When somebody confesses how boring it is to drive in California, odds are they have been on the wrong roads. They have only been stuck in traffic, dodging cyclists, the Highway Patrol, and construction crews. Beauty is said to be in the eyes of the beholder. California has so much to see that you could deem it necessary to rent a family van, and plan a few days of driving.
Take a break from the congested city, alone or with family, and head out on the open road to take a scenic drive. Here, you get a dose of California’s pristine beauty along the picturesque back roads. All that is needed is a car, your favorite playlist, GPS, camera, and snacks, and then memories are yours for the making. If you are wondering what scenic drives in California you could feed in your car GPS, read along.
Scenic Drives along Pacific Coast Highway
Tell someone from California about your plans to explore the Pacific Coast Highway and notice their eyes and soul light up in a second. The entire Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), also called Highway 1, is a scenic thoroughfare in California that attracts not only US citizens but also worldwide tourists. Highway 1 gives you a compelling reason to rent a van and tour down the coast-hugging road. Best explored from south to north, PCH dubbed “All-American Road” stretches from Los Angeles to San Francisco packing storied scenic routes, some of which are detailed below.
Monterey to Morro Bay Scenic Drive
Don’t have enough time, but still craving to behold the breathtaking beauty in California? Consider taking this cliff-side drive stretching for 139 miles. California’s renowned PCH from Monterey to Morro Bay is consistently among the top scenic drives. Here, you catch a glimpse of sites like picturesque Hearst Castle, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Bixby Bridge at Big Sur. With your family/ friends, you can stop at Pfeiffer State Beach and take photos with the Pacific Ocean as your background.
If birdwatching is your cup of tea, you can delight in many points that afford sights of exquisite feathered friends like herons and egrets. Another birdwatching stop, outside of the Museum of Natural History, is situated at Windy Cove. Morro Rock, a primary attraction and a short walk away from the road, is your last stop in Morro Bay.
Big Sur Coastal Drive: Monterey to San Luis Obispo
Measure 137 miles from Monterey to San Luis Obispo, Big Sur is another must-visit road situated along PCH. Away from the ever-busy city roads, here you get a tranquil experience rendering driving a memorable experience. While driving, you could make several stops or even side trips to take a snap or two or stretch along this route. Take Jack’s Peak Road if you’re a hiking aficionado or derive pleasure from walking in forested lands.
Featuring rock formations for walkers, tide pools, and underwater ecological reserves that swimmers love, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is another sight you should stop at once in Big Sur. Typical of California, you are spoilt for choice from the many beaches where you and your loved ones or friends can unwind. To conclude your trip, visit the storied Point Sur State Historic Park and the iconic Lighthouse.
17-Mile Drive Scenic Road
Are you in a quest to find the best scenic drives in California? The 17-Mile Drive running through Carmel and Pacific Grove through the majestic Del Monte forests might just be the one. Diverting in off PCH, the privately-owned scenic drive gives a glimpse of the highly-coveted first-class golf community at Pebble Beach. Before accessing this drive that measures 10 miles, you pay an entrance fee. Even though you could wonder where the 7 miles comes in, you are sure the price is worthwhile. Nothing can beat the experience you get here from idyllic sunsets to the seal views.
To Fort Bragg from San Francisco
This 175-mile stretch of Highway 1, starting from San Francisco to the North Coast, affords you as much untouched beauty as its Central Coast equivalent. The scenic drive begins after passing through the Golden Gate Bridge heading to Marin County. Here, you see the coastal hills and magnificent redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument. Next, you encounter the striking sea cliffs and isolated beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore.
You will love driving through the rolling Napa Valley’s vineyards and wine country of Sonoma County if you love wine. From there, explore, from the jagged coastline at Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, the seemingly breathtaking comeliness of the North Coast. Proceed to cruise on this road up to the steep terrain at Mendocino Headlands State Park and the charming, Victorian-style town of Mendocino. Take on PCH to Fort Bragg and stop at MacKerricher State Park, experience the whale migration and see the Glass Beach that appears covered with jewels.
Historic Route 395
Rent a van with a friend or your loved one, and begin your journey near Lake Tahoe to explore the untouched wilderness along Highway Route 395. The 375-mile drive spoils you with several exquisite sites. From modern-day sites to historical sites and old mining towns, you have it all to behold—for example, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, and Death Valley National Park. Your drive is not complete without taking a stop and taking a snap of Mount Whitney. Measuring 14,494 in height, Mount Whitney is a well-liked tourist attraction and the tallest mountain in the 48 states.
