The Ultimate SoCal Road Trip

Posted by Veronica Baas on Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 at 8:59am.

9 pit stops you’ll never forget

California is home to the largest population in the U.S. It’s also home to an unlimited list of beautiful road trip destinations. With so many choices, picking several within reasonable driving distance can be a challenge. Find your way to these 9 stops and you’re guaranteed the road trip of a lifetime.

1. Big Sur State Park

Big Sur

This is as close to the redwoods as you’ll get on this road trip. Starting up north at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, you’ll find some of the prettiest views California has to offer. The park is centered over the Big Sur river where you can swim, fish, hike and marvel at the waterfall. There are tons of hiking options for all skill levels. The campsites are always booked, even months in advance, so plan accordingly if you would like to camp here.

2. San Luis Obispo

Moving away from adventure outdoors, you’ll head to San Luis Obispo next. Shop in the wide selection of locally owned businesses and enjoy unlimited gorgeous hiking trails. Perfectly located between San Fran and LA, this college town is an easy-add to most SoCal road trips.

If you like hiking, check out Bishop Peak (the highest peak in the Morros). You’re able to drive up a good bit of the mountain and it’s actually an easy trail, roughly four miles long.

3. Santa Maria

This next stop my wine lovers will enjoy. NorCal is filled with famous vineyards, but they are harder to come by in the south. Santa Maria has over ten local wineries to choose from, so there is no shortage of tasting opportunity here. A few reputable ones include Presqu’ile and Tantara.

Santa Maria is also home to CA’s best BBQ, which most locals agree you’ll find at Shaw’s Famous Steak House. These chefs are mastering barbeque recipes passed down from the mid-19th century. The tradition brings in hundreds of tourists every year.

4. Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

If you enjoyed the wineries in Santa Maria, there are plenty more to see in Santa Barbara. In town I recommend Saarloos and Sons, but if you’re willing to make the drive Toretti Family Vineyard is my favorite. Plus, Groupon has your back with half off. Some other fun things to do in Santa Barbara include the botanic garden and the zoo, which is home to more than 500 animals.

5. Malibu

I wanted to avoid mentioning any cliché Cali destinations, but Malibu is a worthy exception. Home to many famous beaches (and famous people), it’s the perfect place for coastal adventure. For those traveling as a couple, you’ll want to stay an extra night in Malibu. Consider booking with The Malibu Beach Inn or Calamigos Guest Ranch and Beach Club for an unforgettable, romantic getaway by the beach.

Malibu is full of countless picturesque date night locations including The Sunset Restaurant and Moonshadows — both have great views. Plus, if you haven’t grown tired of hiking yet, there are tons of cool trails to explore. The Leo Carrillo State Park sits at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains and has reefs, caves and tidepools you can explore.

6. Santa Monica

After a few nights in Malibu, beach views just aren’t the same anywhere else. But there are plenty of other fun things to do in Santa Monica. From the amusement park rides on the pier to the iconic Third Street Promenade shopping district, you won’t have time to do it all. Anyone with kids along for the ride, this will be their favorite stop.

With so many activities to choose from, it’s easy to miss out on some of the best Santa Monica attractions. Be sure to check out the Santa Monica Pier for arcade games, oceanfront bike paths, explore the aquarium and dine at some of California’s best restaurants.

7. Dana Point

Dana Point is one of California’s smaller beach towns, but has always been a prominent tourist location thanks to the harbor and it’s ship port. The OC city is nestled in rolling hills and stretches 7 miles along the coast. Explore Dana Point Headlands Trail to catch the best views, or rent some boards and surf at Capistrano Beach.

8. Carlsbad

Now that you’ve seen several renowned beaches, head down to Carlsbad for some golf. There are over 30 public courses to choose from, and if you don’t play there are dozens of tournaments to watch. Aside from golf, Carlsbad is full of other cool activities like Legoland, the state beach or lagoon, The Flower Fields, bike tours and so much more.

9. Mission Trails Regional Park

Whether you’re looking for a quick nature walk or a full day of hiking, Mission Trails has is it all. There are several hikes to choose from that each vary in distance and terrain. Those seeking a full day on the mountain can even try the 5-peak challenge. Some are more advanced as one of the peaks surpasses 15,000 feet!

Parking is easy, the bathrooms are clean, the trails are maintained well and, surprisingly, the crowds aren’t bad. There is a good-sized tent and RV campground for anyone interested in staying a few nights. If you like water activities the park has a river, waterfall and a lake for fishing. Mission Gorge is also home to some of the best rock climbing in San Diego.

With such a massive population it’s no surprise California’s coast is packed with unique places to visit. Luckily, most of the state’s best coastal towns line up within a feasible road trip. Better yet, we’ve already finished the hard part. All you have to do is sit back, follow your map and enjoy the open road.

Written by our guest blogger, Veronica Baas

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