Spring is in full bloom! Chino Hills is thriving in Black Mustard flowers & it has caught everyone’s attention. Life doesn’t get any better than this. Being out in nature admiring blooms, hearing the birds chirp, bees buzzing with excitement & soaking in the sunshine. This is the perfect day trip for those living in LA- takes about 1 hour from Santa Monica and is a doable weekend venture to get in touch with mother earth.
When you do decide to visit, please stay on the trails. Be mindful of not stepping on any flowers/ destroying the wildlife, leaving behind trash & always remain respectful of the rules mandated at this state park. Be aware: that there are rattlesnakes!!!
Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle , $4 seniors 62+
ADDRESS: 4721 SAPPHIRE RD. CHINO HILLS, CA 91709
PARK HOURS: October-March 8:00AM- 5PM // April-September 8:00AM-7PM
We finally had the chance to explore our home state, California, from the comfort of our car. David and I both grew up in Santa Monica, CA and I lived in northern CA for 4 years (UC Davis for college), and we’ve done road trips here and there, but we’ve never taken the coast on Highway 1 the whole way. I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner because it was an epic adventure! So I’m super excited to share my guide with you and hope it encourages you to get out of the comfort of your home and explore the beauty the California coast has to offer. I will most definitely be doing this drive again in the future!
We left around 8am and started our drive on PCH. One thing I prefer with driving vs flying is that you can pack AS MUCH AS YOU WANT and it’s so accessible. It’s a long drive so I recommend bringing water, tea, snacks for the road and using the bathroom before you leave the house. No one enjoys peeing in a gas station bathroom…
SANTA BARBARA, CA
Our first stop! We’ve been here a couple times already, but here’s a few things you can do: munch on some seafood along the wharf, visit the old mission, go on a whale watching tour, etc . Santa Barbara hands down has the most beautiful courthouse, so this time we stopped by to admire the old Spanish architecture!
SURF BEACH // LOMPOC, CA
We turned off our GPS and made the wrong turn, but it led us to the most beautiful beach in CA….. I COULD NOT believe it. Growing up in SM, our beaches were always muddy and brown and I always thought I had to travel far to find serene, white sand, turquoise water beaches. I never realized that there was one this close! It reminded me of the beaches in Cape Town, South Africa.
When you pull up, there is a small parking lot (maybe fits around 15 cars?) At first, we pulled over at this dead end to check our GPS, but something made me hop out the car and walk over to see what it was all about…. And when I walked past the parking lot over a slight hill, I looked down and saw the most precious and clean beach. I ran back to the car and told David that he HAD to come out and see it.
Surf Beach is a public beach located on Vandenberg Air Force Base. The areas north/south of Surf Beach are closed intermittently on March 1st-Sept 30 to protect the Snowy Plover bird nesting spots. If human violations reach over 50 times, the ENTIRE beach will be closed for the remainder of the nesting season. So be respectful, protect our wildlife/nature & don’t ever leave trash when visiting.. PLEASE.
ELEPHANT SEALS // SAN SIMEON, CA
This spot is located right off Highway 1 and is the ONLY elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible. I am all about conservation and I have so much respect for the state for fencing the whole area off to protect these animals. Observing and witnessing these beauties in nature is such a gift.
The elephant seals birth and breed around December- March. There is a designated parking lot and a couple pathways for you to roam around. DO NOT throw food, taunt, disrespect, etc when you are visiting. The seals are protected by federal law so it is illegal to touch, throw things at them to cause a reaction… Use common sense and enjoy the wildlife here.
The stretch of highway from San Simeon to Big Sur is so incredibly picturesque. There are jaw dropping views in every twist and turn. We couldn’t help it and stopped every 5 minutes to enjoy the scenery! There are a ton of turn offs for you to pull over to take a photo. Make sure to slow down and put your signals on so cars behind you can be alerted since cars are going pretty fast here. Don’t be an idiot and hop over the fence to get a shot- it’s not safe.
BIG SUR, CA
Now this stretch of the drive was so enchanting. Take your time and pull over whenever you see something you want to explore. We had the windows down, and I heard some running water so we decided to pull over to find out. We found the Big Sur Creek and it was so magical and lush. It’s as if you walked into Disney’s Snow White movie with massive redwood trees all around you. Dip your feet into the creek for a refreshing break! I promise you won’t regret it! (*use bug spray to avoid bites)
BIXBY CREEK BRIDGE // BIG SUR, CA
You HAVE to pull over at the northern turnout and hop out to admire the beauty of architectural beauty. This iconic bridge was completed in 1932 and is one of the tallest single- span concrete bridges in the whole world.
