We love a good road trip. Even if it’s just a quick weekend trip (or day trip) down the coast of California! In this post, we want to show you why it’s worth taking the longer route to get from San Fransisco to Santa Cruz. From lighthouses to tide pools, fresh seafood to nostalgic roller coasters, I guarantee you will love what the Northern California coast has to offer!
Though it’s very possible to do the drive from San Francisco to Santa Cruz in 2 hours, you’d be missing out on all the fun along the way. As you’ll realize after reading this post, there is so much to see along the way.
Before zipping off to Santa Cruz (and Santa Cruz alone), we recommend taking your time and stopping at a few of the towns, state parks, and roadside stops listed below!
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HOW FAR IS SANTA CRUZ FROM SAN FRANCISCO?
The drive from San Francisco, CA to Santa Cruz, CA is just under 75 miles. Without traffic, travelers can easily complete the drive point-to-point in about 1 hour 15 minutes by taking the CA-17 S. While still beautiful, the route we recommend for this road trip is Highway 1.
Taking the 1 opens you up to a world of coastal bluffs, towns, beaches, and roadside attractions not found anywhere else. It does take a bit longer, but with all the exciting stops to entertain yourself with, who’s keeping an eye on the time?
With no traffic, it takes less than 2 hours to get from the big city to the surfing town of Santa Cruz via Highway 1, so you’ll have plenty of time to make a handful of stops in a short period of time.
HOW MANY DAYS FOR A SAN FRANCISCO TO SANTA CRUZ ROAD TRIP?
You can certainly do this road trip as a day trip, but with limited time, you won’t be able to hit all the stops listed here. At best, you’ll have time to visit 4-5 stops before making it to Santa Cruz in the late afternoon.
But Santa Cruz itself deserves way more than a fraction of a day! To get the most out of these stops from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, and have enough time to do all the things in Santa Cruz, I recommend spending a night down there.
HOW TO GET TO SANTA CRUZ, CA
The best way to get to Santa Cruz is by driving. Either bring your own car, or rent one!
If you’re flying into the Bay Area, the SJC airport will land you closest to Santa Cruz, CA.
If you’re flying into SFO, you’ll be a bit further away, but perfectly situated for the road trip route listed in this post!
BEST TIME TO TAKE A ROAD TRIP TO SANTA CRUZ, CA
The best time to take a road trip from San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Cruz is either in the springtime, late summer, or early fall. This will be your best bet for sunshine and clear skies.
Why? Because California coastal weather is weird. One minute, you could experience fog, wind, and mist, and the next minute–sunny blue skies! Oddly, summer weather tends to be primarily overcast, with a few extremely sunny days here and there. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some sun!
Regardless of when you go, the coast can always get breezy, misty, or foggy, so be sure to bring a light jacket.
SANTA CRUZ ROAD TRIP PREPARATION: RENTAL CARS
If you don’t have a car or don’t have a reliable car you trust to get you out of The Bay and back in one piece, I suggest you pick up a rental car for your road trip.
We like to rent from Hertz when they have good promos. Why? Well with their Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program (completely free to join), you’ll get counter-free pickup at select locations, and even mobile alerts with your exact rental car and its location before you arrive.
If you are more the type to compare prices between rental car companies, I recommend you use Rentalcar.com’s search. Not only does the tool allow you to compare rental car prices, but most of the time you can book with no prepayment and no cancellation fees.
Regardless of which rental car company you decide to go with, make sure you have the appropriate car rental coverage. Our credit card benefits typically cover car rental insurance, so we usually stick with that as our primary insurance.
MAP OF STOPS: HIGHWAY 1 FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO SANTA CRUZ, CA
SAN FRANCISCO TO SANTA CRUZ: 15+ BEST STOPS ALONG THE WAY
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Regardless of if you’re starting a road trip in San Francisco or not, this amazing city is worth exploring for a few days. If you like nature, stunning architecture, shopping, museums, kitschy/hipster bars, and exceptional food in a city with a laidback vibe, San Francisco is a must.
If you only have a few hours to a day to explore, get some good food and see some of the iconic spots like Fisherman’s Wharf and The Golden Gate Bridge.
