10 Essential California Road Trips [Visual Guidebook]

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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From the classic Beach Boys tune to the new Adele hit, California remains the most-referenced state in Western music. And for good reason: This state dominates most of the west coast (or the best coast if you want to rub it in) and has a something for everyone’s bucket list.

We’ve curated a list of 10 of California’s essential road trips and created a visual guide to each amazing experience. There’s something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to explore gorgeous beaches and jaw-dropping forests, or you just want to bum around and sip some fine wine.

If you are ready to turn your California dreaming into a California reality, choose a trip below and make it happen!

Trip 1: Breathtaking Views of Natural Wonders

Maybe the Hollywood sign just doesn’t do it for you and taking a dip in a natural swimming hole gets your blood flowing more than the thought of running into Brad Pitt at a Starbucks. We hear you. For this trip, you can leave LA behind and head north towards Antelope Valley.

Start: Los Angeles

Begin in the city of angels and prepare to leave behind urban sprawl in favor of wide-open spaces.

Stop #1: Poppy Reserve, Lancaster

Source: Flickr

Just like Dorothy and her merry crew, you will stop to smell the poppies, California’s state flower. The Poppy Reserve is open year round, but the best time to visit is in the spring when the annual poppy festival is held.

Stop #2: Seven Teacups

Continue north about 3 hours until you reach the Seven Teacups, a beautiful granite formation with natural pools and waterfalls. Conjure up your adventurous spirit animal, because this is one of the best canyoneering and whitewater rafting locales in the state. The upper pools are accessible without gear if you just want to appreciate the beautiful scenery and take a quick dip. If you’d like to spend the night resting after your hike, the area has various campgrounds nearby including Chico Flat campground, which is free.

Stop #3: Sequoia National Park

Source: Goodfreephotos

Next, take some time to appreciate the dramatic landscape of Sequoia National Park. The massive trees will make you feel like a hobbit. The same marble that made the seven teacups also created Crystal Cave, which is a must for the explorer in you.

Stop #4: Mono Lake

Source: Flickr

Climbing north through the national parks will lead you to one of the oldest lakes in the western hemisphere, Mono Lake. This lake has a haunting beauty, but don’t drink the water – it’s twice as salty as the ocean!

Stop #5: Natural Bridges

Before completing your journey in the state’s capital, take a detour to visit the Natural Bridges outside of Vallecito. Explore the two-mile trail that drops down to the canyon floor and cool off with a swim through the limestone cave.

End: Sacramento

Wrap up your trip by visiting Sacramento and exploring some of what the city has to offer.

Trip 2: California Dreamin’ Along Scenic Rt. 1

Following this iconic coastal road trip begins by trading in the cityscape for the seascape. Most people don’t realize it, but you can escape the concentrated hot mess of San Francisco in just an hour’s drive north.

Start: San Francisco

Before heading straight to our first must-see place on the itinerary, I recommend shaking off the stress of city and adult life with a stop by Bass Lake. Give the ol’ rope swing a whirl, I dare you.

Stop #1: Alamere Falls

Source: Flickr

After reconnecting with your inner child, proceed to the jaw-dropping Alamere Falls. Maybe you’ve seen waterfalls before, but have you ever seen a tidefall? It spills directly into the ocean!

If tidefall wasn’t already on your bucket list, add it in there and then immediately cross it off.

Stop #2: Point Reyes National Seashore

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Now we can mozy on over to Point Reyes National Seashore for a picnic on the beach. Rest, relax, breathe in the salt air. For a little scavenger hunt, try to find the cypress “tree tunnel” near an old receiving station. Go in early April and catch a glimpse of baby elephant seals at the overlook.

Stop #3: Glass Beach

If you’re a beach fan (who isn’t a beach fan?) then you will love ending the day collecting sea glass souvenirs at Glass Beach. This mosaic beach was a garbage dump site until the 60’s, hence the sea glass. While pollution is a crime, this was definitely a case where one man’s trash became a national treasure.

Leave early in the morning to absorb the scenic views with the sunrise glinting off your windshield. For this coastal road trip, the journey is just as beautiful as the destinations.

