Your ultimate guide to planning the best summer road trip
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 dog — or 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.
Road trip of the future: Travel with John Muir, where the scenery is unreal and the kids fight over who sits in the back
Wave goodbye to the road trip as we know it.
The future, which has arrived faster than we imagined, will be filled with self-driving cars that have visuals to enhance or replace the scenery and maybe even let us travel with people who have been dead for decades.
What Car & Driver calls “brainless driving” is “closing in on us like a meteorite.”
A step back in time in northern Arizona
From Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, west into Flagstaff on Interstate 40, or vice versa. This stretch incorporates a lot of history, including some of the fabled Route 66.
100-plus miles, one way.
How do you like your weather? The high-plateau country can be blustery or blistering. In late March, a snowstorm welcomed us to Flagstaff. It’s (delightfully) northern Arizona.
Because the road is straight and easy, and the exits offer attractions from kitschy to cultural.
Take an (unpaved) turn not far off I-40 near Flagstaff to find stunning Chocolate Falls (officially Grand Falls), a multi-layered, occasionally roaring extravaganza. We gave meaning to the term “road trip” by first turning the wrong way onto rutted Indian Route 6910 to the surprise of some speedy pronghorn antelope, then found our way to this watery treasure on Navajo land. Also off the interstate, but paved: The rainbow-hued vistas at multiple roadside lookouts in the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Even better are short trails at Tawa Point and Blue Mesa Badlands. And, right on (old) Highway 66: If the lyrics “Standing on a corner in Winslow, Ariz.” make you hum, make a sentimental stop here for a smile and a selfie.
A step back in time at La Posada, the well-renovated 1920s onetime Harvey House railway hotel in Winslow. Coffee in hand, a band of harried car travelers swapped stories as we cheered the arrival of the whistling Amtrak Southwest Chief passenger train.
Memorable meal It’s hard to focus on the menu at the hotel’s art gallery-like Turquoise Room because, well, those trains are outside the window. It turns out that the Corn Maiden’s Delight — polenta topped with tomatoes, spinach, poached eggs, jalapeño jack cheese and salsa — lives up to its billing.
Tourist trap or treat
Technically not a “trap” because the Meteor Crater is a real thing; a huge, well-preserved gash where 50,000 years ago, a fiery nickel-iron rock weighing hundreds of thousands of tons smashed into Arizona. But admission is pricey ($18 for adults, $9 for children ages 6 to 17).
Plan to spend
Three or four hours for a leisurely drive, minus the worthy walks in the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, Grand Falls (season allowing) and Homolovi State Park in Winslow. Overnight midway at La Posada for a taste of travel in another era.
Old-fashioned river travel on the Colorado
About 120 miles from Page to Kanab.
Spring or fall; the road hits 7,925 feet in elevation at Jacob Lake, so snow may be an issue. Lower down, the summers can be hot.
Discover a scenic — and historic — route in this “Arizona Strip” country from the massive Glen Canyon Dam (good visitor center for the water-use curious) and into Marble Canyon and its “balanced boulders” (also stopping at Navajo Bridge to walk across the old span and look for condors), then around the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs and up into the piney green Kaibab National Forest.
A bit south of the industrial-size dam, pull into the packed parking lot for Horseshoe Bend off U.S. 89. The vistas are faultless. Watch your footing; there are no railings. Up unpaved House Rock Valley Road, just off U.S. 89A, we gazed at a dozen endangered California condors swooping and soaring in circles above a reintroduction site on the Vermilion Cliffs.
The quirky Quail Park Lodge in Kanab is bright and retro. Free bikes stand ready for a slow spin down the main street. Don’t miss the dozens of plaques commemorating the western movies and TV shows that were filmed here for decades.
A five-minute walk from the lodge puts you at Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fire Kitchen (quinoa-stuffed avocado for starters, followed by kale salad topped with honey-glazed walnuts, dates and red onions.)
Tourist treat or trap
Leave the car behind for old-fashioned travel on the river. Our slow float on Colorado River Discovery’s motorized pontoon boat took us past photogenic Horseshoe Bend and the tiny tourists on the rim 1,000 feet above. From Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, there are breathtaking views of the Navajo sandstone cliffs that iconoclastic environmental writer Edward Abbey described (before the dam he despised was built) as “tapering spires, balanced rocks on pillars, mushroom rocks, rocks shaped liked hamburgers, rocks like piles of melted pies.” Yup, exactly.
Plan to spend
Most of a sightseeing day for the 120 miles of the sometimes windy, always scenic U.S. 89A. To augment the don’t-miss drive, overnight at either end: Page (float trip or slot canyons tour) or Kanab (hiking, biking and Hollywood).
Red rocks and Wild West towns of Arizona
Los Angeles to Sedona, Ariz., by way of Interstate 10 east, U.S. 60 north and Arizona 89 north.
About 380 miles one way from L.A. to Prescott, Ariz., then 62 miles more to Sedona.
The drive through the California-Arizona desert into the mountains of northern Arizona is best in spring, with colorful wildflowers giving way to verdant forests.
Once you get off the interstate, a long, lonesome two-lane highway leads through desolate high desert and past striking giant saguaro cactus, then into crazy tight turns climbing through mountain forests until you reach awe-inspiring, deep red rock canyons. And that’s just Mother Nature’s visuals; the towns of Prescott, Jerome and Sedona are precious in their own way.
Prescott’s downtown Courthouse Square/Whiskey Row district oozes Western history; there are charming shops, restaurants and saloons. Have a drink at the Palace, which opened in 1877 and served such notables as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. You’ll strike it rich visiting Jerome, an old mining town that sits precariously on a steep hillside. Jerome went from mining powerhouse to ghost town and is now an artsy tourist magnet filled with eclectic shops in buildings that once housed bordellos and bars. Sedona is defined by its spectacular red rock mountains. Be sure to drive into the Coconino National Forest north of town: Deep red canyons and towering natural stone sculptures give way to pine forests.
In the heart of downtown Prescott, the beautifully restored 1927 Hassayampa Inn has a lovely lobby with stained glass, murals and hand-painted ceiling beams. Our room felt a bit cramped but was a nice blend of old and new.
Sedona’s Hideaway House offers red rock views along with terrific Italian food and a cheerful, friendly staff. Try the brick chicken entree and the ricotta cheese pizza with roasted peaches and caramelized pancetta.
Tourist trap or treat
“Uptown Sedona” is jammed with souvenir shops, tourists and traffic. Stick to the red rock canyons and you’ll be fine.
Plan to spend
About six hours for the drive to Prescott. From Prescott, it’s an hour to Jerome and 40 minutes more to Sedona. Give yourself at least a few days to enjoy the sights.
Artists and antiquities in northern New Mexico
From Santa Fe, N.M., north on U.S. 84 to New Mexico 68. (Alternate route: “The High Road” from Santa Fe: north on U.S. 84 to New Mexico 503, 76 and 518.)
About 150 miles round trip. You’ll log additional miles for side trips to Bandelier National Monument, Chimayó and Abiquiú.
