When it comes to great road trips, few can compare to those that are found along the California coast. There’s simply no denying it: this is classic road trip territory. So buckle up and prepare yourself for some surprises along the way as we snake our way south from Monterey to Oxnard on the trip of a lifetime. Visit California
Feeling hungry? Then you’ll be happy to hear Monterey County’s Salinas Valley is considered the ‘Salad Bowl of the World’. Take an agricultural tour, wine-trek or visit the first – and largest – working organic farm in the U.S., Earthbound Farms.
With some 85 vintners and growers, the perfect temperate climate and more than 15,000 hectares of prime grape-growing land, this is the perfect place to learn all about the finest wines.
Pull over and cavort with California condors or dive with monsters of the deep. Monterey County’s staggering natural assets tantalize road-trippers who are seeking the real deal, California-style.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary covers 8,000 square kilometres – that’s one and a half times the size of the largest national park in the continental U.S. At its centre is a mighty underwater canyon that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.
Also not to be missed in this part of the world is the quirky town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where – believe it or not – live music, neon light, street addresses and wearing high heels without a permit are all illegal!
Nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains, Paso Robles offers an authentic California experience, boasting untouched natural beauty, a bounty of farm fresh cuisine supplied from organic farms and more than 200 wineries.
This region is home to renowned boutique winemakers like Tablas Creek, Denner Vineyards, Vina Robles, L’Aventure and Saxum – so pack a picnic and grab the opportunity to chat with the local winemakers.
You can now tour the wine region in an elegant Victorian horse-drawn carriage with the White Horse Carriage Company, but if you’d like to see wine country from a totally different perspective, you can zip line over the vineyards at Santa Margarita Ranch.
If all that highway-flying is taking its toll and you’d like a more challenging experience behind the wheel, the Oceano Dunes off-road area at Pismo Beach is one of California’s most unique state parks, offering 600 hectares of sand dunes to explore.
Between November and February, be sure to swing by Monarch Butterfly Grove. Each year thousands of vibrant Monarch Butterflies flock to Pismo Beach, seeking shelter from the freezing northern winters. Just like us Canadian travellers, really.
If you’d like to eat like a local, make a splash with a bowl of clam chowder at Splash Café. With a consistent line of hungry guests stretching around the block, the café serves 15,000 gallons of clam chowder each year, so you’d be a fool to miss it.
Nestled in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country, with the Santa Ynez Mountains as its exquisite backdrop, the small city of Solvang is a federally-designated Preserve America Community.
Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes. Solvang means ‘Sunny Fields’ in Danish, and indeed this region boasts an astonishing 340 days of sunshine each year.
The spirit of the Wild West lives on in Solvang. On the first Saturday of May, a group called Rancheros Visitadores (Visiting Ranchers) parade their 800 horses and carriages through Solvang for a blessing at Old Mission Santa Ines.
For a more gentle ride, hop aboard the horse-drawn Solvang Trolley, a historic wooden streetcar pulled by a pair of magnificent Belgian draft horses. Or you can go horseback riding or fishing or check out a Cowgirl or BBQ Boot Camp at Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort.
Santa Barbara has a sustainable flair when it comes to food, and you can learn how to eat like a ‘locavore’ – someone who only eats food grown within a 160-kilometre radius of where they live – on a guided culinary tour of the area with Market Forays.
After collecting ingredients at the fishermen’s market, farmers’ market and local stores, Slow-Foodie guide Laurence Hauben will teach you how you can prepare dishes easily at home. The experience concludes with a delicious meal paired with local wines.
Also make sure that you check out the Old Mission Santa Barbara, the tenth California Mission to be founded by the Spanish Franciscans, which was founded in 1786. Its beautiful setting, twin bell towers and lovely façade have earned it the title of the ‘Queen of Missions’.
Named the second best surfing destination in the U.S. – after Haleiwa, Hawaii – Ventura invites surfing road-trippers to take advantage of its legendary point breaks. As famous as Malibu among surfers in the know, Ventura consistently offers surfable – and sometimes epic – waves year round.
Originally a Chumash Indian settlement, Ventura was established 1782 by Father Junipero Serra, when he founded the ninth California mission. The Mission serves as a Catholic Church to this day, and Ventura’s Latino heritage is still visible in other structures as well.
Just a few miles from the heart of downtown is the must-see Olivas Adobe, an immaculately-restored Spanish rancho estate that dates back to 1841. Another landmark is the Ortega Adobe, which was built in 1857 and is known as the birthplace of Ortega Famous Green Chilies.
To cool off after those chilies, beer-lovers will be happy to hear that beer culture is alive and well in Ventura, offering a plethora of brews from both big breweries with philanthropic tendencies and exclusive in-home breweries.
Have you ever seen a grey whale’s fluke up close? Watched a sea lion play hide-and-seek? Take a break from the highway and enjoy all of this at the Channel Islands National Park & Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the five-island park and underwater sanctuary that lies just off the coast at Oxnard.
Only an hour or so by boat, you can go scuba diving among lush kelp forests and sea lion, dolphin and whale-spotting in the Channel Islands. The Gray Whale-watching season runs from late December through to April, and summertime offers magnificent Blue Whale sightings.
And when you work up a healthy appetite, you can enjoy a trendy take on international cuisine at one of Oxnard’s gourmet food truck events, which take place the first Thursday of each month. The event also hits Channel Islands Harbor on the third Wednesday of each month.