The Best Road Trips in Southern California

There may be no more scenic and exciting area for a road trip than Southern California. Known for its sunlight, beaches, and coastal air, SoCal is a dream driving destination for those looking for a little bit of everything. While best enjoyed in a convertible, here are some beautiful drives anyone should put on their bucket list when in Southern California. 

Pacific Coast Highway

No list would be complete without this one. Possibly one of the most famous roads in the world, State Route 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a 656-mile stretch starting in Dana Point and ending in Leggett. While the whole route is a pleasure to drive, we think that those looking for the ultimate PCH experience should be taking the 240-mile (each way) journey from the origin in Dana Point all the way to Pismo Beach on the central coast. 

Not only will you be starting and ending in some of California’s most beautiful places, but the PCH will also take you through and alongside some can’t-miss spots. You’ll see the entirety of southern Los Angeles, head right through the middle of Santa Monica, and drive along the whole Malibu coast. Further in the drive, following Ventura County and some of Santa Barbara County, you’ll head inland through some canyon roads on your way to beautiful Pismo Beach. 

pacific coast highway around Point Magu
Lars0001, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Joshua Tree National Park – Park Boulevard

One of California’s most cherished National Parks, Joshua Tree is famous for, well… Joshua Trees. Despite its uncreative name, Joshua Tree provides some of the most scenic drives you can find in all of the state, let alone the inland deserts. 

Those starting in the south of the state have various routes to take to reach Joshua Tree, and which one to take depends heavily on traffic, time crunch, and personal preference. When you do traverse through the Inland Empire, there may be no better road to take through Joshua Tree than Park Boulevard. 

At roughly 3-3.5 hours northeast of San Diego, the drive up can be daunting, but the reward is unlike no other. 34.6 miles of scenic desert riddled with the park’s namesake and beautiful rock formations make the drive seem otherworldly and is a must-see for anyone in the area. After the drive, you’ll be conveniently looped back into Twentynine Palms. 

Visitors should ensure they’ve got sunscreen and water at the ready, as Joshua Tree can see temperatures in the triple digits on a regular basis. The spring is the best time to visit if you’re looking for comfortable temperatures, around 75 degrees or so. 

Joshua Tree national park
Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons

Palm Springs

Another beautiful desert route, the drive up and into Palm Springs provides a great road trip and an exciting destination. Only a little under 2.5 hours north of San Diego proper, Palm Springs is known for its scenic views, lively entertainment scene, and sunny weather. 

Travelers should be aware that, just like Joshua Tree, Palm Springs packs some serious heat. Those driving up should ensure their A/C is effective, or they may face some uncomfortable (even dangerous) temperatures. When you’re eventually up, sunscreen and a hat are the name of the game. 

Warnings aside, Palm Springs is surprisingly close to the coastal cities and is an amazing weekend getaway destination for those who enjoy a poolside drink and live music!

View of mountain skyline in Palm Springs
Dicklyon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Big Bear

Tired of deserts? Good, us too. This is why the close proximity of cool and mountainous forests to the direct north of San Diego is such a pleasant surprise. Despite being directly east of the aforementioned Joshua Tree Nation Park, Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead provide a shaded escape for anyone chasing those mountain vibes. 

Big Bear Mountain Resort provides Southern California’s premier skiing, and during the summer the lakes are some of SoCal’s best spots for boating and water sports!

Whether you’re looking for snow, lakes, camping, or just somewhere to get away, the San Bernadino National Forest and its surrounding lakes and mountains are one of the most unique experiences anywhere in Southern California. 

Big Bear lake
Junkyardsparkle, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is one of California’s most beloved beach towns. Often considered the northernmost part of SoCal, Santa Barbara provides some of the most peaceful beach experiences and an amazing walkable downtown area, full of entertainment and restaurants to explore. 

About a 4-hour journey from San Diego and 2 hours from Los Angeles, the 5 to the 101 freeway is your fastest way to reach it. The route is inland from Los Angeles all the way through Thousand Oaks and much of Ventura County, but the home stretch starting around Ventura itself has some of the state’s best coastal driving views directly after connecting to the PCH. 

There may not be a better weekend trip for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Diego and Los Angeles. Whether you’re in it for surfing, food, or just the scenery, a trip to Santa Barbara won’t leave you disappointed. 

Photo of Santa Barbara marina

Road Trip Prep at Carlsbad Auto Service

If you plan on going on any road trip, it’s important to ensure your vehicle is up to the task so you don’t run into any unforeseen issues along the way. Luckily, the experts at Carlsbad Auto Service can help! 

Our ASE-certified technicians can inspect, diagnose, and repair your vehicle with top-notch quality, so you can focus more on the scenery than your car. Call or schedule online today!

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