From the moment you touch down in San Francisco airport, you’ll know that everything you’ve heard about this North Californian city is no exaggeration. A city of contradictions, there’s something about San Francisco that makes it entirely unique. Combining a laid-back friendly persona with a passion for technology, all against a stunning backdrop of the beautiful Bay Area, it is the perfect spot to settle into a Californian mind-set before setting off on your road trip adventure. From the airport head straight to your hotel, The Proper Hotel. Step into the sunlight washed lobby, and fall in love instantly.
A most dreamy place for your first few nights in California, The Proper Hotel is a boutique hotel housed in a stunning flatiron landmark building. Catering to the global creative nomad, the Proper prides itself on being a place of both rejuvenation and inspiration, with service so intuitive you’ll find needs met without having to say a word! The Modernist-esque interiors, courtesy of famed-designer Kelly Wearstler, take inspiration from the city beyond its walls with a bold colour palette and interesting materials reflecting the vibrancy and eclecticism of San Francisco. Cloud-like beds, picture perfect views, walk-in rain showers and luxury amenities such as Aesop bath products, make Proper Hotel as luxurious as it is eclectic.
Situated on bustling Market Street, Kaya is just as exciting as its surroundings. While the many pizza and taco pop-ups lining Market Street may be tempting, we urge you to bypass these vendors and head for Kaya instead. The Caribbean restaurant’s bright and cool decor is the perfect backdrop for a fresh culinary experience. In true San Francisco spirit Kaya is a community-oriented restaurant, featuring cozy tables and a long V-shaped bar frequented by locals. Cooking traditional recipes with the finest Californian grown ingredients, Kaya boasts a menu of delicious, modern and exciting Jamaican dishes. We recommend the awesome Jerk Chicken paired with one of the restaurant’s creative rum-based cocktails.
After enjoying an evening in the buzzing Market Street area of the city, start your first morning in San Francisco with some fresh sea air and head for the Sunset District. The largest neighbourhood in the city, the Sunset area carries a slower pace than central San Francisco. As you drive towards to coast, spot pastel coloured houses and enjoy the ocean breeze coming through the windows. A secret of the locals, The Devil’s Teeth Baking Company is located in the Noreiga region. Don't miss out on the best breakfast roll in San Francisco – the queue comes out of the door but moves quickly. Trust us, the fluffy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and perfectly ripe avocado in a freshly baked biscuit is well worth the wait.
Surfers, joggers, dog walkers and skaters – if strolling along Ocean Beach doesn’t make you want to pack up your bags and move to the coast, nothing will. After breakfast, head to Ocean Beach, the biggest beach in San Francisco, it is very rarely crowded, even on the sunniest of days. Stroll along the sand, watch the waves come rolling in and dip your toes into the refreshing Pacific Ocean. While watching the surfers will offer a morning of entertainment, unless you are an experienced one yourself, we recommend staying out of the water. The rip tides here are strong and dangerous even for competent swimmers.
Walk up the beach and turn off onto John F Kennedy Drive which will take you into the heart of San Francisco’s pride and joy, Golden Gate Park. Take a stroll to the other side of the park where you will find the Conservatory of Flowers, a beautiful Victorian-Era glass greenhouse filled with unique and incredible plants and flowers from around the world. With colourful stained glass windows, the building itself is a stunning sight to behold especially on a sunny day when the sunlight comes streaming through. From blossoming Dahlias to towering palm trees, step into another world of lush, tropical plants and a heavy humidity that seems to make all your tensions melt away. For all art lovers, be sure not to miss the De Young Museum in the Golden Gate Park, a fine art institution showcasing exhibitions and collections which feature American, African and Oceanic art.
Once you have explored the Golden Gate Park, it’s time to get your first proper view of the most famous landmark in the city, the Golden Gate Bridge. For one of the most iconic views of the bridge, drive to The Presidio, a national park and home to the beautiful Baker Beach. Park up and walk down the sandy path towards the shore where you can see the majestic bridge in near view. On windy summer days, kids fly kites and families enjoy picnics in the park and on the beach. Take a seat, take in the sights and watch the sailboats go by. Very warm days are few and far between in San Francisco so we recommend you bring a wind breaker even if the sun is shining - the breeze picks up quickly!
