Mission Santa Barbara founded by Spanish Franciscans.

HOW, WHY, WHERE?

Getting There
Unless you want your road trip to begin in Utah, take the hour and a half flight from Salt Lake City International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. Otherwise, take I-15 South and take exit 109A to merge onto I-10 West toward LA.

Why Go Now
Summer’s over, kids are back in school and the California coast is clear. Those in the know will tell you that fall offers the most beautiful weather of all in this state famous for beautiful weather.

Where to Stay
If the earthy allure of Big Sur makes you want to spend the night, check in to Ventana Inn & Spa for a unique combination of nature and luxury. Situated on 243 acres of meadows and wooded hillsides, Ventana also offers a world-class spa, rustic but elegant accommodations and one of the best restaurants in the area. 48123 Highway 1, Big Sur, ventanainn.com

YOUR THREE-DAY TRIP

Day One: LA to Santa Barbara
Don’t waste a minute in crowded Los Angeles. Head north on State Route 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, to Malibu, where oil magnate J. Paul Getty’s incredible art collection is displayed in the ancient-feeling Getty Villa (17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, getty.edu). Then drive to Ventura for an invigorating walk on bustling Ventura Pier and amazing views of the coast. Stop at Beach House Tacos (668 Harbor Blvd., Ventura, 805-648-3177) on the pier for a late lunch. Enjoy your first night in Santa Barbara, and indulge in Bacara (8301 Hollister Ave., Santa Barbara, bacararesort.com) for both characteristic old California charm and luxurious accommodations. Must-try restaurants flourish in this city. For seafood in a romantic setting, dine at The Harbor Restaurant on Stearns Wharf (210 Stearns Way, harborsb.com).

Day Two: Santa Barbara to Cambria
Before leaving Santa Barbara, do some aimless wandering and shopping in the Historic Arts District. And don’t miss Mission Santa Barbara, considered one of California’s prettiest buildings. Then it’s back on the road for some wine tasting. Instead of continuing north on PCH, take the inland route along Route 101, and stop for some swilling and lunch in the Santa Ynez Valley wine region (santaynezwinecountry.com). If you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you’ll recognize some of the vineyards. Back on PCH, savor ocean views and fresh oysters right out of the water at one of the many casual eateries on Morro Bay, then head to the lesser-known seaside village of Cambria for the night. The idyllic forest-meets-ocean small town setting makes it a no-fuss stopover. Lodge at El Colibri (5620 Moonstone Beach Dr., Cambria, elcolibrihotel.com) and dine at Robin’s (4095 Burton Dr., robinsrestaurant.com) or the Sea Chest (6216 Moonstone Beach Dr., seachestrestaurant.com).

Day Three: Cambria to Monterey
Stop first at Hearst Castle, (750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, hearstcastle.org) newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s enormous, opulent and remote mansion just north of Cambria in San Simeon. Buy tickets in advance. Then pull off at Piedras Blancas Beach to see the seals sunbathe and battle for territory. The next stretch of road is driving at its best. Big Sur, where the road winds high on cliffs above crashing surf, with no sign of civilization for miles. The terrain then becomes beautifully forested, and when civilization returns, it’s noticeably earthy. The beatniks that once lived here can no longer afford Big Sur, but they have left behind echoes of a free-loving vibe. At the north end of Big Sur, stop in the artsy enclave of Carmel-by-the-Sea. On your final short stretch into Monterey, consider detouring along the private 17-mile drive past Pebble Beach, where the coast and golf course are considered among the planet’s most picturesque. Spend your final night at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Monterey (1 Old Golf Course Rd., monterey.hyatt.com) perched on the historic—and public—Del Monte Golf Course. Dine on-site at TusCA, a unique blending the best of Tuscan and California food and wine.

STAY ANOTHER DAY

In Monterey, play an early 18 holes on Del Monte Golf Course, or take a short walk to the water for breakfast at Loulou's Griddle in the Middle on Wharf No. 2 (loulousgriddle.com). The egg dishes conceited with local seafood are must-tries. And you can't visit Monterey without hitting the Monterey Bay Aquarium (866 Cannery Row, Monterey, montereybayaquarium.org). The unforgettable jellyfish displays alone are worth the admission price. Before heading home, tour Monterey's wine country, just a few minutes inland (montereywines.org).

>>>Click here for other three-day getaways