It’s no secret that the Golden State is packed with plenty of golden road trip opportunities! It only takes a little over five hours to reach Los Angeles by car from Oakland, but why pass up a chance to see more of the great state of California? From lovely landscapes to homegrown food, the destinations between Oakland and LA are as diverse as they are exciting. Keep reading to see what we mean!
The city of Santa Clara is only about 45 minutes south of Oakland, but as one of Silicon Valley’s major hubs, this is a key California destination that’s definitely worth a stop! Some of Santa Clara’s top attractions include the amusement park California’s Great America, the Computer History Museum, Levi’s Stadium (home of the San Francisco 49ers), the Triton Museum of Art, and the Winchester Mystery House. But if you’re a tech geek—or just someone who appreciates an entertaining, niche museum—the Intel Museum, north of the city’s center, is somewhere that you should take the time to see.
Located at the corporation’s headquarters, the Intel Museum showcases technological innovations that range from vintage computers to microchips and everything in between. With passionate docents, interactive exhibits, and decades of company history, the museum offers visitors an inside look at Silicon Valley and one of the many companies headquartered there. While not a huge space, the Intel Museum makes for a fascinating couple of hours, and you can pick up a wide variety of souvenirs at its gift shop.
Southwest of San Jose and about an hour south of Oakland, you’ll find the town of Saratoga, California, a homey community that lies on the outskirts of Sanborn County Park, Castle Rock State Park, and Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Though it has more of a suburban feel than its urban surroundings of Santa Clara and San Jose, Saratoga provides visitors with a few different reasons to stop, including the Montalvo Arts Center, Sue’s Gallery Cafe, Wildwood Park, and La Fondue. However, Saratoga’s main attraction, so to speak, is arguably Hakone Estate & Gardens, a Japanese estate, retreat, and gardens that’s over 100 years old.
Hosting more than 60 thousand international visitors every year, Hakone is a historic venue that blends together culture, nature, and art to create a single, must-see destination. With bamboo, seasonal flowers, ponds, and a waterfall, the gardens are both gorgeous and tranquil, regardless of what time of year it is. The land is also home to several early-19th-century buildings, including its Cultural Exchange Center, which was actually constructed in Japan, shipped to California, and reassembled in Saratoga. In addition to roaming the gardens, visitors can also partake in a tea ceremony, engage in zen meditation, and practice origami during their time at Hakone.
The city of Salinas lies about two hours south of Oakland. The centerpiece to the surrounding Salinas Valley, known as “The Salad Bowl of the World,” the town is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His most famous works include Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and East of Eden. Though Steinbeck died in 1968, Salinas continues to honor his legacy with the National Steinbeck Center in Oldtown and the Steinbeck House Restaurant, which can be found two blocks west.
Aside from being Steinbeck’s childhood home, this Queen-Anne-style Victorian house—which was built in 1897—is also a restaurant that serves sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads, and an array of rotating entrees, like vegetable lasagna, quiche, fajitas, and more. Listed on the Register of National Historic Places, the Steinbeck House is a one-of-a-kind place to stop for lunch or dinner and will have special significance to literature lovers. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, The Best Cellar, which is located in the house’s basement and sells Steinbeck books, collector’s items, and the Steinbeck House Cookbook, where you’ll find some of the restaurant’s most popular recipes.
As the state with the most national parks, California boasts some of the country’s most breathtaking—and versatile—landscapes, and Pinnacles National Park is just one of the many parks that you’ll have to choose from when visiting the Golden State. Around two hours south of Oakland, Pinnacles National Park is right on the way to LA, and with geological formations that date back an estimated 23 million years ago, this 26-thousand-acre park has a topography unlike any other that you’ve ever come across.
The park has more than 30 miles of trails that take hikers across grasslands and hills, as well as through caves and caverns. No matter what level of activity you’re looking for, you can find a trail at Pinnacles to enjoy, allowing you to do as much sightseeing as you want during your visit. Other popular activities in the park include rock-climbing and bird watching. (If you’re a climber visiting the park during the months of January through July, make sure to check out the park’s raptor advisories so that you don’t disturb any of the birds of prey that live in the park.)
