As a hard-core traveler, I find most of my adventures are all about the destination. Travel time is simply a means to an end— with my trip truly beginning once I’ve arrived at my designated location.
I’ve seen the journey/destination quotes on countless travel blogs and Pinterest pages, but I never really “got” it. I always chalked it up to the fact that I wasn’t a solo traveler or backpacker...it just didn’t resonate with me.
That was until I took a road trip with my husband, Rick from Rick on the Rocks, in California, traveling from Irvine to San Francisco in a little over 24 hours.
Kia set us up with a brand new 2018 Kia Niro PHEV (BTW, PHEV stands for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle - I didn’t know either!), and set a challenge to get from their Headquarters in Orange County to San Fran— Create your own adventure style.
For the first time that I can recall, the JOURNEY WAS THE DESTINATION. And I was going to make the best of it!
Before our road trip, we were given a rundown of the Kia Niro PHEV and its charging capabilities. This was my first time driving a plug-in hybrid, and there was a bit of a learning curve for getting hooked up at a charging station (Thankfully the ChargePoint App makes it super easy to find stations). The Kia Niro PHEV gets 26 miles of electric range, which means most of your daily driving can be done on electric alone. Total range is 560 miles, making the Niro PHEV a fuel-efficient powerhouse that’s ideal for road trips.
Charles Phoenix was also on hand to give us a bit of encouragement for our road trip, and he was the one who inspired us to go with a “quirky” theme. I knew going in that we would be ending our trip in San Francisco and researched some of the nearby attractions. Both the Mystery Spot and Winchester House were calling our names (I’ve wanted to visit the Winchester House since I was a kid!)...so kitschy and fun was the ultimate goal.
I used Charles Phoenix’s book—Addicted to Americana— to map out the first stop on our road trip, but that was after our epic shopping spree at Target in Irvine to buy the most ridiculously awesome holiday outfits that we could find!
Adorable Mrs. Claus and Ugly Christmas Suit for the win!!
Our first “officially official” stop was The Donut Hole in La Puente, California. This was where we decided that we were going to bring a little holiday joy to others that we met along our journey. We were driving through California a little over a week before Christmas and wanted to spread as much cheer as possible. We ordered a dozen glazed donuts at the historic Donut Hole drive-thru before hitting the road to our next adventure.
Accommodations for the night were left completely up to us, and there’s not a single motel that’s more quirky or fun in California (let alone the entire U.S.) than the Madonna Inn. To describe this place as eclectic is an understatement.
I had more than a dozen themed rooms to choose from when I booked our stay and ultimately went with “Lucky Rock”. I’ll just leave these photos here for your enjoyment.
No stay at the Madonna Inn would be complete without dining at Alex Madonna's Gold Rush Steak House. Literally, everything about the Madonna Inn is over the top, which made meeting up with some of our Kia #NiroRoadTrip friends for dinner an even more enjoyable (and entertaining!) experience.
We had a lot of road to cover the next day, driving from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco with multiple stops along the way. I can’t even remember our wakeup call time, but it was at an ungodly hour, putting us on the highway towards….are you ready for it….The World’s Largest Artichoke.
But, before all this excitement, we passed out donuts to guests in the lobby of the Madonna Inn. It totally warmed my heart knowing this tiny gesture made people so happy. It was a wonderful start to our day.
And then we made our way to Castroville, CA— also known as the Artichoke Center of the World— for, I kid you not, a photo opp with the biggest faux artichoke in the world.
At 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, this bad boy can be found right in front of the aptly named restaurant, The Giant Artichoke. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
A nice gentleman took our photo, and we offered him one of our delicious donuts from The Donut Hole. Holiday cheer delivered once again.
Onward we drove to the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. I think it was my mom who told me about this place that she visited when she was a kid. The Mystery Spot is an attraction in the redwood forest that’s said to have a gravitational anomaly.
I have no idea if it’s real or a hoax, but it’s sure fun to experience the mind-altering effects of the Mystery Spot. It’s one of those things you have to see for yourself!
Our final detour before making our way to “The City by the Bay” was to the iconic Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.
I cannot even tell you how excited I was to see this mansion with a door to nowhere. When I was young I used to read the Guinness Book of World Records, and the Winchester House would be in there year after year for the longest continuous home construction.
That added to the claim that the house was haunted made it that much more intriguing. Due to time constraints, we didn’t have time to take the full Winchester House tour, but we did have the opportunity to walk around the grounds and take photos of the famous door to nowhere.
I didn’t feel any spiritual presence during our visit— but I did get my daughter a cool sweatshirt from the gift shop!
Surprisingly (or maybe not so much, since we were in Cali after all), there was a group of charging stations across the street from the Winchester House, so we made a quick stop there for some juice before making our way to San Francisco.
As quickly as our journey began, it had come to an end. But we had countless new memories, and hundreds of photos to prove it. It wasn’t until we dropped off the Niro and sat down for a cocktail that I had time to think about our road trip and what an impact it had on me.
Like I said, most of my travels are all destination, but this one, behind the wheel of the Kia Niro PHEV, I had the chance to be a part of the journey… it made me realize how important it is to stop along the way to experience the little things in life, including the fun and quirky! How many people can say they’ve passed out donuts in front of the World’s Largest Artichoke!?
→ Learn more about the Kia Niro PHEV
Other Posts You Might Like:
- Driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara
- Kia Can Do Luxury - The New Kia Cadenza
Special thanks to Kia for hosting our road trip. All opinions are my own.