Los Angeles may be a destination in its own right, but one of the best parts about living in this Southern California city (or even visiting) is just how easy it is to drive a few hours and be in a completely different environment. By Stacey Leasca
Thanks to its proximity to beaches, mountains, a few famed national parks, and even the Mexico border, Los Angeles is a prime hub for road tripping adventures.
Read on for a few of our favourite road trips from Los Angeles
Joshua Tree, California
If you’re looking for a short drive that will somehow transport you to another planet, make the trek to Joshua Tree, California. The area, located about 130 miles (209 km) from Los Angeles, is home to a famed national park that comes stacked with its namesake tree. But don’t stop there. Visit places like the Integratron, a rejuvenation centre designed by ufologist George Van Tassel, and the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, an outdoor venue filled with trash-to-treasure pieces by artist Noah Purifoy. Dine in a few of the area’s best restaurants, too, including Frontier Café, La Copine, and, of course, the famed Pappy and Harriet’s.
How to Get There: From downtown Los Angeles, hop on I-10 East to CA-62 East.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Driving to Las Vegas is a rite of passage for many living in Los Angeles. Packing a car and heading to the desert city always comes with a lot of excitement, knowing you’re in for a weekend of debauchery on the other side. But don’t let the journey pass you by. While en route to Sin City, stop in at places like Barstow, home to the Route 66 Museum and Desert Discovery Center, which holds the oldest meteorite in the USA. For a longer pit stop, make your way to the Mojave National Preserve and walk through the lava tubes to feel Mother Nature’s power.
How to Get There: Take 1-10 East until you see the twinkling Vegas lights come into view.
Big Sur, California
No road trip from Los Angeles is more iconic than the one you can take down Highway 1. The route, which hugs the California coast from Orange County to Mendocino, is simply stunning from beginning to end. And here’s the best part: No matter where you stop, you’ll find a great endpoint. But for a truly famed getaway, drive north from Los Angeles to Big Sur. The coastal drive is famous for its clifftop views. Maximise your visit by hiking in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, snapping Instagram-worthy photos at Bixby Creek Bridge, and taking a stroll down Sand Dollar Beach.
How to Get There: Hop on US-101 North to CA-1 North (aka Highway 1) and follow the ocean to Big Sur. It should take about six hours to get from Downtown Los Angeles to Big Sur.
Los Angeles is just a few hours from the USA-Mexico border, making an international road trip easy. For an idyllic escape, head south to Rosarito, a sleepy surfer’s paradise located just down the road from its louder party-centric neighbour, Tijuana. In Rosarito, it’s best to dedicate an entire vacation to lounging on the beach, paddling in the waves, and drinking cocktails with tiny umbrellas. However, if you need more, you can always hike Cerro El Coronel, shop in Plaza Pabellón, and visit the charming fishing village of Popotla just down the street.
How to Get There: Take US-101 South to I-5 South all the way over the border.
Napa Valley, California
California’s wine country is a must when it comes to road trips from LA. The drive to Napa may be long, but it’s a pretty direct shot, and once you’re there, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous vineyard views and plenty of vino to sip and savour. Beyond hiring a driver to take you on a winery tour for the day, you can also see Napa from a different perspective by hopping in a hot air balloon. Visitors can also tour the area via bike or take in a little more culture by paying a visit to one of the numerous art galleries and museums.
How to Get There: Take I-5 North to CA-12 West and CA-29 North until you hit your destination.
If you’re on the hunt for a bit of spiritual renewal, head to Sedona. The stunning Arizona town is well-known for its mystical powers, including several vortexes that are said to be a connection between this universe and others. Take in all the red rock beauty with a hike on Devil’s Bridge Trail, visit the Cathedral Rock vortex, and cap off the trip with shopping for a few local souvenirs in the area’s Uptown neighbourhood.
How to Get There: Take I-10 East to I-17 North. It’s a lengthy trip, so plan for a pit stop in Joshua Tree or Palm Springs along the way.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly a popular road trip destination, topping many travellers’ must-see lists — and for good reason. The national park’s awe-inspiring views are the stuff of legend and its hiking trails are second to none. During your Grand Canyon visit, take some time to either trek part of its trail system, or if you’re feeling up to it, try a rim-to-rim hike that will take you to the bottom and back again. (Just make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks along the way and avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.) Stop in at the Grand Canyon Village for supplies, or treat yourself to a different view with a helicopter tour.
How to Get There: Follow I-15 North and I-40 East to AZ-64 North/West. Hit Route 66 in Williams, then take exit 165 from I-40 East to AZ-64 North.
Zion National Park, Utah
Another stellar road trip destination for those looking to explore America’s national parks is Zion. Much like the Grand Canyon, this park also offers fantastic views, but it has the advantage when it comes to drives as it’s also home to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This route allows travellers to traverse the park in their vehicle, making it accessible to more visitors. Enjoy the drive, which hugs the Virgin River, then make your way to the nearby Grafton ghost town to see what life was like for settlers making their way West.
How to Get There: It’s essentially a straight shot on I-15 North. This is another lengthy drive, but the route cuts through Las Vegas, which serves as an ideal stopover.
No matter the time of year, taking a road trip to Mammoth is a good idea. In the spring, the wildflowers bloom and the bucolic scenery comes to life. During the summer, you can take a dip in Mammoth Lakes, and come fall, enjoy a hike and watch the leaves change to vibrant hues of burnt orange, red, and yellow. However, the winter months are when this place really shines, thanks to its renowned ski resort. Don’t overlook the healing hot springs in the winter either, which will soothe your muscles after a hike, dip, or ski day.
How to Get There: Take US-101 North to I-5 North, and follow that to CA-14 North. Then, hop on US-395 North until you reach Mammoth.
Lake Tahoe, California
Last, but certainly not least, is a road trip to Lake Tahoe, which straddles California and Nevada. The area offers plenty of outdoor fun, including lounging by the lake, hiking endless trails, skiing down groomed runs at a number of nearby resorts or taking a backcountry excursion. And although Lake Tahoe is certainly beautiful in its own right, we recommend taking your time on this route as there are plenty of spots to stop along the way, like the Inyo National Forest in Bishop, Mammoth, and even a quick detour in Yosemite National Park. Because life — and travel — should also be about the journey, not just the destination.
How to Get There: Take CA-14 North and US-395 North to US-50 West in South Lake Tahoe.