Coachella Roadtrip, 2023 edition


In 2019, I turned the voyage to and from Coachella into a multi-day roadtrip, which led to discovering lots of beautiful central California roads. I decided to do it again for 2023, racking up another ~1,100 miles in beautiful "superbloom" weather. My faithful steed, a 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata, did not disappoint. 

Day One: SF to Santa Maria

San Francisco to Santa Maria via 309 miles of California back roads, including some of my very favorites (Carmel Valley to Paso Robles). Beautiful weather, if a bit windy and chilly. But wow, there are a lot of pot holes, thanks to the recent rains.

As in 2019, I started by taking Highway 1 down to Half Moon Bay, then up to Skyline Drive, and down from the mountains to Felton via Highway 9, still one of my favorite twisty Miata roads, even if there was a bit more traffic this year. Then back on a relatively boring stretch of Highway 1 to Castroville. 

From there I drove into Salinas and then over the Laureles Grade (which I did in 2019) into Carmel Valley, where I had lunch at Running Iron, which provided a perfectly respectable burger in a somewhat less respectable dive bar environment. 

Leaving Carmel Valley, East Carmel Valley Road (G16) remains perhaps my favorite twisty Miata road of all. The slower traffic thoughtfully pulled off to let me pass, at which point I had many miles all to myself. I then took my preferred route to Paso Robles, avoiding most of 101 by taking Jolon Road (G14) up into the Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation and then making my way to Lake Nacimiento before heading into Paso Robles. 

After that, it was just regular 101 driving through San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach until I reached Santa Maria, where my favorite AirBnB overnight spot awaited. 

Total travel = 309 miles in about 8 hours. 

Advice for next time: leave a little earlier (9a instead of 11a) and/or stop sooner (perhaps SLO?). And plan lunch and dinner options in advance. And coming down from Lake Nacimiento, perhaps detour to Adelaida to take Vineyard Drive down to Templeton, instead of Godfrey Road down into Paso Robles? 

Day Two: Santa Maria to Highland Park

Unanticipated road closures forced me to improvise a bit, but that fortuitously put me in the California Poppy Reserve right in the midst of a superbloom! 

Everything started according to plan, with a gorgeous climb out of Santa Maria on Cuyama Highway (166). Sweeping curves through rolling hills dotted with lakes. So pretty. 

Once in the Cuyama Valley high desert, I'd ideally take 33 down to Ojai. But advance Google Maps reconnaissance let me know about a closure due to rock slides. So my Plan B was to take Hudson Ranch Road up into the mountains to Pine Mountain Club, a drive that delivered the goods on my way home in 2019. That worked out splendidly, with the drive from 166 to Pine Mountain Club as the highlight.  

After coming down from the mountains into the Mohave Desert, I'd hoped to take a short hop on I-5 before getting on 138 to 3 Points Road, which would take me back into the mountains to Lake Hughes. Nope, road closed (and Google Maps didn't know about it!). So I took the next right (Lancaster Road) and wound my way towards the mountains on back roads...only to find myself in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Which happened to be in superbloom! 

Then a right on Munz Ranch Road to Lake Elizabeth to San Francisquito Canyon Road to I-5 in Castaic. Pretty road, but cloudy weather and slow traffic made it a yawn. From there it was all LA freeways until my friends' house in Highland Park for the night. 

Total travel = 210 miles in about 6 hours.

Advice for next time: hopefully 33 will be open! But the poppy reserve deserves another visit. And maybe consider Spunky Canyon Road out of Green Valley to Bouquet Reservoir instead of San Francisquito Road? 

Day Three: Coachella to Paso Robles

An appointment to pick up a wine order in Paso Robles meant that I had no time for fun mountain roads. 

After the typically bad traffic out of LA, and the gorgeous superbloom on the Grapevine, Google Maps got me off I-5 onto the deserted and very straight Copus Road (instead of 166, suprisingly) to 33, a lovely drive through California oil derrick country. Then to 46 to Paso Robles. Lots of superbloomin' goin' on.

After the wine pickup (and a lovely tasting session), I spent the night at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in Paso Robles, which was very nice. 

Total travel = 350 miles over about 7 hours.

Advice for next time: remember Copus Road as an alternative to 166. Scheduling a wine pickup en route is a pretty good idea, but maybe aim to do it in the morning on the way out of Paso, instead of on the way in against the 4p closing time.  

Day Four: Paso Robles to SF

I don't know why Airline Highway (CA-25) isn't more famous. For me, it ranks right up with Highway 1. What it lacks in ocean it makes up with lack of traffic. Great pavement, great terrain. More of a cruising experience than cornering, but that just makes it less car-specific than most of my favorites.
The superbloom hadn't entirely arrived yet north of Paso Robles, but there were some pretty beflowered spots. Also, I got to go through Hollister, the land of cheap gas and Apricot King

After Hollister, eager to get home, I decided to take 101 all the way to SF. 

Total travel = 220 miles over about 4 hours.

Advice for next time: yes to Hollister! Apricot King! 


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