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10 Tips for Your Next California Road Trip

These Golden State insiders will help you plan an unforgettable four-wheel vacation

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Posted 5 months agoby Ann Marie Brown

Now that summer's almost here, we're all yearning to hit the road. On the latest California Now Podcast, three travel pros talk about their favorite road-trip destinations and share tips to help make the most of your getaway.

Cruise Northern California's Back Roads

The first guest on the podcast is Zach O'Brien, founder of Active NorCal, a website covering the news, destinations, and history of Northern California's great outdoors. O'Brien shared three of his favorite road trips with host Soterios Johnson.

1. Marvel at waterfalls. "In the Shasta Cascade region is what we like to call our world-famous waterfall loop. You can drive a large loop in one day and see five to seven waterfalls all in a single day," O'Brien says. In addition to famous cataracts such as Burney Falls and McCloud Falls, the trip also offers views of Mount Shasta and great roadside food. "In Burney is this fantastic restaurant called the Alpine Drive Inn. You have to get a burger and fries, and you also have to try their delicious chocolate shake."

2. Visit a volcanic wonderland. O'Brien also recommends a driving trip through Lassen Volcanic National Park. "Lassen Peak erupted in 1914—a little over 100 years ago," he says. "There are plenty of boiling mud pots and steaming vents all around the park that show the volcanic activity that's happening hundreds of feet below" the surface.

3. Follow a river to the sea. Another of O'Brien's favorite road trips follows Highway 299 from Redding to the Pacific Ocean. "It's about a three-hour drive all the way to the coast, and it's full of so many gorgeous spots," he says. He suggests kayaking in the crystal-clear waters at Whiskeytown Lake and strolling through Weaverville. "They have fun saloons and a ton of ways to celebrate their Gold Rush history." On Highway 299's western side, O'Brien recommends the Bigfoot Museum in Willow Creek and Mad River Brewing Company in Blue Lake.

Travel with Little Ones and Furry Friends

As writers of the blog Traveling Newlyweds, Alli and Bobby Talley know a few tricks for road tripping with passengers—specifically their one-year-old son, Jude, and 70-pound bernedoodle, Sally.

4. Take the plunge. Alli says many parents are reluctant to travel with young kids, but it's good for everybody to stretch their limits. "It's getting out and actually getting in the car that's usually the hardest part," she says. Destinations like the Santa Ynez Valley have become annual visits for the Talleys. "It's a place that instantly feels like a getaway for us. There are beautiful wineries. There are so many good restaurants," she says.

5. Go for a walk. With babies and dogs, pedestrian-friendly towns make vacations easier. "Being within walking distance to places is really important for us. Jude is the best version of himself when he's in a stroller, so we try to find places that are good for walking around," Alli says. On a recent trip to Big Bear Lake, the family spent a day strolling downtown. "It's this little mountain town that has a lot of character and a lot of charm."

6. Consider your dog's comfort and safety. "The key to traveling with a dog, especially really long distances, is being organized and giving them space to feel like they're not stuck on this tiny little seat," Bobby says. Also, make sure your dog wears a safety restraint—the Talleys recommend the backseat harness system made by Kurgo.

7. Research the lodging options. For dog-friendly lodgings, the Talleys often rely on La Quinta and Kimpton. "Kimpton hotels will supply your room with dog bowls, and a lot of times they'll give you dog treats," Alli says. "And they almost always have a happy hour in the evenings where dogs are invited."

Get Your Kicks in Southern California

Jim Hinckley, an expert on historic Route 66, says driving Southern California's segment of this classic route is the "quintessential American road trip." Along the way, expect to find historic landmarks, great food, and serendipity. "Cast aside your preconceived ideas because you will be surprised with every single mile," he says.

8. Explore the desert. If you're driving east to west on Route 66 in California, your first stop should be in Needles, site of the historic El Garces train depot and hotel. Spend the night at the Fenders River Road Resort on the Colorado River. "It's a great place to set up base camp to explore the Mojave Desert," Hinckley says. He recommends hiking to the rim of Amboy Crater, a volcanic cinder cone, and visiting the ghost town of Goffs. "They have a museum there that is absolutely surprising, very diverse, very rich, very interesting. It's in a renovated schoolhouse that was built about 1914."

9. Discover the Inland Empire. As you push west on Route 66, you'll reach San Bernardino. Hinckley recommends the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum in the town's historic district and classic Mexican food at the 1937 Mitla Cafe. In Rialto, see the cone-shaped tents that appeared in the movie Cars at the 1949 WigWam Motel. In Rancho Cucamonga, stop in at the 1955 Magic Lamp Inn, a restaurant that "looks like a movie set for something like Alibaba and the Forty Thieves or Arabian Nights. It's really a treasure."

10. Motor west to Los Angeles. Route 66 zooms through Pasadena and into Downtown Los Angeles, ending at Seventh and Broadway. "That district is vibrant and there's so much to see," Hinckley says. "I recommend walking the district, seeing the Bradbury Building with its interesting architectural details and the astounding facades of some of the old theaters."

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