Perfect and Iconic California

The Rankin Family spent their 2 week summer holiday travelling California in style. Howard very kindly sent us this blog accompanied by some inspirational photography!

My wife, daughters and I enjoyed a wonderful holiday in California in August – all thanks to the insight, patience and thoroughness of the lovely Maudie Tomlinson of Scott Dunn.
We have been lucky enough to experience amazing service from the Ladies of Scott Dunn before (step forward Louisa Verney, Olivia Cryer and Juliet Morris) and Maudie lives up to those very high standards! Much planning, thought and attention to detail went into our itinerary and it certainly showed.

After a rather splendid BA flight we spent just a couple of nights in San Francisco (we had visited before) to settle ourselves into California. Maudie had picked the boutique Hotel Vitale, at the end of Mission St on the waterfront close to the Bay Bridge. Great position for strolling the pierfront, and easy to get a tram up to the shopping district. Comfortable modern décor and we had a lovely semi circular panoramic window view of the Bay. Our first night’s dinner at The Boulevard – right opposite – was excellent.

Vitale view

The view from Hotel Vitale

Pier 39

Pier 39

Car hire was all pre-arranged and we took a leisurely drive over the Golden Gate Bridge up to Yountville in Napa. Maudie recommended the wonderful Bardesono Hotel – a very stylish eco-friendly low rise property, beautiful rooms (Georgia and Katie had a King And a queen sized bed in their room), outdoor showers, private suntrap patios, and the rooftop pool was bliss, especially in the perfect 28-29 degree sunshine. The little town was charm and style itself. While here for three days we took a dawn balloon flight, the girls went cycling while we shopped and…for the highlight, Maudie had somehow managed to get us a table for dinner at the world famous French Laundry Restaurant, which was literally a  5 minute stroll from Bardesono…this was a culinary experience never to be forgotten!


Flying high above the Napa Valley


Napa Valley vineyards

Reluctant as we were to leave Napa, it was northwards next up into the mountains for a 3.5 hour drive to Lake Tahoe. A ski destination in the winter, by summer a beautiful Lakeland beach resort. Our base here was The Hyatt which is a big family hotel but we stayed in the wooden cabin style accommodation just back from the beach. After the fine dining of Yountville the food here was probably a little more basic but no less welcome and enjoyable. The private beach area is a little crowded perhaps but there is so much to do here. White water rafting, hiking and lots of water sports. We went  horse riding in the mountains above the Lake and also took a terrific three hour speedboat trip – thank you Cap’n Jimmy – over the Lake with a bit of sight seeing and rather bracing tubing in the freezing water! This is a photographers paradise too – I spent an afternoon with a local professional who showed me some great views.


Lake Tahoe


Fun on the lake


Riding the trails

From here we chose to take a short flight from Reno to our next port of call – LA!  Here Maudie was very keen that we should stay at Hotel Bel-Air and how right she was…..A simply outstanding property of low rise Roman Villa style, beautiful rooms set in a tree and palm lined oasis. The service here was exceptional – class and care but all in a warm non-stuffy genuine manner. The Concierge and Front desk were amazing. We dined here too – the meal at Wolfgang Puck was immaculately served and absolutely delicious – vying with the French Laundry for the best meal of the trip – and one of the best ever.


The pool at Bel-Air


Swan Lake

LA of course is packed with opportunities and for this trip Maudie booked us VIP passes to Universal Studios – what a difference that made – a personal guide between a group of 10 of us – no queues, backstage area access (including the amazing costume and prop warehouse) and some terrific rides and shows. The inclusive lunch was pretty decent too.

Universal Water world

Water World – Universal Studios

I absolutely loved The Bel Air, so while my ladies went shopping on Rodeo Drive – dropped off by the hotels own sleek Mercedes – I couldn’t resist soaking up the morning rays by the pool. … some beautiful people and me.

One thing to be of aware of for first timers in LA is the traffic – everyone drives everywhere! We chose to use cabs but either way make sure you allow yourself plenty of time.


Santa Monica Boardwalk

From Bel Air it was a short cab ride to Santa Monica and Shutters on the Beach. This was our second stay at this hotel and it lived up to our memories. A cool but buzzy hotel, and undoubtedly THE place to stay on Santa Monica beach. We met our lovely friends here and spent much of the next 2 days in their company. Cycling down to cosmopolitan Venice Beach to watch the Musclemen and Basketballers, a spot of shopping and cinema for the ladies and a huge lobster supper for the lads.


Venice beach


Surf’s Up

We then picked up another hire car down South to Laguna . On our last trip to this area we stayed at Pelican Hill – an amazing property in the hills a little way back from the sea, great for golfers. This time it was Montage, which I would describe as a luxury family resort, in a wonderful position on the cliffs right above a most beautiful sandy beach. This was our longest stay – 5 days of “R n R” in wonderful 28 degree sun, really blissful after a lot of travelling and activities. The hotel had private sunbeds on the beach fully attended and we spent many a happy hour basking upon them.


Laguna Beach at sunset

Laguna is an arty community  with some decent shopping and lots of restaurants. Speaking of food, everywhere we stayed in California the breakfasts were heavenly – Montage very much included. Lots of choice.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach by day

And the very last morning I managed to grab the last place on a whale watching trip (strongly recommend Captain Dave’s catamaran trip from Dana Point) and was rewarded with an incredible six Blue Whale sightings including one 75ft beauty who flipped his tail out in farewell. Never to be forgotten … and the perfect way to end a most wonderful holiday.

Blue whale 2

The 75ft beauty

We cannot thank Maudie and Scott Dunn enough. The care and judgement that went into creating our holiday was evident throughout.  The trip was just about perfect, and it was comforting to know that if I had any problems Maudie and team were still on hand to sort anything out.

We have already booked our next Scott Dunn holiday, but I just know we will have to return to the West Coast soon……and it will definitely be with Maudie (who already has plenty of great new ideas!)


See Maudie’s profile page here

And find out more on California here

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