While being a photographer isn’t really as glamorous of a job as it looks, it does occasionally have some benefits. For example, I had the opportunity to fly out to Los Angeles, California last week for some photoshoots and while I was out there, Mazda USA kindly hooked me up with an all-new 2016 CX-3 to drive while I was out there. Although I would’ve loved a new MX-5 Miata to run through the canyons and to the beach, the CX-3 did a great job of swallowing all of my extraneous camera gear. It even came with the new Mazda Connect system that integrated perfectly with my phone in seconds so I could stream some tunes and read messages from my wife as I drove up the coast, all without having to touch my phone!

With Mazda’s reputation for sporty, fun-to-drive cars, I scheduled an open day into my trip so I’d have time to put the nimble little CX-3 to the test and see if it delivered the “zoom-zoom” experience of other Mazdas. My plan was to leave my friend’s condo in LA around 10:00 AM on Monday morning, drive up the 101 Highway to Santa Barbara for lunch, then take the Highway 154 north, away from the beach and into the hills for a bit before rejoining the 101 via Highway 246 to head back towards the beach at Gaviota State Park. My goal was to end up at Point Concepcion State Marine Reserve, which looked like a beautiful and rocky point that juts out towards the Pacific Ocean. With a solid mix highways, mountain roads, and even a few dirt roads along the way, I knew that the Mazda CX-3 would get a solid workout on this nearly 350 mile round-trip drive.

Painted Cave Road near Santa Barbara, CAMy roundabout way of trying to get to Point Concepcion following Jalama Road.

I waited until LA’s notoriously horrible rush hour traffic subsided before hitting the road on Monday. The drive up to Santa Barbara was surprisingly boring since the 101 Highway doesn’t really follow the coastline at all but once I made it up to Santa Barbara, I found some parking right on the beach and set off to explore a bit. After a quick bite down the road at In-n-Out Burger in nearby Goleta, CA, I backtracked a little bit to get back to Highway 154.

This is a fast, twisty highway that snakes through the hills, offering beautiful views of Santa Barbara and the ocean. While scouting the route the night before, I stumbled upon Painted Cave Road, a little ribbon of tarmac that had a huge concentration of tight, technical corners and didn’t stray too far from the general route I’d laid out for myself. With nothing but time on my hands, I figured I’d give the road a try and see where it took me. I made a quick exit off of 154 and was immediately confronted with an incredibly steep climb up a single-lane serpentine road. The views were breathtaking but I was forced to keep my eyes on the road for fear of careening off the side of the road and down a VERY steep drop.

After rejoining the 154, I continued past the oasis of Lake Cachuma before hopping onto Highway 246 where I drove through the picturesque town of Solvang, a town so proud of their Danish heritage that many of the buildings feature windmills and similar architecture to what you’d see in Copenhagen. Eventually I rejoined the 101 heading south towards Gaviota State Park and the beach. My plan was to arrive at the state park and then immediately hop onto Hollister Beach Road which runs right next to the ocean and looked like it should lead me to – or at least close to – Point Concepcion. Unfortunately, my plan hit a snag when only about a mile down the road I came up to the entrance to a gated community. The gatekeeper rather sternly informed me that road didn’t go through unless I happened to be on his list for the day. As I turned around and headed back towards Gaviota State Park, I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and quickly found another route, one more than an hour out of my way, that looked like it might be promising! I hopped back on the 101, this time heading back to the north and hitched up with Highway 1 which would take me back through the hills along the coast briefly before exiting at Jalama Road. According to Google, this would take me towards Jalama State Beach and onward to Cojo Bay Road, which I’d follow south to eventually get to Point Concepcion. I figured if I didn’t waste too much time, I could get there in time to watch the sunset.

While Jalama Road eventually led me to yet another gated road that I couldn’t traverse, it turned out to be one of the best driving roads I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t make it to my final destination but it ended up being a blessing in disguise because it meant I got to drive back on my new favorite road! It’s a beautiful mix of fast, flowing corners with lots of elevation changes through a mix of hills, meadows, and forests before culminating in an absolutely breathtaking view of the ocean stretched out wide in front of me. By the time I hopped back on Highway 101 and was headed back to LA, the sun was beginning to set. I made it just short of Malibu before I was able to stop for a quick photo-op as the sun set over the horizon. The rest of the drive back to LA was dark and uneventful but the Mazda CX-3 made a great, and comfortable, companion for my 10 hour drive. While the 146-hp SKYACTIV inline-4 provided enough grunt to make it through even the steepest of mountain passes while still returning very respectable fuel economy and the interior, while befitting of a $20,000 subcompact CUV, offered all the features, technology, and comfort that I expected and then some! The CX-3 takes all the things that makes the Mazda3 such an amazing car and adds a little bit extra ground clearance and interior volume. I’d call this one a home-run for Mazda!