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The Oliver Charles official Guide to California Road Trips

How to get the most out of your Central California road trip while packing light with an Oliver Charles sweater.
December 16, 2021
By Lia Klinchik

on the Path of eco-conscious Adventure

Introducing a five-part blog series about how you can get the most out of life on the road, traveling lightly, while also benefitting the environment and people around you.

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In July 2021, I took a road trip with a group of friends through California.

I planned a 10 day adventure that incorporated California’s must-see attractions while allowing us to have the freedom to explore off the beaten path.

We got to experience the desert landscapes of Joshua Tree, the striking mountains of the Sierra Nevadas, the dense fog that rolls through San Francisco, and the awe-inspiring California coast…all in 10 days.

It was a road trip that changed my life. Soon after, I ended up moving to California!

Because there are so many options of what to do and see, it can be difficult to sift out what’s most important and fulfilling to an adventurous soul.

What’s really worth it to see? Luckily, I discovered this for you! This road trip will take you to eight of the best first-timer destinations and everywhere in between.

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How to Pack for California’s Climates

This road trip takes you from SoCal’s desert heat to the dry, mountain breezes of the Sierras to Coastal California’s chilly nights.

A versatile wardrobe is essential to be comfortable, stylish, and ready for what the day ahead has to offer.

In order to keep your pack small, it’s helpful to bring along some kind of detergent to wash your clothes with. This can be Castille soap, a liquid travel detergent (there are great options at REI), or a powder detergent (which is what we used).

Bringing along some laundry detergent allows you to do a wash in the middle of your trip, re-wear pieces, and mix-and-match what you brought!

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Ultimate Packing List: Dressing Per Climate

 DESERTMOUNTAINCOAST
Light, comfortable, breathable Durable, breathable, cozy Versatile, stylish, warm

CLOTHING Staples

  • Hat and Sunglasses: California is notorious for its sunny weather. You’ll appreciate a hat and some sunglasses when the sun is bearing down on you.
  • Boots: Boots! I like to take my Blundstone’s everywhere I go. They’re an item in my closet that I’ve had for over five years. They’re comfortable and match everything!
  • Shorts: A pair of shorts that go with everything - for me, these are my high-waisted jean shorts that I’ve had for over five years now. I cut them from a pair of jeans I found at a thrift store. They literally go with everything I own. I refuse to ever get rid of them.
  • Jeans: A pair of jeans or nice pants- another piece that can go with everything, but you probably won’t wear them until you get to the coast unless you go out at night (as temps usually drop, even in the desert!).
  • Sweater: A sweater that’s simple and you can throw over a shirt or wear under a jacket.

    My Oliver Charles sweater was a great choice as a staple sweater for this trip because it’s light, durable, and warm.

    It’s casual, but also chic, so it looks nice when you go out for dinner. I love the Oliver Charles crew neck sweater specifically because even after so many wears, it doesn’t hold onto stink!

    It’s truly the perfect on-the-go sweater for hiking, then cruising around the city at night.

    Sweatshirts can also be pretty bulky and that will take up a lot of room in your pack. Bringing one sweater that fits all your needs saves you space.

    My Oliver Charles sweater has been my go-to wool travel sweater ever since I got it!

Here are a few more ideas and items to pack with you. Check out some pro-tips on how to fit this all and encapsulate a minimalist travel wardrobe.

What to See: A 10 Day Itinerary to try out

Now for the exciting part! Follow the route we took through California.

It’s a trip good enough to make an east coaster fall in love with the west coast.

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 DAYRoute/Destination
1 Los Angeles ➡ Joshua Tree
2Joshua Tree ➡ Visalia
3Sequoia National Park
4
Visalia ➡ North Fork
5Yosemite National Park
6North Fork ➡ Mill Valley
7Sausalito ➡ Monterey
8Monterey ➡ Paso Robles
9Paso Robles ➡ Santa Barbara
10Santa Barbara ➡ Los Angeles

driving south from LA to Joshua Tree

If you’re flying in, you’ll want to land in LAX as it puts you closest to where you need to go. Take the 15-minute drive to Erewhon market in Venice before getting on the road to Joshua Tree.

Finding decent prepared food on the road is difficult, and that’s pretty much universal no matter where you go.

Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker’s favorite place to eat actually has a really great selection of prepared foods.

Going to Erewhon is an experience in itself, so if you want a quick taste of LA wellness culture - this is the place for you. They also have a great selection of coffee, smoothies, and juices.

