From the rolling Pacific surf, verdant vineyards, vibrant coastal cities and magnificent redwoods of the north to southern California’s dreamy desert resorts, golden beaches and cosmopolitan cities, there’s so much to discover in California at any time of year. In fact, there’s so much to experience that you can’t see it all in one visit so be prepared for a need to return, time and time again.
Cosmopolitan cities and
San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the 1,000 acres of surrounding Golden Gate Park lead you into the cultural capital of California. Must-sees include Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square and you won’t want to miss a cable-car ride up and down the city’s roller-coaster hills. Head south for historic Monterey, home to an outstanding aquarium, before taking the famed 17-Mile Drive and reaching charming Carmel, with its quaint antique stores, galleries and boutiques. Ocean front Santa Barbara will enchant you with its tiled terracotta roofs and white stucco buildings whilst the altogether more hip San Diego, home to Sea World, has a hint of Mexican flavour. Greater Los Angeles ticks all the boxes with some of the best beaches from Malibu and Santa Monica to Long Beach as well as glamorous Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the entertainment centre of Anaheim, where the original Disney theme park awaits.
Wine tasting and
The climate of Napa Valley, Sonoma and Mendocino is the secret of California’s great wines. Discover your favourite vintage, as you taste your way around charming vineyards, staying in equally charming inns and hotels. Head for Lake Tahoe, the vast plains of Death Valley National Park or the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a generous slice of fresh air and solitude. Wonder at the sheer beauty of Yosemite, 1,165 square miles of untamed wilderness. We can’t think of a place with a more spectacular coastline than California. Take to the road or relax on an escorted tour.
Resort livingCushioned between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Jacinto Mountains are the prestigious desert resorts of Palm Springs, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells and Palm Desert. Quite apart from the year-round sunshine, there’s a wealth of recreational activities on the doorstep of these outstanding luxury retreats. Back on the coast, the typically Californian towns of Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Newport Beach are home to spectacular beachfront resorts, the perfect base from which to explore or simply soak up the sun in the lap of luxury.
Our Top Tips1. Everyone should drive Highway 1 - the Pacific Coast Highway, but our tip is to do it from north to south. Whichever direction you take the scenery is stunning but you get a better view going south because you're on the ocean side of the road.
2. Hearst Castle is a must-see stop as you drive along the coast, taking you back to the early days of Hollywood.
3. Wine tasting tours are plentiful in Napa and Sonoma. Our favourites are Jordan's and Chalk Hill. Try the Library Tasting tour, a wine and cheese pairing at Jordan's and the Culinary Tour at Chalk Hill, a wine and food pairing prepared by Chef Didier. Both are exceptional experiences and amazing value.
4. Visit the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. On Thursdays, from 6pm, enjoy music, cocktails and entertainment whist experiencing world class exhibits and star gazing on the living roof.
5. San Francisco - where do you start? Visit North Beach for the cafe culture, take a tour to Alcatraz (we recommend you pre-book it), see Lombard Street, cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, take a sightseeing tour of the city on a fire engine, shop in Union Square.
6. For spectacular scenery, and to escape from the desert heat, take a ride on the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway. If you're in downtown Palm Springs on Thursdays, you'll enjoy VillageFest, offering live entertainment and an array of stalls selling food and gifts.
7. Yosemite National Park is one of California's great natural wonders. Stay for a couple of nights and include a guided horseback ride for a tour with a difference.
8. Follow the scenic 17-Mile Drive coastal route between Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove for stunning views of the Monterey Peninsula. There's a small fee to drive this route but it's worth it.
9. Rent a bike or rollerblades and enjoy people watching along the boardwalk at Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
10. When visiting Universal Studios Hollywood, book the VIP ticket which allows you to jump the queues and includes behind-the-scenes access.