I recommend taking photos on the North side of the bridge. The winds can get pretty strong here so please be careful and don’t get too close to the edge… Your life is more important than an epic photo on social media..
PEBBLE BEACH, CA
The popular 17 mile drive…. We did this drive a couple years ago and you have to do this drive in your lifestime. Inside the 17 mile drive, there is a special restaurant we fell in love with. We dined at The Bench and lucked out with the best seats! Highly recommend this restaurant- can be a bit pricy… but the food was delicious!!! Tip: order seafood whenever you’re seaside- it will never disappoint.
I took a class in high school called California Literature and we studied John Steinbeck religiously (Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men). At the end of the year, our class took a road trip up the coast and spent some time here in Monterey. John Steinbeck is one of the best known American literary figures and you can tour the house that inspired him to write the character “Doc” in Cannery Row. Last time David and I visited Monterey Bay, we visited Monterey Bay Aquarium and walked around the quaint fisherman’s wharf.
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, CA
Lastly, we stayed in an eco friendly luxurious Airbnb tent at a working cattle ranch. The most chic way of “glamping” and honestly, the only way I could actually camp in a tent… haha don’t judge. It is a solar powered tent with a mini kichenette, fireplace, and separate cabin for bathroom. When you’re out in nature, there’s bound to be bugs everywhere, but this place was maintained and cleaned VERY well. You should still bring bug spray with high amounts of deet (listen I’ve tried the organic “all natural” bug spray… it doesn’t work. I got eaten alive in Thailand bc of it.) The host goes above and beyond by preparing wine, chocolates, cheese plate, and adds excellent touches in every corner of the tent. The bed/ pillows were EXTREMELY comfortable and clean. The bathroom had an outdoor shower with all the amenities you’d need and truly every detail that went into this was intentional & thoughtful. We loved the starry night, epic sunset, and morning birds chirping. It was quite a spectacular getaway. We highly recommend it and can’t wait to return.
When you hear about Death Valley, you automatically think of a flat, dry wasteland. Why would anyone want to visit? Well I could not be more wrong! It is surrounded by breathtaking landscape and the perfect weekend getaway from the buzzing LA life!
February is the best time to visit Death Valley, as temperatures can become unbearable and unsafe. It was in the lower to mid 70’s, and yet with the dryness it felt more like the 80’s. When traveling here, please do your research, download maps, directions ahead of time (no service) and bring LOTS of water to stay hydrated. Also, don’t drive in a nice car- it will get dirty and damaged.
Below I have listed our path from LA– Death Valley. There are a couple spots we stopped by before we got to Death Valley National Park that I highly recommend. If I missed any must see places, leave a comment below and let me know! Xoxo, Soph
Death Valley Entrance Fee: $30 for 7 days per vehicle ( please pay it… there is no check point, but be an honest person. It funds the maintenance of these parks!
Where to Stay: Everywhere inside Death Valley National Park is EXPENSIVE, averaging from $500ish/night. To me, it’s just not worth it. We found an awesome deal on the outskirts of the park in Beatty, Nevada. Death Valley Inn was only $85/ night on V-Day weekend (AAA cardholders get a discount) The hotel was surprisingly decent: huge comfy bed and a clean bathroom.. That’s all you really need! The moment you walk in, it smells like Fabulosa (at least that shows they are cleaning the room… haha) We looked everywhere and that was the best hotel we could find that was decent enough to stay in… To be completely honest, for our travels we have a hard time bumming it and staying at a budget hotel.
Download an offline google map
Easy directions for all the stops you want to make. There is no service in the park.
Pack water and snacks
Limited food/ restaurants inside the national park. You will most likely spend an entire day there so pack fruits, protein bars, and plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.
Start your day early
Best lighting and temperature is in the morning. You will also avoid crowds the earlier you start.
Fill your car up with gas BEFOREHAND
Before you enter the national park, fill your car up all the way. Gas prices inside are insanely expensive!
Wear sunscreen and bring a hat
The weather is extreme so protect your skin & avoid sun damage.
Wear good quality shoes
Don’t make this mistake… Unlike me, I only wore my birkenstocks. Not ideal for hiking, exploration, and the freezing sand temperature for sunrise. Pack sandals for the car and comfortable hiking/walking shoes.
