Miles from L.A.: 395
While students, surfers, hippies, and Silicon Valley refugees have helpedkeep the town weird (or so the motto goes), the Hotel Paradox is anything but. A recent arrival, the boutique has a Design Within Reach look, albeit with a reception desk made from a hulking tree trunk. A plate of pappardelle with milk-braised pork at sophisticated little La Posta will satisfy before you visit the Boardwalk, where the creaky wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster celebrates its 90th birthday this year. Downtown you’ll find a swath of stores along with Zoccoli’s, a hopping Italian deli known for its slabs of housemade lasagna and hearty sandwiches. Before the drive home, perk up at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co., in business since 1978.
Miles from L.A.: 389
Capitola is known for its sunny beaches (at least by Northern California standards), but it’s also a river town, thanks to Soquel Creek. Built around a 1920s log cabin along the creek, Shadowbrook Restaurant is accessed via a sort-of cable car (dubbed a “hillavator”) that eases down a bluff through lush gardens. If you’re not up for a full dinner, just ride the hillavator and grab a drink in the grotto-like Rock Room Bar & Lounge, with its serpentine-stone fireplace.
Miles from L.A.: 349
Long before collaborating with William Randolph Hearst on his wee country retreat down San Simeon way, architect Julia Morgan designed a collection of arts and crafts buildings for a YWCA facility near Monterey in Pacific Grove. Today 11 of her structures, constructed with local redwood and stone, survive at Asilomar State Beach. You can pick up brochures for self-guided tours or take a ranger-led walk.
Miles from L.A.: 318
Even world-famous coastal views can be wearying after so many hours. Stylishly simple and contemporary, the cabins at Glen Oaks Big Sur and the property’s recently revamped Big Sur Roadhouse is a happy addition. Not that the hyperlocal tasting menu at Post Ranch Inn is anything but incredible. If you’ve got the time and can find Sycamore Canyon Road, be sure to check out the rock formations at Pfeiffer Beach.
Miles from L.A.: 258
The map and audio of the free Hearst Castle app can supplement your tour of William Randolph Hearst’s Xanadu. After descending the billowing hills, stop up the road by the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas. Tourists pack the overlook as tightly as the seals on the beach, but once you stake your spot, misanthropy gives way to grander notions.
Miles from L.A.: 244
The part of Cambria near the highway is storybook cute. A couple of miles inland, the downtown area feels more grounded, and Linn’s Fruit Bin has built a fan base with its olallieberry pies and jams. One way to beat the queue: Hit the Village Bean instead to prep for your cup of cappuccino with a scoop of honey almond, root beer marble, or mandarin chocolate ice cream, which is made by hand about an hour south in Arroyo Grande at Doc Burnstein’s Ice Cream Lab. The simple hotels that crowd Cambria’s Moonstone Beach blur together, but not El Colibri: Located at the southern end, the Spanish-style building features spacious rooms, many with a spa tub.
Miles from L.A.: 231
If you skip the food in Morro, there’s always this small, unvarnished town ten miles up the road. Congratulate yourself if you score one of the plastic tables outside Rudell’s Smokehouse. The smoked albacore sandwich is pretty great, but for dinner, a reservation at the market-to-table restaurant at Cass House B&B is as coveted as a room. The prix fixe meals by chef-owner Jensen Lorenzen might include fish-and-chips (which features locally sourced abalone)or mushrooms and berries foraged nearby.
Miles from L.A.: 223
Need a break after all that wine? There’s the newish Granada Hotel & Bistro in San Luis Obispo. Or keep going to Morro Bay and grab a fish taco or a calamari sammie at Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley on the embarcadero. Chase it down with a sticky cinnamon bun at Crill’s II while eyeing the bay’s famous domed rock during a walk in Morro Bay State Park.
Miles from L.A.: 148
Here are three words with seemingly no connection to one another: Lompoc Wine Ghetto. But this collection of tasting rooms and winemakers in an industrial park on the edge of town is where you can sample some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay from the nearby Sta. Rita Hills appellation.
Miles from L.A.: 94
Inhabiting an old industrial district by the 101 in Santa Barbara, the winecentric Funk Zone is an easy stop. Santa Ynez Valley’s lauded Whitcraft Winery stands out among the tasting rooms. Peckish? Order a plate of charcuterie with a pour from master sommelier Brian McClintic at Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant.
Illustration by Steve Wilson