Exploring California via Road Trip with Moon California Road Trip

Moon Travel Guides recently released an all-new guidebook, Moon California Road Trip. The book, which features routes, travel tips, and suggestions from a collection of Moon authors, is available in stores and at online retailers now. We asked Avalon Travel Acquisitions Director, Grace Fujimoto, to talk a little bit about the book, and to offer her suggestions for what she thinks makes a great California road trip.

1. Moon California Road Trip isn’t just about California (or about all of California, for that matter), nor is it a classic road trip like those in Moon’s Road Trip USA. What is this book, exactly?

This book covers the six essential destinations in and around California: the “golden triangle” cities of San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, and three natural wonders, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and the Pacific Coast between LA and San Francisco. This book is unique in that the information focuses on these six places only, with specific driving directions and estimated driving times for getting from one to the other in almost any combination, and gives enough depth about each destination to have lots of choices for a one- to three-day stay.

2. There are already so many guidebooks for California. Why add another?

I volunteer at the visitor information center in San Francisco, and I was surprised at how many people would tell me they were planning to go to Yosemite, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, and then up the Pacific Coast back to San Francisco, all by car. When they asked for advice about how to do it, I would check to see if Tioga Road (Hwy. 120) in Yosemite was open; show them the Rand McNally California map, which they usually ended up buying since it showed the entire route except for Grand Canyon; and point them to the nearest bookstore so they could peruse the various California, Las Vegas, and Arizona guides for more information. But I knew that they probably wouldn’t find everything in one book–the all-California guides would have way more information about the state than they needed, but little to nothing about Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. That’s why I thought Moon California Road Trip would be a useful addition to the bookstore shelf.

3. Is this book mainly for international visitors?

International travelers definitely do this trip—I’ve helped a lot of Europeans plan out this route, and one of our interns even mentioned that her Norwegian friends came to do this exact trip. But I think that anyone coming to California who wants to see these essential highlights in one trip should have this book. And it’s also helpful for people combining any number of these six destinations for different trips, even if they live here.

4. Have you done this trip?

I haven’t, but now I really want to! I’ve been to all these places separately, and last year, during the production of the book, I traveled the California portions of the route: I did the San Francisco–Yosemite–Los Angeles leg over Labor Day and also the Los Angeles–San Francisco drive up the Pacific Coast Highway after Thanksgiving. My family lives in Orange County, so when I drove down to see them for the holiday weekends, these were great alternatives to my usual slog on I-5.

5. What are some highlights of the trip?

Oh, my. Well, Olmsted Point, which is along Highway 120 in Yosemite, is fantastic. It’s not just the view of Half Dome in the distance and the suspended-motion quality of the glacial rocks there—everything around you is so beautiful, including the crisp, clean mountain air. East of Yosemite, the oldest trees in the world (some upwards of 4,000 years old) are in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest off 395. If you’re ever feeling old, these gnarled trees will put things in perspective.

After all the driving, the spas in the Las Vegas casinos will be a welcome treat. The opulence can be over-the-top, but that’s part of the Vegas experience.

For the Grand Canyon, just seeing it is amazing — it’s not a World Heritage Site for nothing!

In Los Angeles, I love the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is huge, and the new Renzo Piano designed buildings on the western side mean that it’s not just the art that’s interesting.

For many, the highlight of the entire California loop is the undeniably spectacular Big Sur coast between Cambria and Carmel, although since I’m a public transportation nut, the best part of my most recent drive was finding out that you can get to Big Sur by bus, which I will do someday!

Closer to home (meaning, my home), you can’t miss the Golden Gate Bridge (best seen from the overlook in the Marin Headlands, just off the north side of the bridge), but my favorite sight in San Francisco is Coit Tower, which has views of the bay and downtown, as well as WPA murals inside that depict life back in the 1930s.

6. Do you have any tips for people making this trip?

If you really want to go to Alcatraz in San Francisco, make reservations three to four weeks beforehand (two months for night tours in the summer), especially for weekends. You can pick up the tickets when you arrive, and if you change your mind, you can get a refund as long as you cancel a full three days in advance. For Yosemite, try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds—even though I was traveling for Labor Day, I went to Yosemite on a Wednesday and had a lot of breathing room. Also, cell phone coverage will be spotty on all the driving legs of this trip. And this last one is totally obvious and I should have known better, but be sure to fill up on gas before you hit the Big Sur coast—I paid more than $5 a gallon when I decided, near Gorda, that I couldn’t take the stress of the needle hovering around E anymore.

7. Are there other classic trips that might lend themselves to this sort of book?

I definitely think that there’s one in the Pacific Northwest and possibly a southwest trip between Las Vegas and Denver. We’ll see.


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