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S.F. to Venice Beach: Paradise Hopping

Four days, 448 miles, $$$$


Cayucos' mellow shoreline. 


Ruddell's Smokehouse serves house-smoked salmon tacos. Cayucos. 


Boats anchored in Morro Bay. 


The pool at the Canary Inn offers 360-degree views. Santa Barbara.

The interior of Drake Wine's.

Drake Wine's tasting room in Santa Barbara's Funk Zone. 

Municipal Winemakers pours handmade pinots in a former dive shop. Santa Barbara.



Biking along the Santa Monica bike path.



Santa Monica's 22-mile bike trail.


Glass and steel digs at the new Shore Hotel. Santa Monica.

Selecting the top beach town along Highway 1 is no amateur sport. Choose wrongly, and you can find yourself lost in a sea of fanny packs. But pick correctly, and you’re golden: empty beaches, fresh fish tacos, and sun-tanning for as long as the SPF lasts.

From Highway 101, cut onto Highway 46 for a winery-strewn road leading to the coastal village of Cayucos [from S.F., Mile Marker 227], 115 miles south of Carmel. Nineteenth-century buildings recall a time when rum runners ran the town, while calm ocean waters lure kayakers, swimmers, and surfers. Don’t miss Ruddell’s Smokehouse, where you’ll feast on house-smoked salmon tacos.

A few miles south, bypass the hotels lining the waterfront in Morro Bay [MM 233] in favor of the inland Beach Bungalow Inn & Suites (rates start at $134), a ’30s motor lodge repurposed for the modern road tripper, with chairs encircling a fire pit in the parking lot. Breakfast is at local pick Frankie and Lola’s, where crispy fried green tomato Benedict tops the menu.

Continue along the coast to Santa Barbara’s [MM 359] Canary Hotel (rates start at $300) in time for the 5 p.m. bottomless wine happy hour—and a visit to the rooftop Jacuzzi or fireplace, with 360-degree views. Explore the city’s neighborhood-in-the-making, the aptly named Funk Zone, which hosts a growing colony of modish wine-tasting rooms in converted tin warehouses two blocks from the beach. Municipal Winemakers pours handmade pinots in a former dive shop that’s now decked out in a nostalgic homage to 1950s schoolhouses.

Small beach coves—Butterfly, C Street, Oxnard Shores—serve as excuses to break up the drive on the way to the suntopia of Santa Monica [MM 444], where the sleek, new, neon-lit Shore Hotel (rates start at $339) is bringing a dose of modern architecture to this strip of Ocean Avenue. Pull up a seat on the psychedelic tiki patio at Cha Cha Chicken for savory Jamaican jerk chicken. Come evening, discover glossy pockets of Venice Beach [MM 448]. Case in point: the new RG Club Venice, a former scuzz bar transformed into a swanky jazz lounge, complete with a grand piano, inventive cocktails, and even a resident Coltrane-obsessed saxist.

Local intel: Santa Barbara’s restaurant and bakery Scarlett Begonia takes “homemade” seriously. “We even make the ketchup from scratch,” says owner Crista Fooks, whose 66-year-old mother makes strawberry scones and bacon-maple biscuits.

More Summer Get Aways:

S.F. to Santa Cruz: Highway 1 via two wheels
Three days (suggested time), 123 miles (one way), $$

S.F. to Borrego Springs: Desert funk
Five days, 769 miles, $$

S.F. to Truckee: Summer camp flashbacks
Two days, 200 miles, $$$

S.F. to Venice Beach: Paradise hopping
Four days, 448 miles, $$$$

S.F. to Humboldt: Oysters, hot tubs, martinis
Three days, 330 miles, $$

S.F. to Mendocino: Wine country underground
Three days, 165 miles (bring a designated driver), $$$

S.F. to Bear Valley: Sierra camping without the masses 
Three days, 182 miles, $


Originally published in the May 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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