Head to The Commissary in the Presidio neighbourhood, for a glorious blend of Spanish and Californian cuisine. With the restaurant’s menu honouring Spain’s huge influence on Northern California, expect locally-sourced ingredients, delectable handcrafted wines, Spanish octopus, catalan flatbread and a delicious tuna tartare. While waiting for your meal to arrive, admire the restaurant itself, with unique decor which pairs traditional Presidio elements with modern design. Book a seat on the ‘front row’ for a close up view of the open kitchen to watch the chefs in action, or if it’s a nice day request a table on the shaded front porch for a delightful alfresco meal. After your meal, rest back at the hotel before going to the heart and soul of the city for so many of the locals, the AT&T Park. As you watch the San Francisco Giants with views of the bay in the distance, you’ll well and truly feel that you’ve hit a home run.
Image credit: Kassie Borreson
Get your bearings in the city this morning and head for Grand View Park, a small park with spectacularly big views of the city. This is a beautiful, peaceful spot from which to see almost all of San Francisco. With only a few joggers around, you’ll be able to watch the city buzz beneath you in peace. From here, you’ll really get a sense of the size and nature of the city, the seemingly endless roads and the characteristically steep hills. Don’t miss the 16th Avenue tiled steps on the west side of the park. The colourful mosaic steps are a community project transforming these 163 steps into a beautiful artwork for the neighbourhood to enjoy. If you’re in the mood for more of a hike, nothing beats the Twin Peaks. With approximately 925 ft of elevation, you really feel as though you’re on top of the world with 360 degree views below.
The Mission District is a mishmash of the old and the new, an area that strikes a balance between staying true to its vibrant Latino history and keeping up with the current global trends. You’ll see upscale shops and sleek bars popping up next to authentic taquerias and lively clubs blasting Latin music throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning. The area is a wonderful celebration of contrasting cultures and not one to be missed when in San Francisco. As you explore this neighbourhood, be sure to look down alley ways coming off the main streets and see the culturally and politically charged murals that make a strong statement on the city’s identity. Then, head to Dolores Park on a sunny day where you’ll find the spirit of the Mission at its brightest! Hula-hooping women, drum circles, family picnics and alfresco creative brainstorms are among the sights you’ll see at this beautiful park.
The city is in no shortage of Mexican restaurants but nothing quite beats the burritos at La Taqueria in the Mission District. Repeatedly voted as home of the best burritos in the city (and even the country), La Taqueria is an unassuming hole in the wall restaurant with some of the best and freshest Mexican food you could hope for. Don’t expect any frills here. It’s all about the flavour. Get in line, order yourself a serving of tacos, a burrito and a beer and let the flavours hit you – we definitely suggest opting for that extra serving of guacamole, it’ll be some of the freshest you’ve ever had. If you have any room after lunch, head for Craftsman & Wolves on Valencia street for a Matcha Snickerdoodle Cookie.
While many cities host a Chinatown, San Francisco’s being the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia means it’s not to be missed! Predictably kitschy, ‘oriental-style’ lamp posts and red lanterns adorn the pathways with ‘Chinese-style’ decorative flourishes on each building. Cliché decor aside, San Fransisco’s Chinatown is undeniably authentic, a testament to the huge Chinese population who immigrated to this city and continue to influence its evolution. We suggest steering clear of Grand Avenue, many of the tourist-targeted shops are situated on this main stretch. Instead stroll through side streets and alleys where you’ll find numerous dim-sum restaurants and tea houses, lively mah jong parlours, as well as herbal shops with Chinese doctors on hand with specialist knowledge. In Chinatown you’ll also find the Tin How Temple, America’s oldest Chinese temple founded in 1852.
Walk further north towards North Beach where you will come to Fisherman’s Wharf. Although one of the busiest tourist areas of the city, Fisherman’s Wharf on the Northern Waterfront is a must-see while in San Francisco. The centre of the city’s historic fishing industry, the area is always buzzing with people, both locals and visitors alike, coming in and out of shops and restaurants and enjoying the many waterside attractions. Here, enjoy the meal synonymous with the city – delicious clam chowder served in a warm sourdough bread bowl at Boudin. After your meal, head towards Pier 39 for a some post dinner entertainment – the sea lions. Around 50 sea lions lay out on the docks here and they are hugely entertaining. Watch the sunset and enjoy the evening people watching and strolling around the wharf.
