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Ventura Beach Pier on the coast of Ventura, California

The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary

With a multitude of beautiful landscapes, numerous historic landmarks and diverse, multi-cultural culinary scenes, there really is so much to experience in the third-largest state in the United States. And what better way to experience a state known for its raw beauty and great outdoors than with a coastal road trip? As Al Jardine of the Beach Boys perfectly put it, “I love driving; driving along the California coastline is the best drive in the world.”

Stand-up paddle boarding on South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, South Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination that combines the wonders of nature with fun for both adults and families alike. From skiing, snowboarding or tubing at Heavenly Mountain, to boating, kayaking or water skiing on the lake, to hiking at Rubicon Trail and taking in the 360-degree views, to fun and games at the many casinos in town, South Lake Tahoe really has something to offer everyone.

Where to stay:

What to eat:

  • Enjoy a lakeside meal at Riva Grill.
  • After a long day on the Lake or the mountain, head to Base Camp Pizza for a delicious meal and upbeat atmosphere.

What to see:

California State Capitol building in Sacramento, California

Sacramento

For those interested in visiting the impressive historic sites, definitely check out Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Fun fact: the buildings here were built at the beginning of the Gold Rush! And for all the animal lovers out there, the Sacramento Zoo is a fun activity for all ages. Home to nearly 400 animals from all across the globe the Sacramento Zoo focuses on education, recreation and conservation. All in all, with its growing art scene, beautiful hotels and a thriving food and bar scene, Sacramento has really come into its own as a true travel destination.

Where to stay:

What to eat:

  • For delicious crispy fried chicken and other comfort foods, South’s is the place to go.
  • The home-made cakes, cookies, bread & pastries at Freeport Bakery will delight your taste buds.

What to see:

  • Tour the California State Capitol and experience the state’s rich history as well as its current active government buildings.
  • Spend the afternoon sailing the Sacramento Delta where there is no shortage of beautiful scenery.
Morro Rock, the ancient volcanic mound in Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay

Situated halfway between Los Angeles and Sacramento, Morro Bay is a charming seaside village that epitomizes the California coast. With landmarks like Morro Rock, Morro Bay State Park and Estuary Nature center, this quaint town is chock full of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. The food is also just as Instagram-worthy, with Morro Bay being known for its oysters and fresh seafood that often comes along with a view of the water at numerous award-winning restaurants.

Where to stay:

What to eat:

What to see:

  • Catch a wave or watch the surfers at Morro Rock.
  • Drive just 40 kilometers north to San Simeon to see hundreds of Elephant Seals.
The United Stories mobile studio car in the vineyards of Santa Maria, California

Santa Maria

With over 30 tasting rooms and a dozen beaches in the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Maria is the perfect pit stop for some rest and relaxation. While famous for its wines and vineyards, Santa Maria is also known as a hotspot for barbecue in California. So get ready to pair a delicious Santa Maria Pinot Noir with ribs or brisket. This area doesn’t stop with just a culinary experience. In typical California style, there are endless activities both outdoor and indoor to enjoy. Waller Park and Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes offer beautiful dunes and outdoor fun, while galleries, museums and antiquing are popular indoor offerings.

Where to stay:

What to eat:

What to see:

Ventura Harbor Village in Ventura, California

Ventura

Just south of Santa Barbara and north of Malibu lies the quintessential surf town of Ventura, which offers a relaxed, small-town beach vibe in a more affordable package than its neighbors. This picturesque town has started to stand out on its own, becoming known for its stretched coastlines of beaches that attract both skilled and beginning surfers. Another must-see just off the coast is the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary, often referred to as the Galapagos of North America.

Where to stay:

What to eat:

  • Sample oysters barbecued three ways from the Jolly Oyster’s beachside food shack, where you can either ‘shuck your own’ or indulge in their delicious food menu.
  • Head downtown to Ventura’s Taco District and enjoy delicious Mexican food, all within walking distance from one another.

What to see:

View over the skyline of Pasadena, California

Pasadena

As one of the more historic and quaint suburbs of Los Angeles, most know Pasadena for the iconic Rose Bowl Parade on New Years’ Day or the setting for 1991 classic film Father of the Bride. But Pasadena is way more of a cultural and artistic center in Los Angeles than just a suburb, so it’s the perfect final stop to end the road trip. Step into the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Gardens and meander through the art collections and sixteen themed gardens that span nearly 50 hectares and feature over 15,000 unique varieties of plants. In addition to the Huntington Library, Norton Simon Museum offers a vast range of European art, sculptures and outdoor gardens to enjoy. For the architecture enthusiasts, venture over to The Gamble House, which has been called one of the “10 homes that changed America.”

Where to stay:

What to eat:

  • Catch the CoolHaus Ice Cream truck for delicious scoops and ice cream sandwiches.
  • The authentic Southeast Asian cuisine at Bone Kettle is mouth-watering, and don’t miss out on the Bone Marrow Ramen. 

What to see: