Once, my cousin and I debated the joys of driving a convertible. I described my 2003 Mazda Miata Shinsen Edition, as a daily delight with its peppy engine and open-top freedom. He questioned the practicality in a bustling city, so I shared nearby destinations where a convertible shines. This led me to realize the abundance of fantastic driving roads in the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe Region. Some are famous, others hidden gems. Presenting my list of the Best Driving Roads in California and Beyond!
California State Route 1: The Pacific Coast Highway
Embark on California’s legendary Pacific Coast Highway, a scenic route captivating travelers with its breathtaking vistas and charming towns. Immerse yourself in the natural beauty, from serene Half Moon Bay to vibrant Santa Cruz with its iconic beach boardwalk. Explore Monterey’s history and Carmel’s charm before marveling at Big Sur’s rugged cliffs and landmarks.
With a rich history dating back to the early 20th century, the Pacific Coast Highway has become an iconic roadway. Originally envisioned as a means to connect remote communities, it evolved into a legendary route for adventure-seekers and nature enthusiasts. This highway weaves a mesmerizing tapestry of coastal wonders, inviting travelers to experience its unparalleled beauty.
As you journey along the Pacific Coast Highway, envision the early days when the road was built to connect isolated towns and facilitate trade. Witness the influence of the automobile era, which brought the highway to life as a scenic drive and popular tourist destination. Today, it stands as a testament to human ingenuity and a cherished symbol of California’s coastal heritage. This makes The Pacific Coast Highway one of the best driving roads in California.
California State Route 35: Skyline Boulevard
Take a drive along Skyline Boulevard, California State Route 35, winding through the stunning Santa Cruz Mountains. This legendary route offers panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay Area. With a rich history rooted in the region’s development, Skyline Boulevard has become a beloved destination. It combines thrilling driving with opportunities to connect with nature and witness the area’s beauty.
Make sure to stop at the vista points along the way for unparalleled views of the Bay Area. Explore the hiking trails that weave through the Santa Cruz Mountains, immersing yourself in the tranquility of the forests. Fasten your seatbelt and set out on an unforgettable adventure along Skyline Boulevard. Experience breathtaking vistas, hidden trails, and the rich history and natural splendor of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Of course, you can’t visit Skyline Boulevard without visiting Alice’s Restaurant! This restaurant is legendary among the car enthusiast community as being the official pit stop after a spirited drive around the surrounding winding roads. You never know what might show up to Alice’s! Once, after driving with a friend, we were passed by an actual Maserati Tipo 61 “Birdcage” race car driving on the public roads! This is just one example of some of the crazy thing you will see along Skyline Boulevard, and makes this a contender for one of the best driving roads in California!
California State Route 152: Hecker Pass
Undertake an adrenaline-pumping journey along Hecker Pass, California State Route 152. This legendary road winds through the majestic California Redwoods, with its exhilarating banked turns and enchanting scenic beauty. Hecker Pass has a rich history as a vital transportation route, connecting communities and facilitating trade. Today, it offers a thrilling driving experience amidst the captivating beauty of the region.
Marvel at the towering California Redwoods along the route, and stop at scenic viewpoints to capture their grandeur. Explore charming towns like Morgan Hill, known for its culinary scene and wineries. Consider a detour to Mount Madonna County Park for hiking trails and stunning views. Immerse yourself in the beauty, flavors, and history of this remarkable region along Hecker Pass. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, stop at the abandoned Mount Madonna Inn and see if you can encounter the “Lady in White”!
I used Hecker Pass to commute to work when I lived in the region! I would drive daily up and down the Santa Cruz mountains when I commuted to San Jose. It was faster “going the back way” than Route 17 during peak rush hour. Also, it was far more enjoyable. This route is one absolutely one of the best driving roads in California!
Grizzly Peak Boulevard
Tackle a scenic drive along Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley Hills, offering panoramic vistas of the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and city skyline. With roots dating back to the early 20th century, Grizzly Peak Boulevard has become a beloved destination, showcasing the Bay Area’s natural and architectural wonders.
Witness nature’s masterpieces and iconic landmarks as you wind along the road. Stop at viewpoints like the Grizzly Peak Overlook for breathtaking views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Make a detour to Tilden Regional Park, a picturesque escape with meadows, lakes, and eucalyptus groves. Explore trails and visit the charming Little Farm.
Put the top down and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of Grizzly Peak Boulevard, where the San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and city skyline create an unforgettable experience. Discover the historical charm of Tilden Regional Park along the way.
California Historic Highway 49
Launch an expedition along Historic Highway 49, the Mother Lode Highway, winding through the picturesque Sierra Nevada foothills. Named after the “49ers,” the gold seekers of 1849, this route is steeped in California’s history and leads to charming Gold Rush towns. This automatically makes this one of the best driving roads in California.
Stop in Placerville, once known as “Hangtown,” to explore its quaint Main Street and discover antique treasures. Visit Gold Bug Park and Mine to try gold panning and explore an authentic gold mine. Continue to Nevada City, a preserved Gold Rush town with Victorian buildings and unique shops. Don’t miss the oldest theater in California, the Nevada Theatre, and the enchanting “Victorian Christmas” during the holiday season.
Find yourself on an unforgettable adventure along Historic Highway 49, tracing the footsteps of Gold Rush pioneers and immersing yourself in the history and charm of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Discover living museums and create lasting memories along this iconic route.
California State Route 160: The River Road
Unleash your adventurous spirit as you cruise down River Road, also known as California State Route 160. This scenic route traces the majestic Sacramento River, treating you to stunning views of farmlands, vineyards, and the river’s winding path. River Road has a storied past, once serving as a crucial transportation link connecting communities along the Sacramento River. Today, it’s renowned for its natural beauty and showcases the region’s agricultural and viticultural prowess.
