Road tripping from L.A. to Monterey Car Week

Photography by Tim Suddard unless otherwise credited

Sure, you can simply fly into Monterey or San Jose, but why not make Monterey Car Week truly memorable by taking a leisurely drive up from SoCal? Just picture it: two days of soaking up the sun, salt air and local color. It’s a chance to tackle the area like the locals, trading the interstate for the scenic route.

1. Our Starting Point: the Petersen

The journey begins at the Petersen Automotive Museum, nestled in the middle of Los Angeles and all its attractions. Current exhibits at the recently remodeled facility cover the cars of James Bond, hypercars and ’32 Fords. While there, save time to visit its Vault presented by Hagerty, and start your day with breakfast down the street at the iconic Canter’s Deli.

2. North Through the Hills

After your museum visit, head north on South Fairfax Avenue and then take any left to cut over to Crescent Heights Boulevard. As you pass the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel–John Belushi died in one of its bungalows–the road turns into Laurel Canyon Boulevard. You can relive the ’60s Los Angeles music scene as you go by the homes of Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash and other icons. Just a few miles until your first stop. 

3. Books, Magazines and More

Autobooks-Aerobooks has been a fixture in Burbank since 1961, with many locals heading over Saturday mornings for the latest issue of their favorite magazine or a book signing. Jay Leno’s shop is just a few miles away. While you can leave town via surface streets, it might be easier to get onto the 134 and then the 101 for just a few minutes.

4. Malibu, Here We Come

You can take Mulholland Drive and wind through horse country (yes, horse country, just a few miles from downtown L.A.), but a simpler route takes you through Topanga Canyon–time for some canyon carving–and then up through Malibu. Before leaving the area, though, head up into the hills for a minute and then down along the ocean to get a glimpse of how the local elite live.

5. After a Museum Stop, Lunchtime

Photography Credit: Dirk de Jager

From Malibu, you can cruise up the surprisingly uncluttered coast of western L.A. county past Point Mugu, where the scenery changes to the vegetable fields of Oxnard. The Mullin Automotive Museum is only open on Friday and Saturday, but if you can make it work, it’s worth the time. Ventura Harbor makes for an easy lunch stop, and Boatyard Pub is a personal favorite that offers great food along with a terrific view. 

6. Curves and Cowboy Country

After a brief time on the 101, which alternates between highway and surface streets as it runs along the coast south of Santa Barbara, you can stop at Old Mission Santa Barbara to take in some local history. Next, it’s up on Route 192 and then the super-curvy 154 to head inland past Lake Cachuma–pretty, even with the lower water levels. A left turn onto Route 246 takes you into the tiny cowboy town of Santa Ynez–check out the old hotel there–and then the rather tacky but still cute tourist village of Solvang. 

7. Stopping for the Night

When in this part of the state, we like the quaintness and cleanliness of Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn in Buellton. For dinner, go next door to the iconic restaurant that’s famous for its pea soup, or head over to Hitching Post 2 (made famous in the movie “Sideways”) for steak and ribs.

8. Up Toward San Luis Obispo

There’s a lot to see and do on today’s leg, so plan for an early start. About an hour into the journey, grab some coffee at Pismo Beach. Soak in the quaint beachside vibes for about an hour and then head farther up the 101 to San Luis Obispo.

9. An Explosion of Color

While the Madonna Inn looks to be well over a century old, it wasn’t built until 1958. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in San Luis Obispo, it’s an iconic place to stop for the night. Its pink exterior and bold, chaotic interiors draw visitors from all over the world, while its men’s room made a top-10 list of the wildest ones out there. Take some time for lunch, as the trip is about to hit a bit of a desolate patch. 

10. North on the PCH

To make tracks for Monterey, head north on Route 1. The stretch between Morro Bay and Monterey has to be one of the world’s best roads. Once on Route 1, though, you’re committed, as the only crossover back off the coast after Route 46, the treacherous Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, is still closed for repairs.

11. Roadside Attraction: Hearst Castle

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

About 30 miles up Route 1, Hearst Castle rises above the mountains to the east. Once home to the famed newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, this over-the-top castle features breathtaking views. To tour the house and grounds, make reservations in advance.  

12. Reaching Big Sur

A million turns and a couple of hours later–assuming you stop at the overlooks to take in the gorgeous vistas–you’ll reach Big Sur, the first real town along this stretch of Route 1. You have several options for lunch. While we love the Big Sur River Inn, getting a table at the less famous Big Sur Roadhouse can be easier, and the place still offers nearby redwoods as well as Steller’s jays that will beg for food.

13. Traversing Bixby Bridge

From Big Sur, it’s about a 45-minute drive to Monterey. This section of Route 1 features the iconic Bixby Bridge and is possibly the most beautiful stretch of the day’s drive. From here, roll through Carmel and into Monterey. We’ll see you at our Monterey Kickoff in Pacific Grove Tuesday evening.

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sfisher71 New Reader
8/5/22 3:24 p.m.

Now THAT brought back memories. I lived in the San Fernando Valley from age 12 through 32, and made some portion of that trip many times, especially starting about 1984 when I made annual trips to Steve Earle's Historics (as they were then known). Most of the time I just stuck to 101 for convenience's sake, but I had a few unforgettable drives up or down 1. And as a classic film buff, I was struck by the cognitive dissonance of making the tram ride up from the parking lot to Hearst Castle in bright California sunshine -- not a moody, mist-filled, night-time trek up to see Charles Foster Kane utter his dying conundrum: "Rosebud."

This year, as last year, we're heading down from the northern Oregon Coast in about ten days. While there are some portions of I-5 which are intensely scenic (central Oregon between Roseburg and Cottage Grove, the Siskiyous, and Castle Crags in particular), the wildfire situation there is cause for concern. So we're currently thinking about doing the north-to-south equivalent of this trip, with the ocean over our right shoulders as far as possible. I've done that a few times; since we're starting from the coast, it's not all that much longer than the direct route via I-5. And you don't have to put up with "the interminables," the lo-o-ong stretch down the northern half ot the San Joaquin Valley. 

I first did that in 2008 as a feature for "Forever MX-5" magazine, and took what remains one of my favorite photographs of all time: sunset on the coast, just near the California-Oregon border. This year we'll be in the current always-the-answer, our 2008 NC (MUCH larger trunk and passenger compartment than the NA I drove in 2008, and with the FMII suspension it's taut and responsive). 

But that sunset reflected on the Brilliant Black hood... unforgettable.

Warlock New Reader
8/5/22 6:04 p.m.

In reply to sfisher71 :

You couldn't pay me to do I-5 again.  I've done 101 from Ventura all the way up to Astoria, and for the most part, the combination of speed and scenery is tough to beat, particularly up the Oregon coast.  It's even pretty nice coming up from SLO into Salinas.  Route 1 up the Big Sur coastline has long been destroyed as a drive by RVs, and making sure you don't run into the back of one takes away the scenic value, too.  It's better from Monterey north, but you're still playing chicken with RVs until you get well north of San Francisco.  

8/6/22 10:51 a.m.

Tom: interesting route, it seems, but there are lots of holes and reading your text while trying to Google Map, well, I couldn't get a that to work! Please could you set this up on Google Maps and provide a link for those of us who are lost in LA!  Here on your digital site would be great.  I'm east coast and seriously thinking of doing this drive, though not next week!  Thanx.

Nancy McCroskey
Nancy McCroskey New Reader
8/12/23 12:59 p.m.

Heads up - Highway 1 is still closed south of Big Sur, so you can't drive all the way up along the coast.

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