June to March
Native American history and culture, artists and art galleries, red rocks and river rafting
Bandelier National Monument, about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe, is an easy, family-friendly destination. The paved 1.2-mile Main Loop Trail takes visitors past Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs and cliff dwellings. Daredevils can walk about half a mile farther to Alcove House, reached by a white-knuckle climb up steep wooden ladders. Art lovers can gaze at the gray cliffs and cottonwoods Georgia O’Keeffe painted from her serene home and studio (reservations required) in Abiquiú, 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The Taos Pueblo, and its cemetery filled with weathered crosses and the lone bell tower of the ruined St. Jerome Church, are particularly moving.
It’s an easy walk from the Historic Taos Inn to galleries, restaurants and shops. Our courtyard room was clean and comfortable, but the décor needed updating and the bathroom was tiny. The Adobe Bar in the lobby draws visitors and locals who stop by in the evening to enjoy the live music.
Bode’s General Store in Abiquiú and its gigantic green chile cheeseburger. My sidekick, the college kid, managed to devour the half-pound slab of ground sirloin while I checked out the enamelware, fishing tackle and wild bird seed. The relaxing Rio Chama steakhouse, near the state capitol in Santa Fe, fit the bill when we wanted something more sophisticated.
Tourist trap or treat
Trujillo’s Weaving Shop ( 351-4457), in Chimayó is more than a treat; it’s a treasure where you can watch weavers at work on 13 hand looms. The college kid chose a small weaving for his dorm room, more meaningful than any snow globe or refrigerator magnet. Also: The gift shop at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, where I scored salsas, tins of chile powder and blue corn waffle mix.
Plan to spend
At least four or five days, because wandering here is half the fun.
Imagine a road trip in this beauty. Museums, car shows can inspire and entertain
The history of Southern California is the history of cars, and the two cultures overlap like hands in prayer.
“L.A. and cars were both born about the same time,” Petersen Automotive Museum chief curator Leslie Kendall said. Were it not for the car, he noted, Los Angeles would have grown up instead of out, with skyscrapers outnumbering suburbs.
It’s no wonder that many wonderful car museums are based here and across the state, where family road trips have paid homage to the automobile for decades.
Here is a sampling of some of the world-class museums and car shows available to travelers in the West. Some are so significant, and well located, that they can be destinations all their own. Others are slice-of-life pit stops that can break up a long day on the highway.
You can be king of the road, too, with Grammy guru’s travel playlist
To inspire us in our travels, we asked Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich for five great road trip songs. He delivered in surplus, including a couple of albums that represent how hitting the road can rev you up. In no particular order, here is what Ehrlich chose and why:
“Come Fly With Me” by Frank Sinatra: “Sure it’s a cheat — this is the album, not just the single, but I can put this one on repeat in the car and easily get to Santa Barbara, and I think it might have taken us all the way up the coast once or twice. ‘Moonlight in Vermont,’ ‘Let’s Get Away From It All,’ ‘April in Paris,’ and, of course, the title track. … ‘If you can use some exotic booze, there’s a bar in far Bombay….’ Take me there.”
“Such a Night” by Dr. John: “This song has put a smile on my face since I first heard it back in the ’70s. I can be sitting in an airport with a three-hour delay and pull this one up and my entire demeanor changes … for the good.”
“The Weight” by The Band: “This should be more depressing than it really is, but I find it celebratory. ‘Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free.’ To this day I’m not sure why I want the load on me, but just like ‘Such a Night,’ this one takes my troubles away.”
“King of the Road” by Roger Miller: “ ‘I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.’ Need I say more?”
“Ray Charles at Newport”: “One more album. This live recording is from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and for my money, gives James Brown’s ‘Live at the Apollo’ a run for its money. When he hits a couple of the gospel roots shout songs, my foot wants to floor it, and if I’m on the right road, Ray and I hit 100 mph once in awhile.”
Bonus: “Depending on where we’re going, I often load the iPad up with music from wherever we’re headed. New Orleans is easy; when we went to China, not so much.”
Experience Airstream travel without a hitch
Romance, nostalgia and freedom of the road all come together in those shiny time machines called Airstream travel trailers. Great road trippin’ memories of the ’50s are difficult — and expensive — to re-create, but the tug of the Airstream dream is so strong and entrepreneurs so accommodating that you can now stay in one without pulling a heavy trailer.
Airstream “hotels” are popping up throughout California. You can drive your little electric Nissan Leaf to a campground where permanent Airstream setups are styled as ultra-modern, vividly wild or, of course, simply retro.
Need a rest stop? Looking for a zoo? Out of gas? These apps can steer you in the right direction
As summer approaches and the great American road trip calls out to your inner Kerouac, set aside time for downloading smartphone apps while you pack for your journey. Travel apps built with road trips in mind can help you discover great restaurants and parks, find groceries and pharmacies in unfamiliar cities, and even locate the cheapest gas.
22 feet of fun fraught with fear — that was our Airstream adventure
For more than 80 years the Airstream trailer company has been a fixation for American road warriors entranced by its sleek, bullet-shaped aluminum body and the promise of camping in luxury, nowadays known as glamping.
The shiny trailers, built in Ohio, cast a strange spell. Smitten by some combination of nostalgia and wanderlust, a cross-generational section of Americans — from the still ambulatory greatest-generation folks to their boomer children and their hipster grandkids — all long to hit the road like high-style hobos.
So what’s it like to actually travel in one? Being there, once we arrived, was terrific. But getting there was terrifying.
Sample the wine and the wow of Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, before the hordes descend
When I heard there was an off-the-beaten-path winemaking region in northern Baja California that travelers were comparing to early Napa Valley, I was skeptical. But the Valle de Guadalupe, or Guadalupe Valley, about 26 miles northeast of Ensenada, is for real. Better yet, it is easily accessible (about a three-hour drive from Los Angeles if you go inland through Tecate, Mexico), user-friendly, relatively inexpensive and a great weekend getaway.
Hacienda Guadalupe is the brainchild of Daniel and Gabriela Sanchez. The Sanchez family, originally from Ensenada, grew up in Santa Ana. But on their visits to the valley, they realized there were few good accommodations. In 2010, Hacienda Guadalupe was born. Today it has 16 tastefully decorated rooms, with four more on the way, an excellent restaurant and a winery called Melchum, Gabriela Sanchez’s maiden name.
For a sophisticated dinner, look no farther than Laja, which owner-chef Jair Téllez established in 1991. Téllez will wow you with a four- or eight-course meal that includes wine pairings. My wife and I chose four courses, which included baked beetroot salad, pumpkin ravioli with thyme butter, pan-roasted sea bass with daikon radish puree and burdock root sorbet in a purple radish and fig leaf cold soup -- as delicious as it was esoteric.
No visit to the valley would be complete without a stop at the Adobe Guadalupe food truck, permanently parked at the spectacular Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn. Owners Leda Gamboa and Lupita Gomez will help you select a variety of delicious tapas from an extensive menu. Put yourself in their hands.
Wines from the Guadalupe Valley are known throughout Mexico but rarely make their way north of the border. Two small wineries worth visiting are Casa de Piedra and Clos de Tres Cantos. Casa de Piedra is the home of Hugo d’Acosta, one of Mexico’s premier winemakers. His Piedra del Sol Chardonnay is a gem at a little more than $18. And at Clos de Tres Cantos, its blend of Tempranillo and Petite Sirah called Nada (the label is blank) is a steal at $20.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 201
This story was originally published on Nov. 10, 2016.
