Best Road Trips in California

For vacations in most states, you drive to the amusement. But in the Golden State, the drive is the amusement. Blessed with incredible terrain and scenic highways, it’s a must-visit destination for any road tripper. We’ve rounded up some of the best road trips in California.

Best Road Trip in California #1: Highway 1

If you’re coming to Northern California from out of town and only have a couple days on the road, this is a no-brainer. Classic California scenes of windy highways with unadulterated ocean views make this a breathtaking drive that you won’t regret taking. The only dilemma: if you’re starting from the San Francisco Bay Area, do you go south towards Big Sur or north towards Bodega Bay? With vistas like these, you won’t go wrong either way, making it our top pick for the best road trip in California.

PRO TIP:

  • Driving south, you’ll be on the right side of the road practically next to the water, so have the passengers get the camera ready.
  • Heavy winter rains have caused landslides, knocking out significant portions of Highway 1, so plan ahead.
Best Road Trip in California #2: Skyline Drive

Between Woodside and Los Gatos, highway 35 hugs the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains and becomes a curvy tree-lined road fit for great weekend drives. A stone’s throw away from the city, you can head out in the morning, grab lunch at Alice’s (which becomes a de-facto car and motorcycle show on weekends), and be home in time for dinner all in the same day. Or better yet, continue down to Big Basin and drive through the old growth redwood forest that towers above.

PRO TIP: On a clear day, pull off at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and climb to the nearby summit of the eponymous hill for an amazing 360 panorama. From one spot, you’ll catch peeks of San Jose to the south, San Francisco to the north, Oakland to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.


Best Road Trip in California #3: Highway 395

The Eastern Sierras are seriously beautiful. Drive south from Lake Tahoe (or cut through Yosemite to see America’s most jaw dropping National Park) and watch the snow-capped Sierras on your right flatten out into the vast desert to your left. The proximity to nature’s many playgrounds here make this one of the best road trips in California.

PRO TIP: For a surprisingly great rest stop, check out the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center and have a picnic in the shadow of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48.

Sometimes you just wonder where does this road end?

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Best Romantic Weekend Getaways in California

Best Road Trip in California #4: Lassen to Shasta: Highway 44

It’s a long drive from San Francisco, but those traveling this far north will be rewarded with lush pine forests and occasional views of Mount Shasta in the distance. Head east from Redding and snake your way towards the Lassen National Forest area for great camping among the nearby natural wonders.

Some fog, some gloom, some lens flare..#lassenvolcanicnationalpark

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Best Road Trip in California #5: Ebbets Pass

While Lake Tahoe itself is beautiful, driving around the area is too traffic-laden to achieve the open road feeling you’re reading this for. If you’re looking for a great alpine drive, the better bet is to head south to highway 4 to Ebbet’s Pass, one of the most scenic routes in the mid-state national forests.

#fineart #stitchedpano #nikond810 #bearvalley #donnerpass

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Best Road Trip in California #6: Gold country: Highway 49

Put the old-world charm of gold country at your fingertips and take a couple of days to explore the foothill towns between Sonora and Auburn. Wineries and other attractions abound in the region, resulting in a choose-your-own-adventure that’ll leave you wishing for more vacation days.

Merced River-Bagby Bridge Hwy 49, Mariposa County, California #mercedriver #mariposa #bridge #highway49

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Honorable mention: I-280

This one very nearly made the cut as one of the best road trips in California. Whereas the 101 is a pothole-strewn stroke inducer, the Junipero Serra freeway is a gem of an interstate, with 22 miles of it designated state scenic highway. Connecting San Jose, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco, this traffic corridor is one you’d go out of your way to take to work. Six miles away, the 101 runs parallel to the 280, but in terms of drive quality, they’re worlds apart.

Drive by the Crystal Springs Reservoir, watch the fog roll over the Santa Cruz mountains, and marvel at the fact that, yes, you are in fact on an eight lane interstate. The best commute in the world? Tough to say, but certainly not the worst.

On #I280. My way of commuting everyday. Beautiful view all the way.

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Dishonorable mention: 17-Mile Drive

Yes, it’s a nice drive, but definitely not one of the best road trips in California (in our opinion). Why pay the $10 Pebble Beach toll to drive a short 30 minutes of the California coast when you can do it for free north and south of the area? If you’re only in this area and in a rush, it’s a good idea. Otherwise, save the money and put it towards post-drive drinks in Carmel-By-The-Sea.

One tree to rule them all

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Interactive Condition Report Now Available on All Vehicle Detail Pages

At Shift, we want a car’s detail page to be a virtual window into its heart and soul. To do that, we need to first give you all the information that’ll help you decide whether to schedule a test drive.

That’s why we just made a few changes to Shift’s vehicle detail pages that’ll make it easier for you to preview the condition of any car.

See the new vehicle detail page > Continue reading “Interactive Condition Report Now Available on All Vehicle Detail Pages”

How Does Carfax Work?

When it comes to a car’s condition, people often mention the Carfax report. So just how does Carfax work?  A Carfax report is your window into a car’s past. Like a private eye, it gleans data from insurance companies, DMVs, and even the police to tell you about a car’s background.

In the most extreme cases, it can save you from buying a lemon. That’s why we include a full free Carfax report for every car we list on Shift so customers know exactly what they’re getting (and what they’re not).

How does Carfax actually work?

A Carfax report is essentially a data snapshot of a number of different available data records. It gathers information from police departments, insurance companies, DMVs, and auction houses to piece together a history on nearly every car out there. Their data-gathering team in Virginia adds about 3.5 million records a day, with a compiled total of about 15 billion records.

