You’re finally in Southern California – the waves are gorgeous, the sun is always out and you’re basically living in your shorts and sandals. If the sun, sand and fish tacos in San Diego ever get old (can they?), don’t forget that you’re just a few hours away from some of the most epic sights in the US.
Here are are four essential road trips in Southern California that you absolutely shouldn’t miss:
1. For the Surf and Sand Seeker: The PCH
The Pacific Coast Highway
Start in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara – it doesn’t matter whether you drive from North to South or vice versa – it’s a stunning ride either way. Coming from San Diego? Head North to check out Laguna Beach’s 1000 Steps Beach or Crescent Bay. Be sure to get an acai bowl from The Stand Natural Foods in downtown Laguna. In Los Angeles make the trip to Malibu and take a short walk to Matador Beach. If you’re lucky, some baby seals will come tan with you. In Santa Barbara, don’t miss Big Sur. Check out Ragged Point for a tantalizing walk down to the rugged California coast in all its glory. Better yet, check out Julia Pfeiffer State Beach for some dancing turquoise water and an unforgettable sunset.
Suggested Length: Your choice. PCH has something for the day tripper and the avid excursionist.
Expected Drive Time: Up to you as well, but try to do most of the driving before the sun sets (those views are so worth it).
2. For the Efficient Weekender: Desert Trip
48 hours is all you need to see some of Southern California’s most beautiful desert landscapes.
This man-made structure is 15-meter-tall and 47-meter-wide, completely made of adobe clay and thousands of gallons of florescent paint. This monument was created by the hands of a dedicated local and is sure to make a phenomenal photo-op. A walk inside the hill exposes you to wildly painted adobe clay trees with flowers blooming along every trunk and branch.
Joshua Tree National Park
Continue to Joshua Tree National Park for stunning sunsets, and even more mesmerizing starry skies. This national park is a great place to test your camping abilities. Be sure not to miss the Hidden Valley Nature loop, Arch Rock or Indian Cove. Not interested in camping? Make reservations at a hotel in Twenty-Nine Palms, a rugged but classic American desert town.
Suggested Length: 2 Days
Expected Drive Time: 7+ Hours
3. For the wine connoisseur: Temecula
Within an hour’s drive of San Diego lies a hidden gem of a town full of world-renowned vineyards.
Wine Tours and Hot Air Balloon Rides
Temecula Valley contains 35+ wineries within 15 km of each other. Wine tastings tours and a cozy Airbnb is all you need to enjoy the beautiful rolling hills for a nice weekend.
Stop for lunch or a cheese tasting at one of the many restaurants within the vineyards. For the more adventurous, take a hot air balloon ride atop the vineyards. Or both. Do both.
Suggested Length: 2 days
Expected Drive Time: 4 hours
4. For the adventurer: The Grand Canyon
A longer drive and a longer trip is required for this, but the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park are so, so worth it. Nature doesn’t get much more spectacular than this.
One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon boasts truly jaw-dropping views. Standing at its edge will make your knees buckle and your heart thump. Catch this beautiful view at sunset as the light illuminates the canyon in orange, red and purple colors.
The Grand Canyon is really only the beginning. Drive another 2.5 – 3 hours east to Page, Arizona to find the origins of the Grand Canyon: Horseshoe Bend. Take a quick 1 km walk to the edge and feel vertigo flowing up your spine while looking straight down a 300 meter cliff. Here, view the perfectly formed horseshoe-shaped Colorado River bend.
Scared of heights? Book a tour to the sacred Antelope Canyon with a Native American tour company in town. You’ll be inspired by the brush-stroked walls of deep orange sandstone. These walls were created by flash flood waters over thousands of years eventually creating narrow migration routes for desert antelopes. Ask your tour guide to help you find the best places to take photos (they might even take your photo for you).
But wait, there’s more! Another 2 hours takes you to Zion National Park.
Zion National Park: The Narrows & Angel’s Landing
Think you’ve done some cool hikes? Zion offers two unique hikes that are sure to blow you away (or wash you away).
The Narrows Hike sits at the beginning of Zion Valley. While the Virgin River runs south, you hike north into the canyon. Be careful, however long you hike in you will have to track back. Sound too crazy? Rent a walking stick and Canyoneering shoes with Zion Adventure Company.
For those of you scared of heights stay away from Angel’s Landing. This hike stretches 8 km out and back. 8 km is the least of your worries. This hike requires you to climb on top of a shark fin shaped ridge into the middle of Zion Valley.
Don’t let the carved footings and installed chain railing fool you this hike can be dangerous seeing as the ridge rises 450 meters from the valley floor on either side. The views at the end will make your feel like you’re on top of the world.
On your way back to SoCal feel free to test your luck in Las Vegas – the only road back drives right through Sin City.
Expected Drive Time: 20 hours.
Suggested Length: 3-4 Days