As you can tell, this is prime road trip country - particularly
the famous stretch known as Big Sur - but the entire 440 mile
stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles is spectacular, and
obviously topped and tailed by two of the greatest (and VERY
different) cities in America.
Heading south from 'Frisco means you're on the Ocean side of the
road the whole way, and for most the first main stop is the Pebble
Beach Peninsula, home to golf courses galore but also the towns of
Monterey and Carmel. Monterey is famed for its huge aquarium, in
what was once the town's sardine processing factory, and home to
aquatic animals from hammerhead sharks to sea otters. Needless to
say, children will love it, but most adults too. On the other side
of the peninsula, charming Carmel is home to wealthy retirees and
art galleries galore and more than a little reminiscent of an
English seaside town, except with sunshine, and a Spanish mission
dating back to the 18th Century.
Next stops include the hugely photogenic Bixby Bridge and the
region of Big Sur that has leant its name to the wider area from
Carmel down to Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. The mountainous
interior dropping into the sea with the road clinging to the cliffs
makes this one of the most iconic stretches of tarmac anywhere in
the world, and one worth at least a night's stay so you can get out
of the car for a while and explore on foot, be that walking along
dramatic headlands, or around cultural anomalies such as Hearst
Castle, the extraordinary former home of the multi-millionaire
media baron William Randolph Hearst, inspiration for Orson Welles's
movie Citizen Kane.
At this point you're almost equidistance between San Francisco
and Los Angeles, and can stop off in Morro Bay and at pretty Pismo
Beach before reaching Santa Barbara, rebuilt in Spanish colonial
style after a devastating earthquake in 1925 and bordered by the
ocean to the south and the beautiful Los Padres National Forest and
mountains to the north. The south facing slopes make this one of
California's finest wine regions, with much of the produce
available to sample on the fun Urban Wine Trail in the city itself.
Santa Barbara is also home to some of the state's most spectacular
houses, on the so-called America Riviera, as well as the fun
waterfront area of the Funk Zone, brimming with cool bars and
restaurants. From there it's just a quick two hour hop into Los
Angeles via the movie mogul multi-millionaire mansions of Malibu
and the beaches of Santa Monica.