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Drives of a Lifetime

August 22, 2009 Driving, Living, Read, Sport, Tips and Tricks No Comments

National Geographic Traveler recently published “Drives of a Lifetime: The World’s Greatest Scenic Routes” on their website.


Sometimes it’s the journey, sometimes it’s the destination—and sometimes, it’s both. National Geographic Traveler has scoured the globe for the world’s most beautiful, interesting, and off-beat road trips.

It’s worth a look.

Two of the featured drives – Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Barbara Loop – take place right here in California.

Here is a Copy + Paste:

Pacific Coast Highway.

An exhilarating driving experience, this twisting, cliff-hugging, 123-mile (198-kilometer) route along the central California coast takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace. Designated an All-American Road—among the nation’s most scenic—the drive encompasses both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway.

The route starts in historic Monterey, visits the art colony of Carmel, and threads through Big Sur, where mountains plunge into the Pacific. Farther south, the landscape mellows to oak-studded hills as the road passes Hearst Castle on its way to Morro Bay. In places, the road has narrow shoulders and sharp drop-offs, so stay alert. This route can be tricky for RVs or other oversize vehicles.

Start in Monterey
Join California Route 1 in Monterey (Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. +1 831 649 1770. www.montereyinfo.org.). The town served as California’s capital under Spanish, Mexican, and American flags, and by the early 1900s boasted an important sardine industry. Surviving sites include the Royal Presidio Chapel, Monterey State Historic Park, Custom House, Casa Soberanes, Larkin House, and other adobe buildings, as well as touristy Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, home of the celebrated Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.montereybayaquarium.org).

After enjoying Monterey, drive 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south on Highway 1 to Carmel-by-the-Sea (Visitors Center: San Carlos St.; tel. +1 831 624 2522 or +1 800 550 4333; www.carmelcalifornia.org), an upscale village of quaint colorful cottages, restaurants, inns, shops, and art galleries fronted by a broad beach fringed with Monterey pines. Among the highlights are Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo, second of the California missions, founded by Padre Junípero Serra in 1770; Tor House, the 1919 home of poet Robinson Jeffers; and mile-long Carmel River State Beach (831-649-2836), with its pelicans and kingfishers.

Point Lobos State Reserve
From Carmel drive 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) south to Point Lobos State Reserve (tel. +1 831 624 4909; www.pointlobos.org; $10 fee for car), a 550-acre (220-hectare) park encompassing coves, headlands, meadows, tide pools, and the nation’s first undersea ecological reserve, covering an additional 750 acres (300 hectares), with kelp forests 70 feet (20 meters) high. Trails lead past Monterey cypresses, which grow naturally only here and in Pebble Beach. The park’s 250 species of birds and mammals include black-tailed deer, gray foxes, sea otters, and sea lions. Migrating gray whales pass by from December through April.

Big Sur
After driving through Carmel Highlands, where impressive houses perch on granite cliffs above the sea, you reach the start of Big Sur, which extends 90 miles (145 kilometers) south to San Simeon. On this fabled coastline, redwood groves reach skyward, the Santa Lucia Range plunges into the sea, and waves are beaten to froth on ragged rocks. It’s a place of elemental power that can make human affairs seem inconsequential.

Garrapata State Park
Route 1, opened in 1937, climbs higher than 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the sea. One of the few easy-to-reach beaches is at Garrapata State Park (tel. +1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=579), about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south of Carmel Highlands. From Soberanes Point watch for sea otters, which are protected under California state law.

Old Coast Road
En route to Bixby Bridge, six miles (ten kilometers) farther, you can choose to leave Calif. 1 and drive the 11-mile (18-kilometer) Old Coast Road, which climbs through remote forests and canyons and offers silent ocean views before ending at Andrew Molera State Park (tel. +1 831 667 2315, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=582). The unpaved road is tortuous and impassable when it rains.

