Looking for a fun one week California road trip itinerary? There are so many stops in California that most people don’t even think about seeing.
Clearly I am not talking about Disneyland, Hollywood, or San Francisco. Those are the obvious ones ;).
We decided to see all the not so obvious spots after dropping our youngest off at college in Oregon back in 2019.
Around June of that year, I realized we literally had nothing to rush home to after said drop off in Oregon being that this was our last child being dropped off ;).
I actually wrote an entire blog post dedicated to when kids leave the nest and that emotional roller coaster that you should check out if you are interested ;).
Bottom line was – the thought of returning to a house with no kids left living there made me anxious.
So I started planning an off the beaten path California road trip to see all the things from the Oregon border all the way to San Diego that we had never seen before.
If you read the empty nest post I mentioned above, you know my biggest piece of advice for entering this new chapter is to travel after the drop off!
Even if it’s just for a few days and maybe even just an hour or two from home – there is always something new to see!
Or if you are flying to the drop-off, take the time afterwards to explore the area around your child’s new home :).
But do not stay too close to your kid – try to find someplace a few hours away (or more). Because trust me when I tell you – odds are – your kid DOES NOT want you sticking around for very long ;0!
But enough about empty nesting – because this one week California road trip can easily be done with or without kids!!
We have driven the I-5 freeway more times than I can count.
And yet there are still so many things we have missed on all of those focused destination family road trips!
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In a rush?
A One Week California Road Trip
- Where to Start
- Mount Shasta
- McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Carmel and Big Sur
- The Drive South on Highway One
- Ojai, California
- West Hollywood
- Our Full 8 Day Itinerary
Where to Start
Like I said above, we started our journey after our college drop off in Eugene, Oregon. Which we had actually driven to from our home in North San Diego County.
However, the likelihood of you starting your California road trip in Eugene, Oregon are slim to none (however starting in San Diego is a whole different possibility).
In fact, if you are starting in San Diego, you could easily just do the reverse of this road trip.
OR – drive straight to Mount Shasta from San Diego and then slowly make your way back down :).
If you are flying in from out of state, my recommendation is to fly into the Redding, CA airport if at all possible.
Otherwise, the next two most convenient airports are Sacramento and Oakland which are both a little over a four hour drive from the first stop on this off the beaten path California road trip :).
You could also just simply use the information below as ideas for stops on your own off the beaten path California road trip starting wherever works best for you ;).
Our first stop of Mount Shasta was not at all what we were expecting!!
I was expecting a mountain town similar to what I have experienced in Mammoth, Lake Tahoe, and Jackson (okay- that last one may have been a stretch…).
What we found was definitely more of a hippy-vibe. I had no idea it is a destination with spiritual energy and vortexes!
There are plenty of laid back coffee shops, crystal shops, and meditation leaders to be found right in town.
Our own personal intent with this stop was to see the gorgeous mountain that we have always just driven right past on our many journeys along Interstate 5.
So we did not really partake in any of the spiritual energy options available in this town.
However if that is your thing- you definitely need to add this town to your list!
We have visited Sedona a couple of times and honestly prefer that destination for vortex energy vibes.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Mount Shasta Resort and had a very quiet and peaceful cabin with very few neighbors (I am guessing this was because of the time of year that we were there).
The property restaurant on their golf course has an incredible view of the mountain.
There was a wedding on the property the night we stayed so we got to enjoy watching the guests have a wonderful time that night!
We woke up in Mount Shasta and got breakfast at Yaks Shack.
Then we decided we needed to buy some warmer clothes at a sport shop downtown because we were headed to Lassen National Park where snow was in the forecast and we had not packed accordingly 🤷♀️.
What to Do
While we obviously did not do anything other than enjoy the scenery at Mount Shasta and walk around the town – there is so much more to this town than that.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Go for a hike. Research your options with this website.
- Explore Shasta-Trinity National Forest where you can also hike, bike, fish, and camp.
- Stroll around the downtown area of Mount Shasta
- Hunt for waterfalls – a popular waterfall close to I-5 highway and Mount Shasta is Hedge Creek Falls
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
After buying lunch supplies at a grocery store in Mount Shasta, we drove one hour to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
I had seen sooo many photos of this park on Instagram and Pinterest and have had it on my bucket list for oh I would say over ten years!
It’s quite off the beaten path so going there on any of our previous road trips would have required adding time to our already tight schedules for those trips.
