10 Best Scenic Drives In California, USA

scenic drives in california
| 5 min read

California is one of the most sought after states in the West Coast of the United States with its Mediterranean climate and sun that is never too far away. Ecological richness has been one of the main foundations of this truly magnificent state, where one can expect to interact with mesmerizing natural phenomena. The majority of what constitutes the state’s ecology is in the form of forestry that covers almost half of the landmass. Check out the 10 best scenic drives in California and discover the countless valleys, rivers, deltas, national parks, mountain ranges, forests, beaches and views of the Pacific Ocean.

1. Santa Barbara Wine Route Drive

USA-Santa Barbara-View from County Courthouse Tower-3
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Eugene Zelenko used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Santa Barbara Wine Route Drive is spread over a 49-mile (79-kilometer) stretch and can be visited at any time of the year due to the optimal weather conditions of the region. The fame of Californian wine has grown to have a national, even international attention. Several unique spots make up this drive, including Bueller Wine Trail, Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Lompoc Wine Trail, Santa Barbara Urban Trail, Solvang Wine Trail, Los Olivos Promenade, Santa Ynez Wine Trail and Sta. Rita Hills Wine Trail. Get out there and taste the Californian wines that everyone is talking about, like the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which have become the signature beverages of the region.

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2. Feather River Scenic Byway Drive

State Route 447 Between Pyramid Lake and Gerlach, Nevada (11128344446)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ken Lund used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Feather River Scenic Byway Drive reaches out for a total of 130 miles (209 kilometers) from the eastern to the western end of the state. The route offers convenience, allowing travelers to enter it from either direction. It is one of the top choices for getting to experience the views of significant landmarks such as Pacific Crest Trail, Pulge and Tobin Bridges. Feather River Scenic Byway Drive is also an optimal option for getting to see first hand California’s waterfalls, vast landscapes, wildlife, rivers, and terrains. The excellent climatic conditions of this West Coast state make outdoor recreational activities like camping, rafting, kayaking, and fishing possible.

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3. Big Sur Coastal Route Drive

California Route 1 Highway - Cabrillo Highway near Big Sur June Pfeiffer Park - panoramio (7)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user David Broad used under CC BY 3.0

Big Sur Coastal Route Drive is one of the top-rated scenic drives in the United States that goes on for 123 miles (198 kilometers) — 90 miles (144 kilometers) of it is made up of the Big Sur coastal line. It’s also nicknamed the All-American-Road. The route takes one through the Central Californian coast, which begins in Monterey by entering Route 1. From this point onward is an experience of a lifetime! Big Sur Coastal Route Drive takes approximately 5-hours to cover, and when you go through it, one is introduced to Point Lobos State Reserve, Gorrapata State Park, Big Sur State Park, and Brixlet Bridge. This unforgettable adventure ends in Morro Bay.

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4. June Lake Loop Route Drive

Stunning June Lake in the Fall
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Photographersnature used under CC BY-SA 3.0

June Lake Loop Route Drive is an ultimate choice for those that are passionate about spending quality time near bodies of water. The route is 15 miles (24 kilometers) in total. “It’s part of Highway 395 and is reached by taking State Road 158. It is due east of the grandiose Sierra Nevada mountains, thus, offering views of it along the way. June Lake Loop Route Drive is a fundamental destination for reflection and taking time to enjoy all that nature has to offer and more. While in the area, make sure to stop by June Lake Beach as well as exploring other smaller lakes that are also part of the drive.

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California Tour Guide

Stephanie Eley

Stephanie Eley

I'm a graduate of ITMI, International Tour Management Institute and 17 years as a licensed Tour Director and Program Director. My expertise began in NYC and Washington, DC where I'm a licensed guide and has expanded to Europe, South America, Cuba and the Western / Southwestern National Parks of the US. I'd love to introduce you for a day or a week to Denver, Colorado and the 4 corners region of the US: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona! Let's GO!! stepheley@gmail.com

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5. Anza Borrego Desert Route Drive

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user BOB PERRY used under CC BY 3.0

Anza Borrego Desert Route Drive is encapsulated within the far-reaching Anza Borrego State Park and covers a total of 89 miles (143 kilometers). This makes it the biggest state park on the West coast. The weather conditions allow visitors to participate in the drive at any time of the year. This part of California is especially rich in its ecology, making it a home to a vast number of species. There are overlooks where one can stop by and ponder on the scenery. Lastly, do keep an eye for the following while discovering the area: Seventeen Palms Oasis, Mason Valley Cactus Gardens, Fossil Canyon, and Font’s Point.

