California was the first state I visited, and to which I returned a total of 4 times – dipping in and out of LA, because it is such a major transport hub. It’s hard not to love Cali and the bronzed and beachy lifestyle SoCal in particular epitomises.
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3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
SALVATION MOUNTAIN | this art installation near Niland is incredible. Such a unique and stunning place, built out of adobe, straw and a lot of paint! People come from all over with donations of paint, and creator Leonard Knight estimates that he put well over 100,000 gallons on his mountain.
CORONADO ISLAND | get the ferry from San Diego to Coronado, and hire bikes on the island. We stopped for lunch at famous Hotel de Coronado. Also check out: San Diego embarcadero and Unconditional Surrender statue; compact Gaslamp Quarter full of shops, restaurants and bars.
LA JOLLA | There’s a list of beach spots to choose from in San Diego, and my highlight was gorgeous La Jolla – perfect for a big walk. Also check out: Ocean Beach was for the dog walkers, Mission Beach had a Spring Break vibe, as well as a gorgeous old fairground and really painful rollercoaster!
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
ANAHEIM | Hard to get much better than Day 2 of a trip spent running around Disneyland California like a big kid. We last went when I was 9 and Helen was 6: this time aged 30, still couldn’t get enough of Main Street and the Parade.
GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY | Ah LA, you sprawling megatropolis how on earth am I meant to navigate you?! I landed in California excited and exhausted from Sydney, to meet my sister who whizzed me bleary eyed at 8am to the wonderful Griffith Observatory. Great place to start a trip or if you only have time to do one thing. Also check out:
- Mondrian Hotel downtown, if you can splurge (sis paid, little star) or the lovely Cadillac hotel if staying in Venice
- Breakfast at Hotel Erwin and The Bazaar for dinner
- Santa Monica boulevard
- Venice promenade stroll and White Men Can’t Jump basketball courts
- Beautiful yuppie Abbot Kinney for shopping and coffee vibe
- Mexican market at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Olvera Street
COAST DRIVE LA TO SAN DIEGO | Day 3 we hit the coast road south, stopping at the Crab Cooker, Newport Beach, and catching the beautiful sunset at San Elijo State Beach. A lot of the coastal road was quite hard to find, but we made it and found a great dinner spot The Lion’s Share, San Diego.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
EL CENTRO | a stop on the way from San Diego to Niland, with lots of cheap Mexican food but nothing else. Find if you need to rest your head but if you can, keep passing on through.
PALM SPRINGS | We stopped for little R&R pool time at the Shadow Mountain Resort which was way over budget, as we’d over looked the Easter holiday. It was great to enjoy 29 degrees at night in March, but I thought the town itself was quite trashy- holiday-makers. Also check out: posh Palm Desert and main road El Paseo; Pioneertown built for movie filming back in the ’40s; The Cabazon Dinosaur park.
HIGHWAY FEAR | there is no way of avoiding LA’s mega roads with a standard 6 lanes of traffic in one direction. A little daunting at first, so I would advise getting a sat nav or savvy co-pilot so that you’re not trying to change lanes at the last minute and missing vital exits.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
MOVIE TRIVIA | LA is synonymous with the movie industry. I wish we’d stopped at places like Randy’s donuts, Inglewood, instead of just flying past it towards the airport. If time, I’d do a full on geeky movie-spots-tour of all the iconic locations!
AND KNOW THIS: California is the only state that’s hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics.