California is an incredible state to visit and the perfect place to experience a tailor-made itinerary incorporating your personal preferences – whether you wish to discover vibrant cities, explore the pleasures of the great outdoors or relax with excellent food and wine. The cosmopolitan city of San Francisco is a great starting point and photographing the Golden Gate Bridge and San Fran Bay is almost obligatory. When it comes to exploring, let the city’s historic cable cars take the strain as you whizz up and down San Francisco’s slopes.
An excursion or stay in Napa Valley wine country is also recommended, before moving south to discover some of California’s most beautiful coastal scenery and National Parks including Yosemite - The Ahwahnee is situated in what was once the village of Native Americans in Yosemite National Park, whilst The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers guided hiking and back packs for family excursions in and around Lake Tahoe. The Big Sur region offers the kind of wild beauty that takes your breath away, from huge Redwood forests to towering cliffs that drop down to secluded coves and rugged beaches – you won’t need anything but the ocean views and awesome sun sets to keep you entertained. You’ll also find delightful communities along the Californian coast, including Carmel where you can visit quirky shops and restaurants.
As you move further south, the beaches begin to turn into long stretches of golden, groomed sand at Santa Barbara and Santa Monica to name a few. You can experience the glamorous Californian beach lifestyle for yourself and you may even spot a celebrity or two at Santa Monica. If you have an interest in all things ‘celeb’, then do visit Los Angeles for a glimpse of the movie-star lifestyle and take a tour to discover the homes of the stars.
Half Moon Bay's Pacific Coast region offers sandy beaches and coastal drives whilst at Big Sur you'll find secluded coves and rugged beaches - head to Julia Pfeffier Burns State Park to see its 80ft waterfall. If you like your peace and quiet, the wonderful, adults-only Post Ranch Inn or Ventana Inn & Spa – which sits high above the Pacific Ocean , overlooking the dramatic Big Sur coastline - are both ideal.
Santa Barbara's West Beach is edged by a plam tree-lined path and cycleway and is great for sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, surfing and beach volley ball. Butterfly Beach is more of a local secret but our featured property, Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara sits just across from the beach where you can enjoy paddle boarding lessons.
Santa Monica's three-and-a-half- miles of pristine beach is great for swimming and sunbathing, surfing and bodyboarding and Shutters on the Beach is the perfect place to enjoy stylish beachfront living. Muscle Beach on the other hand, is more energetic - expect to see gymnasts training on the fitness equipment.
On California's southern coast, Laguna Beach's, Main Beach provides the longest stretch of sand, whilst Salt Creek Beach attracts surfers and has a small, off shore reef. If you’re a guest of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel you can enjoy surfing and stand up paddle boarding lessons.
At San Diego, Coronado Island's sublime beaches (accessed via the impressive San Diego-Coronado Bridge) are considered to be amongst the world's best time and time again - they quite literally sparkle, due to the mica mineral content in the sand. Stay with Elegant Resorts at the Hotel del Coronado’s Beach Village at the Del and you’ll literally be just steps away from this beach.
Yosemite National Park is simply a breathtaking place, offering the opportunity to discover an array of wildlife, and visitors can either bike their way around or take a guided tour on horseback. Lake Tahoe is pure enchantment, with its gorgeous turquoise-coloured water - to make the most of this alpine destination, pack a picnic, set out early and drive around the lake at your own leisurely pace. Both of these destinations have a unique majesty to them and adding one or both to your California itinerary will reward you with many fantastic memories.
Half Moon Bay's Pacific Coast region offers sandy beaches and coastal drives. In the Redwood region you can't help but admire the ancient and extremely tall California Redwood Trees whilst Big Sur's Bixby Bridge is one of the world's tallest single-span concrete arch bridges; at Ventana Big Sur, local hiking trails meander across acres of peaceful meadows whilst at Point Lobos State Reserve, migrating Grey Whales can be seen from December to May.
Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara, is an old wooden pier over the ocean and offers fantastic views of the coastline whilst the Ty Warner Sea Center presents a host of sea themed exhibits including touch pools and a crawl-through tidal pool tank.
Newport Harbor, is the largest recreational boat harbor on the west coast and offers pleasure cruises, sunset sailings and fishing trips. Whilst at Dana Point Harbor you can enjoy whale and dolphin-watching boat trips.
Dana Point Harbor’s lovely shops offer handcrafted jewellery and pieces of art that would make lovely souvenirs or gifts to take home.
Rodeo Drive is Beverly Hills’ most famous shopping area, where one-hundred world-renowned luxury fashion clothing, accessories and jewellery brands – including Salavtore Ferragamo, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tiffany & Co and Christian Dior – are interspersed with luxury hotels and a number of stylish bars and restaurants. You’ll find more unique shops, just two blocks from Rodeo Drive on Canon Drive.
Opportunities for retail therapy are vast, from the national stores and boutiques of 3rd Street Promenade in Downtown Santa Monica and the diverse range in Main Street to the upmarket shops of Montana Avenue and the art galleries and gift shops of palm tree-lined Ocean Avenue. The shops of Downtown L.A are just thirteen miles away.
In contrast, shopping opportunities in Napa Valley range from small shopping centres to smaller boutiques where you’ll find wine-related accessories and gifts, antiques and artisan-crafted goods, including jewellery and clothing – it’s a great place to find things that are a bit different from the high street shops and big designer labels.
For some of the freshest seafood in the state, take one of San Francisco’s cable cars to the vibrant Fisherman’s Wharf, which serves up a salty dose of seafood stalls and restaurants, steaming crab cauldrons and French-style bakeries against a backdrop of fishing boats and basking sea lions. But dining at any of our featured properties, can be heavenly too, the MKT Restaurant – Bar at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco delivers delicious dishes, from its Californian-inspired menu.
For Michelin Star dining, our featured property Auberge Du Soleil in Rutherford, Napa Valley was established by a French-born restaurateur and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant. For a unique dining venue do try the Napa Valley‘s Wine Train a beautifully restored antique train, with carriages dating from the early 20th century. This nostalgic train runs for twenty-five miles serving a fantastic blend of regional gourmet cuisine along the way. There are over four-hundred wineries in Napa Valley and about 120 of them are open to the public; it is possible to walk your way around them, but a guided tour (or even a guided tour by bike) means you benefit from the Guide's expert local knowledge.
Carmel Valley offers plenty of places to dine and enjoy wine-tasting - Clint Eastwood fans will be interested to learn that you can have dinner or drinks at his restaurant and bar at Mission Ranch.
Beverly Hill’s – where many film stars make their home, as well as dine and shop – better fits the glitzy image of Hollywood than the actual neighbouring city, where you’ll find the famous Hollywood sign and the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ - stay at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills or the Beverly Wilshire - A Four Seasons Hotel - for prime locations. Bus tours will escort visitors around the streets of Beverly Hills and the neighbourhood of Bel Air, where many of the jaw-dropping mansions are owned by A-list celebrities. The city of Los Angeles meanwhile offers plenty of activities in close proximity to Beverly Hills, including Universal Studios Hollywood – a working film studio. Visit Greystone Mansion – its grounds have been used as a set for a large number of music videos and films, including Ghosbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, The Bodyguard and Social Network.
San Francisco's Mission District, Bernal Heights and Potero Hill benefit from a host of fog-free days and house the largest concentration of murals in the city. Mission Dolores is the city's oldest structure, whilst Alamo Square's 'painted ladies’ (a line of Victorian Houses) sit happily alongside Haight-Ashbury's downtown skyscrapers.
Nappa Valley is peppered with art galleries, offering a wide spectrum of contemporary art and traditional paintings as well as glassware and sculpture.
The Santa Barbara Trolley is one of the nicest ways to get your bearings in Santa Barbara; hop on and hop off at whichever stops you fancy, highlights include: Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Old Mission Santa Barbara, an historic and cultural landmark that comprises a museum, mausoleum and church.
Dating back to 1909 Santa Monica Pier is also an amusement park complete with Ferris wheel and rollercoaster. The pier is also home to vintage carousel rides, the Aquarium and the official Western Terminus and’ End of the Trail’ for Route 66 - which begins in Chicago.
San Diego’s Balboa Park is the United States’ largest urban park and home to fifteen museums – including the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Automotive Museum and San Diego Air & Space Museum, as well as theatres and a programme of exhibitions and concerts running throughout the year.
If you like to play golf, California has some excellent courses. The Resort at Pelican Hill on the Newport Coast offers three courses and a complete golf experience including a golf academy, professional caddies, a practice facility, shoe attendants, a club cleaning service and a golf shop.
To experience the best of this state's diversity, we highly recommend you hire a car and tour the state at your leisure - if you know exactly what you want - beaches, wine, nature or cities - you've plenty of options to select from. Alternatively, if you wish to extend your holiday, Las Vegas or Arizona, team up well with California. Whichever way you choose to 'do' California, our Travel Consultants are on hand, happy to advise and recommend.
Downtown offers a fantastic choice of restaurants and shops, nightclubs and bars. Take a stroll along the waterfront on the Embarcadero boardwalk and stop at Seaport village to look around the boutiques or sit down with a refreshing drink. Take a pleasure cruise of San Diego Bay, or visit the USS Midway Museum – a naval aircraft carrier that is open for visitors – to explore its galleys, quarters and interactive activities, including flight simulators. Summertime concerts and movies can often be enjoyed along the water’s edge, too. In the Gas Lamp District, head up to one of the rooftop bars for a cocktail, accompanied by views towards Coronado. Step into Little Italy, just beyond Downtown, for a cappuccino or a plate of pasta at one of the pavement cafes, before perusing the art galleries.
The United States largest urban park offers a programme of exhibitions and concerts running throughout the year and is home to fifteen museums, including the Museum of Photographic Arts, and Diego Automotive Museum and the Diego Air & Space Museum, with theatres, gardens, walking trails, play areas and San Diego Zoo where over 3,700 rare and endangered animals reside.
SeaWorld San Diego
Meet a variety of marine animals, birds and fish including sharks, dolphins, whales and penguins, along with rides, aquariums, shows, tours and interactive displays, it makes for a great day out.
Universal Studios VIP Experience
Universal Studios is the ultimate way to live Hollywood movie magic for yourself, with thrilling rides and shows, and tours of working film and television studios. With the Universal Studios VIP Experience, you will receive exclusive access to some of the industry’s busiest studio backlots, allowing you to explore areas unopened to the general public, including blockbuster soundstages and filming sets. In addition, you will receive escorted priority access to all rides and attractions in the park, including the much anticipated Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and your guide will find you the best seats possible at all shows. Your day will start with a light breakfast in the VIP Lounge, and later, you will sit down for gourmet lunch in the VIP dining room. With valet parking and easy entry and exit, your visit is guaranteed to be stress free.
Our expert USA Travel Consultant went to try out the VIP Experience for herself - find out more from her blog post.
The largest recreational boat harbour on America’s west coast – offering a variety of pleasure cruise, including sunset sailings and fishing trips.
Dana Point Harbor
Divided into two marinas that can accommodate 2,500 yachts between them. From here you can enjoy whale and dolphin-watching boat trips and enjoy a meal at Dana Wharf or Mariners Village.
Walt Disney’s original theme park offers a great day out for all the family, whatever your age – here you’ll find a variety of exciting attractions, rides, dining venues, guide tours and entertainment across eight themed lands.
The pier at Santa Monica dates back to 1909 and is a major tourist attraction; it comes complete with an amusement park, with rides, games and Santa Monica’s iconic Ferris wheel and rollercoaster. It is also home to a vintage carousel ride and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.
The Santa Barbara Trolley
Hop aboard a trolley (tram) for a sightseeing tour of Santa Barbara. Highlights include: Santa Barbara Courthouse, Santa Barbara Zoo, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Mission Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Zoo
Spend a pleasant couple of hours visiting the zoo’s residents as you meander around the pathways with glimpses of the ocean and places to stop for a picnic. For an additional charge, you can even help feed the giraffes.
Golden Gate Bridge
Perhaps the most recognisable landmark in San Francisco, and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge has been called one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Modern World’.
Visit the infamous prison island that was ‘home’ to some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al Capone.
California is one of North America’s sunniest states and enjoys a Mediterranean-style climate. Generally, Californian summers are warm and dry, while winters are reasonably mild and moderately wet.
