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Some of the best road trip destinations in California

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Putting down your work and leaving your busy life behind to go on a trip can be a daunting task (for some it might even seem impossible), but doing so can actually have hugely beneficial effects on your mental health. From de-stressing to reinvention, the benefits of travel far outweigh the reasons for staying home. So, whatever’s holding you back from your potential life of adventure, try to give yourself a break from time to time and set out on a new journey. Even if you’re worried about finances, there are still some great trips you can take that don’t require an abundance of cash. And, just in case you need some inspiration, here are a few of the best road trip destinations in California to get you started…

Since I’m an avid lover of camping (and because camping trips are more realistic on my college student budget), let’s start with some of my favorite camping destinations. Although the well-known California parks and forests, such as Yosemite and Sequoia, are the typical fan favorites, my list is made up of a few lesser talked about campgrounds. But don’t get me wrong, I love the fan favorites too!

1. Angeles National Forest

A great SoCal camping spot, Angeles National Forest is just a short drive away from Los Angeles, providing an easy getaway for those L.A. dwellers. With mountains, trees, and hikes galore, this forest feels like a destination that’s hours away from any big city. You can hike to the top of huge rock formations or down into areas with serene waterfalls. Whatever your camping vibe is, Angeles provides an impressive array of options. Grab your hammock and a good book and take off to this majestic destination for the weekend!

2. Portola Redwoods State Park

Farther up North, Portola Redwoods State Park is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous destination. The drive to the campgrounds alone is worth the trip. Once you arrive, however, there are incredible hikes that lead to fairytale-like creeks. When I camped here, I felt like I was removed from the rest of the world and intertwined with the beautiful nature that surrounded me. Even though it’s not very far from San Jose, this state park feels like its own little world. Bring your film camera and your journal and drive up to the 250 foot trees!

3. Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Not far from Yosemite, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is another NorCal gem. There are tons of woodsy hikes to take and rushing rivers to swim in. And yes, the trees are in fact big. I camped here in July, and the weather was perfect for some shady hikes and river swims (quick ones because the water is near freezing). You can roast s’mores under the impressive redwoods and fall asleep under the stars. But don’t forget your bear spray; we’re in bear country up here!

Now for the non-camping destinations. These are great when you want (and can afford) to take a more relaxed vacation that provides less outdoor peeing and more cozy mattresses.

1. Palm Springs

A SoCal classic, Palm Spring is home to countless delicious restaurants, which is the most important factor in any trip destination for me. Some of my favorite spots include 533 Viet Fusion and Gabino’s Creperie. The former makes a hot, creamy vegetarian curry that is to die for both when fresh and as leftovers. The creperie is a hidden, pink hole-in-the-wall with mind-blowing handheld crepes. I’d recommend taking your trip here in the winter, or at least not in the summertime, for ideal weather conditions. Pack your bathing suit and some sunscreen and get ready for some tasty food! 

2. Joshua Tree National Park

A great spot for camping too, Joshua Tree provides plenty of incredible outdoor activities, from hiking to bouldering and (if you’re experienced) rock climbing. Whether you’re traveling with a group of friends or going on a romantic getaway, this destination is the place to stay. The sunsets are stunning and the stars sparkle in the night sky. Plus, the famous Pappy & Harriet’s restaurant is just a twenty minute drive away! Pack up your bouldering shoes and drive into the desert for a peaceful weekend away from home. 

3. San Francisco

My favorite city in California, San Francisco has a host of tasty restaurants, must-see tourist destinations, and unbelievable city views. Again, food is always my priority, so naturally I have some favorite spots. The Buena Vista, a fun corner cafe near Fisherman’s Wharf, is a first-rate place for a delicious brunch and, apparently, serves top-notch Irish coffee (for those who are of legal drinking age, of course). Ariscault, a small bakery not far from city hall, makes several incredible fresh pastries that taste amazing with one of their iced coffees. Also, be sure to check out the Palace of Fine Arts and spend an evening at the ballet at the War Memorial Opera House!

Third year at UC San Diego. Communication major with a passion for writing and film. Also loves food, fashion and travel.
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