When it comes to taking the scenic route, you can’t beat California. And with so many cities, beaches, and attractions all over the state, Cali is one of the best places to tour on a road trip. For example, take the drive from Los Angeles to San Diego: It’s only around two hours and will take you on a beautiful car ride down the southern end of the West Coast.
But while LA and San Diego are both filled with things to do, don’t make the mistake of driving without making a few detours along the way. Keep reading to find out our top SoCal road trip stops that you don’t want to pass up!
In the 1920s, the Knott family begin selling their homegrown berries and handmade berry products at a stand on State Route 39. As business picked up, they opened a restaurant called “Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant,” which supplied hungry travelers with fried chicken dinners. This led to the family building a ghost town replica and hosting an extended county fair. The rest, as they say, is history.
Though it might have started as a small roadside attraction, Knott’s Berry Farm is now a full-fledged theme park with rides, food, seasonal events, and even a water park. You’re sure to fall in love with the old-school charm and diverse offerings at Knott’s Berry Farm, which is open year-round for visitors to enjoy.
“Knott's Berry Farm is a fabulous, down-to-earth theme park that's cheaply priced, and you still have just as much of a fun time as you would if you were going to a pricier theme park, in my opinion.” -Anna B. on Yelp.
Discovery Cube makes learning fun with hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. Open daily (excluding major holidays), this dynamic educational center is an awesome stop to add to your road trip itinerary, even if you don’t have kids with you! With both ongoing and rotating exhibits, there’s always something exciting to see and do at Discovery Cube.
The center in Santa Ana is the original location, but the Discovery Science Foundation recently opened campuses in Los Angeles and Newport Beach. If you’re interested, you can buy tickets online ahead of time, or you can buy them at the entrance when you get there.
“There are so many cool and interesting things to learn at the Discovery Cube. It was a very fun first-time experience for my whole family. We enjoyed every minute of our day here.” -Sean D. on Yelp.
Built on the grounds where the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro once stood, Orange County Great Park is more than just a public park—it’s a place with historical value that has been transformed into an area for modern-day visitors to enjoy. Sports, arts, and community events are just a few of the ways that the City of Irvine is utilizing the park on a regular basis.
The park’s most notable feature is probably the Great Park Balloon, a tethered helium balloon that’s among the largest in the world and the first of its kind in the United States. Different than a hot-air balloon, the Great Park Balloon remains attached to the ground at all times by a steel cable, allowing riders to fly 400 feet in the sky with a view of up to 40 miles.
“This truly is a GREAT, huge park! Plenty of soccer fields, baseball/softball fields, a volleyball field, lacrosse fields, an ice rink, and a museum, all in one location. There is also a kid play area with a carousel.” -Annette C. on Yelp.
Embrace your inner Leonardo DiCaprio by yelling, “I’m king of the world!” from this legendary vista point overlooking South Orange County. As versatile as it is stunning, the view from Top of the World includes the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, Laguna Canyon, Irvine, the San Joaquin Hills, and more.
If you want to spend more than a few minutes admiring the SoCal scenery, there are plenty of hiking trails in the area that you can use to do some exploring. More than just a cool photo op, Top of the World is a vivid reminder to stop and enjoy the views every once in a while.
“Top of the World is located up on a hill in Laguna Beach. The drive up is very relaxing in itself, and you begin to enter a vibe of peace and tranquility . . . it's great for hiking, taking a relaxing stroll with views, biking… Just enjoying life.” -Nahum S. on Yelp.
Measuring nearly two thousand feet, Oceanside Pier is the longest wooden pier in California and among the longest found on the West Coast. Follow the boardwalk out over the Pacific Ocean, and take some time to do a little people-watching, all while keeping an eye out for marine life like dolphins, stingrays, pelicans, and seals.
Oceanside’s original pier was built in 1888, just five years after the town itself was founded. Though initially placed on what is now Wisconsin Avenue, the pier was relocated to its current home in 1893 after the first pier was destroyed in a storm. Since then, Oceanside Pier has been rebuilt four times, the last rebuilding having taken place in 1987. Today, it is a popular destination for tourists, as well as local beachgoers, fishers, and surfers.
“Gorgeous area and I'm jealous of the locals who get to see this pier on a regular basis . . . The views from this pier are spectacular . . . This is definitely a spot to check out if you're in the area.” -Teresa S. on Yelp.
This nonprofit operates out of a 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival house that once belonged to Ole Hanson, the founder of San Clemente. A registered historical landmark, the Hanson home now hosts almost 100 multicultural events every year and is visited by more than 40,000 people on an annual basis.
In addition to being a cultural arts center, Casa Romantica is toured for its architectural significance and wide array of botany, including succulents, cacti, and coral trees. Due to its gorgeous bluff-top landscape and artisanal decor, Casa Romantica is also a popular wedding venue. Whether you attend an event or take a self-guided tour of the property, this historic gem of San Clemente will leave a lasting impression.
“You have to go here. It's so beautiful that you have to see it with your own eyes. The views are incredible, and I loved the flower and butterfly gardens. It's worth the donation to enter; everyone who works there is volunteer-based only. Don't forget to check out the gift shop!” -Janu H. on Yelp.
This sequestered coastal inlet is famed for its breathtaking natural scenery—and for being frequently populated by sunbathing seals and sea lions! On the surface, La Jolla Cove makes for a picturesque paradise and an ideal spot to swim, tan, kayak, or paddleboard. But there’s more to it than first meets the eye: Beneath the crystal-blue waters lies a 6,000-acre underwater park where you can snorkel and scuba dive.
The La Jolla Underwater Park includes an ecological reserve that is brimming with sea life like barracudas, opaleye, green turtles, and seals. Open-water swimming is also permitted at La Jolla Cove, and lifeguards are regularly stationed on the beach. Just above the cove, you’ll find Ellen Brownings Scripps Park, a vibrant green space with far-reaching ocean views.
“The Cove is small but picturesque and is protected by a marine reserve. There's so much marine life—sea lions and seals—that you'll be spending hours here. As far as activities go, you can rent kayaks, bikes, and SUP.” -Mickey H. on Yelp.
Before you make your way any deeper into San Diego, you should get acquainted with some of the history behind America’s Finest City—and there’s no better place to do it than at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Since 1968, this living history museum has been offering visitors a firsthand look at life in early San Diego from 1820 to 1870. With preserved heritage architecture, authentic handicrafts and cuisine, street performers, and numerous cultural festivals, Old Town San Diego will give you an intimate introduction to the city and the elements that made it into what it is today.
The mile-long “town” features historic structures original and reconstructed, re-enactments, informational exhibits, and more. Learn about the area’s first inhabitants, the Kumeyaay people, as well as the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers who later claimed the region for themselves. See horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and buggies from the mid-1800s, and watch live blacksmithing demonstrations by a period-dressed expert. The best part? No entry fee!
“We love coming here every time we visit San Diego. It’s always something cheap and fun to do . . . There is always something new to find, and fun things to do, a lot even free! “ -Ashley S. on Yelp.
With sunny days, sandy beaches, palm trees, and plenty of sights to see, California is a travel destination that never gets olds. Los Angeles and San Diego are two of Southern California’s biggest and best-known cities, and the short distance between them means that each makes for an easy day trip from the other. But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing worth stopping for in-between—as you can see, it’s quite the opposite!
Road trips are a great way to discover new favorite places and bond with the people you care about. Adventure awaits on the open road—it’s time for a California car ride that you’ll never forget!