With 10 National Parks, more than 800 miles of coastline, and landscapes ranging from deserts to forests to everything in between, it's not hard to find yourself California dreamin'. The most obvious park to visit is the iconic Yosemite National Park, but other parks provide equally incredible experiences: Death Valley's striking sand dunes, Joshua Tree's gnarled yuccas, Redwood's imposing forests, and Lassen Volcanic's colorful geothermal weirdness are all just as amazing. And don't forget, in the middle of all of this, you'll find Big Sur's breathtaking beaches and Lake Tahoe's lush shoreline... better leave enough time to visit all of California's most beautiful spots!
The most extreme landscape in the country (home to the hottest, driest, and lowest points in America) means extreme beauty, mostly untouched by humans, as few dare to journey into Death Valley. A trip to the park is worth it, though: The strange-looking salt flats at Badwater Basin, the mysterious sailing stones at Racetrack Playa, the jagged hills at Zabriskie Point, the colorfully pigmented Artists Palate, the singing sand at Eureka Dunes, the breathtaking stargazing at night, and the ghost towns dotted across the park make for an unforgettable trip.
At the edge of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains is this smaller, humbler, but no less stunning mountain range: the Alabama Hills. At the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, you can make the quick hike to the famed Mobius Arch, learn about movies and TV shows that were filmed here, study up on the Native American history of the area, and try your hand at backcountry camping.
Boulder-studded coves, shady pine forests, crystal-clear water, and beaches can all be found at Lake Tahoe's Sand Harbor. Hike, kayak, swim, or parasail the day away, and then cozy up at a campsite or in a resort come nightfall. It's a popular vacation destination, and it's not hard to see why! Pro tip: Paddle out to Fannette Island, the lake's only island, to explore the abandoned tea house!
When it comes to National Parks with steamy geothermal features, people usually think of Yellowstone National Park-- but it's certainly not the only park that's hot to trot. There's also California's Lassen Volcanic National Park. It's one of the only places in the world that has all four kinds of volcanoes, so you know a park that's packing that much heat is definitely gonna have some cool sights to see. From Bumpass Hell to Devils Kitchen, hikes here are marked by brightly colored pools, bubbling mudpots, and steaming geysers. Oh, and if you smell something a little funky, don't worry... it's just sulphur.
There are several units in Redwoods National and State Parks, each offering its own views of the majestic trees. Jedidiah Smith State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National Park all feature groves of massive redwood trees. Visit one of the drive-through trees, hike around the stands of trees, and soak up the lush serenity of these special forests.
If you're road-tripping through Northern California, a drive along the Avenue of the Giants is a must. Once a part of Highway 101 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway), it's since been designated State Route 254. The 31.6-mile-long stretch of road takes you right through groves of California's oldest and tallest redwood trees, along the scenic Eel River, and past some pretty great roadside attractions.
Fort Bragg Glass Beach's colorful sand actually has a pretty gnarly past: The beach was once a dump established by local residents. The ocean pounded the glass bottles from the trash heap into small, smooth stones that gently washed back up on the beach. Visit and appreciate nature's gift for turning trash into treasure, but remember that you aren't allowed to remove any glass sand from the shore: Leave it for everyone to enjoy!
Central California has the country's prettiest beaches, hands down, bar none. They're rugged, foggy, secluded, and utterly breathtaking. They're not lined by boardwalks and souvenir shops like beaches on the East Coast or along the Gulf of Mexico. And if you're not convinced, take Point Reyes National Seashore as proof. Point Reyes is almost entirely separated from the mainland via a sunken rift in the San Andreas fault, and it's famed for its rugged coastal scenery, misty and hidden beaches, trails that wind past untamed fields of wildflowers, and rare and endangered wildlife.
McWay Falls, which tumble right onto the beach and are visible from one of the many scenic overlooks along the coast, are reason enough to visit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, but Pfeiffer Beach and the camping add to the experience. The beaches, rocky coast, and lush forests, give you Big Sur at its best.
Yosemite National Park will always have a special place in the National Parks System. A favorite of famed naturalist John Muir, the Yosemite Valley offers iconic views from Tunnel View and Glacier Point... but even though pictures of this stunning park are everywhere, it's still worth visiting in person. Seeing the sweeping beauty in real life is an intense and heart-stopping experience.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park contains nearly 600,000 acres of rugged desert beauty. Here, you'll see mountains, badlands, and washes with scrubby plant life, dotted by springs and oases. The best time to visit is the spring, when the landscape explodes with colorful flowers (even in the desert!) Camping here offers stunning views of the night sky as well.
Twisted Joshua trees (which are actually not trees but a species of yucca), strange rock formations begging to be climbed (including the epic Skull Rock), and some of the most scenic campsites in the country make Joshua Tree an overlooked hidden gem in California. Plus, it's near all kinds of offbeat spots such as the Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and the Integratron.
California is a special place. Beaches, forests, mountains, deserts, and more all blend together to create a landscape that's utterly enchanting. This is why bucket lists were created!
Airstream is on the road! Join us and explore of our community's favorite road trips and amazing places below.