In California, expect a welcome as warm as the weather. The ‘Golden State’ boasts world-class beaches, cosmopolitan cities, sun-baked deserts and snowy mountains – all packed into an area the size of Sweden. Our travel experts have hiked, driven, sailed, nibbled and sipped their way around this haven on the West Coast, so that we can recommend the very best things to see and do.
If it’s exceptional food and drink you’re after, California has ample to sink your teeth into. Tour the famous wineries of Napa and Sonoma, or hop between tasting rooms in Santa Barbara. San Francisco brims with gourmet restaurants, though we think you’ll be just as happy chowing down on deli food in Sausalito (as if you needed an excuse to cross the Golden Gate Bridge).
From first-hand experience, we’re sure families with young ones will love waving hello to Mickey in Disneyland, or sleeping overnight in Monterey’s magical aquarium. Meanwhile, the national parks of Yosemite, Death Valley and Joshua Tree offer outdoor enthusiasts plenty of natural wonders, from waterfalls which glow like fire to hiking trails through impossible rock formations.
The best beaches in California provide more than sunbathing and sandcastle building. We suggest surfing newbies take their first tentative paddles from Laguna Beach, while wave wunderkinds can catch a tube ride at Huntington Beach – ‘Surf City USA’. This quarter of the Pacific Ocean teems with life, making it perfect for a marine safari. Spot whale, orca, porpoise and dolphin from the comfort of a luxury yacht at Newport Beach, or dive deep for a tour of the underwater world.
Thanks to an extensive network of highways, one of the best ways to experience California is to hit the road. Our recommended route takes you from San Francisco through the wine country, on to Yosemite and the harbour of Monterey. Finally, after a visit to Santa Barbara, wrap up in glamorous West Hollywood, visit vibrant Santa Monica Boulevard, and immerse yourself in the cultural Design District. These places are the beating heart of Los Angeles. Southern California offers more worthy reasons to extend your route. Greater Palm Springs, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and San Diego are all fantastic stops.
With so much to see and do, it’s unlikely you’ll tick everything off your list in one California holiday. Our top tip is to avoid overfilling your itinerary; leave enough time for impromptu stops along the way, because you never know what you might find.
After exploring everything the state has to offer, our North America specialists have selected their favourite destinations in California for a beach, family, foodie, city break or adventure holiday. Read on to discover more.