These one-of-a-kind road trips will have you running, biking, kayaking, jet-packing...oh, and driving a little too.
When you think about road trips, you probably start thinking about a lot of sitting, refueling, bad fast food, and more sitting. But if you plan ahead and plot your course to follow one of our curated Cali road trips, you'll redefine what it means to "road trip." Get ready to hike, bike, swim, kayak, and SUP your way through the Golden State.
San Diego to Hollywood
Distance: 126.2 miles
Trip highlights: Though you could cover the distance in under two and a half hours if you want, this route is packed with must-see stops, so you'll want to spread it out over a couple days. It has everything: amazing beaches for water sports, heart-pumping hikes, breweries and wineries, delicious local foods...all against a truly breathtaking SoCal backdrop. Make sure you have enough storage in your camera for tons of pics. (Insider tip: To fit in with the SoCal locals and make sure you have enough space to tote your luggage and fitness gear, consider a hybrid car like the classic Toyota Prius. The Prius v comes with a generous trunk and fold-down seats, plus safety features like Lane Departure Alert, which will come in extra-handy on California's curvy Highway 1.)
Fit stops: Start by driving to San Diego's Mission Bay, where you can try your hand at just about any water sport imaginable: sailing, kite surfing, and even jetpack-ing are all fair game. (Get prepared by downloading these adventure travel apps.)
If you time your visit right, you can pick up local produce, cheeses, and prepared foods at the Pacific Beach Tuesday Farmers' Market to snack on during your drive. Come any other day of the week, and you can dry out (in one sense of the word) at Coronado Brewing Company's Brewery and Tasting Room nearby. Sample the San Diego–brewed beers, buy your favorites, then get back in the car—with your DD in the driver's seat, of course—to head north. About an hour away you can stop for a proper late lunch at Waterman's Harbor, a seafood restaurant that features locally sourced catches (though the truffle mac 'n' cheese isn't so bad either).
Next stop: Laguna Beach for some paddling with La Vida Laguna's kayak or SUP tours. If you're feeling a little waterlogged, take a bike or hiking tour instead. You'll get your heart rate up, and at the end of your journey, you'll be treated to awe-inspiring ocean views.From Laguna, Newport Beach is just a quick 30-minute drive. If you're hungry, refuel at an outpost of the famous Café Gratitude, an organic, vegan restaurant where affirmations abound—each menu item is tagged with one, and servers offer them up when they set down your plate too.
If you're turning this into an overnight stop, there's no better place to rest your head than the luxe Balboa Bay Resort. Indulge your muscles in some much-needed pampering via a Tension Tamer massage at the resort spa. In the morning, grab a healthy breakfast at the resort's Waterline restaurant, then book a session with Bliss Paddle Yoga to get your om on floating on the water.
Then it's back in the car for your final leg, straight to Hollywood, an hour and a half away—and then, to the Hollywood sign. Getting to one of the two best photo-op spots requires a pretty rigorous hike, or run, depending on how much of a sweat you want to work up. By the time you get back to your Prius, you'll be hungry again. So sit down at Gracias Madre, a vegan, 100 percent organic Mexican café. For a true Hollywood experience, stay at the Hollywood Roosevelt, a funky hotel located behind the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars, with a 24/7 fitness center and a famous pool painted by pop artist David Hockney.
San Simeon to Carmel
Distance: 102 miles
Trip highlights: To get between the destinations, you'll be covering one of the most breathtaking sections of the Pacific Coast Highway. Also known as Highway 1, this is California's famously beautiful roadway that's sandwiched between mountains and cliffs on the one side, beautiful beaches on the other. (Before you hop in the car, complete this pre-travel workout that preps your body before long hours on the road or on a flight.)
Fit stops: Kick things off with a tour of Hearst Castle, a property built by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst to show off his legendary art collection. You'll tire your legs out walking through the 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. But if you really want to tire yourself out before getting in the car, cross Highway 1 to the Hearst State Beach and rent kayaks to explore the calm waters, or take a run along the beach and down the long pier.
One must-make pit stop is the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. There are a ton of trails to explore. If you want a quick photo op, take the 1/4-mile Canyon Trail, which leads you to a breathtaking 60-foot waterfall. If you're looking for something more strenuous (but no less picturesque) try hiking the 5-mile Ewoldsen Trail, which will have you climbing up through a redwood forest. Now that you've worked up an appetite, drive a few minutes to the Big Sur Bakery for a wood-fired pizza or some locally caught halibut—making sure to grab some famous strawberry rhubarb pie or a flourless chocolate brownie for dessert.
Depending how much time you've spent on your previous stops, you can rest for the night nearby, at the Ventana Campground. Bring your own gear, or opt for the Redwood Retreats, a brand-new "glamping" experience that includes a tent with a king bed, rugs, a picnic table, dinnerware, and separate gas and wood-burning fire pits. You'll even get maid service, towels, shower amenities, and a wine-and-cheese picnic backpack. In the morning, continue on to your next rest stop, the Andrew Molera State Park. The hiking is amazing, but you can also bike or horseback ride on some of the relatively undeveloped trails.
