Crystal clear still waters and boulder beach of Lake Tahoe in California

20 Best Road Trips from Orange County

Updated by Pat Dorri on February 27 2024

With its close proximity to many amazing coastal towns and the Pacific Coast Highway, Orange County is the perfect starting point for countless adventures. Stay close to home and explore some of California's countless sparkling gems, or venture further afield to iconic Pacific Coast and southwestern destinations.

On our list of 20 best road trips from Orange County, you will find amazing places to visit and do, from admiring vineyard sunsets and stunning Pacific views to lively urban vibes to beautiful canyon hikes and learning about Native American culture.

Whether you're in the mood for a sparkling drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, exploring one or more iconic national parks, or swapping Orange County for some of the country's most fascinating cities, we've got you covered. So, keep on reading to discover where your next road might take you.

Below you will find a shortlist of our favorite road trips from Orange County, followed by the full list of 20 amazing adventures on the road!

Best road trips from Orange County

A selection of our best road trips from Orange County. Check out our full list of 20 trips below.
Trip typeSome of our favorite road trips
Day tripsExplore the vibrant cityscape of Los Angeles; unwind in Temecula's fabulous wine country
Weekend tripsStep into a Danish fairy tale in Solvang; or try your luck and hit the jackpot in Las Vegas
Long-weekend tripsAdmire the towering cliffs of Yosemite National Park; or relax by the waters of Lake Tahoe
Longer tripsImmerse in San Francisco's urban culture; or be inspired by the natural wonders in Zion and Bryce Canyon

Day trips from Orange County (under 3 hours each way)

Orange County is your perfect launchpad for some amazing day trips, all under 3 hours away, blending city vibes, beach chill, and desert adventures into your travel plans.From hitting up the cool spots in Los Angeles, unwinding in Temecula's wine country, to island hopping to Catalina, there's a little something for everyone just a short drive away.

1. Los Angeles

45 minutes from Orange County (40 miles)

Why you should visit Los Angeles: Less than an hour from Orange County, the short road trip to Los Angeles is perfect if you want to visit world-famous theme parks or some of the most beloved beaches in California, just a stone's throw away.

You can't leave town without seeing the iconic Hollywood Sign, one of many great photo opportunities in the city. With many movie studios calling Hollywood their home, it's the perfect place to get a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking.

Los Angeles, California, USA with the downtown skyline in the distance and palm trees in the foreground taken on a sunny day.
Los Angeles is a stone's throw from Orange County, and is the perfect destination if you are looking for a fun day trip.

How to get to Los Angeles from Orange County: It is quite easy to get to Los Angeles from Orange County if you don't mind the possible traffic! Simply follow Interstate 5 (I-5) until you arrive at the heart of LA.

Our highlights: If it's your first trip to LA, then you'll almost certainly want to include one or more of the fabulous theme parks on your itinerary. Universal Studios, home to the Harry Potter Wizarding World, and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim on the way are some of the most popular.

Carrying on the entertainment theme, head to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can stroll along Hollywood Boulevard and see the stars with celebrity names embedded in the sidewalk.

The Griffith Observatory is a brilliant spot to see the Hollywood Sign and also offers panoramic views of the city below.

There's more to LA than just its movie legacy, though. You can explore the city's diverse neighborhoods, from the trendy celeb hangouts of West Hollywood and Beverley Hills to the historic charm of Olvera Street in El Pueblo de Los √Āngeles.

The city is also home to several outstanding museums. At the Getty Center, you'll find world-class art collections, impressive architecture, and beautiful gardens, and the National History Museum of Los Angeles has over 35 million artifacts to explore.

Did you know? While famous for the bright lights of Hollywood, Los Angeles is also a museum hotspot. In fact, Los Angeles is home to the greatest number of museums per capita in the world!

Things to note: Los Angeles has a reputation for heavy traffic - it's pretty hard to avoid once you enter the city. LA is a huge city with attractions spread out over a large area, so driving can be a convenient way to travel between them, but be mindful of driving outside peak rush hours to take some of the pressure off your journey.

If you plan to visit one or more of the theme parks and studios, we'd definitely recommend booking tickets or tours in advance to make sure your trip runs smoothly.

It's also wise to check the opening hours of attractions before you visit. Different attractions will have varying operational hours, including later starts or earlier finishes during the quieter months of the year.

2. Temecula

Via Lake Elsinore

1 hour 10 minutes from Orange County (65 miles)

Why you should visit Temecula: Just a short drive from Orange County, the Temecula Valley is a tranquil place for a weekend away. As you make your way there from Orange County, you can stop at Lake Elsinore, which is famous for the vibrant colors of wildflower superbloom in spring and early summer.

Traditionally famous for its Chardonnay, nowadays, the Temecula Valley's scenic vineyards are much more varied - we'd definitely recommend a tasting or two during your trip.

Mountains in the background, with colourful hot air balloons in the air reflecting in the lake.
Beautiful Temecula has strikingly different vibes from the OC; here you can enjoy a quiet moment sipping some wine and looking over lush vineyards.
Time Stood Still Photo/

How to get to Temecula from Orange County: Head north on CA-55 as you head out of Orange County and then hop onto CA-91 to hear east. From here, merge onto I-15 to drive southeast towards Lake Elsinore before arriving in Temecula.

Even though this drive is easily doable as a day trip, you might want to spend some time in beautiful Temecula. If so, you can find our favorite hotels in Temecula here to make your planning easy.

Our highlights: Maybe quite unsurprisingly, many people head to the area to enjoy wine tastings at the renowned Temecula Valley wineries. Take your time and enjoy a meal with a view while you enjoy a glass of local wine.

Take care not to overindulge, though - hot air balloons take flight at dawn for unforgettable views of the vineyards!

You can also explore the historic district of Old Town Temecula. You'll find a lively atmosphere when you explore the 1880s storefronts, which nowadays are home to unique shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

Even though this is only a short road trip, there's plenty to keep you busy on the way to Temecula as well. At Lake Elsinore you can hike through stunning Walker Canyon, or enjoy the view from above from a hang glider. For a more sedate stop off, shop for bargains at Lake Elsinore Outlets, where you'll find famous brand names at reduced prices.

Did you know? You may see Lake Elsinore, referred to as the "Dream Extreme." The nickname is because of the extreme recreational activities on offer here, including skydiving, hang gliding, and motocross.

Things to note: Superbloom are seasonal, so you'll need to visit in spring if you want to see them. This natural phenomenon is dependent on weather conditions, so there's no guarantee you'll see the full effect of the superbloom unless you can be really flexible in your travel dates.

If you'd like to learn more about the popular superbloom event, here is our detailed guide to the best places to see California's iconic wildflowers.

Superbloom season is a really popular time to visit Temecula, so you're likely to see increased traffic, especially on weekends. The hotspots might end up closing due to the visitor numbers, so check local information for any last-minute changes or to find out about alternative sites.

