California and road trips have been synonymous since the gold rush and the glory days of Route 66. Every Golden State road trip must stop in wine country. Dr. David Gissen's Wines of California map thoroughly bares the vintage secrets of our West Coast Tuscany, and is a fantastic guide for any wine lover. For more sustenance, add the Cheese Trail through Sonoma and Marin Counties.
But wine and cheese only tell part of the story, and in a state that passed from Native American to Spanish, Russian, Mexican and finally United States hands, diversity has always been part of the scenery. From snow to forest to desert and sub-tropical landscapes, California (almost) has it all.
5 Fun California Road Trips:
Redwood Coast – Crescent City To Shelter Cove
Crescent City sets the tone with Battery Point lighthouse, Pebble Beach agates and giant redwoods. Follow 101 south to Fern Canyon, Redwood National Park, Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Humboldt Lagoons. Patrick's Point has a traditional Yurok village, and Route 299 leads to Willow Creek, whitewater rafting and a Bigfoot museum. Eureka has the Samoa Cookhouse while Fortuna, Ferndale and Scotia offer antiquing, Victoriana and logging culture. Tour the Avenue of the Giants and Scenic Lost Coast Drive, California's only coastal wilderness highway. You can recharge in Shelter Cove before rejoining reality.
Volcanoes, Lakes And Entertainment – Mount Shasta/Redding To Lake Tahoe
Start at Mount Shasta or Redding with Shasta Lake, Turtle Bay, Sundial Bridge, Shasta Caverns and a butterfly house before taking 44 east through Shingletown and its Wild Horse Sanctuary. With "all four types of volcanoes" and hydrothermal areas, Lassen Volcanic National Park has over 150 miles of hiking trails and 30 miles of paved highway. Wind through scenic mountain forest on 89 or zip down 395 to Lake Tahoe for hot air balloons, helicopter tours, Eagle Falls and casinos.
Giant Sequoias, Desert And 395 – Lake Tahoe To Death Valley
South from Lake Tahoe, 395 leads to Bodie State Historic Park's gold-mining ghost town, Mono Lake's giant calcite drip castles and Yosemite National Park. Further south are Mammoth Lakes' Rainbow Falls, Devil's Postpile National Monument and Hot Creek Geological Site. Below Bishop lies access to Inyo National Forest's Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and Patriarch Tree. Farther south waits Manzanar, a WWII internment camp, and Route 136, bound for Death Valley's breathtaking landscapes.
Sanctuaries And Missions – Monterey To Santa Barbara
For a coastal extravaganza, start with Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Pebble Beach. For more, follow Route 1 south to Big Sur's beaches, waterfalls, trails and Bixby Bridge. Enjoy the view south to San Simeon, extravagant Hearst Castle, Moonstone Beach and an elephant seal rookery. Further south, check out Morro Rock, or tour Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Finish out the mission tour with Old Mission Santa Barbara and the Red Tile Walking Tour, including the Spanish-Moorish County Courthouse and Royal Presidio.
Glitz, Snow, Desert And Slots – Hollywood To Vegas
For the young at heart, start with Hollywood's giant alphabet, and move on to Anaheim's Disneyland Park. A short jaunt off I-10 takes you to Big Bear, skiing and snowboarding November through March. Go further east on I-10, and Joshua Tree National Park is where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts merge with surreal rock formations, wide open starry skies, Joshua trees and life unique to the biome. Head north to the Mojave, and "rough it" in the desert. Later, rehydrate amid Vegas' splendor.
With the price of gas at record lows, even rolling out the old Winebago or revving up the El Dorado won't guzzle you out of house and home. Take a look at whether any of your credit cards offer savings on gas (you can check out credit cards that offer cash back on gas here).
A number of loyalty programs and membership-based discount clubs also offer gas discounts and if you are a member of one or more programs, you should definitely check into that. For example, the Plenti loyalty program used by Macy's, AT&T, Exxon, Mobil, Rite Aid, Hulu and Direct Energy, as well as Nationwide, Alamo and Enterprise auto rentals, you can redeem the loyalty points you earn at both Exxon and Mobil (200 points gets you at least $2 in savings).