Solana Beach just might be the friendliest beach city in Southern California
Solana Beach has quietly become one of the more popular towns along the Southern California coast. It’s not as flashy as Encinitas or Del Mar, its neighbors to the north and south. But the beaches are relatively uncrowded, the food is terrific and the people are relentlessly friendly.
Solana Beach has only three hotels -- two of which are a Courtyard by Marriott and a Holiday Inn Express. The most interesting choice, the Winners Circle Resort, was booked when we tried to make a reservation, so we chose the Marriott. The room was spacious and clean; the only thing missing was charm.
A good thing about the hotel, however, is its proximity to the beach. If you go out the back door, turn left and then right on Del Mar Shores Terrace, you’ll find a path that will lead you down about 160 stairs to a beach as beautiful as any along the Southern California coast.
The tiny Hideaway Cafe, covered in vines, sits a block off Highway 101 near the beach. The cafe, open only for breakfast and lunch, is the kind of place where the waitresses call customers by name and ask about their kids. The egg dishes are excellent, but the real treat is the California French toast made with Hawaiian bread in orange batter.
Claire’s on Cedros is known for its outstanding breakfasts and lunches. But several years ago it opened on Friday and Saturday nights, and now its dinners are equally famous. My wife ordered the chile-rubbed chicken, spicy cornbread dressing and stir-fried summer vegetables. I chose the grilled chimichurri steak with warm potato salad, sweet peppers and grilled scallions. The outdoor patio is beautiful and quiet, an ideal place for dinner and that restaurant rarity, conversation.
In the 1950s Cedros Avenue was a collection of dusty industrial buildings on the wrong side of the tracks. Today, however, the area has been converted into the Cedros Avenue Design District, one of the hippest collections of furniture stores, art galleries, gift boutiques and apparel shops in San Diego County. The David Alan Collection is an extraordinary combination of distinctive furniture and accessories, jewelry and primitive folk art.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 99
This story was originally published on Aug. 25, 2016.
A quick getaway to the London Bridge, in Lake Havasu City
Many grown-ups fondly remember their beer-infused visits to Lake Havasu City, but the Arizona community is more than a spring-break destination for college kids. The lake attracts couples and families too, and it’s particularly pleasing in fall after the thermometer drops from summer highs.
Because this place is all about the water, why not consider sleeping on it? In fall and winter, Lake Havasu Houseboats rents a 60-foot vessel for $2,395 for two nights (the minimum stay). With two bedrooms plus berths, the boat can comfortably sleep 10. It offers all the comforts of home, including a full kitchen, and a sun deck with a slide that plops you into the lake. For landlubbers, the visitor center can provide other lodging choices.
The comfort food at Brew Shack is both tempting and inexpensive, with nearly 30 varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches all priced at $6 or $7. The Bavarian includes bratwurst, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, and the Bombay Bacon is stuffed with bacon, cream cheese, mango chutney and dates. Also indulge in a steaming hot bowl of the homemade tomato soup; it’s delicious. For a fancier meal, Shugrue’s overlooks the transplanted London Bridge.
The River Thames has had a bridge since the year 43, but the one standing in Lake Havasu City opened in 1831. London auctioned off the 1,000-foot bridge in the 1960s when the span was slowly sinking. Jan Kassies, who leads 90-minute walking tours, explained that the bridge reopened in the Mojave Desert 45 years ago after its 10,000 numbered blocks of granite were shipped from England and reassembled. Tours ($10 for adults, children 12 and younger are free) leave the visitor center at 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from October through April.
Distance one way from downtown Los Angeles: 299 miles
This story was originally published on Oct. 20, 2016.
Ely, Nev., is a train buff’s dream spot with its vintage railway, Western hospitality
The clamor of trains and blaring whistles no longer disturbs folks in Ely. The railroad tracks now skirt the northern edge of this old mining town, not quite a four-hour drive north of Las Vegas.
The dozens of trains that once rumbled by each day, carrying ore and passengers, have dwindled to a handful each week. Antique carriages now are filled with camera-toting tourists lured by the Nevada Northern Railway, a real railroad turned living history museum.
Ninety-minute narrated train rides take visitors along a part of the route that carried 4.5 million passengers between 1905 and 1941. Some of the trains are still pulled by the original locomotives. There’s a museum inside the old station, and the rail yard is open to explore. Combo tickets (train ride and guided tour of rail yard and engine house) cost $31 for adults and $15 for children ages 4 to 12. Most of the trips take place from June to mid-November.
The downtown Hotel Nevada is known for its Western flair. Hand-painted murals of cowboys ropin’ and ridin’ adorn the hallways of this vintage property, which offers 24-hour dining and, of course, gambling. Although the rooms are pleasant, some guests may be put off by the signs prominently placed in the bathrooms:
Caution. Due to the age of the hotel 1929 the shower fluctuates from hot to cold without warning!
People fearing a shower surprise may prefer one of the newer chain hotels on the edge of town.
The All Aboard Cafe & Inn is a great choice for delicious, home-cooked food at affordable prices. The 1907 building, just half a block from the old depot, once was a boarding house for railroad workers. (Five guest rooms remain upstairs.) Locals rave about the spaghetti with homemade meatballs ($10.95). Open year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 511
This story was originally published on Sept. 22, 2016.
A trip on Route 66 proves to be uncharted territory for a master planner
The plan was to have no plan. To head east on Route 66, a solo traveler with no agenda. Stopping when I felt like it. Staying as long as I wanted. Moving on when I was ready.
There was only one problem: I’m a master planner. Traveling with me has always been the vacation equivalent of a military assault.
I promised myself that this time would be different. No to-do lists. No reservations. I wanted to search for a connection to the places and the people along the fabled Mother Road.
As I set out on my nine-day journey in October, I kept my expectations low and my hopes for adventure high, with a goal of enjoying the journey and living in the moment.
Spend some quiet time with giant redwoods in Felton
Felton is all about the redwoods. You can hike under them, chug past them or just sit with a drink in your hand and gaze at them.
The small town, population 4,000, tucked in the woods minutes north of Santa Cruz, has an old-growth forest and miles of hiking trails. Don’t feel like walking? You can also ride the rails through the woods. Roaring Camp Railroads’ open-car steam trains are the big-boy versions of the Griffith Park steamers, with engines dating from the 1890s.
The cabins at the family-run Fern River Resort are what led us to Felton. You open the windows on cool nights and listen to the San Lorenzo River just yards away. In the morning, you sit on your back porch and watch the water meander past. The cabins are quaint, if sometimes quirky. The shower head in one cabin was so low I had to duck under it (I’m 5 foot-3).
For breakfast, head to Rocky’s Cafe and sit in the sun-soaked enclosed porch. After home fries and eggs or the butter-covered French toast sandwich (it’s as sinful as it sounds), you might want to curl up on a bench and let the morning rays warm you.
Dinner is at the Cremer House. You can order bison meatballs on creamy polenta or go the opposite route with the beet burger and wash down whichever with a choice of two dozen craft beers — or house-made sodas. Almond-and-cherry is a standout.
