Must-do road trip: California's 101

No road gives you more Golden State fun: 790 miles of surf, spas, wine sipping, and surprises

Olvera Street

Photo by Andrea Gómez Romero

Los Angeles: Authentic roots

Souvenir stands give it a strictly-for-tourists rep, but Olvera Street anchors El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, where L.A. truly started. There’s good Angeleno history at Avila Adobe; even better margaritas and Mexican food at La Golondrina ($$; 213/628-4349). elpueblo.lacity.org

L.A. County Museum of Art

Photo by Dave Lauridsen

Los Angeles: Art stop

Miracle Mile’s the classic nickname for the mid-Wilshire stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. These days it should be called Masterpiece Way—two major expansions in three years have pushed the L.A. County Museum of Art (pictured) to the top of culture lovers’ must-see lists. $15; lacma.org

Universal Studios CityWalk

Photo by David Zaitz

Los Angeles: Showtime

At Universal Studios Hollywood (universalstudioshollywood.com for prices), the Studio Tour still wows—“Look! It’s Wisteria Lane!”—and King Kong is damn big. Plus, neighboring Universal CityWalk (pictured; citywalkhollywood.com) is one of our favorite dining and shopping spots in Los Angeles.

 

Sunny Carpinteria

Photo by Chris Leschinsky

Carpinteria: Call it Carp

That’s the locals’ moniker for one of California’s prettiest little beach towns. Stroll down Linden Avenue for surf shops and a great steak joint (the Palms, $$; 805/684-3811), then wade at Carpinteria State Beach. carpinteriachamber.org

 

Great eats in Santa Barbara

Photo by Andrea Gómez Romero

Santa Barbara: Dine with the rich and famous

Beaches, the queen of missions, and (in neighboring Montecito) Oprah Winfrey. Santa Barbara has so much star power, it’s almost unfair that it has good restaurants too. But it does—so many, you may decide to detour off 101 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Top choices include downtown’s Hungry Cat ($$; 805/884-4701) for seafood; Milpas Street’s famed La Super-Rica Taquería ($; 805/963-4940); Ca’ Dario ($$$; 805/884-9419) for Italian; and, in Oprah’s Montecito, cakes and coffee at Jeannine’s Bakery (pictured; $; 805/687-8701).

Avila Beach

Photo by Chris Leschinsky

Avila Beach: Coast newbie

Meet the beach town you haven’t heard of—Avila Beach, tucked along San Luis Obispo Bay. What’s here? A cool old pier (avilabeachpier.com) with two good restaurants: Pete’s Pierside Cafe ($) and Olde Port Inn ($$$). And hot tubs at nearby Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort (from $13/hour; sycamoresprings.com).

San Luis Obispo

Photo by Chris Leschinsky

San Luis Obispo: Smile

A recent book named this university town one of the happiest places on Earth. One source of local joy is SLO’s Thursday Night Downtown Farmers’ Market, maybe the best in the nation. downtownslo.com

Templeton

Photo by Chris Leschinsky

Templeton: Country comfort

It’s meritage in action: Tiny Templeton blends ranch town simplicity with wine country sophistication. Drive grape-lined Vineyard Drive, grab a sandwich at Farmstand 46 (805/239-3661), taste a local Syrah at 15 Degrees C Wine Shop & Bar (15degreescwines.com), or linger for a truly memorable meal at McPhee’s Grill (pictured; $$$; 805/434-3204). 

Paso Robles's Justin Winery Vineyard

Photo by Joao Canziani

Paso Robles: New Napa

Cow town turned wine capital, Paso is now the center of a sprawling AVA boasting more than 200 wineries (download a map from pasowine.com). If you’re looking to spend the night, we like elegant Hotel Cheval (from $315; hotelcheval.com) and Old Californian but newly renovated Paso Robles Inn (from $160; pasoroblesinn.com). 

 

Soledad's mission

Soledad: Hidden gem

Just off 101, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (831/678-2586) is simple and sweet, with a pretty grove of Mission olives.

Salinas Valley

Salinas Valley: Vintage detour

On the west side of the Salinas Valley, winding River Road leads to about 20 wineries (get a map from riverroadwinetrail.com).

Chasaengwon Tea House in Santa Clara

Photo by Jen Siska

Santa Clara: Seoul patrol

One of the nation’s biggest Korean communities congregates here in Silicon Valley: Center of food and shopping action is El Camino Real between Lawrence and San Tomas Expressways. Good bets include the charming Chasaengwon Tea House (pictured; 408/246-0700).

 

Stanford University in Palo Alto

Photo by Rob Brodman

Palo Alto: Smartville

You don’t have to bleed Cardinal red to enjoy Stanford University: Rodin-watch at Cantor Arts Center (museum.stanford.edu), then nab a sandwich or a salad at adjacent Cool Café ($$; 650/725-4758).

San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood

Photo by Thomas J. Story

San Francisco: Live rich

Stately mansions, killer views: No wonder San Francisco’s A-list congregates in tony Pacific Heights (pictured). The news is that the rest of us can enjoy it too. Spend a night at politely posh Hotel Drisco (from $189; hoteldrisco.com), dine with the ladies who lunch at Spruce ($$$; 415/931-5100), then walk off your meal window shopping for art and antiques on Sacramento Street.

Sausalito shopping

Photo by Rachel Weill

Sausalito: More than skin deep

Pretty but familiar can be the dig against the village on San Francisco Bay. But the hotel and spa at Cavallo Point Lodge (from $360; cavallopoint.com) are knockouts, and you’ll find intriguing shopping around Caledonia Street.

Dry Creek Valley

Photo by David Fenton

Healdsburg: Wine paradise found

A lot of travelers consider this Sonoma County town the ideal base for a wine country weekend. They may be right. Healdsburg lodging options run from the eco-chic (H2hotel, from $295; h2hotel.com)  to the contemporary rustic (Healdsburg Modern Cottages, from $275; healdsburgcottages.com), and dining here runs from the very high-end (Cyrus, $$$$; 707/433-3311) to the homey (Downtown Bakery & Creamery, $; 707/431-2719). Just to the west of town lies the Dry Creek Valley (pictured), which—shhh—may be the most beautiful wine region in California. Our favorites include Dry Creek Vineyard (drycreekvineyard.com) and Lambert Bridge Winery (lambertbridge.com).

Ukiah

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Ukiah: Sparkling waters

Jack London loved Vichy Mineral Springs Resort (pictured; $30/2 hours; vichysprings.com); you will too. Soak in the carbonated 90° mineral baths or a 104° pool. Then stare up at coast redwoods at Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve (707/937-5804).

Gold Bluffs Beach camping in Orick

Photo by Cody Duncan

Orick: Coast camping

In Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Gold Bluffs Beach (pictured; $35; 707/465-7335) lets you stake a tent between the Pacific and redwood trees; neighbors may include Roosevelt elk. Gold Bluffs opens in May; to camp before that, check out the park’s nearby Elk Prairie Campground ($35; reserveamerica.com), open year-round.

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