Stop #4: Lost Coast & Shady Dell

Well, almost.

Everything becomes surreal as you head for the (mostly) development-free Lost Coast. Shady Dell is home to the Enchanted Forest, the closest place to a fairy tale that nature has to offer. The rare Candelabra trees make this forest a real gem, so take some time to explore.

Stop #5: Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Source: Flickr

Goodbye ocean and hello redwoods! Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to some of the tallest Redwoods in the world. Everyone should see these epic trees at least once to remind themselves of the awesome mysteries of nature. If this place doesn’t take your breath away, then nothing will.

End: Eureka

We return to the coast to end our trip in the lovely town of Eureka. Definitely check out “The Works,” a local independent record store referred to by one fan as “the dopest spot in Humbolt, CA for music.” Or, perhaps you are more of a traditionalist when it comes to sightseeing, in which case we recommend touring the Carson Mansion in Eureka’s historic district.

Trip 3: Family-Friendly, Southern California

Whether you want to create an unforgettable memory with your children or just reconnect with your inner child, this road trip is guaranteed fun for all ages.

Start: Los Angeles

In case no one has told you, Disneyland is an all-day event. So get a good night’s rest in Los Angeles before heading out at the crack of dawn to beat the heat and the lines. If you have down time the night before, I recommend stopping by the Last Bookstore. It’s probably one of the coolest bookstores in existence and it will be good to show your kids what all the hype was about before Kindles and iPads took over.

Stop #1: Disneyland

Source: Flickr

The list of Disney attractions is long enough to fill a book and everything on it sounds awesome. Splash Mountain? Sure. Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Mountain? Definitely. Just remember to wear sunblock and look out for alligators.

Prolong the experience by booking a room at the Disneyland Hotel. You’re all going to be beat after all that fun, and this hotel is only a 15-minute walk from the park. The rooms all have themes (pirates, safari, princess, etc.) and you’ll see Disney characters walking around the lobby.

Stop #2: Laguna Beach

Source: Flickr

After you’ve recuperated, set off for a day at Laguna Beach. Spend the morning catching some rays and hitting the waves.

Stop #3: La Jolla

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Next, grab some authentic beach cuisine at Papa’s Tacos before heading off for La Jolla Cove, one of the most picturesque spots in the San Diego area. Just a short walk away you’ll find The Children’s Pool, which is a must-visit if you are in the area. Don’t be mislead by the name. The Children’s Pool offers a close view of seals and sea lions (yes, close enough for a seal selfie, but remember these are wild animals).

Stop #4: Legoland

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Now that you’ve had a moment to breathe and pet some seals, time for one last adventure. Backtrack up the coast less than an hour and spend the day at Legoland, the last hoorah before returning to San Diego. Often overshadowed by Disneyland, this theme park has rides, slides and even a miniland USA, miniature famous United States cities composed of over 32 million lego blocks. I know what your kids are getting for Christmas (or at least what they’ll be begging for).

End: San Diego

Pull into San Diego and grab a bite or a place to stay for the night.

Trip 4: Desert Highways and Urban Jungles

This trip is not for the faint of heart, as anyone who has ever ended a trip in Vegas will tell you. We’re not saying this road trip will be easy, only that it will be worth it.

Start: Santa Monica

Our trip begins in Santa Monica, the backdrop to the beach series classic, Baywatch. Santa Monica was a well-chosen setting; it has incredible beaches and a pretty hip night scene. If you have some time to kill before heading off on your road trip, check out the Bungalow for a round of pool in a unique, open-concept, baja-style restaurant.

Stop #1: Universal Studios

Source: Flickr

Next, leave this laid-back surfer town behind as we head to Universal Studios in LA. What began as tours of the film studio has blossomed into a theme park that is like Disneyland’s older brother. The rides are all movie themed, but instead of Cinderella and Mickey Mouse, think Jurassic Park and the Walking Dead. There is so much to see that you’ll need to dedicate at least a whole day just to exploring the park.