Stroll among the giants at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and see if you can pick out which is the tallest tree at 277 feet. You’ll definitely want to start on the Redwood Grove Loop Trail. Stand up in the fire-hollowed Fremont Tree that Gen. John C. Frémont is said to have camped in when he and Kit Carson passed through in 1846.
You can walk from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to Roaring Camp Railroads, or vice versa, saving the short drive and the double parking fee.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 348
This story was originally published on July 14, 2016.
Take a trip back in time through Anderson Valley to Mendocino
Cloverdale, Calif., to Mendocino west through the Anderson Valley on California 128, then about eight miles north on U.S. Route 1.
About 67 miles one way.
Fall, for grape and apple harvests. Be wary of possible winter flooding near Navarro River Redwoods State Park.
Scenic Mendocino hardly needs an introduction. Taking a detour to or through the nearby, lesser-known Anderson Valley feels like a trip back in time, with clusters of businesses in Boonville and Philo catering to tourists frequenting the wineries.
The Anderson Valley was apple country decades ago, and vestiges remain in the form of farm stands and scattered orchards. But it’s mostly vineyards now, and wines are the big draw, from robust Pinot Noirs to Alsatian-style wines such as dry Gewurtztraminer, sweet Riesling and bold Pinot Gris. The Phillips Hill tasting room, set in a weathered apple-dryer building in an orchard northwest of Philo, recalls a bit of the old agricultural economy. Rolling hills abound with vines through the narrow valley, and you can experience nature up close with a walk through the Hendy Woods or Navarro River Redwoods state parks. The latter park is a virtual tunnel of redwoods for the last 11-mile stretch to the coast.
The Madrones guest quarters in Philo include nine well-appointed rooms set amid a flowering garden and working farm. Three wine-tasting rooms hold court in the property’s main Mediterranean-style building.
The Bewildered Pig in Philo is an unassuming overachiever from chef-owner Janelle Weaver, who relies on local sources and knows better than to put much between you and your chanterelle mushrooms — just a dash of salt and garlic. On Thursdays — locals night — enjoy free corkage and modestly priced specials such as beef and barley stew.
Tourist trap or treat
A certifiable treat. Take a walk around Penny Royal Farm in Boonville, where the prized sheep and goats are the stars behind incredible cheeses, including the cream-cheese-smooth Laychee and Camembert-style Velvet Sister.
Plan to spend
Just a couple of hours for the drive itself. But you will want to give the valley the better part of a day, at least, or overnight to sample wine and cheese and enjoy the views.
Cannon Beach captures the best of Oregon’s coast
About 25 miles one way, or 200 miles for a loop from Portland on U.S. 30 and 26.
Summer for warm days and seabirds near Cannon Beach; September for fair weather and smaller crowds; winter for wild storms.
Oregon’s scenic coast is captured in microcosm along this northern stretch, from wide and walkable beaches, headlands and an iconic sea stack in Cannon Beach to Astoria’s charming shops and an incredible view from its namesake column, a landmark tower.
Pull off 101 and take a quick tour of quaint downtown Cannon Beach before driving up winding Ecola State Park Road to the majestic headlands. The view of Haystack Rock below is breathtaking. From April to August the rock is home to nesting tufted puffins and other seabirds; low tide also creates opportunities to explore tidepools. After getting back on 101, consider a stop to grab taffy in Seaside or a bike exploration of Fort Stevens State Park near Warrenton. Also near Warrenton is Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and its replica of Ft. Clatsop, where the explorers wintered in 1805. Make time to visit the small but high-quality Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, and end the day with a climb up the 164 steps of the picturesque Astoria Column.
Two terrific possibilities here, either the ultra-comfortable oceanfront Surfsand for a beach bonfire in Cannon Beach or the chic Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa in Astoria, where you can watch majestic ships pass.
For a special occasion, spend $149 per person (wine pairing included) on the energetic and entertaining dinner cooking demonstration at EVOO Cannon Beach. Or try amazingly fresh and modestly priced fish at Ecola Seafoods, also in Cannon Beach.
Tourist trap or treat
Treat all the way. It’s off the beaten track, but stop in the tiny community of Gearhart for a buttery pastry and coffee at Pacific Way Bakery & Cafe, now in its 29th yummy year.
Plan to spend
About 1½ hours for the drive alone, but you will want to make it a full day from Portland or spend a night in Cannon Beach, Gearhart, Seaside or Astoria.
Enjoy the empty road and reach the Pinnacles in the cowboy country of California Highway 25
San Lucas to Gilroy, Calif., on California Highway 25.
About 75, one way.
Spring, when the hills are green, though the area’s oat and alfalfa fields add greenery to the route year round.
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.
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.
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.
How to take a road trip with your teen daughter (and still be speaking to each other at the end)
Traveling with family members is not at the top of everyone’s wish list, but sometimes we fantasize that we can rewrite family history with a fabulous vacation.
Sometimes we even plan trips with our teenage daughters.
If that possibility seems like a probability, consider this weeklong (more or less) itinerary, based on several trips I have made from Los Angeles to San Francisco with a daughter in tow.
The good news about your destination is its rich variety of attractions. With a list that includes Alcatraz Island, cable cars, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, City Lights Bookstore and shopping in Pacific Heights, both you and your traveling companion are likely to find happiness.
The challenge is filling in the blanks on the way up and back.
Rather than racing up and down Interstate 5, the two of you might meander — a bit. Head north on California 99 for a while. Start your return trip with a leisurely drive south on California 1. Stop in small and medium-size towns, visiting the occasional tourist trap and sampling comfort food.
You might even be speaking to each other at the end of the journey.
On a car trip with your teen son, buffets rule, moms don’t and sometimes even the opera is — surprise! — OK
My son is a whiz at navigating all things having to do with air travel. Yet when it came to planning road trips he seemed content to defer to me — that is, until the teen and young adult years.
Here are some things I (we) learned about traveling together on several recent road trips in the Southwest.
Why necco wafers are the best choice to take on a road trip (and other candies that won’t melt)
If you paid attention in biology, you may remember that human beings are primed to crave sugar. When we gorge on, say, Skittles or Sour Patch Kids, our levels of dopamine, linked to the pleasure centers in our brain, rise.
That means regular consumption of candy on a long road trip is a must.
We have some recommendations about how to stock your vehicle before you enter your final destination in the navigation system.
We’ve based our selections on a few highly subjective ground rules:
- Road trips are not a time for artisanal anything, so there will be no mention of infusions or dried fruit or ginger sea salt.
- We’re long on hard and chewy sweets because, even if you’re motoring across the country in a luxury sedan, your candy is not completely safe from sun or heat.
- Many of our recommendations are packaged in single-serving cardboard boxes or plastic pouches.
- We are (temporarily) disregarding all those sugar-is-death warnings from the medical industrial complex — as are many Americans. In the 52 weeks that ended on April 30, 2016, we spent $21.5 billion on candy, a 2.6% increase over the previous 12 months.
So pop open that Diet Dr Pepper, shove a Tootsie Pop in your mouth and hit the highway.
