Ever wonder what it would look like if Southern California was never settled and the landscape remained untouched? You can get a glimpse of it between Lake Elsinore and San Clemente and have a heck of a lot of fun while you’re at it.
CA-74, better known as Ortega highway, is a 26 mile stretch that climbs the mountains and winds through the canyons as you head West towards the coast. The wilderness remains relatively wild, with just a few creature comforts – like the famous Hell’s Kitchen – along the route. The area is actually awesome for hiking and camping, there’s a dual-sport trail that connects the same locations without ever hitting pavement and there’s even and OHV area for pure dirt lovers. So, although getting there is half the fun, staying in the area is also a highlight.
Ortega spits you out in San Clemente, the gateway to Orange County, where food, shopping, views and beach abound. It’s an awesome little oasis day trip for the desert dwellers of SoCal. Starting on the coast side and heading inland? It’s an escape from the fast-paced fancy schmancy vibe of the OC as you descend towards Lake Elsinore.
Ortega, like so many routes in California, is never lacking in pull-out areas that offer gorgeous views and photo opportunities. If you have the time to soak in some nature, you won’t be disappointed in anywhere you choose to stop, just remember to bring water! Hell’s Kitchen is geared towards motorcyclists and is never lacking in big Harley chrome out front. Food, drink and lively conversation are guaranteed to fuel your return journey. Stopping at the Roadhouse, just a few miles further East, is a must. Breakfast (or just some fresh air) while overlooking the entire city and lake can’t be beat.
My idea of the perfect weekday off? Fill up on gas, head over to CA-74 and criscross the mountains of SoCal as many times as my heart desires.