The Perfect Circuit


There they are. The best driving roads I've ever experienced. Miata-perfect. Coastal California gets all the attention, but it's really inland central California where the best Miata roads are.

From Carmel Valley to Paso Robles, and then from Paso Robles up to Gilroy. Glorious. Mostly through hilly ranch land, with a military base thrown in. Virtually no traffic at all (well, other than in Paso Robles itself). A great mix of tight corners and long sweeping curves. Mostly two-lane, but some single lane stuff thrown in for variety. Altogether, this is 237 miles that takes just over 5 hours. Other than Carmel Valley, Paso Robles, and Gilroy, there are few services available, so plan accordingly for your gas and bladder needs.

Carmel Valley to Paso Robles (this is basically G16 and G14):

  • East Carmel Valley Road (G16) to Arroyo Seco Road (G16), then left and over the bridge on Elm Avenue (G16), then right on Central Avenue to 101. Lots of ascending and descending, tight turns, coastal trees giving way to open ranch lands. 
  • After a very short segment south on 101, exit onto Jolon Road (G14) and follow it up into Fort Hunter-Liggett, turning right on Interlake Road (G14) just outside of Lockwood. This is all straight-aways and long sweepers. Don't speed on the military base! 
  • Follow Interlake Road (G14), through Bee Rock (blink and you'll miss it!), then turn right onto Nacimiento Lake Drive (G14), which is sometimes Godfrey Road (G14), until you get into Paso Robles. Mostly straight aways, moving from hilly ranch lands, past Lake Nacimiento, into the flats full of row crops. 

Paso Robles to Gilroy (this is mostly Hwy 25):

  • Start onto River Road, which then becomes North River Road, then Indian Valley Road, and then Peach Tree Road. This takes you all the way to 198, right at the southern end of Airline Highway (25). This is all beautiful ranch land and rolling hills, with narrow roads (two-lane-ish, but often without a centerline) offering adequate pavement. Consider it the rural cousin of what comes next. 
  • From 198, take Airline Highway (25) through Hollister all the way to Gilroy. This is a justifiably famous highway, mostly with long, sweeping curves (a few patches of fast, tight turns), through hilly ranch lands that fade into flat farms as you approach Hollister. Great pavement, two-lane with painted yellow center line. In the convertible with the top down, you'll know you're approaching Gilroy when the smell of garlic creeps up on you.

I've never driven this entire circuit in one day, since I also generally have to include the hours getting from SF to Carmel Valley, and returning from Gilroy to SF. But I did recently get to drive it on two separate days as part of a 637-mile weekend trip to the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. Perfect weather helped.

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