Californian road trip must-see towns


A Californian road trip is a balance between wanting to get to your destination and stopping to see things along the way.

At least it is for me, because there’s never enough vacation time to go round. So when Mr M and I packed the car for a jaunt down the 1 to LA, we decided that two pit stops would be best.

So I had my work cut out for me in choosing two great places to stretch our legs, get a bite to eat and enjoy the fresh air.

Here’s why I think Pismo Beach and Solvang fit the bill so perfectly.


I must confess that I initially picked this stop off the map because of Bugs Bunny.

Sidenote: This is also why I want to visit Albuquerque one day. Childhood memories are a magical thing.

It turns out Bugs was right to be constantly trying to get to Pismo Beach – there’s ample parking, lots to see and do, some great restaurants and a sunny California beach!


It’s pretty giant to be honest, and stretches out a fair distance, but it’s got nothing on the Busselton Jetty. (Shout out to my West Australian mates).


Unfortunately for us, the pier was being restored when we visited in May. So we didn’t get to stroll along it, but watching earth movers spreading sand made up for it. The project is due to finish in spring 2019, but it will open in stages as it is completed.

The beach is a beautiful wide expanse of sand and gorgeous blue sea. I also loved the snack hut up on the boardwalk. It reminded me of Aussie beaches back in the 80s. I’m not sure they sold pickles though. The soda pop’s a nice touch…Ponyboy.



If you visit at the right time of year (late October to February) you can check out Monarch Butterfly Grove.

Judging by the pictures online, thousands of orange and black butterflies flock to the grove’s eucalyptus trees, making it a magical place to be.

They also run talks at 11am and 2pm every day.


Not just any cows, mind you, these are true Californian gems. The surfing kind.


As part of the worldwide art exhibition, known as The Cow Parade, artist Douglas Turner contributed this Surfin’ USA bovine.

The Cow Parade has been staged in 75 towns across the world, including London, Hong Kong and Rome.


Fancy tiring out the kids to keep them quiet for the next leg of the drive? Take them to Dinosaur Caves Park for a run around.

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The 11-acre park is set on an ocean bluff and is popular with locals and photographers.


Alright kids, back in the car. It’s time to for something a little bit Denmark and very different to what you’re used to seeing in a US town.


We’re headed to Solvang, just a stone’s throw off the 101, this town is like stepping straight into the Nordic realm… with an American flavour of course.

Nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang was founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants, who modelled the town on their homeland.

They built schools and a church in traditional styles. Buildings feature thatched roofs and there are enough windmills to make you feel like you’ve stepped into Holland.

Unsurprisingly, Solvang is known as the Danish capital of America, and its name means “Sunny Field” in Danish.


You can’t step into a Danish town without sampling a Danish. It’s just not done. And Solvang has all of your pastry needs well and truly covered.


Upon entering the Visitor’s Center, we were given a map of the town, with all five bakeries within walking distance circled by the helpful volunteer.

Although, she refused to play favourites and tell me which had the best baked goods, in her opinion.


If you’ve got a petrol head in the crew, who isn’t a fan of thatched roofs, they’re in luck.

The Solvang Motorcycle MuseumΒ houses an array of European racing motorcycles, as well as vintage and rare bikes.

I know close to nothing about bikes, except that they go fast and are more likely to kill you than a car. BUT I can tell you that they rotate their bikes every month so there’s always something new to look at.


I don’t think I’ve ever as many windmills in such a small space – even in Holland.


They’re quaint, beautiful and in some cases have restaurants and wine tasting inside (and around).

Take a horse and carriage ride through the town to spot them all or simply meander through.


The tiny museum and second hand bookshop is a monument to the Danish author.

Andersen was a prolific writer who is best known for his fairytales such as The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and Thumbelina.

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Amongst his plays, novels and poems, Andersen is the author of beloved children’s classics.

The park that bears his name is a great place for a picnic, with plenty of shade and open spaces, as well as walking trails to help stretch your legs.


Those were our two favourite stops on our trip from San Francisco from LA. Now tell us yours in the comments!


