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“Your illustrated guide to the perfect West Coast road trip.”
Roll down the windows, turn up the radio, and take a drive up the world’s most magical coastline.
It’s a beautiful and practical travel guide. An illustrated keepsake. An inspiration to get out and visit. And a celebration of the wild, lush, larger-than-life 2,000 miles that run along the edge of the West Coast through California, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island, where you’ll find everything from stunning vistas and alluring beaches to botanical gardens, nature trails, antiques stores, charming villages, and a handful of great cities along the way.
Created by artist and inveterate road-tripper Danielle Kroll, Pacific Coasting covers all the not-to-be-missed stops, while including maps, packing lists and playlists (yes, what to listen to as you’re driving up to Hearst Castle), and specific guides like Tide Pool Etiquette and Oregon Lighthouses. The result is the offbeat adventure of a lifetime, filled with something new to discover every hour of every day.
Southern California is a wonderland of eternal summer. I have a deep love for this region, inspired by the countless waving palms, the pastel hues of sunsets, the ever-present mid-century design, the casual lifestyle that comes from a life lived in proximity to the waves.
As a kid who grew up in the 1990s, I saw California endlessly glorified in pop culture: Beverly Hills, 90210; Saved by the Bell; Clueless. It was a place I felt I knew, a place I wanted to be a part of. Many years later, I road-tripped across the country with a friend who was moving to Mammoth Lakes. As we rolled toward the Southern California coast, the sun was setting, the palm trees silhouetted against a purple sky. I remember us running to the freezing-cold water and dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Those colors and emotions keep bringing me back.
I’m not the only one. For decades, this region has drawn artists, writers, musicians, and film directors from near and far, inspiring everything from the vivacious paintings of David Hockney to the poignant writings of Joan Didion. The sun-kissed views framed by a blue sky, warm air imbued with salt from the sea, fibrous palm tree trunks topped with dark green leaves; it all creates an intoxicating, irresistible blend.
The section of the Pacific coast that begins in San Diego and ends in San Luis Obispo takes you through legendary surf spots, beachside towns, historic landmarks, and even the urban metropolis of Los Angeles if you’re craving a detour for a city adventure. You’ll pass through towns like Del Mar, where succulents dot the side of the road. Beach bungalows in San Clemente are surrounded by cacti taller than their roofs. On the road, VW vans with surfboards on top dot the many pull-offs along the coastline. Boho-chic boutiques, cafés, and surf shacks line Highway 1 as you make your way up through Orange County and into the LA traffic grid.
California is home to more plant species than any other state, and the southern part of the coast is where you’ll find native plants like California sagebrush, California morning glory, and chaparral yucca, all worth a stop for a photo or two. The flowers here are so vibrant that they seem to glow, and the air is filled with the scents of jasmine and eucalyptus.
The Pacific Coast Highway is lined with long stretches of sandy beaches—Huntington, Malibu, Salt Creek, Rincon—the waves attracting surfers from sunrise to sunset. While the outdoor pursuits of choice here revolve around the water, there is also ample opportunity for hiking and nature walks.
Besides the scenery, there’s plenty to get you to pull the car over and make an impromptu stop. As you weave your way in and out of coastal towns, fresh food tempts from one of the many fruit stands or Mexican joints. For distinct souvenirs, there are vintage shops selling an array of funky mid-century homewares, clothing and eclectic jewelry, handmade ceramics, and Asian antiques.
Warm, sunny mornings spent overlooking the ocean, iced coffee in hand, afternoon stops to stick your feet in the silky sand, evening meals of tacos and margaritas topped off with purple-pink sunsets—can it get any better?
San Diego Zoo
Every year, 3.2 million people from around the world flock here, making it the most popular zoo in America. The zoo is home to 3,500 animals, many of them rare and endangered. Peach flamingos greet you at the entrance, welcoming you to a world that’s fun for adults and kids alike. Wander through the aviaries, walk the Monkey Trail, wave to the marsupials of the Outback, and discover the more than 700,000 exotic plants that grow throughout the zoo. Be prepared to do a lot of walking, and pack your lunch to avoid the overpriced food court.
