Theresa Wilson is Bon Voyage’s resident Yankee Doodle Dandy. Here she shares her perspective on the Fourth of July holiday……..
Happy Birthday, America!
I’ve now lived in England for 25 years and have fully embraced my adopted country. But if there is one time I really do long to be home it’s the first part of July and all of the Fourth celebrations.
On the whole, Americans are a patriotic bunch – we fly flags from our front porches; we thank our military for their service; we wear eagle and flag embossed clothing year-round, but give us a holiday where the entire point is patriotism and stand back. Parades, fireworks, family gatherings, BBQs, picnics, baseball – God Bless America!
It’s a tough one for those of us split between two countries. On one hand, we’re celebrating the birth of a nation – on the other, we’re celebrating freedom from British rule. I have a British husband, so you can imagine the jokes that fly around our family! But I believe that both countries have huge amounts of respect and interest in each other. Back in 1776, it was time to end the American Revolution and let the original colonies be independent. Although the war went on for another seven years, on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence from Great Britain’s rule. The Declaration of Independence was ratified on the fourth. There is some historical debate on whether that is true, but no alternate theories here – the 4th of July is America’s Independence Day!
As a child, it represented the first big weekend of summer. Schools typically break up in the USA between the end of May and mid-June, so summer activities were in full flow, but everything stopped for the 4th of July. Depending on when it fell, either the weekend before or after would be packed with family fun. We were always involved with the local parade which included the whole community. If you weren’t in the parade you lined the street waving flags, hoping to grab a treat that might be thrown from a marcher! Then it was on to a good old family style BBQ. Burgers, hotdogs and corn on the cob straight off the grill. I honestly dream about that corn – fresh from Midwest fields, dripping in butter. It’s as much a part of my Fourth of July as waving flags and sparklers!
This brings me to evening events. We’d all gather at the appointed family members’ home for an evening of backyard games, more food and ultimately fireworks. Invariably, we’d fire a few rounds of our own that an uncle brought from a local stand while all the kids always ran around the garden with lighted sticks actively spewing sparks. Of course, one of us would either be afraid and drop the ignited stick on the ground or get burned while the adults continued lighting roman candles and keeping fingers crossed that nothing flew over the neighbour’s fence! It was the 1970s, so don’t judge! Then it was time for proper pyrotechnics! Some years we’d watch local displays from the comfort of our own lounge chairs in the yard. Other years, we braved traffic and crowds for an amazing vantage point along Lake Michigan.
In my adult years, our family would undertake a huge reunion every other Fourth of July and religiously those of us who no longer resided in Wisconsin would flock home. Ultimately, the Fourth of July is as much about celebrating family and friends and summer as it is about celebrating America’s birthday. Don’t get me wrong – there is always a red, white and blue cake, but it’s more than just being American – it’s about the people we love, what we appreciate about living in a democracy and what we are thankful for. That’s Thanksgiving too, but one holiday at a time! The funny thing is – every American I know loves all things British. The Queen, Buckingham Palace, the accents, the pomp and circumstance…the list goes on. The more I think about it, the more I realise – the Fourth of July today has very little to do with celebrating our break from Britain and more to do with bringing a nation together to honour where we came from and think about where we’re going. Like any country, we’ve got our issues, but hopefully we’ll reflect, regroup and re-emerge stronger than ever.
I know I will be with my family in spirit and chances are I will wear stars and stripes to the office on the 4th. You can take the girl out of America…..
The people of San Francisco are unapologetic, open-minded, freethinkers. Only in San Francisco are you met at the airport by a 28-pound rabbit named ‘Alex the Great.’ along with his fellow Wag Brigade made up of adorable dogs and a pig called Lilou, helping travellers to forget about their worries for a brief moment. San Francisco people love a bold and brave statement. The new terminal at SFO is a testament to this, named after the famed civil rights activist Harvey Milk it’s a beautiful addition. Currently accessible when flying with Virgin, British Airways, and eventually United airlines, it certainly causes controversy with the lesser liberal American States.
