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Driving in California

Driving in California
Take to the roads with this helpful information and safety tips

California is made for road trips. An easy-to-navigate network of more than 50,000 miles of good-quality highways and motorways link just about every corner of the state, with secondary routes leading to even more under-the-radar finds. Some of these roads are famous—Highway One along the Pacific Coast, legendary Route 66 and Avenue of the Giants (Highway 101 winding through towering redwoods). Some are workhorses—most notably Interstates 5 and 80—getting drivers (and truckers) up and across the state as quickly as possible. But even these heavy-lifters can lead you to surprising destinations.

No matter where you drive, remember the basic rules of the road. California law states that everyone in a vehicle must wear a seat belt and motorcyclists must wear a helmet. Speed limits are posted in miles per hour (mph). Generally, the speed limit on multi-lane motorways is 65mph per hour. On two-lane highways, the limit is generally 55mph. The speed limit on city streets is usually 35mph, though in residential areas and near schools, the limit is generally 25mph. It is against the law in California to write, send or read text-based messages while driving and drivers must use a hands-free device when speaking on a mobile phone.

Along motorways with heavy traffic, carpool lanes (also called “diamond lanes” for the diamond-shape pattern painted on the lane’s surfaces) are identified by black-and-white signs that include details on times and days of enforcement (usually during peak rush-hour periods on weekdays). To drive in most carpool lanes, you must have at least two people (including the driver) in the car. Some lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area have a three-person minimum. Tempted to use the lane when you don’t have the required number of riders? Don’t! Fines are staggeringly high, close to $400 in some areas. In the Los Angeles area, carpool lanes may have specific entry and exit zones. Adhere to them or you could get a hefty fine. 

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) publishes an online version of its Driver Handbook, which thoroughly explains California’s rules of the road.

Snow Travel

Extreme weather can result in cars and trucks being required to use chains and/or snow tyres. At times, it may even close mountain routes. Check restrictions and closures before you go.

Emergency Help

Report an accident, crime, or unsafe driver by calling 911 from any phone.

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Time to hit the road and explore the Golden State

Road Trips

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October
Average (°C)
Sept - Nov
24°
High
12°
Low
Dec - Feb
18°
High
8°
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Mar - May
20°
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11°
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June - Aug
24°
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16°
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Endless sunshine, amazing cities, best-in-class theme parks, incredible natural treasures—no matter what you want to do and see on your next vacation, California has it. But here's the best part: California has all the iconic destinations you've dreamed of visiting, plus a countless number of incredible off-the-beaten-track experiences. With our exclusive trip itineraries, you can visit bucket-list landmarks like Yosemite, then follow a wine road or visit a craft brewery. Top theme parks, secret beaches, city finds—they’re all here in easy-to-follow road trips that visit every corner of the state. So start dreaming about your next California vacation—and dream big.

Driving in California CoastalRocks_FortBragg_LH_1280x642

Trip 4 days 10 stops

Wild North Coast

Wine, Romance & Sunsets
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Start your trip with one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to explore 'the City by the Bay' park your car and explore by foot, bike and unique public transport. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that is now...

Driving in California BatteryPointLighthouse_CrescentCity_BillYoung_1280x642

The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouses. Overlooking the town’s harbour, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch thick slabs...

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Kodiak Greenwood

Trip 4 - 6 days 10 stops

Volcanoes to the Sea

Booming Waterfalls, Craft Breweries
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Begin your trip in the centre of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low key city, with micro breweries, gastropubs and trendy boutiques...

Driving in California EurekaCarsonMansion.CourtesyRedwoods.info__1

After so much wildness for so much of your trip, Eureka is an inviting and lively switch. This once rough and tumble seaport town, the largest coastal city between San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, has a split personality charm: a sense of history in the handsomely restored, Victorian...

