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America’s coolest riviera

From dazzling piers and drives along the Pacific Coast Highway to surfing at Santa Cruz, the California Coast is America’s hippest riviera. Find boho fishing towns alongside glam neighbourhoods and rugged bays. It joins America’s coolest yet most scenic destinations.

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Where to stay on the Californian Coast

Essential Information for California

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  • Virgin Atlantic flight daily from Heathrow to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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Do I need a visa?

To travel to the USA, you will need an ESTA visa. Please make sure that you have this approved at least 3 days before you head off on holiday.

Find out more about Travel Visas here »

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

The total drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco on the US-101 is approximately 10 hours. Break this journey with a few overnight stays in some wonderful Californian beach towns.

Highlights of the California Coast

Sun, sea and sand...And action-packed cities. And natural beauty. And good food and wine. And adventure… aaand pretty much everything else you need for an unforgettable travel experience. If the real, authentic California is what you’re looking for, the coast is where you’ll find it. And you won’t be disappointed, either.

In case you can’t tell, we love the Californian coast. Not sold? Alright, we’ll just have to convince you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re heading out for that American road trip you’ve been talking about for years, or you’re beelining to the Californian coast for some much-needed sun at an everything-included hotel: You can ‘do’ California holidays exactly the way you want to, whatever your travel style and needs.

Planning a holiday to California, with all its variety and so much going on, can be almost overwhelming. Where to start? What to prioritise? First things first, some coastal Cali highlights to add to your daydream agenda (and, you know, your actual agenda). From the very best of California vineyards to the must-see city sights, here’s the things we think are not to be missed:

Of course, holidays in California wouldn’t be complete without a mooch over to Malibu; surfing, celeb-spotting and boutique-noseying aplenty, this incredible city is well-deserving of its status as one of California’s best beach towns. On that note, if you dig the thought of California beach holidays with a good splash of city sightseeing, add San Francisco to the top of your list: Delightfully unique, bask in the charm of the harbour-side towns, do a spot of shopping in Union Square, and cycle over the (rightfully) world-famous Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

Head to Santa Monica for delightful ‘village-like’ streets full to the brim with art galleries and quaint shops to peruse. The seaside, hippy vibe of Santa Cruz is a must for California holidays, too. Ride the retro roller coaster at the Beach Boardwalk, one of the USA’s oldest amusement parks, and when you’re all ‘coaster-d out, take a stroll along the beautiful stretch of sandy beach and soak up some sun.

Cities? Tick. Though we all love a good Cali city, while you’re on the California coast you’re bound to have one thing, above all else, on your mind: Beaches. Here’s our must-visits for all good California beach holidays:

  • Beach lovers flock to Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Beach, and with good reason. As one of Orange County’s most stylish towns, Laguna Beach also boasts one of the best beaches on the California coast.
  • The soft, golden sands of Zuma Beach, Malibu are especially popular with families and surfers, and has been the location for many films and TV shows over the years.
  • Of course, California beach holidays wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Venice Beach and its world-famous boardwalk.

If you’re more about roaming nature trails than busy city streets, the California coast has many a gem for you to discover. See the purple sands (yes, you heard us correctly) of Pfeiffer State Beach, a place of incredible natural beauty, or join the 20-mile bike trails of LA via Santa Monica and Venice Beach.

Big Sur, on the Monterey Peninsula, is a rugged stretch of stunning, unspoilt coastline between Carmel and San Simeon, and certainly worth venturing to. If you’re like us, not a lot appeals more than deserted beaches and around 85 breathtaking miles of pristine coastal views. Of note: head to Point Sur Lighthouse, a California State Historic Park, perched atop a volcanic rock, around 360 feet above the ocean. If you time it right, you might even catch sight of a migrating whale. Moonlight tours are available, too – talk about romantic.

Animal lovers, you can’t miss the Carpinteria Harbor Seal Reserve and Rookery: It’s a straightforward hike or bike ride via the Coastal Vista Trail to get to the sanctuary, and if even the word “hike” sends shivers down your spine, we promise the ocean views are worth it. You’ll get to see the hundred-or-so seals doing a spot of sunbathing, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot some baby ones.

If zoos are your thing, we definitely recommend a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo – it’s one of the largest in the world, so make sure you’re wearing your most comfortable shoes! For something extra special, be sure to take a boat trip off the coast of Long Beach or Newport Beach for a spot of whale watching. Keep your eyes peeled!

One thing is certain: you’ll never be at a loss for things to do while holidaying along the California Coast. Explore San Simeon’s impressive Hearst Castle and its beautiful (and beautiful smelling) gardens. Imagined by William Randolph Hearst and designed by architect extraordinaire, Julia Morgan, the grounds also hold secret hideaways and hidden views for you to discover.

Sporty types, grab a set of clubs and tee off at some of the best California golf courses – in the central region, head to Santa Cruz or try Pebble Beach in the Monterey Peninsula. Parents: keep the kids happy with a trip to the Monterey Aquarium, just an hour’s drive from Santa Cruz.

It would be a crime whilst in California not to sip your way around a vineyard or three. Film buffs might recognise the Santa Ynez Valley Vineyards (close to Santa Barbara) from Alexander Payne’s box office banger, Sideways. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, do as Miles and Jack did: drink wine. A good enough mantra for anyone!

If you’ve not yet had enough wine tasting (is there even such a thing?) head over to the super kitsch Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo for another glass or some cocktails and a delicious lunch.

Whatever time of year you choose to travel, all good California holidays involve some kind of festival…

  • Late April to early May, discover SoCal’s emerging filmmakers during The Newport Beach Film Festival, with everything from feature length and short films to music videos. Will you catch something from a future Oscar-winning director?
  • Wine-lovers rejoice: July welcomes the return of Santa Barbara’s annual California Wine Festival. Enjoy vintage wines, gourmet food and live music, all just a stone’s throw from the ocean.
  • A slightly more niche offering is October’s Clam Festival in Pismo Beach. Yep, you read that correctly: A clam festival. Three days dedicated to celebrating all things clam, with fifteen thousand other people, incredible dishes and live music. You’ve gotta do it.

If you’re itching to book your holiday to California this very second, we don’t blame you one bit. Check out our fantastic California coast hotels and let’s do this!

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