Our hotel for the evening is located on Nob Hill. One of the highest and most elegant districts in San Francisco, once mansions for the wealthy San Francisco families these historical gems are now pillars of the community. We love the Stanford Court or Fairmont and recommend booking a high floor with Bay views, or heading to the highest restaurant in San Francisco – The Top of the Mark offering 360-degree views of the city, soon to be restored to its former 1920s grandeur. The wealthy families of the day would gather here and watch as their husbands and partners deploy from the naval dock below.
Changes post Pandemic
The Marine district became a firm favourite with locals because of the alfresco dining and bars. Visit in the evening when the fairy lights are twinkling and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively, and sample some of the best chefs in San Francisco. Amongst them is the Dorian – delicious food, attentive staff, and the best martinis. Finish the evening at Club Fugazi, located in North Beach and experience intimate theatre at its finest, telling the story of San Francisco through contemporary circus, I soon saw why this show is internationally celebrated. Creative, moving, and full of death-defying acrobatics. I guarantee you will be left in awe of the cast.
Day 1 – Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and Sea Lions
Sitting on the dock watching the sea lions playfully wrestling each other off the marina provides hours of entertainment. Fisherman’s Wharf has an abundance of souvenir shops and some of the best seafood restaurants in the city. The Fog Harbor Fish House with its panoramic views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge is well worth a visit. Try Dungeness Crab available from November, it’s a favourite with the locals who associate it with the holidays. Book a trip to Alcatraz and always remember to reconfirm your ticket.
We were lucky enough to stumble upon an enthusiastic Uber driver one evening, happy to take us all on a quick tour before heading home. First stop, The Palace of Fine Arts a historical monument sitting on a serene lagoon, restored in 2010 has become a favourite place among locals. The best time to visit is in the evening, lit up by floodlights from below. The light reflects from the lake, casting shadows over the monument and the result is breathtaking. Alternatively, an early morning walk is the best remedy to jetlag.
After taking a few too many selfies, we headed home, passing by the famous Mrs. Doubtfire’s house. We made it to our hotel for the evening – The Stanford Court. Remember the best views on Nob Hill are up high. I recommend requesting an odd room number at Stanford. You’ll see why…
Day 2 – Bay Views and Clam Chowder
For the best views of the bay take a trip by jeep safari or hire a car for the day and visit the Marin Headlands, Fort Point or the Golden Gate Observation Deck are just a few to note. Hike along the coastal trail from the Cliff House at Lands’ End to the Golden Gate Bridge. Start at the Cliff House near the Sutro Baths and make your way to the Golden Gate Bridge passing many landmarks including Baker Beach, the Seacliff area, Marshall Beach, and the Batteries to Bluffs Trail.
All that fresh sea air and hiking work up an appetite. You’ll definitely need one for this next stop. The historical ferry building is located at Embarcadero. A vibrant gathering of local farmers, artisan producers, and independently owned vendors. You can skip from clam chowder to ice cream and macarons in a matter of minutes. It’s a foodie’s paradise. I recommend Hog Island for oysters, Bluebottle Coffee, and Humphreys Ice Cream. I love their bourbon and vanilla flavour it’s heaven!
Day 3 – Bike the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the Painted Ladies and Golden Gate Park
and if you’re feeling energic cycle the path that runs over the
Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Start off early and you’ll make it for lunch.
Take the ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf passing by Alcatraz. It’s a
particularly wonderful day for an adventurous family.
A must-do for families and lovers of the outdoors is the Golden Gate Park. Offering the perfect refuge away from the big city. You can spend the whole day wandering between the Japanese Tea Gardens, Conservatory of Flowers, and De Young Art Museum. Take a picnic and watch the world go by at Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill. Pop into the Academy of Science among the largest museums of natural history in the world.
Finally, drop by the Painted ladies and Lombard Street for those classic San Francisco photos and you’ve made it! some of the best and most wonderful points of the city on the Bay.
Personally, I always need more time in San Francisco but that’s just a testament to how much I adore this city, for me it’s back to the airport for my flight and back into work at Bon Voyage to make everyone jealous when they hear the stories of my trip!
America honeymoon ideas and inspiration for the trip of a lifetime, with destinations including Hawaii, New York and California.
