A spectacular coastal drive down California’s historic highways 1 & 101 – from the peaceful morning mists amid the grandeur of Redwood national park to the astonishing landmark at Hearst Castle and on to the lively southern nightlife of San Diego and the Mexican border – offers 1,264 miles of countless scenic wonders and fascinating American history.
Crossing the California border from the picturesque northern sate of Oregon, the tourist begins one of the great driving experiences of modern travel.
From Crescent City down through Eureka is “Redwoods region” – an enduring ecological wonderland and safe sanctuary for the world’s tallest, most majestic trees.
South of Eureka, visitors can turn off Highway 101 onto the famous “Avenue Of The Giants” – a 30-minute detour between Pepperwood and Phillipsville – to enjoy some of the oldest, largest and most beautiful redwoods on the planet. The world’s oldest tree, known as Eternal God, is a 12,000-year-old redwood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California. No wonder Lillian Leland declared in 1890: “ When a tree takes a notion to grow in California, nothing in heaven or earth will stop it.”
Mendocino – renowned for its historic clifftop buildings lining a stunning section of craggy Pacific coast 150 miles north of San Francisco – was originally home to Pomo Indians.
It was later settled by lumbermen from New England, who founded the small town of Big River, today known as Mendocino (and subsequently immortalised in the 1968 hit song “Mendocino” by the Sir Douglas Quintet). It was virtually abandoned after the Great Depression of the early 1930s, before being rediscovered after World War II by artists charmed by its isolation and beauty.
Today Mendocino is the favourite retreat of many university lecturers, artists, writers, teachers, therapists, meditators and surfers.
Winter visitors to the breath-taking coast line include large numbers of bald eagles, grey whales, killdeer and monarch butterflies. In sharp contrast, summer is shrouded in mystery – ghostly mists move slowly along the bluffs and through the forest, followed by the muffled quiet of a foggy evening.
The Stanford Inn By The Sea is an “eco-resort” sitting spectacularly where the Big River and its accompanying forests rush down to the rugged Pacific coastline. The Stanford is famous for its stunning views across both the windswept shoreline and historic Mendocino village.
Visitors can spend the day hiking through the ocean- top hills and forests, bicycling around Mendocino Bay, kayaking and canoeing on the river or simply exploring the many Mendocino town galleries.
San FranciSco/Santa cruz
A National Marine Sanctuary extends along the California coast from just north of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, south past Big Sur to San Simeon.
Make a special stop at the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, California’s oldest amusement park, with its famous Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster (more than 50 million visitors have experienced the Giant Dipper since it first opened in 1924) and 1911 Looff Carousel.
Check out Monterey’s famous Cannery Row, immortalised in the John Steinbeck novel.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel, with its stylish ocean- view rooms jutting out over the crashing waves while providing majestic early morning vistas across Monterey Bay, offers first class accommodation right in the heart of the historic Cannery Row wharves.
A short drive south of the Monterey Peninsula, take the famous 17-mile coastal scenic tour through Del Monte Forest and look for the bunker shots of the sports stars on one of the world’s most famous golf courses, the craggy ocean-side Pebble Beach Resort, followed by the beach houses of celebrities in Clint Eastwood’s picturesque Carmel.
Soon after, the California coast is at its most breath- taking, with Highway 1 following a spectacular coastal route over dramatic bridges and past historic lighthouses (heer Highway 101 diverts slightly east to thread through inland valleys). At Big Sur, the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park boasts a spectacular waterfall emptying directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Hearst Castle (San Simeon)
Over three decades from 1920-1948, high on a hilltop in the Santa Lucia Mountains overlooking the sea between Monterey and San Luis Obispo, legendary newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and famed American architect Julia Morgan created the most extraordinary residence ever to rise on the US Pacific coast – a fairytale estate of Mediterranean-influenced architecture filled with European art.
In 1935 Fortune magazine noted: “Living literally like a king, Mr Hearst is certainly the world’s number one collector of objects d’art specialising in armour, tapestry and furniture of any period he fancies.”
Within the 127 acres at the crest of Hearst’s “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill), craftsmen laboured for 28 years to create its magnificent gardens and terraces, monuments and statues, swimming pools and tennis courts, walkways and fountains. These surround the main house “La Casa Grande” which boasts over 100 rooms – including 38 bedrooms, 14 sitting rooms and 31 bathrooms – furnished with a truly incredible collection of Spanish and Italian antiques. The three adjacent guest houses boast an additional 46 rooms.
In its heyday, Hearst Castle was the centre of the Hollywood social circle. Most weekends for over 20 years, Hearst and his enchanting actress-turned- mistress Marion Davies hosted 3-day parties for 30-40 guests t a time. All the biggest Hollywood names of the era were regulars (Errol Flynn, David Niven, John Gilbert, Norma Shearer, director King Vidor and producer Irving Thalberg), as well as dozens of politicians and athletes, celebrities and socialites, writers and journalists (including Dorothy Parker, Hedda Hopper and Gloria Vanderbilt).
The constant stream of high-profile guests had a wide choice of transport: some motored up the scenic coastal highway from Los Angeles; others flew directly into Hearst’s private airstrip or sailed up the coast on Hearst’s private yacht Oneida; and many simply jumped aboard Hearst’s private train (complete with chef, kitchen, dining room and club car) at los Angeles station.
For the modern visitor, Hearst Castle is open daily to tourists. A choice of guided tours (3 daytime and 1 evening) is offered; each tour takes about two hours, including a 15-minute bus ride up the hill to the castle.