Bixby Bridge
Much photographed Bixby Bridge is a single-span concrete arch more than 260 feet (80 meters) high and 700 feet (200 meters) long. Park at turnouts near either end to gawk or take pictures. Ahead, the highway passes Hurricane Point, a place of big winds and big views, and then descends to the mouth of the Little Sur River. Looking inland, you’ll see 3,709-foot-high (1,131-meter-high) Pico Blanco, distinguishable by its lime deposits. Toward the sea, sand dunes soon appear, rolling toward the 1889 Point Sur Lighthouse (tel. +1 831 625 4419; tours Saturdays and Sundays, call for additional days April through October; $8; http://www.pointsur.org), a state historic park. In a few miles you reach Andrew Molera State Park (tel. +1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=582; fee), whose broad beach, oak and redwood forests, and stretch of the Big Sur River are accessible only by foot.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pass through the settlement of Big Sur, which offers food and lodging, and head for Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (tel. +1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=570; fee), where the Big Sur River runs through 964 acres (390 hectares) of redwoods, sycamores, and ferns. Then go 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) south and turn right on the 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) road down Sycamore Canyon Road to the white sands of Pfeiffer Beach, where the surf roars through arched rocks.

Less than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) farther on the highway you come to Nepenthe (tel. +1 831 667 2345; www.nepenthebigsur.com), an indoor-outdoor restaurant perched 800 feet (245 meters) above the sea and famous for its views. About half a mile (0.8 kilometers) south, on the left, look for the Henry Miller Memorial Library (tel. +1 831 667 2574; www.henrymiller.org; closed Tuesdays), perched among towering redwoods. It displays books and memorabilia of the novelist who spent 18 years in Big Sur. Also stop 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) farther at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (tel. +1 831 667 2315; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=578 Fee), whose terrain ranges from 3,000-foot-high (914-meter-high) ridges to an underwater preserve. Do walk the short trail along the seaside bluff to see McWay Falls pour 100 feet (30 meters) into a picturesque cove.

Lucia, Plaskett, Gorda, and Ragged Point
Ahead of you lies the southern stretch of Big Sur. The road clings to a precipitous coastline, and the only settlements in the next 40 miles (64 kilometers) are Lucia, Plaskett, Gorda, and Ragged Point. From here onward are hills and pastureland. You’ll spy the Piedras Blancas Light Station on a point supposedly named in 1542 by Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo for its white rocks (stained with bird droppings).

San Simeon
After a spell away from the Pacific, the road reaches the town of San Simeon, a staging area for the five-mile (eight-kilometer) bus ride to Hearst Castle (tel. +1 805 927 2020 or 800 444 4445; www.hearstcastle.org; tours only, call for reservations; fee), begun in 1919 by newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. Perched in the Santa Lucia Range, the 127-acre (51-hectare) estate features the 115-room main house and guesthouses, which mix classical and Mediterranean Revival styles, using European architectural elements, antiques, and artwork collected by Hearst.

Continue six miles (ten kilometers) to Cambria (Chamber of Commerce: tel. +1 805 927 3624; www.cambriachamber.org), nestled against hills where Monterey pines thrive in porous soil of decomposed sandstone. On the ocean side of the highway, at Moonstone Beach, look for moonstones and California jade. Drive on four miles (six kilometers) to the colony of Harmony, where you might glimpse artists at work. Ahead on Estero Bay, the small town of Cayucos dates from the coastal schooner era of the 1860s; the pier has good fishing for perch and sometimes rockfish, plus views of pelicans and cormorants.

End in Morro Bay
The end of your route is Morro Bay (Chamber of Commerce: tel. +1 805 772 4467; www.morrobay.org), easily identified by its landmark Morro Rock. A turban-shaped, extinct volcanic cone about 23 million years old, it is 576 feet (176 meters) high and sits on the bay. Peregrine falcons live here. To learn about local wildlife, visit the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History (tel. +1 805 772 2694; www.morrobaymuseum.org; $2). Around Morro Bay you’ll see great blue herons and, from October to March, monarch butterflies in eucalyptus trees.