Stop #2: Pasadena

On your way to San Bernardino, it’s worth stopping in Pasadena for lunch. Most locals will tell you El Taquito Mexicano Truck offers the best Mexican food around. After you put away a couple tacos, stretch your legs with a stroll through Old Town or have a laugh at the local comedy club, Ice House. Laughing totally burns calories, right?

Stop #3: San Bernadino

San Bernardino is almost always hosting some festival or concert. The “Wonderland” events draw huge crowds, and the whole town goes all out for their Halloween bash, “Escape from Wonderland.” During the lull between festivals, there is still awesome things to do. Adrenaline junkies must check out SB Raceway for some competitive indoor go-karting. If you want more of an intellectual challenge, try your hand at a series of puzzles with Open Door Escape Games in nearby Redlands.

Spend the night at Arrowhead Springs Resort and Spa. Once the headquarters for Campus Crusade for Christ, this hotel offers hot springs, mineral baths, and underground steam caves. Everything you need before heading out into the desert.

Stop #4: Mojave National Preserve

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Make no mistake about it, the Mojave National Preserve is the wilderness. The landscape includes cinder cones, lava flows, Joshua trees, and Kelso dunes, known for making singing sounds. Home to bats, coyotes, and even mountain lions; this is a beautiful place to drive through and a scary place to run out of gas, so come prepared.

End: Las Vegas

Source: Flickr

Just an hour north, seemingly out of place in the middle of a desert, our road trip ends in the city of Las Vegas. You can travel the world without leaving the city: Take a gondola ride in Venice, visit the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower and still have time to check out one of Vegas’s many casinos and restaurants.

Trip 5: California is for Lovers

California is one of the most romanticized and romantic states in the US. The natural beauty and endless adventures conjure up the bliss of summers gone by. Nostalgia mingles with the atmosphere of “anything is possible”, and this feeling of hope is what draws many to the western shores. So if you are looking to escape with a special someone, this is the road trip for you.

Start: San Jose

Source: Flickr

Before departing San Jose, take a drive along Sierra Road. Referred to as the Twin Peaks of the South Bay, this road offers some of the best views–no, scratch that–the best view of the city and beyond.

Stop #1: Old Fisherman’s Grotto

Continue down to Monterey and grab a late lunch in Old Fisherman’s Grotto. Located right on the wharf, this restaurant serves delicious seafood with ambiance.

Stop #2: 17 Mile Drive

Source: Flickr

After lunch, you’ll conveniently be just 10 minutes from 17 Mile Drive, recognized as one of the most scenic drives in the world. From the harbor seals in Fanshell Overlook to the majestic Del Monte Forest, you will want to drive slowly to capture all of the awe-inspiring coastal vistas.

Stop #3: Carmel Mission Basicila Museum

Source: Flickr

Founded as an art colony in 1905, Carmel-by-the-Sea remains a hotspot for artists, poets, and intellectuals. The Carmel Mission, or San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission more formally, is a beautiful landmark with a rich history. Take a stroll through the courtyard and the gardens before calling it a night.

Stop #4: Big Sur Post Ranch Inn

Coast down the iconic Route 1 where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the ocean and check into Post Ranch Inn. Every room in this luxury hotel is amazing, but the Tree House accommodations definitely take the cake. The Sierra Mar Restaurant associated with the hotel is also phenomenal, boasting one of the largest wine collections in the country and draw-dropping cliffside ocean views.

Stop #5: McWay Falls

Source: Flickr

Next head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to catch a glimpse of McWay Falls, one of only two waterfalls in California that go directly into the ocean. It is almost impossible to reach the beach at the base of the waterfall, but the view from above is breathtaking.

End: Esalen Institute

This romantic getaway would not be complete without experiencing The Esalen Institute. Located on the edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains, this community/retreat center offers classes in yoga, massage, meditation and more. The best part? Night bathing in the cliff-side hot springs that supposedly have healing and restorative properties and were used by natives over 6,000 years ago.

Trip 6: Beyond the Hotel California

Hollywood and surfing USA contrast starkly with Haight-Ashbury and the beatnik scene but, despite their differences, Los Angeles and San Francisco rival each other for the title of the most popular city in California. Northern Cali and Southern Cali embody opposite ideals, but this is what makes California one of the most interesting states in the US.

