Road trips should be spontaneous and are best taken in a convertible with plenty of junk food stowed aboard and no schedules to keep.
While familiar haunts are favorite road trip destinations, the best road trips are to places you’ve never seen. You might need more than a three-day weekend to see some of these places, but that’s part of the adventure.
California is a large and wonderous state, why not explore some of its hidden places and secret spaces?
Family road trips are, by necessity, a bit more structured, but that doesn’t mean you have to visit Legoland or some other famous “roadside attraction.” Teach your family the joy of spontaneity while exploring the unknown. However, always keep your AAA emergency roadside assistance card at the ready.
Here are some ideas to truly “get away from it all” this Memorial Day.
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands
45500 Lighthouse Road, Point Arena, 95468
This rugged northern coastline is perfect for whale-watching and enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Ocean.
Located about 140 miles north of San Francisco, the untouched beauty of Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, contains 1,700 acres filled with dramatic seascapes.
The protected lands in Mendocino County are so special, in fact, that President Obama declared them part of the California Coastal National Monument in March 2014. View the rugged coastline from the top of Point Arena’s 115-foot historic lighthouse, the tallest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. Depending on the time of year, you’ll catch glimpses of humpback, blue or gray whales coming up for air as they migrate between Alaska and Mexico. Grays have become year-round, but December through April are the prime months. Humpbacks are more common in the summer months.
Miles from the SCV: 490
Info https://thewhaletrail.org/sites/point-arena-light-station/ or www. PointArenaLighthouse.com
Road Trip Expresso, 1391 Utica Powerhouse Road, Murphys, 95247
What? Where? Under-the-radar wine-tasting in California’s Gold Country can be found about 85 miles southeast of Sacramento.
California has no shortage of wine country tasting destinations. But if you’re looking for a lesser-known locale for sipping, head to the quaint town of Murphys, where more than two dozen boutique wineries are open year-round. Murphys calls itself “The Queen of the Sierras.”
It is fitting to start your experience at Road Trip Expresso, which serves coffee from a vintage trailer.
Gold Country has a deep history (thanks to the prospectors) and impressive natural features.
Miles from the SCV: 330 miles
Info: https://visitmurphys.com or www.roadtripespresso.com
Sierra Vista Scenic Byway
This hidden treasure starts at North Fork, 45 miles from Fresno and is in the geographic center of California.
If you’re into granite domes, glaciated peaks and twisty scenic roads with barely any people around, drive this 100-mile stretch of road between Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks.
It is an epic alpine byway worth a road trip. You’ll immediately get a feel for what California looked like a century ago, and you can embrace the time-machine theme with stops at the Jesse Ross Cabin from the 1860s and Jones’ Store, which still doesn’t have electricity (but does have great pie). There’s lots to see and do, and if you dare, try a classic California rafting adventure.
Miles from the SCV: 250 miles
3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy, 95020
To find the craziest trees you’ve ever seen travel to Gilroy, 40 miles inland from Santa Cruz.
If you’ve heard of Gilroy at all, it is probably in relation to its world-famous Garlic Festival, held annually in July.
However, there is more to Gilroy than garlic. Take in the elaborately grafted trees at the Gilroy Gardens theme park. Watch the trees twist and contort in fanciful ways that you have to see for yourself.
The park, in California’s Central Coast, combines a unique adventure in Mother Nature with amusement park rides. The family-friendly theme park features more than 40 rides, many with produce-inspired themes such as the Mushroom Swing, the Artichoke Dip, the Garlic Twirl (a no-brainer in the Garlic Capital of the World) and a water park. However, the world-famous Circus Trees, are really the highlight of this road trip.
Miles from the SCV: 340 miles
Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace
2800 Buck Owens Blvd., Bakersfield, 93308
In Bakersfield you’ll find a honky-tonk venue where you can still dance to live country music.
Country fans: Put on your boots and head to this Bakersfield venue for live music and dancing that celebrates the rock-meets-country musical style known as the Bakersfield Sound.
Country star Buck Owens opened his namesake Crystal Palace in 1996, and today it still boasts a full calendar of music and events. The venue is also home to a museum filled with music memorabilia, much of it from the 1960s, when Owens put his stamp on the music scene. Owens died in 2006, but his legacy lives on in Bakersfield.
While you’re in Bakersfield, experience the Central Valley city’s other cool features, like its Basque cuisine and the Kern River.
Miles from SCV: 95 miles
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, 92004
Borrego Springs, 90 miles northeast of San Diego, is one of the best spots for stargazing in California.
You haven’t seen a night sky until you’ve seen it in the remote Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Surrounded by mountains and with a local focus on eliminating light pollution, this is the first International Dark Sky Community in California, making it a prime spot for stargazing.
During daylight hours, explore the town of Borrego Springs and keep an eye out for the cool statues of other-worldly creatures made by metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda. One of Breceda’s largest collections of work can be viewed in the city of Borrego Springs. As you drive through the roads in the area, you’ll see sculptures of wild horses in a nearby field, sabretooth tigers in pursuit and desert tortoises that seem as if they’re crawling through the brush. More than 130 metal sculptures are located in Borrego Springs. A map to the sculptures can be found at www.desertusa.com/borrego/bs-art.html.
Miles from SCV: 180 milesInfo: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638 and “just for kids’ info” www.abdnha.org/just-for-kids/anza-borrego-just-for-kids-sculptures.htm