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Mary Dishigrikyan is a fourth-year Psychology and English student at UCLA. She is a logophile with a passion for puns and Disneyland.  

Whether you’ve delayed your Spring Break festivities or are on the hunt for places to drive to in California in the summertime, road trips are always fulfilling and eye opening experiences. Nowadays, as young adults we can benefit from road trips because they bring us so much closer to the friends we go with, provide ample sightseeing opportunities that we may not otherwise have, and basically give us free reign to enjoy every child’s dream: endless s’mores around the campfire (unless you’re not camping. In which case it would be endless ransacking of hotel mini-fridges). In need of some ideas for places to drive to and stay at for a picture-perfect (seriously, get your cameras ready – these places are gorgeous) getaway? Here are some road trips for the perfect California summer.

San Francisco 

Golden Gate Bridge at Night
image by Andrew Mace via Flickr

The Route: Taking Pacific Coast Highway through central California to San Francisco is scenic and breathtaking, with steep drops to the ocean on one side and jagged rocks and million-dollar homes enshrouding you on the other side. By opting for PCH instead of the I-5 north, of course, you have to allow yourself the liberty to pull over a handful of times, because the views are too good to miss and drive right past without stopping to soak them in.

The Visit: Once in San Francisco, let the oceanic theme continue with a visit to the tourist-infested Pier 39 (Fisherman’s Warf), which includes delicious clam chowder bread bowls and a pier full of squawking and adorable wrestling sea lions. There are plenty of other must-sees and to-dos once in San Francisco. Hanging out in Golden Gate Park and the Conservatory of Flowers is a relaxing way to spend your time, and Fort Point and Battery Spencer both provide you with amazing views of the monumental Golden Gate Bridge. Alamo Square and its Painted Ladies are incredibly easy on the eyes as well. Essentially, making a drive out to San Francisco is worthwhile in both the journey there and the many opportunities for sightseeing provided by the city itself.

Yosemite National Park

Driving through Yosemite
image via TravelJapanBlog

The Route: Depending on where in the state you’re coming from, the drive to Yosemite can take up to seven hours, not including rest stops and food breaks. That’s why when you go to Yosemite, you wanna make sure you’re going with the funniest and best people you know, otherwise it’s going to be dreadful sitting in a cramped and silent vehicle for hours on end. If you’re coming from Southern California, the drive to Yosemite takes you through some of the most barren but beautiful rolling hills, the city of Selma in the San Joaquin Valley, which is apparently the raisin capital of the world (still not sure why this title needs to exist), and, once you get into the park, trees. Driving on a two-lane highway with enormous trees towering over you on both sides and no cell phone signal kinda just submerges you beneath the sea of a green blanket and instantly makes your worries vanish.

The Visit: The park itself is stunning, with the Vernal Falls and Oregon Falls trails giving you up-close and personal views of gushing waterfalls, the stillness of Mirror Lake echoing your equally still and peaceful mind while you’re there, and the sense of community embedded in your camping grounds widening your experience to a new level. Detouring toward Sequoia National Park on your way back home will also allow you to get a glimpse of the Sherman Tree, which is the world’s largest tree by volume!

Tunnel View

Tunnel View, Yosemite

Joshua Tree National Park 

The Route: There’s just something about a desert highway that provides such a sweet escape. Maybe it’s the warm wind that blasts across your face when you open a car window, or the fact that you feel as if you just stepped into a Wild West film while driving through some towns. Either way, driving to Joshua Tree calls for much of an adventure, and Joshua Tree is close enough to major cities like Los Angeles and Palm Springs that if you’re anxious to be far from civilization and suburbia…well, don’t be!

Joshua Tree
image via Hither & Thither

The Visit: Joshua Tree itself is incredibly vast, and offers a plethora of things to do once you enter the park. My personal favorite itinerary includes getting there in the early morning, hiking some of the shorter routes (including the infamous Skull Rock and the 49 Palms Oasis trail), and heading up to Keys View, which on a clear day lets you see all the way to Mexico. If you’ve got a telescope or a fancy camera, setting up a campsite and stargazing at night are also great ideas!

Mini-Trip Ideas:

Orange County

Balboa Island

Balboa Island, Newport Beach

The Route: The OC is a great place to visit, even if you just want to spend the day there. Additionally, even the trip there provides wonderful adventures, featuring huge outlets and outdoor malls, casinos for the gambling-inclined, and Huntington Beach along the way. Depending on the route you take, you can also pass Disneyland on your way to the OC, and even if you don’t want to go to the Park itself, Downtown Disney is a great alternative.

The Visit: Once you actually get to Orange County, you have so many options it’s ridiculous. You can walk around Balboa Island, visiting some of the cutest “seaside” shops you may ever come across, eating an Arrested Development-esque frozen banana as you walk in front of gorgeous homes across from the marina. You can also visit Newport Beach or Laguna Beach, spending the day trying not to get burned in the intense rays of the sun, swimming in the Pacific, and walking along the pier. Taking yourself on a college campus tour of UC Irvine while you’re in the area isn’t such a bad idea either, considering the beauty of the campus and the many outdoor malls, such as the Irvine Spectrum, and movie theaters that are a short drive from campus.

San Diego

The Route: You can also visit Newport Beach and the Balboa Peninsula on a road trip down to San Diego. Taking the coast all the way down will end up with you passing through Malibu, where I recommend stopping for breathtaking hikes and beach views, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which has sweeping, panoramic views of the ocean and the Point Vicente Lighthouse that you can check out.

The Visit: San Diego has approximately 70 miles of beaches, automatically making it every ocean lover’s dream to visit. Just like in Orange County, feel free to stop by the San Diego State University and UC San Diego campuses for a little taste of what academia and student life is like in the area. Lastly, the San Diego Zoo…well, it’s just fun, no matter how old you are (mostly because it’s huge and there are giraffe feedings you can participate in on weekend afternoons).  

San Diego
image via Crazy Town Blog

 Where in California do You Like to Go for Road Trips?