Since it’s such a huge state, you better believe that California has some of the best road trips in the world. Highway 1 along the coast is a perennial favorite, and the Rim of the World is an easy escape from LA. But if you love rugged nature, it’s hard to beat Highway 395. Leading from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, you end up in the rocky peaks of the Sierras with some dramatic desert vistas in between.
With Daytrip, you can experience this amazing drive, without well, actually having to drive. You can relax and devote your full attention to the landscape as it passes by. Plus, you never have to worry about parking, and you don’t have to abstain from those delicious California wines while you travel!
Your Highway 395 Itinerary:
- Los Angeles to Lone Pine (Stop in: Oak of the Golden Dream, Vasquez Rocks, Blackbird Airpark)
- Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes (Stop in: Manzanar, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Convict Lake)
- Mammoth Lakes to South Lake Tahoe (Stop in: Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, Bodie State Historic Park)
Los Angeles to Lone Pine
Ah, La-La Land. As the second biggest city in the US, you can be sure that there’s no shortage of things to do in LA. If it’s your first time visiting, obviously have to see the famous Hollywood sign. It’s there. It’s free. It’s an international icon. From there, follow in the footsteps of the stars at the Walk of Fame, or better yet, get a tour of Warner Bros. Studio. Or join one of the other studio tours in LA.
And speaking of Hollywood history, go way, way back (we’re talking 65 million years) at the La Brea Tar Pits. They’re a filming location staple, and absolutely free to visit. Chances are you’ll even see archaeologists at work extracting fossils from this geological oddity. For more ancient history, visit the Natural History Museum. It’s one of the best in the US (if not the world), and a must for Jurassic Park fans.
Not enough? There’s loads more to do in LA. Art museums like The Broad (which is free), beaches, nightlife, food, celebrity hunting. The City of Angels is your oyster.
But when you’re ready to get back to nature, hit Highway 395 from Los Angeles to Lone Pine.
Oak of the Golden Dream
Pay a 30-minute visit to one of the most important sites in California history. A tired mineralogist found the first flecks of gold in California here after dreaming of floating down a river of gold while napping under the tree. Once word of his discovery got out, the famous California Gold Rush took off.
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Happy Star Trek Day with a throwback to Vasquez Rocks! Since that day when Captain Kirk battled the lizardlike Gorn, the rock formations north of LA have been steeped in Star Trek History being used again many times in the original series and following productions. 🎬 Where are the Trekkies here? 🖖🏻 #startrek #stratrekday #trekker #trekkie #vasquezrocks #captainkirk #gorn #williamshatner @williamshatner @startrek
Take two hours to explore this dramatic landscape has been a film darling since the 1930s. Though they’ve appeared in every genre imaginable, Vasquez Rocks are perhaps best known as a Sci-Fi staple. If you’ve got a bit of Trekkie in you, you’ll recognize “Kirk’s Rock” right away (remember that Lizardman fist fight?)
If you’re taking the 395 on the weekend, make sure you stop for 45 minutes ate Blackbird Airpark. For the very reasonable price of ABSOLUTELY FREE, you get to see the (in our humble opinion) coolest plane ever made. Alongside this speed demon are the once-Ultra-Top-Secret D-21 drone (basically an unmanned Blackbird), and the world’s only remaining U-2 “D” model. The Blackbird Airpark is open Friday – Sunday 11:00AM to 4:00PM. And if you want more, extend your stop time and pay a visit to the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark next door.
Arrival in Lone Pine
The 395 narrows and slows to become Lone Pine’s main street. Situated between the Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks, this former mining town is a perfect teaser for the great landscapes to come.
After you roll into town, make for the Museum of Western Film History to delve into the genre’s evolution. Lone Pine is the authority on the subject – hundreds of films and TV show have been shot in the surrounding area, and you’ll find everything from old cameras to props and memorabilia inside. Once you’re done, hiking among the boulders, arches, and jagged peaks of the Alabama Hills, where movies including The Lone Ranger, Gladiator, and Django Unchained were filmed.
Duration: 6hr 20min
Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes
After you’ve had your fill of the dramatic desert scenery, continue north on Highway 395 from Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes.
Set aside 90 minutes to learn about an often-glazed over part of American history: the Japanese concentration camps. That’s right, during World War II, the US government sent hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans to camps like Manzanar. The guard towers, barbed wire, and one of the residential blocks drive home the harsh conditions they were subjected to.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Get some perspective by hiking among the oldest living things on the planet for 90 minutes. Some of the trees here are over 4,000-years-old, with the most ancient fast approaching its 5,000th birthday. That’s older than the Pyramids at Giza! Add in spectacular views across across the rugged landscape, and you’ve got one of the best things to do on Highway 395!
Named after a 19th century shootout, anglers and photographers love this picturesque alpine lake. Stop for 90 minutes and walk the waterside trail. Even if you’re not an angler or photographer, Convict Lake’s arresting views will catch your attention.
Arrival in Mammoth Lakes
Cradled by some of the highest peaks in the West, Mammoth Lakes is a laid-back paradise for outdoor lovers. You’ll notice “lakes” is plural – there’s over a dozen of them in Mammoth Lakes Basin! Once you drop off your bags, lace up your hiking boots and set off on the 50 miles of hiking trails around Mammoth. One of the most popular is the Red Meadow hike, which even has a bus that will bring you from the village to the trailhead. And then there’s still the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Vista, historic mine sites and museums. Once winter rolls around, you can hit the slopes of Mammoth mountain!
When you’re ready to unwind, sit down at one of Mammoth’s great eateries. Grab a picnic table at Mammoth Brewing Company, to try their artisan beers and unique fusion food. Or for something a bit more sophisticated, sip on the house spirits at Shelter Distilling. For something to eat on the go, head to Schat’s Bakery and grab whatever your heart desires, from donuts to grilled sandwiches.
Mammoth Lakes to South Lake Tahoe
When you’re ready for a change of scenery, set out from Mammoth Lakes to South Lake Tahoe.
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve
Take a 90 minute break to appreciate the strange landscape around one of North America’s oldest lakes. Over the past 760,000 years or so, salt and minerals have accumulated in the waters of Mono Lake. The result: strange tuffa spires and water around 2.5 times saltier than the ocean!
Bodie State Historic Park
Though it’s not technically on Highway 395, Bodie State Historic Park is well worth the detour. Take 2 hours to walk the streets of this once thriving gold rush settlement. Bodie is about the most authentic glimpse of 19th century life you can get in California – there are no commercial facilities or reenactments. Instead, you peek through the windows of the church, schoolhouse, barbershop and saloon, all of which are fully furnished.
Arrival in South Lake Tahoe
Highway 395 ends at the Canadian border, so why are we ending the tour in South Lake Tahoe? Well, it’s one of the prettiest places in the Sierras. And don’t just take our word for it, according to Mark Twain, South Lake Tahoe is the “fairest picture the whole world affords.”
So what are the best things to do in South Lake Tahoe? Take advantage of the stunning surroundings of course! You can hit the water, or hike the countless trails that snake through the forests around the lake and into the surrounding mountains. When you’re done, unwind at one of the resort town’s many bars, cafes, and restaurants. If you have any interest in architecture and design, make the trip to nearby Vikingsholm to see some of the finest Scandinavian architecture in North American, and one of the most unique examples of the American Craftsman movement.
Speaking of mountains, South Lake Tahoe is also a divine winter destination. Heavenly resort is right there, so you can ski or ride while getting amazing views of the lake!
Ready for your Highway 395 road trip?
Here’s each leg of your ride into the Sierras!