Ex­plore the golden roads of the Golden State

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN FLINN

You’re in the Driver’s Seat


The Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, above, is em­blem­atic of Cal­i­for­nia’s rugged coast and High­way 1. Com­pleted in 1932, it re­mains one of the tallest sin­glespan con­crete bridges in the world. Other notable structures in Cal­i­for­nia in­clude, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Fran­cisco Bay Bridge, a breath­tak­ing work­horse link­ing SF and Oak­land. Cal­i­for­ni­ans didn’t in­vent the car, but they like to think, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that they in­vented the au­to­mo­bile life­style.

With drive-thru gro­cery stores, driv­ethru phar­ma­cies, drive-thru churches and even drive-thru mor­tu­ar­ies, one gets the feel­ing that if Cal­i­for­ni­ans could only in­vent a drive-thru de­liv­ery room they could hap­pily go from cra­dle to grave with­out ever hav­ing to pull over to the curb.

Cal­i­for­nia is a land of su­per­sized dis­tances, jumbo land­scapes and big-gulp vis­tas, and the best way to see it all is on a road trip, or, bet­ter yet, a se­ries of road trips. Here are a few of our fa­vorites.

Up the Coast

North­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans call it “High­way 1” and South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans call it the “Pa­cific Coast High­way”—or, sim­ply, the “Pch”—but there’s no doubt that the road that hugs the state’s re­mark­able coast­line, of­ten close enough to feel the salt spray, of­fers one of the world’s clas­sic driv­ing trips.

From sun-splashed South­ern Cal­i­for­nia beaches to the misty red­wood forests near the Ore­gon bor­der, the jour­ney, which in­cludes a few stretches on other high­ways, is a touch over 1,000 miles.

The sights are so nu­mer­ous we can barely scratch the sur­face: The Ho­tel Del Coron­ado, where Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe frol­icked in Some Like It Hot; clas­sic surf breaks made fa­mous by the Beach Boys; star-stud­ded Mal­ibu; Riviera-like Santa Barbara; Hearst Cas­tle; Big Sur; Santa Cruz, with its old-timey beach boardwalk; San Fran­cisco; Point Reyes Na­tional Seashore; artsy Men­do­cino; Red­wood Na­tional Park.

A few tips: Al­low far more time than you think you need; be­sides the fre­quent di­ver­sions, the road is so wind­ing in places it’s hard to av­er­age more than 30 miles per hour. If you’re prone to car­sick­ness, this isn’t the trip for you. Keep your gas tank full and your blad­der empty. In some ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly Big Sur, it’s more than 40 miles be­tween gas sta­tions—and re­strooms.

Cow­boys & In­di­ans

East of the Sierra Ne­vada the green, pop­u­lated West Coast ends and the brown, sage­brush­cov­ered West be­gins. This is the Old Fron­tier of our imag­i­na­tion, a realm of real cow­boys and real In­di­ans (and also, as we shall see, of cin­e­matic cow­boys and In­di­ans.)

High­way 395 hugs the state’s east­ern bor­der, and the 264-mile stretch of high desert from Reno to Lone Pine, which passes tum­ble­weeds, swing­ing-door sa­loons and ghost towns be­neath the breath­tak­ingly sheer east­ern wall of the Sierra Ne­vada, is one of Cal­i­for­nia’s most iconic drives.

The north­ern stretch tra­verses ranch­land that was once—and some­times still is—the do­main of Basque sheep­herders, and in the town of Gard­nerville, just over the bor­der in Ne­vada, you have your choice of ex­cel­lent Basque restau­rants. As you drive south, keep an eye out for cow­boys, al­though these days they’re as likely to be rid­ing an all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle as a horse. Far­ther south, as you ap­proach Mono Lake, you’ll prob­a­bly en­counter mem­bers of the Washoe and Paiute tribes.

High­way 395 grazes the shore of enor­mous Mono Lake, which is so al­ka­line Mark Twain once joked he could do his laun­dry merely by drag­ging it be­hind him in a boat. In Bishop, the stu­dio of the late pho­tog­ra­pher Galen Row­ell has be­come a ma­jor at­trac­tion. Stop at Man­za­nar, just off the high­way, for a poignant visit to the site of a re­lo­ca­tion camp for Amer­i­cans of Ja­panese her­itage dur­ing World War II. In Lone Pine, the In­dian Trad­ing Post sports au­to­graphs on the wall from Gary Cooper, John Wayne

and other cin­e­matic cow­boys who filmed Westerns in the nearby Alabama Hills.

A few tips: Spring­time, when the Sierra is still clad in snow, is the pret­ti­est time for the drive, al­though some side trips may be lim­ited. For an overnight stop, the town of Bishop of­fers the largest se­lec­tion of mo­tels and restau­rants.

Day Trips

You don’t have to spend days or weeks on the high­way to see the best of Cal­i­for­nia. Within easy reach of ma­jor cities are ex­quis­ite road trips you can do in less than a day.

