See The Best Of California's Attractions On This Road Trip Route

From sea to sequoia, California contains some of America's most breathtaking views out of all 50 states. With 840 miles of scenic vistas from coast to coast, there is perhaps no better way to experience the beauty of the Golden State than by car. Palm trees, point breaks, and the enviable California lifestyle characterize Southern cities such as Los Angeles and Malibu. Road trip north towards San Francisco, where the topography favors cooler temperatures, captivating mountain peaks, and rolling hillsides.

The road from Los Angeles to San Francisco is one of the state's most picturesque voyages, running through desert valleys, alpine grasslands, and mountain ranges. Road trippers can choose between two routes to make the trip. The iconic Pacific Coast Highway is a stunning trek for those who travel best with captivating views in the rearview mirror. While the dazzling Pacific parallels most of this route, expect to add four hours to your journey. For a faster, more efficient course, follow the I-5 north through the grandeur of the Santa Monica mountains, enchanting national forests, and finally, into Northern California's esteemed wine country. Here's how.

Los Angeles to Solvang

Heading north out of L.A., you can mark your first stop at the sleepy town of Malibu before ascending east into mountainous terrain. The Calabasas Canyons provide a scenic highway that bridges the Santa Monica mountains and Malibu's coastlines. The mountains are home to hiking trails overlooking the Pacific, abundant wildlife, and plummeting canyons. If time allows, take Malibu Canyon Road through the sweeping valleys until the road opens up to Malibu's oceanfront backdrop. 

For a road trip recharge, stop by Topanga Living Cafe for a fresh-baked pastry, organic smoothie, or a coffee beverage. To make the most of the journey, consider an overnight stay at Calamigos Ranch. This upscale retreat blends the best of both worlds with its woodland charm and towering oaks while waves crash against the cliffs at Point Dume, a mere 15 minutes away. Back on the road, you'll want to set your directions for Solvang. 

You don't have to get on a plane to experience a taste of Danish culture in this small, fairytale town. Founded by three Danish immigrants in 1911, its medieval architecture, rustic style, and flamboyant colors reflect Solvang's European roots. Meander your way down any of Solvang's cobblestone streets, each lined with a medley of Danish bakeries, coffee shops, and boutiques carrying traditional artisanal pieces. Solvang has no shortage of delectable dining options. For an early morning energy buzz, try Paula's Pancake HouseMad & Vin is an upscale venue with seasonal fare. End your day by checking into The Landsby, a chic, European-style hotel.

Northbound to San Francisco

Following the I-5 northeast from Solvang, you can experience the wonder of California's Sierra National Forest, home to 3 million acres of towering sequoias. Located south of Yosemite and less than an hour from Fresno, alpine grasslands, granite monoliths, and rushing rivers coalesce into a beautiful mountain sanctuary. Miles of hiking trails cover the land, including the John Muir Trail that stretches 211 miles from the Sierra Nevadas to Mount Whitney. The fall season is perfect for camping out under the stars next to an enormous bonfire. 

On the final stretch of your trip, travel just an hour north for a NorCal gem that's well worth the extra miles! Napa Valley contains acres of rolling hillsides in vineyards reminiscent of the Italian countryside. Hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for a scenic tour transversing California's most picturesque vineyards. The three-hour train ride spans from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back, highlighting some of Napa's most exotic viticulture experiences.

Oxbow Public Market is a treasure chest for Whole Foods frequenters. The local marketplace contains an assortment of cuisines and high-quality pantry staples from county vendors. A trip to Napa wine country would not be complete without visiting some of the region's most renowned vineyards. With no shortage of serene acreage, Napa proudly produces nearly 50 million wine cases a year. Fall is perhaps the best time to visit when vignerons can be spotted tending to the vines in preparation for harvest. The mature vineyards and fall colors make for a gorgeous photo op — a memorable way to cap this iconic road trip.