Three easy road trips from San Jose

By Edmund Vallance, California-based travel writer.

Photography by S. Greg Panosian/Getty Images

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January 2018

Why not upgrade your San Jose holiday with a road trip through the Golden State? Travel writer Edmund Vallance recommends three of the best drives for foodies, surfers, and nature lovers.

Best for foodies and oenophiles: Napa Valley

Drive time: 2.5 hours

Whether you’re in the market for epic wine tasting or earth-shattering cuisine, Napa Valley will not disappoint. Head north out of San Jose on Highway 680, towards some of California’s most coveted restaurants and vineyards.

Surf culture and 1960s counterculture are still alive and kicking in the laid-back coastal enclave of Santa Cruz, set on a seemingly endless stretch of golden sand.


Set in 27 acres of lush landscaped gardens, the newly renovated Carneros Resort and Spa offers self-contained cottages, each with a fireplace, an indoor-outdoor shower, and a soaking tub set in a private back garden. Visit the award-winning restaurant, Farm, or just kick back with an earthy Cabernet Sauvignon and decompress.


If you have a hankering for haute cuisine, make a beeline for The French Laundry, the spot chef Anthony Bourdain once called “the best restaurant in the world”. Under the helm of James Beard-awarded chef Thomas Keller, this iconic Napa Valley eatery has been producing farm-to-table goodies since 1994. Go the whole hog, and splurge on the nine-course Chef’s Tasting Menu.


There are a mind-boggling number of Napa Valley vineyards to choose from, but some of the very best are found in picture-perfect St Helena. For a killer Bordeaux blend, and equally stunning valley views, head to Ovid on top of Pritchard Hill – the ideal place to enjoy a glass of bottled sunshine.

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  • Hit the road and make your way to the famous Napa Valley © Getty Images.

    Did you know…?

    There are over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, producing approximately 850 wine brands, and over 90 per cent of wineries are family owed.

    Discover wine country
  • Book yourself a stay at the quaint Carneros Inn © Trinette Reed.

    A little ‘me’ time

    Why not try a yoga class with views of the vineyards, or relax and refresh with a tranquillity pro sleep massage at the resort’s spa.

    Book a stay

Best for dreamers and nature lovers: Big Sur

Drive time: 2 hours

Escape the city with a classic southbound coastal drive into Big Sur’s dreamlike landscape. Vertiginous cliffs and majestic redwoods inspired Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur and they’re sure to inspire you too.


The newly renovated Ventana Big Sur is set in 160 acres of grounds, and features two outdoor pools, a sprawling spa, and an award-winning restaurant. The revamped cabin-style suites come with wood-burning fireplaces, and a private balcony or patio overlooking the famous redwood forests.


Coastal-view dining doesn’t get much better than Sierra Mar. Set 365 metres above the Pacific Ocean, at the world-famous Post Ranch Inn, this upscale Californian restaurant is a true foodie’s paradise. The three-course, fixed-price dinner menu features dishes like seared halibut with caviar and spinach, and hazelnut meringue with banana ice cream.


Load up on carbs at Big Sur Bakery, then hike the panoramic trails of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a thrilling 45-minute coastal drive from town. Nature lovers will be in bliss – drink in the sweeping ocean views, and keep a lookout for seals, sea lions and spouting whales.

  • Discover the extraordinary redwood forest at Ventana Big Sur.

    100 years young

    While most redwoods are relatively young – between 50-150 years old – some coastal redwoods are over 2,000 years old.

    Best for dreamers and nature lovers: Big Sur
  • Take in the Pacific coast with a journey to Big Sur © Getty Images.

    Find your own way

    Get off the beaten track, as while tourist spots are convenient, sometimes you have to pay entry. The good thing is, there really are no bad views here.

    Plan your trip
  • Get a taste of the coast at Post Ranch Inn © Sherman Chu.

    Vino with a view

    The Post Ranch Inn’s wine cellar boasts more than 14,000 bottles, covering 2,600 selections – ideal for winding down in the evening.

    Book flights to San Jose

Best for surfers and sun lovers: Santa Cruz

Follow the 17 Freeway south to California’s original Surf City, Santa Cruz. Surf culture and 1960s counterculture are still alive and kicking in this laid-back coastal enclave, set on a seemingly endless stretch of golden sand.


Santa Cruz has the best of both worlds with its beach and mountains. Make the most of both while you’re here by checking into the Hilton Santa Cruz Scotts Valley. Soak away the surfing aches in the hotel’s heated outdoor pool, or head to one of the many nearly mountain wineries for a local tipple.


Established in 1947, historic hillside restaurant Shadowbrook is reached by a vintage cable car. Originally a humble log cabin, the 100-year-old building features a stone fireplace, vaulted ceilings and a long mahogany bar. Order the house speciality of slow-roasted Angus Prime Rib with garlic-whipped potato and creamed spinach.


Experienced surfers will want to head to Steamer Lane, one of California’s most famous – and challenging – surf breaks. Beginners will feel more at home at the calmer, warmer Cowell Beach, home of Santa Cruz Surf Academy. Group and private lessons are available, as well as board and wetsuit rentals.

Plan your trip to San Jose

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