There are thousands of amazing things to do in Lake Tahoe all year long. Afterall, there’s a great reason why this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of California. The lake is renowned for its jaw-dropping natural beauty, crystal-clear waters, sandy beaches, and all kinds of activities for the entire family.
We have divided this blog post into the following categories:
A visit to the Emerald Bay State Park should be on any traveler’s itinerary visiting Lake Tahoe. This bay is home to some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the area, and it’s bound to leave you breathless.
Don’t miss the Vikingsholm mansion, which looks like a monumental castle. Note that you’ll need to hike for around a mile from the car park to reach this attraction. If you ask me, it’s well worth it.
Consider packing some snacks when visiting Emerald Bay. After touring the Vikingsholm mansion, you can unwind at the picnic area nearby. You can also rent a kayak from Kayak Tahoe at their Emerald Bay location.
Don’t miss the Eagle Falls waterfalls right off the main road. You can drop your car off at the free car park and hike along the Eagle Falls trailhead that will eventually lead you all the way up to Eagle Lake.
The D.L. Bliss State Park is yet another must-visit point in the southern part of Lake Tahoe. This natural wonderland is located directly north of the Emerald Bay State Park, so you can easily visit one after the other.
Some of the best attractions at this wonderful State Park include hiking trails, pristine sandy beaches, landmarks, and remote campsites to spend the night.
Hiking is one of the best ways to spend the day here. Don’t miss the Balancing Rock, Rubicon Point Lighthouse, or the sandy Lester Beach.
You can spend the night at the campsite for as low as $35 per night. Note that it costs extra to stay at the campsite located at the sandy beach, though it is well worth it for the killer views!
Gambling & The Resorts
While Lake Tahoe is all about the peaceful getaway to a natural wonderland, some travelers may want to take a break and spend the evening at a resort.
Gambling is only legal in Nevada, hence all of the best casinos are located in the southeast tip of the lake at Stateline Lake Tahoe. Some of the best resorts here include Harveys, Harrah’s, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,
Best Things To Do In North Lake Tahoe
Unwind At Kings Beach
Once you visit Kings Beach in the north part of Lake Tahoe, you are bound to fall in love. This cute beach town has an amazing vibe that will just make you want to stay here forever. Drive along Highway 28 to admire some of the picturesque local hotels and restaurants.
Naturally, the vibrant beach is the main reason most tourists visit this town. Feel the sand between your toes, sunbathe or go for a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Photographers should bring their cameras along, as the scenery is unforgettable.
You can drop your car off at the beachside car park, right off the main road. Click here for directions.
Discover Local History At Donner Memorial State Park
The Donner Memorial State Park is yet another place worth visiting in the Lake Tahoe area. This park is home to lengthy hiking trails, peaceful picnic areas, and a local museum that contains many artifacts from the 19th century.
Travelers who want to learn more about local history should definitely pay the Emigrant Trail Museum a visit. It’s located in the town of Truckee, a short 20-minute drive out of Kings Beach.
Don’t miss the nearby town of Truckee and its cute Historic Downtown.
Best Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In The Summer
Day trip to Yosemite National Park
Fancy a dramatic change of scenery? Consider going on a day trip to Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite is one of the most famous National Parks in the country, and for a very good reason. The scenery here is truly breathtaking. You won’t miss the monumental Half Dome, as this peak overlooks the picturesque valley. There are thousands of great things to do in Yosemite, anything from scenic driving to rafting.
If you’re planning to drive across California in a rental car, be sure to check out this blog post for insightful tips.
Take it slow, pack a towel and a pair of your favorite trunks, and head to one of the best beaches in Lake Tahoe.
There are tons of beautiful beaches dotted along the shore. Listing them all would take forever, these are our favorite picks:
Kiva Beach– a 200-yard long sandy beach in South Lake Tahoe, near Emerald Bay
Zephyr Cove Beach– this mile-long beach is one of the busiest in Lake Tahoe. Expect jet ski and canoe rentals, volleyball courts and a bunch of tourists especially during peak season
Conolley Beach– you can spend the day at the Tahoe Beach Retreat, a local beach club
Emerald Bay– Emerald Bay State Park is home to various pristine beaches, ideal for a refreshing dip after a hike
Kings Beach- one of the most popular beaches in North Lake Tahoe. Easily accessible and full of tourists
Sand Harbor Beach– easily one of the best beaches at Lake Tahoe, located at the east shore over in Nevada. Extremely busy during peak season
Don’t forget to take sunscreen!
Go On A Cruise or Rent A Kayak
What better way to make the most out of your time at Lake Tahoe than to spend the day on the surface of the lake (or beneath it).
Consider booking a scenic boat tour to see Lake Tahoe from a whole new perspective. Choose a trusted operator, such as Tahoe Cruises. The company offers an array of different tours to choose from, such as 2-hour long cruises around Emerald Bay, sunset cruises, or sightseeing tours around the southern shore of the lake. All cruises depart from the Ski Run Marina, located roughly halfway between South Lake Tahoe and Stateline.
Rent A Kayak, Canoe, or A Jet Ski
You can head over to one of the sandy beaches and rent a stand-up paddleboard, kayak, canoe, or a bunch of other fun equipment. Sand Harbor Beach is home to a jet ski rental, while kayaks can be rented at various locations such as Emerald Bay.
During peak season, be sure to book your equipment ahead. Visit SUP Tahoe and their official website for information on pricing and availability.
Fun Things To Do In Lake Tahoe In Winter
Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows Ski Resorts
Skiing and snowboarding fans will feel right at home at Lake Tahoe.
