The 101 between Ventura and Salinas is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway I've ever driven (and I've driven a lot of them). The highway winds up to San Francisco from Los Angeles, along the coast in places, but mostly inland through soft rolling foothills and quiet farming valleys. You'll see everything from vineyards to oil fields on the drive, and though it takes about an hour longer than the more boring but direct I-5, if you're not in a hurry, it's worth the extra time.
This trip provided me with some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever experienced on the 101: the grass on the foothills is golden, creating an inviting backdrop for splashes of color thrown across it by wild flowers. There was orange from poppies, yellow and green from wild mustard flowers, bright purple from lavender, and occasional bursts of bright green from grass that hadn't gotten the memo about dying off for summer. Around it all were gnarled oak trees, providing shade for grazing cattle and horses.
Once I got north of Soledad, towering Eucalyptus trees -- sixty feet tall, it seemed -- stood guard over vast green fields of lettuce and celery, as if the foothills had been somehow pushed back by farmers decades or even a century ago. Near Monterey, a heavy blanket of fog did its best to come inland, as coastal mountains held it back.
I saw all of this under clear blue skies as I made my way up to San Jose, accompanied by Dimension X on m iPod (an odd but wonderful soundtrack, indeed). I was tired and road weary when I finally pulled into the hotel parking garage nearly seven hours after I'd left my house, but it was entirely worth it.