Start your last day in San Francisco by leaving the city . . . Some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge are found on the other side of the bay so its time to get a new perspective and head over to Sausalito. Wake up early to avoid traffic and hit the road. Although there are no toll gates, there is a toll to pay for crossing the bridge. This can be paid before or after you cross so ask your hotel’s concierge for information to make sure you don’t get a fine. As you come up to the bridge, look up and marvel at the architectural feat that it is. While you’ve likely seen this iconic bridge on postcards, pictures or movies, there’s nothing quite like seeing it up close and personal.
As you cross the bridge, drive towards Kirby Cove and stop at The Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point for breathtaking views of the Bridge. Even on a foggy day, these views are magnificent so spend a bit of time here, taking photos and enjoying the view of the bridge and the Bay area from the other side of the water. Afterwards, drive into Sausalito itself. A picturesque city located on the small harbour, grab yourself a coffee from one of the many cafes, stroll along the waterfront and spot the rows of colourful houseboats in the bay.
Head back to San Francisco and drive towards Haight-Ashbury where you will see one of the most photographed sights in the city. A shining example of the historic architecture in the Bay Area, The Painted Ladies are a row of picturesque pastel-painted Victorian and Edwardian houses across from Alamo Square. A nostalgic sight for all those fans of Fuller House (these houses famously featured in the opening credits), take a seat in the park opposite and enjoy people watching as you look upon the beautiful houses against a backdrop of skyscrapers behind them – a juxtaposition that captures the melding of past and present that pervades throughout the city.
For a quick, casual and delicious lunch go to Souvla, a bright and airy Greek restaurant famed for freshly cooked Souvlaki. Fresh and healthy, this lighter meal is a welcomed break from the heavier meals of the trip. We highly recommend ordering the lamb souvlaki with a side of garlic fries, or if you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter, give the wrap a pass and go for one of the salad bowls. After lunch, continue to stroll around the city before heading back to the hotel for some afternoon R&R. If you’re looking for a special meal before your departure from San Francisco, head to Foreign Cinema. A repeat offender on the San Fransisco Chronicle’s “Top 100 Restaurants” this is a beautiful candle-lit restaurant filled with soft chatter from the groups of people enjoying the ambience. If it’s a warm evening, we suggest sitting in the outdoor area where old films are projected onto a large white wall, adding to the creative atmosphere of the space.
Famously know to be one of the most picturesque highways in the world, the coastal views along the Pacific One highway, lovingly known to many as ‘The One’, are simply breathtaking – you’re going to be wanting to stop to take pictures almost every mile! Hit the road early to miss the morning traffic and set your sat-nav to guide you to Monterey. On your journey, stop at Half Moon Bay, a good middle point between San Francisco and Monterey. Here, park up, pop into one of the cafes in the town and get a take away coffee to enjoy as you walk barefoot on the sand in this along this scenic beach.
Home of iconic American novelist, John Steinbeck, the coastal town of Monterey is your next stop on the road today. A peaceful city on the rugged central coast, park up your car and take some time to wander around the bay, especially Cannery Row. Although we don’t recommend purchasing anything along this strip (many of the buildings have been converted into shops targeting tourists), this row of shops has undeniable historical significance from its role in immigrant history to its Great Depression relevance when the strip was lined with sardine canneries. Look out to the peaceful bay and enjoy a lunch at Dos Victorias - an small hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant offering some of the most delicious fish tacos you will ever try.
Get back on the Pacific One and drive towards Big Sur, an absolutely breathtaking stretch of the Californian coast known for its staggering views of the rugged coastlines and relatively untouched beaches. Along this stretch, you’ll come to the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, a magnificent feat of architecture set against a beautiful natural setting. Before you cross, park up and take in the awesome views and stand amongst the ocean breeze. If you’re scared of heights, you’ll want to take a few step backs from the edge. It’s a steep drop that adds to the sense of wonder and drama.
