California Coastal Drive

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A weeklong drive up California's Route 1.

There are few things as American as a road trip, and the drive up California's Pacific Coast Highway is one of the country's most iconic. Starting in Los Angeles and ending in San Francisco, the road snakes along the sea's edge, offering stunning views, as the landscape morphs from desert into dense redwood forests.

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Day 1-2: L.A.

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Many of L.A.'s stereotypes are true: the people are beautiful, the weather is unbelievable and yes, traffic can be bad. But the City of Angels is much more than just the Hollywood sign. Upon touchdown at LAX, drive up to the Griffith Observatory to stretch your legs and take in city views. Book a table at a classic L.A. eatery for dinner, like Ink, the celebrity-filled Ivy, or beloved Osteria Mozza.

Explore Santa Monica the next day, starting with Brentwood Country Mart. Pick up coffee from Farmshop and browse stationery mecca Sugar Paper. Drive past famed Santa Monica Pier and Muscle Beach en route to Venice and have lunch at Gjelina. Wander Abbot Kinney Boulevard and seek out Tortoise General Store for beautiful Japanese crafts and wares. End the day visiting an L.A. institution like the Getty Museum, Rodeo Drive, Mann's Chinese Theatre or Universal Studios. Try a cool restaurant for dinner like Tar & Roses or Urasawa.

Day 3: Montecito

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Rise early and drive to Malibu to peek at some uber-cool beach houses. If feeling energized, hike in Topanga or Will Rogers State Parks before driving the one hour to Montecito. You'll arrive in the Santa Barbara area in time for a light lunch from the raw bar at The Hungry Cat, a local favorite. Santa Barbara's beaches offer stand-up paddleboarding and surfing lessons, or you might decide to stroll the romantic grounds of San Ysidro Ranch. Have dinner at the hotel's Stonehouse or cozy pub Plow & Angel.

Day 4-5: Carmel Valley

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One-and-a-half-hours north sits San Luis Obispo, home to one of one of California's Spanish missions as well as a brunch favorite, Big Sky Café. A 45-minute drive further on, San Simeon's coast is home to thousands of elephant seals and its hills hide Hearst Castle. William Randolph Hearst built his massive 165-room home in the early 1900s to entertain such friends as Walt Disney and Clark Gable.

The Big Sur drive is one of the world's most stunning—and dramatic—routes. Though only about 90 miles, it can take upwards of three hours, due to its many switchbacks and photo-ops. Highlights include the single-span Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer State Park and Big Sur Bakery.

Carmel's neighbor, Monterey, is famous for its incredible aquarium. Don't miss the Open Sea exhibit, and if traveling with kids, book an activity like Underwater Explorers, where the under-13 set can try surface scuba diving. The land between Monterey to San Francisco is extremely bountiful and fruit stands line the roads. Detour to the small town of Pescadero, home to Hurley Goat Farm, which offers demonstrations and a shop full of goat's milk products. With rumbling tummies, pull into San Francisco and head straight to the acclaimed Flour + Water restaurant.

Day 6-7: San Francisco

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Mix classic San Francisco sightseeing, like the excellent tour of Alcatraz, with visits to foodie-haven Ferry Building, home to fabulous cafés, shops and vendors like Cowgirl Creamery. Kids and grownups alike love discovering the bayside Embarcadero and newly reopened Exploratorium. This interactive science museum was built in the 1960s as an expression of San Francisco's intellectual movement. Have dinner on the water at Asian favorite Slanted Door.

On your final California morning, chose among an array of activities, each of which beautifully represents the city. See more of the city by trolley car, visit Chinatown, bike across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, visit the De Young Museum, have a leisurely brunch in ritzy Pacific Heights or browse through funky Hayes Valley. By this time you'll have realized that California is as cool as it is multi-faceted.

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