March 11, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Despite having lost some of its counterculture luster, the central
California coast is an intriguing area of the country to visit and
maintains a free-spirited allure. Along the Pacific Coast Highway,
between Salinas and Big Sur, discover the setting for John
Steinbeck's novels, visit the family-friendly Nit Wit Ridge and learn
about a woodsy Jack Kerouac hideout.
TripCart gives a nice overview of the central California coast,
outlining the various cultural highpoints that make the region stand
out, such as Washington Square in San Francisco, where writers and
intellectuals like poet Dylan Thomas convened in the 1950s and 1960s.
Among the favored literary attractions in the area are the Robert
Louis Stevenson House and the Hearst Castle, a massive study in
Spanish architecture built by newspaper tycoon William Randolph
Hearst. Those seeking an inside glimpse into famed Silicon Valley
should stop at the Computer History Museum near San Jose.
Historical and Literary Stops in San Francisco
It's easy to fill your California coast itinerary with San Francisco
attractions. The city by the bay can be pricey, but there are less
expensive, worthwhile experiences to be had. For example, take a $22
guided walking tour of the Barbary Coast Trail, a nearly four-mile
path through several neighborhoods and districts, including
Chinatown, North Beach and Ghirardelli Square. Along the way, you'll
see where the Gold Rush began in 1848, and a barstool where Kerouac sat.
Or peruse the shelves at the landmark independent bookstore, City
Lights. The historic shop was founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti
and Peter D. Martin in 1953, becoming the "the nation's first
all-paperback bookstore." A City Lights publishing company followed in 1955.
The California of Steinbeck and Kerouac
Novelist John Steinbeck was clearly inspired by the wild California
landscape. A map called "Steinbeck Country," created by Sonoma State
University, depicts the towns that were settings for Steinbeck's
works, including the Carmel Valley, the Great Tide Pool on the
Monterey Peninsula, and Steinbeck's birthplace, Salinas.
Visitors might find Big Sur to be peaceful, magnetic and restorative.
For Jack Kerouac's main character in "Big Sur," however, the untamed
stretch of West Coast began as "a haven … from his public self as
King of the Beatniks," but became a restless place that drove him
frantically back to San Francisco again and again. A 1962 review of
"Big Sur" in The New York Times describes the author's "isolated
cabin on the California coast," and offers insight into Kerouac's
connection with the area.
California Coast with Kids
In an article for Travel + Leisure, Margaret Talbot describes a
family road trip along California's Highway 1. Although she began in
Los Angeles, Talbot concludes in San Francisco, covering a
significant stretch of the central coast. Among the family-friendly
stops is Nit Wit Ridge, a house filled with "found objects beach
glass, pebbles, abalones shells," located in the "pretty beach town
of Cambria." The quirky house was built by Art Beal, a "half-Klamath
Indian," she reports.
Other kid-centered San Francisco attractions are described in a
findingDulcinea feature article on the city and its famous hands-on
science and art museum, The Exploratorium. Kids are also sure to gaze
in quiet awe at the Golden Gate Bridge; photos and additional details
of the memorable landmark are included in the article.
Sources in this Story
TripCart: Central California Coast
Barbary Coast Trail
City Lights Books
Sonoma State University: Steinbeck Country
The New York Times: A Turn in the Road for the King of the Beats
Travel + Leisure: The Best Road Trip in America
findingDulcinea: Fun for Kids: The Exploratorium and San Francisco