You simply have to visit Squaw Valley during your winter trip to Lake Tahoe. This renowned alpine resort is one of the best places to go skiing in all of North America. It even used to host the Olympic games back in 1960!
Although Squaw Valley is a year-round destination, it’s unarguably best to come here during the winter season. Afterall, this is when you can make the most of the 4 000 acres of ski terrain.
This resort is ideal for all skiing fans, no matter their skill level. As much as a third of the runs are aimed at beginners and intermediate skiers, while the remaining slopes are perfect for experienced travelers.
Both resorts are located a short 10-minute drive west of Tahoe City.
Northstar California Resort
This is yet another world-class alpine resort located near Lake Tahoe. If you have the time, be sure to visit Northstar California during your winter trip to Lake Tahoe.
Just like Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Northstar California is ideal for all skill levels. Similar to the other alpine resorts at Lake Tahoe, Northstar California is a year-round destination. During the summer, you can come here to try out mountain biking, play a game of golf or hike to take in the views.
This ski resort lays a short 10-minute drive northwest of Agate Bay at the Northern tip of Lake Tahoe.
Diamond Peak Ski Resort
Although not as big as Squaw Valley or Northstar, Diamond Peak is worth visiting too! It’s typically less crowded than the more popular resorts. The runs are ideal for beginners and families. Nearly half of the 30 runs here are suitable for intermediate skiers.
Diamon Peak Ski Resort is located off Crystal Bay at the Northeast tip of the lake.
Bonus: What is the best way of getting around Lake Tahoe?
A private car is an ideal way of getting around Lake Tahoe. That way, you can visit all of the attractions throughout the lake, as well as the surrounding area.
If you plan to rent a car for this trip, be sure to check out Rentalmoose for the best deals. We plant a tree for every booking made with our platform!
Unsure about renting a car or taking your own vehicle? This blog post may help.
California is truly one of the greatest destinations to rent a car, no matter if you want to get around San Francisco, drive along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, drive up Highway 395 to Lake Tahoe, or go for a road trip over to Nevada. Either way, California makes for an ideal starting point for your journey.
Check out our guide to ensure that booking your next rental car is a seamless, fun experience. Here’s all you need to know about renting a car in California.
How Old Do You Have To Be To Rent a Car in California?
You have to be at least 21 years old to rent a car in the state of California. However, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, virtually all rental companies required the renter to be at least 25 just a couple of decades back. Here’s why.
Back in the late 20th century, renters under the age of 25 weren’t exactly profitable for suppliers. Young drivers were, on average, more likely to have an accident or get caught driving under the influence. Renting cars to young people was a risk that most companies did not want to take. Instead of modifying the rental agreements to better suit young drivers, they chose not to permit them altogether.
Luckily, times have changed. Renting a car shouldn’t be an issue for most drivers aged between 21 and 25. Some local rental companies may even let drivers as young as 18 rent a vehicle, as long as they’ve had their license for at least a year. There is one major catch, though.
Extra Fees For Young Drivers
If you’ve ever rented a car in the past, you are probably well aware of this. Pretty much every single rental company will charge an additional young driver fee, also referred to as a young driver surcharge. The fee is calculated on a per-day basis and added on top of your rental bill.
You can expect the young driver fee to be anywhere between $20 and $90 per day. The fee can vary, depending on the location, the car type, and the rental period. In the end, it all boils down to the rental company and their policies. It’s best to double-check directly with the supplier before booking your vehicle.
You can also dive into the terms and conditions for more info on fees. Here is why we recommend thoroughly reading the T&Cs before booking your vehicle.
Once again, you may be surprised to hear that there are a handful of exceptions to this rule. Some 18-year olds may be exempt from paying a young driver surcharge. Keep reading to find out more.
How To Avoid Young Driver Fees
There are a couple of ways to make your way around the young driver surcharge. Some of them are quite sneaky!
One of the easiest would be to become a member of the AAA. Memberships start at just around $60 per year, and most rental companies waive young driver fees to AAA members. If you’re planning to rent a vehicle for more than a few days, it may be worth getting an AAA membership.
Military and Government Employees
Young government and military employees, aged anywhere between 18 and 25, can often benefit from no young driver fees. In addition, most companies will even let an 18-year old government/military employee rent a car! In the vast majority of cases, this only applies to official business trips though.
The majority of rental companies waive young driver fees to all members of the USAA. To become a member of the USAA, you have to be a member of the US military. This applies to both active as well as former members, as well as their spouses and children.
Do You Need An International Driving Permit in California?
No! California does not require foreign drivers to obtain an International Driving Permit. Tourists can legally drive on California’s roads using their local driving license.
As long as the driver is at least 18 years old, has a lawfully issued driving license from their home country, and the license covers the vehicle type that they are driving, you’re all good to go! In fact, the same applies for most states in the US.
Note that some rental companies may require renters to obtain an IDP. While this is uncommon, it’s not completely unheard of. Once again, it’s best to double-check with the supplier before finalizing your booking.
Renting A Car in California- Tips and Tricks
Now that you’re all ready to being your California adventure, don’t forget to take a look at our tips and tricks. They may just make your trip even better!
Consider Extra Coverage
Unlike Europe, rental cars in the United States do not come with CDW or Theft Protection as standard. Basic protection is extremely limited, and it is strongly recommended to purchase additional coverage. You can learn more about rental car insurance in this blog post.