See the ancient rock art at a U.S. weapons center near Ridgecrest
While driving to Mammoth Lakes on U.S. 395 over the years, my family and I have visited the sobering Manzanar National Historic Site, called out film locations in the Alabama Hills (“‘Star Trek’!” “‘Gunga Din’!”), toured the historic Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, and kicked up dust at the Bodie State Historic Park ghost town.
But because it requires actual planning, we’ve never seen the ancient petroglyphs at Coso Rock Art District National Historic Landmark, tucked away on the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Until now. And what a payoff it was in late October for us to get up close (cameras, no touching) to the vivid designs etched into the basalt rocks.
A hush fell over our tour group as we climbed down a rocky canyon into the past, coming face to face with the vivid paleo-Indian images of bighorn sheep, hunters, dogs, anthropomorphic figures — even what may be an attacking mountain lion and an ancient kayaker. It was mystical to muse about the people who stood here thousands of years ago, creating on these rock canvases in Little Petroglyph Canyon.
Our new favorite hostelry is any Hampton Inn & Suites for its comfortable rooms, convenient locations (this one in Ridgecrest) and 6 a.m. breakfasts, which allowed us to make the 6:30 a.m. check-in for the daylong, rock art tour arranged by the Maturango Museum. Private tours are also available through the Naval Air Weapons Station public affairs office at  939-1683 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For dinner, we tried the family-friendly Grape Leaf in Ridgecrest, where we nibbled on hummus, dolmas, falafel and kibbe appetizers, lamb kebabs and chicken shawarma. Bonus: leftovers for our picnic dinner the next day at Petroglyph Park in Ridgecrest.
For ambience, we ate lunch in the 1890s boom town of Randsburg, a living ghost town. At the General Store we ordered grilled cheese with tomato from the friendly counter clerk. Within minutes, the lunch crowd roared in -- no longer the miners of yore but colorfully garbed off-road-vehicle riders.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 155
This story was originally published on Jan. 12, 2017.
Los Osos is big enough to keep a golfer and a kayaker happy
It’s a challenge: He likes to golf; I like to kayak. We’ll occasionally meet in the middle for a moderate hike. What to do? Well, friends suggested Los Osos. Los Where? How have we missed this exit off Highway 1 on the Central Coast?
The Sea Pines Golf Resort, perched at the farthest corner of the Morro Bay harbor and estuary, promises greens at your doorstep and easy paddling nearby. One of us greatly appreciated the second-floor balcony for its view of those deep purple sunsets over the sand dunes; the other found the same balcony memorable for its proximity to the practice green and to Skunk’s Path (a.k.a. hole No. 2).
A wise local sent us for “special Manhattan clam chowder” (yes, yummy) and fish and chips at Dorn’s Original Breakers Cafe, served with plentiful sourdough bread and butter. The hilltop Morro Bay location offers bay views plus a glimpse of my kayaking route. For a sweet treat, we headed down the street for peach turnovers and espresso ice cream at Sun-n-Buns Bakery & Espresso Bar on Embarcadero.
Our front-desk clerk was brimming with ideas for hikes in Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve but urged us to check out Montana de Oro State Park down the road. Bingo! We shared our brisk morning stroll on the bluffs with an occasional jogger and a devoted spouse who steered his companion’s wheelchair to a vista point on the accessible trail.
After marveling at a handful of fearless surfers, I was ready for some calm kayaking inside sand-dune-protected Morro Bay and marina. Within minutes of pushing off from Kayak Horizons in Morro Bay, I came across a mother sea otter and her pup. I watched from a distance as she groomed, coddled and scolded her awkward offspring, scooping up the squealing pup when it got too far from her side.
Offer a spouse the Central Coast Golf Trail, an 11-course stay-and-play option, and he’ll probably respond affirmatively. He’ll spend hours talking, planning and exploring, but in the end he’ll pass on the smorgasbord of choices and chip, putt, practice and play on the nine-hole executive course at his hotel doorstep. Early morning or twilight, he’s out the door for “just a few more swings.”
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 197
This story was originally published on Sept. 1, 2016.
Roaming San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury aboard a Magic Bus
I’d never taken a tour on which the guide addressed the group as “my tribe,” but it felt perfectly natural aboard the Magic Bus, which calls itself a “trip” into San Francisco’s 1960s-era hippie counterculture.
My friend Adam (a politically conservative MBA with an unlikely interest in hippie counterculture) drove in from the burbs, and together we took the two-hour tour before exploring San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the movement’s rainbow-colored, tie-dyed epicenter.
About the only conventional thing about the Magic Bus Tour is the boarding area amid the mainstream bus tours on Union Square. The bus, run by the local Antenna Theater Co., is painted flower-power style, and our guide, Serene Rain, was dressed in heart-shaped sunglasses and flowing hippie garb. Serene, who lovingly called us “my tribe,” passed out yellow marigolds (for our hair, naturally) and encouraged us to sing along to recordings of Joplin, Santana and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
As she gave us the lowdown on Chinatown, the Financial District, Market Street, the Haight and Golden Gate Park in the ’60s, she urged us to open the bus windows, wave, smile and flash peace signs at passersby.
Serene pointed out a ’60s-era pharmacy and lunch counter, which hippies had nicknamed “the drogstore.” It’s now Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery, where Adam and I shared a dynamite post-tour brunch: a smoked pastrami sandwich with French onion soup for dipping, the Hangtown Fry (fried oysters alongside eggs scrambled with bacon, spinach and caramelized onion, topped with arugula) and house-brewed beers.
The counter and much of the original woodwork have been handsomely preserved, and Adam noted that Jimi Hendrix might well have visited the same restroom.
We thought we’d made a seriously wrong turn when we entered the Red Victorian and walked in on a figure-drawing class with nude models. But all was in order: The Red Vic, in the Haight since 1904, does quadruple duty as a B&B, hostel, commune and gathering place.
Upstairs, it was easy to imagine bygone hippies in its wainscoted hallways and eclectically decorated private and shared rooms, most without private bath. Overnight guests (in artist-decorated rooms with names such as Redwood Forest) might sleep next door to permanent residents who organize house dinners, gallery openings and those art classes.
As San Francisco celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the city is both looking back and considering its present, when gentrification is a constant topic. Amid the Haight’s paradoxical mix of head shops and hipster fashions, vintage clothing stores and Whole Foods, it was encouraging to find one-of-a-kinds such as Bound Together, an anarchist collective bookstore, and the tie-dye clothing of Jammin’ on Haight. But perhaps no shop better embodies modern San Francisco’s dual personality than Ben & Jerry’s, effortlessly blending counterculture and corporate culture at the very corner of Haight and Ashbury.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 383
This story was originally published on Sept. 29, 2016.
A small camper van has some big upsides — and downsides too
If you’re a shrinking violet, you might think twice before taking to the road in Jucy’s mini RV, which is painted blazing shades of lime green and purple and is plastered with ads.
But if you don’t mind attracting attention, this small-size rental can be big fun.
Jucy, a New Zealand vehicle rental company, is testing the waters in the U.S. with offices in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
In the U.S., it primarily rents Dodge Caravans, which have been customized as pop-up camper vans that can sleep up to four.
I rented one in the fall for a four-day trip to Arizona, where I visited friends and went cave-hopping, checking out Colossal Cave in Vail, about 25 miles southeast of Tucson, and Kartchner Caverns, outside Benson, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson.