Winery tours are less seasonal, but we'd advise booking in advance to guarantee your space. As you might expect, they're particularly popular at weekends and during peak vacation periods.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Temecula

3. Lake Arrowhead

1 hour 30 minutes from Orange County (75 miles)

Why you should visit Lake Arrowhead: You'll have to navigate the urban sprawl of Los Angeles County to get to Lake Arrowhead, but as soon as you arrive, you'll feel a million miles from the urban hustle. Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, the area around Lake Arrowhead is renowned for its scenic alpine beauty.

It's the perfect place to visit for outdoor pursuits or a healthy dose of relaxation. There are hiking trails to explore and your choice of water-based activities on or beside the lake. Quaint Lake Arrowhead Village also has great shopping and entertainment options.

A white steamboat used for touristic tours on the lake
Enjoy a tour of the scenic Lake Arrowhead and you will be treated to emerald-green views.
Lowe Llaguno/

How to get to Lake Arrowhead Orange County: Follow CA-261 and switch to CA-91 heading northeast. Driving through Riverside, you will merge onto I-215 before arriving at San Bernardino. From here, CA-18 will take you to your destination at Lake Arrowhead.

Our highlights: Make the most of the drive and detour along Rim of the World Scenic Byway en route to Lake Arrowhead. This fabulous drive takes you through stunning mountain scenery with views down over San Bernardino.

You will see the mountains from a different angle and learn about the area's history at the same time when you take a Lake Arrowhead Queen Boat Tour. You'll really feel like you've stepped back in time when you board the historic paddle wheel boat.

Back on dry land, Lake Arrowhead Village is another highlight of this trip, especially if you're visiting in summer when there are free concerts set amongst the beautiful alpine scenery.

If you're ready for more active adventures after this relaxed introduction to Lake Arrowhead's endless scenic attractions, head to SkyPark at Santa's Village.

You can enjoy an exhilarating mix of mountain biking, zip-lining, and more in the warmer months. It makes for a really magical visit during the holidays.

Things to note: Lake Arrowhead is a popular destination, so we recommend booking accommodation in advance.

Check for departure times if you want to take the Queen Boat Tour. In peak season - between Memorial Day and Labor Day - there are usually five trips per day on weekdays and seven on weekends, but for the rest of the year, there are usually just 4 trips per day.

Like other road trips from Orange County, paying attention to the weather when you head to Lake Arrowhead is important. Unlike other Southern California destinations, it's the low temperatures you need to watch out for here.

In winter, the high altitude means ice and snow, so always check for local advisories before setting out.

4. Catalina Island

30 minutes drive time from Orange County and 75 minutes ferry time

Why you should visit Catalina Island: It's just a stone's throw from Orange County, but a trip to Catalina Island will feel like a true escape as you ride the ferry over crystal-clear waters.

Once you land on the island, the charming Mediterranean-style town of Avalon awaits, with shops and restaurants to enjoy, as well as the famed Catalina Casino.

Bird's-eye view of Catalina Casino and Avalon Harbor, showcasing sailboats, fishing vessels, and yachts anchored
You might think you have traveled the Greece on the Mediterranean Sea during your visit to the beautiful Catalina Island.

How to get to Catalina Island from Orange County: Hop on CA-55 to head towards Newport Beach, where the Catalina Island ferry embarks. You can find more information on the best way to reach Catalina Island in our guide.

Our highlights: Like all great road trips, the journey on a trip to Catalina Island is part of the fun. With sparkling ocean views, the possibility of spotting whales and dolphins, and a full-service bar on board, the scenic ferry ride from Newport Beach to Avalon is an adventure in itself.

You'll have to wait until you've disembarked the ferry to jump into the ocean, which is perfect for snorkeling and kayaking. In case you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, there are also hiking opportunities on the island, which will appeal to nature enthusiasts.

If you are curious about what's under the surface of the water, then head to the Catalina Undersea Expedition. This fabulous trip takes you five feet underwater in a semi-submersible vessel - a great way to spot marine life without getting wet!

Leaving the ocean behind for a while, a short canyon hike leads you to Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, where you can learn about the island's history amid the lush, vibrant gardens.

Further inland, you can even join a bison tour. As well as seeing these creatures in a rather unexpected landscape, there are fantastic views from Black Jack Mountain.

Did you know? Catalina Island has a long history of being used as a filming location. From silent films such as Treasure Island in 1918 to the Island of Lost Souls in 1932 to the more modern Jaws, Waterworld, and Pearl Harbor in 1974, 1995, and 2001, respectively.

Things to note: This trip is understandably popular in peak season, so we recommend booking your ferry ticket in advance to avoid missing out. Even with pre-booked tickets, you'll need to arrive at least one hour before your ferry departure time.

The ferry to Catalina Island doesn't carry vehicles, so you'll have to park at Newport Beach before setting sail. The nearest parking lot is at Balboa Pier and costs between $34 and $47 per day, depending on the time of year.

Avalon is a walkable city, but you can hire a golf cart to explore if you prefer. You won't be able to use it across the whole island, though - environmental conservation is a key concern, so you'll have to join a guided tour to explore inland areas.

5. San Diego

Via Carlsbad and La Jolla

1 hour 30 minutes from Orange County (90 miles)

Why you should visit San Diego: Head south from Orange County, and before long, you'll rock up in San Diego, another major city on the Pacific Coast that has something for every traveler to enjoy. Whether you prefer relaxing on glorious beaches, visiting historical sites or dancing the night away, San Diego has it all!

On top of the Old Town's historical sites and the vibrant nightlife of the Gaslamp Quarter, you'll have more than 70 miles of beach to pick from when you take a road trip to San Diego, so take advantage of the idyllic Mediterranean climate and soak up some sunshine.

La Jolla Shores in La Jolla San Diego, Southern California Coast
Beautiful beaches and coastal views await you in San Diego at the end of your road trip.

How to get to San Diego from Orange County: As you leave the OC, head south and towards the shore to hop on I-5, which will take you through Carlsbad and La Jolla before you reach San Diego.

Even though the drive from Orange County to San Diego isn't too far, you might want to extend your trip and spend a night here. You can find some of the best places to stay in San Diego on our list here.

Our highlights: Start off your visit in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, an excellent open-air museum which tells the story of the city and how it became the first Spanish settlement in California.

Then, stepping back into the present day, enjoy visiting Legoland California in Carlsbad, which has 60 rides and a water park.

Make sure you have plenty of time to appreciate the beautiful coastal landscapes around San Diego. The area around La Jolla is famous for its cliffs, sea caves, and fascinating marine life, so it's a popular place to snorkel.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a local favorite with scenic hiking trails and coastline views.

Round off the day at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, which, as its name suggests, is the perfect location to marvel at wondrous Pacific sunsets. If you're visiting earlier in the day, watch out for cliff divers too.

Did you know? San Diego is home to the huge annual Comic-Con International. The event is the largest comic book and pop culture convention in the entire world!

