11 Epic Los Angeles Road Trips to Plan Right Now
My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
Los Angeles has everything you need, right? Nightlife, culture, amazing food, incredible hikes, and a never-ending string of up-and-coming neighborhoods to explore. Still, there’s more beyond the Hollywood Hills and further south along the coast… and maybe after the past year, you’re ready to get the heck out of town and explore. Road tripping is a great way to plan a trip right now, and these Los Angeles road trips are the perfect way to dip your toe back into traveling.
My very first California road trip began in Los Angeles, actually. I flew into town, picked up a rental car, and turned my wheels north along the PCH. Since then, I’ve had the chance to visit L.A. a lot, and drive a number of these road trip routes to/from Los Angeles during my travels.
Whether you just a weekend getaway or more epic escape, these 11 road trips from Los Angeles run the gamut. You’ll find easy routes closer to home in areas you maybe haven’t explored, and a few that take you further out to explore the rest of California‘s wonders. All you have to do is pack up the car, pick a direction, and hit the road.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of many First Nations peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
My Definition of a “Road Trip”
While I write my posts based on experience, I also do a lot of research to back up my suggestions and make sure they’re accurate. I read other articles on the topic to learn what fellow travelers are recommending. But to be honest, as I researched “road trips from Los Angeles,” I found a lot of day trips and destinations. That’s not a road trip!
But here’s the thing: day trips are not the same as road trips and traveling to a destination is not the same as a road trip just because you need a car to get there. There are fabulous day trips and weekend getaways from Los Angeles – but they’re not road trips.
So let’s start with my definition of a road trip: a road trip is a car/vehicle journey that takes you to a series of Points of Interest (POIs) or destinations over at least one night.
The focus of a road trip is as much on the journey (by car) as the destinations themselves. Road trip routes can be one-way, a loop, or an out-and-back (kind of like hiking). While I have recommended one-way road trips in the past (such as my PCH or Southwest road trip itineraries), they typically include expensive one-way car rentals. Instead, I looked at loops and out-and-back road trips that start in Los Angeles (and end there too).
In this post, you won’t find a list of destinations or day/weekend trip spots you can drive to. Here you’ll only find eleven awesome road trip routes from L.A.
How I Make Road Trip Maps
You’ll notice that in this post, I use maps from Roadtrippers. I love how much easier it is to make road trip maps using their tool than other map services. Here is why I recommend using them to plan your own road trips (or to save my maps to your account for your trip):
- Their name is Roadtrippers. They are experts in road trippin’.
- Their map interface is way easier to use when adding POIs and uses an algorithm to organize them in a logical route. (It’s also easy to drag and drop to reorder, and to toggle POIs on and off the map.)
- They provide the distance and time estimate data between each stop by default.
- Every trip has a total estimated time, distance, and gas cost. That last one is super helpful when planning your trip.
Anyway, you’ll see a map for each Los Angeles road trip below; you can click on the map itself to jump to a bigger, interactive view with a lot more detail.
(If you dig these maps and want to make your own, I used Roadtrippers Plus to create these routes; you can get $5 off Plus by clicking this link and using code BTR5QTP.)
The Best Road Trips from Los Angeles
1. SoCal Beach-Hopper
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: San Diego, Oceanside, Huntington Beach, Venice Beach, Malibu
When deciding where to start this list of Los Angeles road trips, I figured I should go for the obvious draw: those prime Pacific Ocean beaches that draw visitors from across the country. This route can be as long or short as you like – you could even do it in one day if you want.
Instead, I recommend making it a weekend road trip at a minimum; head south from L.A. to San Diego, then work your way up north along CA-1 stopping at beaches and overnights as you like. I personally love Huntington Beach if you’re going to make another overnight stop. I also feel like it’s fun to stop in Venice Beach/Santa Monica and view them with a visitor’s eyes.
