Things to Do in California
Take a Cruise
California’s Highway 1 is full of twists and turns, epic views, and can’t-miss pitstops. This portion from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco (270 miles)is one of our favorites.
Start: San Luis Obispo
Drive 47 miles to Hearst Castle for a guided tour. Afterward, elephant seals await at the nearby beach, where you can take a deep breath before the Big Sur stretch. The undulating road was created to link isolated communities and expedite the rescue of shipwreck victims.
Pitstop at Nepenthe (65 miles from Hearst Castle), a primo lunch spot perched 800 feet above the Pacific and renownded for its filet mignon and triple-berry pie. Down the road is the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
Check in to a cabin at Glen Oaks Big Sur (4.3 miles from Nepenthe; rates start at $225) and stroll past the coastal redwoods at dusk.
Continue on day two to Monterey Bay Aquarium (31 miles from last stop) and the Giant Dipper roller coaster on the Santa Cruz Beach Board walk (45 miles).
Finish your drive in San Francisco at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge (78 miles).
Move Your Feet
Considered one of the most scenic marathons in the country, the Big Sur International Marathon (held in April) is a point-to-point race north along Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel. It combines California’s most dramatic coastal scenery with some serious physical challenges—headwinds and hills. You’ll reap the rewards while running among redwoods with stunning ocean views.
But about those hills: There are 13 over the last 13 miles of the course. One of them is a climb up infamous Hurricane Point—a steady 5 percent incline for more than two miles. But it’s not all bad: Japanese taiko drummers are stationed before you start the climb to egg you on, and a concert pianist accompanies your run at the halfway point. More inspiration: finishing among the flaming orange poppies growing right on Monastery Beach at mile 25.
Hit the Beach
Long before Disney, there was Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—California’s original amusement park and still one of the best. Launched in 1907, the boardwalk has meticulously preserved its bygone ways. Whether it’s corn dogs and cotton candy or wooden roller coasters and screechy bumper cars, this stretch of sand 90 minutes south of San Francisco is like stepping into one of those old Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movies. Must-stops along the path include Momo’s Beach Shack, and Olitas Cantina & Grill for a margarita and fish tacos. As daylight fades, the Giant Dipper roller coaster offers an unforgettable view of the sunset over Monterey Bay.
Play a Round
You can play golf the world over, but seldom will the sea treat you to as dramatic a performance as the one viewed from the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Rock formations in Carmel Bay and Stillwater Cove make for noisy collisions followed by thrilling plumes of white surf. Arriving at this resort to play the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links for the first time is like meeting a movie star whose films you've long admired. Today, this course, where five U.S. Opens have been played, is more accessible, but it remains a high-ticket, bucket-list destination. Greens fees are $495; 800/654-9300 or pebblebeach.com
Grab a Beer
"Summer all year long" is the motto at Coronado Brewing Company in Coronado, California. The brew pub exudes a Baja vibe of sun-baked bricks, glazed tiles, tropical plants, and serape-inspired booth benches. Coronado Brewing Company specializes in West Coast--style ales, but also produces pilsner, stout, and Belgian-style wheat beer. With its distinctive pine and citrus tones, Islander IPA is the brewery flagship, but the offbeat brews are no slouch. Black Sails Ale boasts a more spicy, roasted flavor. Watch your consumption of the chocolatey Stupid Stout, which has 9 percent alcohol by volume. (Mainstream beers run 4 to 6 percent ABV.) The menu also travels south of the border with dishes like carnitas (pork) quesadillas and green chili-jalapeño hummus; coronadobrewingcompany.com.
Southwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara Island is the smallest of five islands in the Channel Islands National Park, known as North American Galápagos and home to more than 150 unique species. At Landing Cove, you can kayak, snorkel, and swim with garibaldi, the neon orange state fish. Note: SBI has dramatic cliffs, but no beaches.
Be sure to: Check out the Sea Lion Rookery overlook to see the barking behemoths sun themselves on the rocks and swim through kelp-filled-waters.
Perched on a cliff 1,200 feet above the ocean, Post Ranch Inn and Spa in Big Sur has developed a cult following for its laid-back luxury and immediate connection to nature. On one side, it faces the Pacific Ocean and on the other, the granite peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The spa's floor-to-ceiling windows maximize the arresting mountain views, but guest room treatments also have their perks: Rooms are equipped with massage tables, large indoor spa tubs, fireplaces, and, for guests staying in a Pacific Suite or the Cliff or Peak houses, a hot tub on the balcony.
Five-Star Treatments: Try the Big Sur Jade Stone Therapy ($220): The soothing massage uses warmed jade from the Big Sur coastline, basalt from surrounding rivers, and cool marble. Follow it with a heavenly aromatherapy body wrap.
Rates start at $775; 800/527-2200 or postranchinn.com.
Visit (and Stay in!) a Lighthouse
The gnarled finger of land called Point Arena thrusts so far into the Pacific that locals like to say it’s the closest bit of U.S. mainland to the Hawaiian Islands. You can’t exactly see Mauna Kea from the top of the 115-foot Point Arena Lighthouse, but you may spy a creature normally found in Hawaii: a Laysan albatross that has visited every winter since at least 1994. Migrating gray whales pass tantalizingly close to the point through April, along with harbor seals and plenty of other seabirds. The three assistant keeper’s houses have breezy, open living rooms with views of the sea and wood-burning fireplaces, full kitchens, satellite TV, and small dining areas. Rates start at $125; 877/725-4448 or pointarenalighthouse.com