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A California Coastal Adventure

It’s a road trip every American should take at least once: a drive down the California coastline.

The Golden State has a remarkable diversity of cities, cultures and climates, but the Pacific Coast is its most defining feature. A journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles treats travelers to stunning seaside vistas on the famed Pacific Coast Highway, plus stops in a variety of cities and towns that can add a lot of color and richness to the experience.

Most travel planners are familiar with the major cities that anchor the California coast. But in addition to these landmarks, a great trip to the area will also include stops in some of the smaller cities and towns along the way.

Here are four destinations to include in your next California coastal adventure.

San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley

Thirty years ago, the average American probably hadn’t heard of Silicon Valley. But as the southern San Francisco Bay area and Santa Clara Valley have become the world headquarters of technological innovation, Silicon Valley has become a household name. And San Jose is right in the center of it.

“Not everyone has an idea of what there is to do here,” said Frances Wong, director of communications at Visit San Jose. “They realize there’s a lot of technology and innovation going on and a huge vibe of creation and new ideas. But what’s surprising about San Jose is that we have miles and miles of wide-open spaces. The workers here are stuck in offices a lot and staring at computer screens, so on their off days, they love to explore and just be in nature.”

Another side effect of the booming tech industry in San Jose is the retail and dining that have sprung up to support it. Santana Row, an area with upscale shops and restaurants, is often referred to as the Rodeo Drive of Silicon Valley. And groups can get a taste of the valley’s local food scene on a visit to San Pedro Square.

“This is kind of an upscale, gourmet food court,” Wong said. “It reminds me of a European market where everyone can go from stand to stand and buy things from different vendors. Everybody can get what they want, then come sit and eat together at the same table.”

Groups visiting San Jose almost always include a stop at the Winchester Mystery House. The Victorian mansion was built in the 1930s and 1940s by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle Company fortune. Winchester continually rebuilt, remodeled and expanded her home to confuse the ghosts she believed haunted the property. The result is a fascinating jumble of architectural styles and features, including staircases that lead to nowhere and doors that open into solid brick walls.

Wong said many groups also enjoy visits to Lick Observatory, where scientists can give them nighttime views of the stars or beautiful daytime panoramas of San Jose.