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Trip 4 days 10 stops

California Gold

Whitewater Rafting, Tucked-Away Wineries
Driving in California Sac_StateCapitol_1280x642

Begin your trip in the centre of the state, home to the capital city of Sacramento. Like many cities, California’s state capital is undergoing an energetic renaissance. Young adults looking for an urban vibe are moving into this low key city, with micro breweries, gastropubs and trendy boutiques...

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With throwback charm and a treasure trove of historic artefacts, this park presents the Gold Rush in living, breathing colour. Costumed guides do more than lead tours of this carefully preserved Mother Lode town, the state’s second largest city at the peak of the Gold Rush, they actually live...

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Trip 6-7 days 10 stops

Sierra Adventure

Granite peaks, alpine valleys, towering trees-the High Sierra is nature's playground all year-round
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Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California Nevada border is a must, a place where the air is 'very pure and fine...it is the same the angels breathe,' according to author Mark Twain. Lake front towns dot the shoreline, each with their own appeal...

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On your way to this park, save time to visit the charming Gold Country town of Murphys (a great place for wine tasting and innovative dining along the town’s main street). Then continue north and east to discover peaceful groves of giant sequoias at this under-the-radar park. Established...

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Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
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Start your trip with a visit to one of the most iconic spans in the world. With towers soaring 746 feet into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted fire engine red, the Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination, and a great way to begin a tour...

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End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand dame Victorian buildings, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront and a soaring crimson bridge, the 'City by the Bay' truly has it all. Trend defining cuisine ranging from Michelin...

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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Start in one of California’s sunniest destinations, not just in terms of the weather, but also in attitude. In the heart of the city, shop in Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse...

Driving in California SF_Harbor_Myles_1280x642

Finish your trip in one of the world’s great cities. For a novel way to visit 'the City by the Bay' park your car and explore by foot, bike, and unique public transport. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge and back, then explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that is now a...

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Laura Flippen

Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

California's Heartland

Pick fresh produce, relax in cool gardens, and learn about local farming heritage
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This relaxed city has some secret gems that make a pleasing start to your trip. Start at Sundial Bridge, a functional work of art, the remarkable pedestrian bridge, designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, spans the tree lined, trout-filled Sacramento River in Redding’s Turtle...

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This rapidly growing city in the southern Central Valley is full of pleasant surprises. Once known for oil and agriculture, Bakersfield is morphing into a Central Valley hub for arts, culture and sports, while still offering a glimpse of the region’s past. One fascinating historical site worth a...

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Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed 'the American Riviera,' has a burnished antique look like much of the Mediterranean,...

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End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village, pedestrian friendly...

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Trip 3-4 days 10 stops

Route 66 - The Mother Road

Legendary Highway, California Dream
Driving in California SantaMonica_BikePath_JoakimLloydRaboff_1280x642_0

Start your trip in this idyllic oceanfront city, surrounded by a 3.5 mile long beach, and feeling more like a weekend getaway spot than a city just a few minutes west of downtown Los Angeles. Car free options, including a shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport (8 miles south) make it a...

Driving in California VCW_D_DE_T5_Anza-Borrego_Manley-1280x642

On your way to this park, you’ll pass through the little community of Borrego Springs. Stop in at the town’s visitor centre to get driving maps to an astounding collection of enormous prehistoric animals, metal sculptures made by artist Ricardo Breceda, that dot the surrounding desert landscape...

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Harriot Manley/Sunset Publishing

Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

Explore the best of Northern California's Great Outdoors
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It may measure less than 50 square miles, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand dame Victorian homes, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront and a soaring crimson bridge, the  'City by the Bay' is the perfect place to...

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Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Southern California

Beach Towns & Big Thrills
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Your trip begins in California’s largest city. LA has non-stop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus. Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and...

Driving in California KingsCanyonNationalPark_TomHilton_1280x642

Famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks have plenty to see, even though they are less well known than Yosemite, roughly 75 miles north. Within the borders of Sequoia & Kings Canyon are Mount Whitney, the highest point in...