Retinoic acids and other vitamin A analogs contain a trimethylcyclohexenyl ring in conjugation with a polyene chain joined at carbon-6 (C6) and carbon-7 (C7). A MP2-SCS/cc-pVDZ//B3LYP/6-31G(d) 2-D potential energy surface was computed for all-trans retinoic acid, which had 6 minima (3 enantiomeric pairs). The global minima were distorted s-gauche enantiomers (τ6-7=±53°) with half-chair conformations of the ring. Distorted s-gauche enantiomers (τ6-7=±55°) with inverted half-chair ring conformations were 1.7kJ/mol above the global minima. The s-trans enantiomers (τ6-7=±164°) were 11.3kJ/mol above the global minima. Steric energies were computed by the method of Guo and Karplus to identify key structural elements in retinoic acids which determines their conformation. Small molecule crystal structures in the CCDC database with trimethylcyclohexenyl ring and exocyclic double bonds have ring-chain geometries near to one of the six energy minima of retinoic acids, except for retinaldehyde iminium cations. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.