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Perfect Pit Stops on a California Road Trip

By April 10, 2017October 8th, 20175 Comments

The air feels special on the West Coast of the U.S. The large, open roads that snake along the Pacific Ocean are perfect for gathering a group for a road trip. While you could spend months along this winding highway, there’s definitely a few areas you won’t want to miss. You can see these four stops in five days, but it’s worth spending at least 10 days to get a real feel for each destination along the way.

San Francisco

golden gate bridge eileen cotter wright

Fly in to this wonderful city to begin your California road trip adventure. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy several visits to the City by the Bay, and I know many friends who’ve chosen to settle here permanently.

breweries mission san fransisco eileen cotter wright

Spend a day or two enjoying the breeze with a walk through the Golden Gate Park, then have some fresh crab in the Fisherman’s Wharf district. If you want something a little more local, head to the Mission, which is heavily influenced by Mexican food and traditions. It’s also home to some great breweries. It’s a little silly, but lots of people enjoy Segway tours in San Francisco, mostly because the hills are so steep!

San Jose

San Jose City Hall

Move on from San Fran and land in San Jose for an easier, breezier kind of break. It’s well worth heading south and stopping in this culturally diverse city, which is the state’s oldest Spanish civilian settlement. There’s a sunny open-air history museum near the city center to check out, as well as an interesting galley called MACLA that features prominent Latino artists.


seals california eileen cotter wright

One of the best parts about cruising through California is of course the ocean. Below the surface there’s so much more to experience, especially when it comes to learning about conservation efforts and marine wildlife. Head straight for the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see the exhibits and get a peek at the otters and seals living among the kelp beds outside.

You can also take a sea kayaking tour and glide through the habitat to get a closer look, without disturbing their homes. Continue to enjoy that view with some oysters on the half shell at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar, located right on the rocky shore.

Paso Robles

vineyard paso robles california eileen cotter wright

This region is a little off the main drag, but it’s well worth exploring. Sonoma and Napa Valley are internationally known spots for vineyards, but Paso Robles has its fair share of great wines as well. With more than 250 wineries to choose from and about 20 different grape varieties, every wine lover will find their perfect bottle. Have a tour and tasting at Halter Ranch, or have a look at the elegant wine cave at Eberle Winery. On your way south of Paso Robles, have a stop at the Laetitia Winery for some fine sparkling varieties.

Basic Road Trip Tips

pacific coast highway view eileen cotter wright

  • Leave a little wiggle room for exploring. That could be one unplanned overnight, or just some extra hours to wander around town if the weather is pleasant.
  • Keep your gas tank full so you don’t have to peel off the highway to fill up too often and miss the views.
  • Pack in layers, as you’ll most likely spend equal time indoors and outdoors.
  • If visiting California in the spring, summer, or fall, consider a convertible for uninterrupted vistas and prime picture-taking conditions!

Have you ever taken a California road trip? What would you stop along the West Coast? What’s your perfect road trip car? Let me know!

Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Instagram @Pure_Wander.

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