2. Desert Oases
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Palm Springs, Joshua Tree NP, Anza-Borrego SP
The geography of Southern California is wild: coastal climes, towering mountains, and some of the driest deserts on earth all exist within a few hundred miles. This route takes you to the latter – specifically the cool places in those deserts (and by cool I mean both temperature and vibe!).
Set out from L.A. to Palm Springs for this road trip; you can use Palm Springs as a base for a few days of exploring the area, or plan an overnight in Joshua Tree too. There are a number of true desert oases in the area (like, with palm trees), including the Oasis of Mara and Whitewater Preserve. Be sure to head home a different route (pictured above) by driving along the Salton Sea to Salvation Mountain (vibe!) and spending another night in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where plant life flourishes despite the dry.
3. California’s Route 66
- Suggested Days: 2+
- Suggested Overnights: Needles, Ludlow
While you can actually do this road trip from Los Angeles in a single day, I don’t recommend it. After all, the point of Route 66 was to get out and explore the country!
Instead, make a long beeline to Needles on your first day along I-40, then work your way back to L.A. along Route 66 in a more leisurely fashion. Ludlow is a good halfway point on your return trip, but you can certainly take longer and spend the night in a few of the funky and fascinating towns that still exist along the way. Some pit stops worth making include Goffs (an abandoned mining town), Amboy Crater (remnants of an ancient volcano), Calico Ghost Town, the Route 66 Mother Road Museum (in Barstow), Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch (in Oro Grande), and a number of other roadside attractions and tributes to this famous route.
4. Giant Redwoods
- Suggested Days: 6
- Suggested Overnights: Arnold, Yosemite NP, Shaver Lake, King’s Canyon NP, Sequoias NP
In the past, I’ve recommended this Giant Redwoods road trip to people from (or visiting) San Francisco… seeing the Redwoods is one of the big draws for visiting Central and Northern California! But if you’re in L.A., you can also do this route in the same number of days and with the same overnights!
This six-day road trip itinerary can’t be cut down much – it takes a lot of driving time to reach the mountainous Giant Redwoods in the 75 groves where they are known to live. That plus the fact this road trip takes you to three of California’s epic national parks make it the kind of trip you’ll want to do in full. (If you just want to visit the national parks, I’ve got an itinerary and route for that below).
Over the course of those six days though, you’ll wander down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that forms California’s eastern border. Here you’ll discover some of the most monstrous trees on the planet, including the Discovery tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park (the first sequoia noted by naturalists in the 1850s!) and General Sherman Tree (the tree with the greatest volume on earth).
5. Sierra National Parks
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: Three Rivers, Yosemite National Park
An abbreviated version of the Giant Redwoods road trip I just mentioned, this one focuses exclusively on the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas: Sequoia, King’s Canyon, and Yosemite. (Of course, you’ll see some redwoods on this route too since that’s a big draw at both Sequoia and King’s Canyon!)
Book all your accommodation in advance as these parks are super popular for weekenders from both L.A. (Sequoia/King’s Canyon) and San Francisco (Yosemite).
If you choose to extend your time in any of the parks, I recommend Yosemite – there are tons of hikes and parts of the park to explore even within the Yosemite Valley. To help, here’s my guide for how to spend 3 days in Yosemite.
6. Circle the Central Coast
- Suggested Days: 4+
- Suggested Overnights: Paso Robles, Lompoc or Solvang, Santa Barbara
Geography aside, we all know that Central California pretty much begins as soon as you get out of the city. Take some time to explore this region that’s not nearly as far away as it seems. I recommend doing this road trip in a counter-clockwise direction: set out along I-5 until you turn for the coast and Paso Robles for the night. Then it’s a matter of choosing your own stops: San Luis Obispo is always a good time, Lompoc is a cute town with wineries around, and Solvang will transport you to Europe. For your second overnight, you can stop in Santa Barbara, then return home on 101 or Highway 1.
If you want to do this road trip with only two overnights (as a weekend), you could do San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as your overnights instead.
