Long before he was an Oscar-winning director and household name, Kevin Costner fell in love with the open road. Many of the star’s formative memories grew out of family trips traversing his home state of California. “I’d never been in a hotel until I was in my late 20s,” Costner told Visit California President and CEO Caroline Beteta at Outlook Forum 2021. “My vacations were in canvas tents on cots, the smell of the Coleman stove.”
A passion for four-wheel adventure drove the star of Bull Durham, JFK, and many other films to cofound the audio travel app HearHere, which debuted in August 2020. As you drive, the app suggests bite-sized vignettes tied to your current location, enriching any road trip experience with context, storytelling, and local history.
In his conversation with Beteta, Costner shared what inspired him to create HearHere, what he thinks of his home state, and why he believes road tripping is more relevant than ever. Read on for highlights of the conversation or watch the full fireside chat here.
Caroline Beteta: You’re a California native. What did growing up in California mean to you?
Kevin Costner: I was born in 1955 and I’ve lived my entire life in California. I was born in the inner city [near Compton]. We didn’t have a lot of money, but what my parents were able to do was put us in the car and take us to the High Sierra, to Shasta, to the Colorado River. We were plenty happy, but our trips were filling up the gas tank and going.
CB: Wow, that’s incredible. It sounds like that might have been some of the roots for what you just started [with] HearHere. How did that idea come to you?
KC: I am the geek who stops and looks at the bronze statues wherever we’re driving. So much so that my children whine, “Please don’t stop at the next bronze thing dad!” I’m always haunted by what I read—but it’s always just a paragraph that could be pounded into bronze. I always knew in my heart that the story went so much deeper.
HearHere became an extension of that, so I could fill out what that bronze was trying to say. It was an opportunity to understand that the same roads I've been driving down my whole life [had] a history that I never even knew. I felt like it was important. I didn’t want to be oblivious to the drama that happened in the settling of this country.
CB: Were there any particular acting roles that really drew out the importance of First Peoples and the narrative from that perspective?
KC: No, but when I was 18, I built an actual canoe. I always wanted to go down the rivers like Lewis and Clark. I packed up this little Datsun pickup truck with an ugly homemade canoe on top of it and left home. I went to the four corners of the United States. While I was on that trip, I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I think I cried every night when I read it, because it dealt with the first contact between Europeans and the people who had been here for thousands of years. I was probably at that point that I became a fully formed person—and history was what informed me.
CB: That’s incredible. Speaking of dreams, if you weren’t an actor what would you have done?
KC: When I went on that trip around the country, I talked to people about all kinds of things. I remember some guy who was a crab fisherman. I was mesmerized. The very next year I left college and I went to work on commercial fishing boats in Northern California.
CB: I have one more question for you: Any words of inspiration?
KC: I like to remind everybody that California isn’t going anywhere. The sequoias are still here, and so are those redwoods. They’re the oldest living things on earth. If you had to pick a state that could expand the things you might be able to see, you’re never going to go wrong saying California. There's something unique [about it], and people still come here from around the world.