It’s summertime, and you’re itchin’ for a vacation. But, where do you go when flying is out of the question? If you’re near the West Coast, you’re in luck. You have direct access to some of the best road trips on the planet! Between California, Nevada, and Arizona, we’ve hand-selected some lesser mentioned destinations for the perfect day trip, weekend getaway, or extended summer vacation.
The sunshine state is arguably one of the best destinations in the world for travel by car. With one of the most iconic coastal roads and views from the surf to the mountain top, it’s hard to take a disappointing turn in this state.
Sandwiched between San Clemente and Laguna Beach, Dana Point is a sweet escape from the city. Whether its Dana Point’s marina or family-friendly surf spots, there’s no shortage of waterfront fun. Doheny State Beach is a spacious spot for sand volleyball, sunbathing, or surfing. Nearby, visitors will find a variety of ocean view hiking trails including Dana Point Conservation Area. Wind down in the evening along Dana Point Harbor or take a quick drive down to San Clemente where you can grab food from local eateries on Avenida Del Mar and enjoy a sunset picnic on the pier.
For some extra NorCal flavor, head up to Eureka. This chilly coastal city is the largest between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Eureka is a destination for the rugged outdoorsman or road tripping family. You’ll find no shortage of history, landscape, and culture to explore. Eureka is set along the beautiful Humboldt Bay with picturesque mountains and redwoods filling the skyline. As a seaport town, guests can take in tranquil views of anglers returning with the catch of the day while enjoying local oysters and wine. Eureka’s Old Town district is a sweet spot for browsing historic architecture and green-thumbs will appreciate the city’s eco efforts. “Zero Waste Eureka,” is an initiative launched in 2019 to educate locals and provide opportunities reduce waste.
If you’re thinking of visiting San Fransisco, opt for its neighbor across the bay. Mill Valley is a quaint town nestled next to the popular town, Sausalito. Both sit along the water across from downtown San Fransisco. Here you can enjoy unspoiled nature including forest hikes with ocean views and foggy waterfront trails. Downtown Mill Valley has a cozy, walkable shopping district with local restaurants worth visiting. For added variety, take a quick drive down the road to Sausalito where you can shop fine antiques and sip wine with views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Big Bear Lake
Less than three hours west of Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake makes for a nice day trip with endless activity options. Make it a weekend and pack your camping gear for a few nights by the water, under the stars. If you enjoy fishing, pack you reel, because Big Bear is a great place to throw a line in. Depending on the season, Big Bear is also an epic destination for snowboarding or skiing. Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are the two main ski resorts, and Big Bear Lake Village has everything you need for dining and shopping.
It’s hard to go wrong with a visit to Pismo Beach. This place is what everyone pictures when they think of California…beautiful sandy beaches, sun baked surfers, stunning sunsets, and delectable dining. Enjoy a brisk morning hike at the Pismo Preserve followed by an afternoon at the beach enjoying the surf. And lastly, wind down with wine tasting at a local vineyard.
The Grand Canyon state has much more to offer than one of the natural wonders of the world. Though you should definitely make a pit stop there, lakes, caverns, and hidden caves make Arizona a fun scavenger hunt for road trippers.
You can’t go wrong with a road trip to Page, Arizona. Here you have a good chunk of the state’s most iconic destinations including Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and Horseshoe Bend. Before you go, be sure to check online to see current updates. Some locations, including the ever-famous Antelope Canyon, remain closed through COVID. Also, keep in mind that these destinations are super popular with tourists. So, if you want to get a good view of the Bend at sunset, it’s best to arrive early.
Road trips require stops to stretch your legs, and there is no better place to do so than in Sedona. Sedona is home to over 100 hiking trails with most leading into the stunning red rocks. Popular trails include the Cathedral Rock Trail, the Devil’s Bridge Trail, and Boynton Canyon. First-timers and avid hikers alike should make a pit stop at The Hike House before starting on their red rock journey. The Hike House is a great resource center that offers recommendations on trails and proper hiking gear, and they can even provide guides to accompany you on your trek.
Sedona has been all the hype lately, but there are some unexpected surprises to be found in Flagstaff. Take a drive into the Coconino National Forest and explore Lava River Cave, an underground lava tube you’d probably miss if no-one told you it was there. Once inside, you’ll find a mile of tight nooks and crannies that lead to great rooms of stone. Bring your flashlight, and don’t count on cell reception; this is a true Indiana Jones kind of experience!
This desert state may seem limited for road tripping destinations, unless you enjoy driving up and down the Las Vegas strip. At some point in history, someone took the risk and ventured out into the desert to see where it ends and got lucky. Venture out into the state, and you’ll find gold mines and the perfect backdrop for an art festival.
Valley of Fire State Park
It’s difficult enough to picture nearly 50,000-acres of anything, let alone fire-red, Aztec Sandstone. Valley of Fire State Park is a nature preserve near Overton, Nevada. Visitors make the trek here for recreational activities like rock climbing or hiking, with Mars-like surroundings.
The Black Rock Desert
“One of the flattest surfaces on Earth,” might not sound very exciting, but The Black Rock Playa covers 200 square miles of otherworldly terrain most commonly recognized as the destination for the Burning Man Festival. Located roughly an hour’s drive from Reno, Nevada, The Black Rock Desert sits within the High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area.
Big Smokey Valley
Along Highway 376, drivers can enjoy 100 miles of foggy beauty that winds through central Nevada between the towns of Tonopah and Austin. While some of this drive can be a bit dry (pun intended), the not-so-Nevada-like Toiyabe Range gives you something magical to look at. Stop by the gold mine in Hadley, or enjoy a “cowboy bath” at the Spencer Hot Springs in Austin. Tip: visit the hot springs at night for unforgettable views of a starry night sky.