Check with your credit card company, many US residents have rental car insurance included in their credit card plan! Note that in some cases, you may only be eligible for coverage if you’ve paid for the rental car using that particular card.
Keep in mind that if you choose to purchase additional coverage directly at the counter, you will be charged more! It’s always cheaper to purchase coverage online, prior to your trip.
Beware of the Fees
It’s crucial to be aware of all the extra fees that are right around the corner. We have a list of nearly 20 of the most common extra fees that can quickly add up to your rental bill. Take a look at them right here.
Airport Pick-up and Drop-off
It is unarguably the most convenient to pick up your rental car directly at the airport terminal, and drop it off right before heading on the plane. Note that virtually every rental company will charge you an extra “premium location surcharge” for airport pick-up and drop-off.
If you want your rental bill to stay low, it’s best to pick a different location.
High Fuel Prices
Last but not least, don’t forget that California has some of the most expensive gas in the entire country. While fuel prices in Cali are still lower than those in Europe, it is over a dollar higher than the national average. You should take the high prices into consideration, especially when planning a long cross-country road trip.
You can check the current gas prices by state right here.
Now that you know how old do you have to be to rent a car in California, the tips and tricks to California car rental, and lots of other useful info, it’s time to go ahead and book your adventure!
Don’t forget to use Rentalmoose to compare the best deals from our trusted suppliers.
The scenic Highway 395 makes for one of the best road trips you could take in this part of California. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to drive across diverse landscapes and endless natural beauty, with two of the area’s most spectacular National Parks just a small detour away?
Like any other road trip, the answer is largely subjective. If you’re a fan of sports cars, you’ll surely enjoy a lavish roadster or a classic American muscle car. No matter what car you’re after, Rentalmoose has got you covered. Browse through options from the industry leaders and ensure you get the best deal with Rentalmoose.
If you’re hesitant about renting a car for the Highway 395 road trip and would rather use your own vehicle, check out this blog post. It may just change your mind.
What to see on Highway 395?
That’s the crucial question. Some of the attractions along this road trip include Red Rock Canyon State Park, Lone Pine, Mount Whitney, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Bishop, and Mammoth Lakes. There are also optional detours to Death Valley and Yosemite NPs!
Without further ado, let’s dive into this Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip itinerary!
This road trip begins in the legendary City of Angels. It’s hard to think of a better place to begin a Highway 395 road trip!
For your maximum convenience, Rentalmoose recommends picking up your rental car directly from LAX. Note that airport pickup is usually subject to an extra fee added on top of your rental bill. If you want to avoid a premium location surcharge, it’s best to pick up your rental car somewhere in the city.
While Los Angeles may not be the best place to drive around, the traffic is not as bad as you may have heard. The notorious “LA Traffic” is nowhere near as bad as rush hour traffic in Paris, for example.
What are the best things to do in Los Angeles?
Despite what some first-timers may think, there is a lot more to Los Angeles than just Hollywood or the Walk of Fame. Mulholland Drive, for example, is easily one of the best driving roads in this part of California. You can spot hundreds of bikers and petrolheads enjoying this chicane-filled drive each day.
Rentalmoose insider tip: Don’t forget to stop at the Mulholland Scenic Overlook for those classic views of the skyline! Check the map for the exact location.
The two LA attractions listed below are simply ideal for fans of the outdoors. We all need a break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city every now and again.
Runyon Canyon Park
Runyon Canyon Park is the perfect getaway located in the Hills above the city. You can enjoy an early morning jog, or simply hike up to admire unbeatable views of the Los Angeles skyline.
The North Entrance of the park can be accessed directly off Mulholland Drive. That way, you can stop for a hike while driving down LA’s favorite scenic drive. What a fun way to spend the day!
The park is open from sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week. Entrance is free of charge. Your vehicle can be parked at the North Entrance off Mulholland Drive.
Griffith Observatory & Griffith Park
Griffith Park isn’t exactly a hidden gem. In fact, you have probably already seen it plenty of times in various Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows. Nonetheless, the iconic Griffith Observatory is the place to admire those picture-perfect views overlooking the LA skyline.
To be completely honest, the Southernmost tip of Highway 395 is a little underwhelming. The route starts in the town of Victorville and the first stretch isn’t exactly picture-perfect. That’s why we recommend taking the chicane-filled Angeles Crest Highway via the Angeles National Forest. You will then reach Red Rock Canyon State Park via Lancaster instead. It is a much more exciting drive.
The scenic Red Rock Canyon State Park is located roughly 2 hours north of Los Angeles. Once you’re here, you can admire jaw-dropping natural beauty. The park borders the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada, it’s filled with scenic canyons and hiking trails that overlook it all.
You can access the hiking trails via the park’s dirt road network. It’s open to any street-legal car, so you can safely drive around in your rental car!
Camping at Red Rock Canyon SP
Moreover, travelers who wish to spend the night here can set camp at one of the 50 campsites situated at the Ricardo Campground. Up to 8 friends can share one campsite at $25 per site, no campgrounds for larger groups are available.
After spending some time at the Red Rock Canyon SP, it’s time to head north into the beautiful landscapes of Sierra Nevada. A short 20-mile drive up will take you to the iconic Highway 395. Follow it for around an hour, until you reach the cute town of Lone Pine.
A slight detour to Death Valley National Park is an absolute must, especially if you haven’t been to this park before. You could even extend the trip further to see the Grand Canyon over in Arizona, too!
The village is a well-known spot for fishing. It’s also surrounded by some more spectacular natural beauty, complete with winding hiking trails to take it all in. These are some of the must-do attractions in Lone Pine.