You’ve heard of California’s wine country, but did you know that the state’s Meditarrean-like climate also makes it a prime growing spot for another crop? In addition to the many grape vineyards that dot the California countryside, you’ll also find a high number of olive groves throughout the central portion of the state. In fact, more than 95 percent of America’s olives come from California! Not only is visiting an olive ranch is an intimate way to get a behind-the-scenes the Cali’s farm-to-table side, but it’s also a memorable experience that the whole family can enjoy.
Paso Robles is a little less than three hours south of Oakland and a little over three hours north of LA, and as a city that’s rich in agriculture, there’s plenty of wineries, olive ranches, breweries, and restaurants to choose from when you’re passing through. Pasolivo Ranch on the east side of town is a family-owned olive oil manufacturer that offers tours and tastings, as well as specialty food and bath-and-body products. See where the olives are grown, how the olive oil is made, and what creative (and delicious) uses have been discovered for olives over the years.
Just over two hours north of LA, Bakersfield, California, is nicknamed “The Country Music Capital of the West” and features an eclectic mix of attractions that make it worthy of a slight detour during your drive to the City of Angels. The Bakersfield Museum of Art, the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History, the Stars Theatre Restaurant, Woolworth Diner (with the last-operating Woolworth lunch counter in the country), and tons of opportunities for all kinds of outdoor recreation are just a few of the reasons to stop in Bakersfield before continuing on the road to LA.
But if you’re an animal-lover, you’re going to want to make a visit to Bakersfield’s California Living Museum, also known as the Bakersfield Zoo. Unlike most zoos, the California Living Museum is dedicated to local animals rather than those that are from other countries or considered “exotic.” Luckily, California has some pretty cool animals, including black bears, coyotes, desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, roadrunners, foxes, fishers, beavers, and eagles—all of which can be seen up-close at the California Living Museum.
Before you leave Bakersfield, be sure to stop at the Big Red Barn on your way out of the city. About 20 minutes east of Downtown, the Big Red Barn, also called Murray Family Farms, is the perfect place to embrace your inner-kid with family-friendly activities like Auntie Annabelle’s Animal Garden, Big Boo and Baby Boo Slides, and U-pick fruits. You can also stop for a bite to eat at the Cal-Okie Kitchen and fill up your tank at the farm’s 24-hour gas pumps.
Murray Family Farms is truly a family-run operation, and the Murray Family’s passion for what they do is part of what makes a visit to the Big Red Barn so magical and full of fun—and even city kids are sure to have a blast while enjoying a taste of farm life. Whether you’re hungry and want to sample the Okie Pie or are in the mood to stretch your legs and pick up some fresh produce, this is one pit stop that you won’t forget!
With 29 miles of shoreline, two bodies of water, and multi use trails, Castaic Lake State Recreation Area is an all-inclusive paradise for anyone who loves to spend some time in the great outdoors. Around 40 minutes north of LA, Castaic Lake is an ideal spot to squeeze in a little extra quality time with Mother Nature before heading into the city. The lower lake is for kayaking, canoeing, and seasonal swimming, while the upper lake is designated for sailing, powerboating, jet skiing, and fishing.
Stocked with bass, trout, and catfish, the upper lake invites visitors to cast a line and soak up some sun—and boat rentals and a tackle bait shop are both on the premises for added convenience. You can hike, bike, and picnic in the surrounding park area or just take a casual stroll along the lake shores. Swimming season on the lower lake spans from mid-May to mid-September, and the park is open from sunrise to sunset, so you can either stop for a quick break from the car or spend an entire afternoon on the water.
The City of Angels—it’s where dreams come true and where travelers are never short on attractions to choose from. Whether you’re looking to see LA’s mainstream tourist destinations like the Hollywood Sign and the Santa Monica Pier, or you’re on the hunt to discover some of your own hidden gems, you’re sure to fall in love with this action-packed, vibrant city. But that’s not to say that you need to rush straight there. After all, traveling’s about the journey, not the destination, right? If you’re driving from Oakland to Los Angeles, you don’t want to miss out on the museums, parks, and other points of interest that are on the way, even if you only stop at one or two. So, get ready for the California adventure that you’ll be talking about for years to come—there’s no telling what amazing experiences the Golden State has in store for you!