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 California road trip.
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.
Bubblegum Alley, a pedestrian alleyway off Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, is lined with numerous pieces of chewed gum, a tradition that has been going on since the 1970s.
Morro Rock is a volcanic plug – a hill formed from lava reaching the surface – that rises dramatically from Morro Bay Harbor. It is 23m years old, 576ft (176m) tall, and serves as a bird sanctuary.
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.
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).