A honeymoon is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, marking the start of an exciting new chapter in life, and typically the end of a lot of wedding planning! The destination you choose for your holiday is a personal choice that reflects you and your partner – are you looking for something relaxed, active, adventurous, luxurious, scenic, secluded or exotic? Every couple will want something slightly different from their special trip to match their tastes and celebrate their relationship.
At Bon Voyage we have seen many happy newlyweds jet off after planning their honeymoons to the America and Canada, and they come back wishing they could do it all again. Here are 5 incredible honeymoon destinations in the USA to inspire you. If you’re looking for a tailored trip, or you need help and advice, our honeymoon experts are happy to help. Get in touch today.
Aloha! Hawaii is a honeymoon destination to remember, and whilst many are drawn in by the beautiful beaches with their white sands and turquoise waters, the exotic islands are rich in culture and offer something for everyone. From Maui to Molokai, there’s eight main Hawaiian Islands, six of which are open to visitors. Each island is different, and for the best trip we would recommend some island hopping – after all, if you’re going to make the 17+ hours trip from London, you should ensure you have a good itinerary.When you arrive in Hawaii you’ll be greeted by friendly people, vibrant culture, natural beauty and unique surroundings. You won’t find all-inclusive resorts, so enjoy mixing with the locals and exploring the islands. Zip line through waterfalls, see lava trickling down volcanoes, swim with manta ray or simply relax on the beach, or by the pool.
A Hawaii honeymoon can also allow you to tick off another US destination as a stopover to break up the long trip. Popular choices include San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but at Bon Voyage the USA is our oyster, so speak to us if you have a particular stopover destination in mind and we’ll try our best to make it happen.
If you’d rather spend your honeymoon visiting iconic attractions, shopping in some of the best stores in the world, eating anything and everything your heart desires and exploring the city that never sleeps – New York is the place for you. Appealing to those who would rather revel in the charming culture of Coney Island’s beaches, than sit and sunbathe all day, New York has much more to offer than just the obvious attractions. Whilst Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square should all play a part in your New York adventure, the city can also offer luxury and romance.
At Bon Voyage we’ve sent many newlyweds on their way to marital bliss via New York City and they’ve come back deeply in love – with the city!
A popular choice due to how flexible you can be on budgets, time and exactly what you’re looking for, New York honeymoons can cater to any requirements. Horse drawn carriage at sunset through Central Park? Check. Helicopter ride over the city? Check. Michelin-starred fine dining? Check. Slice of pizza as big as your head at 3am? Check. New York has it all.
This may strike you as a family holiday destination, but Florida is also a great honeymoon destination. The sunshine state has it all, and whilst you can kick things off with a visit to the theme parks in Orlando, there’s a lot more on offer. Head to Miami and enjoy the bustling music and club scene on South Beach, or rent a convertible and take the scenic ocean-view drive down to Florida Keys.
When it comes to accommodation, you can pick from small and intimate, or huge resort style hotels, holiday homes or luxury villas with private swimming pools.
Couples who have honeymooned in Florida have praised the laid back vibe, beautiful beaches and the breathtaking coastal sunsets. There’s also a whole host of jazz clubs, one-of-a-kind shops and of course, all the fantastic food you could hope for.
Viva Las Vegas! Whilst some attach a Vegas honeymoon onto the end of their Vegas wedding, many others head there to enjoy the glitz and glamour – and there’s really no place like it! Vegas is known for its incredible hotels, boasting 17 of the 20 biggest hotels in the USA. The best thing about Vegas hotels, other than their impressive themes and incredible size, can be the value for money. Because much of their revenue comes from the casinos, rather than the rooms, it’s the best place to treat yourself to 5* luxury. Perfect for your honeymoon!
We recommend you head there for a Sunday to Thursday trip if you can as it tends to be cheaper and less busy mid week. Accommodation in the middle of the strip is best, but even then you’ll find yourself doing a lot of walking.
When it comes to Vegas it can pay to be organised; book shows in advance and plan some time to enjoy a day off the strip with a visit to Red Rock Canyon or a helicopter to The Grand Canyon.
