Five routes with the most scenic rides of California
What makes the view from a highway scenic? Is it the miles of bright blue water at your side? The curves of a winding downhill road? The hot blazing sun in a flat, cactus spattered plain, or a lush redwood forest? It's impossible to say where the best scenery truly is, when California is home to such a wide variety of breathtaking coast lines, state parks, and deserts, all just steps away from major highways. But thankfully, there's something for everyone here! If you're longing for some time away from your daily routine, the views from any one of these highways is bound to bring you some of that inspiration and peace of mind.
If you're into the ocean
It's difficult to name just one beautiful route for Pacific Ocean views along California's sweeping coastlines. But naturally, we have to mention the Pacific Coast Highway, which stretches for 500 miles from San Fransisco to Los Angeles taking Route 101. Rocky beaches and bluffs line the road until the final drive over the Golden Gate Bridge connects the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Worthy stops include San Luis Obispo County, for the active seal life at the cost line and the butterfly migration that begins this October surrounding Pismo State Beach. Ideal for a two day drive, you could ride for a full weekend, stopping midway at Moonstone Beach in Cambria, where you can stay in a coastal hotel and take early morning outings on the boardwalk.
For the tree huggers
The Redwood Highway extends all the way from Medford to San Fransisco, taking Highway 101. Weather (and forest fire) permitting, we'd suggest starting or ending your trip as far as Eureka, which has scenery of its own. Named after the tallest trees in the world: California's massive Redwoods; this trip takes you through dense old growth forests and into the state parks wooded coast line. If you could use some homey comfort in your life right now, this might be one the most grounding routes in all of California. Surrounded by the tallest trees in the world, you could spend as long or as little time as you like taking breaks to feel the earth under your feet, or camping for a remote getaway. For the best scenery, opt for rides through caves cut into fallen trees on Moro Rock Road, and through trunks split down the middle on three different stops along this path.
Destination cottage core
The Silverado Trail is encompassed by the wine orchards, eastern hills, and small town skylines of Napa Valley. This road links Napa and Colistoga in a brief thirty mile stretch, just miles away from the busier State Route 29. You might catch the most awe inspiring views near sunset, when the sky will bleed over the eastern mountains and cast the day's dusk hue onto flat winery fields. If you're looking for a summer afternoon's trip somewhere between Sacramento and San Francisco, Silverado Trail will fit perfectly into your picnic and wine plans.
A little bit of everything
Highway 395 is an overlooked route, special for the enormous variety of destination sites, scenic views, and unexplored wonders. For the more adventurous rider looking to maximize their ride, 395 can take you as far as you're willing to go, from the Death Valley National Park to Yosemite, the Mammoth Lakes, Stanislaus National Forest, and South Lake Tahoe. Depending on the length of your trip, you'll see massive lakes, limestone formations, basalt columns, white salt flats, waterfalls, and desert lands. For the culturally inclined, this route also encompasses the film sites and museums of Lone Pine's Alabama Hills, as well as the Manzanar National Historic Site, a national park located on the site of one of the ten Japanese concentration camps built in the United States during World War II. Through ski resort and towns along the way, you can stop for food in locally loved cafes and diners. Because there is so much to see, this might be the best route for a three day drive.
The postcard experience
A ride from Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park is a short trip but a refreshing one. Somewhat off the beaten path, Lassen is a lesser known area that's more than worth visiting for its snowy mountains, stunning lake views, and the strange patches of multi colored, hilled land that look straight out of a sci-fi movie. If you're wanting something different than the typical California ride, this park will deliver. There's still time to catch a summer's experience before snow starts building in the fall. It'd be more than worth it to pack for a days worth of lake dipping, brief hikes, and picture taking. Riding past waterfalls and through the flowery meadows will alone provide an endless array of picturesque views.