If California has been consistently good at anything, it’s capturing the imaginations of people across the world. From the promise of rivers stuffed with gold in 1849 to the sensuous exploration of the self during the Summer of Love, to the chance to make it big on the big screen, dreamers have always flocked to the Golden State in pursuit of a more radical, fulfilling life. The quintessential imagery for this freedom is driving top-down up the Pacific Coast Highway, feeling the invincible exhilaration brought on by warm coastal winds and rejuvenating sunshine.
At the same time, California has been an easy target for outsiders to pick on: progressive politics make people feel alienated, guns — beloved by each and every American, according to people who don’t live in America — are far from the state’s cultural identity, and for some reason there’s a persistent belief that everyone speaks in a “Valley Girl” or surfer accent, which is hella untrue.
But if there’s one thing everyone from everywhere can agree upon, it’s that California grows the best weed on the planet. Ever since that aforementioned Summer of Love, Northern California in particular has been solidified as the cannabis destination, with widespread grow operations peppering the redwood forests of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties — the so-called Emerald Triangle — producing the dankest dank that ever made your neighborhood cop side-eye you when bumping into each other at the market.
Tourists have long made pilgrimages in search of California’s sticky sativas and indicas despite illegality, but with the end of prohibition, the enjoyment of marijuana is coming out of the shadows. This brings wonderful changes to California, including the long-awaited dismissal of bogus marijuana-related convictions that heavily targeted people of color, but it also means that pot production is going to fundamentally transform into an industry unrecognizable from the one that has thus far operated clandestinely.
If you’ve been California dreamin’, now would be the time to make that coastal road trip happen. From luxe in Los Angeles to hippie in Humboldt, this itinerary will show you the beauty of the classic Pacific Highway adventure with the added bonus of fun dispensaries, psychedelic sights, 4/20-friendly lodgings and great munchies along the way. So grab your grinder and let’s get going!
But first: We do not encourage or support unlawful marijuana use of any kind, so keep the following facts in mind:
- You have to be 21 to buy and consume marijuana in California
- Marijuana consumption is strictly illegal on national land, even if it’s in California (think national parks, monuments, etc). Popping an edible while still on state land, however, is a-okay.
- Don’t drive high. Don’t drive drunk either (but this is about pot). Bring a designated driver along, and if you’re flying solo, adjust the itinerary to accommodate for that precaution.
- Like alcohol, marijuana products cannot be accessible by the driver while driving. Stash your stash in the trunk.
Day 1: Los Angeles
We’ll kick things off in LA, since it’s a major transit hub, and San Francisco is awkwardly in the middle of the trip. But don’t worry, we’ll get there. Los Angeles has not traditionally been known as the state’s weed tourism hotspot, but with legalization on the horizon entrepreneurs quickly mobilized to change that, and now the city boasts the state’s biggest legal weed market.
So, first things first: You need some nugs! “Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group (LAPCG) in West Hollywood,” suggests Lex Corwin of Stone Road, a high-end marijuana brand with packaging almost as alluring as their flower. This dispensary has excellent discounts almost daily. “Also, California Caregivers Alliance (CCA) in Silver Lake. Both have super-friendly helpful budtenders.” Getting weed was (and is for non-legal-staters) a matter of accepting whatever some random dealer was willing to dole out, but now trained experts can help decide which bud is best for you. Don’t forget to tip!
Note: If you need a celebrity connection while visiting LA, visit the Buds & Roses dispensary, which features strains from the one and only Kevin Smith.
Once you’re stocked up, you’ll need a place to stay and somewhere to eat, or possibly more if your munchies have anything to say about that. Grab a reservation at 420 Friendly Boutique Hotel in West Hollywood, which is vape friendly and allows smoking outdoors. When dinner is calling, head out to ARQADE, an art house with a cannabis-friendly (as in you can blaze up however you see fit) restaurant onsite. You can play their in-house games, experiment with VR while high, or even attempt to solve a stoned escape room, which sounds hilarious. And if your timing is right, White Rabbit High Tea is another weed-friendly food option. This is a monthly seating serving up edibles, joints and non-infused hors d’oeuvres. Chef Andrea Drummer also hosts private dinners featuring flavorful dishes that are pleasing to the palate and to the brain.
More casual smokers can head to the beautiful Los Angeles beaches with a joint in hand, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Or even hike up to the Griffith Observatory and take it all in. Sometimes the simple things are best.