The Golden State of California offers everything from the bright lights of Hollywood, through to the natural beauty of the National Parks such as Yosemite. Whether you drive the scenic coastal road, or just visit a few handpicked places, there’s something for everyone.
One of our favourite ways to enjoy a California honeymoon is to take the breathtaking drive down the coast, starting in San Francisco. Spend a few days exploring the city before you head south through San Jose, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Malibu. Ending your trip in San Diego allows you to choose from staying downtown in the charming Gaslamp Quarter, or along the beautiful water.
If you’re partial to a glass of wine, you must visit Napa Valley for wine tasting. This can be done from San Francisco and there’s a few options available, including a guided tour, or taking the Napa Valley Wine Train. There’s also a lot to do and see inland, including Palm Springs and Yosemite National Park where you can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, swimming, rafting, or just take in the sights and have a picnic.
Whatever you want from your honeymoon, it’s important to be organised. The last thing you want is something else to worry about with a wedding on the horizon. Speak to a USA expert at Bon Voyage today.
U.S. Route 66, the Will Rogers Highway or the Mother Road, whatever you choose to call it, it’s the ULTIMATE American road trip. Established in 1926, RT 66 was a major road for people driving between Chicago, California and the many states in between, covering 2448 miles in total.
Whilst the Route 66 no longer serves the same purpose (it has since been replaced as a major route by the U.S. Interstate Highway System), it makes for a fantastic road trip. And some of the original road can be re-traced today, so you can follow in the tyre tracks of those who made the road famous.
At Bon Voyage we have helped many people make this trip unforgettable. Here’s 10 Route 66 attractions you have to do on your fly drive holiday:
Enjoy the views across Chicago from the Willis Tower Skydeck. Chicago is a classic place to start your Route 66 adventure. Recover from your 9+ hour from London before hitting the road and enjoy a full day in the buzzing city. Once you’ve seen the views from the ground level, head up the Willis Tower to the look over the city from the 103rd floor. The Skydeck boasts a Ledge which stretches out 4.3 feet from the building, complete with a transparent floor so you can see right down to the street below. Probably not one for those who are scared of heights!
Cross the historic Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge. Next on your RT 66 road trip is a cross into St. Louis, Missouri over the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge. St Louis boasts some super cool diners, and there’s also another chance to view the sights from above by taking a lift to the top of the Gateway Arch, giving you spectacular views of the Mississippi River.
Get your music fix in “The Live Music Entertainment Capital of the World”. Whilst your journey takes you through Missouri, you may wish to take a pit stop in Branson to catch some live music or a show. You’ll be met with a whole host of theatres, pubs and music halls, plus many attractions, including the Branson Scenic Railway and Branson Zipline.
Cruise in a stylish convertible. If you’re looking to complete the entire Route 66 journey, you’ll need to allow for a full 14+ days, and this will mean driving every day. At Bon Voyage we would recommend a roomy, comfortable car for the trip. However, we can also arrange for you to have a convertible for part of the journey – Las Vegas to Santa Monica, for example. Oklahoma boasts the longest stretch of original Route 66 miles, and here you’ll start to enjoy a beautiful change in landscape, from the rich croplands of the Midwest, to the red, dry and dusty Southwest.
Enjoy the scenery in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas. You’ll soon cross into Texas, where you can enjoy the best scenery in the beautiful Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon in America. Here you’ll learn about the Apache, Kiowa and Comanche tribes who took refuge here. Whilst you’re there you can camp for the night, and explore the canyon by foot, mountain bike or even on horseback.
Leave your mark, if only for a few hours. The Cadillac Ranch has become a popular stop when travelling the Mother Road. Made up simply of 10 cars stuck in the dirt and decorated in layers upon layers of graffiti, it’s certainly something you won’t see everyday. Enjoy the sight from the sidelines, or grab a spray can and get involved. But don’t get disheartened if someone comes along and sprays directly over your art, unfortunately it’s inevitable!