Things to note: As with other popular coastal destinations, the crowds heading to San Diego mean it's best to make reservations in advance, especially if you're visiting during weekends, holidays, or peak seasons.

Always check opening hours in advance since some attractions may open or close at different times throughout the year. The Water Park at Legoland is a popular attraction with seasonal openings - you might be able to take advantage of extended hours at the park in summer.

Last but by no means least, if you're making the most of the beaches in and around San Diego, don't forget to pack sunscreen and beach gear.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in San Diego

6. Big Bear Lake

1 hour 50 minutes from Orange County (90 miles)

Why you should visit Big Bear Lake: If you're ready to change up Orange County's urban vibes and ocean views for an alpine retreat, then Big Bear Lake is the ideal destination. Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Lake is a year-round paradise for outdoor lovers and nature enthusiasts.

The scenic drive from Orange County will see you meandering through the mountains, with plenty of opportunities along the way to stop at overlooks and admire the view.

Once you've reached the peaceful mountain lake, you'll get your fix of the great outdoors, whatever season you visit. In summer, you can hike, mountain bike, boat, and fish, while in winter, it's a skiing hotspot.

Couple kayaking during the golden hour on the lake
If you love the great outdoors, you will be in for a treat at the beautiful Big Bear Lake, which is perfect for kayaking!
Monkey Business Images/

How to get to Big Bear Lake from Orange County: Head north out of Orange County and hop onto CA-91 to drive through Riverside and then switch to I-215 and drive through the outskirts of San Bernardino.

After passing through Northwest Redlands, you will follow CA-210, CA-330 and then CA-18 to reach Big Bear Lake. For more information on the drive to Big Bear, here is our guide on the safest route to Big Bear and Big Bear Lake.

Our highlights: Whether you're looking for winter sports or summer activities, the resort of Snow Summit is the perfect starting point for your choice of activities. You can take on your choice of its 33 ski runs through the colder months, while in summer in transforms into a mountain biking haven.

When you're ready to unwind after a day on the mountain, dive into the quaint shops and restaurants that you'll find in the village at Big Bear Lake. You can also take a lake cruise to enjoy the beauty of Big Bear Lake from a different perspective. There's even a Pirate Ship tour if you want to liven up your ride!

There's plenty of wildlife to spot while exploring the slopes around Big Bear Lake. Many forest animals can be a little reclusive, though, so if you're hoping to see a bear - or other mountain wildlife - on your trip to Big Bear Lake, then your best chance is at Big Bear Alpine Zoo. This nearby wildlife sanctuary supports alpine animals.

Did you know? Big Bear Lake continues to be a popular filming location for various movies. The epic romance movie "Gone With the Wind" used the location for the 1939 release.

Things to note: Always check for travel advisories before setting out, including weather and road conditions, and drive carefully in case you encounter icy roads. You'll want to drive slowly in any case - the landscape becomes a wonderful winter when the snow falls!

It's also best to acclimate to the higher altitude when you arrive and be aware of potential altitude-related effects, especially if this is your first time in the mountains.

During peak season, it's essential to pre-book accommodation and activities. For Big Bear Lake, this includes both the winter and summer seasons.

However, some flexibility is recommended if you're planning a ski break since snowfall can vary year by year. In general, the ski season at Ski Summit runs from November to April, but double-check beforehand.

7. Santa Monica and Malibu

Via Pacific Coast Highway

2 hours 40 minutes from Orange County (70 miles)

Why you should visit Santa Monica and Malibu: If you're looking for a coastal road trip with classic California vibes, then this drive from Orange County to Malibu and Santa Monica should be right at the top of your list.

En route, you'll sample a section of the legendary Pacific Coast Highway and visit iconic beaches and vibrant coastal cities. Watch street performers and feel the electric atmosphere along Venice Beach Boardwalk, ride the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, and look out for celebrities on Malibu's pristine sandy beaches.

Los Angeles, California, USA with a view of the Santa Monica Pier during sunset time.
Put the famous Santa Monica Pier at the top of your list of places to visit on this road trip.

How to get to Santa Monica and Malibu Orange County: The best way to drive to Santa Monica and Malibu is to follow the Pacific Coast Highway. From the OC, head to the coast on CA-22 and switch to CA-1 past Long Beach.

Following Pacific Coast Highway through Venice Beach and Santa Monica, you will soon arrive at Malibu.

Our highlights: Your first stop on this road trip is Venice Beach, where you can discover the buzzing shops and eateries on the mile-long Kinney Boulevard before pausing to admire the view at Muscle Beach.

You can't visit Santa Monica without taking a stroll along the pier. It's known for its amusement park and aquarium, so you can ride a rollercoaster with a view after finding out more about the region's marine life.

Look out for the iconic Route 66 Sign, which you'll find right beside the pier. It might just get you dreaming of your next road trip!

One of the most upscale areas in the state, Malibu's attractions are one of a kind. Getty Villa, which is modeled on a Roman country home, hosts an amazing collection of ancient art and architecture.

Then, head to Zuma Beach for a final beach visit on your oceanfront road trip. There are other beaches of course, but with its clean water and brilliant surf, Zuma is a local favorite.

If you'd like to learn more about your destination, you can find our detailed guide to Malibu below:

READ MORE - Our Guide to Malibu Beach

Did you know? Santa Monica Pier features in many movies. Notably, it appears in Forrest Gump when, during his long-distance run, he stops to admire the views before continuing on the run. Also, Iron Man, when first trying his suit, flies above the pier.

Things to note: Santa Monica Pier is open from 6am to 10pm, but check for opening times of the amusement parks and restaurants you want to visit, as these vary. Late afternoon is a great time to visit.

Malibu and Santa Monica are located in Los Angeles County, and they can experience heavy traffic, especially during peak summer months or on sunny weekends. We recommend researching parking options in advance.

Some beaches have limited parking, and lots can fill up quickly when the sun comes out, so it's wise to plan ahead.

There's no shortage of places to eat and drink on this trip, but if you would like to look out for local eateries and hunt for hidden gems, then head to Abbot Kinney Boulevard. There are some fabulous places to discover.

8. Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park

Via Moreno Valley

2 hours 40 minutes from Orange County (150 miles)

Why you should visit Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park: This short road trip takes you to two of California's most iconic destinations and will allow you to see two contrasting sides of the stunning desert landscape.

Set in the high desert, Joshua Tree National Park offers a unique experience with its rugged beauty. Joshua Trees are only found in the Southwest USA and Northwest Mexico, and to see them among the national park's otherworldly rock formations is a unique experience.

Jumping back into civilization, Palm Springs is a classic desert oasis with a mid-century modern vibe. Take a dip in the mineral waters of the hot springs that the area is known for.

Joshua Tree National Park in California with trees in the foreground and boulders in the background.
This is the perfect day trip if you'd like to explore California's unique flora in Joshua Tree National Park.
Gary C. Tognoni/

How to get to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park from Orange County: Simply follow CA-91 and then CA-60 past Moreno Valley to merge onto I-10, which will take you to Palm Springs and then Joshua Tree National Park.