Note: Not ready to head north yet? Pop over to the desert oasis of Joshua Tree for outdoor luxe pot dinner parties run by High Dining. Their recipes are infused with weed, and the art displayed can enhance your high.
Day 2: The Pacific Coast Highway
It’s time to hit the road, the famous Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 101), where all your Instagram dreams will come true. The highway winds along the very edge of the state, stunning by anyone’s standards but especially for those who don’t regularly get to visit an ocean. And what pairs better with unbelievable sights than sensory-enhancing drugs?
Your goal is to get to the famous Madonna Inn, but there’s plenty to see along the way. Your first stop, if you so choose, is the lovely seaside city of Santa Barbara, which has some of the most incredible hiking in the state. Grab an over-the-top but undeniably delicious sandwich from Ike’s Place and bring it with you to eat at the end of a hike along the Carpinteria Bluffs trail, or chill at the beach.
Solvang is another essential stop for the stoned mind, because it makes no sense even when sober. It’s a Danish town plopped on California’s Central Coast, and it may literally make you question where you are. Plus, great ice cream.
As you make your way to tonight’s lodgings, make sure to stop and take in the view. California’s coastline is rugged and powerful, dotted with secret surfer beaches and sea lion colonies. This is a marijuana road trip, so the last thing we want imply is that you should rush.
Finally check in to The Madonna Inn (make sure you get a reservation in advance), a kitschy pink hotel that feels like a fairy tale out of Disneyland, if Walt Disney was a regular toker. Besides being visually and tactilely stimulating, the Inn hosts an annual Hemp & Cannabis Fair, so it’s a friendly place for road trippers like you.
Day 3: The Pacific Coast Highway Continued
Today’s first stop is optional: Hearst Castle is only an hour from the Madonna Inn, along Highway 1, but due to closures you’ll have to double back to Highway 101 to continue north, at least until the end of summer 2018. If you have the time, it’s absolutely worth the visit. This museum is actually an intricately detailed mansion with bright colors that astounds even the soberest visitor, epitomizing the word “extra.” Book the Grand Rooms Tour at least several days in advance, or you’ll be disappointed at the lack of availability. Once you arrive, pop some edibles or down a capsule (unless you’re driving) and prepare to be barely able to handle the sights before you. They have a well-stocked cafeteria with all the junk food you could want when the munchies hit.
Whether you’re continuing north straight from the Madonna Inn, or with the Hearst Castle detour, you will still end up at Treebones in Big Sur, considered one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Get stoned in a nest built for humans, or relax in a yurt facing the ocean during sunset. It’s what glamping aims to be, and with the daily yoga, kayak rides and hiking, bliss has never been closer. However, this is fairly well known, so you will need reservations.
Day 4 (unless you’ve lingered at Treebones): The PCH to San Francisco
Today you’ll be back on Highway 1 continuing up the coast. Re-up either at Big Sur Canna Botanicals, or go a little farther to Cannacruz in Santa Cruz. During your drive take some time to watch for whales offshore. Stop at Año Nuevo State Park, which is a wonderful place to view elephant seals with their big, weird noses, even weirder-looking when reality is slightly warped by weed.
If you’re feeling the munchies, stop by the Swanton Berry Farm, where you can pick your own strawberries, a fun and delicious activity. If fruit doesn’t cut it, continue on a little further to Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, which has a huge menu of filling food.
Finally you’ve reached San Francisco, the weed-smoking city of weed-smoking cities. Plan to spend a few days in town. There are a number of bud-friendly lodgings to pick from, but it’s also extremely easy to step outside of any hotel of your choosing and smoke on the street.
Days 5 & 6: San Francisco (not San Fran)
If you time it right, you can kick off wake and bake or start your evening with a relaxing session of Ganja Yoga, full of stretching and contagious giggles. Once you’re good and stoned, head to the Exploratorium, the perfect museum for stoners. Everything is hands-on and interactive, so there’s no worries about accidentally knocking something over. There are other great museums to be stoned in, if you’re into it. The Exploratorium has the benefit of being really close to the Ferry Building, home to excellent munchie foods like Humphrey Slocombe ice cream and Gott’s Roadside, which serves bomb chicken tenders.