San Fran­cisco

Head north, across the Golden Gate Bridge, to sam­ple some of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s most bu­colic scenery. Al­most within sight of San Fran­cisco’s sky­scrapers you’ll come to Muir Woods Na­tional Mon­u­ment, a cathe­dral-like pre­serve of old-growth red­woods at the foot of Mount Ta­mal­pais. Fol­low High­way 1 to Point Reyes Na­tional Seashore, where you might catch tule elk graz­ing on misty hill­sides above the wave­bat­tered coast. West Marin County, with its or­ganic farms, ar­ti­sanal bak­eries and gourmet cheese­mak­ers, is the bread­bas­ket for San Fran­cisco’s foodie cul­ture. Stop for lunch at the Hog Is­land Oys­ter Farm, where you can munch on bi­valve mol­lusks pulled straight from To­ma­les Bay. The long, nar­row bay, in­ci­den­tally, is a sub­merged sec­tion of the no­to­ri­ous San An­dreas Fault. Far­ther north on High­way 1 you’ll come to Bodega Bay, a sleepy fish­ing vil­lage where Al­fred Hitch­cock un­leashed avian ter­ror in The Birds. The Tides restau­rant, where ter­ri­fied towns­peo­ple took shel­ter, is still there, al­though hardly rec­og­niz­able in its cur­rent form. A few miles in­land, in the sep­a­rate town of Bodega, you can find the fa­mil­iar school­house and church from the movie. Con­tinue on to Se­bastopol, renowned for its juicy Graven­stein ap­ples and an out­post of Sonoma County’s wine coun­try. Turn south on High­way 101 and head back to San Fran­cisco, stop­ping for a cel­e­bra­tory cock­tail in Sausal­ito, with the lights of the city twin­kling across the bay.

Los An­ge­les

On a day trip along the An­ge­les Crest Scenic By­way you’re more likely to spot a bighorn sheep than a Kar­dashian. As you wind up and over nar­row ridgetops in the San Gabriel Moun­tains, above the smog, your vis­tas range from the vast, choco­late-brown Mo­jave Desert to Catalina Is­land. Also known as State High­way 2, the 66-mile-long An­ge­les Crest Scenic By­way was built 100 years ago to be “the most scenic and pic­tur-

es­que moun­tain road in the state.” Ac­cess it from the sub­urb of La Canada Flin­tridge at the western end of the San Gabriel Val­ley. The pop­u­lar side-trip hike to the sum­mit of 6,164-foot Straw­berry Peak re­opened in 2014 after be­ing closed since 2009 due to a fire. As you drive east on the nar­row twolane road, keep an eye out for bears, moun­tain lions and bighorn sheep. An­other side trip brings you to the Mount Wilson Ob­ser­va­tory, where as­tronomers found the first ob­ser­va­tional ev­i­dence for the Big Bang the­ory. If you’ve brought along your fish­ing rod, try your luck in Lit­tle Rock Creek near the Mt. Water­man Ski Re­sort. Far­ther east, the road crosses the 2,665mile-long Pa­cific Crest Na­tional Scenic Trail: From here you can hike south to Mex­ico or north to Canada. From the road’s end at High­way 138, head south­east to In­ter­state 15, which will whisk you back to the Los An­ge­les Basin.

San Diego

Cross the Palo­mar Moun­tains to soak up the vast and col­or­ful Anza-bor­rego desert on a day­long drive from San Diego. Make your way north on I-15 and east to Ra­mona, and then con­tinue on to the ridgetop town of Ju­lian. A beau­ti­fully pre­served relic of an 1870s gold rush, Ju­lian these days is renowned for ap­ples. You’ll smell the aroma of bak­ing pies the mo­ment you step out of your car. Stop for a slice, just out of the oven, warm and gooey with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. The air here is so clean, and the views so ex­ten­sive, that the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy built the Palo­mar Ob­ser­va­tory a few miles away. Con­tinue east, down­hill, on High­way 78 to Anza-bor­rego Desert State Park, a 937square-mile pre­serve that en­com­passes the east­ern fifth of San Diego County. If it’s spring, and the win­ter has been wet, you’ll be treated to one of the most vivid and sweep­ing dis­plays of wild­flow­ers in the United States. If the flow­ers aren’t up, there’s still plenty to see. A lo­cal landowner com­mis­sioned artist Ri­cardo Ar­royo Bre­ceda to pro­duce more than 130 gi­ant sculp­tures in the desert, ev­ery­thing from life-size repli­cas of gom­photheres (ele­phant-like crea­tures that once lived there) to pre­his­toric camels and ground sloths to scenes from Cal­i­for­nia his­tory: a Span­ish padre, a gold miner and farm­work­ers. One of the lat­est is the undis­puted high­light: an enor­mous sea ser­pent that un­du­lates so far across the desert that it spans one of the main roads. From here you can re­trace your route or take the long way home via the Sal­ton Sea and Palm Springs.

MUIR WOODS NA­TIONAL Mon­u­ment, be­low; the Golden Gate Bridge, right; Switzer Falls Trail, Los An­ge­les, op­po­site top; San Diego har­bor and sky­line, op­po­site bot­tom.

HEARST CAS­TLE, right top; Santa Cruz Break­wa­ter Light­house, a.k.a. Wal­ton Light­house, cen­ter; the San Fran­cisco Bay Bridge and San Fran­cisco sky­line, bot­tom.

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