Palm Springs is a fantastic place to stay and this way, you can spend some time exploring its surroundings and Coachella Valley. Here is a list of our favorite hotels in Palm Springs.

Our highlights: If you have time to stop on the way to Joshua Tree National Park, then we'd definitely recommend visiting Moreno Valley. The nearby Box Springs Mountain Reserve Park has 1,100 acres of mountain terrain and 15 miles of trails to hike.

Continuing on to Joshua Tree National Park, you'll be blown away by its surreal desert landscapes. Ensure your camera is fully charged, as you'll almost certainly want to capture the famous views of the twisted Joshua trees and unique rock formations.

Delving further into the National Park, you'll reach Keys View. Here, you'll have panoramic vistas of the Coachella Valley.

Round off your trip with a touch of glamor in Palm Springs. The city is known for its upscale hotels, spas, and golf courses - it's the ideal place to treat yourself to some luxury.

Did you know? Palm Springs was once the playground for Hollywood stars. In the mid-20th century, it was a hotbed where many celebrities had homes here - talking about glamorous! You can even see a massive statue of Marilyn Monroe here.

Things to note: It's a highly popular destination, but you'll still need to be prepared for desert driving when you visit Joshua Tree National Park. Carry ample water, check vehicle conditions, and keep up to date with any road closures before you enter the park.

All visitors need a pass to visit the National Park, which, for a private vehicle, costs $30 at the time of writing.

After the wild desert landscapes, Palm Springs will feel like a huge contrast at any time of year, but the area gets particularly busy when famous cultural events are running. In particular, look out for the International Film Festival in January and the Coachella Music Festival in April.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Palm Springs

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Weekend trips from Orange County (3-5 hours each way)

Ready to level up your weekend plans? Imagine trying your luck at the tables in Sin City, exploring the vast beauty of the rugged landscapes of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, or stepping into a fairy tale in the Danish-inspired town of Solvang.Whether you're in the mood for desert stargazing, wine tasting, or indulging in some cultural treats, these weekend trips promise unforgettable experiences without the long-haul drive.

9. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs

Via Julian

3 hours from Orange County (150 miles)

Why you should visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs: The relatively short drive from Orange County means that a road trip to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is achievable on a weekend.

The Anza-Borrego area is famous for its wildflowers and quaint desert towns. The spring wildflower bloom can be spectacular, but you can enjoy spending time in charming Borrego Springs at any time of year. Surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert, Borrego Springs is famous for its metal desert sculptures.

Wildflowers in the desert park with mountains in the background
Thousands of people visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for its stunning wildflowers in the spring.
Danita Delimont/

How to get to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs from Orange County: Follow I-5 heading southeast out of Orange County until you reach Carlsbad. From here, use CA-78 to reach Julian.

From here, following the same highway will take you to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and then Borrego Springs.

Our highlights: On the way to Borrego Springs, enjoy a stop in Julian to visit the Julian Pioneer Museum and find out more about the history of this interesting part of California. Before continuing your journey, don't overlook the fact that Julian is in the heart of Apple Pie Country - the town is famous for its delicious pies.

Next, you'll have the chance to discover the expansive Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. See the vast desert landscapes adorned with seasonal wildflower displays in spring, or take a local tip and hike the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail to find native palm oases.

We'd also recommend taking the short trip to Fonts Point if you have the time. Fonts Point is somewhat off the beaten track and a less mainstream attraction in this part of the state, but once you're there, you can enjoy panoramic views of the badlands, which are especially awe-inspiring and breathtaking at sunset.

Heading back towards civilization, stop in charming Borrego Springs to see the impressive Galleta Meadows Estate sculptures. This distinct outdoor art collection features life-sized metal sculptures of prehistoric creatures.

Did you know? Anza-Borrego is an International Dark Sky Community. The accolade recognizes areas with little light pollution, making it an ideal spot for stargazing.

Things to note: You're driving into the desert when you take a road trip to Borrego Springs or Anza-Borrego, and driving in a desert environment comes with challenges. Check for flash flood warnings during monsoon season.

As you might expect, summer temperatures can be extremely high, so always carry sufficient water for the day. If you're planning on hiking, then you're advised to avoid the height of summer and midday.

The natural attractions of Anza-Borrego are very seasonal. Wildflowers bloom in spring, so plan accordingly. If you're visiting for stargazing, this is best experienced during clear winter nights.

You can book a guided stargazing tour to help you enjoy the experience, but check ahead for dates and times and make an advance reservation.

10. Solvang

Via Santa Barbara

3 hours from Orange County (160 miles)

Why you should visit Solvang: You might not expect to find windmills and traditionally Danish architecture on the California coast, but that's exactly what you'll get when you take a road trip to Solvang. As an added bonus, you'll enjoy a coastal drive via Santa Barbara along the way.

This picturesque village, around 3 hours from Orange County, is completely unique with its distinct architecture and culture. It's a one-of-a-kind cultural experience, and the village's relaxed atmosphere makes it the perfect place to visit when you need to wind down.

The Danish Street, Solvang, California
For a taste of Denmark, visit Solvang - and don't forget to enjoy some Danish pastries while you are there!

How to get to Solvang from Orange County: Leave Orange County on I-5 and drive through Anaheim and Los Angeles before switching to US-101. Follow this highway to the coast past Venture and Santa Barbara, and head inland to reach Solvang.

Our highlights: Start your road trip to Solvang with a beach day at Santa Barbara. The city's beautiful beaches, which include East Beach and West Beach, are ideal for a relaxing coastal break.

Then stroll through the pedestrianized heart of downtown Santa Barbara o admire the Spanish-influenced architecture on State Street, where you can shop, drink and dine.

Once you've arrived in Solvang, take your time wandering through the village's charming streets - you'll feel like you've been transported to Denmark! Admire the Danish-style buildings and enjoy the chance to shop in the boutiques or taste delicacies from the bakeries.

For a further dive into the Solvang culture, visit the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. If you are looking for a more traditional Californian experience, you can also indulge in wine tasting since Solvang sits in the heart of the state's wine country.

Don't forget to treat yourself to an authentic Danish pastry from one of Solvang's renowned bakeries before you head back home!

Did you know? A group of Danish educators formed Solvang in 1911. Solvang translates to "sunny fields" in Danish.

Things to note: For the ultimate Danish experience, the Danish Days in September is an exciting time to visit Solvang. There will be more visitors at this time of year, but even so, it comes highly recommended.

If you're visiting at other times of the year, the Solvang Trolley has a guided tour available Fridays through to Sundays, which is another great way to learn about Solvang's history.

Check the operating hours if you plan to visit one or more of Solvang's wineries. For a more relaxed wine-tasting experience, we'd recommend arranging transport beforehand unless you have a dedicated driver in your party. Tours operate regularly and are an ideal way to visit the wineries.