Start: Los Angeles

This journey begins in balmy Los Angeles. Stroll down Hollywood boulevard and maybe grab some giggle water or noodle juice at the swanky, 1920’s restaurant Delilah before beginning your journey north.

Stop #1: Solvang

Source: Flickr

You’ve probably never heard of Solvang, but if an entire city could be a roadside attraction, this would be it. Danish for “sunny field,” Solvang offers tourists a taste of Denmark complete with the half-timbered architecture and of course, a giant, old-school windmill. Maybe try a snitte or Wienerbrød before heading back to America. Next stop: Santa Maria.

Stop #2: Santa Maria

After the Danish pastry to whet the appetite, you’re probably ready for some lunch. Stop by Rancho Nipomo’s for a tri-tip, the sandwich Santa Maria is known for. Tri-tip is a versatile cut of meat that, depending on its preparation, can become a roast, a burger, or a steak. This sandwich became a staple of Central California in the 1960’s, so it’s time to discover what all the fuss was about.

Stop #3: San Luis Obispo

Source: Flickr

Just north of Santa Maria lies the quaint town of San Luis Obispo. With its perfect Mediterranean climate and year-round sunshine, SLO is best enjoyed by carousing the streets on foot. There are charming boutiques, art museums, hip cafes, and world-class wineries. A famous landmark is the Mission, which was founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra.

Afterward, head over to SLO Brew Lofts, above the bar of the same name. The rooms feature hardwood floors, exposed brick, and come with record players.

Stop #4: San Simeon

The following morning takes you up the coast to San Simeon. Although the city does have a lovely sun-kissed beach, the highlight of San Simeon is the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. Spread over 6 miles of shoreline, this is the best place to get a good look at these adorable marine mammals.

Stop #5: Monterey

Source: Flickr

By the time you reach Monterey it will be lunchtime and this city has too much beauty and history to miss. Cannery Row is a coastal street, and since the last cannery closed ages ago, the factories have been converted into gift shops, restaurants, and bars. There are over 25 eateries to choose from, but The Fish Hopper is the way to go since the city is known for its seafood.

Stop #6: Santa Cruz

Follow the dramatic Pacific coastline up to Santa Cruz. Many people don’t realize that there are Redwoods south of San Francisco, but there are! The Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The tallest tree in the park is about 277 feet tall, 16 feet wide and 1,500 years old. Now that you’re beginning to question the laws of physics, head over to The Mystery Spot. Discovered in 1939, The Mystery Spot is considered a gravitational anomaly that defies any rational sense of gravity, perspective, and height.

Stop #7: San Jose

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Exchange the giant trees for giant games in San Jose. This city has the largest permanent Monopoly game just off San Carlos Street. Instead of beginning an enlarged version of a game that doesn’t end, maybe opt for a game of giant chess on Santana Row instead.

End: San Francisco

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As you pull into San Francisco, finish off your trip with celebratory libations at the pirate-themed tiki bar, Smuggler’s Cove.

Trip 7: Lakes and Bakes

Stretching almost the entire western coast of the US, California is a treasure trove of diverse natural geography. There is so much to see and do that it would take a lifetime to appreciate it all. Roller coasters to volcanoes, hiking, and hot springs – it may not be everything but it’s a good place to start.

Start: Sacramento

As the capital of this awesome state, Sacramento boasts a vibrant history. Unlike many other capitals, though, Sacramento actually lets you step back in time with a visit to Old Town. Old Sacramento is a cowboy town from the gold rush era. A burger may sound boring, but the eclectic art and busy atmosphere at Fanny Ann’s Saloon make it well worth your while.

If the wild west isn’t your cup of tea, head off to Velocity Island Park instead. This cable park allows visitors to wakeboard, wakeskate, waterski, and kneeboard without a boat. Bathing suit recommended.

Stop #1: Chico

Next, drive up to Chico, where the famous Sierra Nevada Brewery is based. Catch a quick tour and see how the brewery is using Tesla batteries and solar power to make their brewing more eco-friendly. If you decide to indulge and throw back a cold one, make sure someone else chauffeurs you to your next destination: Lake Almanor.

