Most journeys are about getting from A to B as quickly as possible, but most journeys don’t take you through the iconic cities, wild national parks, and California’s dreamy coastline. Enjoy the drive as much as your final destination with these 11 stunning pit stops throughout the Golden State.
1. El Matador Beach
In Los Angeles, there are so many beaches it feels like you could walk to Mexico and never even leave the shoreline. Sure, all of them are pretty, but one sandy stretch of coastline in Malibu steals the show. Upon arriving at El Matador State Beach, you’ll soon realize why it’s considered one of the best beaches on the west coast of the USA. With caves and striking rock formations, you’ll never want to stop exploring. You’ll also find a few picnic tables overlooking the ocean, so pull the car over and enjoy the view.
2. Sturtevant Fall
If you’re looking to escape the buzzing city life of Los Angeles, then we know the trail for you. Not far from the city, in Big Santa Anita Canyon, you’ll come across the Sturtevant Falls Trail, which takes you on a little adventure in a fairytale-like place. The three-mile trail follows a stream through an enchanting forest that’s packed with cute creeks. Hike along it until you reach a beautiful pond, which provides an amazing view of the falls. It’s perfect for a day trip getaway.
3. Marshall’s Beach
Have you ever wanted to see the Golden Gate up close and away from the crowds? Good news! We know just the place. Marshall’s Beach is a tiny, hidden stretch of sand at the foot of the most famous bridge in the world. Drive down Lincoln Blvd until you see a little sign that says Batteries to Bluffs. Follow the trail to the beach and strike a pose in front of the icon without the crowds photobombing your snaps.
4. Bixby Creek Bridge
After the excitement of driving across the Golden Gate, another Cali icon awaits you in the Bixby Creek Canyon, just a few hours south of San Francisco. The 79 meter high Bixby Creek Bridge has been wowing road trippers since 1932 — and it’s easy to see why. Head to Castle Rock Viewpoint for stunning views of the bridge and the surrounding landscape. Be sure to squeeze watching the sunset from the south end of the bridge into your schedule. You’ll need to take a memory card just for that moment.
5. Joshua Tree National Park
If you like sunny weather, climbing, stargazing and taking amazing pictures then Joshua Tree National Park is your personal paradise. Pack a tent and your camera and go on an adventure of epic proportions. First, check out Elephant Rock, a rock that (you guessed it) looks exactly like an elephant. Unfortunately, there are no real elephants in the park, but you might see desert tortoises, which are pretty damn cool. The Walking Trail Indian Cove is the best place to see the park’s Joshua trees. This path is surrounded by boulder formations that you’ll have lots of fun climbing. End your day at Keys View, a fantastic spot to watch the sunset. Set up your tent somewhere close and enjoy the stars.
6. The McWay Falls
You’ll find this picturesque 24-meter waterfall in McWay Creek, in the middle of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Follow the dreamy Waterfall Overlook Trail for picture-perfect views of rocky cliffs and the falls. At the end of the trail, you’ll discover the once inhabited Waterfall House that now contains a little exhibition about the falls. If you’re patient (and lucky!), you might spot seals, pelicans or even a gray whale in the secluded bay.
7. Lake Tahoe
It doesn’t matter if you want to go skiing, hiking, swimming or fishing — Lake Tahoe has it all. If you happen to find yourself there in summer, the Rubicon Trail on the south-west shore of the lake is a must. The four-hour hike goes all the way along the coast, from Rubicon Point to the famous Emerald Bay. You don’t have to do the whole trail, just hike far enough to see Emerald Bay, with its tiny island in the lake, which is two to three hours from Rubicon Point.
8. Glacier Point
You can’t have a road trip through California without visiting Yosemite National Park. If you look at the towering Glacier Point, you’d expect a climb of several hours before being able to enjoy the view. Thankfully, however, you can easily get there by driving along a windy road that takes you through thick forests and meadows of Yosemite. If you’re more on the adventurous side, you won’t be disappointed as you can hike up to Glacier Point from the valley. An eight-hour journey takes you from the valley via the Four-Mile Trail to the top.
9. Morro Rock and Morro Bay
It’s easy to see why people call Morro Bay the Gibraltar of the Pacific. The striking rock formations of Morro Rock bare a great resemblance with Europe’s gateway to Africa. Make the most of your time there by renting a kayak and meeting a few sea lions or otters who call the bay home. Morro Bay is a great place to fish, so try your luck at catching your own dinner. Make sure you don’t miss out on the Black Hill Trail. The trail is covered in flowers, and when you reach the top, you’ll have the best views of Morro Rock and Morro Bay.
10. Pfeiffer Beach
A secret beach that all the locals love awaits you in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. With its dramatic rock formations and purple sand (imagine that!), Pfeiffer Beach is a truly unmissable spot. The further north you go, the more purple the sand gets due to a mineral being washed down the hillside of the beach. As well as its quirky color, it’s also one of California’s premier sunset spots.
11. Badwater Basin
Being 85 meters underneath sea level without actually being underwater is not something you get to do every day. As well as lying below sea level, Badwater Basin in the south of Death Valley has the highest temperatures in the USA. With the dried salt all over the basin, it looks like it just snowed there. The brave man who discovered Badwater Basin went through it with his mule, which refused to drink the water due to its saltiness. He then simply wrote ‘bad water’ into his little notebook, went on with his travels and the name stuck.