Planning a road trip on the I-5 and looking for places to stop along the way? Here are some of the best attractions along I-5 in California, where you can stop to take a break, grab a bite to eat, or get fresh air!
When driving south to north (or vice versa) on a California road trip, there are several options for which route to take. However, the fastest is on the I-5. Being that I grew up in Los Angeles then moved to San Francisco for over a decade (and then back to Southern California in Orange County), it is a route that I’ve become very familiar with over the years.
Unfortunately, this tends to be the most boring option (and it smells like cows). Yes, there are much more scenic ways of driving through California, however, if you are pressed for time and need to be efficient, driving on the I-5 is your best option. It is also a common driving route when driving from the Los Angeles area to other northbound destinations, such as Yosemite and Sequoia National Park.
I was thrilled to have recently discovered the Oasis on I-5, as it is such a perfect travel stop on the I-5 and such an awesome way to break up the drive! The Oasis has over 30 food options, 100 fuel pumps and dozens of EV charging stations, along with the award-winning Outlets at Tejon.
That got me thinking – what else is there? What are some of the best places to stop on the I-5 between LA and SF (or Sacramento, and beyond)?
Here are some of the best attractions along the I-5 in California for your next road trip!
**Disclaimer: This post is written in collaboration with the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center. As always, all opinions are my own.
Things to know about driving on the I-5
Avoid driving during peak times
Avoid driving during rush hour at all costs (it gets pretty crazy out there)! If you have to travel for the holidays or the weekend, try adjusting your itinerary to avoid peak times if possible (i.e. leaving Thursday instead of Friday).
Start your drive early
The early bird gets the worm – you’ll avoid the most traffic by getting an early start!
Try to avoid driving late at night
While, yes, you’ll probably encounter little traffic, the I-5 is a common trucking route and you’ll encounter lots of trucks if you drive late at night. It can be a bit intimidating (especially when it’s pitch dark), so avoid it if you can.
Check the forecast in the Grapevine
The “Grapevine” technically refers to the 40 mile stretch north of Castaic to the start of the San Joaquin Valley. Some people only consider it to be the steep stretch from the summit of Fort Tejon to the town of Grapevine.
In the winter, this area has a tendency to get shut down due to inclement weather (rain, sometimes snow). While there are alternate routes, they often take longer than just waiting out the weather. Always check the weather forecast before you go, and plan accordingly.
People drive fast
Like really, really fast.
You’ll be driving through mostly agricultural areas for much of the drive, and it will smell as such. Have your car’s air recirculating to try to reduce the smell a bit (maybe have some air freshener too).
Awesome Attractions Along I-5 in California
The best travel stop on I-5 Between LA and SF: Oasis on I-5
As California’s premier travel stop, the Oasis on I-5 is one of the best places to stop on I-5 between LA and San Francisco. Located in between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, the Oasis on I-5 offers travelers everything they need on their I-5 road trip, with fuel, shopping, and food.
Here is what you can do while stopping at the Oasis on I-5:
The Oasis on I-5 is home to the award-winning Outlets at Tejon, home of 40 world-class shops and brands. Shopaholics will find that this is one of the best attractions along the I-5 in California, as they’ll find plenty of awesome deals here, up to 65% off!
We spent a couple hours browsing all the shops here, and found some incredible deals! I picked up some goodies at the Columbia Outlet, and found some irresistible bags at the Kate Spade Outlet. It was so hard not to go too crazy here 😉
Be sure to stop by Guest Services to pick up a passport book here. You can collect stamps with purchases (or show your receipts) and receive some gift cards. You can also win prizes for some amazing California getaways as well!
If you find yourself needing a bite to eat while on your California road trip, the Oasis on I-5 is one of the best places to stop on I-5 between LA and SF. There are more than 30 restaurants and food options here, and you’ll find everything from fast food to casual sit-down restaurants. Whether you’re looking for a full meal or just a quick snack, the Oasis on I-5 has you covered.
Some of the options you’ll find here are McDonalds, Subway, Panda Express, Dennys, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Black Bear Diner, Starbucks, the Habit, and many more.
They also had an In-n-Out Burger, and of course I had to stop in for a quick lunch – it’s my favorite road trip food!
Gas + EV Charging
It is the perfect stop for filling up your gas tank, or recharging your EV car. There are over 100 fuel pumps at the Oasis on I-5, with an array of different gas stations, including Chevron, Mobil, Shell, and more, so you can fill up with your favorite brand.
