16 Day SoCal Roadtrip

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Joshua Tree is a one-of-a-kind place worth a full day.

16 Day SoCal Roadtrip

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Los Angeles and fabulous Hollywood

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The Golden Coast of Southern California

The land of movie stars, celebrities, walks of fame and the Golden Coast, Southern California is known to the world around as a premier destination, but Southern California is so much more than just the Golden Coast, and in this itinerary we are going to take you inland as well to experience everything SoCal has to offer.
Prepared By:

Whitney James

Adventurer & Photographer

Southern California and the Golden Coast

Start / End

Los Angeles, California

States Covered
National parks

Joshua Tree

Total Distance

1,800Miles

Suggested Days

At least 16

Suggested Seasons

Year Round

#ThisIsMyRoute

Overview

From the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the stunning Eastern Desert, this route is perfect for those who want to experience the beauty of the open road and some of America’s most untamed areas. In other words, you will get to experience a true American road trip that includes the sun-soaked beaches, nightlife and celebrity-infused attractions of the land of Hollywood, intriguing desert towns and unimaginable scenery. You will begin by arriving at Los Angeles International Airport. We have no doubt that you are going to want to spend a few days in this city of 4 million. But…save it for the end of the trip, when you have a chance to unwind and relax after your epic SoCal road trip. On this trip many of the drives between towns will be relatively short, but when you get to the eastern part of the state, the drives will stretch out a bit, so be prepared for this. Through the course of this trip you be traveling through two distinct geographical climates.  This will be a trip of a lifetime, so get in, buckle up and shift that car into drive. You are about to experience some of the best the United States has to offer.

 

Preparation

We recommend approximately 16 days for this trip in order to experience each town and activity without feeling too rushed. You have a lot of miles to cover, so we suggest spending at minimum a day at each stop.  This itinerary is full of suggestions of some of the best places to fully experience the area, with overnight stops in the towns along the way. Plan your trip accordingly so that you experience the places that spark your interest the most. These areas can be crowded in the summertime, and for good reason. There are multiple events and the weather is beautiful. Wintertime is still beautiful in these places, however, you are more likely to run into wet weather and many of the outdoor experiences that you have in the nicer weather will not be available.. On the other hand, summertime temps in these places can often exceed 100 degrees, so take that into account as you decide your travel dates. The majority of this trip will be short drives between stops, but this is to allow you the most time at all the amazing places that you have traveled so far to see. Though this itinerary is a day to day guide, it is only a guide and you should feel free to adapt it however you want, taking as much time as you need to fully experience this wonderful part of the world.

Itinerary

LAND IN LOS ANGELES, HEAD TO SANTA BARBARA

1.5 HOURS/95 MILES

This is a shorter day for a good reason. We suggest arriving early into LA and renting your car from the airport and setting out north toward your first stop, Santa Barbara. It is the perfect town to get prepared and excited to start your road trip. With the Santa Ynez Mountains as dramatic backdrop, Santa Barbara has a great Downtown, with Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings that reflect the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. Upscale boutiques and restaurants offering local wines and seasonal fare line State Street. On a nearby hill, Mission Santa Barbara, founded in 1786, houses Franciscan friars and a museum. The best place to start your Santa Barbara Tour would of course be the Santa Barbara Visitor Center.

Best way to see Santa Barbara:
SELF-GUIDED WINE TOUR
Best place for a swim:
ARROYO BURRO BEACH
Best place to watch the sunset:
STEARNS WHARF
Best place to shop local:
THE FUNK ZONE
Best selfie:
MORETON BAY FIG TREE
Best place for dinner:
THE BOATHOUSE
SAN LUIS OBISPO

1 HOUR 39 MINUTES/94 MILES

From Santa Barbara you are going to head north on the 101 to one of California’s hidden gems, San Luis Opisbo. Nestled in the heart of the Central Coast Wine Country, SLO is the unofficial headquarters for the region, with towns like Los Osos, Morro Beach and Oceano within striking distance and well worth a visit. The Los Padres National Forest is juts outside of town and have numerous trails to explore the region. One can’t miss stop once you get into town is Bubblegum Alley. Yep, its an entire alley lined with chewed bubblegum.

Best hike:
BISHOP PEAK
Can’t miss it:
MISSION PLAZA
Visit a waterfall:
RESERVOIR CANYON
Best place to get a little history:
DALLIDET ADOBE AND GARDENS
Best place to see wildlife:
THE WHALE TRAIL
Best place for dinner:
NOVO RESTAURANT
SALINAS AND MONTEREY BAY

1.5 HOURS/67 MILES

As you continue north on Highway 1 toward Salinas, you have two stops that you have to make. The first stop is in the town of  Cayucos for breakfast at Bill and Carol’s Sea Shanty. The breakfasts here are as amazing at the name suggests. Your second stop will be in San Simeon and Hearst Castle. Built between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle was the joint concept of William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan. Listed as a a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark, the castle is well worth a visit.