If you have a weekend to spare, you can slow down a bit and really get to know some of our iconic neighborhoods such as The Mission District, Haight-Ashbury District, or North Beach / Chinatown.
Plan for a visit to the ferry building (houses a bunch of artisan shops and restaurants, as well as an awesome farmer’s market on Saturday mornings), a trip to Alcatraz or a sunset bay cruise, and a visit to Golden Gate Park and Sutro Baths.
No matter what you decide to do here, you’re sure to have a wonderful time. Just be sure to bring layers and prepare for some unpredictable wind and fog!
Read More: 55+ Free and Affordable Things To Do In San Francisco, California
FITZGERALD MARINE RESERVE, CA
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, CA is one of my all-time favorite places to go tide pooling. The tidepools at this reserve are probably one of the most beautiful and easily accessible natural wonders of the Northern California coast.
And I’m not just talking about being able to see sea barnacles and snails. During low tide, the saltwater pools are filled with sea creatures such as sea anemones, mussels, hermit crabs, purple shore crabs, and even starfish!
After your tide pool exploration, take the trail that begins at the sandy cove on the southern end of the reserve for a scenic walk through a grove of Monterey cypress trees.
During springtime, look out into the distance! It’s sometimes possible to spot California gray whales just offshore.
LEMOS FARM (HALF MOON BAY)
If you’re traveling with younger children, Lemos Farm in Half Moon Bay, CA is a popular attraction that families can’t miss. Lemos Farm is a family-run farm featuring resident pigs, goats, sheep, and bunnies, which kids can meet and greet in the petting zoo.
There are also little ponies here, serving up fun pony rides to small children. Families can also enjoy train rides through the farm’s small ‘western town’.
HALF MOON BAY, CA
The quaint little seaside town of Half Moon Bay, CA may sit only a few miles from San Francisco, yet has a completely different feel from what the big city offers. Once you get past the winding two-lane road, you’ll be greeted by a variety of charming shops, restaurants, world-class golf courses, and quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
When in HMB, you can’t ignore the pristine beaches. The Half Moon Bay coastline is made up of multiple state beaches, including Surfers’ Beach, Dunes Beach, Venice Beach, and Francis Beach.
For dining and shopping, Main Street is where it’s at. Take a few moments to browse through all the local gift shops, clothing boutiques, bookstores, and home decor shops. Then, get in line for Barbara’s Fishtrap (serving up the freshest fish in the area) or Sam’s Chowder House (known for their lobster rolls and creamy clam chowder).
For another great meal, head to Pasta Moon Ristorante, serving up delicious Italian fare. Then, stop by the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay for drinks and to soak up incredible views from their ocean terrace.
Pro Tip: If you’re heading to the Ritz-Carlton for drinks, avoid their parking (which will set you back $25+). There’s a small parking area about a 5-minute walk away, right before you get to the Ritz property. Park here instead and save that $25 for a second round of drinks!
Where To Stay in Half Moon Bay, CA:
- For the epitome of luxury, look no other than The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
- For a more romantic bed and breakfast experience, consider Mill Rose Inn (this hotel is surrounded by gorgeous English country-style gardens, which is a huge plus).
- And if you’re looking for a B&B experience mixed with beachfront lodging, consider Oceano Hotel & Spa Half Moon Bay.
PURISIMA CREEK REDWOODS OPEN SPACE PRESERVE
Looking for a gorgeous hiking spot while in the Half Moon Bay area? Head to the lush Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years now, and have only recently discovered this hidden gem of a spot, playing host to some of the best hiking in all of the Bay!
The Purisima Creek Redwoods North Ridge Trail (4.4-mile RT) and the Grabtown Gulch to Purisima Creek Loop (5.3-mile RT) hikes are among my favorite. They are both moderate hikes (very doable) that will leave you enough time in the afternoon to continue driving and exploring the coast.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that the weather is often overcast and windy in Half Moon Bay, even during the summertime (due to thick fog that often blocks out the sun). Don’t forget to pack a jacket!
Next stop: Pescadero, CA! In this scenic stretch of countryside, you’ll be met with rolling hills, farmlands, marshlands, and beaches. The little town of Pescadero offers restaurants, shopping, markets, and farms, and is a great place to pick up produce or local honey.