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6. Malibu to Lompoc Route Drive

Mugu Rock on California Route 1
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tim Pearce used under CC BY 2.0

Malibu to Lompoc Route Drive stretches for 116 miles (187 kilometers). Though it can technically be covered in about 2 hours, there are endless options to stop along the way. The drive is an optimal one for those who are drawn to the ocean, as it is only a look away during the entire drive. Malibu to Lompoc Route Drive covers some of the most charming spots in this sunny state. Some of these attractions include Malibu Sport Fishing Pier, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Point Dume State Park, Zuma Beach, Point Mugu State Park & Natural Reserve, San Buenaventura State Beach, Channel Islands National Park, Leo Carillo Beach and many more!

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7. Redwood Highway Route Drive

Redwood Highway Route
Source: Pixabay

Redwood Highway Route Drive is a 213-mile (343-kilometer) adventure that presents the tallest redwood trees on the planet. The drive takes about 4 hours to complete, as one is wrapped by the lush greenery the entire time. It is highly recommended to pay a visit to what is known as The Avenue of Giants — a 33-mile (53-kilometer) stretch along US 101. There will be nine specific stops to make in The Avenue of Giants. Redwood Highway Route Drive is due south of where California borders the state of Oregon. Do not miss the Redwood National Park, Richardson Lake State Park, and Humboldt Lagoons State Park.

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8. Death Valley Scenic Byway Drive

Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Brocken Inaglory used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Death Valley Scenic Byway Drive lies on Route 190 and unfurls over a 130-mile (209-kilometer) distance. It makes for a rather unorthodox drive, but the desert ecology in this area is something that cannot be found elsewhere. The desert wildlife, which has gradually adapted to the extreme climates, make for an intriguing experience. Death Valley is recognized as the hottest and the driest destination in the North American continent. As one enters the Death Valley National Park, it is recommended that you enjoy the views from outlook points such as Aguereberry Point. While driving is a great way to travel the entirety of the byway, exploring some of the region’s hikes are also extremely enjoyable.

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9. Silverado Trail Drive

Napa Valley Silverado Trail
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Stan Shebs used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Silverado Trail Drive is a 26-mile (42-mile) exploration of the Napa Valley region — an area that has been defined by the delicious wines it has been producing for many years. Thus, the majority of the ride will feature hills and mountains that make grape growing possible, along with a Mediterranean climate. While getting acquainted with Napa Valley, one is encouraged to take part in wine tasting at numerous wineries and enjoy an open-air dining experience. The drive continues past Napa Valley towards Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, where a visit to Calistoga for its hot springs and mineral pools will top it all off.

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10. The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive

US 50 from Echo Summit towards Lake Tahoe
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Shea used under CC BY 2.0

The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive runs for a total of 72 miles (116 kilometers). Here, you’ll be enveloped by both Sierra Nevada and Carson Ranges throughout. The drive features various opportunities to stop and take in the scenary. Lake Tahoe, being one of the deepest lakes of the world, also has beautiful sparkling water, which is an image that the eye and the mind to ponder on. Being close to the water allows for winter and summer activities. This naturally rich region houses Camp Richardson, Tallac Historic Sites, Sugar Pine Point State Park, Cave Rock Overlook, and Vikingsholm Castle.

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Travel the dreamy routes of California

California does not fall short of providing some of the most outstanding scenery in the United States. There are infinite choices that make visiting California a special occasion, which can truly be enjoyed going through the 10 best scenic drives In California, USA. The scenic drive encompasses all that is made possible by an exceptional climate. Savor the lakes, mountains, state parks, deserts, hikes, wineries, forests, beaches, natural reserves, wildlife, coastlines, and more. Do not hesitate to dive deep into the majestic world that is the state of California, for it will exceed any expectation one may have.

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My name is Edip Efe Ulucay - I am a designer and writer currently based out of Istanbul, TR with an academic background in architectural design. Through sharing articles, I hope to inspire others...Read more

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