Kevin Costner lives the California dream. The movie star and Oscar-winning director owns a home on the Santa Barbara coast and drives a 1968 Cobra Mustang convertible—the same car Crash Davis drove in Bull Durham. But he's not resting on his laurels. Costner, whose film credits include Dances with Wolves, JFK, and Field of Dreams, is also cofounder of HearHere, an app that adds culture and context to road trips with snippets of history to accompany your drive.
On the latest California Now Podcast, Costner discusses the joys of road tripping and how HearHere fits perfectly with his passion for history—and his attempts to get his kids interested, too.
"I completely made life miserable for my children by stopping at all the bronze plaques along the road," Costner jokes. "I would look around and say, 'Some real human drama happened here.' "
Costner's love for stories about people and places led him to connect with HearHere CEO Woody Sears. Together they created the road trip app, which uses GPS technology to let travelers listen to a region's stories without having to pull off the road. The app's audio clips are designed to provide more details and depth than the cursory summary of a highway marker.
"With HearHere, that same plaque could go from being a paragraph to being a four- or five-minute story, or an overview of an entire area," Costner says.
HearHere currently includes thousands of destinations across America. The subscription-based app sends a pop-up alert when you approach a town or landmark that has a corresponding audio clip. You choose whether to press "play" and listen to it. Stories cover not just local history but also art, music, sports, and more. You can customize the settings so you hear stories only about specific subjects, like "natural wonders" or "colorful characters." Costner, John Lithgow, and former NBA coach Phil Jackson are among the many voices narrating the audio clips.
For family or friends traveling in the same car, the app provides a way for everyone to share in a communal learning experience.
"HearHere presents an alternative to wonderful music,” Costner notes. “It presents an alternative to having your children have their noses in their computers. It presents an opportunity for yourself.”
"I think there's a lot to be learned going from point A to point B. Sometimes, we just pass by some of the greatest moments of our lives. HearHere is positioned to maybe pick up that slack. By listening, I can walk away from where I traveled more knowledgeable, maybe even thrilled."
Costner says history matters because it helps to preserve a region's heritage, whether it's stories about the Yurok Native Americans who traded shells for currency on the Redwood Coast, or the complex reasons why Spain built missions in California, or the history behind Palm Springs' annual gay pride celebration.
"Our fingerprints are on a lot of things. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but I love all of it," he says. "I'm in love with the history of America—the expansion of it… and the resourcefulness that people had to have in order to carve out a life."
Costner has been road-tripping since his childhood in Southern California. "We didn't have a lot of money in my family," he says. "So our trips were in the car."
The family traveled in a Buick with whitewall tires and no air-conditioning. "There was me and my brother in the back seat. My dad pushed the sleeping bags down into where your feet would normally go, so we had one big, giant bed back there. That's how we saw California, that's how we saw the other side of the Sierra and the sequoias. That is all we knew—driving out to the Colorado River, driving up to Lake Shasta."
Costner says road-tripping is ideal for family travel. "When you take yourself out of your environment, you're never going to forget those moments. Your children will never forget them."