Driving an EV vehicle? No problem, the Oasis on I-5 is one of the best places to recharge, with dozens of chargers, making it one of the best California road trips stops for EV owners! We recently got a Tesla Model Y, and found that the Oasis on I-5 was the perfect place to recharge while on our road trip.
Did you know that the Oasis on I-5 is home to the second largest Tesla supercharger in the world? This was one thing we were super excited about! The chargers are super fast, charging at up to 250 kilowatts per hour, and we were at full charge in just over 30 minutes, and onto our next stop!
The Oasis on I-5 also has plenty of open grassy areas, perfect for taking a break and getting a breath of fresh air. This is also an ideal place to let kids and pets run around before getting back in the car.
If you find yourself getting tired and want a place to rest for the night, the Oasis on I-5 has several hotels on-site as well, including Best Western, Hampton Inn, and Microtel by Wyndham. You’ll wake up refreshed the next day and ready to continue on your California road trip!
Places to Stop on I-5 South of Los Angeles
San Diego, dubbed “America’s finest city,” can make an excellent starting off point for your California road trip. You’ll find some of California’s best beaches, beautiful urban parks, charming neighborhoods, historical landmarks, as well as near-perfect weather year-round.
Some of the best attractions along I-5 in San Diego include Balboa Park, one of the nation’s best urban parks; Coronado Island, home to pristine beaches and an iconic historic hotel; and La Jolla, which boasts unparalleled coastal views.
This quaint city in San Diego’s North County offers beautiful beaches, a charming downtown “village,” luxury resorts, and more.
Perhaps its most famous attraction is the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, where millions of colorful ranunculus flowers bloom in a rainbow of colors across 50 acres each spring. If your California road trip takes place between the first week of March and Mother’s Day, this is one of the best attractions along I-5 and cannot be missed!
Dubbed the “Spanish Village by the Sea,” San Clemente consistently ranks as one of the best surf towns in California. You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in Southern California, gorgeous Spanish architecture, a vibrant downtown area, and a super laid-back feel.
Some of the best things to do in San Clemente include strolling the historic pier, wandering the boutiques and restaurants downtown, and roaming the grounds of Casa Romantica, the former estate of the founder of the city, with stunning views and beautiful gardens.
San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is a charming town has some of the most fascinating historical attractions in Southern California.
The crown jewel of the city is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, the seventh out of 21 California missions. Walking through the grounds here, you’ll be transported back into history, imagining what life was like back then, while admiring the beautiful gardens and colonial architecture.
Nearby is the Los Rios Historic District, which is considered the oldest neighborhood in California. You’ll find plenty of unique shops, cafes, and restaurants housed in charming historical storefronts.
Centrally located in the heart of Orange County, Irvine offers visitors beautiful green spaces, and an impressive array of global ethnic cuisine. It is also a thriving college town, home to the University of California at Irvine campus.
One of Orange County’s most visited destinations, Anaheim is most famous as being the home of Disneyland (perhaps if you are traveling north to south on the I-5, then this may be your final destination).
In addition to Disneyland (which is a must visit for both kids and adults alike), Anaheim has a thriving community of hip hangouts and hidden gems worth visiting. Its vibrant downtown area has many cool restaurants, cafes, and bars. Do not miss the Anaheim Packing House, a food hall housed in a converted historic citrus packing house.
Places to Stop on I-5 Between LA and SF/Sacramento
One of the most visited cities in the world, Los Angeles is famous for many things – Hollywood, celebrities, its beaches, and well, traffic.
LA is HUGE (and there are tons of things to do there) – over 500 square miles – and there are tons of things to do there, so you probably won’t cover much ground if you visit as a quick California road trip stop. However, if you want to stop off for a break or to escape the (ever constant) traffic, there are a few places nearby the I-5 where you can go.
Downtown is one of LA’s most vibrant areas, with diverse neighborhoods, renowned museums, and trendy restaurants. You can check out some of its most interesting ethnic neighborhoods (such as Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, or Chinatown), admire the historic architecture (such as Union Station and the Bradbury Building), or sample the food (check out Grand Central Market for lots of quick options).
Further north is Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America. It is most famous for its observatory, from where you can find some of the best views of the city. It’s also the start of the iconic Hollywood sign hike (of which you can find some awesome views of as well).
Six Flags Magic Mountain
If you are looking for some thrilling fun on your California road trip, then Six Flags Magic Mountain makes an ideal stop on the I-5.
Located in the city of Valencia and known as the “thrill capital of the world,” Six Flags Magic Mountain features world-class roller coasters. In fact, Six Flags Magic Mountain boasts the largest number of roller coasters of any theme park in America! There are over 100 other rides, games, and attractions here as well.
