There's no debating that California has the best road trip in America.
Sure, you can talk about the nostalgia of Route 66, but there's no way it can compare with the sheer beauty, and funky beach towns, of the Pacific Coast Highway. The SR1 stretches 656 miles from well north of San Francisco down to Dana Point, a trendy L.A. suburb. It's the ultimate road trip in a state made for them.
California's sheer size, national parks, popular major cities and glorious landscapes ... mountains, coastlines, deserts, forests ... make the Golden State the epicenter of the great American road trip. Golfers can point their Telsa (this is California, remember?) in many different directions to find a course of their dreams. Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, PGA West ... who's California dreaming?
Here's a look at 10 of the best golf trip options:
The Coachella Valley courses two hours east of L.A. get jammed in the winter with snowbirds flocking in from Canada, Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. The summer heat brings bargains that are well worth it if teeing off early enough. Conditioning can be hit or miss in spring and fall due to transitioning in or out of overseeding, depending on the property. That said, there are so many choices, that if one course is booked or another isn't in ideal shape, there are always three more backup options ready to please.
The La Quinta Resort & Club, a Waldorf-Astoria Hotels, has two fine Pete Dye designs, Mountain and Dunes, and access to three more at PGA West, including the feared Stadium Course. The Indian Wells Golf Resort boasts four different hotels, two courses and a Shots in the Night experience to entertain after dark. The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa counters with two fine resort tracks in Palm Desert. The 36-hole Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa and the 27-hole Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa are the places to stay and play in Rancho Mirage. Both the SilverRock Resort in La Quinta and 36-hole Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert have the word "resort" in their names, but they're excellent standalone facilities with no accommodations.
There's no off-season in the Monterey Peninsula. With a mild, year-round climate, every day is a good day to visit. The top splurge is obviously a stay at Pebble Beach Resorts, fresh off the 2019 U.S. Open and its 100th anniversary. For those who can't spend like that, there's other strong choices. Bayonet & Black Horse would be a perfect 36-hole day. Pacific Grove Golf Links, the "Poor Man's Pebble Beach", starts out quirky but finishes strong with an oceanside back nine. In the sunnier, warmer Carmel Valley, the Quail Lodge & Golf Club and Carmel Valley Ranch Resort offer nice luxury and fun, shorter courses less than 6,500 yards.
Greater Los Angeles/Orange County
L.A. isn't all concrete jungle. There's actually a golf resort in all this madness, the 36-hole Pacific Palms Resort in the City of Industry. The Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes is even more luxurious, located on the ocean, with one of the country's best short courses, the Links at Terranea. L.A. also sports one of the largest collections of county and city municipal courses, anchored by Rancho Park, a long-time, historic host of the L.A. Open.
The swanky south side of L.A. is a hub of trendy resorts in posh beach towns. The The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast features 36-holes of Tom Fazio golf right on the ocean. It's tough to beat, albiet pricey. The Monarch Beach Resort and Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel are nearly side by side in Dana Point, although the course, Monarch Beach Golf Links, sits right on site at its namesake hotel. Flying under the radar with only nine holes in Laguna Beach, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is hidden in a canyon right across the street from the beach. It's a cool setting and hangout. Then there's top public clubs like Tustin Ranch Golf Club, Oak Creek Golf Club and Strawberry Farms Golf Club, which offer private club vibes and conditioning most of the time.
and Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel are nearly side by side in Dana Point, although the course, Monarch Beach Golf Links, sits right on site at its namesake hotel. Flying under the radar with only nine holes, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is hidden in a canyon right across the street from the beach. It's a cool setting and hangout. Then you've got the top public clubs like Tustin Ranch Golf Club, Oak Creek Golf Club and Strawberry Farms Golf Club, which offer private club vibes and conditioning most of the time.
Lake Tahoe is the only "seasonal" destination on this list. I know people who have visited the first week of June and been snowed out of their rounds. It didn't stick, but at altitude, freak weather can sweep in. There's really two hubs of golf around the massive lake. In South Lake Tahoe is the chic Lodge at Edgewood in Stateline, Nev., with a scenic golf course, Edgewood Tahoe, that straddles the state line. The value-oriented Lake Tahoe Golf Course, a muni on the California side, can be wet and in rough shape coming out of winter, but there's enough cool holes along the Truckee River to enjoy it regardless.
The small mountain towns of Truckee (in California) and Incline Village (in Nevada) anchor the northern shores of the lake. Incline Village sports the nice Championship course and a fun 18-hole shorter Mountain course with mostly par 3s. It's a blast. Truckee is loaded with several great private tracks and mega-scenic semi-privates like Old Greenwood, The Golf Club at Grays' Crossing and Coyote Moon. Playing all three would be an epic weekend bender. You can choose to stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe or the Northstar California Resort in the heart of ski country.