Tour highlights include: the Neptune Pool (a massive Greco-Roman style outdoor pool); the Roman pool (an equally spectacular indoor pool lined with Venetian glass and gold); Hearst’s private movie room (where a short film about Hearst and the castle is screened for visitors); the lavish Doge’s Suite (an Italian-style suite and balcony inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice); Hearst’s private library (featuring 5,000 books and a superb collection of ancient Greek vases); and the remains of Hearst’s private zoo (the largest in the world).
Lighthouses & islands
Scattered along California’s coast are 12 historic lighthouses – beacons of the State’s maritime heritage. Most are open to the public.
Also worth seeing are Santa Catalina Island and Chanel Islands National Park off the southern California coast, and the legendary Alcatraz Island jail and Angel island State Park in San Francisco Bay.
Santa Barbara/Los Angeles
For those wishing to avoid the bustle of down-town los Abgeles, stop just north in seaside Santa Barbara. Charlie Chaplin’s old hotel, The Montecito inn on
Coast Village Road, is a luxury boutique hotel which offers peaceful accommodation with a touch of old fashioned but top-line, 1920s style service – plus scores of first class restaurants within a 2-block stroll.
While in Los Angeles itself, don’t miss an afternoon at the spectacular Getty Museum – one of the truly great art galleries set in an amzing architectural extravaganza.
As you continue south, a warm climate drenches the beaches with bright sunshine most of the year. The famous sandy strip south of Los Angeles includes Long Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente, right down the coast to Solana, Del Mar (with its famous racetrack “where the turf meets the surf”) and La Jolla at the northern tip of San Diego.
The historic Mission Trail known as “El Camino Real” – a chain of 21 missions built between 1769 (San Diego de Alcala) and 1823 (San Francisco Solano) – spans 650 miles from Sonoma to San Diego, providing travellers with a dramatic look at early Spanish architecture. The missions served as an important milestone in settling the state of California.
Pick up a map of the Red Tile Walking Tour for a guide to Santa Barbara’s Spanish heritage. Mission Santa Barbara – the “Queen Of The Missions” – boasts majestic, twin pink-domed towers.
Hotel del Coronado (San diego)
The historic 690-room Hotel del Coronado (nestled on 28 stunning ocean-front acres and celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2013) is one of San Diego’s most famous landmarks – renowned for its majestic Pacific Ocean setting (esteemed American writer Henry James described The Del as “heavenly beauty”); magnificent Victorian architecture (Frank Baum, author of The Wizard Of Oz, based his “Emerald City” design on the hotel’s turreted architecture); and legendary guests (14 American Presidents have stayed there).
In the 1880s, when “the island” was still barren and undeveloped, Coronado’s spectacularly idyllic setting – then a charming seaside village just across the bay from downtown San Diego and barely 15 miles from the Mexican border – captured the imaginations of Elisha Babcock and H.L.Story, two mid-western businessmen who dreamed of building a resort hotel which would be “the talk of the Western World”. In realising their vision, the partners spared no expense: they imported lumber and labour from San Francisco; a mahogany bar was built in Pennsylvania and shipped fully-assembled around South America; and a kiln to fire bricks and an electric power plant were built on site.
A century later leading travel book publisher Rand McNally declared the Hotel del Coronado “enjoys more fame and historical significance than perhaps any other hotel in North America”. Aviator Charles Lindberg was honoured at The Del after his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. And The Prince Of Wales (later England’s King Edward VIII) stayed there in 1920, when he is rumoured to have first met Mrs Wallis Simpson, then married to a US Naval officer and living in Coronado.
Dozens of movies have also been filmed at the Hotel del Coronado – including the romantic classic Some Like It Hot (shot during 1958) starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis; The Stunt Man starring Peter O’Toole; and Mr Wrong with Ellen De Generes.
The hotel has also featured in numerous TV productions, including Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous and Baywatch.
Highlights include: a magnificent ocean-front ballroom; a hotel museum known as the “History Gallery” (showcasing 125 years of historic photographs and hotel artefacts); lighted tennis courts; heated pools; separate men’s and women’s healthy spa and fitness centres; a dozen restaurants and lounges; over 30 exclusive shops and boutiques; plus adjacent championship golf course, boat house and marina. AMP
1542: Portuguese sailor Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed at San Diego – first European to explore California.
1579: Sir Francis Drake landed north of San Francisco Bay and claimed the territory for England. 1769: San Diego De Alcala – the first of 21 missions established by Franciscan padres under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra – was founded.
1846: The Bear Flag
1848: California became a
1848: James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s sawmill in Coloma, triggering the historic “Gold Rush” of 1949. 1850: California admitted into the Union as the 31st State. 1906: San Francisco earthquake & fire.
1937: Golden Gate Bridge opened.
1945: John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row published.
1955: Disneyland opened.
1997: The Getty Centre opens in Los Angeles.
• The largest trees in the world – a species of Redwood known as Sequoia gigantea – can be found in the Sierra Nevada.
• The tallest living thing in the world is the California Redwood found along the northern coast.
• The 10 biggest cities are: Los Angeles (4 million); San Diego (1.3 million); San Jose (965,000); San Francisco (815,000); Fresno (480,000); Sacramento (465,000); Long Beach (460,000); Oakland (410,000); Santa Ana (340,000); Anaheim (338,000).
• Over 500,000 Australians visit California each year – the 3rd largest source of international tourists (after UK & Japan).
• State Animal: Grizzly Bear.