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Born to Be Wild Road Trip
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Born to Be Wild Road Trip

Heading south from the tree-studded Redwood Coast to celebrity-studded Malibu, this greatest-hits road trip covers some of California’s most photo-worthy territory. Allow plenty of time for beach-walking, wine-tasting, stargazing, tree-admiring, and scenery-gazing along the way—you’ll want to squeeze the most from every bucket-list stop.

Start:Chandelier Tree, Leggett
End:Malibu
7 - 10Days,10Stops,968Miles
Chandelier Tree, Leggett
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Russian Gulch Bridge, Mendocino
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Bodega Bay
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The Marshall Store, Tomales Bay
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Napa Valley
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Shaver Lake
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Hot Creek Geological Site, Mammoth Lakes
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Lone Pine, Alabama Hills
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Red Rock Canyon State Park
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Malibu
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Stop 1

Chandelier Tree, Leggett

67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd, Leggett

What California icon is 2,400 years old and has cars driving through it every summer day? If you guessed the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett—an hour’s drive north of Willits and three hours from the San Francisco Bay Area—you know your redwoods. You can steer your car through this 315-foot-tall sequoia sempervirens with a 70-foot circumference. Fold in your SUV’s mirrors before squeezing through the massive redwood’s six-foot-wide tunnel, which was hand-carved in 1937. For more than 80 years, road-trippers have been capturing photos of their cars creeping through this amazing tree. Sure, it’s kitschy, but it’s giddily fun, too.

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We Believe You Haven't Seen a Big Tree Until You've Driven Through One
Stop 2

Russian Gulch Bridge, Mendocino

12301 CA-1, Mendocino

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea, the coastal hamlet of Mendocino is an obvious magnet for artists, romantics, and lovers of anything wild and untamed. The closest thing to a New England village in California, Mendocino invites you to stroll past tidy saltbox cottages and perfectly manicured Victorians wrapped in roses and picket fences, their wind chimes tinkling in the breeze. Just north of town, the photogenic Russian Gulch Bridge—a 527-foot-long concrete arch bridge built in 1939 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—spans across a sandy cove, connecting Russian Gulch State Park’s dramatic coastal side with its tree-hugging inland side. Picnic on the beach underneath the 100-foot-high bridge, explore Russian Gulch’s glorious headlands, and hike to Russian Gulch Falls, which cascades in a leafy forest of second-growth redwoods, Douglas firs, bigleaf maples, and ferns.

Stop 3

Bodega Bay

103 CA-1, Bodega Bay

It’s tempting to stop in all of the seaside towns along Highway 1, but you’ll definitely want to linger a while in Bodega Bay. Sample the catch all over town. The Birds Café serves crispy fish and chips—beer-battered with a local IPA—barbecued oysters, and artichoke fritters. Every seat is outdoors, but that’s where you want to be. Fishetarian Fish Market makes slapping-fresh fish tacos, clam chowder fans head to Spud Point Crab Company or Ginochio’s Kitchen (Ginochio’s chowder riff has scallops mixed in with the clams). Hike off the calories at Sonoma Coast State Park, a 13-mile string of rocky beaches and grassy headlands that extend north to the Russian River. Or take in the awe-inspiring Pacific scenery from Bodega Head’s high vantage point, 265 feet above the roiling waves. From December to April, this is one of California’s best whale-watching spots. Snuggle up in a plush bed at the Bodega Bay Lodge.

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We Believe 840 Miles of Coastline is Just Right
Stop 4

The Marshall Store, Tomales Bay

19225 CA-1, Marshall

You can feast on fresh oysters in a number of beautiful California locales, but it’s much more satisfying to slurp them down alongside the waters where they’re harvested. Just north of Point Reyes National Seashore, Tomales Bay’s nourishing waters sustain California’s biggest oyster-producing region. Taste the fruits of their labor at The Marshall Store in the bayside hamlet of Marshall. Order oysters prepared every which way—not just raw, but also barbecued, smoked, Rockefeller (spinach, cheese, and breadcrumbs), and Kilpatrick-style (bacon and Worcestershire sauce). Then find a spot at the outdoor tables—live-edge wood slabs perched on oak barrels—and gaze at the bay while you toss back your bounty.

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We Believe in Pushing the Odometer More Than the Speedometer
Stop 5

Napa Valley

1290 Napa Town Center, Napa

Napa Valley is a land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodges, many of which border the celebrated Silverado Trail. Even with a few full days of wine-tasting, you’ll barely scratch the surface. The region boasts more than 400 wineries and some of the most coveted wine grapes anywhere, including those from To Kalon Vineyard, planted in the 1860s, plus contemporary cult bottlings such as Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. Dozens of world-class restaurants offer meals on par with the vintages served alongside them.

