Making The Most Of The California Coast: San Diego To Napa Valley Roadtrip

 This classic 'Hot Rod' begs for the open road views of Big Sur.

This classic 'Hot Rod' begs for the open road views of Big Sur.

Summer Vacations are the stuff of legends in American culture.  The epic camping trips, those excursions to the nearest sparkling beach, heck even those meticulously planned extended family reunions across state lines.  None of these, however, are so dearly loved and ingrained in our culture than the almighty road trip.  Maybe it's our nations obsession with automobiles, or perhaps the fact our country is so vast.  Personally I  believe it is because no place on earth has the ample natural wonders that we do, packed between our borders, a new adventure around every riverbed and mountain range.  If you're ever given the opportunity, load up the car and see the California Coast.  The most breathtaking stretch of coastline is arguably around Big Sur, but areas like the Redwood Forrest outside of San Francisco and the stunning coves of Monterey reward even the most fastidious of travelers.

For my most recent trip, starting from San Diego the route is flat and familiar.  Next stop is always Laguna, and it remains one of my favorite stretches of beach on the US.  Stop in at Banzai Bowls for some Acai.  This Hawaiian born smoothie and fruit shop is so tasty.  Forgive the long lines, they make everything fresh by hand.  

One of the most wonderful things about road trips is the flexibility.  No trains to catch, deadlines for flights, the ability to change course with one freeway exit makes for heightened adventure and spontaneity.  The best way to go is with, as the late Bourdain would say, no reservations.  With a purposeful sense of adventure we booked only the night before and after a wedding in Silicon Valley we were attending.  It allowed us to stop when and where we wanted and even got us amazing "same day" rate deals on the useful Hotels Tonight App in the cites we ventured to.  

I've never been a devout fan of Los Angeles.  Alas all the times I've been, yes, I can tell you where to go.. West Hollywood is fun shopping and dining.  Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown is wonderful, and Santa Monica is a beachy wonderland, with epic people watching just a bit south in Venice.  Rent a bike for roller blades for full effect.  But LA is wild, crowded, loud, and frankly thinks a little too highly of itself for my taste in vacationing.  If you're going to stop in LA on your road trip, you'll have to go inland and fight some traffic gridlock to really experience it.  Skip it, or plan to devote 2-3 days to get anything much done. 

 Foodie Fabulous in Stanford college district 

Foodie Fabulous in Stanford college district 

Once the smog and roads begin to clear you've probably reached Malibu.    You'll also see why I can't really be in love with LA hikes like Runyon Canyon when the mountain trails around Pepperdine College put them to shame.  Seriously Malibu is the spot to pull over and stretch your legs.  

Past Malibu it's really a lovely drive, my next favorite stop being Santa Barbara.  If you love a small town vibe with outdoor play space abound you'll adore it too.  In high school and through college I would escape to this town for biking and kayaking.  They have a lovely little zoo and downtown they even have the largest man made Himalayan salt caves.   Side note: I've had some of the BEST yoga classes here. 

On this past road trip one of our overnight stops was Monterey.  This town and Carmel area are famous for scenic beaches, out of this world seafood, one the world's greatest aquariums, plus craft local wines.  It's an adults playground paradise and the summer weather is outstandingly cool and mild.  Farmer's markets in this area are sublime and there is a delicious tea and coffee shop called 'Tea and Leaves' with an outdoor porch over the water.  It's right by the famous Monterey Art Museum with the largest collection of Dali paintings.  

 The Famous Monterey Cannery Row!  So much dining and wine tasting along this beloved stretch. 

The Famous Monterey Cannery Row!  So much dining and wine tasting along this beloved stretch. 

North of this peaceful fishing town is the magnificent San Francisco, which I have devoted a whole blog to-but before you hit this beloved metropolis you'll be treated to Big Sur State Park.  This 21 mile or so stretch of highway before Monterey Bay may be the most famous stretch of pavement ever and for a very good reason, words could never do it justice so I'll leave some pictures below to speak for themselves and encourage you to see the real deal in person.  I liken it to the life changing experience of the Grand Canyon or Angels Landing, Zion.  It may even surpass them both in my opinion. 

 Big Sur...In "America The Beautiful" when they sing 'sea to shining sea' this is what they mean.

Big Sur...In "America The Beautiful" when they sing 'sea to shining sea' this is what they mean.

After all the outdoor pleasures of California, maybe one is looking for a world class gastronomical experience.  Cue Napa Valley where a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach ensures that no man will go hungry or thirsty in its fertile valley.  There are endless tours and books written on how to tackle the region but let me give you a few insights.  As a non-drinker I appreciate the food and experiences of Napa.  As far as wine goes my travel companion will swear by Domaine Carneros.  I would agree it to be the most luxurious and scenic.  I adore the more accesssible V. Sattui Winery.  No reservations needed and they have a massive outdoor space to enjoy wine and Charcuterie.  If you're traveling with kids this is also an excellent choice because they have a huge general style store with candies, desserts and goods.  Make a picnic out of your wine and edible treasures!  Fresh ice cream is also served in the square.  

 MTV Cribs...I mean the chateau at Domaine Carneros Winery.

MTV Cribs...I mean the chateau at Domaine Carneros Winery.

I'm already planning my next adventure and you can bet another road trip is well within my sights.  Pack your camera, bestie, snacks, map and hit the open road.  Take some wrong turns, make some unplanned stops, and remember, adventure is out there!  Happy Travels:)