California's Central Coast -- an amalgam of beaches, lakes, rolling hills, and mountains -- is the state's most diverse region. The narrow strip that runs for more than 100 miles from San Simeon to Ventura spans several climate zones and supports an eclectic mix of college students, middle-class workers, wealthy retirees, winemakers, strawberry farmers, ranchers, immigrant laborers, and fishermen. The ride along Hwy. 1, which follows the ocean cliffs, is almost always packed with rental cars, RVs, and bicycles on summer weekends, but the scenery is so gorgeous nobody seems to mind a little traffic.

The Central Coast is also coming into its own as a major wine region and offers another excuse to visit some of the state's most scenic countryside. Wine snobs might tell you that Central Coast wines cannot compare to those from the northern appellations, where vintages can age to sublime flavor and astronomical price, but if you're in the market for bottles in the $20-to-$30 range that are ready to drink within a couple of years, you'll love what this up-and-coming wine destination has to offer.

Whether you're driving up from Los Angeles or down from San Francisco, Hwy. 1 is the most scenic and leisurely route. (U.S. 101 is faster but less picturesque.) Most bicyclists pedal from north to south, the direction of the prevailing winds. Those in cars may prefer to drive south to north so they can get a better look at the coastline as it unfolds toward the west. No matter which direction you drive, break out the camera -- you're about to experience unparalleled beauty, California-style.