Take a classic holiday photo (or 66). There’s no doubt that you’ll fly home with many new memories having crossed through eight states and three time zones. But there’s also a lot of iconic pictures waiting to be snapped. Tucumcari, is a must-do stop photo favourite, with the ’66 neon signs and that historic Tee Pee Trading Post. And it’s not long before you head into New Mexico, known fondly as The Land of Enchantment, with the second longest stretch of original Route 66 highway and perhaps the most unique roadside landscape. Make sure you’ve packed spare camera batteries!
Meteor Crater. Before you rush off to see the Grand Canyon (that’s next up, we promise), take a pit stop at the fascinating Meteor Crater, approximately 30 miles from Holbrook, Arizona. The 500 foot deep hole was created by a meteorite 22,000 years ago. Not quite as impressive as the Grand Canyon, but certainly an attraction to make time for.
The Grand Canyon. Told you we’d get there eventually. Also in the state of Arizona and number 9 on our list is possibly our favourite stop en route, and how could it not be? The Grand canyon is an incredible 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep. It’s a natural wonder of the world and an absolute must-see attraction on every Route 66 road trip. Words cannot describe how big, beautiful and truly impressive this sight is. You really need to see it for yourself…
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas. This one is technically off track, but how could you not make a pitstop in Vegas when you’ve come all that way? Love it or hate it, it’s certainly an experience and the Neon Museum is worth a visit. Quite simply it’s a collection of Las Vegas signs displayed for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment. The Neon Museum is only available for hour-long guided tours, so make sure you book.
Then, before you know it you’ll have passed through the Mojave desert, over mountains and through the lush inland valleys of California, where you will reach the bright lights of Hollywood and the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica. It’s here that your Route 66 trip must come to an end, and you can enjoy a dip in the beautiful Pacific Ocean before getting a flight home.
Would you like to find out more about booking your dream Route 66 trip? We help people plan USA holidays every day! Contact us to find out more
This “guest post” is written by Rosie Allen, a Bon Voyage customer, for whom we arranged a honeymoon aboard The Coast Starlight.
Who doesn’t dream of America’s near-mythical West Coast? The swaying palm trees set against a glorious sunset; the iconic Hollywood sign nestled in the Los Angeles hills; the fragrant redwood trees of Yosemite. Oh yeah, and sunshine. Lots of it.
And you know what? It’s all true. The Best Coast, as all west-dwellers will tell you, provides a glorious diversity of landscapes and some of the world’s most breath-taking scenery; from the lush lake-lands of Washington, the undeniable hipness of Portland and of course California, land of golden beaches and alarmingly white teeth.
A little about me:- I’m 49, adore the Iron Man movies, think Dolly Parton rocks (this is me with the Smoky Mountain Song Bird, I was thinking at the time OMG, we’re touching breasts! ), disapprove of parents who pierce babies’ ears and smother mayonnaise all over my chips. Oh and I love, and I do mean LOVE, exploring the USA…..
As luck (or years of conniving opportunism) would have it that’s pretty much what my job involves. I’ve worked at Bon Voyage for 23 years, firstly as part of the sales team then as the manager of the department and now as Product Manager, deciding what it is we sell, who we work with and the terms of our sales agreements. I have crossed the Atlantic over 150 times and basically it’s a pretty cool job as I get to check out and seek new and original USA and Canada product for our travel consultants to entice you lovely people to venture across the Pond.
I’m often asked which is my favourite state? Or where I could live? Difficult questions; my heart belongs to Hawaii, but I couldn’t live there. Those islands sure are beautiful but it’s too remote for me, and there’s no IKEA. Whereas, California ticks all my boxes – beaches, scenery, mountains, lakes, wineries and those famous cities. It’s hugely diverse and that’s what draws me back to it time and again. You can be skiing in the morning (I don’t ski, am too lazy, but you could) and in the afternoon laze by a beach watching the rollerbladers swoosh by and the surfer dudes riding the waves.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to tour the Golden State on countless occasions and I thought I’d share with you some of my personal favourite must-sees-and-must-do’s.
