Famous Roads for Great Drives in California

One of the things I love most about California is that the roads themselves can be just as exciting as the destinations. Of course, there are famous roads like Pacific Coast Highway in the state, but we also have a lot of great drives that are not as well known to travel on. Here are a list of my favorite California drives, along with the posts that I have written about places that can be found on that drive.

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

This stretch of road literally crosses the entire state, and does so along the coast. This drive is one of the most beautiful in the entire world and has been immortalized in hundreds of movies and songs. For myself I have never driven the whole thing, but I have only hit the spots below and will continue to expand this as I hit more.

Length: 655 miles from Dana Point to Legget

Highlights: Browse all PCH posts here.

Tioga Pass (State Route 120)

This road is famous as an entrance into the World known Yosemite National Park; however, even if you do not stop in Yosemite Valley this road is a destination in itself. You can see everything from high peaks and lakes to beautiful meadows all without leaving your car. You will even cross Tioga Pass itself which is the highest highway pass in California at 9,943 feet of elevation This road is only open in the summer though so make sure to do your research before heading out.

Length: 74 miles from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley

Highlights:
  • Olmsted Point
  • Tuolumne Meadows
  • Tenaya Lake
Browse all Tioga Pass posts here.

Highway 395

This desert highway goes all the way from Victorville up to Lake Topaz, and along the way it crosses some beautiful and stark landscape. You can see the tallest mountain in the Continental United States from this road as well as ghost towns and beautiful lakes, all before reaching Topaz Lake. Here are the spots I have been on this road.

Length: 557 miles in California from Victorville to Nevada border East of Tahoe

Highlights: Browse all Highway 395 posts here.

Route 66

Not everyone knows that Route 66 actually ends on the Santa Monica Pier right near Los Angeles in the heart of Southern California; however, before it even does that it pass through much of the lower half of the state with a lot of really unique historical stops. I am breaking it into parts and driving it, you can see the parts I have completed below.

Length: 315 miles in California from Needles to Santa Monica

Highlights: Read about the California portion of Route 66 here.

El Camino Real

If you are interested in a unique drive then consider El Camino Real in California which visits all of the 21 famous California missions. This is a great road trip to learn more about the unique history that is found all over the state and it is amazing to see how different each of the missions really are.

Length: 600 miles in California from San Diego to Sonoma

Highlights: Read about El Camino Real stops here.

Interstate 15 (15 Freeway)

This is known as the road to Vegas, and while that is true, it is also the road that mimics a part of Route 66, hugs the Mojave Desert and connects to the road that leads to Death Valley. While many would say the drive is boring as they are only plowing through on the way to Sin City, there are a lot of unique stops on this drive to keep you entertained. Here are some of my favorites.

Length: 315 miles in California from Needles to Santa Monica

Highlights:

Highway 101 (101 Freeway)

The freeway that takes you through Hollywood and Los Angeles is a freeway that is plagued with traffic. While there is a lot to see in Los Angeles, it really becomes a beautiful drive when it meets up with Pacific Coast highway travels through Ventura and Sants Barbara. This part of the drive is some of the best you can see in all of California.

Length: 805 miles in California from Los Angeles to the Oregon border

Highlights:

Interstate 5 Freeway (I-5)

Like Pacific Coast Highway, the 5 freeway travels through all of California, but unlike PCH it does it in the interior of the state. This makes the drive a lot more monotonous for a lot of it. However when it passes Redding heads through Shasta Lake and the forested top of the state it really becomes beautiful. From here you can see the Castle Crags State Park and the town of Weed before getting a glimpse of one of the most beautiful mountains in the State, Mt Shasta.

Length: 796 miles in California from Mexico to the Oregon border

Highlights: Northern  Southern 

Highway 99

As the road that parallels Highway 5 through most of Central California, Highway 99 has a lot of great stops if you are in the mood for a slower drive. If you need to get to Sacramento or LA fast then the 5 is always the best option, but if you have a little time to kill, consider some of the stops along Highway 99 below.

Length: 424 miles in California from I-5 near Bakersfield to Red Bluff

Highlights: Browse all Highway 99 posts here.

Please let me know if I left something off in the comments!