From north to south, find the places you should plug into Google Maps on your next major California road trip.
CALIFORNIA – Planning the ultimate California road trip is no easy feat. The nation’s third largest state is full of charming towns, picturesque beaches, dramatic forests, and random roadside quirks, making it hard to narrow down the perfect route. But that’s the fun of it. Pick a cardinal direction, hit the road, and let your instincts take the wheel. To help you on your way, we compiled our favorite pit stops from north to south — with obvious big cities like LA and SF excluded — where you can (and should) stretch your legs, look around, and stay the night.
Avenue of the Giants
If You’re in the Mood For: A 31-mile drive through jaw-dropping ancient redwood forest in heart of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Spend the Night: Around a fire pit at Inn of the Lost Coast.
If You’re in the Mood For: Quiet cliffside walks in a minimalist, mid-century, tiny-house utopia in Sonoma County.
Spend the Night: At one with nature at the tastefully cozy Sea Ranch Lodge.
If You’re in the Mood For: A hangover-curing, hot spring soak or mud bath at the top of Napa Valley.
Spend the Night: At the updated former motel, Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa.
Read More on Fathom: How to Survive Napa With a Hangover
Spend the Night: In a pricey town with great boutique hotels, Healdsburg Inn is a cheap and cheerful option brilliantly located on the main town square. It's one of the Four Sisters Inns, which deliver great value throughout California.
Read More on Fathom: The Road to Happiness Begins in Sonoma
If You’re in the Mood For: A Thomas Keller-orchestrated fine dining experience nestled between the boutique wineries of Napa.
Spend the Night: At the charmingly quaint five-room Petit Logis Inn.
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Russian River Valley
If You’re in the Mood For: Amazing pinot noirs away from the touristy Napa Valley crowd.
Spend the Night: On a Casper mattress inside a luxury airstream at Autocamp.
Read More on Fathom: Learning to Sit Still in Sonoma
If You’re in the Mood For: Delicious oysters, fresh seafood, and beautiful NoCal scenery along the protected coastline of NorCal's Marin County.
Spend the Night: In a romantic cabin overlooking the water at Nick’s Cove.
Read More on Fathom: One Day Isn't Enough in Point Reyes
If You’re in the Mood For: An otherworldly digital detox, epic Pacific views, and farm-to-fork dining on the rugged central coast.
Spend the Night: Under the redwoods in a luxury glampsite (with showers!) at Ventana Big Sur.
Read More on Fathom: The 9 Best Places to Visit in Big Sur
Monterey / Carmel
If You’re in the Mood For: Romantic adventure, divine sea breezes, and views of eagle nests and gray whales.
Read More on Fathom: Bring Your Dog on a Hag 'n' Wag Holiday in Carmel
If You’re in the Mood For: Great wine and a touch of luxury in small-town country.
Spend the Night: Paso Robles Inn has hot springs, a low-key spa, and a heated pool to help with the aching bones.
Read More on Fathom: Zen Out in Paso Robles, California
If You’re in the Mood For: A serene surf and seaside village in one of California’s last undiscovered coastal destinations in San Luis Obispo, halfway between SF and LA.
Spend the Night: By the sea at the low-key cool Cambria Beach Lodge.
If You’re in the Mood For: Big city amenities with a beach town vibe.
Spend the Night: A ten-minute drive from downtown at California-cool The Goodland.
Read More on Fathom: A Budget-Friendly Dating Adventure in Santa Barbara
If You’re in the Mood For: Laid-back country charm and throwback California hippie vibes in a valley in the Topatopa Mountains.
Spend the Night: Next to Ojai Valley Trail at the hip, '50s-style Ojai Rancho Inn.
If You’re in the Mood For: Sunrise paddling, sightseeing, and healthy farm-fresh food on a celebrity-studded beachfront.
Spend the Night: At Native Hotel, the newest and coolest crash pad in town.
Read More on Fathom: A Healthy and Wholesome Guide to Malibu
If You’re in the Mood For: Wild West vibes, peace and solitude, and maybe a spiritual experience in the chicest part of the California desert.
Spend the Night: In a bright pink bungalow at 29 Palms Inn.
Read More on Fathom: Escaping the Cold for Sunshine and Solitude in Joshua Tree
If You’re in the Mood For: SoCal's sleepy, bohemian beach town retreat.
Spend the Night: At the beautifully redone Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa.
Read More on Fathom: On California's Southern Coast, a Historical Gem With a New Look
If You’re in the Mood For: Fish tacos, making friends at the beach, and extending your road trip into Mexico.
Read More on Fathom: Summer Never Ends in Encinitas
Keep Exploring California
Dive into our city guides to Los Angeles and San Francisco, discover why everything is awesome on an Orange Country road trip, and find out why Joshua Tree is pure magic.