Highway 101: 8 Best Stops From LA to Napa

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Route 101 is iconic for many things, and is usually pictured on a hot summer day from a convertible or motorcycle riding along the coast. Well, we’re here to say, even if you don’t have a convertible, this trip is worth making. Whether in a Prius, truck, or van, alone, with a partner, or kids, there’s something for everyone along Highway 101. We only made it so far as Napa (our not so secret purpose for the trip) but here’s plenty to do to keep anyone happy for a week :)

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  1. Wander on Malibu Beach- home to some of the most expensive properties in America, but this stop is free! Lounge around on the beach with the crowd, or take a little hike to a more secluded, rocky beach for a snack (maybe some of my favorite jerky and wine?). Hint: dress a little more comfortably than we did :) Price: free

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2. Sample Santa Barbara and its sea urchin- Santa Barbara is a sweet city cradling the 101 right through it’s core. With a backdrop of the ocean to one side and mountains to the other, every angle of this city is a little bit breathtaking. While the small stucco shops downtown are certainly worth a look, the real treat is right in the harbor at the Santa Barbara Fish Market. The staff here will crack an urchin right in front of you, or you can get a whole plate for cheap. This is some of the best uni we have tried, even just coming back from Asia. Savor while watching the sunset over the mountains and boats just outside. Price: $11.95 for a box

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3. Spend the night in Solvang- just a hop away from some of the first stand out wineries along the way, Solvang is a town build to resemble a Danish village after a Danish immigrant established the town’s first school. Complete with a windmill, cottages, beer and wine tasting rooms, and even a clog shoppe. Be careful, there aren’t many open late restaurants, but the Chinese Mandarin restaurant is tasty! Be sure to mark down October 13th for the town’s grape stomping festival! Price: rooms from $80 on Hotel Tonight, food $10-a lot

4. Check out the Madonna Inn- Just a little further up Route 101 in San Luis Obispo is a motel called the Madonna Inn. This isn’t just any motel. Madonna Inn is a 110-room completely over the top dream land. Each room is a different theme (everything from rose-dripping gardens to country taverns) and visitors are welcome to roam all communal rooms, you can even get a peek at each guest room in the gift shop. Price: from free to whatever you spend in the restaurants

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5. Be taken aback by Big Sur- Most travelers have heard of this 71-mile stretch of the Highway 101, and it definitely live up to the hype. With breathtaking views of the ocean and jagged cliff to one side, and untouched forest and mountains to the other, this place is worth several stops. If you can, camp out of your car for a night, but if not, make sure to pack a picnic and climb to a particularly picturesque spot for a couple hours. It will surely be a highlight of the road. Price: free

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6. Make a stop, or at least roll down the window in Gilroy- Also known as the “Garlic Capital of the World“ this town, about an hour south of San Fran, definitely smells the part. Hosting a festival celebrating the plant every July, this town produces not only garlic, but every product you can imagine containing it. Think garlic ice cream, and even wine. Find a rustic rest stop, and get your breath stinking. Price: free to whatever you like

7. Spend a night or two in San Fransisco- San Fransisco is an amazingly unique city. Stunning under both fog and sun, missing this stop would be a mistake. The city hosts many a fabulous restaurant, great bars and many beautiful hotels. There’s much too much to mention here, but make sure you take a walk around the coast and catch the bridge from the ground. Price: to infinity and beyond

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8. Sip in Napa and beyond- Napa, with its rolling hills, small town charm, and…wine. This is probably what you were driving for all along, at least we were. Even if you have trouble drinking during the day, the gorgeous tasting rooms and collections are worth the headache. Because Napa has become such a popular destination the last couple decades, many wineries have come to rely on a schtick to get you through the door. Price: varies drastically, starting at $15- hundreds

There are tons to visit, and many are fabulous, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Hess: stunning grounds with a great small art exhibit in the tasting building.

  • Swanson: a fun experience, with the tasting room resembling a candy shop and wine sipped from glass dixie cups.

  • Cliff Lede: a rock’n’roll themed winery with a killer stainless tasting room

  • Brasswood: a chic, modern buildling, with southern comfort food pairings.

  • Cade Estate: sleek, modern, and completely self-sustaining.

  • Beringer: historical architecture, tasting room in the caves.

  • Domaine Carneros: built by a french noble, taste your wine flight in one of the many gilded salons or patios.

  • V. Sattui: Italian, complete with a deli and picnic tables, a more relaxed vibe.

  • Joseph Phelps: beautiful building made of salvaged wood, stunning terrace views.

  • *Pro tip* take a day and go out to Lodi, the wine is better, the tastings cheaper, and the vibe much more relaxed. Post on this to come.

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And there you have it, a week full of adventures that won’t cost you your whole travel budget (if you go light on the tastings, at least). If you aren’t from the west coast, check out Turo for a cheap car rental, and go ahead, get out of town!

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Do you have any Route 101 travel tips or favorite stops? Let us know!