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If you had to choose only one of the 50 states for an iconic road trip, California would be it. Known for road tripping, California’s byways and highways wind through dramatic scenery and connect some of the biggest cultural hubs in the United States.

From untouched and untamed nature to the concrete jungle of LA, California is a perfect summary of the best of the USA. As always, you’ll need strategic overnight bases during your trip. Book hotels in the following cities along your way.

San Diego

There’s no better place to start a California road trip than San Diego, where you can start at the southern end of the state and work your way north. With its beautiful parklands and beaches, affordable hotels, and near-perfect weather all year round, San Diego is the sum of what travelers expect from California.

Be sure to visit the seals at La Jolla Cove and take in the view at the Cabrillo National Monument. With the city’s 17 miles of coastline, you should dedicate at least one day for the beach. If you have extra time, Balboa Park is America’s biggest urban cultural park.

Anaheim

An hour and a half from San Diego, Anaheim is home to the happiest place on earth. This is one of the most visited destinations in California, with Disneyland as the city’s crown jewel.

There are trendy outdoor shopping malls, themed hotels, and a very busy convention center. If you’re traveling on a budget, you should consider traveling during less busy times of year and avoid school holidays and international breaks.

Los Angeles

It’s a very quick drive to Los Angeles from Anaheim. It’s just half an hour depending on traffic and the time of day, and it wouldn’t be a visit to California without including LA.

Hollywood is one of the main draws, with its iconic Walk of Fame. You can pose with wax celebs at Madame Tussauds or hike to the Hollywood Sign. Sunset Boulevard is central to the LA cultural experience, and it’s where travelers will find restaurants, clubs, shops, and famous hotels.

If you’re looking to catch a TV crew in action, head to Downtown LA. You should also consider taking in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Malibu, along with a sporting game.

Los Angeles Streets RF

San Jose

The quickest route to San Jose takes four hours, but we highly recommend taking the scenic highway along the coast, which will extend the drive to 5.5 hours.

There’s a lot to see along the way, including Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Pfeiffer Big Sur National Park, and the elephant seals at Monterey. Stop here before proceeding further north through Palo Alto and San Francisco. San Jose is a hub for high-tech businesses, though the town is a great overnight stop with historic charm, a thriving arts and music scene, theatres, galleries, chic restaurants, and cheap hotels.

California is a fantastic option for those considering an American road trip. Base yourself in the above cities and enjoy your stay!

OUR FAVORITE CALIFORNIA GUIDES: CLICK PHOTO TO LOOK INSIDE ↓

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: San Diego CC by Bill Gracey.

    26 Comments

    • It’s a great overnight stop to include along the way. Enjoy your time in Cali!

  1. Great list of places to halt during the road trip. I have faced this problem of choosing stay places during road trips in Europe. Good to have one handy when I plan a trip through these places… hopefully some day in future.

    • Thanks Indrani – yes, we’ve faced the same, the most difficult question is always figuring out where along the road is best to stay :) Hope you have the chance to make it to California some time :)

  2. Very helpful list for a newbie traveler like me. I’ll be sure this will be helpful when i wander around California soon.

    • Glad we could help :) Have a great trip to California!

  3. That’s cool, so far I have only seen Highway Number 1 in California but not been south of L.A. Thanks for sharing, will add it to my never-ending road trip list :)

    • Definitely a lot more to see; great excuse for a return trip! :)

  4. You have me convinced California is for sure the best place for a road trip. Actually my brother did a road trip with his girlfriend there last year and I must admit I was so jealous of it!

    • One of the best roadtrip destinations in the world! Hope you have the chance to plan a drive soon :)

  5. Great post but very touristy spots! I personally would prefer more nature and outdoors for road trips but Anaheim hasn’t Disney and I couldn’t pass that up either!

    • I usually lean more towards off the beaten path travel too, but found when I was in California that the touristy stuff drew me in too :D I’m a huge Disney fan so Anaheim has been somewhat of a childhood fantasy come true lol!

  6. We did the PCH road trip the other way, San Francisco down to San Diego. We loved it especially San Diego. Would love to go back and spend more time exploring the places we quickly passed through.

    • Equally as epic doing the trip in reverse too :) I’m the same, I feel like we brushed over so many spots along the way too quickly, so would love to head back and spend some more time exploring the places inbetween the main hubs :) Happy travels!

  7. I spent much time in these places as a student, except Los Angeles, and loved them, including San Jose :)

    San Diego is my favourite and guess what I was introduced to Hipmunk by a friend there. Such serendipity…

    • Awesome Siddhartha! What a cool place to base yourself while studying – such an energetic vibe – San Diego is my favorite too :) Crazy that you were introduced to Hipmunk there – we love the search engine, really small world!

  8. Good road trip. I have driven up and down mostly between LA and San Diego. Need to go further north.

    • One of the best :D! Hope you have the chance to explore further north soon :)

  9. There’s nothing like a California road trip! I’m from California and have done the drive up and down the coast dozens of times. The cities you suggested stopping in are great! I would also suggest going even further north to San Francisco!

    • Amen to that! Yes, definitely San Fran for those who have the time – we did the whole coastline up to Alaska over 3 months and had a blast – I would love to get back!

    • Absolutely :) Happy travels!

  10. I live in Sweden and I dream of visiting California during the summer (that might be all year, I’m not sure). There is so much I’d like to see: The architecture, theme parks, LA and much, much more. I’m thinking of renting a car and drive along the coast and see where I land. Great post btw ?

    • Renting a car is a great way to explore the State – the coastal drive is one of the most scenic highways / best roadtrips in the world!

      I hope you have the chance to travel soon :)

  11. Thank you for helping me appreciate more the state I live in.

    • You’re welcome Ray, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post :)

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