Palms to Pines Scenic Byway
Pick a rental car in Los Angeles, dubbed the City of Angels, and start your journey on this route. Firstly, take on a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs while chasing rows of giant windmills and feeling like present-day Don Quixote. Next, drive through a 56-mile road passing through the Sonoran Desert with the Coachella Valley. This famous road leads you to the San Bernardino National Forest, where you get to see the expansive flora and fauna. Keep driving and have a chance to window shop the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.
From any side of your rental vehicle, you can spot the deep canyons and rocky peaks. Make a stop by Lake Hemet to have a rest and stretch. Here, you can grab fishing poles with your loved one and catch the indigenous trout. The idyllic Idyllwild is not far from Lake Hemet. Drive to this mountain town and break from the road by enjoying your favorite beverage and cuisine from one of the charming cafes.
Angeles Crest Highway to Mt. Wilson
A 66-mile scenic drive, Angeles Crest Highway, gives you the feeling of freedom away from Los Angeles’ fray when it’s busy. A few miles from the business district, this route starts at Foothill Boulevard with a curvy road that offers you a chance to view the San Gabriel Mountains. The pristine landscape makes up this scenic drive, including desert terrain, forest, and valley.
Topping 7000 feet in altitude at particular points like Dawson Saddle, your drive through Angeles Crest, also known as State Route 2, could get steep. Because the climb is steep, you need to rent a heavy car, especially when looking to carry friends or family together with other camping items. Your scenic drive concludes at the legendary Mt. Wilson Observatory, where you end your journey enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery.
South Bay Scenic Drive
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, South Bay is located between Palos Verdes Peninsula and El Segundo. Along this scenic drive, you meet several beautiful beaches of the Golden State. Pullover at Redondo for a break while enjoying the enthralling environment. Hermosa Beach, a well-loved recreation point, is filled with fun activities, including biking and walkway dubbed The Strand. Finish your journey at Manhattan Beach, where tourists flock to play and watch volleyball. There is no better exercise than playing volleyball on the sandy beach?
Palos Verdes Drive around the Palos Verdes Peninsula
You could not fail to recognize Palos Verdes Peninsula at first glance if you had ever watched the “Pirates of The Caribbean” movie before because its filming was primarily done on this 14-mile drive. En route, you get an opportunity to see the attractive alcoves off calm beaches and jagged cliffs. In between, expect to make stops for photography sessions and to stretch before proceeding with your adventure. Other stops that could offer you the chance to behold the Frank Lloyd Wright Outpost, also known as the glass church are Wayfarers Chapel and Terranea Resort.
Call it a day and spend your night at Terranea Resort while getting pampered and dining like a king. Back on the road, you want to have your eyes up ahead because you will encounter several sharp corners. Lucky you if you are in the company of friends or family as they can capture the most magnificent vistas you have ever seen, and you get to view the images later.
Mulholland Scenic Drive and Corridor
Exploring Mulholland Drive, named after William Mulholland, is another way to discover what Los Angeles can offer. Along the 55-mile route, you will want to occasionally pull over, especially if you have little experience driving on this road to examine and enjoy the scenery. There are eight strategically situated overlook areas complete with seats on which to savor the roaring Pacific Ocean and the vast cityscape too.
A twisting and winding thoroughfare, Mulholland Drive, added initially to the Southland’s scenery around one hundred years ago, is today home to renowned celebrities like the one and only Jack Nicholson. Enjoy your adventure and roll like Nicholson does when taking on this scenic drive in all its glory.
Redding to Lassen Scenic Drive
Even though the 188-mile drive from San Francisco is long, you are rewarded with intermittent views of Mount Shasta and plush pine forests in the distance. From Redding, drive east and snake through the Lassen National Forest area, the home of California’s natural wonders. Make a stop here and set up your camping tents for the night overlooking the biggest California’s reservoirs, Shasta Lake, also known for water sports and fishing.
From here, cruise past Mount Shasta that measures a whopping 14,162 feet. The first time seeing the huge mountain, John Muir said that his blood turned into wine. While still exploring this area, enjoy viewing Castle Crags State Park’s spires and then drive along Highway 89 – a 500-mile stretch on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Next, visit McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park, which hosts the 129-foot storied Burney falls. Conclude your enthralling trip at the serene Lake Almanor, which hugs the fizzy mud pots and Lassen Volcanic National Park’s hot geysers.