11. Las Vegas

Via Mojave National Preserve

4 hours 10 minutes from Orange County (260 miles)

Why you should visit Las Vegas: The entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas hardly needs an introduction. Renowned for its nightlife, casinos, and shows, it's a 24/7 city - unlike others on the list, it's alive around the clock.

The grandeur of world-famous casinos like the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace will take your breath away. Even if you're not one for a bet, you must take a look inside! Then stroll along the iconic Las Vegas Strip to see the lavish-themed hotels as you take in Sin City's unique atmosphere.

A road trip from Anaheim to Las Vegas isn't all about the non-stop thrills of the big city, though. You can experience desert solitude en route before hitting the bright lights.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA skyline over the strip at dusk.
From world-famous casinos to incredible entertainment and Michelin-starred restaurants, Las Vegas has it all!
Sean Pavone/

How to get to Las Vegas from Orange County: To get to Las Vegas from the OC, simply head north on CA-57 and hop on I-15.

Once in Las Vegas, you will have an endless choice of where to stay. To make your planning easy, we have put together a guide on the best hotels in Las Vegas.

Our highlights: Las Vegas itself is a city full of places to visit. Stand in awe while you watch the mesmerizing water and light show at the Bellagio Fountains and make your way along the Strip. Head to the Fremont Street Experience for ziplines, gaming, and fun.

Just south of Las Vegas and not requiring any major detours, you can see the vibrant art installation Seven Magic Mountains. Witness the seven colorful totems made from boulders that stand as high as 35 feet.

On your way to and from Las Vegas, you'll also travel through the vast Mojave Desert. Turn off I-15 between Primm and Baker to explore Mojave National Preserve, where you'll find landscapes shaped by lava flows and unforgettable natural outlooks.

You can visit the visitor center at Kelso Depot to find out more about the preserve.

Did you know? When in Vegas having a snap next to the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" is a popular photo opportunity. But did you know Betty Willis designed the sign in 1959 and that it stands 25 feet tall? You can learn more about the famous Las Vegas sign here.

Things to note: Firstly, book tickets for popular shows well in advance. Also, remember that most Las Vegas hotels charge a resort fee. Check for these fees and make sure you're aware of the total cost so you can plan your budget better.

The city is also notorious for traffic hold-ups, particularly if you're trying to drive into Las Vegas for the weekend. Major events can add to the congestion, so leave plenty of time if you have somewhere important to be.

As with the other desert drives on this list, it's important to check the weather before crossing the Mojave Desert. If you're spending time in Mojave National Preserve, there are some roads where high clearance of four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Las Vegas

12. Death Valley National Park

4 hours 40 minutes from Orange County (280 miles)

Why you should visit Death Valley: This impressive road trip is full of extremes and unparalleled landscapes. Death Valley is famous as the hottest and driest national park in the United States. In fact, the hottest temperature ever recorded - 134 degrees Fahrenheit - was at Furnace Creek.

You'll also see salt flats and canyons at the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, which sits 282 feet below sea level. A road trip to Death Valley National Park will be unforgettable, with a rare opportunity to admire nature's resilience in such a harsh environment.

Sunset at Death Valley with the white cracked Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the foreground
Sunset at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley is quite the sight to take in.
Doug Meek/

How to get to Death Valley National Park from Orange County: Head north on I-5 past Baker and Mojave National Preserve and switch to CA-127 which will take you to Death Valley Junction. From here, drive on CA-190 into the heart of Death Valley.

If you are looking for a comfortable place to base yourself in while exploring Death Valley, you will find our guide on the best places to stay near Death Valley here.

Our highlights: Death Valley is home to mile after mile of unforgettable landscapes, so we've picked out some of the most photogenic and accessible highlights. For a longer list, you can find our guide to the best photo spots in Death Valley here.

Marvel at the surreal eroded badlands landscape at Zabriskie Point. You can hike here or simply admire the vista, a view especially dramatic during sunrise or sunset.

If you drive the Artists Drive Scenic Loop, you'll encounter the geological wonder of hills with a vivid spectrum of colors, including red, green, orange, pink, yellow, and blue - giving the rocks the fitting name of the Artist's Palette.

Next, move on to see the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where the surrounding mountains create a picturesque backdrop to the dune field. Across the dune field, mesquite trees case dramatic shadows, making for vivid photography.

Another spot that's popular with photographers is Dante's View. These salt flats at the foot of the Black Mountains experience magnificent sunrises and sunsets, so you can see them at their best, then head back under cover when the temperature starts to rise.

Did you know? Death Valley served as the backdrop for scenes in the original Star Wars film. More specifically, Dantes View was used as the Mos Eisley spaceport on the desert planet Tatooine.

Things to note: You'll be traveling through the hottest place in the United States, so you need to be prepared for high temperatures. Carry sufficient water and plan outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day. As per official guidance, hiking isn't recommended after 10am during the summer.

The wide-open landscape and the absence of light pollution make Death Valley an excellent spot for stargazing, and it's a designated International Dark Sky Park. Plan your visit around the new moon for the ultimate dark sky experience.

There's limited accommodation due to Death Valley's remote location, so it's important to book in advance to secure a room for the night, especially on weekends, which are peak visiting times here.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options near Death Valley

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Long weekend trips from Orange County (5-8 hours each way)

Picture yourself getting lost in the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park. If mountains call your name, the scenic landscapes of Lake Tahoe are perfect for a mix of relaxation and outdoor action.These destinations are tailor-made for those extra days off, offering the perfect balance of adventure, relaxation, and breathtaking scenery to make your long weekend one for the books.

13. Yosemite National Park

Via Bakersfield and Fresno

5 hours 40 minutes from Orange County (320 miles)

Why you should visit Yosemite National Park: The iconic landscape of Yosemite National Park hardly needs an introduction. Its epic granite cliffs, high waterfalls and peaceful meadows make Yosemite a must-see for lovers of the great outdoors, with trails up to mountain peaks and countless stunning photo opportunities.

Take a road trip from Orange County to Yosemite, and you'll find yourself standing in awe at landmarks such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.

View of the waterfall from the ground below, sunny day in Yosemite National Park
There are so many stunning sights to take in at Yosemite, such as the impressive Sentinel Falls, so you might want to put aside a couple of days to explore the national park.

How to get to Yosemite National Park from Orange County: Drive on I-5 through LA all the way to Bakersfield. After your visit, switch to CA-99 to arrive at Fresno. Following CA-41 from here will take you all the way to the South Entrance.

You can find more information on this entrance and what to expect once you get there in our detailed guide on the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay near Yosemite, you might find our guide to the best hotels near Yosemite National Park helpful.

Our highlights: If you'd prefer to stop along the way, then you have a few different options to choose from, including immersing yourself in country music history at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. This is not only a restaurant but also a museum and live music.

Alternatively, you can explore Fresno's one-of-a-kind Forestiere Underground Gardens, a hand-built network of tunnels full of Mediterranean-style plants and architecture. It's a really magical place to stop and explore.