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park did not disappoint!
We were there on the last Sunday in September so the air was crisp and the park was uncrowded. I have read and seen photos of this park being very overcrowded and even closed to excess visitors if too many people are visiting in one day.
It can be quite a drive to get to this park so if it is closed when you arrive – their website suggests to just come back later. It seems after 4pm is recommended in this scenario ;).
The Pacific Crest Trail runs straight through this park (who knew??).
We did the Burney Falls Loop trail, took as many photos as we could, and then saw the sign for the Pacific Crest Trail on the other side of the river.
Because the above trail is only one mile long, we decided to walk a few miles on the famous Pacific Crest trail as well.
While this famous trail is 2635 miles, to say we even did three of them was pretty cool in my eyes ;0!
This park is filled with incredible beauty, about five miles of hiking trails, camping, and plenty of picnicking options. It was the perfect afternoon on our way to our next stop ;).
Lassen Volcanic National Park
After the day at Burney Falls, we continued driving for an additional 45 minutes to Lassen Volcanic National Park– another destination that has literally been on my bucket list for over ten years!
This park gets heavy snow which makes for a very short window for when it is actually open and drivable.
That is why we were never able to add it to any of our previous itineraries 🤷♀️.
As it turned out, the snow was just starting to fall when we arrived around 3pm the last Sunday in September 2019.
After a quick stop at the Loomis Museum at the Northwest entrance to the park, we were told if we want to drive the park, we better hurry up because the storm that is coming will be shutting the road down for the next two days.
Mind you, our accommodations were on the other side of the park and getting to them without going through the park would have taken HOURS.
So to say our timing was impeccable is an understatement!
At every turn, the views were stunning- even as the snow kept coming down harder and harder.
In fact- this SoCal girl who loves snow (but just can’t live in cold) was in snow heaven!
We were only able to make quick stops along the way for photos as the rangers were not too far behind us shooing everyone out of the park because of the storm.
Where to Stay
We spent two nights at Highlands Ranch Resort.
This peaceful property literally deserves a ten out of ten review.
It is located right outside the southern entrance to the park in a stunning valley.
We had dinner in their restaurant our first night and it was absolutely delicious!
And our little cabin was one of my favorite cabins I have ever stayed in.
However, there is no wifi or cell coverage in this valley so be prepared to be OFF THE GRID for your stay!
Makes for some great catching up on your reading time 😀.
What to Do
After leisurely waking up and getting a tasty full breakfast at the resort (which was included in our room rate), we headed to the Kohm Yah-Man-Nee Visitor Center on the southern end of the park.
This visitor center is on the edge of the park and stays open even when the park road is closed due to weather.
As I mentioned above, the park roads closed the night before due to snowy weather however the rangers told us we were allowed to walk into the park as far as we wanted.
So we set foot on the road and walked up past the Sulphur Works Hydrothermal Area about a one mile walk north of the visitors center.
There we simply enjoyed the snow and the scenery and had a very relaxing day with no agenda (the best kind of day!).
I was really hoping to see the Bumpass Hell boardwalk but that was closed the year we were there for much needed improvements and repairs. I guess I will have to go back!
After our snow day, we drove to the logging town of Chester, CA and ate dinner at the Kopper Kettle Cafe (gets a 2 out of 5 stars from us however) before heading back to our cozy cabin for an early night.
Carmel and Big Sur
Getting back on the road the next day took us to our next stopover town of Carmel for an early dinner.
The drive from Lassen NP to Carmel is 6 hours with not a lot of scenery along the way.
That makes for a long drive. But once we got to the Monterey area, the views were stunning.
Being that this was our first visit to Carmel – I was shocked that we hadn’t visited this quaint town before!
It is soooo right up my alley!!
We have been to the city of Monterey multiple times and yet Carmel snuck past my radar for all these years!
I have a separate blog post for Carmel at Christmas that is worth a read (and a visit at this magical time of year!).
My main intention for that long day was to get to see the famous Bixby Creek Bridge which is about 25 minutes south of Carmel on Highway One.
When we were sitting at dinner in Carmel, I realized it was getting closer to sunset time and we better get moving if we wanted to see the bridge!
I wasn’t even banking on seeing it in all it’s sunset glory- what a pleasant surprise!
If you can time your views of this famous bridge for sunset – you are in for a treat for sure!
This northern California coastline and bridge are probably some of the most famous views of coastal California.