7. Death Valley
- Suggested Days: 2-3
- Suggested Overnights: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is a destination in its own right; it’s also technically a road trip since you can make a loop of it to explore more of the park. Set out from L.A. and make the five-hour drive to the national park on your first day; there are plenty of good spots to stop and explore along the way to break up the drive. Once in the park you can stay a few nights, exploring the various geologic sights and wonders.
On your way home, take a different route to keep things interesting! The World’s Tallest Thermometer stands in Baker, California (#2 on the map above) and that route home takes you past other wonders: ghost towns, a deep space array, and the town of Zzyzx.
8. SoCal PCH
- Suggested Days: 3+
- Suggested Overnights: Santa Barbara, San Diego
The PCH is one of California’s most famous road trips – if you’ve never tried to drive it, now’s the time! This route covers a small portion of the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1), and can be done in either direction (starting north to Santa Barbara or south to San Diego). It covers many of the same stops as the SoCal Beach Hopper (south of L.A.) itinerary above and the Circling the Central Coast one too (north of L.A.).
To do this as a designated road trip, head out of L.A. in either direction for your first overnight. On the second day, drive from one end (Santa Barbara/San Diego) to the other for a second overnight. You’ll pass through Los Angles along the way, specifically Santa Monica, but part of the point is to see this route as a visitor would! You can go full tourist too and make stops along the way – the goal is to explore this epic route that draws thousands of road trippers every year.
9. Channel Islands
- Suggested Days: 3-4
- Suggested Overnights: Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island
Okay, this is a stretch of the definition for “road trips” that I laid out above, but stick with me; you do have to drive from L.A. to Ventura to catch the ferry to the Channel Islands, after all. Once you get to the Channel Islands, you’ll be exploring on foot though, making it one of the most active road trips I’ve ever recommended!
Be sure to check out all the details for the ferries and island transport on the Channel Islands National Park Service website, and grab reservations for the campsites (which are required) on both islands if you plan on staying overnight as a multi-day road (and foot) trip.
10. Baja California
- Suggested Days: 7-8
- Suggested Overnights: Ejido Papalote, Bahia Tortugas, Loreto, Cabo San Lucas/San José del Cabo, La Paz, Santa Rosalía, San Felipe
I always like to include one epic long road trip in my list in case you need (or have) more than a weekend to get away and relax. This road trip takes you from the U.S.-Mexico border to the southern Cabos (Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo) over the course of at least a week – though you can certainly extend it to longer if you want to make more stops.
In addition to the overnights listed above, I highly recommend a few other stops and detours: Tijuana, Ensenada (about two hours south of Tijuana), the Valle de Guadalupe (a wine region), San Ignacio Lagoon (if you’re road tripping during Grey Whale season), cute Todos Santos (just north of the Cabos), El Triunfo (especially Bar El Mineral for incredible food in a tiny mining town), and Rancho Cacachilas outside El Sargento (where you can stay for a few days at an ecoresort!).
If you’ve never explored the two Baja states, a Baja California road trip is the perfect way to do so!
11. One-Way California Coast/Pacific Coast Highway
Last but definitely not least, I can’t skip over the fact that you can plan some seriously epic road trips from Los Angeles if you’re willing to do a one-way trip (i.e. rent a one-way rental car and fly home).
The biggest two I recommend are the:
- The Pacific Coast Highway – This is the most popular road trip route I recommend; you can fly up the coast and drive down (or drive up and return south by plane). Check out my guide to planning a PCH road trip and you’ll be set.
- The California Coast to SF – If you want to explore the main part of the PCH between LA and SF, this article and route will show you how. You’ll have to reverse it unless you fly to SF to start your trip.
Both of these road trips are longer than others on the list – and are one-way, which I said I wouldn’t include… but it just seems like an omission to not include the fact that you can plan them as an epic road trip from Los Angeles. They help wrap up the list with a nice bow, dontcha think?
Do you have questions about any of these L.A. road trip routes? Let me know in the comments!