34 thoughts on “Californian road trip must-see towns

  1. Still on my list is a stop at Hearst Castle. We thought we could just pop up but it turned out we needed to put aside quite a bit of time…and still haven’t done it! On a sidenote, I feel like you should warn readers about the “drivers” in this fine state of ours lol.

    1. I know, me too! I’ll have to organise a weekend trip to go see it. It’s a bit of a drive to get there. Hahaha, oh yes, the peril that is California drivers πŸ™‚

  2. I can’t wait to drive along the Californian coast one day. I used to book loads of trips there for clients when I was a travel agent and it was always tricky deciding which stops they should make as there are so many appealing places! I love the sound of Solvang, it’s so funny when a mini version of a country pops up on the other side of the world! #Mondayescapes

    1. What a great job, but also it must have been so annoying to have to book all of these trips for other people and not be able to go yourself!

  3. There is so much to see on this route! I have done it little by little on different trips and I still need to see a piece (from Santa Cruz to San Francisco). Santa Barbara, Carmel and Monterey are excellent options. And, Morro Bay is one of my favorite towns. #MondayEscapes

    1. I think that’s how we’re going to do it as well Ruth. I am dying to do the Santa Cruz boardwalk and then Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey as well! I hadn’t heard of Morro Bay though, I’ll have to put it on my list. Thank you!

  4. Solvang is amazing isn’t it! I love it and want to go back when I take my husband back home for a Cali road trip! #CityTripping – Stumbled

  5. Pismo is a great place to stop on the way between LA and San Fran, but we love Santa Barbara! Another nice spot is Paso Robles! #citytripping

    1. Everyone is saying Santa Barbara! I only know it because it’s where Mr M always complains about the traffic. We’ve never actually stopped there!

  6. Oh my goodness! We did a road trip in California years and years ago, before kids, but we never visited any of these! That means we have to go back, right? Any excuse is a good excuse for me – it was probably my favourite holiday ever.

    1. Of course it does! I mean, I keep finding new places in the UK that I haven’t been to yet and they’re stacking up for my return trip! I’m glad that you liked California so much!

  7. I would absolutely love to road trip the States, particularly California. Reading your post I can’t help but think of Chilli Peppers’ Road Trippin’! I know my boys would love the dinosaur park – great to know there are lots of interesting stops for the kids along the way. TraveLynn Family #citytripping

    1. Hahaha, I just finished telling Mr M that all of RHCP’s songs are about California. He was not impressed. Yep, lots of things for kids to do so they’re not incessantly driving you nuts on the way!

  8. Oh wow what a fab post so many great tips, a road trip is so high on our family list we would love to see off the beaten track a little, I cant believe there are so many Windmills, I would love to see them. Thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

  9. That road trip stretch in Cali is one of my favorites of all time! Stunning scenery! I have to admit I know nothing about Solvang, so you’ve piqued my curiosity. I want to take my girls to Big Sur some day soon. #citytripping

    1. Now that I’ve written about Solvang, it seems like it’s not so unknown – lots of people have been. But that doesn’t mean it’s not great!

  10. Great spots – we did a huge USA road trip all the way from San Francisco to New Orleans a few years ago and though we went down the Pacific Coast, I don’t remember any of these… which means we need to return I think!!! #farawayfiles

    1. Wow, that’s an epic road trip! How did you survive?! I get stir crazy so easily, I’m not sure that I would have made it all the way to New Orleans.

  11. I did the road trip from San Francisco to LA years ago and loved the scenery. We spent more time in the towns like Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Monterey and missed these. I’ve read about Solvang before – I really must make a point of going there! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  12. I’ve never even heard of Solvang! It looks impossibly quaint and is much closer than actual Denmark πŸ™‚ I love that surfing cow in Pismo Beach. When I saw the monarch grove, I had to double check where it was – Pacific Grove, near Monterey, also has a monarch grove and monarch butterflies are kind of the mascot of the town. Even though I grew up in California, I have never road tripped very far because I hate driving in California traffic!! So my favorite stops are all the bits between Carmel and SF: Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Gilroy for outlet shopping πŸ™‚ If you ever road trip north, the Medecino coast is gorgeous!

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