Where to Stay
We checked in to the Post Ranch Inn for a two night stay.
HUGE DISCLAIMER ON THIS HOTEL: This is not our typical price range for accommodations that we stay at when we travel.
However I knew we needed to start our new empty nester status with a huge celebration.
And what better way than to spoil ourselves with a stay at the nicest hotel we would probably ever stay at?
Everything about the Post Ranch Inn speaks for itself, but I must add that I have never in my life stayed at a more relaxing property.
Plus – there are fresh chocolate chip cookies in the rooms EVERY DAY!
The only time we actually left the property was to walk down to Big Sur Taphouse to get burgers for lunch on our one full day in the area (which btw- were incredible!).
Breakfast with a view is included in the nightly rate.
And the property has plenty to do, even if that is just wandering the premises which consists of over 100 acres and enough trails for days worth of adventures.
What to Do
If you are not staying at the Post Ranch Inn and are wondering what to do with your time in the area, there are a multitude of state parks and beaches to fill your days with (if you decide you want to do more than just enjoy the beautiful views that is!).
This US News Article has some excellent suggestions for how to spend time in each of those parks ;).
The Drive South on Highway One
After two amazing nights at the Post Ranch Inn, we drove down the scenic Highway One to Ojai, California. There are so many places you will want to stop on this highway just to gawk at the views and take it all in (well and get some photos too!).
Do you believe we had never done this drive before? And we moved back to California in 1997 (after being away for grad school for four years- you can read all about our story here)!
Here are the highlights to see once you start heading south from Big Sur:
Located inside Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, this famous waterfall is best seen from the viewpoint inside the park.
Most people just pull off to the side of Highway One to get a quick view however parking will be easier inside the park.
Look for the sign marking the McWay Canyon entrance to the park. The trailhead for the short walk to the view will be located just inside the entrance with signs saying McWay Falls Overlook Trail.
Pampas Grass Ocean Views
You will see these views around every bend for about four hours of driving!
Be sure to pull over someplace safe to capture your perfect photo.
Also – it is much easier to appreciate the views on this drive if you are headed south rather than north on Highway One ;).
Morro Bay is a town definitely worth stopping in – even if it is just to stretch your legs!
There is a plethora of options for things to do in this coastal central California town.
It would be a great option for a one night stay if you want to add this as an overnight stop to your off the beaten path California road trip itinerary!
This town is a good base for wine tasting too if you are looking to add an additional stop on your off the beaten path California road trip!
Where to Stay
For a hotel that had to come off the heels of our stay at the luxurious Post Ranch Inn, I was worried nothing would ever match up- but The Ojai Valley Inn held it’s own in my eyes 😉.
We enjoyed ice cream from their ice cream parlor while sitting on the lawn people watching- which was perfect after the long and windy drive down Highway One.
What to Do
I had read so many things about this small inland California town.
Honestly, I had first heard of it on the show Brothers and Sisters (yes- this is an old show!) and couldn’t wait to finally go check out this place for myself.
Many Hollywood actors live in this town as well – but we did not see any on our two night stay here.
It is a short 1.3 mile walk to town from Ojai Valley Inn on a super cute pathway.
This path brings you right through the quaint neighborhoods of Ojai and is very shaded which makes it enjoyable even in the valley heat.
After wandering in and out of cute shops, we ate a late lunch (with margaritas) at Agave Maria.
And then headed back to the hotel to do more people watching on the lawn and to catch the “Pink Moments Sunset” that Ojai Valley is famous for.
Our last stop on our journey home from Oregon after the two nights in Ojai was to visit our oldest daughter who lives in West Hollywood.
This was a quick stopover for us to just spend a couple of hours with our daughter and grab a tasty lunch at Spartina LA restaurant.
I am long overdue for a what to do in Hollywood blog post – so be watching for that eventually!
Better yet- get on my email list so you don’t miss when I finally do write that post ;).
Our Full 8 Day Itinerary
Thank you for reading my suggestions for a one week California road trip!
Road tripping and planning road trips is one of my favorite things to do so hopefully you will benefit from how much attention to detail I enjoy putting into my own adventures!
California is a huge state that offers sooo much. One could easily spend over a month just driving around the state exploring.
So I hope if nothing else, this post is a great starting point for you in adding some off the beaten path stops to your journey!
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Life is short, the world is wide.
I want to make some memories.
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).