Why: Land and sea meet splendidly here, with jutting rocks, hanging fog, shrieking gulls and sometimes backstroking sea otters.
What: The 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach has been a tourist attraction since the 1880s. The drawback has always been that it's a private road, so you have to pay $10 to drive it. And motorcycles are banned entirely. But wait.
Pebble Beach management allows bicyclists to ride the same route at no cost. And so, astride a rental from Bay Bikes or Adventures by the Sea by the aquarium in Monterey, you'll glide past sights including the Pebble Beach golf course; plenty of tide pools; perhaps some deer; and the Lone Cypress, longtime icon of the resort. The tree has lasted at least 120 years with a sea-lashed rocky outcropping as its pedestal. It even has its own parking area and viewing platform.
Why: In 2008, this quintessential California hippie band put its history in the hands of UC Santa Cruz's McHenry Library, and the public is invited to look and listen.
What: The Grateful Dead Archive, also known as Dead Central, begins with an exhibition room, which in January featured scores of photos from the band's early days in the mid-'60s and a set of life-sized marionettes that starred in the band's first music video, "Touch of Grey" (1987). Don't miss the sculpture of the late guitarist Jerry Garcia's right hand, which is famously missing a finger.
Then head upstairs to the library's Special Collections department, where more Dead treasures (including a tie-dyed T-shirt and a plush dancing bear) take up an estimated 500 linear feet of shelf space.
Why: Some people come for the soup because they had it as kids 50 years ago. But you don't have to love the soup. Come, irony-loving millennials, for the classic kitschiness of it all. Or come, my fellow skinflints of all ages, for the adjacent inn's room rates starting at just $71 a night in the heart of pricey Santa Barbara wine country. In nearby downtown Los Olivos, you could probably spend that much on a bottle opener.
What: As California roadside attractions go, Andersen's Pea Soup is a beloved senior citizen. It opened in 1924. Beyond its original Buellton location, it has another (with a windmill) off Interstate 5 on State Route 33 at Santa Nella, and once there were restaurants in Carlsbad and Mammoth too.
The key elements here are the soup (waitress Tina Perez estimates 400 gallons are served on a busy day); the shiny copper-topped counters; the kid-oriented gift shop; and of course Hap-pea and Pea-wee, the chisel-and-mallet-wielding cartoon pea-splitters that personify the place.
Why: In a food-obsessed city, no venue is foodier than this. Nice ocean breezes out back too.
What: From 1898 until the Bay Bridge connected San Francisco to Oakland in the 1930s, San Francisco's Ferry Building was a twice-daily stop for every trans-bay commuter. Then things got slow for 60 or 70 years.
But in 2003, the building had grown into a new life as a foodie haven, its long halls full of artisan shops and restaurants. Don't expect low prices, but do expect good quality and variety.
Why: The rolling hills around Paso Robles, once known for cattle, grain and almonds, are all about assiduously pampered grapes now, and the reputation of these vineyards and wineries keeps growing.
What: More than 200 wineries dot those hills, so you could spend days tasting. (Preferably not August days, which often approach 100 degrees.) The Paso Robles viticultural area is known for Bordeaux, Rhone and Zinfandel varietals.
Why: The shop at Apple's corporate headquarters carries goods you don't see in every other Apple store. Your geeky friends may go green with envy.
What: Apple headquarters in Cupertino -- an oval-shaped constellation of buildings known as Infinite Loop -- is closed to the public, except for its retail shop. But that shop carries a special reward for the free-spending, brand-loving faithful: Apple-branded shirts, mugs, pens and thermoses that other Apple stores don't carry. The style: sleek and minimalist, of course.
This store has continued to stock these items since a redesign in 2015 that substantially slimmed down its inventory. There's no word on what will happen when the company opens its new circular Campus 2, a mile east. It's due for completion in 2017 and is expected to complement the existing campus at 1 Infinite Loop.
Why: A tennis-ball size dollop of dough. Some raspberry jam. And outside, a dusting of powdered sugar. This is no mere collection of calories. It's cultural.
What: Arne's Aebleskiver, the dessert described above, is a big draw at the Solvang Restaurant (and elsewhere in Solvang) because it's tasty and because it's an emblem of Solvang's enduring Danish history.
This dates to 1911, when immigrant Danish educators put down stakes. Over time, the theme proved a big lure for tourists.
Why: If you've ever wondered if, how or why the computer has changed the face of civilization, this place will set you straight. It'll also make clear the role of California, specifically Silicon Valley, in the revolution.
What: The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, opened since 1996, has a staggering collection of hardware. But what really makes the place valuable is the wide perspective and clear explanations it gives, so that somebody who has never written code can still grasp the broad outlines of computing history, from the abacus to the punch card (which computers once relied upon) to the silicon chip and the smartphone.
Along the way, you get insights into not only familiar characters such as Bill Gates (who started programming computers at 13) and Steve Jobs (who sold his VW van to fund one of his first ventures), but unfamiliar ones such as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (who sparred over proto-computer designs in the 1830s).
Why: Because they're not making stagecoach stops like this anymore.
What: The Cold Spring Tavern is tucked along the roadside up on San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara. This rustic joint has been uniting bikers and dressed-down upper-crusters for decades. The tavern serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with live music and tri-tip on weekends and cheap chili during happy hour. Visit on a Saturday or Sunday. The earlier you arrive, the easier parking will be, and the sooner city life will recede.
Born as a stage stop in the 1880s and owned by the same family since the 1940s, the Cold Spring and its four fireplaces are half an hour's drive from Santa Barbara. The fanciest part of the property is its dimly lighted restaurant interior (where game meats like buffalo, lamb, duck, rabbit and venison are specialties). The folksiest is the patio, where tri-tip sandwiches and beer are often found.
Why: Step back in California history a few thousand years in a desert canyon bursting with Paleolithic-era petroglyphs, and you may be a bit humbled.
What: Thousands of remarkably well-preserved etchings created by long-ago hunter-gatherers in Little Petroglyph Canyon (officially Renegade Canyon on the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake) are vividly on view.
Not far from the active naval base operations, vetted visitors can clamber down into the restricted canyon. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you see that you’re face to face with stylized bighorn sheep, hunters with bows, artistic patterns and anthropomorphic designs carved all over the ancient basalt canvasses. Wow.