When it comes to experiencing all that California has to offer, nothing compares to hitting the open road. Luckily, California is home to 63 scenic byways, eight of which are federally designated. Vast, beautiful, and always mesmerizing, these scenic byways are road corridors celebrated for their outstanding scenic, natural, cultural, historical, archaeological, and/or recreational value.
On the most recent episode of the California Now Podcast, seasoned adventurer and travel guidebook writer Ann Marie Brown discusses three of her favorite scenic byways, along with detailed tips for exploring each.
Highway 299, also known as the Trinity Scenic Byway, stretches 140 miles from Redding all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Along this route travelers will experience a diverse array of wildlife, landscapes, and climate zones.
“Scan the skies for ospreys or bald eagles, because you're probably going to see them,” advises Brown. Despite its abundant natural wonders, she tells podcast host Soterios Johnson, the Trinity Scenic Byway remains quite the hidden gem: “Part of the reason I like it is because I don't think it's particularly well known,” she notes. Brown suggests a two-day trip in the springtime for travelers looking to take advantage of the best kayaking and rafting opportunities.
Moving down the coast, Brown also singles out Highway 35, better known as Skyline Boulevard, located on the San Francisco Peninsula. At just 23 miles long, Skyline Boulevard spans the backcountry of Silicon Valley to just north of Los Gatos, showcasing views of San Francisco Bay along the way.
“You could drive it in an hour, but why would you when there are nearly 250 miles of trails to hike?” says Brown. “And you can access them from about 30 to 35 different trailheads along that road.” Highlights include Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, the 1,800-year-old Methuselah Tree, and funky roadside favorite Alice’s Restaurant.
The third featured drive Brown describes is the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, located on State Route 74. “I can't think of anything more dramatic probably than Palms to Pines,” says Brown. Beginning in Palm Desert, this 67-mile route moves through palm tree–dotted desert washes, snow-capped mountains, and lush coniferous forests, eventually depositing motorists on Interstate 10 in Banning.
Brown recommends pulling over at every scenic overlook you come across, especially the picturesque Coachella Valley Vista Point.
You’ll want to gaze upon towering Pinyon Pines before heading to the aptly named town of Idyllwild for a breath of fresh air and a delicious bite to eat. “There’s a lot of contrast on that drive,” says Brown. “I think it's just an amazing little snippet of what California has to offer.”
Learn more about Brown, byways, and other road-trip itineraries by subscribing to the California Now Podcast.