California is an incredible state to visit, especially if you’re planning a road trip! It’s the kind of place that has a heap of epic places to see, stunning beaches, the most incredible hikes and beautiful national parks. That’s even before we get into discussing San Francisco or Los Angeles, too. Truth be told, there’s a heap of epic places to visit in California and, like lots of states in the US, it’s easiest to do this via a road trip.
You see, for me, California is king when it comes to diversity. Not only does is have deserts, vast mountain ranges, ridges, coastlines and epic cities that’ll take years to explore. It can all get a bit bamboozling, especially when you’re on a time frame before your flight home.
This is exactly why I wanted to share some of my favourite and epic places to visit in California on your very own road trip. Now, I’ve tried to include a fair few from all across the state, too. This is so you can use these stops as your anchor points to explore the wider area and explore even more.
Anyway, I’m rambling on…
Use the map below by swiping left to right
If you’re planning a road trip just on the beautiful west coast, or a bigger US Road trip across the country, make sure you take in some of these beautiful places to see. There really are so many epic places to visit in California.
1.) Explore Los Angeles
Los Angeles is one of the west coast’s most sprawling cities, with heaps to do outside of just seeing the Hollywood Sign and Beverley Hills.
Take a wander to the Getty Centre and discover some incredible artistic stories, take a journey to the Griffith Observatory or dive right into IXLB for, arguably, the best Dim Sum in all of California. It’s a great city to visit, even if it’s a pain to get around with all the traffic.
2.) Enjoy a Balloon Ride over Riverside County
This inland city is away from the hustle and bustle of LA but still has some great sites to see. Oh, and lots of tipples, too!
Famed for its delicious wine, this region has become well known for its award-winning varieties, including the delicious selection from Oak Mountain Winery.
Book something extra special like a hot-air balloon ride and take in the view of the vineyard below. This is a great way to watch the sunset and it’s totally one of the epic places to visit in California to do this. Though be warned, weather can cancel your flight at a moments notice.
3.) Discover the old town in San Diego
Make sure you make a stop at the old town of San Diego, with its historic state park that dates back to a few hundred years.
Yup, it’s that old.
Don’t forget to visit the Cabrillo National Monument and watch a glorious sunset at (the aptly named) Sunset Cliffs.
For a great place to stay, make sure you check out The Horton Grand Hotel which has snuggly fireplaces in the bedrooms, too.
Oh and make sure to grab some tasty waffles at The Cottage, La Jolla. You’ll leave stuffed.
4.) Find Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain has to be seen to be believed.
Covering a hill within the dusty Colorado Desert, this unique place was created by Leonard Knight.
It’s totally surreal and easily one of the epic places to visit in California that’s totally unique.
5.) Spot Calico Ghost Town
Visiting Calico Ghost Town is a great place to rest after a long drive.
Wander around the town itself, take a short tour of the underground mine and small craft stores.
Created out of an old mine town, Calico Ghost town is a unique little attraction that’s worth a visit. See more our visit to Calico Ghost Town, right here.
It’s one of the epic places to visit in California and really easy to visit on a road trip. We ended up spending a few hours here on our drive from Death Valley to Los Angeles.
6.) Drive across Route 66
Although Route 66 isn’t shown on modern-day maps, you can still easily follow the Route 66 route by travelling between Needles (in the east), to Amboy and on towards Barstow and finally Santa Monica.
You can also follow parts of Route 66 through various states too, which is great if you’re planning a longer USA road trip like this one, too. It really is one of the epic places to visit in California if you’re already heading eastwards, away from the coast.
7.) Visit Death Valley
Perched in the east of California, Death Valley really does live up to its name; especially as it’s one of the hottest places in the whole world.
Make sure to pack plenty of fluids, lots of supplies and to always act responsibly in this harsh environment.
Now, if you’re feeling brave, head out onto the dunes but always stay in sight of your car. No one wants a thirsty and sunburnt explorer!
8.) Explore the impressive Sequoia National Park
Known for its incredibly huge sequoia trees, Sequoia National Park is one of the epic places to visit in California whilst on a wider road trip.
Head over to Moro Rock for some beautiful views across the park and head to Ol’ Buckaroo for a gigantic, all-American burger. I swear, the portions are so much bigger in the US than in Europe.
9.) Hike in Yosemite
Yosemite is, arguably, one of the USA’s most iconic National Parks and one of the epic places to visit in California whilst travelling through the region.
Head over to Glacier Point, Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley that offers some incredible views.
If you’re considering hiking, make sure to plan well in advance and always listen to local advice.
You’ll love it.
10.) Drive the Big Sur
Considered one of the prettiest coastal routes in the world, Big Sur is a beautiful area to discover California’s unspoilt coastline. I loved it here!
What makes this place extra special is the towering mountains that start immediately from the coast, with the tallest being Cone Mountain that rises well above 5,000 feet (and only 3 miles from the ocean).
It really is one of the epic places to visit in California if you’re driving the coastal routes.
11.) Rent a boat in Monterey
This relatively small coastal city is the perfect place to spend a day, or two, to give your eyes a rest from driving and experience a half-day tour of the shoreline by boat.
Don’t forget to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Jazz Festival that happens every year.
12.) Explore the city life of San Francisco
San Francisco is, in my opinion, one of the best US cities to visit.
With so much history, an immersive cultural scene and beautiful landscapes, it’s a great place to spend a good few days (or longer). Park up your car and explore the city by foot (and public transport). It really is one of the epic places to visit in California.
Oh, and make sure to visit Alcatraz and these other free sites to see, too.
13.) Explore Muir Woods
Just over Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Muir Woods is a great little stop to discover some of the natural beauty of the more northerly parts of the California coastline.
Make sure you take your hiking boots and head out deeper into the park itself, I guarantee you’ll love it! Plus, like a said, you can easily visit here for an afternoon or early morning hike from San Francisco itself.
It’s certainly one of the epic places to visit in California, that’s just to easy to visit when in the city.
14.) Have a tipple in Napa Valley
Napa Valley is considered one of the best wine and foody regions in all the world.
Take a drive to this beautiful region, stop off at some wineries and make sure you take a pit stop in one of the 400, or so, wineries.
A favourite to visit has to be Freemark Abbey Winery, who also serve some delicious meals too. It’s one of the epic places to visit in California if you love wine.
For a totally indulgent stay, make sure to rest up at Meadowood which has two award-winning restaurants. Just make sure to have a designated driver, no one likes a drunk driver!
15.) Explore Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a very special place.
In the winter months, head over to ski and snow-shoe hike in and around Lake Tahoe, whilst in the summer make sure you rent a boat and discover the peaceful charm of this gorgeous place.
Just pack the sunscreen, I left looking like the colour of a tomato, even after a few hours here.
16.) Visit Redwood National and State Parks
Perched in the north of California, Redwood National and State Park is one gorgeous region to see.
Spanning thousands of square hectares, this incredible place is a World Heritage Site that is now heavily protected for us and future generations.
Make sure to visit the coastline of the parks too, you might even spot some Pacific Grey Whales that frequent this area. it’s easily one of the epic places to visit in California when you’re in this area of the state.