It leads through the breath-taking Cedar Grove area. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you'll have amazing views. Plus, you can see the unique life that thrives in these parks.

The Mission Trail: Exploring California’s Spanish Missions

This road trip follows the path of Spanish explorers in California. You'll see 21 original Spanish missions, each with its California history. The entire California Missions Trail can be driven in a week. You'll learn a lot about California's past and see its beauty.

21 Historic Missions to Discover

Starting at San Juan Capistrano Mission and ending in Sonoma, you'll find beauty and history. Each mission shows how Spanish settlers and native people lived together. These sites are a big part of California history.

Diners and Cozy Inns Along the Way

There are also cute diners and cozy inns on your trip. They make your journey feel special. You can enjoy a good meal or a nice place to stay. You'll get a taste of California's warm welcome and history.

California Missions Trail

Gold Country (Highway 49)

Gold Country was named after the people who came here in 1849 for the Gold Rush. This road trip goes from Oakhurst to Chilcoot-Vinton. You'll learn about the state's rich mining history and culture. You'll also see the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain scenery along the 295-mile journey.

Mining History and Culture

Driving through Tahoe National Forest is a highlight. You can also explore Columbia State Historic Park. And don't miss trying gold mining at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. These places let you dive into the gold rush era. You can experience the history and traditions of that time.

Sierra Nevada Mountain Scenery

Highway 49 has amazing views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. You'll see tall peaks, green forests, waterfalls, and lakes. This route is known for its natural beauty. It's a perfect spot for hiking, camping, or just enjoying from your car. The Gold Country trip will show you unforgettable views of California.

Other Notable California Road Trips

California isn't short on great road trips. Besides the 10 we've talked about, you'll find many other exciting journeys. These include the Trinity Scenic Byway, Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway, and Carson Pass Scenic Byway. You can also visit River Road/Route 160, Skyline Boulevard/Route 35, and many more.

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Also, don't miss the California part of Route 66. It goes from Needles to Barstow. This part of the journey is full of nostalgia and the charm of this historic American road.

Whether you want to see beautiful mountains, calm deserts, or dive into California's story, there's a road trip for you in this state. Each trip is unique, offering different views, cultures, and memories to discover.

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