Grab coffee and pastries at Downtown Local, an adorable coffee shop on the main street. Once you order your coffee, don’t be surprised if you linger a little bit longer to take in all the quaint antiques and memorabilia inside the shop! They’ve got some really cool stuff in there, including an old Macintosh computer from decades ago!
Once you are all souped up on caffeine, head to Arcangeli Grocery (aka Norm’s Market). Do not miss your opportunity to pick up their locally famous homemade artichoke garlic bread. As a matter of fact, pick up a loaf for someone you love, too!
In Pescadero during the afternoon or evening? Follow it up with a meal at Duarte’s Tavern. The rural town of Pescadero is small, but a fun stop nonetheless on any coastal California road trip.
HARLEY FARMS GOAT DAIRY (PESCADERO)
If you or your children have a love for farm animals, don’t miss the opportunity to play with goats at Harley Farms Goat Dairy, conveniently located in Pescadero!
And if you happen to be visiting during the early spring (March-April), don’t miss the teensy weensy baby goats! They’re too cute to miss!
Foodies should also pay a visit to the Harley Farms to purchase award-winning cheese and locally produced jams or to attend one of the special Farm Dinners, which are candlelit meals held in the restored Victorian barn. Harley Farms also offers farm tours and picnics!
PIDGEON POINT LIGHTHOUSE (PESCADERO)
Welcome to California’s most photographed lighthouse! Built in 1871 to guide ships on the Pacific Coast of California, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse remains the tallest lighthouse on the west coast.
After breathing in the fresh air and snapping a few pictures, take a stroll around the grounds of the lighthouse, then onto the nearby trails. You’ll get to enjoy sweeping coastal views on all sides! Views like this are the reason why the Highway 1 drive is so iconic!
PIE RANCH (PESCADERO)
If you love pie, keep an eye out, because this one is easy to miss. Here you’ll find sustainable and locally grown produce, preserves, coffee, flour, local goods, and (wait for it…) homemade pies and pastries!
The pie menu changes frequently, depending on what’s being grown and picked at that time, so you know you’re getting the freshest pies possible. They’re open from 10am-5pm, but try to get there as early as possible because they can run out early!
The parking lot for Pie Ranch comes up quickly, so be sure to slow down and veer into the lot when you get your chance! Here’s the address to help you out: 2080 CA-1, Pescadero, CA 94060
BIG BASIN REDWOODS STATE PARK
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, located in Boulder Creek, is another beloved state park and hiking spot that offers easy access to towering ancient sequoia groves. For a relatively short day hike, take the 3.4-mile out-and-back hike to Sempervirens Falls.
For a longer option jam-packed with beauty, we love the 10.2-mile roundtrip Berry Creek Falls Loop Hike. Berry Creek Falls is by far the most popular destination in Big Basin.
This hike travels through the lush groves of old-growth redwood trees and giant sequoias of the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains.
Not only will you see Berry Creek Falls in all its glory, but you will also get a chance to visit Silver Falls and Cascade Falls. Depending on the time of year you hike it, you can very well spot dozens of banana slugs on the ground during the hike! It may sound like a pretty long hike, but it isn’t all that difficult.
While the intensity of the falls varies depending on the time of year (the best season is spring), the entire park is drop-dead gorgeous and worth a visit all year round.
FIRE CLOSURE: As of March 2021 there are closures in this park or area due to wildfire. For the latest information, please visit their website here.
ANO NUEVO STATE PARK, CA
Año Nuevo State Park is a nature reserve featuring wetland marshes, dune fields, coastal scrub, and beaches. There is one main draw that makes this state park stand out.
Every winter, from December through April, a must-see-for-yourself event occurs here–thousands of enormous elephant seals arrive on the shores for their breeding season.
In fact, Año Nuevo State Park is the world’s largest mainland breeding colony for the northern elephant seal. As many as 10,000 seals will pay a visit to the dunes and beaches of Año Nuevo State Park to breed and give birth to their pups. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a mother seal giving birth.
The sheer number of seals is certainly impressive, but so is their size. Bull elephant seals can be up to 16 feet wide and weigh an average of three tons each!
