Initially, I thought about making a video on the best roadside rest areas in California, but I just didn’t feel totally comfortable doing a bunch of filming at rest areas, so I decided to write this article instead.
When you take frequent road trips, especially with family, you start to know the rest areas. Someone always has to use the restroom or needs to stretch after a long drive. So, inevitably you find yourself at a roadside rest stop as they are normally a pretty convenient option.
Rest areas in California pre-date automobiles, as the first ones were built in 1868 after the State Legislature authorized a reimbursement program for private planting of roadside shade and fruit trees to benefit travelers. By 1932 there were 44 official rest areas in the state, but that soon exploded as 131 new ones were authorized in that decade.
At one point in the 1970s, there were a total of 162 rest areas in the state, but funding cuts slowly brought that number down over the last five decades.
Today, there are 88 rest areas in California. In this article, I’m going to list my picks for the top seven of them. This list is based on several factors, including design, the surrounding environment, and the amenities at the rest area.
So, here is the list.
O’Brien Rest Area – Interstate 5 Northbound – 5 miles north of Redding
My grandparents lived in Oregon, and once my wife and I were traveling there to visit them. We left Southern California after work, and by the time we got to the O’Brien Rest Area it was late night and we decided to pull in and get a few hours of sleep before continuing on our drive. When the sun came up, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Our car was overlooking the beautiful Lake Shasta. By far, this is the most scenic rest area in California.
As far as amenities go, the O’Brien Rest Area has pretty standard fare for what you will find at most rest stops in the state. There are restrooms, plenty of picnic tables, vending machines, and a pet area. There are seven semi-truck parking spaces. The one thing this rest area is missing is an RV dump station.
Crestview Rest Area – US-395 – 6.4 miles north of Junction 203
Near Mammoth Lakes, Crestview is a rest area nestled in the forest. If forest scenery is your thing, this is a great place to get off the road for a bit. This rest area was one of only two in California that were featured in Ryann Ford’s photobook on rest stops, The Last Stop [affiliate link; As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.]. In addition, the Crestview Rest Area has a historical marker for the Lost Cement Mine, a legendary gold vein that allegedly located somewhere in the eastern Sierra Nevada region. Mark Twain even searched for it.
Crestview has eight spaces for semi-trucks and has restrooms, picnic tables, and a pet area. On our last visit, there were no vending machines, and there is no RV dump station.
Secret Valley Rest Area – US-395 – 12 miles south of Ravendale
Secret Valley, located in the northeastern part of the state, is maybe the least visited rest area in California. It is a small rest stop, with only four regular spaces, two handicap spots, and no semi-truck spots (though there is room for a semi to pull off on the opposite side of the highway), but chances are you will have the place to yourself. There is also a decent view to be had as well.
Buckman Springs – Interstate 8 – 3.3 miles east of Pine Valley
The Buckman Springs rest area just recently reopened after a year-long closure. It is a pretty nice rest area with lots of parking and has always been reasonably clean (as far as rest areas go) every time we’ve stopped there. The scenery from here is great too, but then again, we are partial to East San Diego County’s mountains. It is also near the Buckman Springs ruins, and there is a historical marker at the rest stop.
All the normal amenities are there aside from vending machines, but it does have an RV dump station.
Boron – SR-58 Eastbound – 3.9 miles West of Boron
The Boron rest area is always super clean, and I think every time we’ve stopped, we’ve actually seen someone there cleaning it. Boron is also well designed, has plenty of parking, and seems fairly quiet. There are also a lot of Joshua Trees around, so it’s a nice place to walk around and stretch your legs.
There is no RV dump station at Boron, but it does have vending machines and 18 semi-truck parking spaces.
Aliso Creek – Interstate 5 Northbound – 5.8 miles North of Oceanside
Located on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, just a few miles north of Oceanside, this is a pretty spacious rest area with an RV dump station and a ton of vending machines. The rest area is well maintained, there are informational signs on El Camino Real, and they even have one of the El Camino Real Bells. There is also a rest area on the southbound portion of Interstate 5, but I am listing the northbound side a little higher based on it being on a hill, giving it a more interesting view.
The one drawback to this rest area is that if you get there at night, you may not find any parking as it seems like quite a few people who live in their cars are using it to get a night’s sleep due to its proximity to San Diego.
Crystal Springs – Interstate 280 Northbound – Burlingame
This is one of the coolest rest areas I’ve ever seen. First, it is clean and well maintained. There is 24-hour video surveillance and CHP frequently stops there as well, so you definitely feel safe. But what makes this place is unique is the statue and the view.
If you take an unmarked path between the two buildings, you will come upon a large, weird-looking statue of Father Junipero Serra and an incredible viewpoint. You may even find deer around, as we did.
This rest area does not have an RV dump station but does have vending machines. There are four semi-truck parking spaces.