"It's all good from Diego to the Bay..."

My first vacation of 2017 saw me go back to my favourite place in the world, sunny California! This time I had gone over for my cousin’s graduation party and ended up turning it into an 18-day vacation. I only got back last week and not going to lie I am still recovering as I went ‘ham’ (as they say in So Cal), but I thought I would make this my guide on how to make the most of California in just under 3 weeks – planned out by my American cousin and believe she knows the best places to go, eat and stay to ensure you live that Cali lifestyle, which I certainly did!  

PCH Road trip

Dodgers Game

I arrived to LA on the Friday; Saturday was my cousin’s graduation party (which I DJ’d at…got to tick that of the bucket list!), Sunday I went to see the Dodgers trash the Miami Marlins and then Monday myself, my cousin and her American friend hit the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco.

Yep, no trip to California is complete without a road trip and I can ensure you this 6-day road trip was exactly what you see in the movies. Hollywood does not lie people!! If you are going to California soon I recommend you do the below, to make the most of your trip.

Day 1.
Santa Barbara was our first stop, but rather than staying the night we made a slight detour to have lunch at Los Agaves on Miplas Street.  If you like Mexican food then this is the perfect place - it’s cheap and good quality! The restaurant has a great ambiance too. You can of course stay over in Santa Barbara for a night but as I had visited it in November we skipped this and carried on driving to Santa Cruz, where we spent two nights.

We got to Santa Cruz for around 4pm, staying in a lovely air bnb, which was only a few minutes walk from the town centre.  For dinner we walked to the Sesame Korean grill, which was great!  The best was to follow as we walked to The Penny Ice Creamery for a post dinner sweet. Honestly I would quite happily stop over in Santa Cruz just to try their ice cream. It’s very popular, so be prepared to queue for about 20 minutes, but believe me when I say it is wait the worth! The eclectic and seasonal flavours of organic, made-from-scratch ice cream will probably be the best ice cream you taste! Also, if like me you are celiac, they offer gluten free ice cream cones, which are to die for, literally the best ice cream cone I have ever had…promise!! 

Day 2

Point Lobos views

We left our air bnb by 8am to drive to Point Lobos for an early morning 7-mile hike. I recommend leaving early so you can make the most of the hiking trail before it becomes busy! It’s such a beautiful hike and the views are breathtaking.  North California has some beautiful nature reserves and this is certainly one of them, making a change from the desert and beach landscape of SoCal.

If you watched Big Little Lies then you will be familiar with the Bixby Creek bridge scene, that appears in the credits. Fellow fans, note the bridge is only like a 20 minute drive from Point Lobos, so I highly recommend you drive over it. The views are breathtaking! We totally drove over the bridge and played ‘Cold Little Heart' (just put the Big Little Lies Spotify playlist while you drive around the area).

The cafe on Big Little Lies!

Views from the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Fisherman's Wharf

We drove over to Monterey, keeping with the Big Little Lies theme, stopping over at CafĂ© Lumiere for a lovely and quick lunch.  Following this we then made our way over to the Fisherman’s Wharf. Sadly though the coffee shop, which Jane, Madeline and Celeste meet at several times in the show, is actually not open for the public – it’s just a set. Everywhere else next to it however is. It’s quite a cute area to walk around especially if you want to see Sea Lions.

For dinner we made our way back to Santa Cruz (we had planned to go Big Sur but a mudslid prevented this) and ate at a lovely Afghani restaurant called Laili. Again the food was amazing - if there is something I did on this trip it was eat and I mean eat well. Best thing is everywhere catered for my celiac and vegetarian diet! I recommend you try their sweet dishes in the restaurant, as they are veggie and gluten free and totally worth the calories!

Day 3

Views of Napa Valley from Castello di Amorosa

It was time to say bye to Santa Cruz and drive over to Napa!! Yep, California’s wine country is as beautiful and amazing as you would expect! We left early so we could have brunch at Grace’s Table- I ate the best iron skillet cornbread, with lavender honey butter, I have ever had! Highly recommend you visit this place. Salivating thinking about it…!

We then went to Oxbow Public market, which is a cute market where you can taste everything from amazing olive oil to brandy! Kara’s Cupcakes is certainly somewhere you need to make a quick stop at, especially if you have a sweet tooth! Their gluten free cupcakes certainly hit the mark! 

Castello di Amorosa was next up - basically the castle you would have seen if you follow the Kardashian’s, they go there. If you only visit one place in Napa then I highly recommend this place. It sits at the top of Napa Valley thus allowing for breathtaking views of the valley. Also, wine tasting in a castle, erm come on what else do you want!? It’s $25 for basic entry, which includes wine tasting and if you don’t drink they give you non-alcoholic wine. You defo have to try their chocolate too – so good! A bit of history - the owner of the castle basically woke up one day and decided he wanted to build an authentic castle so that is exactly what he did. He also owns Sattui Winery, which is great for cheese tasting, so we visited this next. I recommend you do too!

To be honest there are so many wineries in this area that you can visit but since we only had a day in Napa we just visited the main two.

