The quintessential West Coast road trip; it’s as American as apple pie. For first time road trippers and seasoned drivers alike, the classic Highway 1 route presents a greatest hits compilation of the third largest state. Incorporating scenic Pacific views, desert landscapes, pockets of beach, rugged cliffsides and urban sprawls, this epic outing offers a bite of everything California has to offer combined with the unmistakable freedom of the open road.
While movement may be limited at present it is not wholly restricted, making the breadth of the Golden State ripe for a grand tour exploration by road, from which California’s wildly varying geography and cultures can be experienced in all their abundance. Whether it’s just a series of fleeting visits—door to door our route takes approximately 10 hours—or a longer more leisurely trip, this itinerary takes in Palm Springs, Jenner and everything in-between, with each and every point presenting its own definitive experience.
Before merging into the California State Route 1 via Los Angeles our itinerary starts south under the desert sun of Palm Springs, the original resort city and home to many a festival and mid-century masterpiece. Here, the fabled private villa Twin Palms—aka Frank Sinatra House—epitomises the area’s rat-pack glamor and archetypal ‘desert modernism’ architecture by way of a 1947 E Stewart Williams design, complete with vast horizontal planes and revived interiors courtesy of erstwhile Jonathan Adler collaborator, Darren Brown. Further glimpses into the history of this iconic property, and others, can be explored at the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, which was also designed by Stewart Williams.
Worth a U-turn before heading up to Los Angeles is the Joshua Tree National Park, a weird and wonderful site where the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert in an explosion of yucca trees, vibrant sunsets, stargazing and rugged topiary. Artist Andrea Zittel’s ‘A-Z West’ is an artwork spread across seventy acres next to the park where sculpture, workspaces and pavilions combine as part of Zittel’s ongoing investigation into what it means to exist and participate in today’s culture. Tours and experiential stays are available on request. The two-hour drive to Los Angeles takes in otherworldly scenery before giving way to an altogether more urban landscape comprising over 100 neighborhoods.
Hollywood is an obvious first stop, but the home of modern cinema offers worthy old school gems like the Arclight Cinema Hollywood, where a listed 1960s Cinerama Dome helms a cultural space dedicated to all things film, including a bookstore, museum and exhibition space.
Over in Beverly Hills, design enthusiasts will appreciate Casa Perfect, an appointment-only concept gallery housed inside a 1971 mansion designed by Raul F. Garduno. Combining preserved seventies interiors—think ochre carpet and wood panelled ceilings—with ever-changing contemporary collectible design curated by The Future Perfect, the residential space epitomises a uniquely ‘L.A.’ way of showcasing art and design. Continue the art tour at the nearby Regen Projects, a venue that platforms contemporary work by international artists as well as those rooted in the state, like Joshua Tree's increasingly popular Lily Stockman.
Round out L.A. with a pitstop at Post & Beam, a recently revived black-owned and black-operated restaurant serving modern incarnations of American comfort food in a space replete with steel beams and verdant shrubbery. Alternatively refuel at the Latino-owned Carnitas El Momo, which dishes out two authentic Angelo experiences in equal portions—Mexican carnitas and the joy of the food truck.
The modern road trip soundtrack hits a slightly different note. Sure, music works but long stretches are a great opportunity to explore the multitude of podcasts that make it possible to delve deep into your destination before you’ve even arrived.
This Is California: The Battle of 187 – Gustavo Arellano examines the legacy of Proposition 187, a 1994 California initiative to stop immigrants without legal status accessing public services. The proposition flopped and asserted the strength of the state’s Latino communities.
The Californian Century – A 15-part series charting 100 years of storied Californian history in the style of a dramatic movie screenplay, sweetened by Stanley Tucci’s wholly believable Cali lilt.
Slow Burn – American History – A collection of history lessons that were too cool for school. Jump to Season 3 for an account of the East Coast vs West Coast battle that led to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G, and the ensuing fallout on both coasts.
Departing Los Angeles westwards and winding up northbound on Highway 1 leads to the cool coastal city of Santa Monica. Here the beach and an abundance of health-conscious eateries congregate with rooftop venues offering sunset Pacific views. Wednesday’s Farmers Market, a four block-wide bounty of fresh produce from local farmers, is famed state-wide and provides opportunity to stock up on provisions for the drive north. From here make the scenic journey to Santa Barbara, taking in the so-called American Riviera’s pristine beaches and stopping to view the 21 original Spanish missions that dot the coastline.
Easing into the long stretch north and the diversity of West Coast landscape becomes abundantly clear. Monterey offers big oceanic vibes thanks to an acclaimed aquarium, Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and otter, sea lion, seal and whale spotting. An unexpected souvenir? Deep-fried artichokes picked up from one of the many roadside stalls capitalizing on the abundance of this native thistle. A 45-minute drive away lies the dramatic Big Sur for closer views of the Pacific swell; Bixby Bridge might be a predictable stop point from which to take it all in, but its popularity is well-earned. With multiple 360-degree views and a 260-foot vantage point, the bridge is unmatched for its classic road trip scenery.
Pulling into San Francisco, the views change entirely. Skyscraper towers, Victorian architecture and Beaux Arts jewels define the backdrop of the city, though the metropolis’ maritime heart is ever present thanks to miles of waterfront. The Bay Area is also home to the country’s oldest Chinatown, host to new riffs on Chinese cuisine like Mister Jiu’s—a modern ode to Cantonese dishes, set behind an 1880s turquoise façade and outfitted with Danish furniture and gold lotus chandeliers. Elsewhere, Asian culture is celebrated at the revamped Asian Art Museum, which makes for a good touchpoint in an exploration of the immense influence of the Asian community in San Francisco. Conclude the city tour at the V C Morris Gift Shop, Frank Lloyd Wright’s testing ground for many of the architectural principles implemented in Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum. Now a luxe menswear outlet, the 1948 landmark still features its original bubbled glass ceiling and swooping spiral staircase.
The final stretch takes in a passage over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and a drive through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an expansive urban park that includes Alcatraz Island, Crissy Field, the Marin Headlands and Rancho Corral de Tierra. A short trip north brings road trippers to the Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wright’s last project, which is open for interior tours. From here retreat to one of the many locavore eateries in downtown Point Reyes Station before a nature-focused journey to Point Reyes National Seashore, a coastal preserve home to around 1,500 animal and plant species, and where densely wooded areas collide with lagoons, estuaries, and ponds. The road trip ends in Jenner, Sonoma County—a stunning compound of beach, mountain, and lake terrains, and a short drive to charming towns like Healdsburg and Timber Cove. Settle in for some rest and respite with one of the region’s famed wine tastings for a well-earned and relaxed conclusion to an epic expedition along the West Coast.
Words Ella Marshall Date 19 October 2020
Hotel Healdsburg and Harmon Guest House, Healdsburg
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