San Juan Grade Road, Salinas

Learn about the 800-mile path from Sonoma to San Diego, pick up tips on planning and training, and get detailed route information.

Walking the Path
The route outlined in this guide loosely follows an 1812 map of the Camino Real. The trail starts at the site of the Coast Miwok village of Huchi, now known as Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma. It runs through all kinds of landscapes and communities: over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, through army bases, past the vast farmlands of the Salinas Valley, through breathtaking national parks, by gritty industrial areas, across cities and suburbs, along wetlands, and on scenic coastal bluffs. It ends approximately 800 miles south at a Kumeyaay village site now occupied by Mission San Diego.

What is El Camino Real?
California's El Camino Real is popularly known as a trail blazed in the late 18th century by Spanish forces as they colonized the region. But the story doesn't begin or end with the Spanish. For untold years before Europeans arrived, Native peoples created paths that criss-crossed the land. In 1769, when the Spanish arrived, some missionaries and explorers retained or forced Native guides to take them along these paths, parts of which became "El Camino Real," or the "Royal Road." After the Spanish were ousted by Mexican forces in 1821, the Camino Real was traveled by Mexican rancheros, then wave after wave of immigrants from around the world. The path was gradually paved over, supplanted by freeways and highways, and subsumed into modern California. The history of the Camino Real is not one fixed narrative, but made up of millions of stories.

These stories include the genocide of first peoples at the hands of the Spanish and Americans.

There's no official trail, no guideposts, and this trek isn't easy. Along the way, you'll do some hard walking along busy roads. You'll need to wrangle lodging at campgrounds, hotels, hopefully the houses of friends and family, and maybe a few convents. You'll have to find food where you can.

The walk can also be rewarding. It's a walking meditation, of sorts. It's a chance to experience the nature and history of California, step by step. To cut across boundaries imposed on the land. You'll meet people from all walks of life with amazing stories to tell. You may feel frustrated, alone, and tired at times, but you'll likely also find beauty in unexpected places and be borne along by the generosity of others.

Disclaimer: I'd really rather not add this, but since we are a litigious people: Please note that the author assumes no legal or financial responsibility for advice given in the above guide. Follow at your own risk. And check with your doctor before undertaking a new exercise routine.