If you're following our recommended route from Orange County, you'll enter Yosemite at the South Entrance. Just past this entrance is Mariposa Grove, where you can see the striking Sequoia trees, including the famous Grizzly Giant.

Carrying on further through Yosemite, you're spoilt for choice with the number of landmarks you can see. Glacier Point is considered the park's most spectacular view; from here, you can see the Half Dome and three waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls.

You will also find plenty of hikes in Yosemite, whether you're looking for a short stroll or a strenuous back-country adventure, and rock climbing routes. You can find a list of our favorite hikes in Yosemite National Park here.

Make your way along Yosemite Valley to tick off more landmarks, including El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. There are so many things to see in this magical national park, so if you are looking for a longer list, you can use our guide on the best photo spots in Yosemite as a starting point.

Did you know? Yosemite was fundamental to the development of the national park system. The park inspired the formation of the National Park Service.

Things to note: Yosemite welcomes over 4 million visitors annually, so we highly recommend booking accommodations well in advance. During the busy months between April and October, you'll also need to reserve a spot to drive into the park.

Keep in mind that some parts of Yosemite are inaccessible during winter. Glacier Point Road, for example, closes during winter, as does the Tioga Road entrance on the eastern side of the park. The Tioga Pass Entrance is closed in winter as well.

If you'd like to travel during this season, you can find our detailed guide on the entrances of Yosemite National Park here to help you plan accordingly.

Check before you travel for any more localized road closures and for information on trail conditions. Some hikes guide you through a stunning winter wonderland, whilst others become too dangerous to use due to snow and ice.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options near Yosemite

14. Lake Tahoe

Via Mammoth Lakes

8 hours from Orange County (470 miles)

Why you should visit Lake Tahoe: Offering a complete contrast to Orange County's urban attractions, Lake Tahoe makes a stunning alpine getaway. With its picturesque blue water and spectacular mountain backdrop, it's a beautiful place to visit for a weekend (or longer) any time of year.

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, North America's second-deepest lake is a hotbed of year-round activity. In summer you can enjoy water sports or relax on lakeside beaches, while in the winter you can ski in the surrounding mountains.

Crystal clear lake with trees and snow-capped mountains in the background
Lake Tahoe is a stunning place to visit year-round; in summer you can enjoy water sports on the lake, and in winter, you can hit the slopes and show off your skiing moves!

How to get to Lake Tahoe from Orange County: Head northeast out of the OC and follow CA-60 to merge onto I-15. Drive on this interstate briefly and then switch to US-395 which will take you all the way to Mammoth Lakes, past Yosemite and then to Lake Tahoe.

You can use our guide on the best hotels in Lake Tahoe to plan ahead of time and book a fantastic stay in this stunning area.

Our highlights: You'll probably want to stop and recharge your batteries en route to Lake Tahoe. If you want to check out more stunning lake scenery, then the extraordinary Devils Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes is a great option.

Formed by volcanic activity, the unique basalt columns offer a striking visual. You can also see the 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls during your visit.

Your route will also take you past Yosemite's Tioga Pass Entrance. After stopping at Tioga Lake Vista Point, take a detour into the national park. Even if you don't have time to spend the night, a drive along Tioga Road still lets you admire some of the park's waterfalls, granite monoliths, and stunning peaks.

Arriving at Lake Tahoe, we recommend spending some time at Emerald Bay State Park. At Inspiration Point, you can enjoy beautiful views across the lake as far as Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian-style mansion you can tour in the summer.

If you're feeling active, then head to Heavenly Mountain Resort, which is set near the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Here, you can experience year-round outdoor recreation, ranging from skiing in winter to zip-lining and hiking in summer.

Did you know? Lake Tahoe's water is renowned for its crystalline qualities. But did you know the extent of the water's clarity? It's so clear that you can see a white dinner plate placed 75 feet deep!

Things to note: You're heading into the Sierra Nevada mountains, so this is a road trip where you should expect significant seasonal variations. Check road conditions in winter. It's common to encounter snow and ice, especially on US-395, so make sure your vehicle is prepared.

If you choose to visit Yosemite, check for permit requirements and road conditions. Tioga Road is generally closed from November to May. So, if you want to incorporate this, you'll have to consider closures or use an alternative entrance that'll add to the journey time.

Yosemite is especially busy in peak seasons, and you're recommended to use the free shuttles here and at Devils Postpile.

Whether you're skiing or hiking on this road trip, make sure you bring the right gear for the season. If you plan on hiring equipment from resorts, do so in advance so you don't miss out.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options near Lake Tahoe

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Longer trips from Orange County (Over 8 hours each way)

For those extra-long weekends or vacation breaks, Orange County offers the gateway to some truly bucket-list-worthy trips. Venture north to the heart of urban culture and tech in San Francisco or Redwood National and State Parks, offering an awe-inspiring escape among the tallest trees on earth.These longer journeys promise memories that last a lifetime, all starting from the convenience of Orange County.

15. San Francisco

Via Huntington Beach, Monterey and Santa Cruz

8 hours 30 minutes from Orange County (490 miles)

Why you should visit San Francisco: Drive west from Orange County, and you'll embark on this unforgettable road trip from Orange County to San Francisco. Setting out along the Pacific Coast Highway, you'll be cruising along one of the USA's most celebrated drives, packed with iconic landmarks and stunning ocean views.

Once you arrive in the Golden City, you can tick more must-see landmarks off your bucket list, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. San Francisco is a city with a vibrant cultural scene and historic neighborhoods to explore, making it the perfect endpoint for your PCH road trip.

San Francisco, California, USA with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge photographed during the late afternoon from Marshall's Beach.
With so many things to see and do, you will need to spare more time to visit San Francisco and do it justice!

How to get to San Francisco from Orange County: Head directly to the coast from Orange County and visit Huntington Beach. From here, follow I-405 and then I-5 to Lost Hills. Drive west to Paso Robles and switch to US-101 to reach Monterey.

After your visit, drive to Santa Cruz on the Pacific Coast Highway and switch back to US-101 to arrive at San Francisco.

Our highlights: This is definitely one of those road trips where the journey is as big as the destination, so take your time to enjoy the many highlights of the route. Start off with a stop at Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can spot dolphins, whales, sea lions, and more.

Not far from Monterey is the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Take a stroll back in time at the classic amusement park here - you'll find plenty of rides to enjoy, including a historic 100-year-old roller coaster.

Of course, once you arrive in San Francisco, you'll want to check out the Golden Gate Bridge. As well as views of the iconic landmark, the expansive park is also home to museums and botanical gardens.

Heading back to the Pacific, Fisherman's Wharf is another must-see while you're in the city. Indulge in fresh seafood while enjoying views of the bay. Street performers and souvenir shops are another highlight of this popular part of San Fran.