With over 1,200 miles of beaches along the California coastline, this is a tough one. Let’s take two contrasting examples and you can decide which sounds your sort of place. The first is Manhattan Beach in south west Los Angeles County. Here we have a beautiful wide beach within the LA commuter belt. This is upscale California with attitude; where leggy blondes (male and female!) play energetic beach volleyball before heading for a sports or dive bar with names like Sharkeez and Simmzy’s . You really will love this place but hopefully not too much since with this beach and this location homes can easily change hands for $25million and if we’re talking waterfront then the sky’s the limit. Since Hollywood is just 40 minutes up Interstate 110 you might also indulge in a little celebrity-spotting although there are probably more sports than movie stars in the area. People- watching is naturally an important activity here and the aforementioned Simmzy’s fits the bill perfectly. It’s a great burger joint with that beach shack feel, famed for its selection of beers and right on the boulevard two blocks from the pier.
But if Manhattan Beach sounds a little contrived and you yearn to get back to beach basics then let’s travel 150 miles north to an unpretentious area a little to the south of San Luis Obispo: Avila Beach.
A glance at the map will show you that it’s nestled within San Luis Bay, south facing and only half a mile in length. Sheltered from the prevailing north westerly winds, Avila is usually warmer than the other beaches of California’s Central Coast and boasts three piers. Avila Beach Pier is the star turn being some 600 yards long and perfect for tourist strolling and recreational fishing. With a total population of about 1,700, none of whom paid $25million for their homes, the main occupations are in commercial fishing, apple orchards and tourism. If your idea of the perfect beach day is fine moist sand just right for sandcastles, calm waters for swimming, a small and cute setting where you can grab an ice cream or a beer and just hang out then…. ’Viva Avila’ as the locals would never, ever say.
Other notable days out include pulling up a sun lounger by the skate/bike path at Venice Beach (Greater LA, south of Santa Monica). You’ll see the Good, the Bad and the Ugly whizz past you. Great for families is endless Mission Beach, San Diego or Huntington Beach(Orange County, 30 minutes from Disneyland). The latter is known as Surf City; it’s a cool place to hang out with a lively main street and has a really wholesome vibe to it. Fancy a little beach romance? Enjoy a glass of wine and toasted marshmallows around a cosy fire pit at sunset on Aptos Beach (near Santa Cruz an hour and a half south of San Francisco). Here, you can hire beefy Beach Butlers who will cater to your every whim.
If you’re a fan of old films and the tear-jerking, shoulder-sobbing movie, Beaches, head to Crystal Cove (a few miles south of Huntingdon Beach) where countless big screen blockbusters were shot. Oh and I mustn’t forget another big favourite of mine, Carmel Beach in pretty Carmel by the Sea. We’re on the hopelessly idyllic Monterey Peninsula; hardly ever crowded, gorgeous white sand and crashing waves. Robert Louis Stevenson visited Point Lobos State Park close to the beach and was so inspired by the landscape he used it as the setting for his novel Treasure Island.
Best Hidden Gems
Capitola-By-The-Sea is where San Franciscans escape to at the weekends; it’s fun to watch the hunky surfers, dine in the seafood restaurants that line the beach and stroll around the eclectic boutiques. En route to Santa Barbara head inland to charming Los Olivos, a cutesy village with great wine tasting opportunities and the setting for the movie, Sideways.
Ojai is nestled in the valley of Los Padres National Forest just outside Los Angeles. It’s the secret rustic weekend retreat for many a Hollywood celeb. Here you can experience the legendary ‘Pink Moment’ at sunset and it’s one of only two places in the US that has a vortex (places of spiritual energy, apparently!) You’ll also adore charming Julian in the mountains above San Diego; set in acres of orchards and in this quintessential California small town you’ll find THE best apple pie ever at the Julian Pie Company on Main Street. The Old West mining town of Calico, now a Ghost Town is an interesting place to pass time en route to Death Valley. Pop into the Lucy Lane Museum here to view photographs of the town in its prime, the 1880s.
