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The Ultimate Cannabis Road Trip Through California

When: May through September

How many miles: 1,014

How many driving hours: 21 hours

How many days: 5

Click to enlarge. (Nick Ouellette/Leafly)

California is the heartland of American cannabis, and has been since that reputation was cemented during the Summer of Love. Californians grow the best, smoke the best, and recognize the best better than the populace of any other place. To road trip across the green-friendly Golden State, from the old-school Emerald Triangle to cutting-edge LA, is to experience California cannabis culture in full.

Between these cornerstones, you’ll revel in the rich cannabis history of San Francisco, zone out in yurts and yoga classes along the Big Sur coastline, and drive as far as Joshua Tree, where the inimitable landscape begs to be explored with an elevated mind. And quite apart from the stops you make along the way, the drop-dead-gorgeous drive will blow your mind over the course of a thousand miles in five unforgettable days.

Note: While Californians legalized recreational cannabis use for adults 21+ in 2016, rec sales don’t begin until January 2018—meaning that for now, you’ll need a California driver’s license and medical recommendation to purchase cannabis at a dispensary.

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Your trip begins, as any California cannabis trip should, in the Napa Valley of cannabis: the Emerald Triangle. Encompassing Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, this green-friendly paradise is the place to find some of the best herb you’ve ever consumed. You can do exactly that at the Humboldt Patient Resource Center in Arcata, an award-winning dispensary that has been serving the Humboldt community for over 17 years.

In addition to frequent appearances on the Leafly List of best dispensaries in Northern California, HPRC has been lauded as the Arcata Business of the Year, a Best in Humboldt County dispensary, and an A+-rated business by the Better Business Bureau. They’re carbon-neutral, Clean Green Certified, and an all-around positive influence in the industry. After checking out their onsite garden and admiring the clone selection, pick up all things Humboldt: Scatterbrain Live Resin (a delectable hybrid) from Humboldt Marijuana Co., Toasted Coconut Chips (30mg CBD, 15mg THC, flavored with maple and Vietnamese cinnamon) from Humboldt Harvest; and Private Reserve OG (a pheno of San Fernando Valley OG) by UpNorth Humboldt. You can rest easy knowing that all have been thoroughly tested by the dispensary for contaminants and potency.

The Ultimate Marijuana Summer Road Trip Through California | Leafly

(Courtesy of Humboldt Marijuana Co.)

With cannabis in tow (we recommend a dab of Scatterbrain once you arrive in Loleta—don’t forget a portable rig or concentrate pen), drive south to Loleta to find the internationally beloved Loleta Cheese Factory, where you can sample cheeses that are older than you are and gorge yourself on melty, gooey sandwiches from the grilled cheese restaurant—Queso Kings—next door. Once you’re well on your way into a cheese coma, continue south to the small town of Fortuna, where the elegant antiquated architecture of this perfectly preserved Victorian town will take your breath away and transport you back in time.

For lodging, you won’t find a more Victorian option than the Gingerbread Mansion, which lives up to its name with turrets, accents, embellishments, rich patterns and fabrics, and plenty to occupy your eyes while you’re high. Specific room picks include the Veneto Suite and the Hideaway Room, both of which make a perfect place to cozy up after a surreptitious sesh outside. Be sure to partake of the afternoon tea (which also includes wine); if you’re up for some evening exploring afterwards, hit the town’s quaint thrift stores including Lost Coast Bargain Outlet and Finders Keepers to buy some weird old stuff you don’t need at all (that’s the fun of it). Get plenty of sleep tonight; tomorrow, you’re going to want to gorge yourself on the complimentary homemade breakfast as soon as it’s served and hit the road early.

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After breakfast, you’re headed south to San Francisco, but not without two stops along the way. First, Avenue of the Giants—the state’s most awe-inspiring drive, which wends its way between enormous, iconic California redwoods over the course of 31.6 miles all the way to Cooks Valley. Designate a driver, because all other passengers should wake and bake before hitting the highway. At the highway fork, split off from the 101 and take Highway 1 south to Mendocino for glorious coastal views, then detour back via Highways 128, 253, and 101 to get to Hopland.