From San Diego, take I-5 north for 16 miles to La Jolla. In 1894, a German woman named Anna Held established the Green Dragon Colony, welcoming artists, musicians, and writers from around the world. The colony and its cottages no longer exist, but La Jolla’s arts scene holds strong with numerous galleries and festivals. Part of the city of San Diego, La Jolla sits right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The rocky shores at the La Jolla Tide Pools are your first chance to find coastal marine life, like sea anemones, sculpins, and sinewy seaweed. Be sure to stroll along the bluffs on the La Jolla Coast Walk Trail. About a mile round-trip, this is said to have been a Native American hunting trail. Today the trail takes you past a string of beaches, with plenty of opportunities to spot sea lions bathing in the sun, kayakers off the shores, and upscale mid-century houses overlooking the ocean. La Jolla Cove is a nice spot for swimming and snorkeling. From here, it’s a short walk to La Jolla’s downtown area, full of restaurants, shops, and galleries.
Driving along the coastal highway
torrey pines state natural reserve
About a fifteen-minute drive north of La Jolla, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is one of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast. The protected 1,500 acres that make up the reserve offer a sense of what the landscape looked like before it was developed. Watch the hang gliders launch from the Gliderport lookout (or try hang gliding yourself). Hike the Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop for canyon views and a walk along the shore. Remember your hat and sunscreen, as trails here are fully exposed to the sun.
From Torrey Pines, continue north on the coastal road, Camino Del Mar, for a slow-paced scenic detour, or hop onto I-5 if you’re pressed for time.
Tide Pool Etiquette
Tide pools are pockets of water that remain in the craggy rocks after the tide pulls out. This is a precious area where plants and marine life thrive. It’s a wondrous world that you can spend hours exploring, but enjoy it with care—here are some guidelines.
• Look up the tide table online before leaving. You’ll be able to find tide pools only at low tide, when the water recedes.
• Wear proper footwear. No flats or heels. I usually wear good-grip hiking sneakers. You can also wear rugged sandals.
• Walk only on bare rocks and sand. Don’t step on seaweed, mussels, or barnacles. Tiny sea creatures make their homes here, and you could squish them. And seaweed is extremely slippery.
• Don’t disturb the creatures. Stand still next to the tide pool for a little while to see if there are any critters in it. Your presence can make them hide, but if you watch patiently, they will emerge and continue about their merry way.
• Be patient. Don’t expect to find everything you seek in one tide pool or even at one beach. Hop around and check out as many tide pools as are safe to access. You’ll find that each one is unique.
• Pay attention. Don’t turn your back on the ocean. Particularly in the Pacific Northwest, watch out for “sneaker waves,” giant, sudden waves that unexpectedly consume areas that were totally dry moments before. Always be aware of your surroundings.
• Respect the wildlife. Don’t touch anything in the tide pools or remove anything from them. If you really want to know what it’s like to touch an anemone, there are aquariums and marine centers on the coast with touch tanks.
Things to Look For in a Tide Pool
It’s a 43-mile drive from Torrey Pines to San Clemente. In the 1920s, Ole Hanson, the founder of the city of San Clemente, and previously the mayor of Seattle, began working on the development of a “Spanish village by the sea” that would attract people looking to escape Los Angeles. San Clemente is renowned for its perpetual sunny weather (about 300 days a year) and local surf scene. Walk down Avenida del Mar and El Camino Real for boutiques, antiques shops, cafés, and restaurants. Just outside town, the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center is a great place to learn about surf history and see a vast collection of surfboards.