The face of San Diego golf is the 36-hole Torrey Pines, host of the PGA Tour and home to two great hotels, and the lux-to-the-max Fairmont Grand Del Mar. There's still so much more. Heading up the coast to Carlsbad reveals the heart of SoCal's golf industry: The 36-hole Omni La Costa Resort and Spa and the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa. Being so close to the headquarters of two prominent equipment companies, TaylorMade and Callaway, does have its advantages. The TaylorMade Kingdom offers a one-of-a-kid club-fitting experience to dial in your game. The soul of San Diego golf is found at the municipal Coronado Golf Course. You can spend a couple of days at the iconic Hotel Del Coronado next door.
The bones of the local golf scene, however, are spread further inland. Golfers can play inspired standalone courses like Steele Canyon and Maderas or stay and play at more wallet-friendly properties such as the Carlton Oaks Lodge, Ascend Hotel Collection, the 54-hole Singing Hills Golf Resort at Sycuan and the San Vicente Golf Resort. The beat goes on at the Pala Mesa Resort, the Rancho Bernardo Inn and the Barona Resort & Casino. Hidden 90 miles into the desert lies Rams Hill, a Fazio design in Borrego Springs that Golf Advisor users rate highly every year.
Ty Warner's beautiful twosome - the coastal Sandpiper Golf Club and the inland Rancho San Marcos Golf Club - is a great 1-2 punch. There are tons of high-end hotels in Santa Barbara, but the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara might be best for golfers, being adjacent to Sandpiper. You can tack on a stay and play at the laid-back Ojai Valley Inn a half-hour south or the cowboy-themed Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang 45 minutes north for a great week. Between Santa Barbara's sublime beaches, boutique shopping and restaurant scene, you'll never want to leave.
Napa/Sonoma Wine Country
Come for the wine. Take a sip of golf now and then, too. The North - host of the PGA Tour's Safeway Open - and South courses at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa are the mainstays. The private Sonoma Golf Club is only accessible with a stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. The Chardonnay Golf Club and the Eagle Vines Golf Club wind through the hillside vineyards that attract the tourists. For those who have a taste for the good life, the French Laundry by chef Thomas Keller serves Instagram-worthy dishes. Phil Mickelson eats his pre-game meal for the Safeway there every year. For a more casual round, you're also in the neighborhood of historic and charming 9-holer Northwood Golf Club amidst beautiful redwoods along the Russian River.
San Francisco/Silicon Valley
NoCal's two largest cities are separated by roughly 50 miles. Each has its signature resort - the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco and the Rosewood CordeValle in San Martin just south of San Jose. Golfers must stay at CordeValle to play its course, which has hosted the PGA Tour and a U.S. Women's Open. Half Moon Bay's two oceanfront courses offer public play.
San Fran's public golf scene is muni heavy, from Dr. Alister MacKenzie's Sharp Park to the TPC Harding Park, host of the 2020 PGA Championship and the President's Cup. Presidio lies in the heart of the city on hilly national park land near the Golden Gate Bridge. Palo Alto's redesigned muni, Baylands Golf Links, resides halfway between the two cities. San Jose's best public option is the 27-hole Cinnabar Hills, home to a treasure trove of golf memorabilia in the clubhouse. If you want to escape the city life, Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz serves as MacKenzie's ultimate public masterpiece.
Sandwiched between L.A./Orange County and San Diego, the Temecula Valley can get lost in the shuffle. Based on the amount of wineries and courses in this hamlet, it's not worth simply driving by. The Temecula Creek Inn and the Pechanga Casino Resort have teamed up for a unique partnership to deliver whatever golfers need - 45 holes of classic and modern courses, multiple restaurants, spas, entertainment after dark and more. The Journey at Pechanga climbs high above the valley for some epic views.
Just across the state line, Nevada's Las Vegas serves up the ultimate SoCal weekend - a four-hour dash to drinks, dining, nightclubs, casinos and golf. Golfers can spend their money where they please. If golf is the vice of choice, the Wynn Golf Club and the Shadow Creek Golf Course set the standard with $550-$700 rounds delivering all of the bells and whistles ... caddies, lush conditions, waterfalls and more. The next level of courses are equally compelling compared to most other markets. They include Bali Hai Golf Club, TPC Las Vegas in Summerlin, Rio Secco Golf Club and Reflection Bay in Henderson, the 54-hole Las Vegas Pauite Golf Resort, Bear's Best Las Vegas and Royal Links Golf Club. Finding bargains is harder but doable. The Boulder City Golf Course was voted "Best Bargain Course in Southern Nevada" three years in a row by Vegas Golfer Magazine.
Which of these destinations will inspire you to go on the road for some golf? Let us know in the comments below.