couple in convertible driving at sunset

Feel the love on these scenic Southern California road trips. (Photo: Getty Images)

Road Trips

These 5 Scenic SoCal Drives are Big on Views and Romance

Seeking an escape with your beloved? Southern California knows how to deliver romance with destinations that speak directly to the heart. Here are five routes sure to ignite road trippers’ passions.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Staring Skyward in Palm Springs

Romance starts en route to Palm Springs from Los Angeles with a visit to Cabazon, territory of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. First stop is Hadley Fruit Orchards for a “world-famous date shake” made with Hadley Deglet Noor dates. Next up, selfies with the local dinosaurs at “the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs Museum.” A roadside attraction since 1975, these Mesozoic-era beasts are more fun than fierce.

Turn onto the 111 (state Rout 111) to find something unexpected in the desert: snow (depending on the time of year). Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (check for closures), the world’s largest rotating tramcar, zips above the desert floor, traveling over two and a half miles up 8,516 feet to Mount San Jacinto State Park. Desert gives way to wilderness and sweeping tableaux that elicit sighs. Get in step with one another on the park’s 50 miles of excellent hiking trails.

Arriving in downtown Palm Springs brings the promise of midcentury modern architecture, transfixing exhibitions at the Palm Springs Art Museum, flora and fauna by way of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and meditative sojourns at the sprawling Sunnylands estate and gardens.

As twilight approaches, set a course for Joshua Tree National Park. Stake out a rock for sharing a toast and staring into the most brilliant of star-filled skies.

Happy Trails Through L.A.

griffith park observatory at night
Griffith Park is a showstopper. (Photo: Getty Images)

Los Angeles may be known for its silver-screen stars, but it’s also been home to cowboys. With this in mind, here’s a road trip for hitting the trails with your favorite sidekick.

There are several freeways out of town — Interstate 5, state Route 134, U.S. Route 101 — that offer easy access to the first stop, the Autry Museum of the American West on 4700 Western Heritage Way.

Located in the 4,310-acre wooded oasis of Griffith Park, the museum was co-founded by Hollywood’s singing cowboy, Gene Autry. Enjoy collections of Native American art, history and cultural displays of the American West, and of course, film memorabilia.

Check out the permanent Investigating Griffith Park exhibit to prep for visiting its namesake on the next stop of the journey, just a mile and a half south in Griffith Park.

Along the way, don’t miss sharing side-by-side steeds on the historic merry-go-round located on Crystal Springs Drive, grabbing lunch at Trails Café, and visiting the beloved Griffith Observatory for unparalleled city views.

How best to greet sundown? On horseback via Sunset Ranch’s two-hour evening tour through the hills of Griffith Park. Arrive at this mountaintop ranch just five miles west of Griffith Park and take a moment to share a kiss with your favorite cowpoke while moseying past the Hollywood sign.

To the Top of the World in Laguna Beach

laguna beach aerial view
Visiting Laguna Beach is always a good idea. (Photo: Getty Images)

Heading west from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach there’s a turnoff along the PCH (East Coast Highway of Newport Coast) that deposits visitors onto a stretch of beach that harks back to dreamy summer vacations of bygone days: Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District.

An enclave of charming cottages dating from 1935 to 1955 speckles the sand. Film buffs will immediately recognize the residence featured in the Bette Midler classic “Beaches.”

Beyond exploring the park’s historic area, there are hiking trails and tide pools to check out. Two great places for lingering over seaside views are the Beachcomber Restaurant (grab a cocktail here) or cliff-top Crystal Cove Shake Shack, known for its milkshakes and ocean panoramas.

Drive south to the charming town of Laguna Beach for sidewalk strolls past shops, boutiques, galleries, museums and theaters. Two seasonal events to time your visit around are the Sawdust Festival (summer/winter) and Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters (summer).

As sunset approaches make your way to Alta Laguna Park, where Canyon Acres Trail leads to the “Top of the World” overlook. Waiting to reward all canoodlers? Vistas spanning from Catalina Island to Mount Baldy.

Pier Views in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a town made for romantic getaways. It is, after all, known as the American Riviera. The best way to take advantage of this road trip’s swoonworthy landscape from Los Angeles and all points south is by heading south on the Pacific Coast Highway. Some stops to consider along the way: Malibu Pier for farm-to-table fare from Malibu Farm; Ojai, off “the 33” (state Route 33) for boutique shopping downtown; and outdoor Bart’s Books for perusal time.

Once in Santa Barbara, make a beeline for the Funk Zone. Check out the street art and unique shops, and do a bit of winery-hopping. Don’t forget State Street, where every restaurant promises full-burst umami, not to mention the Tuesday farmers market (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.).

Feeling the call of the sea? Stearns Wharf offers stunning seascapes along with fishing, shopping and the impressive Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.

As sunset approaches, flip a coin: You can either kick back over cocktails at The Harbor Restaurant or hop aboard a kayak for two on Santa Barbara Adventure Company’s Sunset Kayak Tour. Either option equals sheer bliss.

Some Like It Hot in Coronado

balboa park
Take a stroll through Balboa Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

Interstate 5 south leads straight to sun-swept San Diego, where there are endless activities in which to partake, from museum-hopping in Balboa Park and taking in Padres baseball at Petco Park to stepping back in time at Old Town’s Whaley House or walking hand-in-hand through the cobblestone streets of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Tackling everything on the list is oh, so worthwhile. The ultimate in romance, though, is found via a short drive across the San Diego–Coronado Bridge on Coronado Island — the birthplace of Naval aviation, filming site of the classic Marilyn Monroe movie “Some Like It Hot,” and home to miles of sugar-white sand beaches.

Once on the island, head to Orange Street for window-shopping, ice-cream cones and Holland’s Bicycles to rent a bicycle built for two (check availability).

While tooling around be on the lookout for the island’s street art, such as Alfredo Martinez Ramos’ “El Dia del Mercado” mural, Charlie Faust’s Sand Cast Sculpture and the Solstice Clock from the Schmidt Design Group. Make sure not to miss a thing by uploading an app from Coronado Arts.

Ready to sink your toes in the island’s white sand? Head to Silver Strand State Beach (CA-75S) to steal kisses during a walk on the beach.

When you’re ready to cap off the trip, book a sunset cruise through the Coronado Cays aboard a gondola from The Gondola Company, just one and a half miles south off Coronado Cays Boulevard. This is Southern California love!