Road Trips

Go for Gold on a Coastal Cali Road Trip Through the Golden State

Experience the best of Napa Valley food and wiine at Trefethen Family Vineyards. (Photo: Alamy)

If it seems like California is edgy, perhaps that’s because the state has more coastline than any other in the lower forty-eight. The stretch is as varied as it is spectacular — sandy beaches give way to urban jungles, precipitous bluffs and eventually rows upon rows of vineyards.

Cruising the route works best in a larger dream ride, such as a Range Rover, so you can get an elevated view of the epic scenery. This multi-stop road trip samples the best of the Golden State, from the outdoor havens of San Diego to luxurious wine country and everything in between.

Start: San Diego

San Diego got a bum rap in the “Anchorman” movies, which referred to it simply as “classy.” The truth is the city is vibrant, exhilarating and a whole lot of fun.

Must-sees in San Diego include the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo, and La Jolla Cove, which attracts wild seals and sea lions by the dozen. Stay at the circa-1910 US GRANT and shop at the upscale galleries and boutiques dotting the sidewalks in Little Italy.

When you’re ready to stretch your legs, head out for a run along the Embarcadero and hoof past the USS Midway en route.

Stop 1: Los Angeles

Distance from San Diego: 115 miles

From San Diego, drive three hours north to Los Angeles, the largest urban area in California. Spend a night or two at the ultra-exclusive SLS Hotel Beverly Hills and look out for celebrities during live DJ sessions at the Altitude Pool Deck.

Without question the hottest neighborhood here these days is Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA), where original art deco buildings mix with new and glimmering skyscrapers. Try the Skyslide, an enclosed glass chute on the outside of the U.S. Bank Tower that takes visitors from the 70th story down to the sixty-ninth.

California road trip
Release your fear of heights with a trip down the Skyslide. (Photo: Getty Images)

Afterward, celebrate your adventure with a mai tai at the Pacific Seas, a Tiki-themed speakeasy inside Clifton’s, a social club with multiple restaurants and bars.

Head west from DTLA to the beach in Santa Monica and stay awhile. Here, using the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot as a home base, engage in retail therapy at Santa Monica Place mall or go people watching on the pier.

Summer is also a great time to hit the ornate marble swimming pool at the Annenberg Community Beach House. The pool, and the house itself, dates back to the 1920s, and today both are open to the public.

Stop 2: San Francisco

Distance from Los Angeles: About 400 miles

You can get from L.A. to San Francisco in six hours if you rush, but the journey is much more enjoyable when you take your time and savor every bend of Highway One as it hugs the Pacific. Perhaps the most dramatic panoramas are in Big Sur, where mountains drop thousands of feet into the ocean below.

California road trip
Enjoy sunset sips along the coast at Half Moon Bay. (Photo: Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

For a more peaceful perspective, pull up to a fire pit at the bluff-top The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay and sip a handcrafted cocktail while watching the sun sink beneath the line where the Pacific meets the sky.

Your visit to San Francisco doesn’t officially begin until you ride one of the iconic cable cars, which you can find a short walk up Market Street from The Palace hotel. Also worth the effort: the newish SF MoMA, which is home to more than 33,000 works of art and the largest public living wall in the United States.

California road trip
Get cultured at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. (Photo: Alamy)

Get a dose of the city’s hippie culture in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where the famed Summer of Love began some 50 years ago. Take a guided walking tour for the inside scoop on the origins of the Grateful Dead. Then chow down on Puerto Rican comfort food at the upscale and intimate Parada 22.

End: Wine Country

Distance from San Francisco: About 50 miles

About 90 minutes north past the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the waves of the Pacific give way to waves of a different kind: rolling hills lined with vineyards. Here in Napa and Sonoma counties, farmers and scientists work together to turn ordinary grapes into extraordinary juice.

The fruits of their labor are renowned throughout the world — especially cabernets from Rutherford and pinot noirs from the Russian River Valley.

On the Napa side of the Mayacamas Mountains, book an ultra-exclusive private reserve tasting at Trefethen Family Vineyards, which recently reopened its circa-1886 winery building after the structure was nearly destroyed in the 2014 earthquake.

On the Sonoma side, book a table at SingleThread restaurant, a Japanese-themed fixed-price eatery that serves 11-course meals designed around the freshest local produce that week.