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area
While located roughly 15 miles off I-5, Vasquez Rocks still makes one of the best I-5 California road trip stops because it is one of the area’s most fascinating natural wonders.
Known for its unique pointy rock formations, a result of sedimentary layering and seismic uplift, Vasquez Rocks has also featured in many movies and TV shows. Some of its notable appearances include Star Trek, Dante’s Peak, The Flintstones, and Blazing Saddles.
The largest state water reservoir in California, Castaic Lake contains over 11,200 acres of parkland and open space habitat. You’ll find ample outdoor recreation opportunities at Castaic Lake, making it one of the best places to stop on I-5 between LA and SF.
There are actually two separate bodies of water at Castaic Lake. The lower lake is for non-power boating and canoeing, as well as swimming from mid-May to mid-September. The upper lake is for sailing, power boating, water and jet skiing, and fishing (you can find bass, trout, and catfish here). Boat rentals and a tackle shop are available.
Located nearby Castaic Lake is Pyramid Lake, another lake built as a result of a state water reservoir. Pyramid Lake gets its name from the pyramid-shaped rock that was carved out while building the neighboring Route 99 (look for it, it looks super cool!). There are some beautiful views here!
Pyramid Lake is a popular spot for outdoor recreation boating, fishing, camping, swimming, jet skiing, and hiking. There are also picnicking spots as well, making this one of the best California road trip stops.
Be sure to stop by the Vista del Lago visitors center, which has interactive exhibits and displays about the lake, the California Aqueduct, as well as how the state gets its water supply.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
The Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is located a bit off the I-5, but if your California road trip is during the spring months, then it is well worth the detour. The Lancaster poppy fields are a magical sight!
This is the most consistently poppy-bearing land in the state, and arguably the best place to see the iconic state flower. Poppies bloom here from February through May, blanketing the valleys and hills in a vibrant shade of orange.
Peak bloom is usually in late March through mid-April, depending on weather conditions, as well as the amount of precipitation received the previous winter. For real-time conditions, check the park’s live webcam.
Oasis on I-5
As mentioned earlier, the Oasis on I-5 makes one of the best places to stop on I-5 between LA and SF. You’ll find everything you need here – fuel, food, shopping, rest areas – making it the perfect place to stop for a break from driving.
There are over 100 fuel pumps and dozens of EV charging stations (including the second largest Tesla supercharger in the world) here, making the Oasis on I-5 an ideal place to refuel and recharge.
If you’re hungry, there are over 30 food options from here, from fast food to casual sit-down restaurants (we stopped for some In-n-Out and Starbucks).
You can also stop for some retail therapy while on your I-5 road trip. The Oasis on I-5 is also home of the award-winning Outlets at Tejon, with over 40 name-brand stores offering amazing deals at up to 65% off!
Tule Elk State Natural Reserve
This park protects a small herd of endangered tule elk. There used to be vast herds of tule elk in the area, however, by the 1800s they had been hunted to the point of near extinction.
In the late 1800s, a local cattleman began efforts to save them, and in 1932, they were given permanent protection on the land that is now the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve. Today, there are approximately 5700 tule elk that graze the hills and grasslands of California.
Last Place James Dean Stopped
This is one of the quirkiest California roadside attractions. It is said that James Dean stopped at Blackwell’s Corner, a gas station located at Highways 33 and 46, just outside of Lost Hills. Sadly, he died not far from here in his famed “Little Bastard” Porsche Spyder at the young age of 24.
You’ll find an homage to the legendary actor here, with a 50’s themed diner and general store, decked out in his likeness. It’s a random stop (and located a few miles off the I-5), but if you’re into pop culture, are a James Dean fan, or love visiting random roadside attractions, then it might be worth a stop.
If you’re craving a steak, then Harris Ranch is one of the best attractions along I-5 in California.
The ranch is the largest cattle producer in California, and is known for its legendary steaks. You can try one in their on-site restaurant (trust me, they’re GOOD), or take with you to take home at their butcher counter.
O’Neill Forebay Wildlife Area
This wildlife preserve is an ideal place to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air. You’ll spot a variety of wildlife here, black-tailed deer, cottontail, and 127 species of birds. There are also picnic areas, as well as facilities for boating, fishing, hiking, and camping.
Just two miles north in the tiny town of Santa Nella is the Hotel Mission De Oro, a historic hotel that was built to resemble an old church mission and have beautiful grounds to walk through. Also nearby is the iconic Pea Soup Andersen, a classic California road trip stop for many.
