On this family road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, not only seeing this patch of coastal Americana from the car window but by bicycle, seaplane, helicopter, kayak and even eco-raft. Boredom just doesn’t exist in California. But before you pick up your hire car, spend a few days in San Francisco. Learn about the city’s pioneering history as you explore its hills, Victorian houses and icons with your own guide, before a spine-tingling evening trip to the legendary island of Alcatraz. Speaking of legends, the Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly San Fran’s icon and you’ll see it from two different angles on this California family road trip, firstly from underneath on a cruise in an America’s Cup yacht and then pedalling over it on a cycling trip.
With San Fran under your belt, it’s time to hit the road for your next stop on this California family road trip. Hug the sun-dappled Pacific Coast as you skip from Carmel to Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara, pit-stopping as you go for memorable family experiences. You’ll all be glued to the windows you as you wave goodbye to San Francisco’s skyline on an epic private seaplane flight, while an eco-raft ocean safari will have you gasping as you spot humpback whales, orcas and dolphins in the waters of Monterey Bay. Then, learn how to ride the waves with a family surfing lesson before pausing to reflect on your epic so far with a sunset meal on Pismo Beach.
Once you reach Santa Barbara, you’ll continue to make the most of the coast on this California family holiday itinerary. Trot along creamy sands on horseback in time for sunset and explore California’s Channel Islands together by kayak, paddling their many sea caves with a guide. After two days in Santa Barbara, it’ll be time to fire up the engine again and motor on to Los Angeles. Your children will love being briefly transported back eleven thousand years as they search for prehistoric fossils on a guided tour at La Brea Tar Pits, but Los Angeles is awash with family experiences where you can really take the handbrake off and dive in. Go behind the scenes of some of TV and cinema’s most recognisable film sets at Universal Studios, before your own guide takes you around Los Angeles’ most unmissable sights from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the stately mansions of Hancock Park. Then, see them all anew on an unforgettable private helicopter flight.
You’ll soak up the LA sunshine for one more day with a stand-up paddleboarding lesson and leisurely cycle along Venice Beach, before pausing for breath with a day of chill among the caramel curves of Laguna Beach. The final couple of days are firmly for the kids – and the kids at heart – with private behind-the-scenes tours at both Legoland California and San Diego Zoo. It’s not just the children that won’t want to go home after this California coast family road trip…
Occupying a dramatic position on the swish neighbourhood of Nob Hill, Fairmont San Francisco enjoys some of the city’s best views. But this isn’t merely a hotel: the Fairmont is a symbol, landmark and legend all rolled into one. It was a sign of the city’s rebirth when it was built the year after the 1906 earthquake and the UN Charter was drafted here. Inside, the hotel cements its grande dame status with its elegant columns, wrought-iron balconies and classy clean lines. This is also where Tony Bennett first sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco and you’ll be doing the same.
Nowhere does Californian countryside quite like Carmel Valley Ranch. Pitched among five hundred acres of sweeping valleys, ancient oaks and sun-dappled farmland, the location and masterful wooden builds feel more Swiss chalet than all-American bolthole. But while the floor-to-ceiling windows are fine places to watch the world go by, this scenery isn’t just for gawping at. It’s for getting stuck into and treating as your playground, whether it’s hiking, horse-riding, beekeeping or perfecting your backhand on the tennis court. It has it all.
Sometimes, the name just says it all. That’s certainly the case with Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, where dolphins genuinely jump out of the Pacific, like they’re putting on a show for you and your balcony is the front row. The resort is also genuinely oceanfront – any closer and you’d be in your swimwear – something you can appreciate from all angles at the resort, whether it’s from the beach, the sumptuous seafood in the restaurant or the complimentary bicycles you can ride across the coastal path.
When the likes of Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Barbra Streisand have been, you know it’s a special place. We can’t quite put our finger on why, though. Maybe it’s the country club feel? Or the epic views of the Pacific Ocean? Perhaps it’s the daydream-inducing treatments in the spa or the cool coastal cuisine you can enjoy from the restaurant terrace. It’s most likely a sprinkling of stardust over the whole resort, a magical quality that has wooed the great and good to its glamourous shoreline for decades.
The tendency in Beverly Hills is to always be in the limelight. Even though it’s in the neighbourhood’s fabled Golden Triangle, the Maybourne prefers to take a back foot combining the effortless luxury you’d expect in this glitzy part of the world with an oasis-like calm that’s often craved by its clientele. That’s hard to believe with its grand peach-hued colonial exterior but inside it’s a languid collection of serene archways, Mediterranean murals and classic furnishings that celebrities love to hole themselves up in away from the cameras and red carpets.
Embodying the thriving arts community that Laguna Beach is known for, the Montage hotel rests on a bluff overlooking the foamy Pacific Ocean that must have inspired plenty of artists over the centuries. Their artwork adorns the Montage’s walls within, with a particular emphasis on pieces from the nineteenth-century Early California era. Dark woods and muted colours allow the artwork to express itself, while activities like kayaking, snorkelling and volleyball mean you can also indulge in California’s sun-soaked beach culture.
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