Consider these classic road trips, rich with magical scenery like pounding surf, rolling hills, waterfalls, and plenty of wineries. Most make for a great weekend or even day trip. Choose your favorites from these trips, listed north to south—then roll down the windows and get going.
Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park
Length: 188 miles
Prime Seasons: Spring and Summer
The northeastern Shasta Cascade region reveals a lot of California’s best-kept secrets. Start in Redding and head up I-5 to Shasta Lake—the largest reservoir in California, and a hotbed for fishing and water sports. From there, drive past the 14,162-foot Mount Shasta; seeing it for the first time, John Muir once wrote, made his “blood turn to wine.”
While you’re in the area, don’t miss the spires at Castle Crags State Park. Next, head south on Highway 89, which is part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, and go to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to the 129-foot, fern-draped Burney Falls. Finish at lovely, placid Lake Almanor, which neighbors the bubbling mud pots and steaming geysers of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Highway 1 from San Francisco to Fort Bragg
Length: 175 miles
Prime Season: November through April
This stretch of the highway, heading up the North Coast from San Francisco, offers as much windswept beauty as its Central Coast counterpart. It starts when you cross the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito and Marin County, where you’ll encounter the coastal hills and redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument, followed by the dramatic sea cliffs and remote beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore.
From there, cruise through the rolling vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s wine country. Then explore the seemingly untouched beauty of the North Coast—from the craggy coastline at Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the rugged terrain at Mendocino Headlands State Park and the quaint, Victorian-style town of Mendocino. Next, head north on Highway 1 to Fort Bragg and explore MacKerricher State Park to see seals, migrating whales (from November through April), and Glass Beach, which looks like it’s covered with jewels.
Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail
Length: 29 miles
Prime Season: Year-round
This road was constructed in 1852 to link the towns of Napa and Calistoga. Today, the Silverado Trail runs parallel to the more bustling State Highway 29, with easy access to some of the best wineries in the Golden State.
Start in the town of Napa and work your way north, stopping at wineries such as Reynolds Family Winery, Clos du Val in the Stags Leaps District, and the bubbly-rich Mumm Napa. To keep a leisurely pace, stay a night or two at one of the fabulous local hotels, like Auberge du Soleil, Solage Calistoga, or Meadowood Napa Valley.
Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine or Yosemite National Park
Length: 234 miles on the Lone Pine route, 215 miles on the Yosemite route
Prime Season: Year-round on the Lone Pine route, May–November (weather permitting) on the Yosemite route
Highway 395 is the High Sierra’s main thoroughfare filled with endless scenic wonders—from fields of volcanic rock to waterfalls and eerie limestone tufa towers. Any piece of this trip could be its own multiday adventure. Start at South Lake Tahoe, near the idyllic Emerald Bay State Park, and head south toward Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve to see the bizarre, ghostlike towers.
Continue to Mammoth Lakes, where you’ll find family-friendly skiing and snowboarding during winter, and hiking and mountain biking in the summer. From there, keep driving south to Bishop (pick up some of the acclaimed Sheepherder’s bread and sandwiches at Erick Schat’s Bakkery) and then Lone Pine, the setting for many an old western movie, and near the photo-op-magnet, eight-foot Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills.
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
Length: 90 miles
Prime Season: June through October
This drive along forest roads offers a window into what the High Sierra looked like roughly a century ago—which means you’ll traverse a few dirt roads, too. Start on Forest Road 81 near the town of North Fork—45 miles northeast of Fresno—and follow the route for about 90 miles. Views include plenty of peaks, granite domes, and conifer forests; prime stops include Jesse Ross Cabin, which dates back to the 1860s; and the 2,700-year-old Bull Buck Tree, one of the world’s oldest sequoia trees. Reward yourself with a slice of pie at the rustic Jones General Store.
Fresno Blossom and Fruit Trails
Length: 62 miles
Prime Season: February through September
In late winter, this loop east of Fresno becomes a rainbow of pastels across the acres of blossoming fruit and nut trees—like almonds, peaches, plums, and cherries. By early summer, the local fruit markets are stocked with the juicy harvest.
Start in Fresno, east of Highway 99, and follow the route, including State Route 180, through the charming towns of Sanger, Orange Cove, Reedley, Kingsburg, and Fowler. Don’t miss stops like Fresno’s Simonian Farms, a 1901 fruit stand housed in a giant red barn; the aromatic Orange Blossom Trail from Orange Cove; and Cedar View Winery in Sanger, where you can taste the red wines made with rare Alicante Bouschet grapes. Give the town of Selma its props as the Raisin Capital of the World, and check out the old-style trains and fruit orchards at Reedley’s Hillcrest Farm.