From here, you’ll head to Joshua Tree. On a good day, it’ll only take you about 2.5 hours to get from LA to Joshua Tree, but unfortunately, LA traffic is a thing. This can make your 2.5 hour drive into a 4-hour drive.

Arrive before sundown to catch a sunset at Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park. Then spend the evening stargazing.

It can get quite chilly at night in the desert, so a warm wool sweater to throw on when you hop out of the water is a plus.

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Driving north from Joshua to Visalia

Spend the early morning watching the sunrise. You won’t regret it. Everything is enhanced in the desert, the colors are more dramatic, and pastel colors pour over the landscape. 

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Once the car is repacked, grab a cup of joe at Joshua Tree Coffee Company.

It’s the best coffee shop in the area, and one of my favorite coffee shops in California altogether. 

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Nearby is the Joshua Tree National Park visitor center, where you’ll want to stop to pick up a map and check out the gift shop. “Don’t Die Today” isn’t posted everywhere for nothin’!

Rising early is important because the desert gets very hot during the day. And very hot is an understatement- we’re talking over 100 degrees with no shade. Even with the AC on in the car, I was sweating bullets.

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Enter Joshua Tree National Park through the west entrance. If you didn’t catch the sunset last night at Keys View, this will be your first stop.

Keys View is the highest scenic viewpoint reachable by car in the park, so you won’t want to miss its stunning views. You can spot Palm Springs and Coachella Valley from here.

Pro Tip: Before entering any National Park or place without service, you’ll want to add all your stops to google maps in order of the way you’re visiting them.

This will prevent you from getting lost and having to try to load directions when you’re inside the park. 

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After Keys View, take the nature trail hike to Skull Rock. It’s easy to get lost so use a GPS, map, or be very careful about following the trail markers.

I like this trail because you get to see the plants that are native to the area. It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the land you’re on. The park service did a great job of explaining their medicinal uses as well.

Arch Rock and the Cholla Cactus Garden are two more notable stops in Joshua Tree National Park before exiting the park from the North Entrance into Twentynine Palms.

The ride from Twentynine Palms to Visalia, California is long and to be blunt, very boring. There isn’t a whole lot.

Have a good playlist ready. This drive is about 5 hours and will take the majority of the day.

Visalia is a sweet oasis city, 60 minutes away from Sequoia National Park entrance.

Spend the evening swimming by the pool, cooking dinner at your Airbnb, or grabbing a nice dinner at Elderwood in Visalia.

A full day in Sequoia National park

Grab a coffee and breakfast at Component Coffee, a spacious brick building in the heart of Visalia.

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From here, make the 2-hour drive out to Zumwalt Meadows in Kings Canyon National Park.

The drive on routes 63 and 180E into Kings Canyon is one of my favorites because although there isn’t a whole lot city-wise, the landscape changes drastically. It’s incredibly beautiful.

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Bring snacks with you into the park, as there isn’t much to eat in the area. You’ll take Generals Highway to the Zumwalt Meadows trailhead.

Generals Highway winds along cliffsides with no guardrail and has fantastic views.

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The hike to Zumwalt Meadows is 1.5 miles round trip and features a river. It’s a very quick and easy hike.

It’s a gorgeous spot to stop and take a breath amongst the tall grasses. From here, marvel at Kings River Valley and the gnarly granite cliffs that tower above you.

On your way back into Sequoia National Park via Generals Hwy, stop at Roaring River Falls, which is a short walk from the trailhead.

It’s a pretty powerful waterfall that creates a thunder-like noise as it shoots down the rock.

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Following Generals Hwy south, you will see a gift shop on your left-hand side, which you can stop to visit, use the bathroom, or grab a snack.

Continue to the General Sherman Tree (the world’s largest tree!) in Sequoia National Park.

Spending time amongst the trees in this old-growth forest will leave you feeling enchanted and passionate about protecting the land they rest on.

Follow CA-180W into Three Rivers, passing Lake Kaweah, and then getting onto route 198 to Visalia.

Just before Visalia, there’s outstanding local Mexican food at Dora’s. Eat here!

short to North Fork

Sleep in today because the drive from Visalia to North Fork is relatively short.

Before heading out, order a breakfast burrito from Component Coffee (yes, it’s worth two stops!).

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Fresno's Forestiere Underground Gardens are a must-see and the perfect middle point on your journey today.

The story of Baldassare Forestiere is inspiring, and the works of his mind are genius. Make sure to make reservations beforehand to get a tour.

