One of my favorite vacations was traveling the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Fransisco. My husband and I rented a convertible and ambled up the coast on our own time schedule with only a rough idea of where we might stop and stay. With exquisite views of the Pacific Ocean, along a winding road. up steep mountains, I can think of few better scenic drives than this one.
4. The Pacific Coast Highway (US 101) Pack up the car, slather on the sunblock and prepare for a glorious ride traveling up the northern coast of sunny California. Start out heading north from L.A. to Malibu, one of the planet’s prettiest places on earth. You’ll pass some wealthy beach shacks and some downtrodden fish shacks but mostly you’ll see miles of beautiful pristine California beach, home to surfers and beach babies alike. Travel about 90 minutes up the highway, while enjoying views from the beautiful coastline, before reaching Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is home to stately mansions and beach bungalows alike. Unlike its neighbors to the south and north, the city is laid back and relaxing. Stop and visit Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara Harbor and photograph the Dolphin Fountain (also known as Santa Barbara’s Bicentennial Friendship Fountain). The kids will love the Ty Warner Sea Center, an interactive marine museum run by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. For lunch there are several dining options but try out the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company for fresh seafood that is reasonably priced. Grown ups may want to try Stearns Wharf Vinters Patio to enjoy a selection of California and international wines while enjoying a view of the harbor. A limited deli menu is also available.
After lunch, head over to Los Padres National Forest. Spanning over 200 million acres the Forest is home to 10 congressionally designated wildnerness areas all yours for exploring. After your wilderness trek head north for roughly two hours to San Luis Obispo at the mid way point between Los Angeles and San Fransisco. For a relaxing and rejuvenating stay check into the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and have a massage, signature facial or foot treatment. You can dine onsite at the Gardens of Avila for authentic California cuisine.
After a restful night, gather up the kids, grab breakfast and head for San Simeon, home of the Hearst Castle. Choose from one of four tours and allow at least two hours for each tour including the shuttle ride from the base of the mountain up to the castle. Built by William Randolph Hearst over a period of 28 years the castle rivals those found in Europe. There is nothing else like it in the United States. After touring the castle, hop back on US 101 north for about two and half hours to Monterey.
Monterey, home of the yearly Monterey Jazz Festival, is considered to be one of the prettiest citieswh in North America owing to its spectactular coastline and year round moderate climate. Stop and have lunch at Montereys Cannery Row or spend some time strolling the row. Once you have had your fill of theis beautiful city, head north while enjoying the coastline for just over two hours before arriving in San Fransisco.
5. Route 36 The Colorado Rockies. The actual Route 36 is over 1400 miles long connecting six states from Colorado, to Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, through Indiana and winding up in Ohio. It’s a peaceful drive for the cross country traveler. A little off the beaten path and not as trendy as some of the other drives in the U.S., Route 36 is a great ride through the middle of America. Perhaps the most scenic leg of the route is leg from Denver to Estes Park in north eastern Colorado.
From Denver, drive out on Route 36 west for the half hour ride to Boulder. Located at the junction of the Great Plains and the Rockies this city is also home to the Unverisity of Colorado and Naropa University. It’s hard to decide whether to enjoy the many cultural sites of Boulder or its geography. Take a hike at Chautauqua Park or check out the Flatirons, the majestic sedentary rock formations just to the west of the city. Culturally and artistically diverse, Boulder plays host to two film festivals, the Boulder International Film Festival and the quirky 24 Hour Shoot Out Festival where participants can grab a camera and have 24 hours to create their own film. While a number of superb restaurants call Boulder home, the city is best known for its many coffee houses. Grab a cup of java and get back in the car heading north west.
The hour long drive to Estes Park, the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, is one of the most beautiful in the country with breath taking views of the eastern part of the mountain range. Estes Park is not only a natural wonder, but a cultural stop with its art galleries, world class shopping and diverse dining venues; My favorite stop is the Twin Owls Steakhouse for a delicious steak dinner in the rustic lodge like atmosphere. One of the best times of year is approaching for this paradise on earth when, during winter months, you can snowshoe or cross country ski while taking in the scenery.
Next: Top Ten Scenic Drives in the US (Part 3 The South and The Southwest)