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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

A winding trip on California's newest state scenic highway

The Top of Topanga Overlook (Mariah Tauger)
The Top of Topanga Overlook (Mariah Tauger)

The route

Pacific Coast Highway to California 27, a.k.a. Topanga Canyon Boulevard or “The Boulevard,” as residents call it, to U.S. 101.

Miles

About 13 miles one way

Best time

Spring for the wildflowers — natives such as purple lupine, towering white blooms of chaparral yucca, orange California poppies and yellow (non-native) mustard — along the roadside. In Topanga State Park, you’ll find more variety. Rainy winter days bring a misty moodiness and cliffside waterfalls along the S curves. The rest of the year, you’ll see typical chaparral shades of green and gold.

Why

It’s California’s newest State Scenic Highway from Mile 1 to Mile 3.5. Slow down to get a visual geology and biology lesson of the Santa Monica Mountains. Enjoy driving under a canopy of oaks and sycamores through a winding slice of country. One Times writer counted 85 curves from the Mulholland Drive intersection in Woodland Hills to the ocean.

Highlights

As you ascend north into the mountains, look to the right between mile posts 2.25 and 2.5. Vertical rock formations and cliffs show ribbons of tectonic thrust from millions of years ago. (There’s a one-car pullout at Mile 2.5 to get a closer look.) Topanga is an artsy community. As you navigate the curves, look for the painted Buddha and the drive-by Great Wall of Topanga sculptures and murals on the right. Just before you descend out of the canyon, turn right into the Top of Topanga Overlook for a classic L.A. view of the San Fernando Valley. On a clear day, you may see the Santa Susana Mountains to the north and the San Gabriel range to the northeast. Stop at sunset to watch the valley’s lights twinkle on.

Memorable stay

Topanga Canyon Inn B&B has eight well-furnished rooms ($200 to $300 a night), with shared kitchens and living rooms, in two buildings. The property sits at the end of rutted road that leads to a quiet, wild edge of Topanga State Park.

Memorable meal

Topanga Living Cafe is a combo café and store. Dine in for breakfast or lunch, or pick up vegetarian edibles for a Topanga State Park picnic. For dinner, try the Canyon Bistro and Wine Bar, a cozy space in the Village (about four miles from PCH) that serves salads, gourmet burgers and entrees such as Jidori chicken, rack of lamb and fish.

Tourist trap or treat

A treat, for sure, but pricey, with entrees from $22 to $44. Inn of the Seventh Ray is a Topanga classic and ideal for a romantic splurge or celebration meal. You’ll dine beside Topanga Canyon Creek at tables set under fairy lights. It has an eclectic but fine wine list and serves inventive dishes such as stinging nettle chicken meatballs ($16) and eight-hour black vinegar braised short ribs ($36). Before or after dinner, browse the spiritual selection at the Spiral Staircase shop next door.

Plan to spend

A full day or even overnight to stop and savor all that Topanga has hidden in its curves.

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