The coastal trek from Los Angeles to Big Sur is undeniably scenic – with dramatic waterfalls, beaches, cliffs and dunes. Yet the man-made spectacles are just as compelling, from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst’s lavish mansion to a castle made from scavenged materials. Here are 12 destinations to pack into your Californiaroad trip.
Located in upscale Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, Lotusland is the estate of the late Madame Ganna Walska. Nine years after her death in 1984, the estate’s botanical gardens opened to the public for tours. The gardens span 37 acres (15ha) and contain more than 3,000 different kinds of plants.
Businessman George Owen Knapp built himself a fine home in 1916. In 1940, German opera singer Lotte Lehmann and her companion Frances Holden moved in, only to lose the mansion to a forest fire just over a month later. The ruins still remain.
The Guadalupe-Nipomo dunes complex extends over 18mi (29km) of beautiful coast, which includes Oso Flaco Lake, the Pismo Dunes Natural Preserve, and the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. An interesting piece of history: In 1923, Cecil B DeMille shot the silent movie The Ten Commandments here, yet instead of removing the set pieces, the crew buried and abandoned them. Some pieces remain buried; others can be viewed at the Dunes Center.
The Madonna Inn is a historic and unique hotel where every one of its 110 rooms has a different theme. It’s been around since 1958, though the original building was destroyed in a fire, making way for the quirky rooms such as the Caveman with stone walls that you can stay in today.
Nitt Witt Ridge was constructed by the artist and garbage collector Art Beal, beginning in 1928. It’s a castle made out of scavenged materials, resting on 2.5 acres (1ha) in Cambria. Although Beal has since died, the property is maintained by Mike O’Malley, who offers tours to visitors.
The elephant seal, so named for the male seal’s trunk-like snouts, come twice a year to their rookery to breed, birth and hang out. You can watch the seals via free viewing areas at Piedras Blancas during that time.
Hearst Castle is a magnificent mansion built in San Simeon in the 1940s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. A true monument to opulence, it contains 165 rooms and sits on 127 acres (51ha).
Located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, McWay Falls flows 80ft (24m) into the ocean. It is one of the most gorgeous views along the Big Sur coast. Fun fact: You might recognize this waterfall from the music video for Dr Dre’s I Need a Doctor (2011).
For a meal with a spectacular view, hungry travelers come to Nepenthe, up in the Santa Lucia mountains. It’s been around since 1949, welcoming notable guests including one-time local Henry Miller along the way. It serves American cuisine and an extensive selection of wine.
The Bixby Creek Bridge, built in 1932, offers coastal views at numerous turnouts along its 714ft (218m). It’s a particularly tall bridge – 260ft (79m) above the canyon below – making it one of the highest single-span arch bridges in the world. Lately, it earned even more fame after appearing in the opening credits of the popular HBO series Big Little Lies.