Road Kit
Enjoy this drive any time of year, but beware of winter mudslides; see www.wunderground.com/US/CA/Big_Sur.html for local weather conditions; for current road conditions, see www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo. For more information on the Pacific Coast Highway, visit www.byways.org/explore/byways/2301 and www.byways.org/explore/byways/2475. The itinerary below describes a north-to-south route; if you drive from south to north, you’ll have a few extra feet of roadway between your car and the hair-raising drop-offs to the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Barbara Loop.

This sunny, 166-mile romp is centered in Santa Barbara, a coastal resort where bougainvillea flowers climb white walls and an old California mission drowses in the sun. Among the city’s ravishing charms are a Mediterranean climate, gardens, broad beaches, a pretty yacht harbor, and mountains tinged with Impressionist pinks and blues.

The drive makes two loops. First it jogs westward from Santa Barbara, visiting the flower fields of sleepy Lompoc and the wine and horse country of the newly glamorous Santa Ynez Valley. Then, circling back to Santa Barbara, it takes off eastward, to the mission city of Ventura and the orange groves of the Ojai Valley.

Start in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara was settled by the Spanish in the late 1700s and lived graciously during California’s later rancho period. In the late 19th century, it became a health resort for wealthy Easterners after a guidebook writer touted it as a “Mecca for the moribund.” When a 1925 earthquake leveled the haphazardly built downtown, civic leaders rebuilt in the Spanish colonial style that now unifies the city.

Queen of the Missions
On a slope overlooking town stands the venerable Mission Santa Barbara (2201 Laguna St.; +1 805 682 4713; http://santabarbaramission.org). At the old mission, founded in 1786, it’s easy to picture gray-robed padres saying Mass for the Indians.

Franciscan friars still reside at this Queen of the Missions, and Sunday services continue in the colorfully painted church. The sandstone Roman facade and adobe walls demonstrate how missionaries integrated European architecture with the rude but handsome materials—mud, stone, and timber—available on the California frontier.

Museums, Gardens, Theaters, Historic Sites, and More
From here, head up Mission Canyon. Kids love the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol Rd.; +1 805 682 4711), with its 72-foot blue whale skeleton, animal dioramas, insects, “lizard lounge,” and planetarium. The tree-shaded grounds by Mission Creek make a lovely picnic spot. At the nearby Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (1212 Mission Canyon Rd. +1 805 682 4726; www.sbbg.org), five and a half miles of paths wind among a thousand species of California native plants, from paper-dry poppies to fog-loving redwood trees. A dam across the creek was built by padres and Chumash Indians in 1806.

Downtown, take in a movie or concert at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.; +1 805 963 4408; www.thearlingtontheatre.com) just to see the interior, designed to evoke the plaza of a Spanish village. At the nearby Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St.; +1 805 963 4364; www.sbmuseart.org), look for Monet’s 1884 painting of the Italian Riviera in sunny pastels; it could have been painted yesterday in Santa Barbara. This impressive regional museum also has works by Matisse and Chagall, Picasso and Dalí, plus classical antiquities and Asian art.

Wander a few blocks to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse (1100 Anacapa St.; +1 805 962 6464; www.santabarbaracourthouse.org), which looks like a fantasy out of El Cid. Built in 1929, it has thick white walls and red-tile roofs, set off by sunken gardens. Inside are hand-painted ceilings, wrought-iron chandeliers, hallways sheathed in Tunisian tiles, and marvelous historical murals. For a 360-degree view of the city, ride the elevator up the clock tower.

Nearby, El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park (123 E. Canon Perdido St.; +1 805 965 0093; www.sbthp.org/presidio.htm) preserves a bit of Spain’s original military outpost, including the city’s oldest remaining building (1788), which once provided housing for married soldiers and their families. Reconstruction of the fort includes an adobe chapel, a two-story lookout tower, and soldiers’ and commander’s quarters.

The Santa Barbara Historical Society Museum (136 E. De la Guerra St.; +1 805 966 1601; www.santabarbaramuseum.com), a short stroll away, displays iron treasure chests from Spanish explorers, silver saddles from the rancho period, and a golden altar from old Chinatown. Material from Santa Barbara’s Flying A Studio, which pioneered moviemaking around 1913 and became the then-largest studio in the world, includes an early Bell-and-Howell motion picture camera.

