03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Best Los Angeles Road Trips (Part 1)

This past August marked my one-year anniversary of living in Los Angeles. I'd flirted with the move for about a year, spending two weeks a month in LA, overstaying my welcome in a friend's second bedroom, wondering how many times I was going to re-read Joan Didion's Goodbye To All That before I finally convinced myself it was okay to give up my small studio apartment on 10th Street in New York.

Something that helped seal the deal for me was the California Coast itself. I've spent the last 12 months working on a new novel in which the narrator has a travel column. And, in the name of research, I've spent many weekends exploring towns and cities within a day's drive of my new home.

In the spirit of this great advantage we Angelenos have -- of being able to get in our cars and head to some fairly spectacular places -- I thought I'd talk about the best road trips one can take from the city of Los Angeles.

It feels only natural that I start with Big Sur. Highway 1, winding you up California's Central Coast and into Big Sur Valley, is inarguably one of the most beautiful stretches of road ever created. And it serves as the perfect reminder that Los Angeles is within driving distance of some of the most extraordinary intersections of mountains and ocean the world has to offer.
Depending on the amount of time you have, you may want to stop at Hearst Castle, or the artist's town Cambria (where several film and TV shows have found their fictional home.) Or, you may just want to open your windows a little wider, and take in the mind-blowing beauty of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Once you're in Big Sur, the Ventana wilderness provides the backdrop to some of the loveliest hikes on the West Coast ( Or, for the road-weary, you can also opt to spend a few hours soaking in the Esalen Baths ( The luxurious Ventana Inn and the rustic Deetjens Inn (the best French Toast... ever) are two great places to stay.

And, whatever else you do in Big Sur, I highly recommend stopping at the Big Sur Bakery for one of their homemade ginger scones.

I also highly request you bring one back for me.