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When you arrive in North Fork, stop at the local health food store, The Gnarly Carrot, for a pressed juice and your grocery needs.

If where you’re staying has a kitchen, this is a great place to get some high-quality, happy fruits and veggies (their mushrooms are the best!).

It’s also a solid spot to grab snacks for tomorrow’s day in Yosemite.

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Head to Yosemite National Park in the afternoon to hike Sentinel Dome. From North Fork, this is a 1.5-hour scenic drive.

The Sentinel Dome hike is an easy, two-mile out and back hike. The weather is likely to be stunning and perhaps a bit windy at the top!

You’ll get a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome. Bring a map or have AllTrails open to follow the trail…we got lost- ha!

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After your hike, watch the sunset from Glacier Point. The sun will paint half dome and the surrounding peaks all sorts of orange and pink, while El Capitan’s dawn wall will remain in the darkness.

There are many good spots to sit on the rock and have snacks, or even dinner. I saw a couple having pizza up there, so take note!

a day's not enough in Yosemite National

Wake early to get to the Yosemite park entrance early. Unfortunately, there can be a lot of traffic there!

The roads through Yosemite Valley are pretty straightforward, so you won’t need to rely on the GPS.

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Start your day watching the sun rise behind El Capitan from Tunnel View.

On your drive down into the valley, you can stand in El Capitan Meadow and finally see the sun light up the dawn wall, where Tommy Caldwell famously put up a route on the impossibly difficult rock face.

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Next up, hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, which is about a 2-mile easy scramble. Beneath the falls, there may be a pool to swim in!

Spend a little time up here and make friends before coming down. I met a few folks from Park City, Utah, who were scouting bouldering routes there.

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There isn’t much to eat in Yosemite Valley, but you can stop at the Base Camp Eatery on your walk out of Yosemite Falls.

They have a pretty good selection of food, and their black bean burger is especially yummy! Afterward, stop in the Yosemite Starbucks to view their bear mural.

To end the day, hike to Vernal Falls via the Footbridge Trail, which should be about 4 miles. And don’t forget to swing by the Yosemite Gift Shop!

If you have an extra day to spare, stop by Lake Tahoe to explore

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To the Bay! North Fork to Mill Valley

Hit up Hot Shot Coffee in the morning, and chat with the owner.

He may have some local tales for you or even some tips on what to do/see next time you’re in the area. 

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The drive to San Francisco is about 4 hours. Go to Pier 39 in the early afternoon to see the sea lions sunbathe and play in the water.

If you happen to stumble through around high tide, you can take a peek at the Wave Organ off the marina.

Grab a pokè bowl at Lemonade, and start your drive into Sausalito!

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On the Sausalito side of the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s a parking lot on your right-hand side that’s perfect for a photo op.

It was surprisingly cool and breezy in San Francisco, and you’ll appreciate having a lightweight sweater like the OC sweater on hand. I know I did!

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Have pasta and wine at Taste of Rome right off the pier in Sausalito before heading to the Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley.

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I was happy to discover the Muir National Monument after coming to the realization that we couldn’t make it up to Redwood National Park.

The national monument is a magical place to spend the evening, and if you’re fortunate enough, watch the fog roll off the forest canopy- an important element to the environment!

Feed into your Puerto Rican food cravings and stop at Sol Food to end the night! 

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Down the coast: Mill Valley to Monterey

Today is the beginning of your PCH cruisin’! Munch on a freshly made waffle and have your coffee needs fulfilled at Equator Coffee.

Mill Valley has a charming town center, where you can walk around and shop locally.

The way the architecture is designed here reminds me a bit of the French or Italian countryside!

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Before heading out, stroll down the main street of Sausalito. Walk along the Bridgeway, and check out the art on the boats.

If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get a very welcoming parking ticket. (Beware of Parking!)

On your way to Monterey, stop at Cafe Society in Half Moon Bay to get a pastry and an afternoon espresso.

Wavecrest Open Space is a favorite spot to go for a walk along the beach as well.

Say hello to Monterey’s Moon Tree, then have deliciously fried mushrooms at Julia’s. Get the donut holes to go and enjoy a movie at your Airbnb!

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turning inland for a drive to Paso Robles

Because Julia’s is so damn good, I would highly recommend stopping there for breakfast as well.

And don’t forget to go to the bathroom there- you’re in for a treat! It’s designed like a cave, with music and lighting to complete the vibe. Oh, and they have black toilet paper! 