Nestled amid 160 forested acres is the stunning Ventana Big Sur, a luxury wilderness resort where you will experience the best of the Big Sur area in unparalleled luxury and comfort. The resort is spread out over a hillside looking over the rugged dramatic coast lines that this part of the country is so famous for. With two swimming pools, a spa, Japanese hot baths and a location less than a mile away from Pfieffer National Park, Ventana is the perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening in Big Sur, whether you’re looking to indulge in some relaxation in the great outdoors, or taking a hike to explore the surrounding area.
From glamping (glamorous camping) under the stars, to your very own house on the resort grounds, Ventana offers a huge range of rustic-luxury accommodation options to suit your exact needs. After checking into your room, filled with all of the luxury amenities you could desire, head to the Social House, the heart of the resort where you’ll meet fellow travellers. Here, speak to one of the welcoming staff who will recommend the best activities to make the most of your time here. For dinner, head to The Sur House Restaurant where you can enjoy fresh Pacific-sourced seafood paired with the perfect wine from the restaurant’s 10,000-bottle cellar. For a magical way to top off the evening, enjoy a post-dinner soak in the Japanese hot baths underneath star-studded skies.
After a delicious breakfast, it's time to hit the road again and head for Santa Barbara where you’ll check into your next dwelling, Hotel Californian. Conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara, a stone’s throw away from the buzz of the city’s Funk Zone and just steps from the water front, Hotel Californian is an impossibly stylish and welcoming place from which to discover Santa Barbara. The decor combines Spanish colonial revival architecture with Moroccan influences, all with a contemporary flair. After the long drive, indulge in some self care at the hotel’s spa, Majorelle, offering a selection of nurturing treatments to revive and rejuvenate you for the afternoon ahead.
Nicknamed The American Riviera, Santa Barbara offers dramatic views which rival Europe’s best. The golden hillsides of the Santa Ynez Mountains juxtaposed with the city’s sparkling blue seas and white sand beaches. Paired with a laid-back atmosphere and a cool ocean breeze, Santa Barbara is a sun-drenched haven ideal for experiencing American coastal life. Take a stroll down State street and spot the Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings with red-tile roofs harking back to the area’s rich Spanish history. Make time to venture to Stearns Wharf where you can enjoy the seaside’s sights and sounds, taking in all of the excitement surrounding you and this buzzing city! A favourite amongst children and adults alike, head downtown to Rocket Fizz for a sweet treat, and cast your eyes upon the enormous selection of candies and soda pops that come in flavours such as mud pie!
The climate and terroir of Santa Barbara County mirrors that of the Mediterranean, and taking inspiration from its Spanish-esque surroundings Loquita boasts a menu which celebrates Spanish flavours and specialties. Serving hot and cold tapas, wood-fired seafood, grilled meats and paella, Loquita has something for everyone. Be sure to peruse the restaurant’s comprehensive wine list which is comprised almost entirely of Spanish wines curated specially, or opt for one of Loquita’s speciality hand-crafted cocktails featuring Spanish vermouths. If you’re looking for a more intimate experience, we suggest dining on the restaurant’s charming patio, alternatively the indoor dining room offers a fun, lively atmosphere.
After a long four-hour morning of driving, you will find yourself in your magical desert haven for the next two nights in Joshua Tree. Owned by Vanessa, a designer who splits her time between L.A and Joshua Tree, re:TREAT is a stunning guest house offering a wondrous desert view. The studio guest house is meticulously designed to be an idyllic (and fully-airconditioned!) spot to retire to after a day of desert exploration. The attention to detail and design flair here is obvious – solid brass fixtures, a copper bar top, concrete floors and an incredibly comfortable platform bed made from reclaimed wood come together to create this perfect hideaway.
A convenient 5 minute walk from re:TREAT is one of Joshua Tree’s most loved sights. The Noah Purifoy museum is an outdoor gallery of large-scale sculptures stretching across the great desert expanse to produce a surreal and beautiful post-apocalyptic scene for you to wander amongst. This eccentric outdoor museum is the creation of renowned artist Noah Purifoy; born in Alabama in 1917, Noah worked most of his life in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree and spent his life as an artist dedicating his work to social change. The last fifteen years of Noah’s life were spent constructing the numerous assemblage sculptural pieces that span across ten acres in front of you.
