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Nothing can destroy a fun filled road trip easier than spending 80% of it driving to your destination. You are stressed from the work week, tired from the long drive, your nerves are shot & everyone is now grumpy. What a way to start a vacation!

planning for easy departure:

  • the week before
    Pack & do laundry, grocery shop for trip; pack toiletries, drinking water, beverages, snacks, food and any gear ahead of time. Make a big stack of your stuff in one spot and keep adding to it. Physically pack the duffle bags, carry bags and backpacks one day before departure.
  • study your maps
    No time for televsion now - you are gonna hit the road in just a few days. You need to know where you are going and what cool destinations are to follow. Examine the maps and terrain. Plan your route online & off. Nothing beats good, old fashioned, printed topographic maps (a real hardcopy)
  • leave early
    Take an extra day off of work before a 3 day weekend and turn the road trip into a full 4 day luxury vacation. Leaving midday may put you in busy traffic in the metro areas. Plan for a 'night before' departure if possible; driving at night means less traffic. You can stay overnight in route (budget hotel or camp).
  • online planning tip
    The easiest way to plan a California road trip is to research your travel distances online in advance. Web sites like Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, or MapQuest can help in determine your route and study the local terrain. Whatever you do: DO NOT RELY on these printed (online) maps alone. If you hit the road with only a one page print out without carrying any other types of regional maps you may be in for a frustrating or longer route, or miss everything by taking only freeways. Don't count on any good cell phone coverage in rural regions, much less a digital 4G network. .
Map Book California

rule of thumb:

For every 2 hours of driving time, Stay a minimum of one overnight!

This means if you are traveling from San Diego to Big Bear , on average it will take about 2-3 hours drive one way, which means one single overnight stay (be it lodge, cabin or camping) is not unheard of.

But if you are planning to visit Mammoth from Los Angeles , it is more like 4-6 hour drive & you better be spending at least 2 or 3 nights up there to get your precious vested time worth.

This line of thought on preparation and planning helps you rest, relax and enjoy your time off - away from the city. Some folks are too scared to leave the comfort of a city and that's just fine. Let them have it.

California is the LEFT COAST, the west coast, a long state, a tall region; driving North-South routes can be very time consuming.


San Diego
to Yosemite is 8 hours worth of travel time.
Los Angeles to Shasta is a whopping 12 hours drive.

Do not strictly rely on GoogleMaps for drive time estimates; use them for planning purposes but realize other factors may add additional time. Buffering long road trip travel time with an extra hour or two to include gas stops, lunch breaks, stretch breaks, bathroom stops and any possible traffic jams you might encounter.

see California Mileage Chart below for reference

varied routes: If you are planning a multiple stop trip or even trying to get an exact route down, web sites like GoogleMaps and MapQuest may make you enter in several smaller towns along the way to get an accurate or preferred highway. And if ya got plenty of time to take the BackRoads we highly recommend a California Benchmark Map.

There once was a couple from the OC, who headed east outta town with glee. As they climbed into the hills, beauty and sunset held many thrills. Ended up lost in the mountains, in the dark, finding a small town Julian, where luckily they were able to stop and ask for directions. DanaMite gave them some added advice: Make sure the next trip you have a real map, not just a one page print out from online. They spent their time frantically looking for Interstate 10 (the long way through the hills). Christmas Eve spent driving and mad, instead of by a fireplace & relaxing.



All hours of the night & day you can find the California Dept. of Transportation closing roads & freeways. Just for peace of mind: Call ahead, especially for mountain routes & snowy winter conditions.

Cal Trans Rest Stops
Statewide Rest Areas

city traffic jams:
Such is life in the big city! Welcome to California hell traffic. Large urban centers such as Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego & San Francisco Bay area traffic is difficult to judge, so a visit various web sites a few days in advance to check traffic patterns of local commuters. Plus check out the Traffic Page for tips on easing your weekend get-a-way .

up to minute traffic reports online - check it before you start your drive!

traffic page for Cali

Overnight 'on the way' stops can be found anywhere & if the weather is decent you can always pitch a tent. Good overnight stops heading northbound from SoCal include:

Coastal Route -
Hwy. 101:
Cheap hotels & coastlines rarely go together, but these are your best bets - Oxnard, Ventura, Buellton, Los Alamos, Santa Maria Pismo, & as far north as San Luis Obispo .
campers - should try any of the State Beaches along the Santa Barbara coastline or a Los Padres National Forest Map . Free campgrounds are hidden well behind Solvang & Santa Maria

Central Valley -
Interstate 5:
Central Valley hotels - Buttonwillow, Kettleman City or Coalinga area motels.
Hwy. 99: Bakersfield thru Tulare - cheap hotels abundant along this route.
campers - Not too many camping options in the Central Valley, except an RV park every now & then. Try a Los Padres National Forest Map or Sequoia Map for all decent campgrounds.

Mojave/ Eastern Sierra -
Hwy 395:
numerous lodging options along this route Randsburg, Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, Bishop, Mammoth, June Lake, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, up to Lake Tahoe
campers - should try forest camps in Inyo National Forest or desert camping at Red Rock State Park

Shop for your travel & outdoor gear online, instead of wasting time driving around town all week trying to find that perfect item:

choosing a topo map


Distance between popular California Cities

Barstow Bishop Eureka Fresno


Needles Palm Spr Redding Sacr SD SF

215 685 245 115 145 125 575 415 175 420
Bishop 350

560 225 265 360 300 435 270 355 295
Eureka 1100 900

450 645 825 750 145 290 765 275
Fresno 390 360 725

220 385 325 335 170 340 190
LA 185 430 1040 350

260 110 545 385 125 385
Needles 230 575 1330 620 415

210 715 55 320 560
Palm Spr 200 485 1210 520 175 335

650 490 140 485
Redding 925 695 235 535 880 1150 1045

165 665 215
Sacramento 665 440 645 275 620 895 790 260

505 85
San Diego 285 570 1235 545 200 515 225 1070 815

San Francisco 675 475 440 300 615 900 785 350 135 815


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