We stayed the night at the Hilton Garden, Napa Hotel, which is located a short drive from the main wineries. For those wine lovers out there, the hotel offers complimentary wine tasting and a free bottle of wine at night so you can continue your tasting, if you like! The hotel is also located a 5 minute drive from Bistro Don Giovanni, which is exactly where we went for dinner! If you love Italian food this is certainly the place to go as their pasta is made from scratch, to order. They also offer gluten free pasta options so I was sorted.

If I had to choose a favourite day from my road trip I would certainly say it was today – Napa was magical, for more reasons than one ;) !

Day 4

Artwork in Berkeley 

Waking up early to say bye to Napa, we drove to Walnut Creek so we could make a 9.30 Soul Cycle class. Yep, you read correctly! No trip to California is complete without taking at least one Soul Cycle class. It was such a good workout and was of course filled with positive vibes!! Highly recommend it.

Walnut Creek is actually a cute town, and the Soul Cycle is located in the Broadway Plaza, which is a cute shopping area. It also has a True Food Kitchen, not far from Soul Cycle, making for the perfect place to stop for lunch after a fab work out. True Food Kitchen is a health driven, seasonal restaurant merging nutrient rich ingredients with a flavour forward menu! They have a number of gluten free, organic vegetarian and vegan offerings so once again I had a fab meal!

We then drove to Berkeley, which is something else! It’s such a hippie town and you will know it for it’s famous university. We stopped there for a few hours, as my cousin and friend had some work to do. I got my nails done and had a little walk around the town whilst they caught up on work in Philz Coffee.  If you like coffee you need to go here, as their coffee is apparently the best! I don’t drink coffee but my cousin and friend swear by the place.

Another reason to go Berkeley is to visit the Cheese Board aka the best pizza you will have in California!! They have a different pizza a day and they are always vegetarian, made with local organic ingredients. They also offer a gluten free pizza and it was the best gluten free pizza I have ever had!! This place is super popular so again be prepared to queue for a while, or get there before 6pm to miss the queues. Following dinner we ended the night at Fieldwork Brewery before driving to Oakland. 

As for places to stay, I can’t recommend anywhere as we stayed with my cousin’s friend who lives in Oakland. Soz!

Day 5

The Golden Gate Bridge

Views of Alcatraz from Fisherman's Wharf

We had to be back in LA for Saturday evening for another family grad party so we could only have a day in San Fran. Thus we used all day Friday to see San Fran in a day! It was totally doable, well seeing the main attractions – so the Fisherman’s Wharf, Little Italy, Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, Pink Ladies and finally Union Square. Yep we pretty much did all that in that order in one day! Also fitted some cheeky shopping in at Union Square, which has the best Guess store – I got such a cool denim jacket (see picture in day 6).

Myself and my fellow road trip ladies at Pink Ladies

Union Square

For lunch I recommend Souvla, which is a great Greek restaurant offering a number of lovely salads and wraps. Their salad is so good. It is also near Smitten Ice Cream, which you have to visit! You basically choose out of their exciting flavours and they make it right in front of you.

The evening saw us go to a number of cool local hangouts, including the Local Edition, which is inspired by the newspaper business of the 1950’s and 60’s, it sits below Market Street and I highly recommend you end your night there as it allows you to experience what San Fran was like in an era gone!

Day 6

Today was the day we left San Fran and drove straight back to Los Angeles via I-5. This is the quick route - it’s still scenic (as everything in Cali is) but it means you can get from San Fran to LA in like 6 hours. We made one stop at In n Out, which of course is a given when in Cali!! We stopped at the In N Out in Kettleman City, which was the best one I have ever been too!  If you want to do a stop on a fast drive to LA from San Fran then make this your only stop! Kettleman City has old cowboy vibes to it and it made for a good photo shoot for my new Guess jacket … as below :P 

And the rest…

Taken in 7 Magic Mountains on the way to Vegas - highly recommend you make the stop. 

For the rest of my trip I spent the time in Los Angeles and the OC area (where my family live). Oh yeah and I ended the trip in Las Vegas, but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so…..

I’ve blogged about LA and the OC before so rather than go into full details a few recommendations I have are as below:

For the best taco’s you will have, outside of Mexico, I recommend you visit Ola Mexican Kitchen for Taco Tuesday. Located in Huntington Beach it is the place you go if you want authentic Mexican food with beautiful beach views. It certainly was amazing! Make sure you turn up for their happy hour – note to all the Brits, in LA happy hour’s cover food, as well as drinks. Might as well drop into The Bungalow afterwards, as it is in this area! 

Side Car Doughnuts – If you love doughnuts and are gluten free then this is certainly the place to check out.  Their gluten free doughnuts taste better than gluten ones!!!! If you are not celiac then they have a number of seasonal and inventive flavoured doughnuts!

It was memorial day, whilst I was in Cali so I totally made the most of Memorial day sales going to the Ontario Mills in California on Memorial Day Monday. Even if you don’t go during a national holiday I recommend you check the Ontario Mills out as it is basically an outlet mall so you get a ton of designer brands at half the price. I shopped till I dropped!

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is also another good place to check out for shopping! I’ve been there on prior trips and it has a great selection of stores from designer to high street!

So that pretty much sums up my trip to California. Feel free to have a look at my other Californian based posts for further hints and tips. 

Have you done the PCH road trip? If so leave your comments below! 


Meera Sharma

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