Fancy a trip down memory lane? Then you’ll love Barstow. Route 66 runs right through Main Street here. The downtown is a mecca for Route 66 enthusiasts. Pop into Peggy Sue’s 50s Diner and eat-to-the-beat with great music and wholesome food. Talking of which…………
Best Place to Eat
Kono’s Café in San Diego by the beach on trendy Pacific Beach; The Waterbar in ‘Frisco, has great views across the Bay. Ditto Gary Danko’s. Feel the sand between your toes in the Paradise Cove Beach Café in Malibu (20 miles north of Santa Monica); check out the movies that have been filmed here too. Mel’s Drive In at Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles – featured in the George Lucas film American Graffiti is a cool place to chill out with a burger and a shake. Any Cheesecake Factory anywhere in the USA is a must; BIG portions, an endless menu and great value for money. The queue is worth the wait.
Nepenthe Restaurant is perched 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, the views along the rugged coast are incredible, and there’s usually live jazz to accompany your meal – great for brunch.. And lastly, just to show I do have a fine-dining side The French Laundry in Yountville (Napa Valley). Good luck getting a reservation, they’re as scarce as hens’ teeth but the trick is to call precisely two months in advance and…..be patient.
There are countless scenic drives but for me you just can’t beat Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles – the Pacific Coast Highway. Take your time and if you’re travelling as a couple ask us for a classic Ford Mustang convertible. Go for the red one if they have it – it really shows off your tan! The views out to the Pacific are jaw-dropping as the road hugs the dramatic coastline. Since you’ll be driving on the right hand side of the road it’s important to travel from north to south. I don’t just throw this stuff together, you know! Another must-do is the scenic loop around Lake Tahoe.
Known as The Big Blue, Lake Tahoe has the clearest water I’ve ever seen. The alpine trees and snow-capped mountains provide a stunning backdrop for this 60-mile drive. Stay at the Hyatt at Lake Tahoe; it has its own beach and in the evening you can sip wine around the fire pits as you gaze at the stars and dab Calamine Lotion on your sunburn.
Best Viewing Points
Enjoy the San Diego skyline from the rooftop bar at the swanky Andaz Hotel; or the shimmering Pacific Ocean at sunset from gloriously over-the-top Hearst Castle at San Simeon. A peaceful place for an interesting overview of Hollywood is from the fascinating Getty Museum. In 2010, a $12.5 million fundraising goal was met and the area around the Hollywood Sign was saved from developers. The 138-acre parcel became a part of Griffith Park, preventing any construction that would affect the world famous view. So it’s only fitting that from here, you can see the sign a short distance from the parking lot of the historic Griffith Observatory. Just walk along the railing on the right side of the lot for a great view. You might recognise the Observatory from James Dean’s iconic movie, Rebel without a Cause.
Going north again, check out the panoramic vista from the Twin Peaks in San Francisco; it’s in the geographic centre of the city and you can get there from downtown by way of the F-Streetcar to Castro then the MUNI Corbett-37 bus route to Twin Peaks. Now tell me, where else are you getting this sort of detail?! For our next lovely lookout we’re heading for the desert city of Palm Springs.
Here, the Aerial Tramway takes you on a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. You begin the 10-minute ride at the Valley Station – elevation 2,643 feet and end at the Mountain Station – elevation 8,516 feet. If you time it right you can enjoy dinner at Peak’s restaurant at sunset. It’s quite a view.
The view from the Heavenly Gondola which cruises high above Lake Tahoe is a must-do anytime of the year, but extra magical in winter.
My personal favourite though has to be from the restaurant at Skates on the Bay on Berkeley Marina, San Francisco Bay. I’ll happily sip my Cosmopolitan and watch the sun melt into the horizon behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Priceless!
Best Places to Keep The Kids Happy.
Did you know that California has more theme parks than Florida? These are my current favourites for family fun:- Universal Studios HOLLYWOOD; we can obtain ‘front of line’ tickets which will save you loads of queuing time. Next comes good old Disneyland, the granddaddy of American theme parks dating right back to 1955 now incorporating a relatively recent second park, Disney California Adventure Park which is themed on the Golden state with a Pacific wharf, Hollywood Land and the relatively new Pixar Cars Land. Knott’s Berry Farm actually pre-dates Disneyland and is great for thrill rides and therefore less suitable for under 10s. Big attractions in the San Diego area are SeaWorld, ‘wet ‘n’ wonderful’ and world-renowned San Diego Zoo. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is a special place; it’s one of the largest eco-friendly natural history museums anywhere. You and your family could easily spend a day here; the Planetarium is out of this world.