Since you basically just did a triathlon over the course of your day trip, once you reach Carmel you'll be ready to relax. Enter: the Carmel Wine Walk By-the-Sea. Buy a Wine Tasting Passport for $65 in exchange for a $10 flight at nine tasting rooms (you can use it all in one day, over the course of a weekend, or even over several weeks). Each tasting room will also offer dinner recs, or even call a restaurant to make a reservation for you so you can focus on tasting.
You can rent an Airbnb on the cheap in Carmel Valley. But if you're willing to splurge, check into Bernardus Lodge and Spa, which is set among vineyards, orchards, and gardens. Relax by the pool, get pampered in the spa, and take advantage of the wellness program, which offers guided hikes, fun runs, boot camps, and a ton of yoga varieties: vinyasa & vino, vineyard yoga flow, starlit yoga, and breathe deep yoga to name a few.
Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe
Distance: 123 miles
Trip highlights: This is a great two-for-one trip. You get to explore one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, plus get to take advantage of all the water sports Lake Tahoe has to offer.
Fit stops: The hiking in Yosemite National Park is unparalleled. (You'll want to check out these 10 picturesque national parks worth hiking, as well.) But so too is the rock climbing, according to pros. Spend a few days exploring the sites while staying at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, an elegant property located inside the park. After you're satisfied that you've seen enough of the sites for this trip, make your way toward Lake Tahoe South. The one pit stop you must make is at Mono Lake, a huge, shallow saline lake. You can take a naturalist-led walk to learn more about the unique landscape or get on the water with a canoe or kayak tour. (Hungry after all that? Refuel with some dietitian-approved road-trip snacks.)
When you arrive at Lake Tahoe South, you'll have your pick of water activities to try—boat rentals, stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, parasailing, and more are all within reach. Fuel up at Sprouts Café, which serves mostly organic fare with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Your best bet for spending the night is Airbnb, where you can find a comfy spot close to the lake.
Badwater Basin to Whitney Portal
Distance: 135 miles
Trip highlights: This trip is a must for running nerds; it traces the path of the famously brutal Badwater Ultramarathon, which starts 279 feet below sea level and ends 8,360 feet above it. If your car-mates get tired, remind them of all the people who cover the distance on foot—in July, no less.
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Fit stops: There are plenty of spots where you'll want to pull over as you make your way through Death Valley National Park: Devil's Gold Course, a huge salt pan; Zabriskie Point, where you can take a few like-worthy Instagram snaps of the other-worldly landscape; Mosaic Canyon (ditto), and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where you can go sand boarding.
If traversing the famous racetrack has made you eager to move, you'll have your chance when you reach the end of your trip: The Whitney Portal is the trailhead to a hiking path that climbs Mount Whitney, which at 14,505 feet is the highest point in the contiguous U.S. The round trip hike is about 22 miles, up over 6,100 feet. You'll need a permit and at least a few days to complete the journey. The hotels on this end of the trip are mostly limited to chains, campgrounds, and a few rentals.
San Francisco to Fort Bragg
Distance: 226 miles
Trip highlights: This route brings you out of the city, progressively deeper and deeper into the northern California wilderness. We've added a couple single- to multi-day fitness tours to boot. (Caught the travel bug? Start planning these bucket list travel destinations you need to visit in 2017.)
Fit stops: We won't even go into all there is to do in San Francisco; with some of the lowest obesity rates in the country and the most money spent on parkland, the city is truly a mecca for the health-minded. When you've had your fill exploring all the fitness opportunities and healthy restaurants the city has to offer, hop in the car and cross the Oakland Bay Bridge to Grizzly Peak in Berkeley Hills to get one last stunning view of the city. You can bike or hike to the top of the 1,758-foot peak.
Next up: Sonoma County. You know the area as wine country, and to be sure, vineyards abound. But it's also well-known for its cycling, offering everything from paved, flat roads to steep, rough mountain passes. Wine Country Bikes offers anything from bike rentals to single-day trips to two- or three-day tours of the surrounding regions.
When you've had your fill of wheels and wine, continue north to the Russian River, where you'll ditch the handlebars for paddles at River's Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips. They specialize in curing what they call NDD—"nature deficiency disorder." You can book self-guided half-day trips, or group and multi-day tours of the south-flowing river. After a few hours navigating the smooth waters and taking in the beautiful scenery from your vessel, you'll feel more zen than you would after yoga.
Back at the car, continue north to Hendy Woods State Park, which features two redwood groves: Big and Little Hendy. Stop at a grocery store on your way and pack a picnic lunch; there are 25 picnicking sites on the riverbank, near Big Hendy Grove. You can swim, kayak, or canoe, or just hike through the woods, allowing yourself to feel dwarfed by the amazing redwoods around you. Your next step is another state park, this one better suited for runners. Van Damme State Park has a 10-mile paved trail that winds past cypress trees, pine trees, fields of skunk cabbage, and a fern-carpeted canyon.
Drop your bags at the Heritage House Resort and Spa near the state park, then continue a half-hour north to Fort Bragg, where you can explore the famous Glass Beach or run down the city's 4.5-mile Coastal Trail.