Museum of Western Film History
Movie buffs have to drop by the Museum of Western Film History. The museum gallery is full of Western memorabilia that any enthusiast will love. Visitors can get an insightful look at how some of the most iconic Western movies were made.
You can watch a Western movie at what is perhaps the world’s best Western cinema, located within the premises. The cozy theatre can sit up to 85 guests.
The museum is open 10AM to 4PM Thursday to Monday.
Fishing in Lone Pine
Like we mentioned previously, the Lone Pine area is a popular spot among fishing fans who visit Sierra Nevada. There are plenty of fishing spots to choose from in and around Lone Pine, such as:
Check out this blog post by the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce for a guide on fishing in the Lone Pine area.
Hiking & Enjoying The Outdoors
Without a doubt, the best thing you can do in Lone Pine is simply enjoying the outdoors. There are lots of hiking trails, such as the Mobius Arch Loop Trailhead that will take you to the iconic Mobius Arch rock formation.
The Mt. Whitney Trailhead is worth paying a visit, too. From there, you could hike over to the Lone Pine Lake, which is around 6 miles (10km).
Whitney Portal Road Scenic Drive
Don’t let the short length of Whitney Portal Road fool you, this scenic drive is an absolute must-visit! The 13-mile (19km) scenic drive will take you through the heights of Alabama Hills. Movie buffs will instantly recognize this scenery from hundreds of Western films that were shot here. This area was also featured in High Sierra, an absolute classic from 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart.
Stay The Night
Before continuing further, Rentalmoose recommends spending the night in Lone Pine. Consider checking in at the cozy Dow Villa Motel. This family owned business has been welcoming guests ever since its opening in the 50s! Make the most out of the outdoor pool while you’re here.
Technically, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest does require a small detour off of Highway 395. However, much like the Death Valley NP, it is highly recommended to visit it along the way. You will not regret adding merely an hour of driving, that’s for sure!
If, somehow, you’re still not convinced about adding Bristlecone Pine Forest to your road trip itinerary, you’ll definitely want to keep reading.
This precious spot is home to some of the oldest trees found on our planet. What exactly does that mean?
Well, many of the trees found in the Bristlecone Pine Forest are more than 4000 years old!
You can get more information about the area at the visitor center located at Schulman Grove. It’s open throughout the summer between 10AM and 5PM Thursday to Sunday.
After a hike through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, it’s time to continue along Highway 395 until you reach Bishop.
Bishop is yet another cute town that’s situated along Highway 395. It makes for one of the favorite local getaways from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Its beautiful surrounding area makes for a great destination to visit on your drive up to Lake Tahoe.
Climbing the Buttermilks
Those who are into climbing are probably well aware of what Bishop has to offer. The nearby Buttermilks feature some of the region’s most accessible and diverse climbing areas. Every climber can have a great time enjoying these impressive boulders, no matter the skill level.
The climbs here range from beginner-friendly ones, all the way to some of the country’s most challenging routes. The Buttermilks are located only a short drive west out of Bishop. Simply follow the appropriately-named Buttermilk Road along the McGee Creek.
You can learn more about bouldering and climbing in Bishop in this guide.
Nature in Bishop
As Bishop is famous for its scenic natural setting, it is an absolute must to visit at least a few of the best sites in the area. Hike up and down the challenging trailheads, go on a thrilling mountain biking adventure, or simply take in the views from the comfort of your vehicle. Either way,you simply have to enjoy the outdoors when in Bishop.
The Four Lakes in the Bishop Creek Basin
The scenic Bishop Creek Basin is home to four spectacular lakes. Ideally, you’d want to visit all of them as each one offers a different landscape. If you only have the time to see one of them, we recommend going to the South Lake.
A short 45-minute drive along Highway 395 will take you to the scenic town of Mammoth Lakes. Without a doubt, this may just be the most exciting stopover during this road trip. If you only had the time for one break between Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles, I’d strongly recommend to make it here.
Mammoth Lakes is full of attractions, no matter the time of the year. During the magical winter, you should definitely head up to the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. This resort is often considered to be the best of its kind in all of California!
Mammoth Mountain is easily the best place to go skiing in California. First-timers, as well as experienced skiers and snowboarders are all bound to have a good time here. If you’re not particularly into skiing, you can simply take the scenic gondola ride up to the summit. The views from there are magnificent.
Mammoth Mountain is a year-long destination. During the summer, travelers can play a game of golf or try out mountain biking. You can find more details about Mammoth Mountain on its official website.
Detour to Yosemite National Park
Did you know that one of the US’ best National Parks is just a small detour away? If you haven’t been to Yosemite NP before, it is strongly recommended to add a few days to your itinerary and visit it. You will not regret it, that’s for sure.
You can check out a guide around Yosemite National Park right here. Note that reservations are no longer required to enter the park!
Play Golf High Above Sea Level
Golf enthusiasts will surely have a good time when in Mammoth Lakes, as the town is home to two spectacular alpine golf courses:
You cannot go wrong with the Snowcreek golf resort. It was the first golf course in Mammoth Lakes, and is often considered to be the best one around. However, its elevation isn’t as high above sea level as the Sierra Star course.
Travelers can enjoy a game of golf accompanied by dramatic backdrops at each of the resorts. In addition, the Sierra Star golf course is also the highest-elevation 18-hole course in the entire state. You can see a driving increase of up to 10% when playing at this altitude, according to some experts.
