Central California is known for its rolling hills and quaint ranches & farms, and perhaps no road captures the essence of central California better than CA State Route 25, also known as the “Airline Highway,” from early pilots using the road as a guide map from town to town. It’s rural, beautiful, and the perfect fall or spring weekend trip. Here’s your guide to this scenic drive…

Type of trip: day or weekend trip

Route description:

This scenic drive runs from Gilroy down to  SR198 between King City and Coalinga passing through Hollister and a few other small towns such as Paicines, but for the most part the route is devoid of any sort of towns or settlements. You’re left with the rolling hills of sprawling cattle ranches, wineries, and orchards.

A trip down the “Airline Highway” gives you plenty of long straights with sweeping turns and just enough tight twists and turns to keep things interesting. You’re likely to barely encounter more than a couple cars on the entire trip, so with that in mind, make sure you’re prepared with gas and water (after all, it can get pretty dang hot out there in the summer.) 

What to see & do:

The beauty of CA SR25 is the fact it’s so rural, with little along the route, which makes it great for someone looking to hit the road and unwind. There are, however, a couple stops that can be good to stretch your legs and enjoy the countryside. The Leal Vineyards, just outside of Hollister, offers wine tasting, a full-service restaurant, and boutique hotel.

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Down the road a bit is the quaint Paicines Ranch, where Judy Garland wed Sid Luft in the 50s. Here you can stock up on some of the best beef in California or take a special horse riding class. We do suggest you make arrangements ahead of time to visit the Paicines Ranch. The ranch also encompasses the Paicine Reservoir and acres of grasslands teeming with wildlife.

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Where to eat:

The Grove Restaurant at the above-mentioned Leal Vineyards is the perfect place to enjoy a meal while taking in the sights. From Leal Vineyards:

Dining on The Grove's patio is a memorable experience. Surrounded by fully matured Manzanillo Olive Trees, with string lighting makes it an idyllic venue for any day or night cocktail receptions, wedding ceremonies, dinners, family occasions, corporate events and more. The patio seats up to 300 guests and features wood fired pizza ovens, a full bar and six Bocce ball courts.

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If you’re looking to fuel up on good grub while in Hollister, the Running Rooster offers tasty burgers and a great menu of wood-fired pizzas and rotisserie chicken. Their beer menu is expansive as well, if you’ve grown tired of sipping on wine.  

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Further south you’ll also find the Inn at Tres Pinos. Snuck in the tiny town of 500, this place offers a huge wine selection and tons of old-world charm.

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Side trips:

The whole length of CA SR 25 can be traveled in a few hours, including a few stops along the way, but for the road tripper looking to add on a couple side trips, the Airline Highway offers a couple fantastic detours: Pinnacle National Park & New Idria Ghost Town.

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About half way down the route you’ll have access to the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park. It’s the perfect side to enter if you’re planning on camping at the park or hiking Bear Gulch Trail to the caves or reservoir. (Note: the east and west entrances to the park DO NOT connect. To access parts the west side of the park you must exit and drive around.)

If you’re looking for a little riskier side trip, the New Idria Ghost Town should be on your itinerary… Once a town built around a quicksilver mine, today the town is abandoned and the water and ground is considered toxic. A trip to the town will get you some pretty neat photos, but the BLM has been known to close the road, so we can’t always guarantee you’ll make it to the town. There’s also been talk of some wacky rifle-toting characters roaming the area, but from the message boards it seems like they’ve found somewhere else to hang out. Do you have the guts to make the trek to this ghost town?

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Whether you hit the Airline Highway as a little day-long road trip or you’re using it to access Pinnacle National Park for a weekend of adventure, you’ll enjoy the gentle hills and picturesque scenery.

Cover Photo: Martine Inn

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