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Beautiful Summer Drives in California – See more in your RV

Taking off to drive the California coastline or even up to the mountains or across the desert is such a romantic notion that everyone probably would love to do it. Fortunately, you have an RV to take advantage of lots of places to see magnificent scenery. Taking summer drives in California is a unique opportunity to see such varied geographic features that you could see mountains, coastline and even volcanoes or offshore islands in one trip.

Here are just three suggestions for beautiful summer drive itineraries in California:

1) The San Diego to Joshua Tree Itinerary:

Start: San Diego

End: Joshua Tree National Park

Distance: Approximately 350 miles

When most people think of California, they picture beaches, but in reality, a good chunk of the state is covered in awe-inspiring desert. To get your fill of the expansive, dry landscape, start in San Diego and head northeast toward State Route 78. Make your way to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park — home of the famous springtime super bloom — and explore the park’s slot canyons and expansive cactus forests. From there, you can travel to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, where you’ll experience extensive backcountry trails, snow-capped mountains, and miles of emptiness.

Once you’ve spent enough time reveling in some of summer drives in California’s open space, make a detour south toward Salton Sea, one of the world’s largest inland seas, sitting 227 feet below sea level. Head to the eastern side of the water to see the iconic Salvation Mountain, a hand-painted, love-inspired work of art that’s worth a visit (and a few photos). From there, turn around and go north toward Palm Springs (or, if you have time, drive around the sea before traveling north). Once you arrive in Palm Springs, book a stay at one of the nicest RV Parks there and rest for a day or two before venturing into the expansive Joshua Tree National Park. These are a few suggested RV Parks: 

  1. Happy Traveler R.V. Park, an RV park with on-site swimming pool;
  2. Cathedral Palms RV Resort, desert RV sites, pools & club house
  3. Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort, an RV resort with access to golf & tennis

Take your pick and stay where you like and then do visit Joshua Tree National Park. 

2) California State Parks Road Trip:

Start: Sacramento

End: Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park

Distance: Approximately 800 miles

California’s national parks get all the attention —particularly Yosemite and Joshua Tree — but many travelers overlook the smaller, less-visited state parks. This will be taken care of on this Northern California road trip itinerary, where the state parks take center stage.

Start your journey in Sacramento and make your way east to the first park on this road trip: Emerald Bay State Park. Check out Eagle Falls, enjoy the views over Lake Tahoe, and visit Vikingsholm, a 38-room Scandinavian-inspired mansion, before heading east (and then north) to Plumas-Eureka State Park, where you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know (and then some) about the California Gold Rush. After a few days of exploring the area, travel west toward the coast — a five-and-a-half-hour drive that’ll require a fuel up at From the Hearth Kitchen & Pie Shop in Red Bluff.

When you’re close to the ocean, you’ll run into Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, a 400-acre oasis that is home to groves of old-growth redwood trees. After a night or two spent under the redwoods and alongside the river, make your way north to Humboldt Lagoons State Park on the coast. Here, you’ll find coastal lagoons, wetlands, and estuaries, before making your way east toward Redding. 

From Redding, continue north to Castle Crags State Park, home to dramatic and ragged rock formations (and great camping and hiking). Your final stop on this excursion is well worth the final push: Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, a tiny area (mainly water) that’s just four miles long and no more than one mile wide. The Park is only accessible by boat and has areas covered by the remnants of lava flows and stunning views of Mount Shasta.

3) The Pacific Coast Highway Experience

Start: San Francisco

End: Los Angeles

Distance: Approximately 440 miles

Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH), snakes along the California coastline delivering almost 656 miles of ocean views along with plenty of nature (hello, elephant seals) and some of the state’s most interesting sites.

Technically, the route runs from the city of Leggett to Dana Point, south of Los Angeles, but many people cut the 656-mile drive short by starting in San Francisco. If you’re starting in the Golden City, fuel up with a to-go brew from Snowbird Coffee before hopping on Highway 1. From there, slowly make your way south, stopping in Santa Cruz to watch (or catch) the surf before grabbing lunch at Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery in Moss Landing.

The next section of road — connecting Carmel-by-the-Sea to Big Sur — is particularly stunning, so you’ll want to take your time. 

Book a stay at one of the numerous RV parks near Carmel, such as:

  1. Carmel by the River RV Park, 
  2. Cotillion Garden RV Park in Felton, or 
  3. Moss Landing’s KOA Express, all of which get very high ratings. 

When you get back on the road, spend an afternoon at the 80-foot McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, or continue on to San Simeon, where you’ll want to spend a few hours at the elephant seal rookery. Before arriving in L.A., spend a day or two relaxing on the beaches of Santa Barbara or exploring the area’s vineyards.

Santa Barbara also has some great RV Parks to camp in, including: Ocean Mesa RV Park & campground, Carpinteria State Beach, Refugio State Beach, or Rancho Oso RV Resort. See this link for more favorite RV Parks in Santa Barbara to choose from. 

Whether you are starting out in San Diego or southern California or in Sacramento and the north, summer drives in California offer a vast experience full of loads of gorgeous sights to see. There are so many more that we didn’t list here, but be sure to check with your El Monte RV Sales location for help deciding on your summer drive itinerary and to get answers to many of your RV questions.

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