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5-Day Southern California Road Trip

Experience California’s coastline and stunning desert terrain on a 5-day Southern California road trip beginning and ending in Los Angeles. In our road trip itinerary, you’ll explore Malibu’s coastline and state park before heading to Palm Springs for hiking, hot springs, and haute cuisine. From there, you’ll visit the Palm Desert and Pioneertown’s cowboy delights before wrapping up your adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. Whether traveling solo, as a couple, or with the kids, a roadsurfer RV is the perfect option for outdoor adventures and exploration in and around Southern California.

Day 1: Los Angeles to Malibu

Sunset over Malibu beach in California

Drive from roadsurfer Los Angeles station to Highway 1 and cruise up the coast to Malibu. See Santa Monica’s famous pier before stopping at Duke’s Malibu for dinner. This Hawaiian-themed restaurant brings the Aloha spirit to California, serving fresh fish and fancy cocktails on a patio overlooking the ocean. (Don’t miss the signature Lava Flow frozen drink that features Bacardi white rum blended with pineapple juice, cream of coconut, and strawberries.)

After dinner, cruise to Malibu Lagoon State Beach to see where Malibu Creek meets the Pacific Ocean as the sun sets. Find elevated surf views and fishing to the east on the famous Malibu Pier.

Campground: Head to Malibu Creek State Park to set up camp for the night. This campground is tucked in the hills and feels nothing like Malibu’s coastline. Expect cool evening temperatures and campsites with fire pits, real bathrooms, and nearby hiking trails.

Day 2 & 3: Malibu to Palm Springs

Chips and oysters at the restaurant Broad Street Oysters Co in California

 From Malibu Creek State Park, head back to town for an early lunch at Broad Street Oyster Co before departing for Palm Springs. This incredible food destination is almost hidden behind a shopping center and serves fantastic oysters on ice and lobster rolls. Don’t miss the warm lobster roll paired with french fries.

After lunch, depart for the deserts and mountains of Palm Springs. Take an afternoon ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway when you arrive. It’s the world’s largest rotating tram car, and the 10-minute, 2.5-mile journey showcases Chino Canyon’s cliffs and Palm Springs before reaching the wilderness at Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the top, you can hike, visit the observation deck, or grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the views.

Back in town, wander along the palm-lined streets, or take a self-guided tour of Palm Springs’s mid-century architecture. Don’t miss the giant Marilyn Monroe statue in town! If you’d rather get more active, head to Indian Canyons to hike a one-mile trail through Palm Canyon to see the world’s largest oasis of fan palms.

After you’ve strolled the city streets or canyons, grab dinner on the patio at Birba. This local favorite is popular with celebrities and bachelorette parties but is also a winning choice for a night on the town. The savory Eggplant Caponata is a must-order appetizer, and the housemade pizzas and plates of pasta are also delicious.

If you’re up late, pop over to Bouschet Wine Bar for a nightcap at an aviation-themed speakeasy, PS Air Bar. Inside, flight attendant servers greet you, pilots mix your drinks, and aviation-themed music videos play while you enjoy lounging in spacious first-class seats.

Campground: Just beyond town, park your camper  for the night at Sam’s Family Spa & RV Resort. The property features hot spring hot tubs, a spa-like swimming pool, a sauna, and a mini zoo full of birds. The flat RV pads are perfect for parking a camper , and relaxing in the hot springs is a great way to end an evening.

Day 4: Palm Springs to Pioneertown

Visit Pioneertown and walk around Mane Street

Take a break from van life and tour the Palm Desert on an open-air Red Jeep tour of the San Andreas Fault. During this desert adventure, guides drive guests along the canyons of the San Andreas Fault Zone while teaching about ecology, geology, and area history. Wander through slot canyons, climb dunes, and explore an oasis in the desert. The tour ends with exploring a recreated Cahuilla Indian village and learning how these ancient people lived.

Cool off after your tour with a visit to Shields Date Garden, a 17-acre date farm with a restaurant, cafe, and a shop selling a wide variety of dates. Shields opened in 1924, and today you can still step up to the soda fountain and order one of Shields world-famous date shakes.

Once you’re sugared up, drive an hour to Pioneertown. Initially, this Old West town was built as a 1940s movie set but with real interiors and businesses that people could visit. Today it’s experiencing a renaissance with new businesses and artists moving in. Walk pedestrian-only Mane Street to check out the shops and stop for dinner and a concert at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Small bands frequently take the stage, but living legends like Robert Plant or Paul McCartney occasionally perform here. Bonus: All the barbecued cuisine is delicious.

Campground: Drive 20 minutes from Pioneertown to Black Rock Campground on the park’s northwest corner. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring with restrooms nearby. The campground is full of Joshua trees and is the starting point for great hikes.

Day 5: Joshua Tree National Park

RV parked in Joshua Tree National Park

Spend your last day exploring the wonders of Joshua Tree National Park. Start with a coffee and quick breakfast in town at Joshua Tree Coffee Company, then head into the park to do some hiking.

Start with the Barker Dam Trail; it’s a simple 1-mile overview of the park and showcases rocky landscapes, the namesake Joshua trees, and the historic Barker Dam. Then, scramble over giant boulders and end your visit by seeing a rock art panel.

Next, drive to Skull Rock, a rock eroded to look like a giant skull. It’s just across the street from Joshua Tree’s Discovery Trail. The trail was designed by and for kids, but it’s an informative option for adults. Over less than a mile, visitors can learn from interpretive signs while seeing washes, canyons, and Face Rock.

Many other hiking trails and rock climbing options within the park could occupy a good portion of the day.

Campground: Stay at one of many campgrounds in the park, or park at a Sam’s Family Spa & RV Resort another night. Wake up early in the morning to drive three hours back to Los Angeles to return your van at Roadsurfer.

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