From here, drive back to the coastline and park at Calafia Beach, San Clemente Pier Beach, or North Beach to walk along the San Clemente Beach Trail, a 2-mile trail that strings all the local beaches together. Bring a blanket and watch the sunset as the locals light bonfires and play one last game of volleyball.
Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens
Historic cultural center Casa Romantica is housed in Ole Hanson’s original Spanish Colonial home. The building was used as inspiration for the rest of the San Clemente development, and for a small entrance fee, you can walk around terraced gardens and explore the grandiose home overlooking the ocean. Find a bench on the open terrace and listen to the waves below.
About 7 miles north of San Clemente is Dana Point, the start of Highway 1—commonly referred to as the Pacific Coast Highway, and also called Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway on street signs—which runs almost 660 miles along the coast before ending in Leggett, California.
Outskirts of Los Angeles
Los Angeles can feel like one big continuous sprawl. Whether you’re bypassing Los Angeles entirely or just taking a break before heading into the city, as Highway 1 sneaks along the coast from Orange County into Los Angeles County, stop at one of these beaches.
Nicknamed Surf City, USA, Huntington Beach is a world-class surf destination and boasts 10 miles of uninterrupted coastline.
About 25 miles south of Los Angeles, Long Beach is one of the world’s busiest seaports. You’ll find the Aquarium of the Pacific, Southern California’s largest aquarium, and plenty of beach access.
Walk the Redondo Pier, where you’ll find a string of seafood restaurants and a statue of George Freeth, the father of modern surfing. The soft sand here is perfect for a nap.
Manhattan Beach is a laid-back beach community with a small downtown. The Marvin Braude Bike Trail, also known as the Strand, runs along the shore here, passing by mid-century beachfront houses and countless beachgoers. The waves are teeming with surfers, and the sand is sprinkled with tiny shells. Street parking is hard to come by, so head straight to a parking lot and avoid the competitive hunt for a spot.
Venice is a short drive from Manhattan Beach. Initially founded as a beachside resort town, today Venice is eclectic and vibrant with a legendary boardwalk, a renowned skate park, and distinct local charm. Walk down the Venice Beach Boardwalk to enter a whirlwind of weird. Stretching for about a mile and a half along the coast, the boardwalk is Venice’s central element, and a top tourist destination. At the shops along the boardwalk, you will find everything from bedazzled booty shorts and henna tattoos to knockoff shades and CBD gummies. Grab a snack from one of the vendors, and hang around to watch a few street performances. At the north end, find your way to the skate park on the beach, where you’ll see local skaters zooming around the bowls. The graffiti and bohemian boardwalk culture are contrasted by the curated high-priced clothing and lifestyle boutiques on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which runs diagonally inland. From here, it’s about a fifteen-minute stroll over to the Venice Canals, where you can walk through the few remaining canals, originally constructed in an attempt to make the area the “Venice of America.” Parking in Venice is limited, so either pay for parking by the beach or find a spot removed from the action and walk into town.
Finds at the Rose Bowl Flea Market
The Hollywood Sign, Rodeo Drive, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Capitol Records Building: Los Angeles is a piece of Americana, a city known for its movie culture, diversity, and persistently sunny weather. While the city isn’t directly on the coast, if you have never been, it’s worth pulling yourself away from the ocean and heading inland. Way before the rise of Hollywood in the early 1900s, the area was inhabited by the Chumash people, who settled in the Los Angeles basin as far back as 8000 BCE. They were later displaced by the Tongva, and in 1781, Spanish governor Felipe de Neve officially founded the city, home to more than 4 million people today. That makes for a lot of traffic, which can be overwhelming. I suggest ditching the car and wandering through one of the city’s 105 museums, like LACMA
“Your illustrated guide to the perfect West Coast road trip. . . . A guide for even the state’s most seasoned road warriors, with illustrated routes, playlists, pit stops, packing lists and, after a long day on the road, the must-stop bed-and-breakfasts and campsites.”
- On Sale
- Mar 16, 2021
- Page Count
- 224 pages