Here we feature California’s stunning coastal region running from bohemian San Francisco in the North, down to Mexico-enfused San Diego in the South, also including Yosemite National Park, a straightforward and worthwhile diversion in land.
As spectacular scenery unfurls as you drive down the Pacific Highway, with the road hugging the dramatic coastline, you will begin to notica a difference within the Golden State between hip Northern California and SoCal home to Go-go Los Angeles where the sunshine lifts the fog and life revolves around the beach.
It is easy to know when you are in San Francisco thanks to the many iconic features such as the Golden Gate Bridge (which you can cycle over) and the tram-laden hills. A trip to Alcatraz has to be a must in your itinerary (go early and watch Escape from Alcatraz beforehand) as the excellent audio tour read by previous inmates and guards helps to bring this eery island alive. Great shopping is also abundant in locations such as Union Square whilst a trip to the California Academy of Sciences with multi-level rainforest and full aquarium also fills a fascinating morning before taking a stroll along the Waterfront.
In land Yosemite National Park offers the opportunity for hiking amongst ancient Redwood forests, climbing the base of thundering waterfalls or taking a dip in the cool but clear rivers fed by snow-melt. As you explore the stunning valley floor, or climb Glacial Point for an overview of the Park, the sight of a sheer granite cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan are never far from your line of vision.
When heading back to the coast we recommend a stay in Monterey, a relaxed coastal fishing town, which must include a vist to the excellent aquarium which showcases the incredible marine life in the local vicinity including whales in Season. If you are a Classic Car affectionado, try and co-incide your visit with the Concourse D’Elegance in mid August when cars can sell for over US 10 million!
The charming coastal village of Cambria makes an ideal stop after driving the Big Sur, a 125-mile stretch of Highway 1 featuring a narrow road perched high above the rocks and some of the most famous views in the world. We recommend stopping for lunch at Nepenthe, to have a chance to draw breath whilst looking out over the Pacific Ocean from High and do pull in to see the Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas. Those with more time can also visit Hearst Castle, home to William Randolph Hearts during the 1920’s to 40’s, and an extravagant venue for entertaining a stream of ‘movers and shakers’ from the period.
Continuing South, the town of Santa Barbara offers the perfect combination of sophistication of the North with the sunny climate and beaches of SoCal. This pretty town features a Mountain backdrop and terracotta tiles roofs of Spanish inspired buildings established after the town was leveled in an earthquake in 1925 and is well worth a stay for a few days to relax before heading a South and the more intensive pace of LA (and back to back theme parks if you are travelling with children!).
Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis but it is possible to stay in one location and see all the sights. We feature a number of beach resorts in Santa Monica, our recommendation for a base, but Huntingdon Beach is also well placed for Disneyland. If you are a shopping enthusiast, then a night or two at the Four Seasons Beverley Wilshire, at the top of Rodeo Drive is a must! Universal Studios offers great entertainment for adults and children over 5 (many restrictions are in place for younger children)
San Diego, our Southern most point will be truly opening up in 2011 with the launch of direct flight of British Airways (so that travellers can fly in to San Franciso and home from the City without having to back track to LA). It is home to the world famous San Diego Zoo, which opens during the evening in Summer, as well as Sea World, an undeniably bit hit with children for whom meeting ‘Shamu’ becomes a highlight of even the most action-packed trip. Other attractions also include LEGOLAND and by staying in Northern San Diego, you can also visit Disney on a day trip. However, the City is not just about these high profile attractions but also hikes in Torrey Pines and discovering the Old Town, the epicenter of a vibrant Mexican community.
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