Northern California, including San Francisco:
The northern coast is generally cooler and wetter than coastal areas further south. Along the coast, sea fog occurs and this reduces the amount of sunshine hours in both summer and winter compared to further inland. The city of San Francisco has cool to mild summers, which is caused by the sea fog which regularly washes over San Francisco Bay and can be chilly and/or foggy at any time of year. However, frost and snow are not common on the coast, and winters in much of California are fairly mild and moderately wet. However, more mountainous parts – such as Sierra Nevada, where we feature The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe – experience more rainfall and at greater heights this falls as snow, offering the opportunity for winter activities.
Central and Southern California, including Los Angeles:
In central and southern California summers tend to be very dry. There may be short-lived spells of cold weather in wintertime. Los Angeles suffers a city smog – a mixture of pollution and fog – which is at its worst from July to September. The smog lingers because the light winds are not strong enough to blow it past the surrounding hills.
These figures show monthly average maximum temperatures and monthly average rainfall for California.
British Airways direct from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines direct from London Heathrow to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Air New Zealand direct from London Heathrow to Los Angeles.
From London Heathrow to Los Angeles: 11 hours. London Heathrow to San Francisco: 10 hours, 50 minutes. London Heathrow to San Diego: 11 hours, 10 minutes.
Travelling With Children or Without an Adult
Children travelling without both parents should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country (for example, South Africa) or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country. Please contact the relevant Embassy for the county you are travelling to for further information.
Visa and Advance Passenger Information
All passengers must ensure they have a valid, acceptable passport, any required visa and any other documentation for both the final destination and any stop-off points en route. Please make sure that Advance Passenger Information is submitted in advance to travel for all destinations. Failure to hold correct documentation or submitting incorrect details with Advance Passenger Information or Visa applications may result in refusal of carriage or entry into a country. Please check with the relevant Embassy regarding visa requirements well in advance of your travel date. Charges may apply for some visas.
Travel Advice Update
The FCO travel advice for the USA has been updated with an amendment to the Entry requirements section - on 18 December 2015, the US Congress passed a Bill updating the requirements for the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP); under the new rules, with effect from 1 April 2016 all travellers wishing to enter the US under the VWP will need to hold a passport with an integrated chip.
The web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) requires all passengers (including infants) travelling via or to the USA to apply for authority to travel a minimum of 72 hours prior to travel. You may be denied boarding or refused entry to the US if you have not registered and obtained authorisation. To apply visit the official website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ A charge of UD$14 per person (subject to change) will apply and must be paid by either credit or debit card.
Customs and Border Protection programme Global Entry gets pre-approved travellers through border control faster at some US airports. If you’re a British citizen and a frequent visitor to the USA you can now register to get a UK background check on www.gov.uk/apply-faster-entry-usa. If you pass the background checks, you’ll be invited to apply for Global Entry.
Passengers not travelling on a British Passport are advised to contact their relevant Foreign & Commonwealth office for individual Visa requirements.
For up-to-date resort information, visit www.fco.gov.uk
Health facilities, hygiene and disease risks vary worldwide and you should take health advice about your specific needs from your general practitioner or a specialist clinic as early as possible before travel. Those planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their healthcare provider to assess their risk of infection with Zika. For information about Zika, other mosquito-borne diseases (such as Dengue fever and Chikungunya), Lyme Disease (caused by tick bites), and to receive advice on mosquito bite avoidance measures, please visit http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/insect-tick-bite-avoidance/
In addition, we highly recommend that you seek specialist advice from your doctor and, where recommended, obtain vaccinations or tablets for protection against, for example: Malaria, Hepatitis A, Polio and Typhoid. In some cases, treatments for Malaria should begin well in advance of travel. Travellers may also be required to show Yellow Fever Certificates on arrival in certain destinations ie, some African countries. Please note that you are strongly advised against scuba-diving for 24 hours before travelling by air. We would also like to draw your attention to the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) and recommend that you consult with your doctor before travelling.
Visit the FCO website and select your destination country for the very latest travel advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Additional sources of information include: www.hpa.org.uk, http://nathnac.net,
www.fco.gov.uk, www.hpa.org.uk and www.nathnac.org, your General Practitioner or a specialised clinic.