As we trudge on through Winter Quarter, a small light shines at the end of the tunnel: the promise of spring break. With only a week to rest between Winter and Spring Quarter, most students choose to go home and binge as much Netflix as they possibly can, which I wholeheartedly support by the way, but if you’re in the adventuring mood, why not choose to hit the road and visit someplace new?
California is usually bottled down to beaches and palm trees, but our state has so much more than our stereotype lets off. This list of locations can serve as stand-alone destinations, but if you want to go to bigger cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco, add some of these places in as stops to truly discover all the Golden State has to offer.
San Luis Obispo
Distance from San Diego: 300 Miles
Affectionately referred to as “SLO,” this laid-back town is roughly located halfway between NorCal and SoCal. As a kid, my family ventured here to visit the Mission, which has free admission, a beautiful garden, and is worth your time even if you’re not religious. While you’re there, stick a piece of gum onto Bubble Gum Alley, have a drink in one of the Paso Robles wineries, or watch the sunset from Pismo Beach. Book your stay at the world renowned Madonna Inn, known for its over-the-top decor and themed rooms, or just stop in for a bite at the Copper Cafe.
As an additional adventure, about 40 miles from the city is Hearst Castle, which was owned by wealthy media mogul William Hearst. It boasts over 160 extravagant rooms, lavish gardens, the remains of a private zoo, and an airstrip on a 123-acre property and was known as a celebrity getaway in the 1920s.
Monterey & Carmel
Distance from San Diego: 440 Miles
Most people probably know Monterey for it’s aquarium, which boasts over 35,000 different creatures in 34 different galleries. I’ve been here multiple times and my favorite exhibit has always been Jellies, which houses thousands of colorful and graceful jellyfish. The aquarium is located on Cannery Row, a historic district that was once home to sardine canneries and the iconic setting for John Steinbeck’s novel, “Cannery Row”. Now, the area is home to many restaurants, wine tasting rooms, shops, hotels, and water activities. You’ll definitely want to grab a bite of seafood while you’re here!
After exploring Monterey, take the scenic 17-Mile drive through Pebble Beach to enjoy some of the best coastal views California has to offer, and feel free to stop along the way. The route will take you to nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is a beautiful town filled with picturesque cottages and old-school charm. The city center is small and easily walkable, but boasts no shortage of good finds — pick up a treat at a bakery or sweets shop, peruse the antique jewelry stores, or pop into one of the many art galleries.
Distance from San Diego: 250 Miles
About an hour past Santa Barbara is Solvang, a historic Danish village in the Santa Ynez Valley. Filled with windmills and half-timbered buildings, it’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Denmark once you step foot into this town. Visit the replica of Denmark’s Little Mermaid statue, stop into Solvang Restaurant for some aebleskivers which are fluffy Danish pancakes, and browse hundreds of unique shops, including a clog store. Make sure to pick up some Danish pastries for the road before you leave!
Distance from San Diego: 530 miles
Gather up the girls, or the guys, and head up to California’s wine capital for a vino-filled getaway. There are over 400 wineries to choose from in Napa Valley alone, so make sure you do your research and schedule winery appointments in advance! Even if you’re not a wine person, plenty of the wineries have beautiful architecture and vineyard tours where you can learn about the history of wine making. Napa Valley has also become a foodie destination for its numerous Michelin star-rated restaurants and other eateries.
Since we’re on a student budget here, try to find wineries that have tastings between $15 and $25, or $30 if you really want to splurge, and stop at Oxbow Public Market or a grocery to pick up a baguette, cheese, and protein for lunch. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to have a good time!
Distance from San Diego: 400 miles
For a taste of nature, visit a national park that’s only about a seven hour drive from our campus. With its giant granite cliffs and tall sequoia groves, Yosemite truly looks otherworldly, and visiting the park has always been a reflective and refreshing experience for me. You’ll probably spend most of your time in Yosemite Valley, which serves as the starting point for many hikes, like the Mist Trail or Cook’s Meadow Loop, and has a visitor center where you can learn more about the park’s history (shoutout to John Muir) and pick up some souvenirs. Tunnel View is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the whole park because you can get El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome in one photo. Taft Point and Glacier Point are also two popular lookouts.
If you’d like to camp in the park, the spots go quickly, so make your reservation at least six months in advance. Also, be prepared for traffic! Many of the roads inside Yosemite are only one lane in each direction — it once took my family and me two hours to just get out of the park.