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Grab a latte from Captain + Stoker, then head to 17-mile drive to get your first true joys of the California Coast. 

You may even spot some wildlife up close; deer, otters, seals, etc! And don’t miss the Lone Cypress! For you golf-lovers, make a pit stop at Pebble Beach.

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Take the Pacific Coast Highway south and be prepared for endless photo ops. You’ll be pulling off every few miles. Marvel at the Bixby Creek Bridge before driving over it.

You may recognize it as one of the most popular destinations for photographers and architecture enthusiasts!

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The Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach is a great place to swim and relax in the sun.

If you stay for sundown, the sunlight is supposed to shine right through the arch. The River Inn Valero (just before the entrance to Pfeiffer Beach) has groceries and Big Sur souvenirs.

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Make your way to Mcway Falls to discover a waterfall that falls right into the ocean.

Get off the PCH near San Luis Obispo and walk around California’s heart and soul.

After this, head inland to stay in Paso Robles - part of Central California’s wine country! Paso Port, Venteux Vineyards, and Turley Wine Cellars are some notable wineries in the area.

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FIG TREE ON THE WAY to Santa Barbara 

Start the day off right with a crispy bacon breakfast sandwich from Kitchenette in Templeton. Then have an oat milk latte from Spearhead. 

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The drive from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara is a breeze. Make it a point to stop in Morro Bay on your way down to wonder at the Earth’s volcanic creations.

Morro Rock is a historic landmark and sacred site to indigenous tribes.

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is a wondrous sight to see before you go socialize on State Street.

This tree, Ficus macrophylla, is the largest of its kind in the United States. 

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Grab a craft drink at CAJÉ Coffee Roasters. Their uniquely designed lattes and peaceful atmosphere not only make it a great place to recap on newly made memories with your friends, but also has great photo opportunities.

Relish Santa Barbara’s nightlife and explore the shops of State Street. Mesa Verde has spectacular food with vegetarian and vegan options. Their selection of wine is great, and the vibe is immaculate.

For my fellow sunset lovers, watching golden light pour over 1000 steps beach is the perfect way to end the night.

coastal views from sb to REDONDO beach

Grab a cup of coffee at Handlebar Coffee Roasters and begin making your way into Los Angeles. If you’re an early riser, go to Hot Springs Canyon in Montecito.

The springs will leave you feeling rejuvenated after a long trip and ready to crush your last day!

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The PCH will take you down through Malibu, where you can peer off into the ocean, watch surfers, and take a dip in Zuma beach.

Stop at Santa Monica Pier to ride the Ferris wheel, then cruise down Rodeo Drive through Beverly Hills until you get to the famed Sunset Boulevard.

Mulholland Drive also takes you to some scenic viewpoints of the rolling hills and gorgeous estates in the area.

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Have vegan burgers and milkshakes at Monty’s in Echo Park or just off Sunset Boulevard before heading up to Griffith Observatory to view the Hollywood sign.

Even if you’re not into vegan “meat”, these burgers are comparable to animal meat- best I’ve ever had!

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Don’t leave LA without ordering a glazed raised donut from Randy’s Donut Shop in Inglewood. You can’t miss the famous giant donut.

To end the night, go to Hermosa Beach to watch the sunset over the coast. El Tarasco will fill all your fish taco needs before you head off to bed.

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Best Time to Road Trip Through CA

California has sublime weather year-round, but when is the best time to be road-tripping considering traffic, temperatures, and crowds?

Though I took my road trip during the peak of summer, I had some gripes. Temperatures could be up to 110 degrees, especially in the hot sun, and Yosemite was packed with people.

It made me wonder, “well, how could I do this better next time?” I asked a California native to get their opinion on the best time.

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The two best times to visit California for a road trip are the transition period between summer and fall and spring and summer.

Generally, peak temperatures during the day will be 70-80 degrees and can drop into the 50s-60s at night. The sun is always shining, and you avoid the overcast weather for the most part.

Having this kind of consistency also makes it easier on you when you’re packing.

The majority of the tourist population likes to visit in the middle of summer, so if you can avoid this, you will avoid road congestion and overwhelming national parks, but still, get to see the main attractions!

I’ve also found since living here, that parking and traffic have gotten a lot better since the summertime.

Unless it’s rush hour work traffic, you won’t find yourself spending hours in a line of cars. And getting out to the natural wonders of California has been a much more blissful experience.