In Hopland, re-up on cannabis necessities at the coolest solar-powered dispensary you’ve ever been to: Emerald Pharms, where you should pick up an incredible edible or two from Flour Child (think apricot-rose jam and THC granola) and some ABX Soft Gels ($48 for 24 ten-milligram capsules). Find your way back to Highway 1 (the 116 will get you there); another few hours on the road and you’ll roll into San Francisco just in time for a late lunch of the best arepas in California, at Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen. A fave of Guy Fieri (and of plenty more people without TV shows), this maize-obsessed eatery serves up Venezuelan comfort food including yuca fries, taro chips, and signature arepas—grilled pockets of white or yellow corn made fresh daily by hand, and stuffed with everything from pulled pork to spicy chicken catira to the can’t-miss combo of blackened beef asada, queso fresco, and sweet plantains.

The Ultimate Marijuana Summer Road Trip Through California | Leafly

Mission Dolores Park. (photo_chaz/iStock)

Loosely translated, Pica Pica means “a little of this, a little of that,” so we recommend you go the route the name suggests and order several mix-and-match dishes to share. Get them to go and walk them over to nearby Mission Dolores Park, a mecca of outdoor cannabis consumption with an ever-present sweet and skunky scent to match. Load a bowl or two of your Private Reserve OG and spark your appetite before your meal, and if you need a digestif afterwards, buy a coconut full of coconut water from “the coconut man,” a regular park fixture.

Grab a hotel room or AirBnb for the night in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood—it may be cliché, but the neighborhood was ground zero for hippie culture and cannabis reform as sparked by the Summer of Love. Drop your stuff before heading to the waterfront to visit the Exploratorium, by far the best place in California for elevated adults to marvel over wonders of science and the natural world like they were kids again. Optical illusions, mechanical contraptions, interactive exhibits, video installations—all await you at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero.

The Ultimate Marijuana Summer Road Trip Through California | Leafly

(Courtesy of The Exploratorium)

Afterwards, you can walk down to the trippy Musée Mécanique (Pier 45; free admission) to play antique penny arcade games and musical instruments that are extra-fun after a dab. Finish out your young-at-heart afternoon with a round of fantastical Rube Goldberg-inspired mini golf at Urban Putt in the Mission, then spend the evening sipping CBD-and-terpene-infused cocktails and mocktails from the 4:20 menu (runs until 7:20 p.m.) at Flore, itself a cornerstone of cannabis reform since the 1980s.

When you get back to your hotel or AirBnb, pop a capsule or two and drift off to a peaceful night’s sleep that’ll recharge your batteries for tomorrow’s adventures.

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After a hearty breakfast incorporating that THC granola and/or a dose of cannabis-infused jam, spend your morning wandering Haight-Ashbury’s head shops, counter-culture bookstores, and hemp clothing boutiques. Once you’re ready to be on your way, don’t leave town without an ultra-artisan affogato from local third-wave roaster Sightglass Coffee’s Affogato Bar. The bar features three ice creams from experimental iced creamery Salt & Straw, and three single-origin espresso selections intended to bring out unique flavor profiles in each.

You’re headed 202 miles down to South Big Sur for a coastal retreat unlike any other: Treebones Resort. Word to the wise: While Highway 1 is the most stunning way to get there (the two-lane traces the coastline up soaring hills and along the edge of breathtaking cliffs, dropping back to sea level periodically for up-close-and-personal ocean views), sections of it are often closed, so be sure to check for relevant travel advisories before you start your drive—you may need to reroute along the 101.

Treebones offers various glamping options including spectacular yurts, ocean-view campsites, and the wholly unique Human Nest, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—a cradle of branches and twigs built to cozily accommodate two blissful sleepers. If you want to stay in the Nest, there’s a two-night minimum (and be wary of inclement weather forecasts, as the branches won’t keep wind and rain out); if you’d prefer to head out the next day, book one of the gorgeous wood-frame yurts (we recommend reserving in advance).

Spend your day hiking, ocean kayaking, taking yoga classes, getting a blissful massage, or any combination of the above. Revel in the beauty of Big Sur—there’s no place like it in the nation (or indeed, the world), and no better way to explore it than with plenty of THC in your system. In the evening, watch the sunset blaze coral and gold over a dinner of ultra-fresh sushi at the resort’s on-site restaurant.

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Wake up with an outdoor morning yoga class ($10 per person), then head out early from Treebones—there’s a whole lot of culture to soak up in LA. On your way down the 101, you’ll pass Hearst Castle, which is worth a stop—after a canna-capsule for everyone but the driver, every decadent detail of the mansion will be particularly jaw-dropping, regardless of how much you recognize from movies like Citizen Kane. The Grand Rooms Tour is recommended for first-timers—reserve $25 tickets in advance on the website.