It didn’t take long to realize that I was a rolling billboard. My first stop was for fuel, and I immediately drew the attention of a fellow driver at the next pump.
On your next road trip north, break up the drive with these 5 leg-stretchers
Road trips make me antsy. As a hiker and runner, I build in as many stops as my buddies will tolerate on the northward drive from L.A. (destination: Morro Bay).
Here are five leg-stretchers that will break up the boredom.
Keeping your dog happy and healthy when you’re both on vacation
My dog, Piper, is a white fluffball, a 20-pound rescue pup who prances around like a pint-sized princess and greets me with a play bow and kisses when I come home.
Imagine my surprise when my fair-haired girl locked me out of the car in the middle of the desert one recent night. She had the cellphone, my purse and the car keys. I had a disbelieving look on my face.
We had gotten off Interstate 8 at a rest stop outside El Centro, near the Mexican border. I walked Piper, put her back in the car and was walking to my door when I heard the electronic locks snap. I grabbed the door handle and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge.
Piper was standing on the car key fob. I had apparently dropped it when I lifted her into the car.
The story ends happily, thanks to a CalTrans worker who loaned me his phone to call a roadside service with a locksmith.
But it scares me to think what would have happened if it had been daytime — and hot — or if someone hadn’t helped me.
The experience offers a lesson in what not to do on a road trip with your pet.
History, scenery and wine in the Santa Ynez Valley
Los Angeles to the Santa Ynez Valley by way of U.S. 101 and State Highway 154, the “Chumash Highway,” over the San Marcos Pass; return along the ocean on U.S. 101.
About 275 miles round trip
Spring for green hills; the rest of the year for golden.
Take the scenic — and historic — route to Santa Barbara wine country, climbing from the ocean and U.S. 101 on California 154 into the Santa Ynez Mountains, and crossing over the scenic 2,000-foot San Marcos Pass.
Before you reach the Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge, the highest such bridge in California, take a 3½-mile detour down historic Stagecoach Road. This two-laner with hairpin turns follows the precarious route stagecoaches took from 1860 to 1901. Reconnect with 154 and drive back up the hill to the Rancho Cielo Vista Point. Colorful signs fill you in on the breathtaking panorama that extends across the Santa Ynez Valley below to the distant San Rafael Mountains. A rugged wilderness, the mountains offer a sanctuary for endangered California condors that were reintroduced to the wild by the Los Angeles Zoo.
The Alamo Motel in Los Alamos is bare bones yet funky-chic. The beds are comfy, and for $135 you can get a room with a claw-footed bathtub.
Sy Kitchen in tonier Santa Ynez, serves terrific Italian cuisine. Savor homemade pappardelle with fresh local chanterelle mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and a kiss of thyme from their garden.
Tourist trap or treat
Definitely treat. One bite of the crusty artisanal breads and buttery pastries at Bob’s Well Bread, and you’ll end up taking home not just wine from the wine country but baked goods as well. This world-class bakery-café, set in a former 1920s gas station in Los Alamos, is alone worth the road trip.
Plan to spend
About 2½ to three hours for the drive. Once you’re in Santa Barbara wine country, enjoy a day or two of tasting its superlative Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Rhône blends before heading home.
Coronado’s coastal charms
Los Angeles to Coronado on Interstate 5.
About 260, round trip
With an abundance of sunny days, there’s no bad time to visit. You’ll beat the throngs outside of school breaks, especially March through May and September through November.
Coronado Island is a beach getaway connected to San Diego by a dramatically arching, 2-mile-long bridge. Coronado village epitomizes small-town America, a reminder of a time when vacations meant stripped-down pleasures — seaside walks, bike rides, gumdrops and jawbreakers.
Coronado has played host to Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Marilyn Monroe, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few. But it’s that laid-back lifestyle that is the drawing card. Stroll into town and take in a play at the Lamb’s Players Theatre, gorge on vintage candy at Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory and hand-crafted ice cream at MooTime Creamery. The Coronado Museum of History and Art tells the story of this enchanting island through memorabilia, historic black-and-white photos and unique artwork.
The Hotel del Coronado, on one of the best-in-the-U.S. white-sand beaches. The sprawling resort offers a Kidtopia activity camp (for ages 4 to 12) and the Vibz hangout for teens. There are surf lessons, bike and boogie board rentals, a toy store and the vintage Spreckels candy store. The Family S’mores Night and beach and pool movie night get a huge thumbs-up. As does the Crown Room Sunday Brunch.
Hipster central, Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge is committed to a sustainable menu with inventive farm-to-table eats and local craft beers.
Rent a bike at Wheel Fun Rentals at the Hotel del Coronado. There are 15 miles of pristine coast to pedal, with the paved Bayshore Bikeway leading to the historic Coronado Ferry Landing, a dock for more than 125 years. The spectacular view of the San Diego skyline alone is worth the trek. To really get under the skin of the place, take a 90-minute guided Coronado Walking Tour. It starts at the Glorietta Bay Inn, a 1908 mansion built by a sugar baron, and offers a stroll past castles and cottages. A three-hour Culinary Walking Tour serves up samples from some of Coronado’s best restaurants.
Plan to spend
As you head south (or on the return trip) consider stopping at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum and at the Laguna Art Museum, the only museum in the state to feature art exclusively by California artists. Mission San Juan Capistrano draws architecture buffs.
Backcountry San Diego is a desert delight
Los Angeles to the Salton Sea on Interstate 5, California 78 and 79, San Diego County Roads S2 and S22, Borrego Salton Seaway.
About 410 miles round-trip, 380 if you return by way of Palm Springs.
Spring for blooming wildflowers and temperate weather; summer for heat-seekers.
The drive through backcountry San Diego County descending into the desert is a delight. You’ll climb the hills east of Escondido, drop into the Ramona Valley with its farms, ranches and wineries, then plunge thousands of feet to the desert floor and Borrego Springs, continuing on to the Salton Sea.
Grab some fresh produce and honey from farm stands in the Ramona Valley. Shop for antiques on Main Street in Ramona, and get a Guy Fieri-approved cinnamon roll at the Ramona Café. Pull over along S22 to shoot photos of the striking boulder-filled landscape and desert vistas. Stop at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center to get the skinny on hiking trails and wilderness areas. Check out Ricardo Breceda’s whimsical metal sculptures (prehistoric mammals and more) scattered around Borrego Springs. See the results of millions of years of geologic turmoil on the drive through the Borrego Badlands to the surreal Salton Sea, California’s accidental ocean in the desert.
Spend a few bucks and stay at La Casa del Zorro in Borrego Springs, a sprawling resort with five swimming pools, a spa, tennis courts and a fitness center. Bring some pals and rent a casita with a private pool or spa.
The unpretentious Red Ocotillo in Borrego Springs serves up a perfect club sandwich and a side of mixed greens at lunch; burgers are popular, and breakfast is a big draw.
Tourist trap or treat
The Julian Pie Co. in Santa Ysabel is definitely a tourist trap — and definitely a delightful treat. The aroma from the baking pies is irresistible, so why resist? Indulge in a slice of one of the many varieties of apple pie.
