10 Best Southern California Road Trips to Soothe the Road Tripping Soul

Here is a list of some of the best Southern California Road Trips not to miss when visiting this part of the country. This post is full of links to help you in your planning process to provide more details about each of these road trip destinations.

Southern California is one of the best places in the country for a road trip. With its diverse landscapes, pleasant climate, and endless sunshine, it offers some of the most breathtaking scenery and exciting adventures for travelers. From the famous Pacific Coast Highway to the rugged deserts and stunning mountains, Southern California road trips are perfect for those seeking adventure, relaxation, or a combination of both. With so many destinations to choose from, you can embark on an unforgettable journey through charming towns, beautiful beaches, national parks, and more. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and hit the road to experience the best Southern California has to offer. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, these road trips are sure to leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

Joshua Tree National Park

Up first is Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua trees are a unique species of tree that are found primarily in the Mojave Desert, including the National Park. They are known for their distinctive, spiky branches that extend from a thick, fibrous trunk, and their ability to thrive in the harsh desert environment. What makes Joshua trees even more unique is that they are not actually trees, but rather a type of yucca plant. They can live for hundreds of years, and their height and shape vary depending on their location and growing conditions. Joshua Tree National park is located east of Los Angeles, while driving through the park, you’ll witness stunning vistas of rugged mountains, twisted rock formations, and a starry night sky. There are also many opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing, making Joshua Tree an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Additionally, the park is easily accessible by car and is a relatively short drive from many major cities in Southern California, making it a great weekend getaway or day trip.

Southern California Road Trips from San Diego to Palm Springs

Southern California Road Trips from San Diego to Palm Springs

A road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs through the Anza-Borrego Desert is a journey through some of Southern California’s most stunning and diverse landscapes. Beginning in San Diego, you’ll head east toward the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where you’ll encounter towering palm trees, sweeping desert vistas, and rugged mountains. The park is home to a variety of unique flora and fauna, including bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and ocotillo plants. As you continue on toward Palm Springs, you’ll pass through charming towns like Borrego Springs, where you can stop for a bite to eat or explore the local art scene. As you near Palm Springs, the landscape begins to shift to lush palm oases and towering mountains, creating a stunning backdrop for your journey. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure, scenic vistas, or just a chance to get away from it all, a road trip through the Anza-Borrego Desert is an unforgettable experience.

For an even more scenic and adventurous route from San Diego to Palm Springs, consider taking Highway 74 through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. This winding road takes you through stunning mountain landscapes and offers stupendous views of the Coachella Valley below. Along the way, you’ll pass through charming mountain towns like Idyllwild, where you can stop for a hike or enjoy a meal in a local restaurant. The journey along Highway 74 can be challenging, with steep grades and hairpin turns, but the spectacular views and unique landscape make it well worth the effort. Whether you choose to take the more direct route through the Anza-Borrego Desert or the winding mountain road of Highway 74, a road trip from San Diego to Palm Springs is a journey you won’t soon forget.

Temecula Wine Country

Temecula Winery aerial photo by: Mike of MikesRoadTrip.com

A Temecula Wine Country road trip is a perfect way to explore the beautiful vineyards and rolling hills of Southern California. Located just a short drive from both San Diego and Los Angeles, Temecula Valley Wine Country is home to over 40 wineries that produce a wide range of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. A road trip through this area allows you to savor delicious wines, enjoy beautiful scenery, and explore the charming towns of Temecula and Murrieta. Along the way, you can visit wineries like Wilson Creek Winery, Ponte Winery, and South Coast Winery, all of which offer tastings, tours, and other experiences. If you have an opportunity, don’t miss a hot air balloon ride. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast or just looking for a fun and relaxing weekend getaway, a Temecula Wine Country road trip is a must-do experience in Southern California.

Malibu to Santa Barbara is a Quintessential Southern California Road Trip

Santa Barbara coastal road

The drive from Malibu to Santa Barbara is a quintessential Southern California experience. Beginning in Malibu, you’ll follow the stunning Pacific Coast Highway north along the coast, passing by some of the most picturesque beaches and coastal towns in the region. The drive takes you through the rugged Santa Monica Mountains and offers incredible views of the ocean and coastline. Along the way, you can stop at iconic spots like Zuma Beach, Point Dume State Beach, and El Matador State Beach to take a stroll on the sand or snap some photos. As you continue north, you’ll pass through the charming beach town of Carpinteria and the historic city of Ventura before arriving in Santa Barbara, known for its Spanish-style architecture, beautiful beaches, and vibrant arts scene. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, the Malibu to Santa Barbara road trip offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, culture, and history that captures the essence of Southern California.

Southern California Road Trips to Death Valley National Park

A road trip to Death Valley National Park is a thrilling adventure into the heart of the California desert. Located in the eastern part of the state, Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America, with fascinating natural features like towering sand dunes, colorful rock formations, and salt flats. The park is easily accessible from Southern California, with several routes to choose from depending on your starting point. Whether you begin in Los Angeles, San Diego, or Las Vegas, the journey to Death Valley takes you through vast expanses of desert and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Along the way, you can stop at unique roadside attractions like the Amargosa Opera House or Rhyolite Ghost Town, or hike through hidden canyons and valleys. A road trip to Death Valley National Park is a true bucket-list experience for any adventurer looking to explore the wild and beautiful landscapes of Southern California.