Beyond Hearst Castle, it’s another four hours to the heart of LA. For a stay that feels like a splurge without costing a fortune, grab a room at trendy The Standard DTLA. Drop your bags and walk to ARQADE, a hip art house/production studio/event space that also includes a cannabis-friendly café—the perfect place to load a bowl, roll a blunt, or hit a dab rig. It’s open from noon until 9 p.m. (and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), and offers VR, board games, an escape room, and plenty of creatively minded company.

Flying high? Time for an afternoon sugar hit. Nearby Bottega Louie is a spun-sugar fantasyland of a pâtisserie, and the rainbow selection of picture-perfect macarons that greets you when you walk in the door is utterly stunning. Spend as long as you want debating which (i.e. how many) flavors to get—the friendly faces behind the counter will never rush you. Furthermore, don’t bother ordering just one: These sweet treats are far more affordable than the Bottega’s interior décor makes then look like they’ll be (and you can snack on whatever you don’t finish later tonight at your hotel). Order enough and you’ll get a gorgeous gift box to take them all home in.

The Ultimate Marijuana Summer Road Trip Through California | Leafly

The rooftop pool at The Standard DTLA. (Courtesy of The Standard Hotel)

Once the sun sets, you’re headed back to The Standard for its perfect built-in night out, at the L.A.-AF rooftop bar. Topiaries sheared into whimsical shapes dance in a row along the roof, and DJ-spun mixes pulse betwixt the towering skyscrapers that surround the space. In general, a high-energy, majority Millennial crowd fills the space, sipping crafty cocktails, playing ping pong, savoring brews from the AstroTurf-carpeted beer garden, sitting around the glowing sapphire pool, and socializing on poufs and low couches. No one will notice if you snag a vape pen puff or two along the roof’s edge from time to time to stay high all evening.

Depending on when the munchies hit, you can either walk a mile or so (the perfect amount of time for a joint) to El Cholo, the much-beloved Mexican restaurant that’s been the perfect patio dining option since 1923, or simply take the hotel elevator downstairs and seat yourself at a booth in the 24-hour diner. One last recommendation: Before you check out in the morning, buy yourself a present and snag the dark green Malin + Goetz Cannabis candle from the minibar—it makes for a fantastic thematic souvenir.

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On your way out of LA, don’t miss a final dispensary stop for one last re-up on supplies (we recommend California Herbal Remedies, conveniently located on the way out of town). You’re saying goodbye to the 101 and heading east on I-10E toward the most enchanting of California’s national parks: Joshua Tree. The park’s world-renowned sandscape is crafted by the collision of two distinct desert ecosystems (the Mojave and the Colorado), and Joshua Tree’s remote location coupled with coverage by its eponymous short and spindly flora (which are, interestingly, members of the agave family) leave plenty of room for hiking, bouldering, and nighttime stargazing.
The Ultimate Marijuana Summer Road Trip Through California | Leafly

(Courtesy of AirBnb)

Upon arrival in the town of Joshua Tree, you’re checking into an Airstream AirBnb (such as The Land Yacht pictured above—book in advance) right on the border of Joshua Tree National Park. A paradise for high hikers and elevated explorers, the National Park is nevertheless strictly prohibitive of cannabis (all national parks are), so we recommend leaving your stash behind before entering the park itself (hence the Airstream). Ready to explore? Pop an edible or two right before you cross the park boundary, and let the effects set in right on time as you immerse yourself in this incredible landscape and all it has to offer.

Want to extend your road trip? Kick things off with our Oregon summer cannabis road trip itinerary. Better yet, tack our Washington itinerary on as well—all three are connectable by way of I-5, and there’s no better way to experience West Coast cannabis culture.

Additional image credits:

Header: (Bee-individual/iStock)

Emerald Triangle: (HadelProductions/iStock)

San Francisco: (frwooar/iStock)

Big Sur: (Pgiam/iStock)

Los Angeles: (stellalevi/iStock)

Joshua Tree: (SimonSkafar/iStock)

Note: This road trip itinerary is not intended to encourage unlawful cannabis consumption of any kind. Never drive under the influence of cannabis or consume in violation of any state or local law, and always keep your cannabis sealed and locked away in the trunk while on the road.

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Brett Konen

Brett is a former editor at Leafly who loves travel, craft cocktails, and shining a spotlight on unique lifestyle trends.

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