Things to note: You're probably picturing a stunning, sun-drenched drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, but the downside of this route is the sometimes changeable ocean climate. Be prepared for cooler coastal temperatures as you drive north, especially in San Francisco.

To enjoy your scenic drive on the Pacific Coast Highway to the full, make sure you allow plenty of time to stop and admire the view. There are countless viewpoints along the way that you won't want to rush past!

Check the operating hours of attractions such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk too, and schedule your drive with these in mind. Keep an eye on the speed limits though, and also allow extra time for your journey in case you hit congestion at popular points along the route.

We also recommend keeping an eye on your gas tank, since opportunities to fill up are more limited the further north you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway.

READ MORE - Road trip from Orange County to San Francisco

16. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

8 hours from Orange County (520 miles)

Why you should visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks: If you're in the market for a longer road trip, then Zion National Park's towering sandstone cliffs and Bryce Canyon's spectacular hoodoos are a really stunning destination.

In Zion National Park, the Virgin River carves its way through mighty canyons with remarkable views. You can try your hand at canyoneering here. Then, move on to Bryce Canyon National Park, where the hoodoos make impressive natural amphitheaters. The distinctive red rocks are particularly stunning at sunrise and sunset.

Beautiful view over the canyon filled with rugged red-rock formations from Inspiration Point
Bryce Canyon National Park will take your breath away with its stunning views, such as the landscape you can admire from the Inspiration Point.
Nagel Photography/

How to get to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park from Orange County: Even though this is a relatively longer road trip, it is quite straightforward. Simply follow I-15 northeast through Las Vegas and to St George in Utah.

From here, you can visit Zion National Park, and then follow the interstate to extend to Bryce Canyon National Park afterwards.

The national parks are only a 2-hour drive from each other, so you can see both in one road trip. You can find the best guide to visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in a day here.

Our highlights: The red rock landscape of Zion and Bryce Canyon are a fabulous contrast to Orange County's California views, so pack your camera and your hiking boots before you hit the road.

Both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are a hiker's paradise. At Zion Narrows, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, the impressive gorge walls are 1,000 feet high, with the Virgin River running beneath them.

The full hike requires you to wade through the river, although you can also see the Narrows via a paved accessible pathway.

One of the most sought-after panoramic views of Zion Canyon can be found at Angels Landing. You'll need a permit to follow this trail, and it's a strenuous trip, but for experienced hikers, the view is worth it!

Over at Bryce Canyon, the hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater form the iconic heart of the national park. This is the largest concentration of hoodoos in the entire world, so we'd definitely recommend taking the chance to admire the view from the various accessible overlooks, including Bryce Point and Inspiration Point.

For an up-close encounter with the hoodoos, descend into the Bryce Canyon amphitheater on the Navajo Loop Trail. The trailhead starts and ends at Sunset Point.

Sunset is a great time to see the glowing red rocks, but stay out a little later and the dark skies above Bryce Canyon are an unforgettable experience. The park runs ranger-led stargazing programs - check dates in advance.

Did you know? Zion National Park has a unique slot canyon known as "The Subway," which is known for its tube-like shape.

Things to note: Both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks run shuttle systems to manage traffic. Check websites to see the schedules so you can plan your day.

More advance planning is needed if you're looking forward to backcountry hikes or canyoneering in Zion. You'll need a permit for many routes, so apply in advance. The popular Angels Landing trail runs a lottery to secure a permit for the hike.

Seasonal closures can affect parts of both national parks, for example, the Narrows closes in winter because snowfall causes water levels to rise and temperatures to plummet, making the hike unsafe.

Zion and Bryce Canyon are at different elevations, so conditions can be very different between the two parks - check weather forecasts for both parks to prepare.

17. Grand Canyon National Park

Via Salton Sea

9 hours from Orange County (560 miles)

Why you should visit Grand Canyon National Park: The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and the only one in the United States. Simply put, you cannot witness such outright breathtaking canyon grandeur anywhere else in the country!

At 277 miles long, reaching up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep in places, a visit to Grand Canyon National Park is an awe-inspiring experience that'll live long in your memories.

Reflection of Grand Canyon in Colorado River, cloudy weather
There is no place on earth like the majestic Grand Canyon, so make sure you put aside several days to explore it.

How to get to the Grand Canyon from Orange County: Start your journey by heading to the Salton Sea on I-10 from Orange County and then switch to US-95 briefly to merge onto I-40 near Yucca.

The interstate will take you past Route 66 hotspots like Kingman, Seligman and Williams before you head north on AZ-64 to reach Grand Canyon National Park.

Once there, you will want to stay a couple of days to explore the majestic Grand Canyon at your own pace. Flagstaff is a great gateway and has some great hotel options. You can find our guide to the best hotels in Flagstaff here.

Our highlights: As you head east across California, take a detour to Salton Sea State Recreation Area, which is great for birdwatching and fishing. You'll probably want to stop overnight on your road trip to Grand Canyon National Park and you'll enjoy serene views of California's largest lake by camping on one of the five campgrounds.

Of course, the main attraction on this trip is the chance to explore the Grand Canyon itself. Arriving at the South Entrance, park at the Visitor Center and head to the Grand Canyon South Rim Overlooks. From here, you can admire panoramic views from popular viewpoints like Mather Point and Yavapai Observation Station.

If you're in the mood for exploring, you can also venture down into the canyon on trails such as Bright Angel Trail or Rim Trail. Following the trails will offer different perspectives of the epic canyon landscapes.

Before you leave, make sure to spend some time in Grand Canyon Village to catch a glimpse into the area's history. There are also shops, Mary Colter's Lookout Studio and a scenic railway here.

Did you know? Grand Canyon National Park is around 1,900 square miles. That's bigger than Rhode Island!

Things to note: Consider pre-purchasing park passes to make your entrance to Grand Canyon National Park seamless, and start your day early or opt for afternoon to avoid the crowds. For an even more straightforward visit, use the free shuttle that operates at the South Rim - it's a great way to travel to different viewpoints.

If you're hiking into the canyon, be mindful of the challenging conditions. Many of the routes into the canyon are suitable for experienced hikers only, so be sure to choose a trail that matches your skill level and fitness, and always stay on track. That goes for viewpoints too - never jump the barriers.

Be prepared for temperature variations during your visit. Across its huge geography and different elevations, the Grand Canyon experiences very different climates.

READ MORE - Click here for more great hotel options in Flagstaff

18. Redwood National and State Parks

Via San Francisco

12 hours 20 minutes from Orange County (740 miles)

Why you should visit Redwood National and State Parks: Take a road trip further north along the California coast and you'll reach Redwood National and State Parks, where you can lose yourself in lush coastal forests inhabited by some of the world's tallest trees.

The awe-inspiring ancient woodland is a really unique destination, where hiking trails and camping opportunities abound. It's a peaceful escape into nature while you stand and marvel at the height and age of these trees. Hyperion, the coast redwood tree, stands at an amazing 380 feet tall.