It’s not hard to find dispensaries in San Francisco (or marijuana-themed events [and more events], for that matter). Sparq is marijuana’s answer to a bar, with a social vape lounge in addition to a wide menu and helpful budtenders. There are also a bunch of dispensaries in the Mission, which have the perk of being near La Taqueria, home to the best burrito. If munchies had their own Olympics, which they should, La Taqueria would win the gold every time.
You can’t visit San Francisco on a pot road trip without stopping by Dolores Park, a stoner haven any time of day. Even if you’re not up for buying a weed truffle or coconut full of rum from the friendly traveling salesmen, there’s no way you won’t enjoy lying on the cool grass while overlooking the city. It’s a great place to hang with friends, or make new friends if you’re on your own. Just make sure to clean up after yourself; the park has a trash problem.
Finally, pay homage to the Summer of Love with a toke down Haight Street, stopping of course at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. If it happens to be April 20th, don’t miss the 4/20 celebrations at Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park. The contact high alone is enough.
And if you have the time and are feeling motivated in regards to munchies, cross the Bay Bridge into Oakland and stand in line however long it takes to eat at Homeroom, the mac 'n’ cheese restaurant. If you’re running low on the dank stuff and want to ensure you can stuff as much mac in as possible, pop in to Harborside to re-up.
Day 7: Marin County
The end of week one doesn’t take you too much further, just across the Golden Gate Bridge to the place where the term 4/20 was invented. I don’t advise lighting one up outside of an active high school, but a selfie never hurt anyone. Marin is also home to Muir Woods, a stunning redwood forest and national park. Reservations have to made in advance due to the park’s popularity, and of course all THC products must be consumed prior to stepping onto federal land. Walking amongst the trees is a sight to behold. As far as Marin goes, you will want to stick with the lodgings you had in San Francisco, but fortunately it’s not too far.
Days 8-10: The Emerald Triangle
What Napa is to wine, the Emerald Triangle is to weed. This is the epicenter of California’s fabulous marijuana, with all the right conditions coming together to grow world-renowned weed, weed that people travel the world to enjoy.
Staying on Highway 101 this time, your first stop will be to the town of Hopland in Mendocino County. Although the name may inspire beer more than marijuana, rest assured that hops and cannabis are closely related plants. Plus, Hopland is home to Emerald Pharms, the only solar-powered cannabis store in the state. Here you’re free to vape, take in the sunshine, and even do a little yoga.
Next, pop on up to Redway and visit Trim Scene Solutions, a friendly growing technology store that offers a Casual Sunday Educational Series every second and fourth Sunday of the month, where topics relevant to the cannabis community will be discussed. Should the county change its views on TSS’s former cannabis farmers markets, look out for those to make a comeback, too.
Finish the day by stopping in Arcata, home of Humboldt Cannabis Tours, which brings guests behind the scenes to farms, dispensaries and various other marijuana manufacturing components. Stay overnight in Arcata at the Gingerbread Mansion, which is not explicitly cannabis-friendly, but is extremely charming.
Book a tour for the following day, and then go explore Arcata’s cute central plaza, but don’t go puffing smoke. Like cigarettes, smoking pot is subject to the same rules, and you’ll never be far enough from the door of a business to do it legitimately. When you need to stock up, visit the Humboldt Patient Resource Center, which sells flowers, pre-rolls, edibles and anything else you might need to have a good time.
Hiking, kayaking, bird-watching, lounging about -- Arcata and nearby Eureka have everything you need to keep the attention of a high mind. The lush Fern Canyon is a phenomenal place to get lovingly consumed by nature -- or to imagine yourself as one of the people in Jurassic Park 2, since it’s one of the filming locations -- just note that it takes a very bumpy road to get there.
If you still have some drive left in you, or you want to spend a couple of days relaxing in one place, head three hours east into the woods to find Feelin’ Groovy Eagle Creek Ranch, California’s very first cannabis resort. Here you can almost escape the world in a rustic setting, unwinding under the stars or along a river, and getting absolutely obliterated on weed in the freedom of the wilderness.
Finally, if you need to drive back down to Los Angeles but you’ve used up all your weed-allocated vacation time, take another hour jaunt even further east to Weed, California, taking a highly recommended souvenir photo in front of the town’s welcome sign. From here you can either head north into Oregon and Washington and continue the legal cannabis caravan, or pop right back onto I-5 for your 10-hour drive to LAX, and voilà, you’ll be back in a weed-illegal state in no time.