Many cities in California offer bike tours which are great for families; my favourites are Bike The Golden Gate Bridge and the super-scenic bike route from Monterey to Pebble Beach. Huntington Beach offers great Segway tours and biking trails along its seven mile expanse and the famous Corky Carroll’s Surf School will take youngsters from four years old.
Best Local Delicacies to Try
With its wide variety of soils, elevations and seasonal climates, California can grow or rear just about anything you might wish to eat. Offshore, the state’s Pacific waters are blessed with an amazing variety of fish and shellfish from Spiny Lobster to Yellowfin Tuna. Add to this a desire amongst many native Californians to follow a healthy and sustainable way of life and you have all the ingredients (pun intended) for culinary delight.
The fruit and vegetables are legendary and you should visit one of the Farmers’ markets that appear in most towns at the weekend. Rich, succulent California strawberries, super-sized avocados and albacore tuna provided the perfect roadside picnic on my last trip. When in San Francisco, head into Chinatown (the biggest outside Asia) for a culinary walking tour with www.allaboutchinatown.com. The history and culture are fascinating and as a bonus you finish the two hour ramble with an authentic dim sum lunch. Equally authentic are the Mexican restaurants of Old Town and southern San Diego – hardly surprising, I guess, since you’re less than half an hour from the border. You might want to wash it down with a frozen margarita with plenty of lime juice and easy on the salt. But, beware they do slip down rather too easily before the tequila kicks in!
You can’t talk about food and America without mentioning burgers and I mean REAL burgers. If you’ve not already met, let me introduce you to In-N-Out-Burger founded 65 years ago in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park. There are 213 outlets in California and I would definitely plan to find out for yourself why their company slogan is ‘quality is everything.’ It really is quite difficult to salivate and type at the same time, isn’t it?!
Best Bucket List Stuff In California
This is a biggy, there are so many. I’ve attempted to make these affordable and do-able rather than those lists where you hire a private jet, trek to the top of Mount Kill-Me-With-the-Effort with a one-legged guide and eat beluga caviar off the back of a unicorn, type thing.
Firstly, and my MD, Alan, would never forgive me if I didn’t include it (he’s a golf nut): a 2-night stay at Spanish Bay on the heavenly Monterey Peninsula and two rounds of golf including 18 holes on the (apparently) legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links. He road-tested it for you last year (so selfless) and we can book the whole thing including tee times and state-of-the-art club hire.
As you cruise along that most scenic drive, the Pacific Coast Highway, on a sunny day with the roof flipped back in your Mustang convertible (see ‘Best Drives’) aim to stay overnight in the terribly exclusive Post Ranch Inn perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Be prepared to rub shoulders with the great and the good. No Primark here, all Gucci, sweetie.
A day hiking with an ecologist in breathtaking Yosemite National Park and overnight in the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the El Dorado Diggins Suite which offers unparalleled views over Yosemite Valley. It has the only Jacuzzi bath in the whole of Yosemite too, perfect for soothing your aching limbs after your hike with California’s answer to Bill Oddie.
Shark cage diving in the Farallon Islands 26 miles off the coast of San Francisco. When I say shark cage diving I have every intention myself of taking part in this but from the safety of the deck. My current husband can do the cage bit.
How about this little distraction in California’s stunning wine country? A hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley; a private stretch limo wine tasting tour of the valley, a picnic lunch amongst the vines and finally overnight accommodation at 5-diamond Meadowood Resort. Oh and we should include spa treatments and dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant on site.
Hire a luxury houseboat (preferably with a group of friends or family) on Lake Shasta in beautiful northern California. When you’re not sunning yourself on the deck of your deluxe craft, spend time exploring the lake’s rugged shoreline wilderness where you might spot California’s very own Big Foot!
Well that’s got me in the mood for my next visit to the Golden State. I hope it had the same effect on you.
For holidays to California contact the amazing team of USA Tailor-Made Experts at Bon Voyage.
Thoughts, experiences and opinions on travel to North America from the UK's leading USA tailor-made holiday experts.