What to expect on a State Route 25 Central California Road Trip
When you’re planning a road trip between SoCal and NorCal, the usual choices are the fast and efficient Interstate Five, or the slow and scenic Pacific Coast Highway (HWY 1). You might cut the difference and take Highway 101 for part of the drive.
Every now and then, though, an alternate route like California State Route 25, aka Airline Highway, is just the thing. A rural slice of old California life. You’ll find it off HWY 101 part way between the PCH and I-5. (See a map and directions below.)
I hear you. This could be the road not taken for a reason. But take it, and like Robert Frost, one day you may sigh and say:
I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Who should take this Savvy Side Trip?
- People who like old country roads.
- Drivers tired of dealing with the usual highway traffic and big rigs.
- Motorcycle riders on well-tuned bikes.
- Travel writers breaking in new blue sports car convertibles.
Okay 4 may be just us. Troy and I took this route recently on our way back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Los Angeles. We found it fun and charming, and yes a little long. Didn’t hurt that we were breaking in the new savvy ride. (Job perks.)
Although this was my first time driving Highway 25, Troy had already gone this way by motorcycle with a friend who, like Troy, is an airline pilot. On motorcycles, they like the road for its combination of straightaways and curves, and the break from the typical Sunday traffic.
Ironically, Troy says he didn’t know at the time that SR 25 is also known as Airline Highway. Some people say it got its name from back in the day before radio when pilots used this particular road for guidance along the central coast mountain ranges. But a Wikipedia listing about the origin of the road suggests the use of the term air line used to mean simply “traveling a direct route.”
What You’ll See
A drive on Airline Highway and its connecting roads through Central California is a trip back in time to old cowboy country. It twists and turns through valleys along the San Andreas Fault and the Gabilan and Diablo Ranges, making for some distinctive scenery.
If you take this drive from the South at Mission Street off Highway One, your first stop could be the Mission San Miguel, a historic adobe building, whose foundations were laid more than 200 years ago. The mission was founded by Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1797.
SR 25 is up for inclusion in the State Scenic Highway System by the California Department of Transportation, but it isn’t officially designated as a scenic highway yet.
The mostly two-lane country road carves through rolling hills of golden grasses, wildflowers and old oak trees, ranch lands with grazing horses, cows, sheep, and pigs, 100-year-old barns, and vineyards.
One of my favorite stops near the south end of this route is The FarmStand on Indian Valley Road owned by Vicarious Ranch. This place was a delightful surprise out in the middle of nowhere.
You’ll find it on the east side of Indian Valley Road, before the road turns into the official Route 25, just past mile marker six near Cross Country Road.
The tiny FarmStand carries a variety of homegrown foods, like farm fresh eggs, pork and lamb from their own pastures, fresh herbs, pastries, breads and jams.
Co-owner Christy Larsen is a pastry chef, so you really can’t go wrong grabbing a fresh baked cookie for the road.
The shelves are also stocked with soaps and lotions made from the milk of their own goats. You never know exactly what you’ll find at the FarmStand on any given day.
We picked up some eggs and sourdough bread. This is a self serve “honor stand,” so we put our money in the box on the wall.
Across the highway from The FarmStand you’ll find the popular Indian Valley U-Pick Farm, but it’s only open in summer. Since we drove this trip in winter, this option wasn’t available.
In summer, you can bring your own container and wander through their orchards taking your pick of yellow Freestone peaches, Gala and Fuji apples, and plump sun-ripened vegetables.
On this part of the drive, you’ll also see some strange and silly back road things, like these ostrich and shark cutouts.
Continue along the route through a few street name changes until it turns into the official California State Route 25. Soon you’ll see signs for Pinnacles National Park, east entrance. The park is the most popular stop along this road.
The newest national park in the United States, Pinnacles National Park is known for its volcanic formations, talus caves and rock spires. If you go, keep an eye out for California Condors.
The east entrance off SR-25 is where you’ll find the Pinnacles National Park campground and general store.
If you’re just passing through, you’ll find some interesting trails you can hike in as little as an hour. The park’s family-friendly 2.2 mile-long Moses Spring-Rim Trail Loop takes you through Bear Gulch talus cave and offers views of rock formations.
Also See: My post on our Pinnacles National Park hike.
