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8 Spots Worth a Stop Along the California Coast

When it comes to great road trips, there’s nothing better than a journey up the California Coast. As you explore the sunshine state from south to north, you’ll find lovely beaches, gorgeous open roads, and incredible little hideaways. Whether you take the coastal Highway 1, or the more inland 101 South, there are spots along the way you just can’t miss. We picked out the eight stopovers we love most.

San Diego

Deciding how to spend your time in San Diego can be tough. If you want gorgeous beaches, head to the white powder of Coronado Beach. If you want to do something a bit different, check out the famous San Diego Zoo. And if you just want to relax (with a cocktail), well, head to the luxurious Palomar San Diego, where you’ll also find an awesome rooftop bar.

Santa Monica

When you’re ready to move north to the Los Angeles area, head directly to Santa Monica Boulevard and its—you guessed it—legendary boulevard. Ride the iconic ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, the only solar-powered ferris wheel in the world, for a killer view of the coastline from above. After that, check yourself into Shutters on the Beach, a known celebrity hotspot.

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Hit the beach alongside of Hollywood’s most elite—yet decidedly laid-back—celebrities in Malibu, your next stop on the tour. Zuma Beach is clean and mellow, or hike down to El Matador Beach to see cool cave rock formations that have been carved out of the coastline by the sea.

Big Sur

Big Sur is the stuff of novels and its claim to fame is Pfeiffer State Beach, a special, light-purple sand beach that dramatically contrasts with the turquoise sea. This hideaway in between San Simeon and Carmel on Highway 1 is a must-see—but you’ll be sharing the view with other travelers as this is one of California’s top sights!

Santa Cruz

Stay a night in Santa Cruz to experience the charm of old California in a city that still has a small, beach town vibe. Check out the wooden rollercoasters, the sea lions on the beach, the live music on the shore—Santa Cruz is the California before the glitz and glam, and its mellow atmosphere is the perfect setting for a chill night along the way. Stay close to the action at The Santa Cruz Dream Inn.

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San Francisco

The next couple of hours of Mendocino are gorgeous, and as you continue south on Highway 101, you’ll hit San Francisco, the city by the bay that beckons for you to explore for at least a couple of days. Ride a cable car, eat seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf, dance like no one’s watching in the Castro… There’s no shortage of things to see here and you should stay at stylish Hotel Nikko to be just a couple of blocks away from Union Square.

The Shrine Drive-Thru Tree at Humboldt Redwoods State Park

If you’ve ever dreamed about what it would be like to drive through a giant tree, channel your inner elf and head to Humboldt Redwoods State Park off of Highway 101 South. You could choose to camp here as well, or you could continue onto our next great stop.

Redwood National and State Parks

Continue north to Redwood National and State Parks, just five miles south of Crescent City. Though the thousand-year-old trees are the draw here, there are also some pretty tide pools and lovely beaches to explore and if you’re lucky, you’ll see elks grazing as well. This is the place to become one with nature and pitch a tent. Camping fees are roughly $35 and you’ll need to make reservations at least 48 hours in advance.

What are your favorite places to stop along the California coast?

—Kelly Lewis

This article was originally published by under the headline 8 Spots Worth a Stop Along the California Coast. It is reprinted here with permission.

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