Take to the road in the Golden State for the drive of your life
For just one of the 50 United States, California sure does offer a lot to trippers to the region. From palm tree-lined golden beaches and bustling neon-drenched cities to some of the most jaw-droppingly stunning national parks in the world, the Golden State has it all. Trust us. And right up there is the abundance of highways hugging the picturesque Californian coastline, which makes it the ultimate road trip destination.
First up on any California holidaymaker’s must-visit list is Los Angeles. A heady mix of Hollywood glamour, surfers’ paradise and after-hours decadence, the sprawling City of Angels is made for car drivers – the only way to really get around with ease. Aside from the obvious tourist hot-spots – think the film studios, the Hollywood sign and Beverly Hills’ pristine boulevards – the city has a lot more culture than it’s given credit for, but for an unparalleled LA experience, you have to stay in West Hollywood.
While the iconic Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower offer old school glamour, we opted for the Chamberlain West Hollywood (see picture below), which offers a far more contemporary and intimate experience. Situated on a quiet street just a short hop from the bustling Sunset Strip, the boutique hotel’s 114 suites are plush and spacious with super-comfy king size beds and modern en-suite bathrooms. While the rooms feature all of the mod-cons you could desire (flatscreen TVs, wireless internet, iPod docks, air conditioning and minibar), they also boast avant-garde décor with graphic print carpets, checkerboard coffee tables, vintage-inspired armchairs in the sitting areas, and rich gold and chocolate brown walls creating a chic, vintage feel. The Chamberlain’s Bistro restaurant, which offers delicious dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the rooftop swimming pool and lounging area, with its panoramic views of LA, are also top notch and perfect for recuperating before venturing out into the city.
A great road trip out of LA is around 100 miles to the east to nearby Palm Springs. Nestled between the sprawling Joshua Tree National Park and the forested Idyllwild-Pine Cove region, this desert resort city has a retro ‘50s feel thanks to its candy-coloured revamped motels and its relaxed lounging-by-the-swimming-pool-lifestyle. As well as the kitsch aesthetic, the desert enclave offers scorching year-round sunshine, a spectacular mountainous backdrop and a plethora of downtime activities including tennis and golf at a host of country clubs, cable cars up to the peak of Mount San Jacinto and walks in the nearby Coachella Valley (that of the music festival fame).
Our top accommodation pick for Palm Springs? It has to be the Ace Hotel. Swinging open its doors in 2009, the quirky 180-room renovated motel, swim club and spa is just a short walking distance from the downtown district of the city and has become a hip playground for LA residents in search of R&R during a weekend getaway and sunshine-seeking tourists alike, as well as hordes of music fans come April, when the annual Coachella Festival kicks off. Surrounded by a mountainous desert oasis, the revamped resort has a vintage bohemian vibe, where the guest rooms have a laidback feel with a host of fun touches, including Polaroid cameras, old turntables and vinyl records for use during your stay, or to take home for a price.
But the real pull of the Ace, is what goes on outside of the rooms. There’s the pool with its surrounding hammocks and loungers that just scream relaxation, and the al-fresco dining area where you can grab a whole host of scrumptious dishes and cocktails. Not to mention, the tavern-like Amigo Room bar where you can enjoy live music, stand-up comedy and karaoke.
With LA and Palm Springs ticked off the list, snake your way north along California’s Pacific Coast Highway for the drive of your life. As you head up from Los Angeles you’ll pass the pretty coastal towns of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo before the Highway 1 road begins to twist and turn as it hugs the ever-increasingly rocky coastline on its way to the breathtakingly beautiful Big Sur region. This spectacular stretch of coastline is nestled between the vast dense woodland of the Ventana Wilderness to the east and the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean to the west, and peppered with secret beach coves and craggy cliffs along the way.
And it’s not just the natural beauty or the bohemian spiritual identity of this mythical maritime landscape that accounts for the region’s allure. There’s a clutch of luxury hotels here just waiting to be explored. But surely the jewel in the hoteling crown of Big Sur, not to mention California and the rest of the US, has to be the Post Ranch Inn.