How does Carfax help in buying a used car?

Big Lebowski car impoundThe records included in a Carfax report tell you things you wouldn’t know by just going for a test drive or having a mechanic inspect the car. A Carfax report is a little like a crystal ball that can give you a picture of a car’s past, such as:

  • Odometer readings and repair history
  • Number of past owners
  • Any accidents reported by DMVs, insurance companies, or police departments
  • Whether the car’s a lemon or been salvaged or junked
  • Whether a car was ever used as a fleet vehicle, autos used by businesses and often subject to lots of abuse
  • Lien and repossession history
  • Emission inspection statuses
  • Manufacturer recalls and buybacks

All of this info lets you avoid getting scammed and helps you make a more informed decision about the car you’re about to buy.  At Shift, every car we list has gone through a rigorous 150-point inspection by ASE-certified mechanics, is reconditioned and comes with a complete vehicle history report.

Where does all that data come from?

Carfax must have an army of data crawlers trolling the internet because the company culls data from about 92,000 sources—everything from motor vehicle agencies, to many police and fire departments, collision repair facilities, and auto auctions.

Here’s their list of all of the sources:

  • Fire departments
  • Manufacturers
  • Law enforcement agencies U.S. motor vehicle agencies
  • Canadian provincial motor vehicle agencies
  • Auto auctions and salvage auctions
  • Collision repair facilities
  • Service/maintenance facilities
  • Insurance companies
  • Automotive recyclers
  • Rental/fleet vehicle companies
  • State inspection stations
  • Extended warranty companies
  • Car dealerships Import/export companies

How much does Carfax cost?

Carfax's Carfox
Carfox: easily our favorite mascot in the car space

Carfax has a three-tiered pricing model. If you’re going to test drive more than one car, and you probably will, you might want to get the second option, which provides five reports.

  • MyCarfax: A free app that provides info on maintenance and recalls for vehicles, as well as estimate repair costs and help finding local repair services. Doesn’t include Vehicle History Reports.
  • 1 Carfax Report: $39.99
  • 5 Reports:  $59.99 (valid for 60 days)
  • Unlimited Reports for 60 days: $69.99 gets you unlimited by searching by license plate
  • Shift: Free. Zip. Zilch.

At the end of the day, the Carfax report is one of the most important pieces of documentation you can get on a used car, so be sure to get one when you go shopping.

What to look for when buying a used car

From the spotless leather seats to the smell of a freshly cleaned car, shopping for a new car can feel like going on a first date. The potential problem? If you have rose-colored glasses on, it can be easy to forget you’re really searching for a long-term partner. To help you keep a level head about your next better half, we put together a list of what to look for when buying a used car.

This advice comes directly from Shift’s Advisor Team and Concierges, who help people take new rides for a spin every day, and what advice they give customers most. The response was unanimous: the trick is to find your own perfect balance between performance, reliability, and practicality — and something you like. Here’s what we suggest.

Do (a little) homework

Normally, a solid checklist of what to look for when buying a used car will include things like the car’s service history, a clean Carfax report and signs of an unreported accident. In addition to that (we’ve covered that in detail here), we recommend reading online to find out more about the model and combing through the listing carefully to be sure the specific car you’re eyeing has the engine, transmission and other important options that you want.

Re-create your daily routine

Things might seem rosy when you’re walking a typical dealership lot, but one of the most important things to look for when buying a used car is how it works in your own turf. One advantage of taking a test drive at home is the opportunity to test how a car fits with the particulars of your daily life. If you have a driveway, make sure you won’t scrape the bottom as you pull in; if you park in a snug garage, double check that you can open the doors enough to easily get out of the car. Live on a narrow street? Be sure to try a U-turn, then parallel park. And if you generally sit in traffic during a morning commute, try to schedule your test drive during a similarly congested hour.

Consider your passengers

During the test drive, be sure to toss the keys to your Concierge and take a spin in the passenger seat. Or, better yet, go pick up your significant other so you can take turns riding shotgun. If you have kids or pets, make sure the car will work for them, too. Have toddlers in your present or future? Be sure you can get the car seat in without throwing out your back.

Finance or cash? How to pay for your car

Consider your bells and whistles

When it comes to options, think about whether you prefer something simple and intuitive or all the latest features. Does a backup camera matter when you’re parking? Are you dying for a power lift gate? How about GPS navigation? Electronics are also becoming more important with every model year. Sync up your phone with the entertainment system, listen to a playlist, make a few calls. Everything should work easily and intuitively, especially if you make a lot of hands-free calls or depend on music to break the monotony of a long commute.

Think long-term

At some point, turn off the stereo and listen to the car. Is that gruff exhaust note going to turn grating after the novelty wears off? Can you really get comfortable in the seat? Can you see and reach all the controls? Do you have clear visibility of the road ahead (and behind) you? Notice how the car responds against the pavement on both city streets and mountain roads. Many people buy cars based on recommendations from friends or family members, but it’s important that the vehicle feels right for you. Overall, ask yourself, “Is this something I’d be happy to sit in and drive every single day?”

While it’s important to consider your next car thoughtfully, the experience shouldn’t leave you tied up in knots. Relax, get comfortable and have fun. Remember: there’s no pressure to make a quick decision and it’s worth it to wait if it means you’ll be happier in the long run.

Ready to meet your perfect match? We’re always here to help you find the car that fits your lifestyle (plus, you have 5 days or 200 miles to return it it ends up not being “the one”).