Note: There is no way to drive from the east entrance to the west entrance inside the park.
As you continue along Route 25, don’t expect to see any gas stations or convenience stores. And you won’t find any restaurants until you reach Tres Pinos at the north end of this road trip.
Restaurants on Airline Highway
In Tres Pinos, consider stopping at The 19th Hole Booze & Food for some oak-fired barbecue. If you like it hot, order the Hole Fire Wings and Jalapeños Poppers.
For fine dining and good wine in a casual setting, stop by the Inn at Tres Pinos. Menu items that caught my eye include Clams Bordelaise, Portobello Pizza, and Six Shooter of Bullets (breaded, deep-fried jalapeños stuffed with chorizo and jack cheese with dipping sauce).
If you’re doing this road trip in reverse, you’ll hit Tres Pinos early in the day. A popular stop for a hearty breakfast or early lunch is FlapJacks Breakfast & Grille. Their menu includes a popular pancake dish called Flapjacks Fantasy. Or for something more savory, try the Huevos Rancheros or Breakfast Burritos.
Best Time to Go
The best time to plan this California road trip is in spring when the hills are full of wildflowers. The weather is also nice in the fall but the hills will be browner. Our recent drive was in December, which was wonderful in its own way.
Summer is hot in this part of the state, so maybe not the best time to roll the top down or wear full motorcycle gear. A national park hike is less fun in 90 degree heat. But the U-Pick Farm hits its stride in early July.
Airline Highway: Know Before You Go
As always, check the maps and resources directly for accuracy before you head out. Also, make sure you fill up on gas and supplies before you go because you won’t find any service stops along this route.
Plan Your Highway 25 Road Trip
This road trip, as we drove it, takes about three hours (more with stops — and you should take some. You’ll travel through three California counties and cover 130 miles from where you leave U.S. Highway 101 until you get back on it.
To make this drive an hour shorter, stay on HWY 101 and head over to SR 25 at the intersection of State Route 198 and Peach Tree Road.
From the South:
- Exit HWY 101 at Mission Street in San Miguel.
- Turn Right on 14th St (aka N. River Road).
- Turn Left on Indian Valley Rd north (turns into Peach Tree Rd and then Pine Valley Rd).
- At the intersection of CA-198, the route continues as State Route 25.
- Follow SR 25 north all the way to Hollister.
- In Hollister, SR 25 cuts back west to HWY 101 at Gilroy.
Resource List for Airline Highway Stops
Here’s what you need to know to find the stops mentioned above.
Pinnacles National Park
- Address: 5000 Highway 146, Paicines, California. The east entrance, off Highway 25, is around 30 miles south of Hollister. Note: You GPS might give misleading directions, according to the National Parks Service. To accurately find the East Side of of the park off Route 25, they provide these coordinates for those who can use them: 36.493545, -121.146646.
- Open: The east entrance is always open 24/7, has a camp site, visitor center, and general store.
- Official Info: 831-389-4485 | www.nps.gov/pinn
The Farm Stand at Indian Valley Road
- Address: Mile marker 6.25 Indian Valley Rd, San Miguel, California.
- Open: Friday through Sunday, 9am-5pm.
- Official Info: www.vicariousranch.com/farmstand.html
Indian Valley U-Pick Farm
- Address: North East of San Miguel on Indian Valley Road. Watch for signs at the six mile marker.
- Open: Summer starting in July. Drop in Saturday & Sunday 9am-4pm.
- Official Info: 805-227-5660 Pager | Indian Valley U-pick FB page
The 19th Hole Booze & Food in Tres Pinos
- Address: 7071 Airline Hwy, Tres Pinos, California
- Open: Wed 4pm-9pm; Thur & Sun 12pm-9pm; Fri -Sat 12pm-10pm
- Official Info: 831-628-0100 | the19thholetrespinos on Facebook
Inn at Tres Pinos
- Address: 6991 Airline Hwy, Tres Pinos, California
- Open: Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5pm
- Official Info: 831-628-3320 | trespinosinn.com
FlapJacks Breakfast & Grille
- Address: 6881 Airline Hwy, Tres Pinos, California
- Open Daily, 7am-2pm
- Official Info: 831-628-5003 | flapjackstrespinos.com