Stop 6

Shaver Lake

42696 Tollhouse Rd, Shaver Lake

When you vacation at picturesque Shaver Lake—a sapphire gem hugged by pine forest in the granite-studded Sierra Nevada Mountains—megawatts will be the furthest thing from your mind. But this boulder-lined reservoir 50 miles northeast of Fresno is a critical link in one of California’s oldest hydroelectric chains, built by Southern California Edison in 1927 to supply Los Angeles with power. Set up your tent at Edison Campground, then hop on a Waverunner and zip around the lake’s placid surface. Or just go for a swim under the blue Sierra sky—Shaver’s water temperature warms up nicely by mid-summer. Take a 15-mile side-trip to the isolated McKinley Grove, where gargantuan giant sequoias thrive among leafy dogwood trees and thick-canopied sugar and Jeffrey pines. The grove is small—about 170 giant sequoias spread out over 100 acres—but precious solitude is easy to find.   

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We Believe Curiosity is the Greatest Alternative Fuel
Stop 7

Hot Creek Geological Site, Mammoth Lakes

Hot Creek Hatchery Rd, Mammoth Lakes

Outdoor fun abounds in the skiing-hiking-biking-fishing playground of Mammoth Lakes, the eastern Sierra’s biggest resort town. But don’t miss a stop at Hot Creek Geologic Site to see Mammoth’s volcanic forces shaking and boiling in real time. Hot Creek’s scenic canyon is like a mini-version of the geothermal marvels at Lassen and Yellowstone, with water temperature often topping 200 degrees, heated by a pocket of magma lying three miles below the creek. This wonderland of hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers neatly framed within a narrow, rock-strewn gorge is Instagram gold, but swimming is prohibited. The landscape is always in flux—new hot pools appear overnight, and boiling geysers erupt without warning.

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We Believe in Snowboards & Surfboards Sharing a Roof Rack
Stop 8

Lone Pine, Alabama Hills

701 S Main St, Lone Pine

Head to Lone Pine to see a different side of California—one that is less connected to the Pacific Coast and more connected culturally and geographically to the interior American West. There are Western-style buildings with awnings shading the sidewalk, while sporting goods stores, with leaping trout on their neon signs, hint at the sacred role that fishing plays in these parts. Stop in at The Museum of Western Film History to see vintage western movie props—costumes, saddles, and guns—then scout out film locations in the nearby Alabama Hills. This rugged landscape of rounded boulder piles made the ideal backdrop for a century’s worth of movies: Dirt roads and trails fan out to Gene Autry Rock, Lone Ranger Canyon, Gary Cooper Rock, and other famous filming sites. While in Lone Pine, snake your way uphill on Whitney Portal Road, gaining nearly 5,000 feet in elevation to Whitney Portal, the gateway for hikers bound for 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. 

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We Believe in Finding the Longest Distance Between Two Points
Stop 9

Red Rock Canyon State Park

37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil

About 80 miles east of Bakersfield, eroded badlands rise up from the sandy soil, their whimsical shapes sculpted by eons of wind and water. Once the home of the Kawaiisu Indians who carved petroglyphs in the vividly colored cliffs, and later a gold mining site, stagecoach stop, and backdrop for Hollywood westerns, Red Rock Canyon State Park preserves this multi-hued collection of creased and folded sandstone buttes. Extend your visit until after dark so you can marvel at the desert’s star-filled sky—amateur astronomers set up telescopes almost every night in Red Rock Canyon, but you can see the Milky Way and count shooting stars with just your wide-open eyes. Red Rock Canyon is far from the nearest large town, so make sure your car is stocked with gas, water, and snacks. Pitch your tent at the park’s 50-site Ricardo Campground, or give glamping a try—snuggle up in a tipi at the Olancha RV Park and Motel, an hour’s drive north. Choose your tipi by motif—Horse, Buffalo, Raven, Hawk, Coyote—and then relax in a comfy bed, cuddled in a soft duvet (these cozy tipis have air conditioning and heating, too).

Stop 10

Malibu

23000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu

Malibu’s 30-mile-long stretch of postcard-perfect Southern California coast is where Hollywood stars and top athletes live in posh oceanfront homes and enjoy front-row seats for surfing and unforgettable sunsets. But you don’t have to be an A-lister to enjoy the coastal scenery here. Take a stroll on Surfrider Beach, just off the Malibu Pier, or plop down in the sand at Zuma Beach, a sun magnet for locals and families. You’ll need time to tour the ancient Greek and Roman art at The Getty Villa and browse the upscale shops at the Malibu Country Mart, so give yourself an extra day by spending a night at the fabulous Malibu Beach Inn, just steps away from the Pacific’s blue waves and soft-as-silk sand.

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We Believe That Buckled In Is Where We Are Most Free

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Road Trip Snapshot

Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Chandelier Tree, Leggett
67402 Drive Thru Tree Rd, Leggett
Stop 2Russian Gulch Bridge, Mendocino
12301 CA-1, Mendocino
Stop 3Bodega Bay
103 CA-1, Bodega Bay
Stop 4The Marshall Store, Tomales Bay
19225 CA-1, Marshall
Stop 5Napa Valley
1290 Napa Town Center, Napa
Stop 6Shaver Lake
42696 Tollhouse Rd, Shaver Lake
Stop 7Hot Creek Geological Site, Mammoth Lakes
Hot Creek Hatchery Rd, Mammoth Lakes
Stop 8Lone Pine, Alabama Hills
701 S Main St, Lone Pine
Stop 9Red Rock Canyon State Park
37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil
Stop 10Malibu
23000 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu

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