Above California’s southernmost oasis, beyond the Southern California-Northern California divide and along the continent’s western brink, the California coastline is a diverse sanctuary home to what are known as some of the most enchanting landscapes on the globe.
A coastal road trip north is a worthy expedition for any adventurer looking to expand the California dream beyond San Diego. Highway 1 fringes the coast all the way to Northern California and provides an ocean-side thoroughfare with breathtaking views to explore along the way. While voyagers of this stretch are privileged to infinite paragons of beauty, the state offers a few quintessential destinations no traveler should forsake.
Located just south of Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, few Southern California beaches are marked with such creative soulfulness and eclectic beauty as Venice Beach. Its beauty is in the diversity of the crowd. From aspiring poets and outlandish street performers to muscle-bound gym enthusiasts, Venice Beach is home to a progressively eccentric crowd that forms one of California’s most distinguished identities. A cultural product of the Beat Generation and home to the original Z-Boys of Dogtown, the area has maintained its magnetism as a hub for artistic talent and a breeding ground for the vibrant surf and skate culture.
A stroll along the famous Ocean Front Walk or a day spent people-watching on Venice’s Muscle Beach may explain how California has earned its reputation for obscurity.
Another Southern California gem exists in the county of Santa Barbara, where visitors can delve into a variety of subcultures and indulge in an array of aesthetic adventures. During a good swell, Rincon Beach fires world renowned waves that Surfline claims can be surfed from Santa Barbara to Ventura County. The Channel Islands sit just off the Santa Barbara coastline, offering kayak adventures in deep sea caves around the most westerly landmasses of the United States. Just north of downtown rests the not-so-quiet party town of Isla Vista, where thrill seekers can join the majority population of UC Santa Barbara students who communally rage there day and night.
Moving along Highway 1, the breathtaking views in Big Sur present aesthetes with miles of jagged cliff where mountain and sea collide. Cliffs, rocks, surf and redwood trees comprise the scenery in Big Sur, which is said to rival that of any coastal location on the globe. The region is known to be inspirational in all forms of art, and writers such as Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac have written books testifying to its rugged beauty. Among the variety of coastal sanctuaries that make up Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is a local favorite distinguished by its wide expanses of sand and a trademark offshore rock archway. Farther south, the more secluded Jade Cove exists as one of Big Sur’s more remote marvels. Though finding it is a bit more difficult, leaving the cove with one of the jade treasures it’s named for is well worth the hunt.
Located just north of Carmel-by-the-Sea and south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz has been deemed both a prized tourist destination and the surfing mecca of Northern California. Its meandering cliffside drive skirts the border between Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean with views resembling those of a larger-scale Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Driving along, onlookers can check out packs of surfers battling for waves at world-class breaks such as Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. Mavericks, a famous California location for big wave surfing, lies about an hour north of Santa Cruz. During a good swell, visitors can witness waves breaking up to 50 feet high. Some of the best surfers in the world congregate here to tempt their fates.
After passing through San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and moseying the tree-lined highway north of the Bay Area, visitors are graced with the tranquility of Northern California’s remote redwood forests and unparalleled coastal views. By the time travelers reach Humboldt County, the landscape abandons any resemblance of Southern California and clean, forest air carries the therapeutic scent of the surrounding foliage. Here the highway cuts inland, and voyagers become enveloped in the coastal redwood forest.
The Avenue of the Giants is a stretch of the highway that hugs the mighty Eel River and is surrounded by ancient redwood trees that stand hundreds of feet tall, some big enough to drive a car through. A plethora of state campgrounds make the area accessible to any adventurer.
North of here, the highway merges with the coastline once again, depositing journeyers in the twin cities of Eureka and Arcata. Where Eureka presents a more industrial landscape, Arcata carries quaint and artistic charm and is home to Humboldt State University. While Humboldt is often stereotyped to be shrouded in a marijuana haze, the county’s aesthetic appeals are just as present as its progressive botanical subculture.
Just before the Oregon border, travelers may be inclined to explore the expanses of the Smith River and the campgrounds nearby. Here, the surrounding wilderness is home to miles of hiking trails, exhilarating cliff jumps and a river mouth that deposits into one of Northern California’s choice surf breaks. At Smith River, road trippers are faced with a pivotal decision: turn back to explore more of California’s infinite marvels, or continue on into the world beyond.