Año Nuevo State Reserve is only open for guided tours from December through April, and reservations are required. For the rest of the year, visitors are free to take self-guided walking tours, but will still need to obtain free permits. Check the Año Nuevo State Park website for more info.
SWANTON BERRY FARM (DAVENPORT)
A visit to Swanton Berry Farm will grant you the classic u-pick experience in the summertime! Families have been visiting this hidden gem for years to pick strawberries and grab freshly made pies, jams, and other delicious treats.
As soon as you step out of the car, you’ll be greeted by the sweet, sweet aroma of fresh strawberries in the air! You can either pick your own berries or browse the store for already picked berries and other goods.
If you want to pick your own berries, simply pick up a box from inside the market, head out to pick to your heart’s content, then pay inside. Inside the market, you’ll find goods like olallieberry pie, strawberry shortcake, berry jams, freshly squeezed strawberry lemonade, and even t-shirts for sale.
If you’re planning on skipping on the desserts, don’t! Trust me when I tell you, their strawberry shortcake is absolutely delightful. Please do yourself a favor and get a slice of pie or shortcake per person–it’ll be so good that you won’t want to share!
Once you’re ready to pay, head to the counter and weigh your berries. They have a self-checkout system, but usually, someone is around to help if you need it.
Swanton Berry Farm really is a strawberry lover’s dream come true! We had such a blast picking strawberries on our most recent trip from SF to Santa Cruz!
Davenport, CA is a tiny town and a fun, quick stop located along Highway 1. Davenport used to be a bustling whaling village, established in 1867 by a whaling captain named John Pope Davenport.
One of the main attractions of Davenport is the famous Shark Fin Cove, one of the coolest-looking beaches in all of California. The views are stunning and the rock formation really does look just like a shark fin!
Another totally Instagram-worthy spot is Davenport Pier, a frequently photographed landmark. At times, you’ll find a random swing anchored to one of the pier foundation arches which stretch out into the surf. The pier deck has been gone for years, but that makes this spot even more photogenic.
Davenport Pier is located at the beach below the bluff, but it is not easy to get to. You’ll need sturdy shoes and should only attempt if a rope to guide you down the bluff is present (or, bring your own ropes). Photos can also be taken from the bluff which is much safer.
All in all, this is a great spot for snapping a few photos, grabbing lunch (try American Abalone Farms for oysters, abalone, sea urchin, and crab!), or taking a quick coastal stroll.
SANTA CRUZ, CA
Congrats, you finally made it to Santa Cruz, land of the surf and laidback vibes!
From gnarly waves to beachside boardwalks to redwood forests, Santa Cruz, CA is the iconic coastal town that you’re probably picturing when someone utters the word “California”. There’s literally so much to do in Santa Cruz, so much that we dedicated an entire post to the best things to do in Santa Cruz, CA!
To get you started, visit The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum to learn all about the city’s significant surf history with artifacts, photographs, and plenty of old-school boards. Due to its many expansive beaches and some of the world’s best off-shore breaks, Santa Cruz is really famous for its laidback surf culture.
Not interested in the surf? Don’t worry, there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye! From there, head to Pleasure Point to enjoy some of the best breakfast burritos in maybe all of California at Point Market (an unsuspecting convenience store that just so happens to serve some huge and yummy breakfast burritos).
Grab some refreshing tiki drinks at Hula’s Island Grill, then stroll around downtown Santa Cruz, being sure to enjoy all the restaurants, coffee shops, surf shops, and vintage shops in the area.
We always enjoy taking a peek inside Moon Zooom and Crossroads Trading Co. before grabbing a midday pick-me-up at Verve Coffee Roasters nearby.
Round out your late afternoon by heading to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Built in 1907 as the “Coney Island of the West,” the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk oozes nostalgic California vibes. Ride some coasters, stroll around (walking around is admission-free), and eat some funnel cake!
For dinner, we highly recommend Jack’s Hamburgers or Lillian’s Italian Kitchen!
Where To Stay In Santa Cruz:
- Sea & Sand Inn – Located a 10-minute walk from Santa Cruz Wharf and Boardwalk, this hotel features modern, spacious rooms with ocean views, free guest parking, and a daily continental breakfast.