Stop #2: Lake Almanor

Source: Flickr

Lake Almanor is a little-known paradise where the Sierras kiss the Cascades. The result? Total alpine bliss. Hang out at North Shore Campground and spend the rest of the afternoon hiking, swimming, and fishing.

Stop #3: Drakesbad Guest Ranch

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When the sun sets on the picturesque mountains, head over to Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Alternatively, you could save yourself the trouble and spend the night at North Shore Campground if you don’t mind missing out on the hot mineral springs!

Located in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Drakesbad is a famous retreat full of hydrothermal wonders.

Stop #4: Bumpass Hell

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Digital StillCamera

Take a short hike over to Bumpass Hell to see steaming fumaroles and bubbling mudpots. A well-marked trail will take you to the site and protect you from accidentally stepping into a steaming vent or boiling mud patch.

Stop #5: Lake Shasta

Source: Flickr

After deftly navigating the remnants of Mount Tehama, drive over to Lake Shasta to cool off with a dip. Rent a houseboat to better explore the lake and get a 360 degree view of Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Before you go, make sure you get a tour of Shasta Lake Caverns. The Cathedral Room of this limestone “living” cavern is definitely a sight you don’t want to miss.

Stop #6: Mossbrae Falls

Source: Flickr

Just an hour north will lead you to Mossbrae Falls in Dunsmuir. The water flowing through the moss-draped canyon gives this waterfall a unique and magical appearance. The waterfall is gorgeous but it a site worthy of only the most adventurous spirit. To get to the falls you have to risk your life walking along a railroad track, sandwiched between a cliff and the Sacramento River should a train come through.

If you don’t mind getting wet (which you don’t because you have an adventurous spirit) you can follow the trail beginning at Hedge Creek Falls. From there you will have to ford the river and still trek about a mile down the railroad tracks before reaching your destination. It may be dangerous and possibly illegal, but hey, Arnold Schwarzenegger took former president George W. Bush there, so it must be awesome.

Stop #7: Pinewood Cove

After that crazy adventure, rest your weary soul at Pinewood Cove Campground. There are some hiking trails around if you are masochistic or aren’t already burnt out. If you need some r&r, just a mile up the road is a resort with a full-service marina, bar and Saturday night BBQ.

Stop #8: Eureka

Complete your journey by pulling into the coastal city of Eureka. Enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk or a trip into Old Town before heading back to the “real world.”

Trip 8: Northern Epicurean Delights

When someone mentions California, is your first thought of sweeping vineyards and a deep, velvety Syrah? You are not alone. Spanish missionaries began cultivating California’s vineyards in the 18th century in order to produce wine for mass. The fascinating history and cultural significance of wine runs deep in the Californian valleys and this is the place to go is you are a wine aficionado.

Start: San Francisco

San Francisco’s wine scene is growing in popularity and this is where our journey begins. Before heading to the vineyards, grab a glass at Les Clos. This casual, Parisian-style wine bar is open all day, so sample one of the Burgundies, the focal varietal of the restaurant, with a light appetizer. I know it’s good, but stick to one glass with food to make sure you stay sober and alert for the adventures to come.

Stop #1: Napa Valley Wine Train

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just outside of San Francisco is the renowned wine region of Napa Valley. From here you will be travelling 25 miles in style on the restored vintage rail cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train. They have many dining and winery journeys to choose from depending on your preference and availability. If you have the time, try the Quattro Vino tour. It is 6 hours long and includes wine tastings at four vineyards and a four-course Napa-style meal.

Stop #2: Sonoma Valley & Vella Cheese Company

After exploring the Napa Valley thoroughly, you will move on to the equally esteemed Sonoma Valley. If you call in advance you may be able to schedule a tour of the Vella Cheese Company, a small stone-walled building just a few blocks from the Sonoma Plaza. Founded in 1931 by Gaetano Vella, the Vella family continues to make award winning cheeses to this day. After trying out several types, buy a block of cheese to take home to remind you of this incredible California trip.

