San Diego to Julian Pie Company
This is a trip that can be accomplished in a day, but once you feast on the itus-inducing Julian Pie Company pastries, you’re going to either need to take a nap or a place to rest your pie-filled stomach for the night. Housed in the quaint little town of Julian, the 60-mile, hour and change drive offers multiple exploratory routes to arrive at your destination.
Route 67 to 78 outside of San Diego offers dry, arid landscapes scattered with ranch vistas and a few small towns along the way. Our pick, Interstate 8 to Route 79, interweaves its way through the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park with sinuous mountain roads that climb and climb and climb until going back down again to the valley below.
Eat at the Miner’s Diner beforehand where you can load up on huge sandwiches and stockpiles of tchotchkes, and maybe even get a ridiculously good milkshake to wash down your Julian pie with. After gorging, you can either head back home via the road you came, stay over and collect yourself, or head to our next destination, the Salton Sea.
San Diego to the Salton Sea
The Salton Sea—actually California’s largest lake—was supposed to be the “next big thing” in California resort communities, that’s probably unknown to most Coachella partiers a few miles to the north. However, due to high volumes of salt and pollution, the area has since become an abandoned land of deserted communities and odd environmental phenomenon. Arguably, this is what makes it so intriguing to visit.
If you can get around the smell, which sometimes encapsulates the area—most fish die because of the salt content and wash up along the shoreline—the lack of people, animals, and structures receding back into the ground is visually amazing. The barren landscape, mixed with the openness of it all, is great for documenting the area with photographic intentions. Head to Bombay Beach, where there’s still a hold out of residents and stores for partitions. Close to the community is the beachfront where you can see machinery and homes that have been slowly taken over by the salt levels.
Once you’re done trying to grasp the size, and unfortunate calamity of the area, you can even test your odds at casinos in nearby Salton City where the air-conditioned rooms will be a welcome reprieve from the hot desert sun.
NorCal Valley Circuit
Starting in north Napa towards Calistoga, make your way northwest outside the typical Napa and Sonoma Valley hotspots to valleys like Russian River, Dry Creek, Rockpile, and Atlas Creek among many others. Blossoming with vineyards from some of the best, and most secretive, wineries (that produce the world’s best pinot noir according to this author) this route brings you through endless California scenery from inland to the coast.
Photo credit: Michael Crenshaw
Take Route 128 out of Calistoga towards the 101, and then get back on 128 through Yorkville. You’ll encounter mountain passes, switchbacks, and the occasional deer around a blind corner so stay on your toes. Multiple small shops and restaurants tatter the road so you can stop to catch your breath. Afterwards keep heading east through the Navarro River Redwoods State Park where you can look up in amazement at some of the world’s tallest trees.
Stop at the Albion River Inn for breathtaking cliff side ocean views and a bite to eat. Afterwards, sit outside in the garden in one of their Adirondack chairs for a seriously relaxing moment. Head north through Mendocino and just before Fort Bragg, take a right onto Route 20 where the forest once again encapsulates everything around you. After meeting up with the 101, follow it south to catch up to Route 20 again, then take Route 29 South where you’ll go through a surreal burnt down forest that is in the process of rebuilding. Follow 29 south and continue back to Calistoga where the loop terminates, or starts again depending how adventurous you are.