- Hyatt Place Santa Cruz – Experience modern accommodations in Santa Cruz style, conveniently located near the Boardwalk and Downtown. Features a pool and hot tub.
- West Cliff Inn – A Four Sisters Inn – A renovated Victorian-style inn situated on a bluff across from the beach. For a classy historic hotel stay, look no further!
Read More: Best Things To Do In Santa Cruz, CA
ROARING CAMP RAILROADS / FELTON, CA
One of the most unique things to do near Santa Cruz is to head to Roaring Camp Railroads in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where you can take an authentic steam train ride through the redwoods!
These 19th-century trains were once used to haul giant redwood logs out of the mountains, but nowadays, they’re dedicated to transporting passengers curious to see the beauty of the redwoods.
The classic train redwood forest route takes you up Bear Mountain. During the train ride (a bit over 1 hour long), you’ll get to enjoy unbeatable forest views as well as hear the conductor narrate the story of Roaring Camp.
You can also catch a steam train from Roaring Camp all the way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk during the high season. Reverse roundtrips departing from the beach in Santa Cruz to Roaring Camp and back may be purchased from the conductor on the train departing from Santa Cruz. Read more about Roaring Camp and see the train schedules here.
As the West Coast’s oldest beach resort, Capitola, CA sure is worth a visit. This little resort town offers a wide variety of trendy beachfront stores, restaurants, and museums.
Aside from enjoying the warm sand and sun at Capitola Beach, take some time to stroll through Capitola Village, being sure to enjoy the ambiance, eateries, and shops.
Planning a visit in the summer? Be sure to check the city’s event calendar! During the summer months, a variety of special events are hosted at the beach, including free family movies, art shows, and a twilight concert series.
Looking for a place to stay for the night in Capitola, CA?
- Inn at Depot Hill – A 10-minute walk from Capitola Beach and Wharf, this luxurious B&B offers an evening wine reception complete with appetizers. A full breakfast with wonderful hot items is included.
- Capitola Hotel – A charming boutique hotel in the heart of Capitola Village, steps to the beach, restaurants, wine tasting, and shopping.
SANTA CRUZ ROAD TRIP: ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without:
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
- Jumper Cables | Jumper cables are one of those things on your road trip list you hope to never use, but are so useful when you do need to call on them! If you’re looking to invest in something exponentially more powerful/convenient than simple jumper cables, get the NOCO Boost HD Car Battery Jump Starter Box. This tool serves as a car jump starter, portable power bank, LED flashlight, and 12-volt portable power–all in one.
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Even adventurous times call for some pre-planning and preparation. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Slip-on Sandals | Slip-on/slip-off sandals are a must for that extra comfort while sitting in the car. This allows you to make lots of stops without having to go through the process of putting your sneakers/boots back on.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road-trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh (like berries and pies). A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Roll-up Picnic Mat | Probably one of the best inventions since sliced bread, and one of my best investments for the summertime! Not only are these picnic mats super-portable because they roll up into themselves, but their water-resistance factor is a game-changer. No need to worry about wet-grass-butt anymore!
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Garbage Bags | Because you don’t want the inside of your car to resemble a dumpster can. Plastic bags (or garbage bags) can also be used to hold wet clothes if you get caught in the rain, go for a swim, etc.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time by the beaches, rivers or lakes, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in Northern California. The coastal California climate brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. Fog can also roll in unexpectedly up here. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Laundry Bag | Summer and outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from a river or lake to a car. This one here is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot and wet climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage if you’re traveling in the summer and plan to be on the water. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Emergen-C packets or Liquid I.V. Hydration Packets | These are a great way to support your immune system and overall health on a road trip. They are light, take up no space, and are easy to pack.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness or walk around a dark campground is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
Want more California road trip travel tips? Read More:
45 Must-Have Road Trip Essentials For Your Next Road Trip
The Best Things To Do In Lake Tahoe/Reno: Stops From San Francisco To Lake Tahoe
20+ Best Towns Between San Francisco to Los Angeles: California Coast Road Trip
31 Best Things To Do In Santa Cruz, CA For The Perfect Beach Vacation
21 Best Family Vacations In California