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 Majestic Yosemite Hotel 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.
Lovingly dubbed “The Golden Coast”, California is home to countless stunning beaches. The coastlines of Santa Barbara and Santa Monica are characterized by soft sand and iconic Californian palm trees - both offering beaches that are unrivalled for sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, surfing and beach volley ball - whilst at Big Sur you'll find more secluded coves and rugged beaches. Down in San Diego, Coronado Island's sublime beaches (accessed via the impressive San Diego-Coronado Bridge) are repeatedly considered to be amongst the world's best - they quite literally sparkle, due to the mica mineral content in the sand.
A state that is unparalleled in the variety and quality of its cuisine, California is sure to serve you up some unforgettable gastronomic delights. For the state’s freshest seafood, visit San Francisco’s vibrant Fisherman’s Wharf, offering a salty dose of traditional stalls and restaurants, steaming crab cauldrons and French-style bakeries against a backdrop of fishing boats and basking sea lions. For Michelin Star dining, our featured property Auberge Du Soleil in Rutherford, Napa Valley was established by a French-born restaurateur, offering exquisite cuisine and the wine to match, whilst Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles is home to CUT - Wolfgang Puck's Michelin-starred eatery.
For many visitors, California becomes synonymous with world class shopping. For exclusivity and to splash the cash, Rodeo Drive is Beverly Hills’ most famous shopping area, home to a staggering one-hundred world-renowned luxury fashion brands – including Salavtore Ferragamo, Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Tiffany & Co and Christian Dior –interspersed with luxury hotels and a number of stylish bars and restaurants. For smaller boutiques and local vendors, Napa Valley’s charming stores offer a range of wine-related accessories and gifts, alongside antiques and artisan-crafted goods, whilst Dana Point Harbor’s quaint shops showcase handcrafted treats and unique artwork – perfect souvenirs of your Californian adventure.
Whilst luxury hotels, A-list celebrities and world-class shopping may (rightly) spring to mind when you think of California, the state also boasts its fair share of natural beauty. Cycle or horse ride through the breathtaking Yosemite National Park, discovering an array of wildlife, or pack a picnic for a mesmerising day overlooking the turquoise-coloured water of stunning Lake Tahoe. Half Moon Bay's Pacific Coast region offers sandy beaches and scenic coastal drives, whilst the ancient and breathtakingly tall California Redwood Trees of the Redwood region are sure to catch your attention. For hiking trails through peaceful meadows, or to spot cheeky Grey Whales as they dance in the waves, California’s Big Sur is a must visit.
A state that offers something for all ages, California is the perfect choice for your next family getaway. In Santa Barbara, the intriguing Ty Warner Sea Center presents a host of sea themed exhibits - including touch pools and a crawl-through tidal pool tank – while San Diego Zoo offers an unforgettable day meeting its charming and beautiful inhabitants. To get the whole family’s adrenaline pumping, take a trip to San Francisco Bay’s Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – complete with giant loop-de-loops and white-knuckle rides – or live like you’re in the movies at the iconic Universal Studios Hollywood; its newest attraction is the truly mesmerizing Wizarding World of Harry Potter ™.
Eclectic California is home to a huge array of world-class museums, diverse galleries and striking monuments– perfect for those seeking a little culture on their visit. San Francisco's Mission Dolores is the city's oldest structure, whilst Alamo Square's 'painted ladies’ - a line of Victorian Houses – are both enchanting and fascinating. Spend hours exploring the art galleries that pepper Napa Valley, offering a wide spectrum of contemporary art, traditional paintings, glassware and sculptures; take a trip to San Diego’s Balboa Park - the United States’ largest urban park and home to fifteen museums – or take a step back in time on Santa Monica’s charming Pier, dating back to 1909.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.