Though culturally diverse and historic, San Jose has always been in San Francisco’s shadow, awash in Silicon Valley’s suburbia. Founded in 1777 as El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, San Jose is California’s oldest Spanish civilian settlement. Its downtown is small and scarcely used for a city of its size, though it does bustle with 20-something clubgoers on weekends.
San Luis Obispo
Almost midway between LA and San Francisco, at the junction of Hwys 101 and 1, San Luis Obispo is a popular overnight stop for road trippers. With no must-see attractions, SLO might not seem to warrant much of your time. Even so, this low-key town has an enviably high quality of life – in fact, it has been named America’s happiest city.
The pleasant and affluent La Jolla Village sits atop cliffs with the ocean on three sides. The main crossroads, Girard Ave and Prospect St, are the x and y axes of some of San Diego’s best restaurants and certainly its best boutique shopping. La Jolla has 7 miles of coastline, including the family orientated, sandy one-mile beach named La Jolla Shores.
The Mojave Desert is the driest desert in the US and covers a vast region, from urban areas on the northern edge of LA County to the remote unpopulated Mojave National Preserve and into southern Nevada. It's a harsh, alien landscape with sporadic mining settlements, ghost towns and vast areas set aside for weapons and aerospace testing.
Lake Tahoe Western Shore
Lake Tahoe’s densely forested western shore, between Emerald Bay and Tahoe City, is idyllic. Hwy 89 sinuously wends past gorgeous state parks with swimming beaches, hiking trails, pine-shaded campgrounds and historic mansions. Several trailheads also access the rugged splendor of the Desolation Wilderness.
Northern Redwood Coast
Congratulations, traveler, you’ve reached the middle of nowhere, or at least the top of the middle of nowhere. Here, the trees are so large that the tiny towns along the road seem even smaller. The scenery is pure drama: cliffs and rocks, native lore, legendary salmon runs, mammoth trees, redneck towns, wild elk and RVing retirees.
Mono Lake Region
The spine of the Mono Lake region, Hwy 395 has turnoffs into the mountains to the west or the high desert to the east. No matter which direction you choose, Mono Lake's unique, almost meditative profile beckons. For a time warp back to the gold-rush era, swing by Bodie, one of the West’s most authentic and best-preserved ghost towns.
With borderline fanatical devotion to its canine citizens, quaint Carmel has the well-manicured feel of a country club. Watch the parade of behatted ladies toting fancy-label shopping bags to lunch and dapper gents driving top-down convertibles along Ocean Ave, the village’s slow-mo main drag.