If heading towards San Francisco, you will turn onto the 580 West (if heading to Sacramento, continue on the I-5). From here, you will soon come to the city of Livermore, located on the eastern boundary of the Bay Area (this means you’re getting close to SF!).
Livermore is known as one of California’s best wine country areas, and is much more relaxed (and much less expensive) than the nearby Napa and Sonoma regions. Now, if you are driving, you probably won’t be doing much wine tasting (if you do, make sure you have a designated driver!), but the local vineyards are beautiful and well worth checking out.
Welcome to San Francisco – if this is your final destination, you are in for a treat! The iconic city by the bay has so much to offer, whether you are looking for natural beauty, vibrant neighborhoods, culture, and more.
The Golden Gate Bridge is hands-down the most famous attraction in the city, and absolutely worth visiting! While you can find amazing views of it from the San Francisco side from the Presidio (check out the Batteries to Bluffs trail and Marshalls Beach), the best views are on the Sausalito side from Battery Spencer and Hawk Hill.
Other iconic experiences you cannot miss are snapping a photo of the picture-perfect Painted Ladies at Alamo Square, riding a cable car (so touristy but so fun!), exploring the famous island prison of Alcatraz, and driving down the crooked Lombard Street.
This is a city built on hills (which you will likely huff and puff walking on), which means that it has some pretty incredible views everywhere you look! Some of the best viewpoints worth checking out are Twin Peaks and Bernal Heights Park.
If you have continued up the I-5 instead of heading on the 580 towards San Francisco, you will come to Sacramento, the capital of California.
Obviously, one of the most famous attractions in Sacramento is the state capitol building. The iconic domed building houses a museum, as well as various exhibits about the history and regions of California. It is a working government building as well, and you can see where the state legislature meets. Be sure to check out the rose garden outside as well!
Old Town Sacramento offers visitors a look into California’s and Sacramento’s past. The buildings here were built at the height of the Gold Rush and encompass the entire area of the 1850s business district. Nearby stands the iconic Tower Bridge, which shines against the skyline in a vibrant shade of gold.
Sacramento has also emerged as a hip, modern city in recent years. You’ll find a number of noteworthy museums, vibrant murals all over town, and plenty of award-winning breweries.
Attractions Along I-5 in California North of San Francisco/Sacramento
If you are continuing north, here are some additional attractions along I-5 in California that are worth checking out:
Located just a few miles off the I-5 on the 99, Chico is California’s largest city north of Sacramento. Chico is a vibrant college town, and home to California State University Chico.
Aside from its university, Chico is most well-known for Bidwell Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. At the park is the former mansion of John and Annie Bidwell, who were notable local pioneers in the 1800s.
If you are looking for some quirky attractions along I-5 in California, Chico is also home to the Yo-Yo Museum. Here, you will find the world’s largest yo-yo, 80 years worth of yo-yo artifacts. It is also where the National Yo-Yo Championship is held every year.
Considered to be the sunniest city in California, Redding has a few iconic sights worth visiting on your I-5 road trip.
The most famous attraction here is the Sundial Bridge, a pedestrian bridge and art installation that spans the Sacramento River. As the name implies, the Sundial Bridge is, in fact, a working sundial, and one of the world’s largest at that.
The bridge connects two spans of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the city’s other main attraction. The park has a botanical garden and arboretum, as well as a museum, and a wildlife and forestry center.
The Mt. Shasta area is comprised of a number of small communities surrounding the majestic volcano (which may or may not be active), offering an ample amount of attractions worth visiting.
Mt. Shasta is located just nine miles from downtown, and depending on the time of year you visit, you can go hiking or skiing.
The I-5 goes through the Shasta Trinity National Forest, which spans 2.2 million acres and offers many outdoor recreation opportunities. You can go hiking, fishing, camping, and even go chasing waterfalls. In the winter, it is a hotspot for skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing. You don’t have to travel far from town to enjoy this lush landscape – the 14 mile Everitt Memorial Highway enters the forest just outside of town.
If you have a bit of time, consider checking out the Lake Shasta Caverns, one of the west’s newest National Monuments. The caverns must be reached by boat (and is more of a half-day adventure), but is one of the coolest natural wonders you’ll ever see!
Have you been on a California road trip? What are some of your favorite attractions along the I-5 in California?
Other California content you may enjoy:
Los Angeles Bucket List
San Francisco Bucket List
Orange County Bucket List
One Day in San Francisco Itinerary
Most Instagrammable Places in LA
San Francisco Photo Spots
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