If you’re looking for a true taste of the golden-tinged, palm-fringed good life, it’s hard to beat California.
Here, you’ll discover perfect stretches of coastline, unique cuisine, an incredible range of cultural attractions and influences, non-stop nightlife and – most importantly – the intangible, laid back Cali vibe that imbues this sought-after, sunbathed region with a special kind of magic.
Los Angeles is most people’s jumping off point. Explore the upmarket splendour of Beverly Hills and the shopping strip of Rodeo Drive.
The streets of Downtown LA are coming alive again with creativity, and week after week hip restaurants, art galleries and bars open in a regenerated area.
Founded in 1984 to protect its unique social fabric (think LGBTQ activists, senior citizens and Russian immigrants), West Hollywood’s compact nature and status as ‘most walkable city in California’ mean there’s something cool around every corner.
Head north for the hilly beauty of San Francisco – home of cable cars, Uber and the 49ers. Head south to mix with the well-heeled in the Orange County.
Foodies might like to explore the popular wine regions of Sonoma and Napa Valley (or check out California’s secret winery road trip).
Perhaps you’d like to drive the coastline. Hugging the coastline from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the Pacific Coast Highway is best driven south to north for far better gawk factor.
It’s a mix of outrageously laid back luxury in Carmel-by-the-Sea (stay here as long as the credit card can take it!), the true remote wilderness of Big Sur where mountains cascade into the Pacific Ocean, and the glitzy wine countries of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
Palm Springs may flood social media feeds each April when the celebs, boho-beauties and bands of the moment hit the Coachella music festival, but with nine desert resort cities in the region – from Palm Springs itself to the old-world charm of La Quinta; and the authentic Mexican cuisine of Coachella, to the wellness retreats built around natural hot springs in Desert Hot Springs – there’s a lot more to this chilled-out destination.
Huntington Beach is the place to tap into SoCal’s famously chilled surf culture, with a reliably sunny outlook and a host of ways to get your beach fix along this stunning stretch of coastline.
Hit the picturesque pier and Main Street for retro-chic mementos, or flex the credit card at one of the excellent shopping hubs offering everything from vintage to high-street fashion (try Pacific City, which also hosts artisanal markets and pop-up events). Nature-lovers can lose themselves in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, which has eight kilometres of walking trails from which to spot its almost 200 regular bird species, and another 116 species that use the wetlands as a migration stopover.
Its reputation as ‘America’s Finest City’ is a major hint: San Diego’s like that charming, funny all-rounder from high school who was good at everything from art, to history, to sports (and probably a whiz in the kitchen, too). This city’s got it all going on.
Families can knock themselves out across an enviable range of attractions: from the world-unto-itself of Balboa Park (host to the San Diego Zoo, Air and Space Museum, and Natural History Museum amidst other cultural centres, all set amongst beautiful gardens) to Sea World, where the new Ocean Explorer realm features four new rides and new animal encounters alongside the park’s renowned roster of exhibits and performances.
Despite its rep as a sunny state, California is also home to some excellent ski fields including Lake Tahoe and Mammoth.
And with its rugged landscape and unrivalled views, Yosemite National Park is an indisputable world icon, particularly among nature lovers.