6 Must-Stop Destinations on a California Road Trip

01/06/2016 at 12:50 PM ET

California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Hi Great Ideas readers! I’m Andrea Lavinthal, PEOPLE’s Style and Beauty Director. Last year, my boyfriend and I took an incredible trip to Napa Valley and I shared my favorite things to do there with you (and by “do” I mean eat, of course). Despite our jam-packed itinerary (you may recall that I created a spreadsheet of restaurants, attractions and activities), we didn’t check everything off our west coast travel list.

So we recently went back to Cali, only this time, we tackled the Pacific Coast Highway, driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a week. Here are the highlights of each stop, plus some insider tips.

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California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 1: Malibu
Unless you have a phobia of wind (which interestingly enough is a real thing called “ancraophobia”), it’s pretty much mandatory that you do this trip in a convertible, especially when you’re on Highway 1 where every view is the best view. After picking up our silver Mustang (because of course) in Los Angeles, we cruised through Malibu, pulling over whenever we saw a beach that looked particularly enticing which was approximately every four feet.

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California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 2-3: Santa Barbara
A friend who grew up in Santa Barbara raved about the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara so we planned a two-night stay there. The property is gorgeous with an incredible spa. We indulged in a couples massage that left us like two pieces of overcooked spaghetti (which is exactly how you should feel after a quality massage) as well as his and hers pedicures (a first for my boyfriend who said not to tell anyone) in a room with huge windows so we could watch the sun set over the ocean while sipping champagne. It was the definition of #spagoals.

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California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 4: Cambria
There are a bunch of charming little towns on the way to Big Sur, including Cambria. We spent the day walking along a series of giant cliffs overlooking the beach, then grabbed a bottle of wine and sat on the patio right off our room at the Blue Dolphin Inn.

We woke up early, hopped in the ‘stang and drove 15 minutes to Hearst Castle in San Simeon. You’ll know you’re close to the castle when you see a dozen or so zebra hanging out next to the highway. Yes, you read that right.

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California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 5: Big Sur
I’m outdoors-y in the sense that I like to have cocktails on the patio in the summertime. But Big Sur is such a magical place that you’ll want to be outside as much as possible, even when you’re sleeping. That’s why we spent one night in a yurt, which is like a big circular tent with a wooden floor. Our friends were so impressed that I went camping, but it was more like “glamping” since the yurt had a queen-sized bed and running water and the restrooms were just a few feet away. Plus, there’s wifi, so you can post amazing photos like this one of the view from our yurt on Instagram.

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California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 6: More Big Sur
For our second night in Big Sur, we chose the Ventana Big Sur, which is one of the top-ranked hotels in the region. After a long day of hiking and sightseeing, it was such a treat to come back to the property and enjoy amenities like a huge pool overlooking the ocean, Japanese hot baths and complimentary wine and cheese. They even have SUVs to take you to local restaurants so you don’t have to navigate the insanely twisty highway especially at night.

California Road Trip
Andrea Lavinthal

Day 7: Carmel-by-the-Sea
Every stop on our trip seemed almost too pretty to be real, and Carmel was no exception. For starters, the entire town looks like a fairytale village (albeit, one with a Bottega Veneta and a Tiffany & Co.). The homes are these adorable picturesque cottages and the town center is filled with art galleries, romantic cafes and charming boutiques. We stayed at La Playa Carmel, which was once a huge mansion built in 1905 by an artist as a gift to his wife. It was walking distance from everything worth seeing, plus the service was spectacular.

Andrea Lavinthal, @andilavs


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elegant gypsy on

Thanks for the road trip! In Santa Barbara, go see the Granada Theatre. In Big Sur, a good eat is found at Nepenthe; this time of year, sit on the deck with a heavy jacket and watch the fog roll in! In Carmel-by-the-Sea, stay at the Tickle Pink Inn for a beautiful view of the coast and wine and cheese tasting every afternoon. This is my California and I am a native.

brandi11868 on

Living in California I happen to be super biased when it comes to this amazing state! The PCH drive is a must do. If you ever get the chance drive past San Francisco up to the Oregon Coast. Redwoods for miles and draw dropping sunsets. One suggestion though, we Californians really dislike our state being called “Cali”. When we hear it called that it makes us cringe! Great article.

Anonymous on

Agreed about the “Cali” comment!! Also I can’t believe you skipped slo/pismo. One of my favorite places in CA.

mic on

as a born and raised californian i cant believe it when people say they want california to slip away into the pacific ocean. WHAT? are they nuts? yes, we are the state of fruits and nuts, we grow for the whole country mind you. so, california haters look at the pics and know their are a lot of beautiful places here

bugsforever on

It doesn’t bother me at all when people call California “Cali”. It lets me know that they’re not Californians and that they’ll be going back to their home states soon.
As for the less known attractions that she missed-good!

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