Just as there are two sides to every story, California is a captivating cocktail of cosmopolitan city life and back-to-nature beachcombing. Would you consider yourself a contemporary traveller or a more classic globetrotter? However you like to spend your holiday, California’s diverse range of sights and attractions is sure to tick the all important holiday wish list boxes.
Our expert Travel Consultants have compiled a collection of highlights showcasing the best of Classic and Contemporary California.
Modern California is synonymous with glitz, glamour and golden sunshine. The laid-back, on-trend lifestyle of LA is at the centre of modern metropolitan California, but away from the fashionable A-list ambience there is a lesser known side to the state which has it all.
The neighbourhood surrounding Venice Beach is home to many hidden boutiques and eclectic stores. If you’re seeking some fashionable beachwear or to set the trends, rather than follow them, explore this beach town’s picturesque streets between sunbathing to uncover some real hidden gems. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Hayes Valley is home to hip boutiques and trendy independent shops selling one-of-a-kind pieces. Similarly, in San Francisco Bay there are many quaint boutiques and stylish independent shops to explore.
Sightseeing in California is like trying to count grains of sand – there is so much to see and do! Whilst the tourist attractions are mostly manmade, some of Cali’s best sights are nature’s own work. Head to Huntington Beach for world-class surfing, authentic Californian sunshine and bustling beach life. In San Diego, the murals of La Jolla are an outdoor art gallery with a heart-warming philanthropic purpose. A project organised and funded by the public, the murals are designed by local artists to brighten the area and bring art to the centre of the community. LA Live is home to Downtown Los Angeles’ best arts and cultural events. With an ever-evolving calendar of music, sports, show-cooking and celebrity-studded events, LA Live is the place to experience the thriving star power of the real LA whilst sipping an elegant cocktail at one of the many bars. To see California like the cool kids why not rent rollerblades or take a tour of Yosemite in a 4x4 to explore nature with a modern edge?
Deciding where to eat in California is a welcome dilemma given the wealth of wonderfully diverse restaurants, bistros and bars available. This season’s dining hot-spots include The Lobster in Santa Monica, where sumptuous seafood is served against a backdrop of panoramic sea views. Alternatively, eat like the locals and seek out the food trucks in LA for an inspiring array of international cuisine to enjoy beachfront or on the go. There is an up-and-coming craft beer culture within California’s new and fashionable districts. San Diego is home to more than 80 small craft beer breweries, so it’s hard to beat as a starting point. A variety of celebrity chefs add star power to the LA food scene, Wolfgang Puck is a particularly notable name and you can enjoy his signature style and flavours at his eponymous restaurant, Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill at LA Live.
Keeping younger travellers entertained isn’t a hassle in laid-back California. Restaurants, beaches and attractions facilitate a range of family-friendly activities and children are sure to be captivated by the Californian-lifestyle. For a fun day at the fair, Del Mar’s beachfront fairgrounds host the San Diego County Fair whilst Legoland California is an all-year-round theme park with water rides, live shows and hands-on attractions for all ages. Alternatively, those travelling with would-be surfers can seek out an authentic introduction to the waves at one of Huntington Beach’s surf schools.
Escape the traditions of Tinseltown by staying in some of California’s more modern luxury hotels, complete with stylish design and state-of-the-art amenities. Carmel Valley Ranch is a chic choice and enjoys an enviable location in the heart of the wine-making region. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel offers unrivalled sunsets from its cliff-top location while Viceroy Santa Monica is a luxurious boutique-style hotel that regularly plays host to a top DJ for poolside socialising. In San Francisco, the stylish and gadget-infused luxury of The St Regis San Francisco is located in the heart of the city. The slick suburban location of SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is the ideal setting for sightseeing and sumptuous dining, with a pioneering culinary pedigree. Finally, uncover Palm Springs at your own pace by enjoying one of the region’s most luxurious hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage.
Indulging in retail therapy on Rodeo Drive is the classic Californian tradition for any traveller. Beverly Hills is the heartland of California’s fashion and shopping culture and with all the big name designers to be found in one place, have your Pretty Woman moment and know it would be a “big mistake...huge” not to return home with at least one show-stopping purchase. San Francisco, in spite of its infamous steep hills, is an ideal city for exploring on foot, and if you’re seeking to flex the plastic during your walking-workout, Union Square is home to Frisco’s fashion scene, designer shops and malls.
The glitz and glamour of Hollywood is the stuff of legends but no trip to Tinseltown would be complete without getting a photo of the Hollywood sign, star-spotting on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and measuring your hands against the iconic prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Other Classic Californian sites to capture during your stay include San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, The Route 66 road sign and maybe even a photo or two at Muscle Beach. Hearst Castle is a must for any architectural aficionado. The former residence of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the stunning estate is now a California Historical Landmark and displays some of the state’s finest gardens, architecture and art. Alternatively, a stroll down to Santa Monica Pier will feel wonderfully nostalgic as the quaint seaside location is steeped in retro glamour and simplicity.
When contemplating classic cuisine, there is perhaps no better place on Earth than California. Famed for its farm-to-fork dining, California is famous for its farmer’s markets. You’re sure to be stunned by the impressive array of home grown produce and the Golden State really shines when it comes to fresh food. Meanwhile, those seeking a refined way to experience the authentic Californian lifestyle should head to Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Home to some of the world’s finest vineyards and revered wineries, these two picturesque locations are the definitive destination for those seeking to delight in the finer things in life; great wine, food and endless sunshine.
It doesn’t get more authentically American for families than Disneyland. Spend a day at ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ and it’s sure to be a magical holiday to treasure. Universal Studios is another big Californian family-friendly attraction and there is no end to the dazzling entertainment on offer. Alternatively, escape the electronics and have family-fun in the fresh air by exploring one of California’s incredible national parks. Take a picnic to one of the highest peaks in Yosemite or let them run free at Joshua Tree. Why not have the whole family explore America the classic way, by enjoying a horseback ride through Sequoia National Park – home to the world’s tallest tree!
The prestige of old-Hollywood glamour has been perfectly preserved in many of California’s most luxurious hotels. It isn’t hard to feel like a star at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel, conveniently located near the designer shops of Rodeo Drive. Shutters on the Beach is reminiscent of the golden era of film, and remains a popular bolthole for Hollywood’s modern elite. At Fairmont Grand Del Mar, old-world values and traditional hospitality seamlessly blend with contemporary style and first-class service. Enjoy personal concierge service and bungalow-style living in San Diego at Beach Village The Del, while The Resort at Pelican Hill is a splendorous hillside residence resort with classically flawless standards as a member of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World’. Finally, nestled in Napa Valley, Meadowood combines the region’s fine cuisine and wine with sporting finesse, including golf, croquet and tennis for the alluring ambience of an authentic American country club.