Best hike:
FORT ORD NATIONAL MONUMENT
Best place for wildlife watching: 
SALINAS RIVER WILDLIFE REFUGE
Can’t miss it:
THE STEINBECK CENTER
Most eclectic shopping:
CANNERY ROW
Best place for a stroll:
FISHERMAN’S WHARF
Best place for seafood:
SEA HARBOR FISH MARKET
FRESNO

2.5 HOUR/132 MILES

Fresno is located in the beautiful San Joaquin Valley, near the golden coast, and is the jewel of California’s agricultural heartland, the Central Valley. Originally founded in 1872 as a stop on the Central Pacific Railroad, today Fresno is a metropolitan city with a population of around 500,000. Home to California State University, Fresno is a fun college town with a sophisticated air. One point of interest and a must visit is the Forestiere Underground Gardens. Created in the early 1900s, the gardens consist of Roman-catacombs-inspired subterranean passages and courtyards. Fresno is a multi-cultural city with a number of distinct neighborhoods that highlight its diversity.  One can’t miss park is the sprawling, trail-lined Woodward Park is home to the Shinzen Japanese Garden. Its a great place to stretch your legs.

Best place for a stroll:
THE BLOSSOM TRAIL
Must see:
ST GEORGE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH
Best place to shop local:
VINEYARD FARMERS MARKET
Best historical selfie:
FRESNO WATER TOWER
Can’t miss food:
MEDITERRANEAN GRILL AND CAFE
Best Local Beer:
TIOGA SEQUOIA BREWING COMPANY
THE BAKERSFIELD SOUND

2 HOURS/110 MILES

Located on the banks of the Kern River, Bakersfield has an important place in the annals of American music. It all started in 1954 with Wynn Stewart. Known as the Bakersfield Sound, it was the first genre of country music to be significantly influenced by rock and roll, and as a result, the first to rely heavily on electric instrumentation and a defined backbeat The Bakersfield sound became one of the most popular and influential country genres of the 1960s, initiating a revival of honky-tonk music and influencing musical icons like Merle HaggardCreedence Clearwater Revival and the Grateful Dead. Bakersfield keeps that tradition close today with numerous honky-tonk bars and music festivals. In addition to the fantastic music scene, Bakersfield is a great outdoor town with numerous recreation opportunities located right outside of town in the Sequoia National Forest.

Best place for a hike:
BADGER GAP
Can’t miss it:
BUCK OWENS CRYSTAL PALACE
Best place to shop or farm local:
MURRAY FAMILY FARMS
Best place to see some wildlife:
CALIFORNIA LIVING MUSEUM
Eat some Basque cuisine:
WOOL GROWERS
Go honky-tonkin:
RUSTIC RAIL
BARSTOW AND THE INLAND EMPIRE

2 HOURS 20 MINUTES/130 MILES

Once a small mining center and railroad town in California’s Mojave Desert, Barstow today is known as the commercial, cultural and economic hub of the Inland Empire. Barstow is a great starting point when touring the western Mojave Desert. Outdoor explorers, amateur geologists and hikers enjoy nearby Rainbow Basin and Owl Canyon CampgroundAfton Canyon, and the beautiful Kelso Dunes. Fancy a trip into the past? Check out the Calico Early Man Site,the historic Harvey House Depot, or the Calico Ghost Town, a restored silver mining town. Ever thought about exploring an abandoned and haunted water park in the middle of the desert? Then check out, Lake Dolores.  After all your outdoor adventures, head to Barstow Station. Family owned and operated since 1973, it’s a great place to stock up on supplies.

Best place for a hike:
CASTLE MOUNTAINS
Best photo op:
THE GIANT FIRE HELMET
Best museum:
ROUTE 66 MUSEUM
Best Americana throwback:
SKYLINE DRIVE-IN MOVIE THEATER
Can’t miss it:
MAIN STREET MURALS
Best taco in town:
LOLA’S KITCHEN
NEEDLES

2 HOURS/117 MILES

Named for the nearby pointed mountain peaks, Needles was founded in 1883 to support the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The city’s location along the Western bank of the Colorado River, which serves as the California/Arizona border, was once its major draw. As in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, it was an important stopping point for travelers entering the golden coast of California in search of opportunity during the Dust Bowl era. Today, Needles is an eclectic little desert town straddling the gap between history and the future. The first thing we would recommend doing when you get into Needles is to the Pirate Cove Resort. It’s a great place to cool off after your road trip through the desert.

