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California Trips: Inspiration for California Exploration

Updated on March 29, 2011

Ideas and Inspiration For Trips to California

Any trip to California will require tough choices: what to see, and what to skip. The state is simply too expansive and varied to experience everything all at once.

To help make those choices easier, here are some suggested itineraries for a California vacation. Pick your theme, and choose your own adventure. Will it be ocean, mountain or desert?

Mono Lake / Photo by E. A. Wright
Mono Lake / Photo by E. A. Wright
Yosemite National Park / Photo by E. A. Wright
Yosemite National Park / Photo by E. A. Wright


For some of the best mountain views in California, head to the Sierra Nevada, the mountains that line California's eastern border.

The Spanish name means, literally, the snow-covered range of saw-toothed peaks. Worthwhile destinations in the Sierra Nevada include:

  • Mt. Whitney: Try climbing the highest peak in the continental United States, or watch others try. Then take in the stark scenery on a road trip up I-395.
  • Lake Tahoe: Too touristy for some, Lake Tahoe offers skiing and many amenities along with the mountain scenery.
  • Yosemite National Park: This park deserves its reputation as one of the can't-miss sites in the United States. Try exploring the area beyond the park's eastern edge, including Mono Lake.
  • Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park: More off the beaten path than Yosemite, these adjacent parks offer giant trees and impressive vistas. Bring hiking shoes, as most of the terrain is beyond the reach of cars.

Giant sequoia / Photo by E. A. Wright
Giant sequoia / Photo by E. A. Wright
Big Sur / Photo by E. A. Wright
Big Sur / Photo by E. A. Wright


Big Sur and California Highway 1

Travel the California coast between Carmel and San Simeon, and you're sure to remember every twist and turn in the road. It's one of the ultimate road trips in the state. Your route will follow California's Highway 1, a narrow highway wedged into the sides of steep coastal mountains. Every turn, cliff and vista point leads straight down to the Pacific Ocean.

Passing through Big Sur, you'll cross over stunning bridges and stop to explore rocky beaches, redwood groves and waterfalls.

  • Visit the California coast in the winter (the rainy season) and the hillsides will be a deep, bright green. Visit in the summer and the same landscape will be a toasted mix of yellow and brown.

Big Sur / Photo by E. A Wright
Big Sur / Photo by E. A Wright
Death Valley / Photo by E. A. Wright
Death Valley / Photo by E. A. Wright


Death Valley

Travel to one of the lowest, hottest spots on earth. In the far southeastern corner of California, Badwater Basin is an otherworldly place with an elevation of 282 feet below sea level.

  • Visit Death Valley National Park in the spring to catch the wildflowers.

Death Valley National Park / Photo by E. A. Wright
Death Valley National Park / Photo by E. A. Wright


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    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub...I love the pictures!

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      10 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      NICE Hub-It makes me miss my road trips..would love your feedback on my travel/history Hub Mysterious lake by a Miner's Grave, in Big Bear. California has such AMAZING places to visit!!

    • alphonsians93 profile image


      10 years ago from Cebu Philippines

      Thank you for a wonderful hub and very inspiring.


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