151 mi / 243 km
San Luis Obispo (SBP)
Cross one of California's most vaunted regions on The Spanish Trail, a route that hops from palm-threaded Pacific beaches to Sierra-shrouded wineries, all while spinning enthralling stories about the earliest beginnings of the Golden State.
It's a north-to-south route that starts in ever-sunny San Luis Obispo. The town is the gateway to a region that's blessed with over 300 days of Vitamin D each year. So, you should have perfect weather for exploring the eucalyptus woods that fringe Pismo Beach. They're known nesting grounds for brightly colored monarch butterflies, who arrive by their millions between October and February. Seriously, the trees all but disappear under a sea of moving butterfly wings!
Your way is into the valleys and mountains from there, heading east towards the chapparals of the Santa Ynez ranges. This is wine country. It's centered on the lovely town of Los Olivos, where there are more tasting rooms and cellar doors than you can shake a bottle of award-winning Syrah red at.
The next town over is Solvang. It's all half-timbered homes, Danish windmills, and overhanging gabled roofs; something plucked straight from Scandinavia. Truth is, the town grew to what it is now after thousands of immigrants from Denmark moved across between 1850-1910. Don't miss the Lutheran church at its center, or Hamlet Square, which has very un-Danish Californian wine gardens bathed in un-Danish Californian sunshine.
Channel your inner wagon trader at the Cold Spring Tavern en route through the Santa Ynez. Antique candelabras and flickering log fires are the backdrop there, in what was once a cowboy bolthole in the mountains. It marks the start of a driving section through higher peaks that sprout live oak woods here and there. Hidden within are caves that were painted by the Chumash Indians some 400 years ago!
Santa Barbara, sun-kissed, stylish, and cool, comes next. This jet-setter vacation escape is known for its see-and-be-seen vibe and rich Spanish history. Don't miss the Old Mission Santa Barbara. It was one of the original churches built by colonial Spanish settlers in the 1700s as they aimed to spread Catholicism and their cultural claims to the territory. It's the only one that remains intact and unchanged since that time. After that, you can hop down to Arroyo Burro Beach to join the surfers on the cruisy points or just soak up the SoCal goodness.
Leaving the beaches behind once again, the route makes a final push back through the sierras to little Ojai. It's a great place to wind up. Quaint cafes rub shoulders with elegant wine bars, all under the shadow of a Spanish-styled chapel close to the center.
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