A charming holdover from earlier days is the nearby 1920s shopping arcade called El Paseo (State and De la Guerra Sts.), which calls to mind a street in Spain. Passages wind among shops built around the adobe 1828 Casa de la Guerra (closed to the public), the home of the Spanish military commander and the center of Santa Barbara’s surprisingly refined society of the 1820s.

Now turn toward the city’s waterfront, where Stearns Wharf (foot of State St.) ranks as the oldest wharf operating on the West Coast (1872). Like any self-respecting pier, it has a bait shop and a gypsy palm reader; also, restaurants and shops. The Ty Warner Sea Center (211 Stearns Wharf; +1 805 962 2526; www.sbnature.org/seacenter) displays a model whale and tanks of live marine animals, giving you a glimpse (and sometimes a feel) of what’s underwater in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Santa Barbara Harbor is both a yacht basin and home to a commercial fishing fleet. Inhale the waterfront smells of boiling crabs, diesel fuel, and salt spray; walk to the end of the breakwater for a memorable view of the ocean, mountains, and town. Whale-watching trips (Sea Landing; +1 805 963 3564; www.sealanding.net) seek blue whales and humpbacks June through September, and gray whales December through May.

Just east of the wharf you’ll find East Beach—the most popular of Santa Barbara’s five miles of beaches. Here, volleyball players dive for impossible shots, in-line skaters zip along the bike path, and teens hang out at the snack bar.

The First Loop
Leave Santa Barbara on US 101 North, passing El Capitan, Refugio, and Gaviota beaches before the route turns inland. At Gaviota Pass the surroundings change from coastal grasslands to chaparral with sycamore trees. A few miles north of the junction with Calif. 1, a side trip leads to Nojoqui Falls County Park (Old Coast Hwy. to Alisal Rd.; +1 805 934 6123), which cascades—or trickles, depending on the season—down a cliff draped in maidenhair ferns.

Backtrack to Calif. 1 and head north through rolling hills sprinkled with oaks and cows to Lompoc. Nicknamed the Valley of the Flowers, this region produces much of the world’s flower seeds. In June and July hundreds of acres bloom with larkspur, delphinium, alyssum, and marigolds. Roll down your car window to catch the heavenly fragrance of sweet peas.

La Purísima Mission State Historic Park
Calif. 246 leads east to La Purísima Mission State Historic Park (2295 Purisima Rd.; +1 805 733 3713; www.lapurisimamission.org). No other California mission so hauntingly evokes the era of the Spanish padres. Situated in the hills beyond sight of modern life, the perfectly restored mission has a painted church, workshops, residences, fountains, and gardens. Ask about the living history events.

The Danish Look
Keep going to Solvang, a quaint village that capitalized on its founding by Danes in 1911 by later adopting a Danish look to attract tourists. It’s all half-timbered architecture, clock towers, fluttering flags, Scandinavian bakeries, and gift shops. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum (1680 Mission Dr.; +1 805 688 2052) has displays on the Danish writer’s life and first editions of his work. On the town’s east side stands the Old Mission Santa Inés (1760 Mission Dr., Solvang; +1 805 688 4815; www.missionsantaines.org), whose museum displays old crucifixes, musical instruments, and fine 16th-century vestments.

Santa Ynez Valley
Drive on into the Santa Ynez Valley, where horse ranchers raise Arabians, Andalusians, paints, and Icelandics. Miniature horses, no taller than 34 inches, roam Quicksilver Ranch (1555 Alamo Pintado Rd., near Solvang; +1 805 686 4002; http://qsminis.com). Numerous wineries throughout the valley offer tours and tastings, notably of Chardonnay (winery map available at Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Assoc., 3669 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; +1 805 688 0881; www.sbcountywines.com).

