First stop, get the vibrations right. Highway 1 officially begins around Dana Point. In big ways, so does Cali surf culture. Back in the '50s, storied brand Hobie opened the state's first dedicated surf shop here, taking Hobart Alter's board-shaping business out of his parents' garage to a CA-1 address. The smart and beautiful magazine Surfer's Journal is based right around the corner in San Clemente. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
Hit the blinker for a legendary pitstop: Neptune's Net, the seafood diner/biker bar with roots in the 1950s and cameos in a million movies [our estimate]. Founded by a jet engineer, but no rocket science is necessary: fish and chips, beer, patio. If that's not exactly the right mood, head down the pier to Malibu Farm, its boho farm-to-table menu and killer view. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
MOVIE: Point Break || BOOK: Big Sur by Jack Kerouac [you've gotta] || ART STOP: Laguna Art Museum [deep California collection] || CLASSIC TRACK: "California" by Joni Mitchell || NEW TRACK: "California Nights" by Best Coast || POET: Robinson Jeffers WILDSAM LOS ANGELES
Right off the road: tidepools, sand, scores of campsites but relatively mellow times. Take a trail to nearby Refugio, and seek glampish shelter [and llamas!] at El Capitán Canyon, just a couple minutes uphill from the sea. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
If modern blandness ails you, get cured here. Madonna Inn is a multi-colored shrine to eccentricity. Every room flashes a different style—the Old Mill, the Wilhelm Tell, the Krazy Dazy, etc. Some devotees are trying to hit all 110. If you have to pick, aim for the Caveman: solid rock, reportedly built in six hours. And the solid-pink decor of the Gold Rush Steak House? An actual must-see. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
It's famed for a beautiful setting, and beautiful burger. Erin Lee Gafill explains the charm of her family's hillside homestead: "It takes more than a drive to really get Big Sur. Along the winding road through mountains and forests and cliffs, Big Sur gathers in places like Esalen and the River Inn and Nepenthe, little communities within the place. My grandmother Lolly said that this view and this land were too beautiful to keep to ourselves. What's so special about Nepenthe is that it's for everyone." WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
Just across the Golden Gate lies one of America's most significant two-wheeled realms, where mountain biking was practically invented and the knock-out gorgeous loops and trails of Mount Tam call to road and gravel riders. To ogle rare bike brands and collect intel on epic ride routes, consult the experts at Studio Velo in Mill Valley.
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A small-town weekly with a national rep, in part for winning a Pulitizer, in part for brainy, essay-style writing. But mostly for the must-read log of calls to the county sheriff, Point Reyes Light is inevitably wild and weird. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA
Follow the stunning headland trails from gussied-up midcentury hotel Timber Cove and you'll find the Bufano Peace Statue Monument. The 93-foot obelisk by 20th-century San Francisco artist Beniamino Bufano evokes cosmic and earthly harmony—a message very in keeping with the overall Highway 1 vibe, we've gotta say. Artistic heritage runs deep at Timber Cove: Ansel Adams used to shoot here. WILDSAM NAPA & SONOMA
Sea Ranch embodies the optimism—even utopianism—of California. Low-slung homes clad in wood hug the oceanside landscape, in a layout devised by visionary landscape architect Lawrence Halprin in 1962. Very chill. A few years later, graphic designer Barbara Stauffaucher lent a bold stroke to the scene with her vivid "Supergraphic" signs and interior paint schemes. "It's a bit of a shocker," she told Progressive Architecture in 1966. "The exterior is all wood and shingles. The inside is a kinesthetic world of shapes and colors." [Dinner, a drink or a stay at the rehabbed Sea Ranch Lodge can be your intro to this extraordinary story.]
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Northern California's bohemian spirit is alive and well in this one-time timber town. Salmon Creek Farm hosts artists workshops. Twenty-five minutes south, Harbor House Inn draws destination diners to a Beard-nominated menu, which might include kelp-roasted abalone from the shores below. For a watering hole, choose your adventure: the glorious dive that is Dick's Place, or the classic [but haunted!] lobby bar at the Mendocino Hotel. Whatever you do, try to plug into the mindset. As Christie Olson Day of Gallery Bookshop puts it: "Mendocino locals are a breed apart. Anytime I see a book that makes me go 'that's weird,' I know I'll have a buyer for it."
Highway 1 turns into 101 around Leggett. Just to the north, a more natural signifier that you're moving into a different region: the first highway-side redwood grove northbound. The old growth here is easy to explore on foot, a ramble that can lead to an Eel River swimming hole if the climes are right. WILDSAM CALIFORNIA