It can be a little trying to find peace and quiet in the national parks at the peak of summer, which is the reason people get outside in the first place.

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How Much Does A Road Trip Cost?

On our road trip, we planned to spend a maximum of $1350, not including what our flight cost. This means a maximum budget of $135 per day per person.

We also wanted to have certain luxuries like stopping for coffee and visiting nice restaurants, so you can absolutely alter this according to what you want out of your trip.

Transportation

Keep in mind that whatever vehicle you choose should comfortably fit however many people are going on the trip. You’re going to be spending more time than you’d probably like in there!

Something with a little leg room will be nice - you’ll appreciate it at the end of a long day. A mom car or SUV is ideal, but if there are only two of you, a compact car can work.

If you choose to rent a bigger vehicle, note that it will affect gas mileage. You can rent a van or RV as well.

If you decide you want to car camp, instead of staying in Airbnbs or hotels, keep this in mind when picking a car.

There are some cool websites out there where you can rent vans or RVs, though I’ve never used them.

Gas

Depending on the car you take, you’ll have to fill up the tank multiple times per day. We rented a Mitsubishi Outlander, so we filled up once per day unless we had a really long drive.

Gas prices can range anywhere from $4-5 per gallon, so plan according to how big your tank is. Doing this helps you get an idea of how much you’ll be spending on gas per day.

Rule of Thumb on a Road Trip: When you get to half a tank of gas left, fill up! You do not want to run out, especially on empty highways!

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Lodging

Airbnb/Motel: Sleeping in Airbnbs or motels every night will be much cheaper than a fancy hotel. You don’t need crazy amenities and oftentimes, hotels don’t even have a kitchen you can use!

Airbnbs range from $80-100 per night and the cost goes down if you book for more than one night.

Camping/Car Camping: If you really want to dirtbag it and save money, sleep in the back of your car. However, this will require extra research on where you’re allowed to park your car overnight.

You also need to keep in mind that if you are flying into California, you will have to either bring all your gear with you or find a place to rent from.

Doing this is remarkably cheaper than paying to sleep somewhere without the obvious perks like having a kitchen or shower.

Food

Assume you will be spending $20-30 per day per person if you only eat out once.

We meal prepped a lot at the beginning of our trip rather than eating out and that saved us quite a bit of money.

We also made sure to have snacks on us at all times! We then weighed out which restaurants were really worth it to visit and skipped restaurants in places where nothing interested us or there weren’t quality options.

Groceries: Vons, Ralphs, and Grocery Outlet are good options for affordable groceries. You can pick up water gallons from any convenience store and refill them in the national parks.

If you happen to pass a farmer’s market, feel free to stop and grab fresh vegetables or fruits to snack on! This helps support the local economy, and you might find some fun goodies to take home.

Meal Prep: Meal prepping can save you a lot of money. Before we left for our trip, a friend of mine planned out a few vegan meals and once we got to our first destination, she cooked them. We packed them into silicone storage containers. 

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National Parks

Plan ahead and make reservations. Buying an annual pass will save you money when you’re visiting multiple parks, rather than paying $50 per day.

Leave no trace. If places are overcrowded, don’t go there! There are many different alternatives to go/see. It’s not worth overwhelming the land.

Traffic

LA traffic. You are going to experience it. Be prepared and allocate time for that. It makes getting anywhere take forever.

Phones

Make sure you have carport chargers and portable chargers for times when there’s no service, especially if you’re out hiking and camping.

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It can be challenging to take time out of our busy lives for some adventure. Even when the desire is there, reality may not leave us with an abundance of time.

The best part about California is that there is so much to do and see that’s just a drive away. You can experience so many varying ways of life and watch the landscapes change as the days pass.

The people you run into have this beam about them and just seem to get this type of lifestyle.

They have the kind of attitude that’s entirely supportive of travel and discovery. That’s another thing I love about Oliver Charles.

They understand that we’re all balancing our hectic work weeks with weekend adventures and kept that in mind when creating their brand and sweaters.

Ya need something that you can wear both at your desk and while backpacking Yosemite!

Without a doubt, California is the perfect place to get your feet wet with adventure. It’ll keep you coming back for more, and perhaps, steal your heart.

Lia Klinchik is a freelance blogger, content creator, and editor, who studies wellness and nutrition. She's passionate about sustainability, travel, and making the world a better place. Through her writing, she hopes to convey meaningful messages that change people's minds.

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