This is it, the longest driving segment of your Highway 395 road trip. Follow the road up north for a little over 2 and a half hours, all the way until you reach the spectacular Lake Tahoe. The equally-amazing drive is perhaps the prettiest part of California’s stretch of Highway 395, too.
Welcome to one of the most beautiful lakes in the West part of the US! There are so many great attractions and fantastic things to do in this part of Lake Tahoe, it’d be impossible to list them all. Nonetheless, these are our top picks.
Did you know that Lake Tahoe has its very own castle? The magical Vikingsholm is tucked away in the Emerald Bay, down at the southern tip of the lake.
Emerald Bay was the first destination where wealthy Californians would build their holiday homes in the late 1800s. The land where Vikingsholm is has seen summer cabins for over two centuries, though the beautiful castle erected in the late 1920s. It still remains here today, making for a truly magnificent spot.
You’ll probably quickly realize that Vikingsholm doesn’t exactly look like your typical North American building. The unique name is another giveaway of the property’s Scandinavian descent. In fact, Vikingsholm was commissioned by Mrs Lora Josephine Knight who had been in love with Scandinavian fjords. The natural setting of Lake Tahoe reminded her of Northern Europe.
Today, Vikingsholm welcomes tourists from across the planet. You can learn more about the property and all of its secrets during a guided tour.
Note that the property is 1-mile away from the car park, it is only accessible on foot or by boat.
Swimming & Sunbathing
Unwinding at a sandy beach does sound like the ideal way to spend the day. A well-deserved afternoon of relaxation isn’t exactly a road trip essential, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt. You should make the most out of the fact that swimming is permitted in Lake Tahoe. Enjoy the crystal-clear waters and impressive alpine backdrops!
These are some of the best beaches at South Lake Tahoe.
Zephyr Cove Beach
Where to stay in South Lake Tahoe?
Travelers who wish to stay at a fun-packed resort should certainly consider booking a room or suite at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Resort. The 3-star property features spacious and modern rooms, though those who stay here will probably hang around the casino downstairs. Moreover, you can expect tons of live shows, cool bars to spend the evening at, and much more!
Alternatively, you could opt for the waterfront Beach Retreat & Lodge. At first sight, you may mistake the sandy beach of this hotel with an oceanfront resort on a Greek island or in Costa Rica. The 3-star property boasts modern rooms that overlook the lake, three waterfront restaurants, and a marina with kayaks and boat rentals.
After you’re done with your Highway 395 road trip, you could drive over to San Francisco and drop your rental car off there. Alternatively, you could drive back from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles via the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, one of the best driving roads on the planet.
Don’t forget to use Rentalmoose to find the best rental car deal for this road trip!
Post your pictures from your Highway 395 road trip online using #Rentalmoose! Our favorite ones will be featured in our travel guides.
Get your car from Rentalmoose, we plant a tree for every booking made with our platform.
North America’s West Coast is one of the world’s most iconic hotspots for an epic road trip. There are tons of attractions across California, Nevada, and Arizona.
The best California road trip begins in Los Angeles, going along the Pacific Coast Highway up until San Francisco.
Then, continue south-east through Yosemite and Death Valley until you get to Las Vegas. After a memorable night in Vegas drive, a stop at the Grand Canyon is an absolute must. Later, head back to Los Angeles through San Diego.
The length of this California road trip is just below 2000 miles, or 3000 kilometers, in total.
How much does a California road trip cost?
There are a couple of factors worth considering when budgeting your ideal California road trip. A rental car in California can cost as little as $40 per day.
Gas prices in the US, compared to Europe, are rather affordable. California, Nevada, and Arizona have some of the highest prices in the US at roughly $3 per gallon (a gallon is 3.785l), which equals to about $0.79 per liter.
The US West Coast is famous for its beaches and sunny cities. If you want to be able to go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean, it is best to visit between June and August. The weather is still more moderate between April and June as well as September and October.
Why should I book a rental car in the US?
The United States of America is perfect to be discovered via a rental car. The country is full of beautiful, scenic driving roads and well-developed road infrastructure, making it ideal for a road trip.
Petrol is cheap compared to Europe, the US has the absolute perfect conditions for a rental car.
For extra peace of mind during your road trip, Rentalmoose recommends adding the excess cover when booking your rental car.
Once you’ve picked up the car, don’t forget to take photos of the car to qualify for a 50% discount from the excess coverage fee.
Road Trip Extensions
Why not extend your road trip even further? Consider adding a few days to your road trip and driving over to explore the scenic states of Nevada, Utah, or Colorado.
As far as extensions go, consider adding a day to spend some time at the Joshua Tree National Park.
Can tourists drive in the USA?
Yes! Tourists are allowed to drive in the United States using a foreign driving license as long as they are at least 18 years old, and the license covers the type of vehicle they are driving.
It is recommended to get an International Driving Permit if your driving license is not in English. For more info regarding IDP’s, check out this blog post.
While driving around California, you will soon realize that practically nobody follows the speed limits strictly. Going 5-10 MPH over the limit is common on freeways, for example.
Keep in mind that the police can still pull you over, even if you are caught going just a few miles per hour over the limit.
If you do happen to get stopped by the police during your trip,be sure to stay calm. Put both hands on the steering wheel, avoid sudden movements, and present your license when the officer tells you to do so.
Driving under influence, or DUI in short, is a serious crime in the US. Police enforce drink-driving related rules very strictly. Do not drink and drive, offenders can even land in prison.
The US has right-hand side traffic.
