California Highlights and Top Tips

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Highlights:

  1. I’m in love….with Big Sur! I could easily have spent the entire two weeks winding up and down this section of the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping after every twist and turn to take in the view. Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls are can’t-miss stops and the way the view over the pacific changes around each bend is completely captivating. I loved the feel of the wind coming off the water and watching the sun set, changing the sky’s colour from minute to minute.
  2. If I could live at Meadowood Resort and Spa in Napa Valley I would. The grounds are beautiful, our suite (a very generous and completely complimentary upgrade) was one of the nicest hotel rooms we’ve ever had and the feeling of complete and utter bliss while dining in the sunshine poolside on freshly made ice cream sandwiches is one I’ll never forget. I’m already scheming to go back so that we can stay for longer!
  3. I LOVED waking up with a swim in the rooftop pool at Canary Santa Barbara. Watching the sun rise and the mist on the mountains clear from what felt like our own private pool was surreal and would be the ideal start to any day. The hotel itself is gorgeous and provided serious #HouseGoals with it’s fabulous mix of prints and patterns. We only stayed for a night but it left an indelible mark and I’m still dreaming of that pool. I’ll be back!
  4. Sometimes impulsive choices can be the most rewarding. Though we hadn’t planned on going to Hearst Castle or cheering on the San Francisco Giants these two experiences ended up being some of my favourite memories! Having flexibility in our plans allowed us to follow our whims and the fun.
  5. Slowing down is good for the soul. I’m normally a city girl but on this trip I found myself flourishing and truly enjoying the quiet roads and our stops off the beaten path. I had thought I’d love San Francisco and LA which is why we budgeted more time for them but if I did it all again (and I intend to!) I think I would spend more time in the wild and less in the cities. Turns out I’m more outdoorsy than I thought! (Also, who knew I was such a fan of the waves? I picked the photos in the collage above as they were my favourites and only realised they were all aquatic after the fact!)

Top Tips:

1. A little meal planning goes a long way:

  • California is home to some of the most amazing, healthy cuisine in the world – so make sure you do your research in advance to ensure you make the most of it! Though we had a few specific ‘must-visit’ restaurants and bakeries (like Farmstead in Napa Valley and Mr Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco) our list wasn’t extensive which meant there were a few instances where we travelled in circles trying to find a place that looked good to eat, wasting time and energy. A bit of forethought will ensure you don’t find yourself ravenously downing an Egg McMuffin, Cheeseburger, Large Fries and Strawberry Shake and then immediately regretting your life choices (not that I can speak from experience, of course…)

2. Where you stay makes all the difference:

  • Some people say all hotels are alike but I beg to differ! The hotel’s location, people and the room itself all contribute to the success of your trip. Canary in Santa Barbara and Meadowood in Napa Valley ticked all the right boxes which made for a phenomenal experience. Our hotel in San Francisco, however, turned out to not be in the best location and the service was terrible (the two people at the desk watched me wrestle four full suitcases and two carry-ons from the curb into the lobby only verbally acknowledging me to tell me that I wasn’t allowed to use the trolly I had started to load myself because it was clear they were useless, Charming!) Altogether it didn’t help with my overall impression of the city and certainly didn’t make me eager to return. Full disclosure: we booked through one of the websites which you book blindly based on price and star rating so I’d definitely advocate for going about it the old fashioned way and reading guest reviews online.

3. Going with the flow is great but some things DO need planning:

  • Though I loved the relaxed nature of the trip (it even made the highlights above!) it would have helped if I had made more plans around things I really wanted to do. For instance: did you know you can’t buy tickets to Alcatraz on the day? Because I didn’t! I also didn’t know that if you book a sunrise balloon ride over Napa there is no guarantee that you will actually take a balloon ride over Napa. Another fun fact: the brilliant idea to watch the sun set over the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park is not uniquely yours and it wouldn’t hurt to check what time you should arrive to avoid having to hike the entire park because all of the parking on the hill is taken.

4. There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist:

  • Take 80 pictures of the same thing, stop at every turnout on the Pacific Coast Highway, spend an hour watching seals laze in the sunshine, take a selfie with the sunset, wear the comfortable shoes even if they mark you as not a local, order too much food and then document it all – it’s your vacation and you deserve to make the most of it. So, go at the pace for you and don’t feel self-conscious savouring the moment in whatever way you want!

5. Be ambitious in your plans – it’s worth it:

  • We packed A LOT into two weeks and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was the trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back!

2 thoughts on “California Highlights and Top Tips

  1. Some terrific pics, Laura! I’m so jealous of your balloon ride! That’s on my bucket list (I booked a balloon ride when I was in New Zealand, but the weather fouled it up and I wasn’t able to squeeze it in before I left). Love the giant redwoods and the ocean sunsets. I saw a Giants game, too, when I was in SF–the coldest baseball game I’ve ever attended! Glad you had a great time.

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