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California Dreaming

Boasting cosmopolitan cities, 840 miles of breath-taking coastline and some of the USA’s most beautiful national parks, California has it all. Our travel expert Amber shares her ideas for the ultimate American road trip.

Growing up, my favorite family vacations were our U.S road trips. I have vivid memories of being completely awestruck by the size of the cars and the giant highways, as well as the enormous portions and endless choice of M&Ms available at service stations en route. However, what truly stuck in my mind was the diversity and vastness of the landscapes which undoubtedly kindled my love of geography and inspired my career in travel. I was therefore extremely excited to return to the United States and introduce my husband to a part of the world I have so many fond memories of, the Golden State of California.

We flew directly into San Francisco, my favorite North American city. From my last visit, as a 12 year old, I could remember the striking beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cacophony of sea lions on Pier 39, tucking into clam chowder in a sourdough roll and the colorful Painted Ladies. This time around, I discovered the great boutiques of Fillmore Street in picturesque Pacific Heights, fantastic dining in the neighborhood of Western Addition and the joy of catching a tram in order to avoid the notoriously steep hills of the city (it really is worth the wait!).

From here, we headed to Napa Valley. As a child, I was more fascinated by the Old Faithful Geyser of California than the world renowned wine and delicious food which was certainly top of the agenda this time! Unlike many other wine regions, where you can turn up and enjoy free tastings, in Napa Valley it’s highly recommended to book in advance visiting up to four vineyards per day and prices vary significantly depending on the style of vineyard. If you’re not staying at Auberge du Soleil, it is well worth visiting for lunch on their terrace as it boasts spectacular views of the valley, serves superb food and is the perfect place to relax in the sunshine.

We then headed to one of the country’s first national parks, the awe inspiring Yosemite, created in 1890. For those with a passion for hiking, photography, or just being in the great outdoors enjoying the fresh air, Yosemite will not disappoint. For an amazing view of the iconic Yellowstone Valley head up to ‘Tunnel View’ to be wowed by the sheer scale of the truncated spurs and hanging valleys (the geographer within me was in her element!). Both Redwoods and Tenaya Lodge properties are well located for access into the National Park.

We then headed back towards the coast in search of adorable sea otters and seals which I recalled being abundant around Monterey, and we were in luck! The aquarium here is considered to be one of the best in the world, but even just walking along the stretch of coastline towards the wharf you’re likely to see (and hear) seals basking in the sunshine on rocks close to the shore. Keep your eyes peeled and binoculars at the ready for a lucky sighting of sea otters too. Just 10 minutes from Monterey is the chocolate-box coastal town of Carmel- By- The- Sea, with boutique stores and independent restaurants lining the hillside leading down to the soft sand and dog friendly beaches. For golf lovers, Pebble Beach is located at the end of Carmel beach and boasts spectacular views out to sea, or for those who prefer to be surrounded by fields and undulating countryside, Bernadus Lodge and Carmel Valley Ranch are great choices.

From here you can usually hug the Big Sur coast towards LA along the infamous California State Route 1, but due to storms earlier in the year it was sadly closed in a number of places. At the time of writing, you could get as far south as the frequently photographed Bixby Bridge, but diversions then take you inland before the route re-joins the coast near Morro Bay, where the Anderson Inn is ideally located for a pit stop to break up the journey. Our next stop along the coast was Santa Barbara, where the historic Spanish influence is noticeable in the local architecture and has been preserved with the Presidio. We were hit by coastal fogs in the morning and late afternoon, and therefore thankful to be staying at the beautiful Belmond El Encanto. Perched high above the clouds, overlooking the city and coast, it was the ideal spot to soak up some sunshine by the pool with a book and glass of local wine in hand – perfect!

For those whose vacations aren’t complete without a bit of beach time, then Santa Monica and Laguna Beach are great choices near Los Angeles. Otherwise, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood would be my personal recommendation. The Beverly Hills Hotel for instance is situated on Sunset Boulevard, ideally located to peruse all the shops Rodeo Drive has to offer.  Further along the boulevard in West Hollywood is The London which is close to great restaurants, the boutique shops of Melrose Place, and is that bit further east of the city for easy access to Universal Studios (with the recently opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter), the iconic Hollywood Sign, and Staples Center for those interested in watching the local LA Clippers basketball team. A very American end to a great America trip!

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