Giant trees in the national park with a fallen log on the floor
Walk among the giants in Redwood National and State Parks.

How to get to Redwood National and State Parks from Orange County: Start by heading northwest on I-5 past LA, and then switch to 580 to reach San Francisco. From here, follow US-101 past Santa Rosa, Leggett and meet the coast near Eureka.

You will soon reach your destination at Redwood National and State Parks.

Our highlights: Your route to Redwood National and State Parks takes you through San Francisco before continuing north through California, so you'll have the chance to admire views of the city and bay from the iconic bridge Golden Gate Bridge or to hop on a ferry to historic Alcatraz Island for a captivating tour of the former prison.

The 30-mile Avenue of the Giants scenic highway makes for an unforgettable drive. The road is lined with towering redwood trees so it's a really unique experience.

You can also hike trails along the Pacific Coast through Lady Bird Johnson Grove or Fern Canyon, the canyon with fern-covered walls.

Did you know? Filmmakers used Fern Canyon in Redwood National and State Park as a filming location for Jurassic Park 2.

Things to note: All campgrounds require advance reservation and you'll need a permit if you're planning on backcountry camping. Campgrounds fill fast, so book as early as possible.

Coastal weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers and waterproof jackets for varying conditions, and check trail and road conditions before you travel. Use the visitor centers for up-to-date information and to collect maps.

Once you've arrived, be cautious of wildlife. The impressive Roosevelt elks that inhabit the area can be dangerous, so follow guidelines for a safe visit.

A more urban consideration is the notorious San Fran traffic. Avoid driving through San Francisco during rush hour, and stay alert for drivers changing lanes without warning.

19. Santa Fe

Via Flagstaff and Albuquerque

12 hours 40 minutes from Orange County (845 miles)

Why you should visit Santa Fe: This might be a longer road trip from Orange County, but the strikingly different New Mexico experience will be worth the drive! Stunning Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the USA, with a story dating back to the 1600s.

Embrace the city's rich cultural heritage and take the time to explore its many Native American influences. Santa Fe is also the proud home of a vibrant arts scene, where galleries and museums nestle amongst the historic Pueblo architecture.

Candles are lit up on ledges around a traditional southern style building after dark
You can admire the unique architecture in Santa Fe and enjoy colorful markets selling all sorts of beautiful traditional artwork, souvenirs, and delicious foods.
Brent Coulter/

How to get to Santa Fe from Orange County: Head east along I-40 and after more than 12 hours on the road, driving through Flagstaff and Albuquerque, you'll reach the fabulous city of Santa Fe.

After doing so many miles, you will need somewhere comfortable to stay. You will find our guide on the best places to stay in Santa Fe here to make your planning easy.

Our highlights: As you journey along the interstate, pause in Flagstaff, AZ, which is around halfway to Santa Fe. Nestled in the ponderosa pine forest, you can find outdoor adventures and a charming yet lively downtown.

Once you've arrived in Santa Fe, art lovers should head straight to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, where you can admire the art and life of the iconic American artist. Santa Fe's Canyon Road is also famous as the home of many smaller galleries showcasing diverse works.

Historic Santa Fe Plaza is considered the heart of the city, with historic buildings, shops and restaurants where you can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. The Plaza often hosts cultural events, including Santa Fe's Traditional Spanish Market.

The nearby Loretto Chapel is also highly recommended. Among its Gothic revival architecture is the famous Miraculous Staircase, which makes two 360 degree turns without any supporting columns.

Did you know? As a haven for artistic types, many famous people call Santa Fe their home. Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin is a current Santa Fe resident.

Things to note: As you climb towards Flagstaff and Santa Fe, be mindful they sit at a higher elevation. Look out for potential altitude effects and stay hydrated.

Try to catch a show at the renowned Santa Fe Opera if you're a fan of the performing arts - check listings ahead of time so that you can book tickets in advance for your visit.

Santa Fe is also a great place to indulge in the flavors of Southwestern cuisine. Seek out local restaurants to get a taste.

20. Seattle

Via San Francisco, Napa Valley, Redwood National and State Parks and Cannon Beach

27 hours from Orange County (1,390 miles)

Why you should visit Seattle: This epic road trip from Orange County to Seattle will give you the opportunity to drive on the legendary Pacific Coast Highway and visit San Francisco, Napa Valley, Redwood National Park and Cannon Beach before you reach the Emerald City.

The birthplace of worldwide tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon, Seattle is also known for its thriving coffee culture.

Seattle skyline panorama at sunset as seen from Kerry Park, Seattle, WA
If you are looking for a longer road trip from Orange County that has the perfect balance between nature and urban beauty, then this drive to Seattle is the perfect adventure for you.

How to get to Seattle from Orange County: This is a mammoth road trip but it is fairly easy to follow. First, head to San Francisco on I-5 and make a detour to visit Napa Valley. From here, head on the Pacific Coast Highway briefly to reach Fort Bragg and the Fortuna and Eureka.

Soon, you will get to visit Redwood National and State Parks before crossing into Oregon. Following the coast, visit Cannon Beach and then head inland on US-101 and then I-5 to reach Seattle.

Our highlights: It won't surprise you to read that, on such a long road trip, there are countless highlights to enjoy, starting with a visit to San Francisco, where you can visit the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

In Napa Valley, you can visit wineries and picturesque vineyards - be sure to book in for a tasting if you'd like to indulge in a selection of these world-class wines.

Continuing north, you'll pass Redwood National and State Parks, where you can detour onto the Avenue of the Giants scenic highway. Take time to stop and stand beneath the monumental trees to admire their unforgettable scale. Then, crossing into Oregon, stop at Cannon Beach to walk along the more rugged Pacific shoreline and see the famous Haystack Rock.

Arriving in Seattle, head to the top of the Space Needle to get your bearings with panoramic views of the city from this world-famous landmark. Next to the Space Needle, you can see the remarkable colorful glass sculptures and installations of Dale Chihuly, housed at the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Back at ground level, you can enjoy the lively atmosphere of Pike Place Market, one of the oldest public farmers' markets in the USA, where fishmongers still have the tradition of throwing fish.

Check out the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), which celebrates music and science fiction for a more modern city adventure. There are interactive exhibits housed inside a fascinating contemporary building.

Did you know? Seattle earns the crown as the Birthplace of Grunge, thanks to bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam emerging from the city.

Things to note: This is a long road trip, so allow time for stops to make sure you enjoy all that's on offer and aren't driving tired. While you enjoy the scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway, be sure to use the designated overlooks.

Plan ahead for your Napa Valley wine-tasting experience. If you don't have a designated driver when there are so many fabulous wines to discover, then join a guided tour and book a hotel nearby to relax and enjoy the experience safely.

Finally, don't forget that you're leaving the California sunshine far behind you on this trip. Seattle is known for rain, so pack accordingly. Check road conditions, as there can be extreme cold snaps in winter.

READ MORE - Road trip from Orange County to Seattle

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