TRAVEL
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TRAVEL

Think of 10 people you know. This year, eight of them will take a road trip, that staple of the American vacation.

That’s what research from the Auto Club of Southern California tells us. And that’s what those columns of cars on Interstates 10 or 15 or 405 or 5 tell us. The call of the car remains powerful, promising relaxation, family fun and unusual sights, the stuff of a rich stew of memories.

But where to go and what to do? For the next three days, we'll outline routes you might take, destinations that promise a change of scenery and advice on how to wrangle some of the devil in the details, including preparing your dogor cat — for the journey, keeping your house safe while you’re away and keeping your children amused, and finding the pure pleasure of the candies of your childhood, which melt in our mouth, not in your car. You’ll find a list of national parks in the West, the best events of summer, where to rent a car and how to get info from state tourism offices.

As you prepare for your trip, remember that at the end of the road, home is waiting to welcome you back. Could there be a sweeter ending?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Wednesday: Sometimes, it’s the place that enchants; sometimes it’s the people. In the quirky Mojave, it’s both.
  • Thursday: Mark Twain was the consummate road tripper. America’s favorite story teller travels in Nevada and California, opening our eyes, with humor, to uniquely Western history.
  • Friday: Your have to have a plan to drive Route 66. Or do you? We follow America’s Mother Road to see where an uncharted course can leads us as it snakes through the Southwest.
Routes

Enjoy the empty road and reach the Pinnacles in the cowboy country of California Highway 25

Gilroy, Calif. (Doug Steakley / Getty Images / Lonely Planet Image)
Gilroy, Calif. (Doug Steakley / Getty Images / Lonely Planet Image)

The route

San Lucas to Gilroy, Calif., on California Highway 25.

Miles

About 75, one way.

Best time

Spring, when the hills are green, though the area’s oat and alfalfa fields add greenery to the route year round.

Why

California 25 offers a scenic, leisurely and nearly traffic-free alternative to busy U.S. 101 between San Luis Obispo County and the Bay Area.

Highlights

The highway runs through several narrow valleys carved into the mountains by the San Andreas fault’s tantrums. In some years, you can see where the fault has twisted the highway’s asphalt in different directions — unless Caltrans has made the necessary repairs. After a wet winter, the hillsides bracketing the pleasantly winding highway turn Crayola green, punctuated in places by yellow and orange California buttercups and sticky monkey flowers. This is cowboy country — for visitors, a rare glimpse of what California looked like a century ago. Some of the barns along the highway are at least that old, complete with blacksmith-forged hinges and door latches. Also, check out the Victorian architecture in downtown Hollister.

Memorable meal

The 19th Hole Booze & Food in Tres Pinos isn’t so much about the food as the setting (but do try the oak-fired barbecue dishes). Dollar bills paper the ceiling of the 120-year-old tavern, antique rifles and cattle brands trim the walls, and the front porch is perfect for swilling beer on a lazy afternoon (but don’t drink and then drive, we hasten to add).

Tourist trap or treat 

The highway skirts Pinnacles National Park, California’s newest national park, a real treat. It’s not often that you can visit the multicolored remains of a volcano cleft by the San Andreas fault. (The other half has since migrated southward, inch by inch, toward Lancaster.) California 25 offers the only vehicular access to the park’s visitor center and campground. There are great picnic spots in the shade of the ubiquitous oak trees, and miles of trails for all skill levels to work off that picnic lunch.

Plan to spend

The one-way trip takes a little less than two hours driving straight through, but this isn’t that kind of drive. Allow at least three hours extra for Pinnacles and a few stops for photos or food along the way.

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