Road Trippin': Kitsch-Rich Adventures Through California
Inspired by the GoUSA TV California Pop series, we've plotted two kitsch-rich road trip itineraries for America-bound, wild-at-heart adventurers
17 February, 2002
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Recorded in Hollywood's United Western studio in 1965, The Mamas & the Papas' perennial cover of California Dreamin' perfectly embodies the Golden State's unique blend of pop culture and sunny natural beauty. Now, fired up by GoUSA TV's five-part California Pop series - the first of three digital series offering users "shoppable" itineraries - we've been inspired to collate two options for action-packed California road trips, complete with giant, life-like dinosaurs, sculptures made out of trash, and s'mores and Bigfoot stories around the campfire. Whether you're looking to cruise to the classics or take a different track (Oakland hip-hop turned up to max), your ultimate Cali road trip starts here.
Two pop-perfect California road trip itineraries to try
Palm Springs, left, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Watch my dust: a deep-dive into the social desert
Days 1-3: Palm Springs
There's "off-grid" and then there's the Californian desert - an iconic, sun-baked wilderness that's long attracted those unafraid to operate outside of the mainstream. In America's ground zero of kitsch, you're more likely to chance upon an impromptu circus act, hand-sculpted dinosaur, or collection of crocheted poodles than you are a McDonald's sign.
Start out in Palm Springs, a town that oozes a unique blend of old Hollywood glam and mid-century modern. Stop by the multihyphenate Superbloom Palm Springs Gallery, home to an exhibition space, boutique and brutalist industrial design lab. Toast the sunset at Truss & Twine in the Uptown Design District, where craft cocktails come paired with plates inspired by the region's natural larder.
Come bedtime, slip into something silky at Villa Royale, an adults-only crash pad with a retro 1950s aesthetic. But before you do, grab a nightcap at the hotel's restaurant, Del Rey, making new friends and sharing road trip stories at its 12-seat oak and marble bar, or by the fire pit on the moonlit patio.
Days 4-5: Imperial County
It's time to dive deeper into the dusty wilds. Fill up the tank - gas stations are few and far between out here - before hitting Highway 111 South. It's only a 90-minute drive to Salvation Mountain - a huge, man-made mound formed out of straw, clay and thousands of litres of acrylic paint - but it may as well be another planet. You'll spot the "GOD IS LOVE" message at its summit from a mile off, the work of the late Leonard Knight, a drifter who settled in the area after a fateful hot air balloon crash in 1985.
Neighbouring Slab City, named for the concrete blocks left after a World War II training camp was torn down, is another mecca for the left-of-centre (you may recognise it as a location for Sean Penn's film Into the Wild), as is nearby Bombay Beach, home to the annual (despite the name) Bombay Beach Biennale festival. Don't miss The Polaroid Museum, a beguiling relic of a former edition of the arts extravaganza.
Days 6-7: San Diego County
Plot a course for Borrego Springs - population 3,429 - the only California town that's completely enveloped by a state park. It's also surrounded by dinosaurs - lifelike, rust- coloured metal creations crafted by sculptor Ricardo Brededa. Inspired? Sign up for a painting or ceramics class at the non-profit Borrego Art Institute, before taking a leisurely stroll around the town's disproportionately large number of galleries. Camping is free in the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Indulge in a spot of stargazing before hitting the sack, making it an early night so you'll be raring to go at sunrise. You'll need to pack plenty of water for your epic desert hike, before ending your SoCal odyssey on a high note with a slap-up dinner in La Jolla, at the oceanfront Mediterranean Room restaurant of La Valencia Hotel.
North stars: coasting California's shores and valleys
Days 1-2: North Coast
Setting off from San Francisco, keeping your eyes on the road will be a challenge: ocean mists blur the boundaries of silent redwood forests; salt spray crashes against rugged headlands (patrolled, December to May, by migrating grey whales); and pine-ringed lakes flash by in shades of cobalt and Tiffany-blue. But the man-made curiosities that pepper your route will prove just as compelling. Rickety fairground rides and spooky fortune-telling booths? Northern Cali delivers.
There's lots to please foodies, too. Feast on vegetarian crowd- pleasers and sip natural wines at Mendocino's Fog Eater Café, then toast marshmallows for s'mores and Sasquatch stories around the fire on Point Reyes Beach. Looking for the wildly romantic path less travelled? Try Bodega Bay - loved locally for its hiking trails. After working up an appetite, stop for a bowl of clam chowder at waterfront fish market restaurant Fishetarian. Then, for an architectural wonder, turn off Pacific Coast Highway 1 at the tiny, environmentally planned community of Sea Ranch and pull over at its whimsical chapel - a magical place to step inside for a moment of contemplation, or some route planning.
Point Reyes Beach and Lighthouse
Days 3-4: Gold Country
Head inland to explore modern-day Gold Country - a region where the rich mineral deposits attracted a huge influx of immigrants during the 1849 gold rush, and one that remains an eclectic melting pot of influences today.
Reached via the aptly named Highway 49, the characterful town of Angels Camp sees step-back-in-time saloons sit comfortably alongside contemporary craft studios. If you're around on a Friday, visit the weekly farmers' market in Utica Park. Once you've panned for gold in Murphys and slurped artisan ice cream at Sacramento's JoMa's, make tracks to Stockton, whose glittering Miracle Mile, spanning Pacific Avenue and Harding Way, is home to the mural-clad Elsie May Goodwin Gallery. Come bedtime, park up at Santa Rosa lodestar the Flamingo Resort. Here, the hotel's retro- futuristic music lounge, Vintage Space, serves up live music acts, dancing, comedy and DJs - as well as a mean cocktail.
Day 5-7: Central Coast and Central Valley
This free-spirited region is made for laid-back living - think garlic festivals, glassworks and languid horseback treks. Make a beeline for the Carmel Valley's Folktale Winery, where small-batch wines are made from grapes grown on its six hectares of sustainably farmed land, and where the al fresco Sunday brunch is a spectacular spread of hand-baked breads, seasonal fruits and showstopper pastries. Take on the winding turns and seaside cliffs of Big Sur, making a pit stop at the architecturally dazzling, contemporary art-filled Hawthorne Gallery. A riot of maximalism, San Luis Obispo's Madonna Inn - a cotton-candy-esque fever dream of a boutique hotel - is worth detouring for. Think hot tubs, pink tennis courts, a destination steakhouse and jalapeño margaritas.
Wake up and set the satnav for Hollister, a favourite weekend escape for Bay Area cool kids, who love it both for its photogenic Spanish Colonial architecture and as a base from which to explore the lesser-known Pinnacles National Park. After hitting the trails, quench your thirst at the 2021-opened Mad Pursuit Brewing Company, where some 20 beers are on tap, alongside wines from vineyards Derose, Calera and Duckhorn. Nearby Bakersfield is where we're pulling over for a retail fix. The town's downtown Antique District is home to a dozen or so shops selling everything from mid-century furniture to old comics and homeware. But be warned: just because there's room in the van doesn't mean your luggage allowance will stretch to a vintage taxidermy hyena.
Ready to stop California dreamin' and make it happen? Browse (and buy) on the shoppable streaming service, powered by Expedia x GoUSA TV. Watch.Plan.Go to the USA, all in one place.
To start planning your own pop-perfect Cali road trip, head to gousatv.expedia.ca