Central California Back Roads and Scenic Drives – an illustrated guide

back road

Central California Back Roads and Scenic Drives

Central California back roads – There are many choices for taking the backroads and scenic byways in Central California. We’ve traveled most of them and give you the information you need before setting out on your scenic drive.

Click here to drop down the page to the list of drives

Central California back roads are some of the most beautiful to be found anywhere. From the greatest of them all – Highway 1 through Big Sur, to seldom traveled country roads – many of the prettiest sights here can be found on the restful and quiet roads.

Here is a famous backroads quote you may have heard:

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible
to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”

Charles Kuralt

My wife and I have always preferred taking backroads or scenic drives to the more direct route.

Along these scenic byways, we have discovered lesser known historical places, charming small towns and their people, beautiful vistas and the quiet solitude of little-traveled roads.

As a matter of fact, we found the place where we now live on one of our California scenic drives.

Whether on a longer vacation, or simply a day trip, relaxation can more easily be found on backroads at 35 mph than on a 70 mph highway trip.

And that’s what your holiday is really all about, isn’t it?

The beauty of Central California back roads - Shell Creek Road in San Luis Obispo County

Seasons for California Back Roads Drives

There is really not a “bad” season for a California back roads drive –

Spring is lush and green after the winter rains, the hay crops are maturing and there’s the hope of wildflowers around the next curve.

Summer finds the grape vines hard at work putting out fruit and it is likely to see young spotted fawns following their mothers.

Autumn is very busy at first with the grape harvest and then becomes very quiet. Fields are at rest awaiting the next crop and the wildlife are readying themselves for the winter. Area ranchers usually choose this season for calving, so there will be many cute calves learning the ins and outs of grazing.

Winter is our rainy season, but it comes in waves. You are as likely to find sunny days this time of year as rain. By the end of the year, all the leaves have fallen and some newly open impressive vistas await you.

Scenic Drive Road Markers

California designated scenic drives

County scenic drives

National scenic drives

What you might see on Central California back roads…

On a central California backroads trip, there is an abundant amount of wildlife that can be seen.

Besides the many birds of the area, which include wild turkeys, golden and bald eagles, some of the larger creatures you may encounter could be Tule elk, mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, fox, wild pig and pronghorn antelope.

A mule deer lurking in the brush waiting for you to drive by

Now with all those critters out there a slightly different manner of driving is required than you may be used to in the city or suburbs.

I won’t be recommending any unpaved roads (except Parkfield-Coaliinga Road), but I’ll list some things to keep in mind out there on the central California scenic byways.

If you follow my easy tips for backroad country driving, you’ll most likely do just fine.

Out of touch – no cell service?

Forget your smartphone - enjoy the view!

If you are a person who always needs to be in touch via your smart phone, you best know in advance that on many of these California back roads, no cell service of any kind can be found (gasp!).

But perhaps that’s just what you’re looking for – being disconnected electronically and re-connected to nature.

Driving a Class A RV or bus? Know that there are some roads on which the state of California doesn’t think you should go. (Link opens in a new window and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)


This is now where the real discovery of Central California occurs.

Roadside bush lupine

Back roads with good Springtime wildflowers

Parkfield-Coalinga Road

Bitterwater Road - the backside of beyond

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