Plan to spend
L.A. to Escondido is about two hours; the drive from there to the Salton Sea can be done in another two hours — but don’t rush! Slow down, enjoy the scenery, then take a couple of days to decompress from city life.
You can’t take a road trip without pit stops. Here’s the lowdown on 7 spots
Your car trip is going to be just fine, really. But right now, you’re hearing that dreaded four-word chorus from the back seat. And no, you’re not there yet.
But maybe you just need the right pit stop.
Here’s a close look at 7 famed fixtures and underappreciated gems. Three are north, on the way to San Francisco. Two are east, on the way to Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas or Death Valley. And two are south, on the way to San Diego.
Traveling by car with a feline can be the cat’s meow
I knew Michelle was up for adventure when I spotted her. As her brothers snored nearby, she reached out to me.
It was a match. After I adopted her, she began climbing into my backpack — a sign, perhaps, that she was hoping to join me on work assignments.
I bought a crate, buckled it into my car’s back seat and off we went around town. Gradually, we took longer trips, including the California coast.
Last summer, Michelle and I traveled in my fully packed Prius from Southern California to British Columbia and back, a journey of about 6,000 miles.
Dogs get most of the ink when it comes to car trips, but I can attest that cats also can be great company as you head down the highway.
Michelle’s curiosity and independence made me laugh; she also occasionally kept me warm (or at least kept my feet warm), whether in a tent, a motel or a lodge. She also won hearts and admiration by being sociable with people she trusted.
Here are tips to help your kitty become a first-class travel companion.
This San Bernardino County byway will throw you some curves, and oh what fun they’ll be
Rim of the World Scenic Byway crisscrosses the spine of the San Bernardino Mountains from the Cajon Pass to San Gorgonio Pass, encompassing parts of California 138, 18 and 38. The route, which tops out at about 7,000 feet, offers jaw-dropping views.
About 110 miles on mostly two-lane, curving mountain roads
Late spring and summer for cool temperatures, clear skies and wildflowers such as purple lupine, Indian paintbrush and the bright yellow blooms of Spanish Broom, a weed. Visit in fall for grand displays of autumn colors and in winter for pristine, snow-covered forest views.
The route links some of Southern California’s best-known mountain communities, including Crestline, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake. The roadway follows trails and rutted wagon routes used for centuries by explorers, horse thieves, settlers, miners, loggers and more.
The Scenic Byway begins at Mormon Rocks, 19 miles north of San Bernardino in the Cajon Pass, just west of Interstate 15 on California 138. The sandstone formations here, named for Mormon pioneers, are known as hogbacks and were used as a backdrop for westerns, “Star Trek” and many other TV shows. Drive through desert scrub as you ascend to Silverwood Lake, a state reservoir and recreation area that’s now full of water, thanks to our recent rains, then climb sharply into the pines. At Crestline, turn onto California 18 and watch for awesome rim-of-the-world views of the San Bernardino Valley. More spectacular, edge-of-infinity views await as you travel Rim Highway from Snow Valley to Big Bear Lake. At the dam, turn onto California 38, stopping at the Big Bear Lake Discovery Center for hiking ideas and a nature walk.
Best Western Big Bear Chateau is pet-friendly and nicely landscaped with a pool. It has in-room fireplaces and is a budget buy with rates from less than $100 a night, double occupancy.
Awesome views of the valley also await at Hortencia’s Mexican Grill on California 18 in Crestline. Every view — both inside and on the patio — is terrific at this new family-run Mexican restaurant, which serves traditional favorites, ranging from $9.99 to $18.99.
Tourist trap or treat
Treat. Be sure to buy a U.S. Forest Adventure Pass ($5 a day or $30 a year) available at businesses, ranger stations and online. The passes are required in San Bernardino, Angeles, Los Padres and Cleveland national forests.
The National Children’s Forest, about half a mile east of Running Springs on California 18. There’s a tiny museum and information center at the Deerlick Fire Station. Five miles up a paved side road (Keller Peak Road, 1N96) is the Children’s Forest, replanted by kids after the devastating Bear Fire of 1970. The forest has an accessible three-quarter-mile nature trail, picnic tables and clean restrooms.
Plan to spend
The better part of a day to allow caution on the curves and maximum enjoyment of the views.
Hiring someone to watch over your pets? It’s not quite as easy as saying ‘Go fetch’
Everything was set for my vacation when I realized my aging dog had too many medical issues to be boarded, sending me on a frantic search for a pet sitter.
My dog and home survived my eleventh-hour hire (my plants, not so much), but I still I wish I knew then what I know now.
“I’ve hired pet sitters, and I’ve hired a nanny. It’s the same process for me,” said Dr. Tim Hackett, an emergency and critical care vet and director of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. “Make sure they have good training, references and know what to do in a crisis.”
A winding trip on California’s newest state scenic highway
Pacific Coast Highway to California 27, a.k.a. Topanga Canyon Boulevard or “The Boulevard,” as residents call it, to U.S. 101.
About 13 miles one way
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Diego’s Liberty Station entices with cultural attractions and food
All hands on deck! Liberty Station, a 1920s naval training facility in San Diego, has been repurposed as a mixed-use development. It’s still used for training, but now converted barracks host dance and art classes as well as galleries, shops and small museums. The Spanish Revival architecture, covered walkways and plazas are a delight to stroll through.
My husband and I popped into a watercolor exhibit, watched a flamenco dance class work on a difficult sequence and listened to a docent explain an elaborate textile piece. Best of all, the Navy commissary that served chipped beef on toast has been replaced by the Liberty Public Market, a food hall with multiple vendors.
The Courtyard San Diego Airport/Liberty Station, adjacent to a large park with waterfront views of downtown, is an easy walk to everything in Liberty Station and offers a free shuttle to the nearby airport. The rooms have enough style to overcome the feel of a standard business hotel; amenities include free Wi-Fi, mini-fridge, Keurig coffeemaker and a 40-inch flat-screen TV. Families might want to choose the Homewood Suites by Hilton next door, which offers daily complimentary breakfast and other extras.
We grazed our way through Liberty Public Market, sampling goodies from its food artisans and chefs. There are butchers, bakers and olive oil makers as well as a roster of kitchen wizards knocking out ceviche, jambalaya, poke, lobster rolls and more. My top picks from a weekend’s worth of indulgence included the bratwurst sandwich with onions, peppers and bacon crumbles atMastiff Sausage Co. and the seasoned chicken and beef empanadas at Parana Empanadas Argentinas.
If you visit on the first Friday of the month, there’s the nighttime art walk with its mix of dance, theater and music performances, open museums and galleries, and opportunities to yak with local artists.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 117
This story was originally published on July 21, 2016.
Santa Barbara? That’s a familiar face and place for a weekend escape. Or is it?
Think you know Santa Barbara? Spanish-style buildings with red-tile rooftops, charming boutiques and restaurants on State Street, the wharf and wide, sandy beaches. Correct on all counts.
But dig beneath all that and you’ll find there is more to be discovered in this favorite destination: The city is evolving in cool new ways; older properties in unexpected locations are being revitalized and repurposed. The tourist staples are still a treat, but do yourself a favor and get off the beaten track. On a recent quick trip, we found delightful gems in an up-and-coming industrial area.