Stop at tiny Santa Ynez and mosey past false-fronted buildings that look like sets for a cowboy movie. A Wells Fargo stagecoach and other rolling antiques are parked at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society Museum and Carriage House (3596 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez; +1 805 688 7889; www.santaynezmuseum.org). See Chumash and pioneer artifacts, plus an 1895 jailhouse whose inmates were sometimes allowed to “escape” at night, returning in the morning.

Now drive Calif. 154 toward Santa Barbara. You’ll pass Cachuma Lake Recreation Area (+1 805 686 5054), a liquid blue mirage amid the dry hills. It offers fishing, boating, and camping, but no swimming (the lake is residential drinking water). In summer a naturalist guides boat tours to view ospreys, deer, great blue herons, and turtles.

After cresting the Santa Ynez Mountains, detour into history at Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park (two miles east on Painted Cave Rd.; +1 805 733 3713; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=602), where more than two centuries ago Chumash Indian shamans painted pictographs on cave walls, probably for religious use. Yet no one knows the meaning of the wheels and other colorful but fading symbols.

The Second Loop
The drive returns to Santa Barbara and commences the second loop, heading south on US 101. Just east of town lies Montecito, a residential enclave where millionaires and movie stars dwell on estates built around the turn of the century. Drive along the lanes to see Tudor mansions, Spanish haciendas, and Italian villas.

About 20 miles farther along US 101 lies Ventura. Downtown, history buffs will enjoy the small San Buenaventura Mission and Museum (211 E. Main St., Ventura; +1 805 643 4318), founded by Padre Junípero Serra in 1782. The nearby Ventura County Museum of History and Art (89 S. California St., Ventura; +1 805 653 0323; www.venturamuseum.org) has miniature costumed historical figures, Chumash artifacts, and early agricultural machines.

At Ventura Harbor is the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center (1901 Spinnaker Dr. Ventura; +1 805 658 5730; www.nps.gov/chis/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm), whose tide pool display and other exhibits focus on the park’s five islands—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara—and the surrounding marine sanctuary. Take a day or overnight excursion to Channel Islands National Park (Island Packers Cruises, 1691 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura; +1 805 642 1393; www.islandpackers.com) to hike, camp, kayak, scuba dive, and view sea lions and indigenous foxes. You’ll discover a world that hints of California in the early 1800s. In season, whale-watching boats head out to view blue, humpback, and gray whales.

Ojai Valley
Now follow Calif. 33 north to the Ojai Valley town of Ojai, long a center for the metaphysically inclined. In an old chapel downtown, the Ojai Valley Museum (130 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai; +1 805 640 1390, www.ojaivalleymuseum.org) displays the artifacts of Chumash Indians and early settlers. A nearby local institution is Bart’s Books (302 W. Matilija St., Ojai; +1 805 646 3755; www.bartsbooksojai.com), a rambling shop with an honor system for after-hours customers; simply choose a book from the outside shelves and drop the money through a door slot.

Be sure to explore the Ojai Valley’s east end: With its palm-lined lanes and citrus groves set against the mountains, the scene looks like a vintage orange-crate label. The Krishnamurti Library (1098 McAndrew Rd., Ojai; +1 805 646 2390; www.kfa.org) has books and CDs of renowned Indian spiritual figure Jiddu Krishnamurti, who lived on and off for more than six decades in this 1895 California ranch house.

To finish the drive, take scenic Calif. 150 past Lake Casitas, popular with fishermen and boaters, then across mountains of sandstone and chaparral. On reaching US 101, swing north to Santa Barbara.

Road Kit
Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau (+1 805 966 9222; www.santabarbaraca.com); Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau (+1 805 736 4567 or 800 240 0999; www.lompoc.com); Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association (+1 805 686 0053 or 800 742 2843; www.syvva.com). Solvang Visitors Bureau (+1 805 688 6144 or 800 468 6765; www.solvangusa.com); Ventura Convention and Visitors Bureau (+1 805 648 2075 or 800 483 6214; www.ventura-usa.com); Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce (+1 805 646 8126; www.ojaichamber.org).

Link: National Geographic Traveler: Drives of a Lifetime

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