The Oscar-winning native Californian shares his favorite memories from the road.

By Rachel Chang
July 21, 2021
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Visit California unveiled its 2021 California Road Trips guide last week — and on its cover is one of the Golden State's biggest road trip fans: Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Costner. In it, the actor shares his favorite drives from childhood and also reveals why he cofounded the mobile app HearHere to enhance the road trip experience.

Portrait of Kevin Costner on a car
Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Friedman

"We didn't have a lot of money," he said of his family in an accompanying episode of Visit California's California Now podcast released earlier this year. "My ancestors came out of the Dust Bowl from Oklahoma and came to California...We never really had a lot. The only thing that was open to us was the car."

So, for Costner, childhood family vacations usually meant him and his brother in the back seat of a Buick with whitewall tires and no air-conditioning, exploring their home state.

"I've never been able to get the Sierras out of my psyche," the star, who grew up in Ventura and now lives in Santa Barbara, added. "When I go there, I'm always refreshed. When I go to the Sequoias, it's the same. There's something about how dominant nature is and California is completely fraught with that."

Giant sequoia trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California, USA
Credit: Jerome Gorin/Getty Images

In particular, it's the sensory memories that stick out the most. "I've never been able to duplicate that particular smell that comes from [the] Sierras' granite mountains," he said in an interview for the guide. "I imagine the reason it smells the way it does is because the pine needles fall, the sun hits them, there's all that sap, and the wind picks up that waft."

Noting that he didn't get on a plane or in a limo until his late 20s, those High Sierra trips always stuck. After his high school graduation, he went on a road trip to "all four corners of the U.S.," but he had a slow start. "I wanted so desperately to see the rest of the country, but California just kept calling out to me," adding that it took him nine days just to leave the state.

Mount Whitney and other alpine peaks of the High Sierra Nevada mountains
Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

While his career has been marked by road trip flicks like "Fandango" (1985), "A Perfect World" (1993), and "The Highwaymen" (2019), he has also passed along his passion for road trips to his seven kids. "I made life miserable for my children by stopping by all the bronze plaques — there's another historical marker," he said. "I was thrilled with that paragraph. I would look around and I'd say, 'Some real human drama happened.'"

That curiosity led him to join the startup audio app HearHere as a cofounder. "[It] was the idea that wherever I was driving through, I could somehow tie into that and that same plaque could go from being a paragraph to being a four- or five-minute story or an overview of an entire area," he recounted. "That alone got my interest."

Costner, who now drives a 1968 Shelby Cobra Mustang, says it's "almost respectful" to get to know the backgrounds and stories behind the sights on drives, and that's what he hopes the app will inspire: "I can walk away from where I've traveled more knowledgeable, maybe thrilled."

Kevin Costner's car
Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Friedman

While Costner says the Sierras will always be his favorite destination, the Visit California guide, which can be requested or downloaded here, offers itineraries starting in Southern California to San Diego and the Central Coast; from the Bay Area to coastal Highway 1 and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks; and from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe and Sonoma County.