San Francisco to Sonoma Scenic Drive
Put the antique magic of wine country at your fingertips and take a drive from San Francisco to Sonoma. Wineries and other must-see sites abound along the journey, bringing about a choose-your-own-adventure that leaves you wanting more days of vacation. It won’t be long before you meet a winery if you begin your trip at the Golden Gate Bridge and take Highway 101. You want to check-in at one of the beautiful lounges near Sonoma if you plan to drink wine.
As you head towards Sonoma Valley, the next stop is the Petaluma River. The scenery here offers you a majestic experience with its mountains, microclimates, and expansive landscapes. Keep cruising on the well-structured Highway 101, which is a perfect match for a rented family van until you reach Central Sonoma. If you have more time in your hands, you can extend your road-trip from the Oregon border to Rohnert Park.
Make a stop at Mendocino before proceeding to your final destination, San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, you can find affordable hotels around Rohnert Park and plenty of family-friendly activities. If you had tagged along with your kids, playing mini-golf might just be the ticket after many days in the van.
Death Valley Scenic Byway
In a remote region of California, Death Valley Scenic Byway, also called Route 190, is darling to many visitors in the US and worldwide. During summer, you cannot afford not to include Route 190 on your grand tour. Because of its unique resources, researchers and scientists make frequent visits to the Death Valley for study and research purposes.
The 3.3million-acre park doubles as the lowest and driest part of North America. Nothing beats a drive in a hot desert in a rented 4X4 van. As you drive, you can behold the spectacular desert scenery that features complex geology, unique desert wildlife, historical sites, and virgin wilderness. If history intrigues you, the cultural tales you get to learn about on your trip will forever remain engraved in you. For example, the story of the Nevares Spring Culture that inhabited the valley about 7,000 years. Adverse climatic conditions rendered the inhabitants extinct, and a new race dubbed Desert Shoshone, who entered the death valley after 6,000 years until today.
Hiking enthusiasts are not left out as Death Valley affords them different elevation to climb. If this sounds fun to you, it’s best if you get out of your vehicle with a bottle of water and challenge the sun that glares throughout the park. The 812-mile route gets very busy during spring and has limited access during winter because of snowstorms.
Linda Vista through the Arroyo Seco
There is an abundance of remarkably posh roads in Los Angeles, but none surpasses Linda Vista Avenue in Pasadena. As you drive past the storied Rose Bowl stadium, a small sign announces the beginning of your scenic tour, but no harm if you begin yours farther behind. Start your trip to the west on Chevy Chase Drive and cruise through Glendale viewing sites you had zero knowledge of, before winding past the hillside campus of Art Center and Arroyo’s open vistas.
As you wind down to Linda Vista, houses covered in a canopy of indigenous trees come into full view. Follow the route that leads you the freeway, cross it, and on the historic Colorado Street Bridge, make a left turn. At the end of your 7-mile trip, you could head back home refreshed and energized.
Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Or Lone Pine
Packed with plenty of scenic wonders, Highway 395 serves as the primary thoroughfare in High Sierra. Here, you experience picturesque scenery from waterfalls to creepy tufa towers and volcanic rocks. Any stop along this scenic drive can be a whole day of fun-filled adventure. Begin at South Lake Tahoe, around the tranquil Emerald Bay State Park, then cruise to Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, where you watch the eerie towers.
Proceed to Mammoth Lakes and partake in activities like snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, and hiking. From there, continue cruising to Bishop, where you can pull over and enjoy the delicious Sheepherder’s bread and sandwiches. Continue to Lone Pine, which is the acclaimed setting for every old western movie and the storied Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills standing at eight feet.
Apart from the 234-mile Lone Pine, which is accessible all year round, you can also take the Yosemite one stretching for 215 miles between May and November. To enjoy the scenery at Yosemite National Park, branch off Highway 395 to Highway 120, also called Tioga Pass. Cruising toward North Yosemite allows you to behold stunning landscapes like Wapama Falls, Merced Groves, and Tuolumne Meadows. Finish at Yosemite Valley, where you can enjoy your stay for a day or two at Coulterville and Groveland.
Contact a Rental Van Office Near Me
Road trips are on many people’s bucket lists. While some people worry that their cars are lightweight or have short wheelbases, others procrastinate touring exquisite drives because they don’t own a car yet. Renting our vans for tripping purposes has made many traveling enthusiasts’ dreams come true. Whether driving through Los Angeles to San Francisco or going to Las Vegas to steal more glances, scenic drives in California present natural beauty, memorable stopovers, and the best views you have ever seen. The next time you are planning to take on a scenic drive in California, don’t hesitate to call us at 888-826-5212 to advise the ideal van you can rent at an affordable fee.