California Highway 23, known in various stretches as Decker Canyon Road, Westlake Boulevard, the Moorpark Freeway, and Grimes Canyon Road, is a 32 mile long drive through some of the most beautiful, and rugged parts of Southern California. It's also a road that is notorious for being a winding, narrow death trap, with many avoiding the road due to its tendency to induce carsickness in the motorists who brave travelling along its asphalt. Though not for the faint of heart, it's definitely a fun road for those feeling adventurous.
It's best, in my opinion, to drive this road going from south to north. Start off in Malibu, taking PCH northbound to the junction with highway 23. Take the right turn onto Decker Canyon Road, noting well the sign that states that travel is not recommended for trailers - the first ten miles of this road is no place for any vehicle with more than two axles.
The other sign, the one imploring you to keep the speed below a piddly 25 miles per hour, however, is best ignored; there are very few spots where such a speed is truly needed. Barring the hairpin curves that are scattered along this road, your cruising speed should be at least 40-45 miles per hour, greater if you're driving a sports car. Don't worry about police officers, radar guns, or speed traps; as long as you don't do anything too obnoxious the police don't ever patrol down section of road, preferring to hand out speeding tickets on the easier maneuver canyon roads, such as Kanan Road or Malibu Canyon Road.
The first few miles of this road are a great hill climb, one of the best anywhere. If you're in a car with a larger engine, you should be able to easily reach the higher end of your speed range on this climb, but if you're in a car with a smaller engine, you'll have trouble reaching any speed greater than about 45 miles per hour. Other than a few hairpin turns, this stretch of the road is relatively straight. It's still worth noting that this is no place for distraction, as the canyon floor is littered with the rusted hulks of automobiles that have gone over the side. Some are there due to nefarious activities, some there due to a missed turn, and others, such as the van of Iron Butterfly bassist Phil Kramer, due to their own hand.
After about two miles of hill climbing, the road levels out and begins a pattern of a valley lasting about a quarter of a mile to a half mile, followed by a series of sharp curves and a steep uphill grade as the road meanders to the next valley. In many of these valleys, it's possible to reach the top end of the speedometer before having to use the brakes to navigate the sharp curves that are at the end of many of these valleys.
Unfortunately, this section of road has a feature that many people have said kills the road's near-perfection - a stop sign. Previously, where Mulholland teed into Decker was an uncontrolled intersection, and people driving along Decker could easily get above 100. There was little to no trouble with accidents, just a few people who would occasionally display a healthy disregard for the speed limit. Regardless of the shamefulness of the action, CalTrans spoke, and there is now a pause on one of the Great American Highways.
Leaving the tee with Mulholland, and the associated octagonal blight behind, the road enters a series of tight finger canyons, with several successive hairpin turns. These are extremely tight curves, with many of them being blind turns around a small hill. Done at proper speeds, you should skid through many of them, however, it's fairly simple to stay in your lane; though those people on the outside lane may wish to take the curve wide to avoid a head on collision with a driver heading in the opposite direction. This is also one of the best places to pass people, as most drivers are not comfortable taking sharp turns, and will give you plenty of room to blow on by them. Wave at them as you go by, let them know you're thankful for not being stuck behind them as they go fifteen miles per hour.
After too short a time (or too long, if you're beginning to get carsick), the road gets a bit straighter. A speed limit sign reminds you to keep your speed below 25, but again, it can safely be ignored - this is still a fairly neglected stretch of roadway. Soon after the end of the twistiest part of Decker Canyon, you'll come up to a sign informing you that Mulholland veers off to the right. At this point, keep going straight; though Mulholland is beautiful, there is still a lot more of Highway 23 to explore.
After leaving Mulholland behind, the road takes on a different feel. It keeps its legendary curves, but it gains the added fun of gravity. From here until it becomes a boulevard, you'll be passing by the same incredible scenery, the same roadside opulence, the same incredible curves, struggling against a force trying to bring you down the hill at a much faster, and much more painful, rate of acceleration. You've crested, and begun your descent into the county of Ventura.
The grade heading into Westlake Village is steep, at least as steep as that heading up from PCH. But unlike the uphill portion, this grade is riddled with sharp turns, and few real chances to let the car unwind. Just about every point where the car's just starting to crank, it's time to put the foot on the brakes and slide through the next curve. You'll wind your way down to the valley in no time, passing houses worth millions of dollars, before coming to a rest at a stop sign at the foot of Westlake Village
Just like that, the thrill ride is over. The steep, twisty road quickly becomes a four lane boulevard surrounded by houses. The speed limit is increased to forty five, but unlike the speed limits in the mountain section, this is best heeded; the police make their presence known here. Just cruise through town, and take the 101 heading northbound until you reach the second portion of Highway 23, the Moorpark Freeway.
This stretch of freeway, running through a fairly broad canyon, is also known as the Military Intelligence Service Memorial highway in honor of the Nissei soldiers' efforts during World War II. It's a fairly typical freeway, three lanes in each direction, a few small hills, and lighter traffic flow compared to many of the other freeways in the Los Angeles area. It's difficult to speed on this freeway, however, as many drivers do not go above 65-70 miles per hour. Just relax, and say a quick prayer that you're not stuck on the 405.
The freeway comes to an end in the town of Moorpark, and the highway wanders through this small community before heading back into the hills.
As with any small town, keep the speed limit, as the police have no qualms with handing out speeding tickets. Fortunately, with it being a small town, you don't have to keep the speed down for too long. Once you hit the orange groves, you can safely speed up a bit - you're in Grimes Canyon, and there are fewer police cars, and much more beautiful scenery.
Some people have compared the road through Grimes Canyon to Decker Canyon in terms of windiness and treachery, but this is far from the truth. Though the scenery is beautiful, the road is nowhere near as treacherous as Decker Canyon Road. This is a stretch of road perfect for rolling down the windows, cranking the stereo, and just enjoying that part of Southern California few people think about. The curves on this stretch of road are fairly predictable, with the few unpredictable turns being well marked by road signs. Traffic is spotty - there are times when it is vacant, and times when you'll be stuck behind a semi going twenty miles per hour. More often than not, though, the road will be yours.
After gliding through Grimes Canyon, you'll come into Santa Clara Valley. There's not much road left here, just a couple of curves and a bridge over the Santa Clara River left until the highway ends at an intersection with the 126. The road itself keeps going for a few miles before ending at the foot of the Cleveland National Forest, but it's not a very pretty stretch of road, and it's not a very fun road, either.
Highway 23 is, in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous drives in Southern California. It is essentially a microcosm of Southern California, containing everything you'd expect to find in this wonderful region. It has some of the most gorgeous scenery anywhere, it runs through the suburban wastelands one thinks of when they think of Los Angeles, and will give you a feel for why locals hang around here considering all of the drawbacks of living in LA. It is well worth the drive.