There’s nothing quite like that cozy winter feeling, curled up by the fireplace with your favorite furry friend, your warmest fluffy blanket, and your newest literary undertaking. But, sometimes, even the most snuggly winter hideouts lose their charm over the course of those long winter months. That antsy cabin fever starts to kick in, and you know it’s time to hit the road and go exploring.
The 840 miles of California coast is alive with ancient forests, endless seas, abundant wildlife, and humming cities. Mild winter temperatures make it easy to take advantage of the outdoors and the vast array of climates and ecosystems provide endless adventures for travelers.
The diversity of the terrain mirrors the diversity of lifestyles, making it easy to enjoy anything from a thrifty, fly by the seat of your pants adventure, to a luxurious, spare-no-expense retreat. In a way, it’s almost like California was built for road tripping—anyone can design an experience that compliments their wallet without cramping their style.
Choosing the best vehicle
Your vehicle is perhaps the most significant investment for your trip. It is important to choose wisely and consider the terrain, especially during the winter. This won’t be a challenge if you stay on well-travelled roads; however, if you visit any National or State Parks, consider choosing a vehicle with 4-wheel drive. If you are stuck between two vehicles, take into account the cost of fuel for each.
If you decide to take your own vehicle, make sure to have it inspected. Functional windshield wipers, snow chains, first aid kits, and spare tires are essential for winter travel. Even in Cali you can be confronted with snow in the mountains. If you have an older model, or if you know your car won’t go the distance, you may want to consider a rental. Keep in mind that customers must be at least 25 to rent at most companies. Road tripping, while exciting, can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to the game. Looking into road trip essentials will help to ensure that you and your vehicle are ready for anything.
Picking where you will stay
If you are socially adventurous and want to know what the locals do on their days off, consider CouchSurfing, hostels, or Airbnbs. These are often cheaper options (and CouchSurfing is free!) and can be much cozier than chain hotels. They also give you a chance to share meals with hosts and other guests. Just make sure to check host ratings and read the comments of previous lodgers; your safety and comfort are just as important as your sense of adventure.
Hotels and bed and breakfasts can usually offer more dependable and lavish amenities for those seeking a bit of pampering and personal space. Whether you want to treat yourself to a day of indulgence or dive right into the lap of luxury for the duration of your drive, there are countless inns and resorts to choose from up and down the coast.
Make time for local experiences
Think about the kind of experiences you’d like to have on your way up the coast. The California coast is alive with festivals and activities, even in the winter months. If you are looking to join some of these larger celebrations but can’t seem to fit them all in to your time table, see if there are smaller events happening at more convenient times.
Consider looking up your favorite bands or comedians to see if they are making any stops along your route. There are also small venues with local musicians and open mics. Even if you don’t see anything that strikes your fancy, it’s good to know where these venues are so you can duck in on a whim.
San Francisco is filled with culture, and no trip would be complete without a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghiradelli Square for a chocolate sampling. Finally, for the intellectual, you can explore the many things to do in Berkeley.
Take in the outdoors
National and State Parks are generally open year-round for day-hiking and camping, which can be a cheap way to spend nights as long as you have proper cold-weather gear. Temperatures along the coast can drop pretty rapidly after the sun goes down—even after a warm day—and it’s essential to be prepared.
Check to see if burn bans are in effect; fire restrictions can put a damper on a camping experience. If you decide to camp, call ahead to reserve a spot and ask about permitting. Frequent campers might consider investing in an America the Beautiful Pass, which is accepted at any National Park around the country. Otherwise, fees depend on how many nights you stay, and how many people are in your party.
One of California’s biggest draws is the Pacific Ocean, and winter provides no exception. Surfing is popular during this time of year, as conditions are excellent and crowds are small. In many areas, surfing conditions are excellent, and the crowds are small. However, new surfers might consider watching the pros from the shore, as the winter waves can be pretty fearsome. Kayaking and biking along the harbors and bays are just as enjoyable and are often more accessible escapes from the road.
Whale watching is virtually unavoidable between December and March. San Diego, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco provide some of the best spots to view migrating whales. While going on a whale watching cruise is usually the most sure-fire way to see whales, seals, and otters, they can be pricy and challenging for those who experience motion sickness. If going out on a boat is out of the question, don’t be discouraged—it’s common to see whales from shore during the winter. Just be sure to bring a good pair of binoculars.
Travel, especially road travel, is often a time of great personal growth. Bring sketchbooks, cameras, and journals to record and reflect on your experience. You will make social media memories to share, but you will also make more intimate memories that you will want to keep closer to home. Respect your physical, mental, and financial comfort zones. Pushing these boundaries can be really exciting and rewarding, but allow for some flexibility just in case things don’t go as planned. In other words, always have a plan B. Never sacrifice your safety for the sake of keeping a commitment or saving a little money if you can help it. Know yourself, know your fellow travelers, and quest into the unknown!