There is something about the desert air and energy that is mind-blowingly magical and spectacularly surreal. Spend your first night soaking in your new surroundings without any distractions. After exploring the outdoor museum, drive into Joshua Tree town and pick up some simple provisions at the Joshua Tree Health store for dinner. Opt for a raw dinner of fresh guacamole, cold cuts, and locally grown vegetables. Prepare your dinner, and eat al-fresco on the patio at the front of the guest house looking out onto the infinite desert expanse in front of you. Put on one of the records in re:TREAT’s collection (we suggest U2’s Joshua Tree for the full experience) and watch the sky turn from blue to orange to purple to black before you are plunged into a total darkness only interrupted by the hundreds of twinkling stars above you.
Wake up early this morning to enjoy the desert scenes without the intensity of the afternoon heat. Make yourself a freshly brewed cup of coffee (re:TREAT supplies delicious pour over coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee Company) and make yourself waffles with the on-site mini-waffle maker and mix. Take a seat outside on the patio and enjoy the peace and quiet before getting ready for a day of exploring the national park.
Take the morning and early afternoon to explore the national park – go on several of the mini trails and stop to see some of the park’s natural wonders. With the unique Joshua trees, desert flowers, majestic rock formations and boulders scattered across the desert landscape as far as the eye can see, the scenery is like nothing you’ve seen before. Don’t miss Skull Rock, Keys View and the Hidden Valley trail, all of which show off the best natural wonders that the park has to offer. After hours of exploring, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Get back in your car and drive to Yucca Valley where you can take in a lunch at the Frontier Cafe. The bohemian vibes and relaxed mood of the cafe are exactly what you’d expect of Joshua Tree and make it the perfect place to kick back and unwind in the desert. Pop into the concept store next door to get some high-desert inspired clothes or interior pieces to bring back home.
After a morning in the desert, spend your afternoon in an oasis. Drive from Yucca Valley to Palm Springs and be transported back to the glitz and glamour of the 1950s. Since female entrepreneur Nellie Coffman opened the town’s first hotel, Palm Springs has become home to some of the most notable and celebrated architecture of the mid-century period. Its close proximity to Hollywood made it a loved destination of celebrities, a long line of which include Salvador Dali, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley. Rather than joining one of the many architecture tours, we suggest heading to the Palm Springs visitor centre where you can pick up a map of the city’s key sites to explore at your own pace.
Equally wacky and wonderful, The World Famous Crochet Museum is appropriately located in Joshua Tree. Once a one-hour photo-mat booth, the small space is now home to the largest collection of crocheted goods which cover each and every corner. A far cry from traditional crochet pieces like cushions and cardigans, you’ll find everything from poodles to smiley faces and a superman figure complete with a crochet cape! Next door you’ll find a similarly unusual sight, two pink and blue retro hair dressing chairs mark the entrance of The Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum; an eccentric shrine to the past lives of California’s beauty industry. To complete the evening, head to Twenty-Nine Palms where you can take in a drive-in movie and dinner at Smith’s Ranch Drive-In. Wrap up in a blanket, sit on the hood of your car and enjoy the film underneath the beautiful high-desert sky.
For your last morning in the high desert, drive into Yucca Valley and go to the Sky Village Swap Meet, an incredible flea market run and built by local artists. This isn’t your average car boot sale, the Swap Meet is filled with weird and wacky objects from vintage jewellery and old books to novelty furniture and strange appliances – it’s a junk lovers dream. Don’t expect any brands here, Sky Village is all about the weird, the wonderful and the downright absurd. The vendors are always friendly and happy to make a deal with you – strike up a conversation with some of the locals and you’ll be sure to be enthralled by stories of the desert surroundings.
