One of the country’s most iconic road trips – up the California coast from SoCal to Big Sur – is not possible this summer due to the closure of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge caused by heavy rains. The bridge previously connected two section of Big Sur along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. While the bridge undergoes repairs (expected to re-open in September 2017), road trippers can explore some of California's roads less traveled.
One option is to make Big Sur the southern start of the adventure. Heading north, there are tons of great stops along the central and northern California coast, from Carmel-by-the-Sea up to the Oregon border, discovering driftwood strewn beaches, secret wine country, and romantic coastal hamlets.
For those quintessential convertible trips or #vanlife crews hitting the roads this summer, don't miss the highlights along this beautiful route.
Fly into the Monterey Airport and head to Carmel-by-the-Sea, 15 minutes south. This storybook setting on California’s scenic coast, is a longtime artists’ colony. The small village is known for its cobblestone streets dotted with quaint cottages, galleries and boutique shops, wine tasting rooms and acclaimed restaurants. The best place to start your journey is Carmel. You can still travel to the northern portion of Big Sur, just two miles south from here, and visit Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, where trails take you to the rocky shore to see otters and seals.
Where to stay: Hotel Carmel has 27 guestrooms and suites, half of which feature in-room fireplaces, and a modern design and luxurious spa-inspired bathrooms. Pop a cassette into the vintage player and lounge under the stars in the oversized Jacuzzi. Or stop into La Playa Carmel, a 75-room boutique hotel that was built in 1905 as a private mansion for a member of the San Francisco-based Ghirardelli family. This charming retreat serves a free champagne breakfast buffet daily and offers 10-cent happy hours for 10 minutes every Sunday.
Drive north to San Francisco. Head north along Highway 1 where the road often hugs the coast, making it one of the country’s most dramatic drives. Enjoy the rocky outcroppings, miles of sandy beaches and refuges that are home to an assortment of birds, blue heron, deer, foxes and more.
Where to stay: Worth the quick detour off the coast, the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains is also home to Rosewood CordeValle in San Martin, known for its wine and golf, host of the U.S. Women’s Open 2016.
Spend a few days in San Francisco. Pedal bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge or explore the lush Presidio, a former military base that’s now a park. Golden Gate Park is home to several museums including the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences. Shoppers can pick up souvenirs at Union Square and those looking for nightlife can stroll Valencia Street in the Mission, a trendy hotbed of restaurants and bars.
Where to stay: Fairmont San Francisco, a hotel perched atop Nob Hill and considered one of the most elegant hotels in town since it opened in 1907.
Drive north and spend a day in Mendocino. Just under three-hours’ drive from the bustling ‘City by the Bay,’ this charming hamlet is a natural magnet for artists, and you can often see them, easels propped and paint palettes out, capturing the scene of New England-style Victorians perched on a cliff with expansive Pacific vistas. About 15 minutes north of Mendocino in Fort Bragg is the famous Glass Beach. It has the highest concentration of sea glass in the world, making this beach a must-see.
Where to stay: Blue Door Inn is set in a refined, white-painted home situated amongst the shops and restaurants of downtown Mendocino, this upscale B&B is a two-minute walk from Big River and a mile from Mendocino Headlands State Park.
Continue onto Highway 101 en route to Redwood National Park and spend the night in Ferndale. Ferndale is an attractive and diverting place to stay when visiting Redwood National and State Parks, only a few miles away. With immaculately preserved Victorian architecture, the entire village is a California Historic Landmark; its Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where to stay: The Gingerbread Mansion, a colorful and ornate property built in 1894.
Visit Redwood National Park. One of the most beautiful stops along the 101 is the Redwood National Forest. Perfect for hiking, photography and tree ogling, the Redwood Trees are a magnificent sight and are in fact some of the tallest trees on Earth. Enjoy a picnic or hike before getting back on the road. Make sure to visit the Trees of Mystery and take the SkyTrail gondola ride, a 1/3-mile-journey through the forest tree tops.
Finish your adventure in Crescent City. Only 20 miles south of the Oregon border, the seaside town of Crescent City is home to the California’s northernmost lighthouse stations. Visit the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center and Ocean World Aquarium to see elephant seals and sea lions.
Where to stay: Scopa by The Sea is a premier beachside bed and breakfast also placed perfectly in the shadow of nearby towering redwoods.