Death Valley has the HIGHEST recorded temperature: 134 Fahrenheit
It is the hottest and driest place in the country.
Death Valley has the country’s lowest point: Badwater Basin sits 282 ft below sea level
8am Departure– approx 2 hour drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park
Red Rock Canyon State Park
Located in the northern Mojave Desert- right off the 14N freeway. We hopped out to see the popular rock formation, Turk’s Turban. We spent about 30-45 minutes exploring and shooting some photos.
From Red Rock, it was about a 1 hour 15 minute drive. You will spend the last 20 minutes driving on unpaved rocky roads. Because of this stop, I suggest taking a car that can withstand offroading.. Very glad we didn’t take my Lexus. Take your time on the rocky road so you don’t pop a tire in the middle of nowhere.
This location is filled with 500 Tufa Spires The pinnacles vary from sizes and shapes composed of calcium carbonate. Many movies, commercials are filmed here- Disney’s Dinosaur, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek etc!
We shot from the top of the hill: I ran down to the bottom of the road, while David stayed at the top to capture this shot. The whole area was completely empty and we loved having it all to ourselves.
DEATH VALLEY SPOTS (alphabetical order)
Artist’s Drive/ Palette
The colors of the mountain are produced by the oxidation of metals/ elements found in the ground, which is why you see purple, blue, green tones.
Artist’s Drive: It’s a beautiful 9 mile scenic drive that takes you through the canyons. It’s a one way road filled with curves and fun dips through the mountain! Reminds me of the Disney amusement park ride, Cars.
Artist’s Palette: It is a look out point where you can hike, explore, and where most of the photos you see on IG are taken from. When you make a right turn off the main road, there is a small parking lot. Head down the path and you can start your exploration from there.
Getting There: located off Badwater Road: the start/entrance is clearly marked. Artist’s Palette is about 5 miles from the start. You can stop and pull off to the side of the road to explore!
Explore the lowest point in North America! It is a bizarre salt flat that sits about 300ft below sea level. From the parking lot, it’s a quarter mile walk to get to the wider salt flat. The farther you walk, you will start to see geometric salt flats in the shape of polygons.
Getting There: Located right off Badwater Road. Parking lot is quite small. From there, head down some steps that will lead you to a trail.
Devil’s Golf Course
Walk over large salt pans- rough in texture from the large halite salt crystal formations. This place got its nickname after someone stated that only the devil could play golf there!! Ha!
Getting There: About a 2 minute drive off the main road. You will reach a dead end with a sign. That’s where you can park your car and hop out to look at these weird looking formations.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
This place is a must… It’s as if you’ve transported yourself to Dubai… These insane sand dunes go on for miles as if you’re in the middle of the desert. You can freely wander the dunes, although, it’s a rough 2 miles walk in the sand if you want to get to a spot with less footprints. The warm morning light bounces off the sand dunes in such a beautiful golden way- I highly suggest getting there at least 20 minutes BEFORE sunrise. If you are heading there for sunrise, bring a jacket, hot tea/coffee in a thermal, and a blanket to lay down on.
Getting There: Parking lot is right off the main road. These sand dunes are huge- you can’t miss it!
Sediments from Furnace Creek Lake that dried up 5 million years ago. To me, it wasn’t as breathtaking compared to the other sites. We only drove through to enjoy the view and didn’t stop to take photos.
Getting There: Parking lot is more spacious than all the other spots. It is located at the bottom and requires you to hike up a small hill to get to the lookout point.
Amargosa Pit Stop
A bit of history about this one block town. When you pull up, it’s a completely run down Spanish Colonial Revival architecture style adobe building. It gives off an eerily vibe and feels like an empty ghost town. Originally, it was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company– years later, a Broadway ballet dancer named Marta Becket moved there and transformed the whole town. It took her 6 years to paint the walls and ceilings of the renaissance audience. The whole Death Valley junction and town is a non profit and this remote desert location is a must.
There is only one restaurant connected to the Amargosa hotel, and a random opera house. When we stopped by, I had no idea the history behind this place and wish I knew! The cafe had spectacular breakfast items and I read that lunch is just as delicious. The coffee there could be comparable to those hip LA cafes.
Amargosa Hotel: there is a myth that the halls in the hotel are “haunted” with a ghost…. Don’t know if I’m brave enough to stay there, but if you’re all about that, go give it a try and stay the night! 😉