The route: Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz
The time: 5 hours 30 minutes
The distance: 340 miles
The lowdown: Consider the classic Californian driving holiday and you’ll likely picture the surf and fog-trimmed cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway – and few roads rival the Golden State’s Highway 1.
Jump in your hire car, and start with a late morning cruise north to Santa Barbara, where colonial Spanish architecture and twisted bougainvillea abound. There are former Franciscan monasteries and museums to explore, but the real joy can be found in its riviera lifestyle, Napa Valley-style wineries and refreshingly un-LA pace of life.
Leave the glimmering copper-red roofs in the rear-view and buzz north to see the route’s window-down hallmarks. In quick succession you’ll drive by McWay Falls, a silver veil of cliff-to-cove mist, then Bixby Bridge.
By the time you reach Big Sur, America’s most famous road tripper, Jack Kerouac, enters the picture. The area’s redwoods and rugged coastline inspired On the Road and it’s easy to see why. From here, the highway winds to Carmel-by-the-Sea where luxury boutiques stand toe-to-toe with bohemian-owned galleries. Then comes beachy Monterey and the fabled Santa Cruz Beac Boardwalk, a kaleidoscope of fairground rides and all-American schmaltz.
A mix of two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, Joshua Tree National Park has scorching summers temperatures often topping 38°C, so if you’re not a fan of the heat, opt for early spring or autumn to visit.Discover the USA
The route: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park
The time: 3 hours 20 minutes
The distance: 131 miles
The lowdown: Ask anyone in Los Angeles where best to rekindle the Summer of Love spirit and many will give the same answer: Joshua Tree National Park. At weekends, rock ’n’ roll-loving kids pack up their campers and drive Interstate 10 into the Park to drink beer and watch the sunrise.
In the deep laziness of the summer of 1973, rock ’n’ roll history was made by the folk music pioneer Gram Parsons when he died at the fabled Joshua Tree Inn and Motel. Fixated by the pull of the desert landscape, the former Byrds band member regularly took trips to the Park, inspired by its moonscapes framed by rocky outcrops and yucca palms.
Have a listen to The Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, indebted to Parsons’ influence, and you can hear the desert’s influence on the song. Or listen to U2’s The Joshua Tree. Those magic-hour guitars still resonate around the bars and diners along the 29 Palms Highway, in particular at honky-tonk music saloon Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.