You mustn’t leave the Swap Meet before visiting the fantastical Bob’s Crystal Cave. A meditative space created and curated by Bob Carr, owner of the Swap Meet, the crystal cave is like something out of a childhood fantasy dream. Made from all kinds of objects such as foam, crystals like amethyst and rose quartz, shells, miniature horses and mirrors, the Cave also features a running water feature with koi fish swimming at the base of the fountain. You can see the cave from the windows but if you’re lucky, Bob might unlock the door, light some incense for you and let you sit for awhile, taking time to enjoy this moment of peace in a crystal cave in the Yucca Valley - a surreal and bizarre experience that you’ll be talking about for years to come.
Drive to Santa Monica, your base for the next two nights in Los Angeles. Here, perched only footsteps away from the beach is Shutters On The Beach an idyllic hotel from which to discover the magic that Los Angeles has to offer. Personal service, a informal and friendly atmosphere and meticulous attention to detail make Shutters on the Beach feel like your own private beach-house, only much more grand and with service so immaculate you won’t have to lift a finger. Whitewashed rooms, dark wood floors and classic interiors take inspiration from the hotel’s breathtaking surroundings and put a modern twist on coastal fashion.
Rise and shine! After a refreshing shower, hop in your car and head to The Butcher’s Daughter for a delicious and nutritious breakfast. Ironically named, this plant-based restaurant, cafe and juice-bar serves a daily changing menu, but rest assured any meal you order is sure to be scrumptious! Founder, Heather Tierney, not only has a passion for healthy living but is also a designer so it’s only natural that the space is as gorgeous as the thoughtfully presented food. A feminine take on the ‘old-world butcher shop’, The Butcher’s Daughter’s interiors juxtapose industrial elements like steel metal hooks and concrete floors with softer materials in earth tones, like beached raw wood and greenery sprouting from an old chicken coop. After breakfast, walk along Abbot Kinney – a shopping dream. Quintessentially LA, palm trees line this mile long strip of shops showcasing California’s best in fashion, food and art.
After exploring Abbot Kinney, head for Venice Beach. A household name in California, the landscape of Venice Beach is as recognisable as its lightbulb sign and Botticelli mural. Wander along the boardwalk and you’ll run into street performers, pedlars, artists, and even celebrities filming shows - it is a place where boredom is an impossibility. The best way to see Venice Beach in undoubtedly on rollerblades. Pop into one of the many rental shops to grab a pair of skates, then head for the pavement sidewalk which stretches as far as the eye can see. If you’re not too confident on skates, we recommend hitting the boardwalk either early or at sundown so as to avoid the afternoon rush. Rollerblade to the skatepark and take some time watching the skaters showing off their moves, then head for Muscle Beach where an equally exciting show is always on as California’s biggest and fittest hit the obstacles.
After freshening up back at the hotel, it’s time for an early dinner and a show. Drive to West Hollywood where E.P. & L.P., one of the buzziest spots in WeHo awaits you. Firstly, enjoy the tasting menu at E.P, the Asian Eating House where the dishes will take you on a journey of flavours from sweet, sour, salty and spicy. After your meal, head up to L.P. where you can sip on a hand-crafted cocktail while you take in the views of the twinkling hills around you. A three minute drive from E.P. & L.P. is the Comedy Store, a fantastic comedy club where you’ll find yourself brought to tears by laughter. Although you can buy tickets at the door, we suggest booking ahead of time to avoid any disappointment.
For your final morning in California, enjoy a quintessential L.A brunch at Little Prince in Santa Monica. The brunches here are a favourite of the locals. We suggest toasting the trip with a cheeky morning cocktail and a sweet treat of the perfectly squidgy wood-fired cinnamon roll to start the meal off. Next, opt for one of their cooked breakfasts such as the smoked brisket with anson mills grits, salsa verde and a fried egg – delicious!
Say your final good byes to the City of Stars at the famed Griffith Observatory. With over 1.5 million visitors a year, the observatory is certainly a tourist destination but not without good reason. Beyond the beautiful art-deco architecture of the planetarium itself, from this southern slope of Mount Hollywood, the spot offers beautiful panoramic sights of the city – the perfect place to say good bye. It’s been two weeks of discovering the best of California and you’ll be feeling a mix of total elation and slight exhaustion. Enjoy final moments of sunshine from way up high before heading back to the hotel to prepare for your departure from the golden state.