Now that you’re all set, it’s time to dive into this exciting California road trip itinerary!
Photograph from Pixabay.com
Your California road trip begins in one of the most iconic travel destinations in the world, known as the city of angels.
I recommend picking up your rental car directly at the LAX Airport and driving into town. If you are planning to stay in LA for a few days consider renting your car a day before leaving the city, as Los Angeles is infamous for notorious traffic jams.
What is LA famous for?
Los Angeles, specifically Hollywood, is the heart of the American film and entertainment industry. Begin your US adventure with a drive to Hollywood, where you can spend some time at the Hollywood Boulevard, stroll down the Walk of Fame or drive up the hills to get panoramic views of the city.
What are the best attractions in Los Angeles?
Universal Studios Hollywood
Adrenaline junkies can enjoy a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood. This attraction first opened in the 60s as a studio tour, a first-hand look at real film sets for Universal Studios productions.
The studio tour has gained lots of popularity over the years and has developed into a full-size adventure-packed theme park, filled with roller coasters and rides for all ages.
The iconic studio tour still remains as one of the highlights of the park. Admission tickets start at $109 and can be purchased here.
Santa Monica Pier
Don’t forget to visit the famousSanta Monica Pier. You have probably seen it at least once in a Hollywood blockbuster or TV show.
The pier is one of the vibrant hotspots of LA. Park your car and stroll along the vivid pier, go inside one of the restaurants, enjoy a hot dog, or ride the rollercoaster (tickets between $5 to $10 per ride).
You can use the Spot Angels app to find the cheapest car parks in the area. After the Santa Monica Pier, walk over to the next attraction.
You will find Venice Beach just a 30-minute walk away from the pier. The neighborhood is known for its artistic atmosphere, luxury shops, and delicious restaurants.
Walk along the sandy shore, sunbathe or go for a dip in the Pacific Ocean. Go for a seaside jog or a workout at Muscle Beach Venice. A day pass costs $10.
Los Angeles’s cultural diversity is reflected in the city’s delicious cuisine. For an authentic Venice Beach vibe, head over to Hinano Cafe.
Open since 1962, this spot is known for being Jim Morrison’s favorite hangout in Venice. Delicious burgers, a wide selection of drinks, pool tables and live music every weekend. Open daily till 2 AM.
What are the best hotels in Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is packed with attractions worth visiting, I highly recommend staying at least one night in town before departing further. Spend the night at the Hollywood Roosevelt,
It’s one of the best and most famous hotels in town. Once home to the Academy Awards Gala, the Roosevelt is a 4-star hotel with various bars, a pool, and a perfect location on Hollywood Boulevard.
A more affordable alternative within Hollywood is the BLVD Hotel and Suites. The venue offers rooms and suites just a 10-minute walk away from the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
After a good night’s sleep, it is time to begin one of the best road trips of your life!
Santa Barbara. Photo by Lela Khajadourian from Pixabay.
The next highlight of the trip begins as soon as you set off from Los Angeles. The route to Santa Barbara is the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, arguably the best driving road in the US, and an absolute must-visit for your California road trip.
There are lots of panoramic views guaranteed along the way, leave LA in the morning to make sure you have enough time to discover them all.
Is Santa Barbara worth visiting?
Santa Barbara is one of the most scenic cities in this part of the United States. It is certainly worth a visit during your road trip! The region is known for its beautiful landscapes, great weather, and local wineries.
Stearns Wharf is the perfect point to begin exploring Santa Barbara. Explore the vivid pier lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes.
If you are craving local seafood, look no further. Head inside the Shellfish Company, a delicious eatery where you can enjoy grilled shrimp, crabs, and various fish. Click here for the menu.
Arroyo Burro County Park
For a relaxing hike, visit the Arroyo Burro County Park. The park is perfect for a barbecue, jogging along the shoreline, or hiking along one of the trails. You can also go for a swim in the Pacific, it’s a quieter setting than Venice Beach.
After some time in Santa Barabara, continue the road trip over to Monterey.
Take the scenic Pacific Coast Highway for another 250 miles. The drive takes roughly 5 hours to complete, there is a faster route that will save you an hour but it’s a lot less interesting (directions here).
The Pacific Coast Highway may seem familiar, it’s a very popular filming location for Hollywood movies. Iron Man, Fast and Furious along with many others were all filmed here.
This section of the California road trip will take you along the famous Big Sur. Tell your passenger to get the camera, you’ll be taking lots of photos along the way! There are many pullouts where you can stop by and take in the panoramic coastal views. The Big Sur is hard to miss, just follow the coastal highway.
What is there to do in Monterey?
Monterey Car Week
Petrolheads may have heard about Monterey, as the town is home to the Monterey Car Week. Thousands of exotic cars flood the city every summer, from modern supercars to some of the rarest, multimillion-dollar classics.
One of Monterey’s best attractions is the 17-Mile Drive. The beautiful coastal road will take you along monumental cliffs, mysterious forests, and at the doorstep of prestigious resorts and villas, right by the Pacific. What better way to end the day than with a spectacular, scenic drive?
The admission costs around $10 per car and can be paid directly at the gate. If you spend over $35 at Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants, entrance is free of charge.
Don’t forget to visit Monterey Harbor and the city’s waterfront area. Cannery Row features some of the town’s best dining and shopping venues. Head into the Chart House, a delicious seafood restaurant that offers great views of the surroundings.
Where to stay in Monterey?
Sophisticated travelers will enjoy a stay at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. The luxury 5-star lodge provides a good balance between prestige and immaculate natural beauty. The stay includes luxurious amenities such as a golf course, spa and wellness center and a beautiful seaside pool.
Another good overnight stop in Monterey is the Carmel Valley Ranch. The 4-star ranch is the perfect getaway known for its stunning location and panoramic views, as well as a beautiful golf course, a pool, and spacious suites. Free parking is available.
Drive along the Pacific Coast Highway one last time until you reach the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, steep streets, and some of the best seafood in the world. Without a doubt, this is San Francisco. It’s an absolute must-see point on any proper California road trip.
What to do in San Francisco?
Visit Lands End park for the best views of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Hike the trails along the rocky cliffs, explore the Sutro Baths ruins, or photograph the eerie Historic Shipwrecks. Keep an eye on the ocean, if you’re lucky you might just spot a whale!
The admission is free of charge.
Alcatraz Island once served as a fort, a military prison, and a federal prison. It has been transformed into a museum that can be explored by visitors curious about Alcatraz’s rich history.
The Island can only be accessed by boat (tickets here). Tours begin at Pier 33, your rental car can be left by a parking meter for up to 4 hours (tours typically take around 2 hours).
The parking meter rates are between $2 and $3.5 per hour. On busier days, try this multi-story car park across the street for around $25 per day.
One of the most recognizable spots in San Francisco is the city’s famous Chinatown district.
It is, in fact, the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia.
Stroll along the streets lined with exotic shops and restaurants and indulge in the district’s one-of-a-kind vibe.
Enter the area via Grant Avenue to see the iconic Dragon Gate.
After a day of exploring the city, treat yourself to dinner at the Waterbar, one of the best seafood restaurants in town. Delicious food aside, the venue offers absolutely breathtaking panoramic views of the Oakland Bay Bridge. Click here for the menu.
Stay the night at the Via Hotelin South Beach. The stylish boutique hotel is conveniently located near restaurants, cafes, and shops. AT&T Park is across the street. Valet parking is available at an extra charge.
After a memorable night in San Francisco, your road trip route will continue inland towards spectacular National Parks.
The longest segment of this road trip is the drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas, which takes about 11 hours to complete.
Two of the region’s most popular National Parks are along the way: Yosemite and Death Valley, and Rentalmoose recommends making a stop at both of them for at least a short visit. Afterall, a California road trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Yosemite.
Can you drive your car into Yosemite National Park?
Yes, most roads within Yosemite can be accessed via your rental car! Some of the roads are closed in winter (others may require tire chains in snowy conditions), so it is certainly best to visit during the summer.
Getting around in Yosemite and Death Valley might be tricky due to low, or sometimes non-existent, phone service.
What’s more, GPS may not always be up to date in terms of road closures, it’s best to check the official website for current conditions and closures.
Does Yosemite National Park have an entrance fee?
Yosemite is not free to enter. The park has had an entry fee since 1913, as of 2020 Yosemite National Park admission costs $30 per car.
What to see in Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks?
Both of the parks are famous around the world, begin with a visit to Yosemite’s most popular highlight, the Yosemite Valley.
Observe the monumental mountains surrounded by dark pine trees, photograph the picturesque waterfalls, and hike around the trails spotting local wildlife along the way.
There can be heavy traffic within the valley, especially on weekends, so it is recommended to leave early in the morning to avoid crowds. There are various parking zones within the park, and you will be directed to the one with the most spots.
Before setting off for Death Valley, don’t forget to visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The grove is home to over 500 giant sequoia trees, the largest group in all of Yosemite. There are limited parking spaces available by the grove, it is best to visit on weekdays or early in the morning.
Death Valley is roughly 4 hours away along the 395, though if you are visiting outside of the summer there will likely be road closures. In that case, the journey is around 8 hours along the CA-99.
As of 2020, the admission fee for the Death Valley National Park costs $25 per vehicle for unlimited, 7-day access.
Once you’re inside the park, head towards the Badwater Basin first. The large salt flat is located below sea level and remains one of the hottest spots in the nation. Be sure to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun, especially in the summer.
Next, drive along theArtists Drive, a 9-mile long scenic one-way driving road that will take you through breathtaking scenery. If you’re a Star Wars fan, some of the spots may look familiar, as parts of “A New Hope” were filmed in the area.
Before departing for Vegas, be sure to get a good panoramic view of the park from higher ground. Visit Zabriskie Point, the park’s most popular lookout, to get a perfect perspective of Death Valley.
Where to stay in Yosemite and Death Valley?
There are various lodges and hotels between Yosemite and Death Valley parks, there are two particular lodges recommended by Rentalmoose.
The Ahwahnee Hotel is located inside the Yosemite Valley. It is hands down one of the best places to stay in the area. The lodge was what inspired Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel, a location used for The Shining. The Ahwahnee is a historic, atmospheric hotel that offers rooms and suites with retro decor and luxurious amenities.
The Oasis at Death Valley is the perfect overnight stay for sophisticated travelers visiting Death Valley. The resort consists of two hotels: The Ranch and The Inn. The Inn is a more prestigious and pricey alternative. The resort includes luxurious amenities such as a pool, spa, and wellness center and a golf course.
Las Vegas, often called Sin City, comes alive once dusk falls. Any road trip to Vegas couldn’t possibly be complete without paying a visit to the famous Las Vegas Strip.
The boulevard is lined with numerous casinos, hotels, restaurants and nightlife spots. The Strip itself is filled with tourists from around the world, street performers and promoters for local venues. Hate it or love it, the Strip is unarguably the top spot to visit in Las Vegas.