Lake Arrowhead to Big Bear

Southern California road trips to Big Bear Lake

A Southern California road trip to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear is a perfect way to escape the city and experience the natural beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains. Beginning in the charming town of Lake Arrowhead, you’ll wind your way up scenic mountain roads and through dense forests of pine and oak trees. As you climb in elevation, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, including the sparkling waters of Lake Arrowhead. Continuing on to Big Bear Lake, you’ll find a mountain resort town surrounded by the rugged San Bernardino National Forest. There, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and skiing in the winter months. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or an action-packed adventure, a Southern California road trip to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Ojai to Santa Barbara

Ojai to Santa Barbara is a must-drive southern california road trip

A road trip from Ojai to Santa Barbara is a picturesque journey through some of the most stunning landscapes in Southern California. Beginning in the charming town of Ojai, you’ll travel north on Highway 33 through the Los Padres National Forest, passing by towering mountains, rolling hills, and scenic vistas. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to stop and explore charming small towns like Meiners Oaks and Wheeler Springs, or hike through beautiful parks and natural reserves. As you approach Santa Barbara, the road winds down through the foothills and into the city, offering breathtaking views of the ocean and Channel Islands. Once in Santa Barbara, you’ll find a vibrant coastal town known for its Spanish-style architecture, pristine beaches, and bustling downtown area. Whether you’re a nature lover or a culture seeker, a road trip from Ojai to Santa Barbara offers a perfect blend of both, making it a must-do experience in Southern California.

Salton Sea

GMC Terrain at Salton Sea

A road trip to the Salton Sea is a unique and off-the-beaten-path experience that offers a glimpse into Southern California’s eclectic and quirky side. The Salton Sea is a massive, shallow saltwater lake that was accidentally created in the early 1900s when an irrigation canal breached and flooded the surrounding desert. Today, the Salton Sea is a popular spot for birdwatching, fishing, and water sports, as well as a hub for art and culture. One of the most iconic spots in the area is Salvation Mountain, a colorful and whimsical art installation created by the late Leonard Knight. Nearby, you’ll find Slab City, a community of artists, hippies, and off-the-grid enthusiasts who live in an abandoned military base. A road trip to the Salton Sea offers a chance to explore this fascinating and unique corner of Southern California, where you can soak in the natural beauty of the desert, discover hidden gems like Salvation Mountain, and experience a vibrant and creative subculture unlike anywhere else in the world.

Salvation Mountain aerial

Big Sur

Southern California road trips along Big Sur

Big Sur is one of the most awe-inspiring road trips you can take in Southern California. This rugged and wild stretch of coastline offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, towering redwood forests, and dramatic cliffs that drop into the sea. As you wind your way along the narrow roads, you’ll pass by some of the most iconic landmarks in the region, including Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach. Along the way, you can stop and explore idyllic towns such as Carmel-by-the-Sea and Cambria, or hike through wonderful state parks like Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park or Andrew Molera State Park. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or just a chance to soak in the natural beauty of one of the most scenic coastlines in the world, a road trip to Big Sur is an experience you’ll never forget.

luxury road trip from carmel to san simion

One of the highlights of a road trip down Big Sur is Hearst Castle, a magnificent estate built by the media mogul William Randolph Hearst in the early 1900s. The castle is a masterpiece of architecture and design, with lush gardens, lavish interiors, and an extensive art collection that includes works by some of the most celebrated artists of the time. A visit to Hearst Castle is a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of the rich and famous during the golden age of Hollywood, and a must-do experience on any road trip to Big Sur.

Antelope Valley

Antelope Valley is one of the top southern california road trips that should be on your list.

Another great Southern California road trip that takes you inland is a drive through the Antelope Valley. This high-desert region is located about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles and offers stunning natural beauty and unique attractions. This is also one of the best spring road trips in the state, you can see the breathtaking fields of California poppies in bloom at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, which is one of the largest poppy preserves in the state. You can also visit the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, which showcases the history and culture of the region’s Native American tribes. For aviation enthusiasts, the Edwards Air Force Base and NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center are located in the area and offer fascinating tours and exhibits. And for a quirky and offbeat stop, you can visit the nearby town of Lancaster to see the unique outdoor art installation known as the “Avenue of Flags” and the funky Bottle Tree Ranch. A road trip through the Antelope Valley is a unique and memorable way to experience the natural beauty and eclectic culture of Southern California.

Southern California road trips

From the stunning Pacific coastline to the rugged desert landscapes and awe-inspiring mountain ranges, Southern California is a road trip paradise. Whether you’re looking for breathtaking natural scenery, world-renowned attractions, or off-the-beaten-path adventures, there is a road trip destination in Southern California that will leave you feeling inspired and refreshed. From the iconic Highway 1 coastal drive to the quirky and eclectic stops of the Salton Sea, and from the serene vineyards of Temecula to the towering redwoods of Big Sur, Southern California offers something for every type of traveler. So pack your bags, hit the open road, and let Southern California’s diverse and enchanting landscapes take you on the road trip of a lifetime.

If you have any questions about any of these southern California road trips, leave a comment below. So, until next time, we’ll see ya on the road…

Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.