Drink in the panoramic vistas along River Road, where fertile farmlands create a captivating tapestry of colors. Pause at vineyards along the way, where you can indulge in wine-tasting experiences amidst breathtaking vineyard backdrops. Discover the charming town of Locke, a preserved Chinese American community, and delve into its intriguing history and culinary delights.
River Road offers a thrilling and unforgettable adventure, loved by enthusiasts like Tom Matano, the creator of the Mazda Miata. So drop your top, downshift, and hit the road to experience the magic of River Road and its hidden gems. Who knows, you might even cross paths with the man himself, enjoying the drive in his own Miata!
The San Joaquin River Delta Loop
Embark on a captivating journey along the Delta Loop, a scenic byway winding through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. This route showcases a stunning tapestry of waterways, offering endless opportunities for boating, fishing, and visual delight. The Delta Loop’s history is intertwined with the region’s agriculture and transportation legacy. The waterways of the delta have long facilitated trade and connection between communities. Today, the loop invites visitors to immerse themselves in the timeless beauty and recreational offerings of this remarkable water wonderland, making the loop one of the best driving roads in California.
Experience the Delta Loop’s natural splendor as you encounter meandering rivers, serene sloughs, and vast wetlands brimming with diverse wildlife. Delight in the interplay of sunlight on the rippling surface, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. Don’t miss the chance to explore the charming town of Walnut Grove, a bastion of small-town charm and agricultural heritage. Wander through its quaint downtown, browse local shops, and savor fresh produce at the farmer’s market.
Let the Delta Loop captivate you with its scenic waterways, inviting towns, and recreational possibilities. Set sail, cast a line, or simply revel in the picturesque views that unfold along this enchanting route. Immerse yourself in the natural splendor and cultural heritage of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive
Take an unforgettable voyage around Lake Tahoe along Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive. This captivating drive encircles the sparkling blue waters, offering awe-inspiring vistas of the lake, mountains, and charming lakeside towns. The Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive has a rich history as a 19th-century stagecoach route, connecting settlements around the lake. Today, it remains beloved for its access to stunning landscapes and thriving communities along Lake Tahoe’s shores.
Traverse the drive and be thrilled by the breathtaking beauty. Marvel at Lake Tahoe’s crystal-clear waters and vibrant blue hues. Admire the majestic mountains serving as a stunning backdrop. Explore lakeside towns along the route. Enjoy the lively atmosphere of South Lake Tahoe with outdoor activities, casinos, and sandy beaches. Experience the upscale charm of Incline Village, offering boutique shops, fine dining, and pristine beaches.
Venture off the main route to discover hidden gems. Visit Emerald Bay for Vikingsholm Castle and its pristine beauty. Explore the tranquility of Sand Harbor with golden sand beaches and turquoise waters. Relish the awe-inspiring Lake Tahoe Scenic Drive, where crystal-clear waters, majestic mountains, and inviting lakeside towns create an unforgettable adventure. Delight in the beauty, immerse in lakeside communities, and create cherished memories in this iconic destination.
Nevada State Route 431: The Mount Rose Highway
Venturing outside California, let’s go on a dazzling journey along the Mount Rose Highway, starting from the picturesque Incline Village. This scenic route promises awe-inspiring mountain views and provides access to a plethora of hiking trails in the magnificent Mount Rose Wilderness.
The Mount Rose Highway offers an ideal opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the area. Take advantage of the easily accessible hiking trails that await you. Lace-up your boots and venture into the Mount Rose Wilderness, a pristine area that invites outdoor enthusiasts to explore its wonders. Consider challenging yourself with a hike to the summit of Mount Rose itself, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding valleys.
If you prefer a more leisurely experience, make sure to stop at Mount Rose Meadows. This stunning alpine meadow is a haven for vibrant wildflowers during the summer months. Take the time to bask in the tranquility of nature, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and immerse yourself in the serene beauty of this natural oasis.
Nevada State Route 207: The Kingsbury Grade
Beyond California is the Kingsbury Grade. Also known as Nevada State Route 207, it winds through the picturesque mountain pass connecting the scenic Lake Tahoe Basin with Carson Valley, Nevada. This remarkable road invites you to witness panoramic views of the glistening lake and the breathtaking valleys that surround it.
The Kingsbury Grade holds historical significance as a vital transportation route. It connects the Lake Tahoe Basin and Carson Valley, showcasing engineering marvels. Marvel at the crystal-clear beauty of Lake Tahoe and the majestic backdrop of rugged mountain peaks. Continue through the historic town of Genoa, the oldest settlement in Nevada, and delve into its rich heritage and charming atmosphere. Explore Carson Valley, a picturesque valley dotted with ranches and embraced by the dramatic Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Take your convertible and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Hope Valley, with its vibrant wildflowers and idyllic landscapes. Finally, reach the summit of Kingsbury Grade and revel in panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see. Each stop along this remarkable route promises an unforgettable experience and a glimpse into the diverse wonders of the region.
As expansive as this list is, there are plenty of other roads that can be considered the best driving roads in California, and beyond. Some places are hidden gems only known by the locals and are kept close to the chest. However, this list of roads however is pretty well known by both locals and out-of-towners alike, and are perfect places to take a convertible or even the family minivan out for a spin. I may even follow this list up with some of my own favorite “secret routes” I like to take from time to time! Also, should you ever find yourself in the Sacramento Region while driving on one of these roads, be on the lookout for a certain gray and blue convertible. It might just be me going for a drive!