Perched on a cliff top with veering drops either side to the ocean and forests, the retreat’s 40 guest rooms (see picture above) are a luxurious sanctuary secluded from the real world and surrounded by natural beauty. An architectural wonder, the room buildings dotted across the cliffs are constructed from organic materials and effortlessly combine rustic charm with contemporary luxury. For the former, think wood paneled walls, log-burning fireplaces and retro leather sofas, for the latter, think remote controlled blinds, surround sound music speakers and a hot tub on the decking area outside.
Ours also came complete with a king size bed, original art and sculptures, a well-stocked fridge (wine and food was included in the cost of the room) and an adjoining stone decorated bathroom. But the wow factor definitely came courtesy of our own private outdoor area with uninterrupted oceans views, the aforementioned hot tub, loungers, and table and chairs offering the kind of privacy that makes it a top choice for romantic getaways and honeymoons.
Dining is at the inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant, where executive chef John Cox serves up Californian dishes with a European twist, such as pan roasted rack of lamb, lone mountain waygu steak and local black cod accompanied by a bumper wine list (14,000 bottles to be precise). What’s more, the gourmet eatery’s floor-to-ceiling windows offer every diner a breathtaking mealtime view. Reserve your table for sunset for the most spectacular.
Elsewhere on the 100-acre ranch, you’ll find two heated infinity pools, a large outdoor swimming pool, daily yoga sessions, guided nature walks and an extensive spa treatment menu to relax you just that little bit more. Forget the more purse-friendly guesthouse options in Big Sur and splash out on this. You won’t regret it.
Hit the road again and venture even further north along the Californian coastline past the maritime towns of Carmel, Monterey and Santa Cruz, and San Francisco awaits. From Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge to the retro cable trams and bohemian neighbourhoods of Haight-Ashbury and the Mission, this compact city is a must for visitors to California.
The Clift, part of the luxury hotel group Morgans, which also owns London’s Sanderson and the Delano in Miami, is a modern hideaway in the heart of San Fran’s theatre district. While it nods to some of the old school hallmarks of the original 1915 hotel, such as dramatic chandeliers and sumptuous draped curtains, this hotel offers lots to fans of contemporary style too. From the 363 spacious guest rooms (see picture below) and a lobby adorned with modern art to the Art Deco-style Redwood Room bar, the Clift perfectly fuses the old with the new.
For one last trip, rev the engine once more and head even further north to California’s beautiful Napa Valley. A firm favourite with wine tasters and fans of outdoorsy pursuits, this sparsely populated region is a tranquil retreat away from the bustling big cities of the state.
If you’re seeking a first-class country resort experience, Meadowood in St Helena has to be your top choice. Surrounded by 250 acres of unspoilt woodland and mountains, the resort’s free-standing luxury accommodations are dotted in the lush green grounds offering unrivalled privacy and peace. With the signature style firmly in the country lodge vibe, the rooms are all built with white wooden panels and feature beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces and chintzy classic American furnishings. Outside, you can relax at your table and chairs on your private patio with relaxing forest views. So private are the lodges, that you have to drive or walk to the communal areas – think the Michelin-starred restaurant or spa. Even if you don’t have your own car, Meadowood offer a complimentary driving service to pick up and drop you off as you wish, after a quick phone call from your room.
If all this relaxation has you twiddling your thumbs, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities. On-site you can play tennis and golf, hit the pool, do a spot of yoga or splash out on a treatment at the spa. If you fancy venturing further afield, you can hire bikes or give your legs a workout on a private hiking trail.
How to get there: British Airways flies direct from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego in California. The airline offers two daily winter services and three daily summer services to Los Angeles from London Heathrow, as well as a daily service operated by American Airlines as part of their joint business. Fares start at £676.19 return including taxes, fees and charges. BA also operates two daily services to San Francisco and one daily service to San Diego from London Heathrow, with fares starting at £685.19 and £676.19 return respectively. For more information or to book visit ba.com