Stop #3: Wine Country Walking Tours

Source: Flickr

Next on our wine-tinerary is the charming town of Healdsburg. Surrounded by the rolling vineyards of some of Northern California’s wine estates, Healdsburg is full of cafes offering artisanal cheeses and wines as well as cozy bookstores and antique shops. Be sure to save your energy for the Wine Country Walking Tours, the best way to get acquainted with the area and the wine it is famous for.

Spend the night at the Grape Leaf Inn, located just a stone’s throw away from Healdsburg Town Square. They serve breakfast every morning and a “welcome wine and cheese tasting” your first night if you decide to splurge and stay longer.

Stop #4: Anderson Valley / Foursight Wines

Source: Flickr

Next stop: Anderson Valley, a low-key wine spot that secured its status among oenophiles after the Champagne house Roederer settled its American sparkling wine vineyard there in the eighties. In addition to 28 tasting rooms, the valley is also home to a cool craft brewery and a delicious creamery. Highway 128 cuts through the valley and Boonville can’t be missed. Here you have to stop by Foursight tasting room, a small, family-owned estate. Founded in 2006, this vineyard offers elegant Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion varietals.

End: Phillips Hill Tasting Room

Our wine tour ends at Phillips Hill Tasting Room. Owner Toby Hill has a passion/possible obsession with Pinot Noirs, a must-try during your visit. An apple-drying barn has been converted into a one-of-a-kind tasting area; upstairs you can put your nose to the test in the aroma room by smelling jars containing orange peels and other scents that contribute to the complex bouquet of the wines.

Trip 9: Southern Epicurean Delights

Did you know that California accounts for roughly ninety percent of the wine produced in America? If California had its way and seceded, they would be the fourth largest wine producing country in the world. Find out if California has that Southern hospitality to go with its grapes in this SoCal wine trip.

Start: San Diego / Rose’s Tasting Room

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We begin in Old Town San Diego with rich history and authentic (or close to it) Mexican cuisine. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is a must for natives and tourists alike, so you might find a line out the door. The service is quick, though, and the delicious shrimp tacos are worth the wait. After lunch, wet your whistle at Rose’s Tasting Room. Their eclectic mix of wines and paraphernalia are sure to inspire the journey that awaits.

Stop #1: Temecula Valley Jeep & Wine Tours

Just one hour north and you’re in wine country. Temecula Valley is nestled in between the Temescal and Santa Ana Mountains. Since this area has over 30 wineries with award-winning wines, a tour is the best way to see the most of this oenophile’s dreamland. To fully appreciate the expansive blue skies, rugged mountains and lush vineyards, schedule a trip with Temecula Valley Jeep & Wine Tours. In addition to three award-winning wine tastings, their evening tours offer complimentary appetizers.

Stop #2: A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure

Although wine is not included, reserve your spot on a hot air balloon ride with A Grape Escape Balloon Adventure. These breathtaking balloon rides start at sunrise, which means the most picturesque views of the valley are exclusively for early birds. For the worms who normally avoid early mornings, I recommend staying the night at the closest hotel; Carter Estate Winery and Resort is only 3 minutes away.

Stop #3: Gioia Cheese Co.

Next we will make some time to meet up with wine’s tastiest companion, cheese. Located in South El Monte, Gioia Cheese brings California a little piece of Italy (or heaven depending on who you ask) with its fresh Italian cheeses. The owner, Vito Girardi has cheesemaking in his blood. His family comes from Apulia, the region in Italy that makes burrata, a soft and stringy delicacy made from mozzarella and cream. In fact, his grandfather was one of the first cheesemakers to make

In fact, his grandfather was one of the first cheesemakers to make burrata many years ago.

End: Augustana Wine Bar

This road trip has saved the best for last. Drive just outside of Los Angeles to the hip, retro restaurant Augustine. Matthew Kaner, one of the co-owners, was named one of the best Sommeliers by Food and Wine Magazine in 2013. His previous ventures with other co-owner Dustin Lancaster landed them spots on the best wines list in both Esquire’s and Travel and Leisure. Augustine offers a variety of interesting small plates and a solid wine offering, including a selection of older vintages by the glass that changes every day.

