California’s Top 10 Scenic Drives

California’s Top 10 Scenic Drives

Beachgoers catch the last of the sunset light in the ocean alongside the Pacific Coast Highway on July 2, 2020. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

4/20/2024

Updated: 5/9/2024

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California offers it all: mountains, valleys, old growth redwood forests, beaches, and bustling cities. And you can see many of these storybook scenes from the comfort of your own car. Along the Pacific Coast Highway, sites like Big Sur await. On the Avenue of the Giants, ancient redwoods tower overhead.
Here are some of our favorite scenic drives in the Golden State.

Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway—also known as the 101—is arguably California’s most scenic drive. This iconic route follows the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean from Southern California starting in San Diego to Crescent City, the northernmost city in the state. You don’t want to miss the stretch between Big Sur and Monterey, which is especially impressive for its breathtaking views of the rugged coastline, massive cliffs, waterfalls, and historic bridges.

Highway 395

Highway 395 runs through the eastern portion of the state, taking you through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Enjoy views of colorful mountains and alpine lakes. The gorgeous Mono Lake and Mammoth Lakes are an easy stop just off of the highway.
A truck travels Highway 395 near Hesperia, Calif., on March 4, 2008. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A truck travels Highway 395 near Hesperia, Calif., on March 4, 2008. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants, formerly part of U.S. 101 and named after the coastal redwoods lining the route, is located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This beautiful drive through a majestic grove of massive ancient redwoods—some of which are over 300 feet tall and over 600 years old—is like driving through a magical world.

The Lost Coast Scenic Drive

Secluded, wild, and rugged, this drive through California’s Lost Coast—California’s only coastal wilderness—takes you along the a narrow and windy two-lane road in the most undeveloped part of the Northern California coast. A four-hour round trip, you will experience Victorian Ferndale, alpine forests, and a sprawling Pacific coast line. Along the way, check out Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Napa Valley Silverado Trail

Famous for its world class wineries, the Napa Valley Silverado Trail is a 29-mile winding country road leading from the southern end of Calistoga to Napa. Along the way, take in the colorful rolling hills and vine-covered landscapes lined with shady oaks and world-class vineyards.
The drive south through the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail is one of the most beautiful and iconic in American wine. (Allard One/Shutterstock)

The drive south through the Napa Valley along the Silverado Trail is one of the most beautiful and iconic in American wine. (Allard One/Shutterstock)

Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive is a great choice if you’re in the Los Angeles area but still want to enjoy incredible city sightseeing. This beautiful, 24-mile long stretch between the 101 and 405 freeways is known for some of the best views of the Los Angeles Basin, the San Fernando Valley, downtown Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Sign, and celebrity mansions.

Lake Tahoe Loop

With ancient pine trees hugging the road, this 145-mile loop around Lake Tahoe—known as the “Jewel of the Sierra Nevada”—offers stunning views of clear blue lakes and the lush forest surrounding it. There are also endless opportunities to stop and enjoy outdoor activities along the 3-hour stretch around the lake, including scenic hikes, refreshing swims, boat rowing, or just relaxing on the beaches.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

Zigzag your way through the California side of this scenic route, that also runs through southern Oregon, and take in the beauty of a landscape shaped by millions of years of volcanic eruptions. Along this drive, you will see four different types of volcanoes, demonstrating for all to see why the U.S. west coast has received the nickname, “The Ring of Fire.” Also, stunning waterfalls and lush forests are must see attractions.
The Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park, Calif., on June 29, 2013. (Reuters)

The Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park, Calif., on June 29, 2013. (Reuters)

Death Valley Scenic Byway (Route 190)

A drive through Death Valley on Route 190 will take you through an unforgiving yet picturesque landscape. Take in the multicolored mountains along this desert route. While Route 190 begins at State Route 99 just south of downtown Tipton in Tulare County and heads straight east along the San Joaquin Valley on Avenue 144, Death Valley Scenic Byway is the portion which lies within Death Valley National Park.

Route 66

From California’s scorching Mojave Desert to the pristine beaches of Santa Monica and its iconic pier, this historic drive takes you through gorgeous mountains, deep valleys, along beautiful beaches, and close to must-see cultural landmarks. Commissioned in 1926 to connect Chicago and Los Angeles, this classic drive is the embodiment of the American Dream and also one of the first national highways for automobiles. Along this route, check out the Mojave National Preserve.
California’s geographical diversity makes it easy to find beauty anywhere in the state. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the otherworldly landscapes of the desert, the majestic beauty of the forest or grasslands, or the ocean and city skylines, you’ll find it in the Golden State. California also operates the State Scenic Highway Program. Scenic highways are marked by the state flower, a California poppy.
A stretch of historic Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, about an hour north of Joshua Tree National Park. (Courtesy of Tyrone Beason/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A stretch of historic Route 66 in the Mojave Desert, about an hour north of Joshua Tree National Park. (Courtesy of Tyrone Beason/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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