At work, someone said they were visiting California this upcoming summer for a couple of weeks and wanted to know if there were any recommendations for places to visit.
i offered the following:
True “Northern California” (generally everything north of Santa Rosa) is mostly deep wood areas. That’s where you get some really stunning drives through massive redwood forests and along coastlines. i’ve done route 1 from Mendocino to Eureka. It’s really pretty, but probably not the best with a car full of kids. It can also be more than a bit redneck.
East across the 5 is Shasta, Lassen and Plumas. These are also pretty, but less wooded. They are the remains of part of the volcano chain that stretches up the rest of the coast. Again, great if you love hiking, not so great if you’re into family fun activities.
Heading south a bit you get to what most would consider “Northern California” (which is about mid-way down the state). Basically it’s the Wine valleys (Russian River, Napa & Sonoma) east to about Sacramento, and south to Monterey. Lots and lots of stuff to do around here. Depending on what you want, you can spend days in SF and San Jose, visit Old Town and the train museum in Sacramento. Take advantage of your kids driving skills in the Wine Valleys, or spend the day at the Santa Cruz board walk, or just hit up Atlas Obscura for places like the Musée Mécanique)
Headed further south on 1 (you’ll recognize it for being in every car commercial, ever) gets you to the Central Coast, so named because even Californian’s have no idea how big their state really is. That gets you Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo (SLO). One noted for being Bugs Bunny’s vacation destination of choice, the other for being a college town with a fairly nice downtown. Again, wineries abound around there, and if you’re feeling like ignoring your car rentals strict rules, there’s beach driving at the Dunes. Or there’s also Dinosaur Caves Park, named after a tourist attraction that featured most of a dinosaur that eventually fell into the sea. Darn pretty park, though.
If you’re particularly lucky, and or the weather holds out, you might even be able to see a rocket launch from Vandenburg in Lompoc. (Bonus points if you insist on saying that town’s name like the narrator in Roger Ramjet, but only because it annoys my wife.) Continuing south gets you to Santa Barbara which is notable for it’s beach, ritzy shopping area, and the birthplace of a number of burger joints.
It’s also about where Southern California starts. Personally, i love taking 101 along this stretch since it hugs the coast. Right now, however, there’s also the problem of burn areas and mud slides, but that’s because we insist on putting roads next to mountains that catch fire.
Then comes LA. You could spend years going over all the stuff in LA and still not see it all. Instead feel free to drive through Anaheim past all the theme parks and watch your kids understand the glory of disappointment. Or just go by Knotts Berry Farm and let them wonder why the company that makes half of their peanut butter sandwiches has some deal promoting a 70 year old cartoon character using roller-coasters.
Finally, roll down 5 past the largest military base in the country, and you’ll arrive in San Diego. An old Spanish town which translates roughly into “Base Entrance next 5 exits”. Downtown San Diego does have some really good restaurants, a surprisingly good Little Italy and lots of folks from LA getting away for the weekend.
Likewise, there’s Yosemite, with it’s grand vistas and magnificent traffic, and Lake Tahoe, which will probably make you realize you really can’t take too many pictures.
i think that should probably do it. Granted, by this point you’ll probably be enjoying retirement. Your kids retirement, but retirement none the less. Hope that helps!