Trip 10: Oenophile’s Paradise

Napa and Sonoma get a lot of hype, but California’s central coast is a wine-lover’s paradise. From Santa Barbara to Edna Valley, this is area is for the true connoisseur who is more intrigued by finding the next big name in wineries than following the same old trend. The central coast has a lot to offer oenophiles of diverse tastes, and this is the perfect road trip for the epicurean who wants to try something new.

Start: Ventura Winter Wine Walk (December only)

Many people migrate to California in the winter to escape the cold and enjoy a mild winter. If you find yourself in Ventura during December, you have to attend the Winter Wine Walk and Holiday Street Fair. The whole city goes all out with an impressive array of live entertainment acts and street vendors. The fair is open and free to the public, so explore downtown Ventura while tasting wines from various locations.

Start: Four Brix Winery and Tasting Room (All other months)

Coming in the summer? You’re missing out, but luckily there is no better place to miss a fair than in wine country. Dry your eyes and head over to Four Brix Winery and Tasting Room.

Easily spotted in the center of Ventura, this craft winery is always having an event: Concert in the Cellar, Foodie Friday, Dinner in the Tasting Lounge, BBQ Pizza Nights, a Blending Party, and Pick Up Parties at least twice annually – there’s just so much to do! If all else fails, you can always hang out in Brixhouse, the winery’s tasting room. Sipping a glass of wine and listening to jazz doesn’t sound half bad, and you might even run into one of the wine crafters so stay on the qui vive.

Stop #1: Jonata’s Winery

Next, enter the scenic Santa Barbara, a region with a range of soils and an emerging wine frontier. Referring to themselves as “on the vanguard of the emerging quality movement in California winegrowing,” critically acclaimed Jonata winery is not to be missed. When choosing their initial vineyard location, Jonata brought in top experts from across the globe to offer specific viticultural advise. They settled in Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara of all places. Call ahead to make an appointment to visit the premises and sample some of their new blends.

Stop #2: Stolpman Vineyards

Leave some room for more wine since your next destination is a mere 10 minutes away. Stolpman Vineyards is open to the public and you can stop their little red tasting room anytime between 11am and 5pm. The knowledgeable servers will tell you everything you could ever want to know about the wines, but they also sporadically offer educational vineyard tours for the more adventurous. This is a great place to pick up some souvenir bottles for the folks back home.

Rest up at nearby Santa Ynez Inn, the luxury bed and breakfast that looks like an elaborate gingerbread house. If you get in early enough, you might even catch the wine and hors d’oeuvres hour from 5 – 6pm.

Stop #3: Palmina

After breakfast head straight for Lompoc Ghetto. Don’t be afraid of this industrial park with an off-putting name; Lompoc Ghetto may be the height of wine greatness in the Santa Barbara region. Of the twelve or so anonymous looking warehouses, Palmina is one of only two wine tasting rooms that are open to the public. Their wines are primarily inspired by Italian varietals with the unique zest provided by Santa Barbara soil. The tastings are also paired with cheeses brought in from the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. If it’s good enough for celebrities it’s good enough for us.

End: Edna Valley Vineyard

No central coast wine trip would be complete without a visit to Edna Valley Vineyard in San Luis Obispo. The beautiful Mediterranean climate means it is sunny year-round so any time is the right time to visit. The town is bustling with restaurants, boutiques, museums, art galleries, and of course, world-class wineries. Some of the world’s best vintages can be found in Edna Valley, and you get to sample them among the glorious, rolling, vine-covered hills of San Luis Obispo. Here, the service pales only in comparison to the picturesque scenery and perfect weather, and it is here that our journey ends.

10 Essential California Road Trips [Visual Guidebook]:

  • Trip 1: Breathtaking Views of Natural Wonders
  • 1
  • Trip 3: Family-Friendly, Southern California
  • Trip 4: Desert Highways and Urban Jungles
  • Trip 5: California is for Lovers
  • Trip 6: Beyond the Hotel California
  • Trip 7: Lakes and Bakes
  • Trip 8: Northern Epicurean Delights
  • Trip 9: Southern Epicurean Delights
  • Trip 10: Oenophile’s Paradise