Best place for wildlife:
HAVASU WILDLIFE REFUGE
Can’t miss it:
MYSTIC MAZE
Best place to get some jerky:
GUS’ REALLY GOOD JERKY
Best way to experience the desert:
DEAD MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS AREA
Best historical experience:
EL GARCES TRAIN STATION

Can’t miss dinner:
THE RIVERFRONT CAFE
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK AND THE COACHELLA VALLEY

3 HOURS/160 MILES

You may have heard the Coachella because of the international music festival that takes place here every year, but there is so much more to this remarkable area. The first is of course Joshua Tree National Park. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, this is a one-of-a-kind place that is well worth a full day’s visit. When you get to Coachella, get a room at the Turtle Back Mesa.  After that, head to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. It’s well worth a visit to this golden coast location.

Best outdoor experience:
TAHQUITZ CANYON
Can’t miss it:
CABOT’S PUEBLO MUSEUM
Best place for a stroll:
OLD TOWN LA QUINTA
Best photo op:
PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
Best chance to see a ghost:
PALM SPRINGS GHOST TOUR
Best dining experience:
BIRBA
THROUGH THE SALTON SEA TO SAN DIEGO

3 HOURS 15 MINUTES/153 MILES

Today you heading to the Pacific Ocean, but before you do, there is one body of water that you need to see. The Salton Sea was formed between 1905 and 1907 when the Colorado River burst through poorly built irrigation controls south of Yuma, Arizona. Almost the entire flow of the river filled the Salton Basin for more than a year, inundating communities, farms and the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. In its heyday, the Salton Sea was a getaway for celebrities and the wealthy, but as the lake started to dry up, the crowds left and it now exists as a ghost town. The best place to stop to understand this geographical history would be the Salton Sea Visitor’s Center. If you are interested in touring a winery in southern California’s golden coast, you should stop in Temecula, the only known winery area in Southern California. Once you arrive in San Diego, we recommend staying overnight near the Gaslamp district or right by the Pacific Ocean. 

Best place for breakfast:
FARM OF PALM SPINGS
Best kept secret:
TEMECULA VINEYARDS
Best ghostly experience:
THE WHALEY HOUSE
Go for an ocean swim:
LA JOLLA BEACH
Can’t miss it:
SUNSET CLIFFS NATURAL PARK
Treat yourself in San Diego:
THE GASLAMP QUARTER
THROUGH THE SALTON SEA TO SAN DIEGO

2.5 HOURS/140 MILES

Welcome to San Diego. There is so much to do in this town, that it would hard to cover here, so what we would recommend is to start your day at the San Diego Visitor’s Center. They will have everything you need to get the most out of your stay on the golden coast.

Best place for breakfast:
BREAKFAST REPUBLIC
Can’t Miss it
SAN DIEGO ZOO
Best beach town:
CARLSBAD
Tour an aircraft Carrier
USS MIDWAY MUSEUM
Best Fish Taco:
TACO SURF TACO SHOP
Best kept secret:
THE SEALS AT LA JOLLA COVE
SAN DIEGO TO SANTA MONICA

3 HOURS/150 MILES

 Today’s priority? Just enjoy the beautiful southern California coast. With charming, golden coast, beach towns to visit like Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica, this won’t be difficult.  The first thing you are going to need to do though is get breakfast. Head to Swami’s Cafe in Carlsbad for the best breakfast west of the Mississippi. Then, take Interstate 5 north along the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Los Angeles. This scenic drive will give you the feeling and vibe of Southern California, with the lush vegetation along the coast and the crazy traffic on the freeways: two things that definitely characterize it.  Stop in Oceanside for a quick walk along the coast, then take Hwy 1 past San Clemente, to your stop for the night in Santa Monica.

Best viewpoints on the coast:
TORREY PINES STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Best place to shop:
FASHION ISLAND-NEWPORT BEACH
Can’t Miss it:
VENICE BEACH
Best place for a stroll:
SANTA MONICA PIER
Best Taco:
CASA MARTIN
Best place to stay:
CASA DEL MAR
LOS ANGELES AND FABULOUS HOLLYWOOD

1.5 HOURS/50 MILES

In the morning, you might consider a quick run along the golden coast before heading to Los Angeles to see the world famous Universal Studios, where classic films and television shows are brought to vivid life around you, and you might even run into some movie stars. In the evening, check out some iconic Hollywood locations, such as the Kodak Theater and the Walk of Fame, where celebrities have been honored for decades with their names imprinted on glossy stone stars embedded in the sidewalk. During the evening, take Sunset Boulevard into Beverly Hills, then follow this scenic drive head back to Santa Monica.

Best photo op:
THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN FROM CANYON LAKE DRIVE
Best place to see a celebrity:
THE HOLLYWOOD ROOSEVELT
Can’t Miss it:
RODEO DRIVE
Best place for a stroll:
EL PUEBLO DE LOS ANGELES
Best local tradition:
IN-N-OUT BURGER
Best place to shop:
THE GROVE

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