The amazing thing about the West Coast is that it is still mostly wild, open, and astoundingly beautiful country, where you can drive for miles and miles and have the scenery all to yourself.
If you can avoid the magnetic pull of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, take the very last turnoff from US-101 (northbound drivers take the second turnoff after crossing the bridge) and head west to the Marin Headlands, a former military base that’s been turned back into coastal semi-wilderness. A tortuous road twists along the face of 300-foot cliffs, giving incredible views of the bridge and the city behind it. The road continues west and north to the Visitor Center (415/331-1540), housed in an old chapel, with a reconstructed Miwok shelter and details on hiking and biking routes. And if you’re so inclined, on Wednesday-Friday afternoons and the first Saturday of each month, you can tour the world’s only restored Cold War-era Nike missile silo (free).
Nearby, the barracks of old Fort Barry have been converted into the very peaceful HI-Marin Headlands Hostel (415/331-2777, dorm beds $30 and up), which has dorm beds as well as private rooms.