California’s got a little bit of everything, so whether you’re itching for a road trip, want to bask on the beach, or yearn for a relaxing mountain retreat, you can quite literally choose your own adventure.
Summer vacation planning starts now.
Keep reading for the road trips and summer vacations that encapsulate the spirit of the Golden State.
Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear & the Rim of the World Scenic Byway
Nestled in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake offer such serenity that it’s hard to believe you’re only a couple of hours from Los Angeles. Rugged alpine terrain makes this slice of the Inland Empire a beautiful year-round respite, with incredible skiing in the winter and endless recreation and refreshment in the summer. Take a guided tour of Lake Arrowhead aboard the Arrowhead Queen paddlewheel boat, stroll the shops and restaurants in Arrowhead Village, or visit the Wildhaven Ranch Animal Sanctuary.
Big Bear Lake boasts more than 60 miles of cross-country hiking and mountain biking trails (including the Pacific Crest Trail), plus 22 miles of shoreline where you can take advantage of paddleboard, kayak and boat rentals. If you love the water, you’ll love Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. If you really want to get your adrenaline pumping, try ziplining through a ponderosa pine forest or taking a helicopter ride.
Even getting there is an experience. Why not take your time and drive along the 110-mile-long Rim of the World Scenic Byway? The drive starts on CA-138 near the Mormon Rocks in Cajon Junction. From there, the route quickly starts gaining elevation as it makes its way into the mountains and eventually meets CA-18. Heaps Park Arboretum, Keller Peak Road and Lake View Point make for scenic pit stops.
Fresno Blossom & Fruit Trails
This 62-mile loop takes you through Central Valley orchards blanketed in pastel blossoms as fruit and nut trees transform each spring. Start the Blossom and Fruit Trail at Simonian Farms, a fruit stand where you can stock up on snacks and grab a map.
Extend your trip through Orange Cove and the Orange Blossom Trail. You’ll want to roll down the windows to breathe in the wonderful aroma of citrus blossoms. Continuing on the trail, you’ll pass through tiny towns like Minkler and Reedley, and on a good day, you’ll be able to catch the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance.
Blossom season usually begins in February or March, depending on temperature and rainfall. In the summer, you’ll find roadside stands where you can buy fresh picked peaches, nectarines and plums. If you want to extend your trip, tack on a hike or cabin stay in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.
Lake Tahoe may be best known for its incredible skiing, but its summers aren’t to be underestimated—proving that it’s a fantastic vacation destination year-round. Warm weather activities revolve around boating, sunbathing, hiking and biking.
Take a hike and soak in sweeping views of the lake and the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Emerald Bay State Park or D.L. Bliss State Park. Pack a picnic and go for a swim at one of the many Lake Tahoe public beaches, like Sand Harbor, Pope Beach and Lester Beach. Hop on the Lake Tahoe National Scenic Byway, a 28-mile drive that encompasses the lake and offers stunning views of Lake Tahoe’s cobalt blue waters.
Visit nearby Truckee, CA, for Truckee Thursdays. During the summer, the Old West enclave transforms into a street festival complete with food trucks, live music and a beer garden.
Pacific Coast Highway
Think “California road trip,” and the Pacific Coast Highway is likely what comes to mind. The route is packed with must-sees, and whether you decide to drive one section of the PCH or the entire thing, it’s easy to customize this California coast road trip based on your interests.
Here’s a sample itinerary to try:
Start in Dana Point, the PCH’s southern terminus, and follow the route north through Orange County. You’ll pass through Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and other communities that epitomize the endless summer and SoCal surf culture.
From there, continue to Santa Barbara, home of Mediterranean climes, Spanish architecture and award-winning wineries. Wander the shops and restaurants downtown on State Street, rent kayaks or paddleboards along the beach, and visit the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara.
Then, it’s on to California wine country. The Santa Ynez Valley is home to a unique climate that lends itself to a medley of world-class varietals. Don’t forget to check out the area’s charming villages of Solvang, Buellton, Los Alamos and Los Olivos. You may recognize them from the 2004 movie “Sideways.”
Next up is San Luis Obispo, a college town with a laid-back ranch culture, which means amazing barbecue. Old San Luis BBQ, Mo’s and G. Brothers are popular among locals. Tour the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, explore the vineyards in Paso Robles, Edna Valley and Arroyo Grande Valley, or kick around SLO county’s cool beach towns: Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Morro Bay, Cayucos and Cambria. Spend the night at the legendary Madonna Inn, a boutique hotel with 110 totally out-there rooms, before taking the 1-hour drive to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the former country estate of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Just be sure to book tickets in advance. It’s especially busy during the summertime.
Follow the PCH to Big Sur along rugged, winding roads that hug California’s picturesque coastline. This is the part you’ve been dreaming of. The 90-mile stretch is home to breathtaking scenery and endless photo ops, like Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and McWay Falls, a tidefall that empties into the ocean.
Continue to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming seaside village with beautiful beaches for swimming and surfing, and streets lined with shops, galleries and restaurants. Visit the Carmel Mission and the former home of poet Robinson Jeffers at the Tor House for a healthy dose of history.
Instead of staying on the PCH to Monterey, take the famed 17 Mile Drive. You’ll traverse the Monterey Peninsula and pass through Pebble Beach, America’s greatest public golf course. Once in Monterey, visit Cannery Row, Steinbeck’s Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum and the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Then, it’s on to Santa Cruz, a mellow beach town that’s home to the family-friendly Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and San Francisco, the northern terminus of the PCH. Take a ride on a cable car, explore neighborhoods like Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury and Russian Hill, and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge—a pretty epic way to end your trip!
The Channel Islands & Santa Catalina Island
The Channel Islands, just off the coast of Southern California, are part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park. Given its remoteness (you can only access the islands via boat or small plane), it’s one of the least-visited national parks, but that also means it’s been largely undisturbed for hundreds of years.
Book a boat ride to Santa Cruz Island, the perfect destination for a day trip or overnight camping trip. Here you can take a guided hike, and swim, snorkel or kayak in the clear waters of Scorpion Beach. Since there are no services on the island, it’s critical to be prepared and explore at your own risk.
If roughing it isn’t your idea of a vacation, Santa Catalina Island may be more your speed. It’s the perfect combination of outdoor activities and luxe amenities. Two Harbors is the quieter side of Catalina Island. With opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, camping, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving, it’s a great spot for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.
Avalon lies at the eastern end of Catalina Island. Stroll along Crescent Avenue before hitting Descanso Beach to swim, snorkel or kayak. The town is home to several points of interest, including Wrigley Botanical Garden, the Catalina Casino and the Catalina Island Museum, as well as the Green Pleasure Pier, where you can go fishing (no permit required!) or catch an ocean expedition.
Car Insurance Coverage for the Road Ahead
An auto insurance policy from Personal Express can protect your vehicle and give you peace of mind—and with add-ons like roadside assistance, you can be prepared wherever the road takes you this summer. Chat with a Homegrown Pro in your neighborhood or call 1-800-499-3612 to learn how you can save money by bundling your car insurance policy with homeowners or renters insurance.