We stayed at the Castillo Inn at the Beach, a small, classic motel half a block from the oceanfront and a short walk to Stearns Wharf and the foot of State Street. The rooms are well maintained and have nice touches: Italian granite and mosaic vanities, flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and refrigerators. Parking is free, and a small continental breakfast offers strong coffee, juice and pastries to eat in your room.
If you like barbecue with all the fixings, swing on over to Wildwood Kitchen at the new-ish Mill complex. The restaurant opened in 2015 and filled a need for more ‘cue in Santa Barbara. The vibe is rustic with exposed brick, reclaimed wood and an open kitchen. We had smoked brisket, house-made bratwurst, grilled carrots, fries and coleslaw.
On the western side of town, Food Network fans may want to hit up Mesa Burger, a casual, lively spot that opened in December. If you’re lucky, co-owner and Iron Chef Cat Cora might be the one who serves you your griddled goat-cheese burger and waffle fries.
The Mill is the latest proof that there’s new life in old Santa Barbara. It’s in the heart of an industrial area slowly morphing into a hip design district. Kirsten and Darrell Becker, who own the on-site Becker Studios, restored the 1904 feed mill and added a modern spin. The Mill’s collection of businesses has a distinct artisan flair. Besides Wildwood Kitchen, there is Potek Winery, Third Window Brewing Co. and a boutique design showroom, Millworks.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 96
This story was originally published on March 9, 2017.
Escape to Newport Beach for butterflies, kayaking and hiking
Between school and work, three days was all my family of four could put together for a vacation. We wanted relaxation, a sense of awe and good food so imagine our surprise at finding all that in Newport Beach just half an hour from our home.
Our first stop was the Newport Bay Conservancy’s Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center for a lesson in how Upper Newport Bay became a critical wildlife habitat in the heart of an upscale city. Afterward, we hit the Upper Bay Trail (2.2 miles) and the Back Bay Drive (3 1/2 miles, popular with bird watchers).
We chose the Newport Beach Marriott Bayview, across the street from the hiking trails. Our suite had two double beds and a separate living room with a mini-fridge and sleeper-sofa -- plenty of space for a family with two daughters, 17 and 20, and all the stuff they can’t leave home without.
We aimed to keep our dining casual, mid-range and close, although it would have been easy to splurge (we were in Newport Beach, after all). Dinner was at Nancy Silverton’s and Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza. Highlights included the Brussels sprouts pizza and caprese with roasted cherry tomatoes and creamy burrata. The next day we strayed down the coast a bit to the Tackle Box, the snack shack of “Top Chef” contestant Brian Huskey right on the beach in Corona del Mar. We loved the pork belly banh mi, fried catfish sandwich and buffalo cauliflower.
Thanks to the Newport Bay Conservancy’s two-hour kayak tour, we witnessed an animated spat between a heron and a duck, gawked as a flock of birds flew by at eye level and paddled past tall cordgrass used by endangered Ridgway’s rails to weave nests that rise and sink with the tide. The tour, which leaves from the Newport Aquatic Center, started with a quick lesson, but we moved across the bay at a leisurely pace. Tours are at 10 a.m. on weekends.
Miles one way from downtown L.A.: 43
This story was originally published on July 7, 2016.
After a weekend in Santa Maria, the tri-tip will be seared into your memory
Santa Maria is one of those cities that I always drive past on my way up north. It doesn’t have the Danish kitsch and buttery-rich pastries of nearby Solvang or the summery vibe of Pismo Beach, just up the road. Its downtown corridor is fairly nondescript, and Broadway, its main drag, is full of bland-looking buildings. “Why exactly did we come here?” my husband asked as we drove into town. He ended up happily eating his words (hint: barbecue). We had a great time eating and drinking our way around the Santa Maria Valley.
The Radisson, on the quieter south side of the city, overlooks the small Santa Maria Airport. This is a full-service hotel for private aviators: You can climb out of your light plane and a bellhop will pick up your luggage and escort you to check-in. No pilot’s license? No problem, there’s plenty of free parking for cars. We had an airport-view room, and from our window, the planes looked like toys. History buffs might prefer the 1917 Santa Maria Inn and its English country décor.
How can something so simple taste so delicious? I asked myself as I happily chowed down on an awesome tri-tip sandwich at Shaw’s Steakhouse & Tavern. The answer is in the magic of the Santa Maria-style dry rub (salt, pepper and garlic salt); the meat is grilled over local red oak. There was more beef for dinner at Jocko’s Steak House in nearby Nipomo. Jocko’s is no secret: The plain-looking exterior hides a plain-looking interior that roars to life at night with festive crowds. My Spencer steak was as soft as buttah, and the dinner included a relish tray, rice or potato, beans, salad, coffee and dessert.
Santa Maria’s backcountry really shines, with the heart of the action the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, a rural road through the scenic hills dotted with ranches. Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, in a cute cottage, was fun; it specializes in Pinot and Chardonnay. Just west of the trail, we stopped at Presqu’ile Winery, in a striking modern building high on a hill overlooking vineyards. It’s a great place to linger and enjoy the view and the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with charcuterie or a cheese platter.
This story was originally published on April 27, 2017.
On a road trip, love means always having to say you’re sorry and other lessons learned
My father was born in small-town Kansas and spent the rest of his life trying to overcome it.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted from life, but he knew he wanted to say goodbye to the Walnut River Valley and the sulfury smell from the nearby oil wells.
Some say the odor of oil is the smell of money, but something else tugged at him, telling him to get away, to have an adventure, to find a life and live it with abandon.
He found that life in travel. Small steps at first in the Midwest. And then big ones: Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Philippines, courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
By the time he was discharged in 1945, as thin as a rail and a whole lot tanner, he was ready to get in a car with his wife and daughter (and later, another daughter and still later another daughter) and go wherever the road took him.
Even as a humble federal civil servant, he managed to be king of the road, thanks to the U.S. government, which moved us every two years.
When duty called, he packed us up and pointed the car in the direction of our new home. A “vacation,” he called it.
It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that normal vacations do not begin with tears and saying goodbye to family, friends and the familiar.
But wasn’t it a vacation to get in a new-model of a Chevy and drive from Virginia to San Francisco on our way to Honolulu?
Perhaps, unless that Chevy was a Corvair, which, with its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, promised to be a dream come true but eventually inspired Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
It was a dream, but a really bad one. As my mother said repeatedly, “We made lots of new friends on our trip. Most of them were Chevrolet mechanics.”
In the Mojave Desert, a winding route reveals the weird and the wonderful
There’s no road trip like a desert road trip.
You rarely run out of road, and you’re sure to meet people far more compelling than yourself. But I wasn’t interested in the irrigated, moneyed enclaves of ex-presidents and chief executives.
I wanted to explore the remoter edges of the Mojave — those threadbare hamlets, burned-out ghost towns and unsettling moonscapes that often prompt the question, “Who would ever want to live there?”
I set out in April to find the answer. Along the way I met a tormented artist, an isolated man planning an epic party, a band of gentle monks and a woman selling the town she loves. All of them are playing out their lives against a backdrop of enveloping light and unrelenting solitude. Sometimes the road trip less taken is the most inspiring.