The question isn't whether you should road trip when you travel to California but where you should go. And just as important is how to road trip in style so you make the most of your trip.
As a native Californian, I've clocked in quite a few miles road tripping across the Golden State. From weekend trips to ski Mammoth Mountain and early morning surf trips down to San Diego to Northern California wine country getaways and day trips up the coast, the Golden State has endless quality road trips.
When we help concierge clients traveling to California, we always suggest they add a couple days of road tripping into their itinerary. Ever since the road trip really took off in the 1940s, California has been one of the most iconic road trip spots and doing so adds a layer of adventure to your travels.
Whether hitting the road for a couple days or crisscrossing the state over a week, these are the esssential travel tips we pass along to our concierge clients before they road trip in California:
Travel With A Route In Mind
Yes, yes, we pretty much all have GPS on our phones and in most our cars but it's still a good idea to have a general idea of the route you're going to take before you hit the road. That way you can be present and enjoy the drive instead of being a slave to your GPS.
Avoid Any Major Traffic
One major thing to account for when you road trip in California? Traffic! If you're leaving from or traveling through any of our big cities, plan your driving so you can be on the road before or after rush hour. For adventure from skiing to hiking to surfing, I try to get on the road before sunrise while I usually wait until midday to drive otherwise.
And Leave Plenty Of Time To Explore
The best part of a road trip is that you can make up your plans as you go along. Give yourself a lot of extra time so you can do just that. In general, I'd recommend doubling your day's drive time so that you can explore the small spots without stressing out. Also, I usually book a hotel room for each night of a road trip but don't plan much else so that I can take my time going from point A to Z.
Have A Road Trip-Ready Car
Yes, pretty much any functioning car can get you from A to Z but not every car is road trip ready! It's always a good idea to check your cars fluids and tires before you road trip so you're ready to go, but my ideal road trip car is one that makes the trip as enjoyable (and comfortable) as possible.
On a recent trip up California Highway 1, I drove the Buick Enclave Avenir and loved every mile. A mid-sized SUV like this means you have enough room for all your gear (be it luggage, tents, skis, or surfboards) and yet it's small enough to park in the crowded streets of most California cities.
The 4G LTE wifi capability kept us connected and the Bose speakers meant we could listen to our favorite road trip tunes with abandon. The best part of traveling in California is how you can go from casual to refined with a day full of activity and end up at a luxe dinner and the combination of the road readiness and the luxury details (hello, gorgeous leather seats and sunroof) of the car meant we could go from hiking Big Sur to dinner in Monterey without skipping a beat.
Download A Playlist
To me the best road trip is one done with a travel partner or two where you have a mix of chatting, carpool karaoke, some podcast listening (a few of my go-tos are My Favorite Murder, Radiolab, Against The Rules, and the California Now podcast), and some quiet time. And when it comes to both podcasts and music playlists, I make sure to download before I drive. That way no matter if I head in or out of a cell or wifi signal, I won't miss a beat!
Take Advantage Of The Scenic Views
I gotta give it to the California road planners because they do an incredible job of making sure there are tons of Scenic View stops along the roads. I've learned over the years to pull off even when it seems like there's not a view because often times the turnoff reveals a panorama you didn't even know was there!
And The Many State Parks
The California State Parks are also a great place to stop for all your social media needs. A few that I frequent when I road trip across California are Red Rock State Park, Hearst Pier (see above), Mount Tamalpais, Julia Pfeiffer Falls, and Garrapata (see below).
Check The Weather Forecast
True, we generally have phenomenal weather here in California; even so real weather does happen! Whether it's high winds, rain, or driving snow, we get weather in almost every season so be sure to check the forecast before you start driving. My go to app for all things weather is Dark Sky because it aggregates a lot of different forecast and tends to be super accurate.
And Check The Road Conditions
With that changing weather comes changing road conditions be it highway closures or the need for chains. Before you head out to drive for the day, head to the Caltrans website to check the conditions on the roads where you'll be driving. When I drive up into the Sierra to go skiing in the wintertime I always carry extra supplies (including chains, water, antifreeze, and flares) because we'll often start out without the need for chains and then find we need them by the time we hit the mountains!
Know The Local Road Rules
If you're not from California, know that we have quite a few road rules that can give result in big tickets. Like most places these days you can't talk on your phone while driving nor can you drive under the influence or have an open container in your car. A few things that you might not know? Well, across the state pedestrians have right of way so you must stop whenever someone enters the crosswalk. Also, you can't turn right on a red light in many areas so be sure to make sure it's legal before you do so! Head to Visit California for even more California-specific road rules.
Shop, Stay, And Eat Local
Here at Salt & Wind we travel in order to eat, shop, and stay local. To us, there's no surer way to ensure that local charm stays intact like supporting local businesses. So whether it's staying at a boutique hotel, shopping at a locally-owned store, or buying direct from a farmers market, I encourage you to always look for ways to go local!
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More California On Salt & Wind
- What To Eat When You Travel To Monterey, California
- Where To Eat When You Visit San Diego
- California Has Its Own BBQ Style And It's Legit!
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Photo Credit: Robin Jolin, Aida Mollenkamp, and Christopher Kalima