The High Roller
If you want to get panoramic views of the city, visiting the High Roller is an absolute must. The enormous Ferris wheel is the go-to spot for city views from above. There are also open-bar cabins where you can begin your unforgettable night in Sin City.
Most tourists that come to Las Vegas want to experience the city’s vivid nightlife scene. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of bars, casinos, and clubs to go to every night of the week, it may be hard to choose where to start.
One of the city’s favorites for clubgoers is the Marquee Nightclub, located inside the Cosmopolitan. If you’re looking to get the party started during the day, head to the Marquee Dayclub. Check the official calendar for upcoming events in both venues.
The Hoover Dam
The city can be overwhelming even for the wildest party animals. Visit The Hoover Dam to get a break from all the Vegas craze. The monumental dam is open for visitors daily from 6 AM to 6 PM and is a 40-minute drive away from the Strip. Rentalmoose recommends visiting the Hoover Dam on your way to The Grand Canyon, as the dam is located along the way.
Once you’re ready to jump right back in the city’s insanity, head for lunch to the Heart Attack Grill. As the name suggests, this restaurant is as crazy as food in Vegas can get. The unique hospital-like decor elements, amazing service, and a silly menu will surely make dining here a memorable experience.
Chunkier travelers who weigh 350 pounds and above can even eat for free.
Looking for more attractions in Vegas? Check out the Rentalmoose Utah Travel Guide, where you will find must-do activities in Sin City that haven’t been mentioned here. Stroll down the Old Strip, find out which hotel features a waterslide through a shark tank and more!
Similarly to nightlife spots, picking the right hotel in Vegas can be hard as there are lots of attractive options to choose from. One thing’s for sure, you can’t go wrong with The Venetian. The luxury 5-star resort consists of two towers, a large casino, pools, and all kinds of luxury amenities you can think of. If you’re willing to splash out completely, go for one of the prestigious suites.
A more budget-friendly alternative with a great location along the Strip is The Luxor Resort & Casino. The hotel’s pyramid shape may seem kitschy and over-the-top, but isn’t that what Vegas is all about? The Luxor is a 4-star resort that offers attractive amenities such as a pool. Of course, there is a casino on the premises.
Soon after departing Las Vegas, you will enter the third state on this epic road trip: Arizona. The Grand Canyonis less than 5 hours away from Vegas.
Similarly to Yosemite and Death Valley, there is an entrance fee to get inside the Grand Canyon. As of November 2020, the admission fee for an unlimited, 7-day pass costs $35 per car. Current admission fees can also be found on the park’s official website.
Which side of the Grand Canyon is best to visit?
Begin by heading to the Mather Point along the South Rim, the most popular spot to get an amazing view of the canyon. You can grab a coffee or rent a bike at Grand Canyon’s Coffee Shop.There are four large parking areas nearby, leaving your rental car shouldn’t be an issue even on busy days.
Later, drive along the South Rim until you get to the Historic Village. Learn about the history of the area while enjoying architecture dating back to the 1900s. There are more stunning viewpoints in this part of the South Rim, too.
Next, head east until you reach Desert View. The lookouts in this part of the park offer great views of the Colorado River. The Desert View Watchtower is a historic structure built in 1932, tourists can climb atop the tower for the best views or visit the interior to learn about the local history and purchase souvenirs at the gift shop.
After visiting Grand Canyon National Park, it is time to head back to sunny California. During the 9-hour drive to San Diego, you can make a detour and stop at the Joshua Tree National Park.
What to see in San Diego?
Visiting Balboa Park is a must when in San Diego. Inside the park, you can find San Diego’s world-famous zoo, a vivid botanical garden and historical Spanish buildings that have been transformed into museums. There are various free car parks throughout the park.
La Jolla is the city’s trendy seaside district with upscale homes, restaurants, and cafes. Head inside one of the sea-view restaurants to taste delicious cuisine, swim in the Pacific or sunbathe at the La Jolla Cove.
After a long day, head to the Embarcadero harbour-front, next to downtown San Diego. The seaport village is a vivid area lined with local shops, eateries, and cafes. Stroll down the marina, feel the ocean breeze or spot the yachts parked in the port.
Once you get hungry, head to Nico’s Mexican Food on Newport Avenue. The restaurant has been blessing Ocean Beach with delicious Mexican cuisine from the 80s and is one of the best spots in town.
Rentalmoose order tip: If it’s your first time in San Diego, you absolutely need to try the California Burrito.
Where to stay in San Diego?
La Jolla is home to numerous trendy hotels and resorts, Estancia La Jolla is one of the popular choices for tourists in the area. This 4-star hotel is located in a beautiful Spanish Colonial building surrounded by colorful gardens, a spa, and a large pool.
If you’re on a tighter budget, consider spending the night at San Diego Downtown Lodge. The budget-friendly lodge features free parking and a great location in the heart of the city.
Rentalmoose recommends dropping off your rental car directly at the airport for maximum comfort.If you decide to end your journey in San Diego, make sure you book a rental that supports drop-off at a different location.
Don’t have a car you can take on a road trip? No problem!
Don’t forget to book your rental car via Rentalmoose for your next adventure.
On our platform, you can find the top rental companies at the best price, along with tens of curated travel guides around the globe. Get your car from Rentalmoose!
We plant a tree for every booking made with our platform.
Post your pictures from your next road trip online using #Rentalmoose! Our favorite ones will be featured in the upcoming blog posts.