The VW Bucket List: Highway 1 Treffen

7 reasons why this 10-day drive is worth every second.

To gather, to meet: In Germany it’s known as treffen, but in the U.S. treffen has a slightly different meaning. Here, it refers to the Highway 1 Treffen, a yearly trek that owners of air-cooled VWs make from the Canadian to the Mexican border on Highway 1. Along the way, those 1,000 or so drivers — some who join for a day, some who make the whole journey — reunite with old friends, meet fellow VW enthusiasts, and generally enjoy all that the coast has to offer.

“We all want to drive our Volkswagens up and down the coast,” says Andre Toselli of Airhead Parts, which created and has sponsored the Treffen for the past 20 years. “This is an opportunity to do it with hundreds of your new best friends.”

Here’s why the Highway 1 Treffen should be on your bucket list:

Anyone can participate, but the actual drive of Treffen is reserved for air-cooled Volkswagens, making the event pure eye candy for lovers of vintage buses, Beetles, and Karmann Ghias. “Some of these cars deserve to be in museums, but the best part is, they’re not,” says Toselli. “People are driving them, they’re enjoying them, and they’re sharing them with other people.”

Part of the draw of the Treffen is the chance to spend time with people who share an enthusiasm for Volkswagen vehicles. “The camaraderie is just amazing,” says Mike Anderson, who has driven his 1961 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible in portions of previous Treffens — and plans to complete the entire drive this year.

Many drivers have owned a series of VW vehicles over the years — and drive other models such as a Jetta or Passat when they’re not cruising in their classic cars.

“Whenever you get a bunch of like-minded people together, you have a lot of fun,” says Tom Summers, who has driven his 1962 bus during portions of multiple Treffens. “If you want to meet people and bring good vibes, there’s nothing better than to be in a VW Beetle or a bus.”

Participants drive about 150 miles a day, winding their way through iconic settings such as the California redwoods. “It’s a beautiful drive,” says Anderson. “You’re next to the ocean, you’re not going fast, the cars are all in a convoy.”

Drivers participate in car shows at several stops and may camp in their buses or stay in the same hotels at night. There are events that drivers in Treffen gather around as well as spontaneous happenings, such as a local parade of vehicles. “You’ve got retired couples, you’ve got young couples with kids in car seats,” says Toselli. “Everyone gets along like they’ve known each other their whole lives.”

 

Jason Chenoweth drove his 1965 Bahama blue Beetle to the Treffen stop in Pacific Grove, California, near his residence. Later, he spotted a drawing of his car at the event on social media. He contacted the artist and bought a print, which now sits on his desk. “It was shocking,” Chenoweth recalls. “I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s my bug!’”

Some Canadian drivers make the trip, and Mexican car clubs drive up to meet the Treffen at the border and join in the fun at the end of the cruise. One year, Toselli says, a man shipped his bus from the Netherlands to participate. Another time, an Australian couple bought a vintage bus in Alaska, drove to the U.S. with their nine-month-old baby, completed the Treffen, and then kept on going until they reached Costa Rica.

 

It can be a challenge to keep a cavalcade of decades-old vehicles humming along for 1,700 miles, but usually a VW auto mechanic travels with the group to help with repairs. Either way, the Treffen is filled with people whose chief hobby is fixing up classic Volkswagen vehicles.

“If something happens, you have all the help in the world,” says Anderson.

“Things break, but we have parts available,” says Summers. “That’s all part of the adventure.”

Although the air-cooled VW is the primary focus of the Treffen gathering, anyone is welcome — the curious, the locals, the car fans. There’s no admission charge, no ticket necessary, so just follow the crowd and get ready to amp up your knowledge of all things VW.

 

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